Tag Archives: 1920s

Writing Believable Historical Fiction

Putting together a believable historical story, long or short, requires more than a plausible plot. You must pay extra attention to the little things, the details. While preparing to write my novel Jazz Baby, I consulted many sources for those authentic details. A high-school history book proved immensely helpful in creating the right mood for a story set in 1920s Southern USA.

Knowing the era is as important as knowing your characters. You can’t have a young girl in 1925 rural Mississippi (or any other place in 1925) making calls on a private-line rotary phone, much less a mobile phone she carries in her pocket. In fact, my character was poor, and thus would not even have access to any kind of phone even though they existed in her day. Besides, she wouldn’t have anybody to call. Thus:

 

  • KEEP DETAILS CHARACTER-SPECIFIC: Don’t just verify what exists in a period of time. Determine how widespread it is, and consider the likelihood your characters would have access in their particular places and circumstances.

Fashion is important, as well. Knowing what people wore in any particular era is key to verisimilitude. Emily Ann, the POV character in Jazz Baby, had no concept of tennis shoes or fashionable jeans, let alone modern name brands and today’s common designer styles. She did live in the era of flappers, but she would not be exposed to those outfits until she traveled to the big city. Still, would she dress that way—and why? Where would she get the clothes? Would she even know how to wear them properly? We have to consider these issues before deciding how to dress our characters from one scene to the next.

 

  • DETAILS SUCH AS FASHION ARE REGIONAL AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL: Lots of guides, many specifically for writers and media producers, show fashion of different eras, but you must pay close attention to where, when, why, and by whom clothing would be worn.

 

Sure, it’s obvious that Emily Ann wouldn’t see Gulfstream Jets flying overhead or hitch a ride in a Corvette, but you’re not always safe simply putting her in a Model T Ford. I wanted her to hear something important on the car radio while parked, but I dared not assume a radio could be found in the Model T. A bit of research, and I learned radio did not come into any automobiles until 1932. Most readers won’t know such a detail, but some sure will know, so for them the facade collapses beneath such inaccuracy. Keep it as airtight as possible.

 

  • DON’T ASSUME DETAILS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY: Don’t just research the technical detail. Verify all the details that flow from it. If a radio had been available in the 1925 Model T, verify how many and in which areas radios were sold. Don’t have her flipping through various stations late at night when maybe only one station operated in that region—and only during the daytime. If you want her to hear a news announcement, confirm that would happen on local radio back then.

Patient research shines a light on more facts than you might be looking for. Just as whether a car radio would have turning dials or push buttons, verifying might lead you to realize you can’t refer to an FM station back them. Would a character drop a letter in a street-corner mailbox, or did they not exist in small southern towns because people simply left mail in their roadside mailboxes for pickup?

 

  • RESEARCH ALL THE DETAILS: Don’t stop once you have your first question answered. Look closer, read more, find the photos—whatever it takes to get a strong sense of life in that time and place. You will very likely discover even more details you could get wrong without the extra effort.

Pay attention to language, as well. Slang changes from era to era, and from region to region. A young white girl in 1925 Mississippi will not greet her pals with a “Yo, dawg! ’Sup?”

 

  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE: As much as possible, read from the era and place, talk to people who lived through it, watch media showing the lifestyle, and consult as many sources as you can find. Not only are you verifying the authenticity of what you want characters to say, but you will likely discover very interesting and flavor-adding ways of talking that you had not considered.

Cultural norms are critical elements of authentic time and place. My story is set during Prohibition, which to many evokes images of either abstainers or scofflaws. However, “bonded liquor,” prescribed by doctors for “medicinal purposes” and sold by pharmacists, was quite popular in many areas, albeit under watchful government eyes. Cultural changes that older readers recognize might not be so familiar to younger readers. In Emily Ann’s world, African Americans were prohibited from patronizing restaurants, and segregated in places like theaters, restrooms, and even from whites-only drinking fountains. Emily’s fraternization with blacks could have cost her her life.

 

  • STUDY THE CULTURAL NORMS: Learn about how people felt, thought, and acted, and consider the true consequences of your characters’ actions in those contexts.

Behavior often is not best described by laws. Though women received the vote in 1920, many were still viewed as the property of fathers and husbands. For a girl who found herself orphaned at 13, the official social-services response rarely happened if kinfolk might be able to “handle the situation.” Thus, Aunt Frannie arranging a marriage that we might find outrageous today would have been applauded as admirably expedient back then. Likewise, looking up the official 1969 USA drug laws would not offer much help in deciding how your young-adult characters actually acted during a campus party.

 

  • OFFICIAL POLICY OFTEN DOES NOT INDICATE HOW PEOPLE REALLY ACT: Look beyond laws, policies, procedures, and other official records of how things were supposed to be in another time and place. Ferret out real accounts and weigh your characters’ actions against what really tended to happen.

