How I came to write the series
You can find inspiration in the oddest of places. Fascinating Rhythm began with Ella Fitzgerald and a spilled cheesecake. Ms. Fitzgerald's recording of the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. So, there I was in my kitchen, mixing up a cheesecake for some party or other, singing along with Ms. Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, I also danced along to Fascinatin' Rhythm. Not a good move when you're trying to get a cheesecake in the oven. But a great one for my creativity.
As I cleaned up the mess, the story slowly started to take shape, and as it did, Kathy Briscow and Freddie Little started coming to life. I'm not quite sure when the decision to set the series in the 1920s was made, but it happened very early in my process. Perhaps it was because I knew that was when the tune was written, even if I didn't know that much about it, at first. In any case, that meant a mountain of research to do and I had a blast doing it. I visited New York City and read several books, including Only Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen, stumbled onto The Night Club Era, by Stanley Walker, and Always in Vogue, by Edna Woolman Chase - who gave me a very clear idea of what it was like to be a woman in the publishing industry during the '20s. There were a bunch of other books, and even a CD based on the show that George and Ira Gershwin wrote the tune for.
The funny thing is, the research not only formed the background for Fascinating Rhythm, it also inspired two sequels. I had broken my elbow sometime after Fascinating Rhythm had been started, and stalled. With little to do during my recovery, the story sprang to life and so did the characters. Next thing I knew, I had a first draft. And not only that, I had the basic story behind the sequel. So I kept writing and Bring Into Bondage sprang forth. And the first part of A Tangled Web, and the opening scene of Blood Red.
The problem was, life got in the way, and the stories just sat. I was able to do more research on Kathy's hometown, and the setting for Bring Into Bondage some years later when I and my then boyfriend, now husband, drove through there on the way to me going to grad school in Chicago. I did revisions but never got more than a few chapters into A Tangled Web. The Internet happened and made research a hell of a lot easier - no more calling the one friend I knew was awake at two in the morning. Or getting stuck because I couldn't be sure of what I writing.
Fascinating Rhythm finally got published in 2014, with Bring Into Bondage seeing the light of day in summer 2016. In 2015, I finally decided to finish A Tangled Web, realized I hated the title, did not like how the novel started, and just couldn't make Honoria's story work as I had planned it. By this time, I had married my husband, a historian, and had really learned how to do research. I changed the title to The Last Witnesses, started the story with Honoria and gave her a lot more time than I'd intended and came up with Ivy St. James and finished the novel in the spring of 2016. Blood Red was written the spring of 2017 and while I'd gotten a lot of the emotional elements right, I kind of missed it on the investigating side. So that got re-written the summer of 2018.
I still have more stories fermenting in the back of my mind. The next adventure will delve into the Harlem Rennaissance. Others will feature a trip to Paris, the day of the Big Stock Market Crash and when Freddie comes up against the worst of his demons: alcohol.
My research has led me to haunt the historical department of the Los Angeles Public Library - big thanks to Christina Rice, Glen Creason and the rest of the crew. It made me bother Betty MacDonald of the Hays, Kansas, Historical Society, who put me onto my newest addiction - Sanborn Insurance Maps. Simply the greatest tool a historical novelist has ever had and they're mostly online! And, of course, my poor beleaguered husband, Michael Holland, who has listened endlessly to potential plot points, answered thousands of questions and has been the most supportive person I've ever known.
One of the First Recordings of Fascinatin’ Rhythm
Interesting thing about this recording - I didn't first hear it until years after I wrote the first draft of Fascinating Rhythm. Turns out the really great guy I met at church one Sunday just happened to collect old 78 rpm records and he just happened to have this.
I later married the really great guy - his name is Michael Holland and he's my partner on the OddBallGrape wine education blog. We also had a heck of a time getting this almost 90-year-old record transcribed into digital. So you may want to crank up the volume here.
The song is performed by the actor who performed it in the original production of Lady Be Good - Ukelele Ike. Well, you probably know him better as Cliff Edwards. Still not ringing any bells? He was the voice of Jiminy Cricket. Cool, huh? By the way, the tune's title is properly spelled with the apostrophe. I spell Fascinating Rhythm out to differentiate the novel from the tune.
The original script of Lady Be Good was written by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson and, as far as I know, is lost. There was a 1992 studio version made by Nonesuch Records, based on notes from sketches and scores made over the run of the show. The recording features Jason Alexander as Watty Watkins, a slimy lawyer, who gets to sing the title tune, Lady Be Good. If you don't know the tune, it's a lovely, plaintive ballad. Funny thing is, Watty's singing it to get the heroine, originally played by Adele Astaire (Fred's sister), to do something rather rotten. Gotta love the irony.
None of which really has anything to do with my novel, except that there is a shout out to Adele Astaire buried in the text. See if you can find it when you read it.