I just read the most fantastic historical short. Actually, fantastic isn’t the right word because “The Gin Lovers” is all too believable. Set in New York City in 1925, the first installment of Jamie Brenner’s new serial introduces us to Charlotte Delacorte, a society wife who is everything she should be and completely discontent, something she doesn’t even realize until her sister-in-law moves into her house and exposes her to the underground world of the speakeasy.
With us today I have former wild one and author of the Gin Lovers serial as well as the Blue Angel series, Jamie Brenner / Logan Belle. Welcome back, Jamie.
Hi Jen and ladies of WGW! You guys are the best -- and the first writing community I ever had.
Q) Tell us a little about the time period you chose for your latest release. Why 1925 in New York?
I’ve always had an affinity for the style of the 1920s – the clothes, the haircuts, the jewelry. Then last year I took the nonfiction book Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and The Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz with me for a flight to LA. And by the end of the flight I knew I wanted to set a book in this time period. The 1920s was truly the first era of “liberated” women in this country. People talk about the 60s and 70s women’s liberation movement, but really the 1920s was the most dramatic shift. Women got the vote. They started wearing short dresses. They smoked in public. They dated without chaperones. They cut their hair short and in a sense said, whatever men can do, we can do as well. This was a dramatic time for women.
Q) I was blown away by the vivid detail in “The Gin Lovers,” especially the fashion. What kind of research did you put into the serial?
I was obsessed for a few months there. read a lot. After Flapper, I read the Richard Zacks book Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to CleanUp Sin-Loving New York. This book gave me a lot of insight into the big business of prostitution, and how corrupt the system was, rife with police and politicians getting paid off – the people cracking down on the prostitutes were the ones frequenting these brothels half the time. There are a lot of parallels to what we’re seeing today. The morality police becomes big business, and there is a ton of hypocrisy. Another really great book on the darker side of nightlife during that era is Nightclub City: Politics and Amusement in Manhattan by Burton W. Peretti.
For the fashion and style aspect, I found an illustrated book called Fashions of the Roaring ‘20s by Ellie Laubner. It was my bible while writing The Gin Lovers. And I found some great blogs on Tumblr that gave me visual inspiration. And then – great timing -- the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition aired on PBS. From that, I learned about this guy George Remus, who started out as a lawyer defending bootleggers and then became the biggest and baddest bootlegger out there – eventually murdering his wife and getting acquitted using the legal strategy he devised when he was a lawyer defending others. There was so much real-life drama, it was enough to inspire many novels.
Q) If you lived in 1925, do you see yourself more like Charlotte, the dutiful and restless society wife or Mae, the outgoing speakeasy regular?
That is such a good question, and really one of the things I thought about as I was developing the heroine of the novel, Charlotte Delacorte: I think that when contemporary women imagine the 1920s, we always assume we’d be flappers. We never think of ourselves as the women who were afraid to embrace the changes. But really, the women who fought for the vote and started smoking in public and cut their hair like boys – it wasn’t easy for them. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to trailblaze. I think I would have followed close behind, but I don’t know if I would have been one of the first. I probably would have been more like Charlotte.
Q) From your research, how was life different in New York City in 1925 than in 2012?
The biggest difference was that drinking was illegal. While a lot of people in New York think the recent mayors have instituted draconian laws – like the ban on smoking in bars –- people can’t imagine what it was like to be forbidden to buy a beer or to be arrested for selling alcohol.
Q) One of the major details that hooked me on this serial was the idea of a woman’s place. In society, in her home, with her husband, so much was expected of her, yet she was so alone. For modern readers in the twenty first century this might be a difficult concept. Did you struggle while writing this to get into Charlotte’s mindset as a dutiful wife who always defers to her husband?
I actually didn’t struggle, because I grew up in a very old-fashioned household. My mother never held her own job, she had dinner on the table every night, and she never traveled anywhere without my father. When I moved away to go to college, I saw my mother become totally lost without the identity of motherhood. I know that extreme is the exception not the norm these days, but I think women still, to some extent, tend to give up a lot of power when they stop working and have kids. It’s all a trade off, but there is a power exchange nonetheless.
Q) What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about a new Logan Belle novel publishing next month called Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian. It’s in partnership with the Bettie Page estate, and we’re creating a series of novels that will show women in a time of sexual awakening and self-discovery. I’m really excited about it. My publisher is a division of Simon & Schuster called PocketStar. After that, I’m working on a new e-serial.
And Wild Card Question: Fast and furious or slow and easy?
Ha! Fast and furious, baby. No contest.