 

The point of all this is simply to remind you to check your facts while looking beyond the facts, stay loyal to the era you choose, and wow us all with your brilliant stories.

 

Grab a copy of Jazz Baby in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Nook, or iBook.

More writers’ resources: GeezWriter.com

 

RRBC Book & Blog Block Party

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Greetings and welcome to Rave Reviews Book Club’s BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY at The Indie Spot!  Location: Lansing, Michigan, USA.

Blog Party 1

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Here’s What I’m Giving Away Today:

** PRIZES HAVE ALREADY BEEN AWARDED**

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I invite you to check out my books and the book trailers that go with each title. I’ve included an excerpt of Jazz Baby and a short blurb for each book to help you become better acquainted with the stories!

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Jazz Baby Chapter Four Excerpt

722 Dauphine Street promised little in the way of excitement—from outward appearances. What once had been a Digby’s Department Store now went by the somewhat famous Crescent Club.

Revelers of every color, size, and persuasion lined the sidewalk out front, passing around flasks of bootleg hooch, eager for the doors to swing open so nighttime could finally begin.

Nobody paid us any mind as Tanyon and I split the crowd on our way down a side alley leading to the rear entrance.

Tanyon laid a coded knock against the heavy red door.

A fella’s chubby face filled the small peephole.

“I have Miss Teegarten with me,” said Tanyon to the man.

That door swung wide; entrance was granted.

Dozens of round tables lay scattered willy-nilly throughout the cavernous main room. A wide stage rose five feet above the floor. Four colored boys worked up a number I could sing in my sleep.

I said, “I’m ready,” drinking in a dream fixin’ to come true.

That chubby fella let go a laugh. “How’s about we open for business before you get started, huh?”

Waitresses lit candles and set ashtrays on each of those tables.

Tanyon snatched the one closest to the stage, and ordered a pint of bourbon from a dark-haired girl dressed out like a flapper.

“Tell me something,” I began to say.

’Cept Tanyon, he had an answer all lined up. “Your mama was not a whore—if that’s what you’re meaning to know.”

Fine enough by me.

Even if I really didn’t believe him.

Frank Rydekker himself brought Tanyon’s pint to our table. “So this is the little songbird,” said the short, stocky man, pulling me into a splash of orange glowing off a candle. “Can you sing any of these songs?”

My eyes tumbled down the list he presented. “I can sing ’em all,” I gladly admitted.

Rydekker nodded toward a big fella up near the bar and hollered, “Let ’em in, Bill!”

“Don’t be scared, Baby,” Tanyon said, handing me a go at that pint.

I raised the hooch to my lips, had a good pull. “Don’t call me Baby anymore.”

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Cool blue dripped onto the stage from lights burning high above.

My body stood in its gathering puddle.

A boy on drums got us going with a slow shuffle that took up with the bass like a couple of long-time lovers knowing each other’s next move before it’s even been considered. Sullum Cass kissed his shiny saxophone with the breath of something painful and delicious, tossing delicate notes into the smoky air. When the boy on piano sprinkled all the right keys into the mixture, I eased my body against that skinny silver microphone stand, closed my eyes to the fractured night, and told all about that man done me wrong.

Everybody on that parquet dance floor caught on real quick. It’s me they stared at.

Me!

Emily Ann Teegarten.

And wasn’t a single one gave a tinker’s damn about my age or my station in life. Faces opened in welcoming smiles as wicked rhythms spun us all toward a whole new place—a place tucked up high as heaven.

Bodies shimmied and twirled at my feet.

One song blurred into another with nary enough time to breathe.

If I’d dropped dead then and there on that Big Easy stage, I’d have no real complaints. I reckon I’d tell the first angel I set eyes on I’d lived a full life.

I lived out my dream.

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Jazz Baby

A+ Jazz Baby 2 Front Cover

While all of Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, sudden orphanhood wraps its icy embrace around pretty Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten, a young teen.

Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, Baby Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that brings church ladies to righteous tears, and makes both angels and devils take notice. “I’m going to New York City to sing jazz,” she brags to anybody who’ll listen. But the Big Apple—well, it’s an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she’d always called home.

So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all sorts of shortcuts, Emily Ann soon learns it’s the whorehouses and opium dens that can sidetrack a girl and dim a spotlight…and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out.

Jazz Baby just wants to sing—not fight to stay alive.

Click here to view the Jazz Baby book trailer

Click here to buy Jazz Baby

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Slivers of Life: A Collection of Short Stories

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These twenty short stories are a peek into individual lives caught up in spectacular moments in time. Children, teens, mothers, and the elderly each have stories to share. Readers witness tragedy and fulfillment, love and hate, loss and renewal. Historical events become backdrops in the lives of ordinary people, those souls forgotten with the passage of time. Beem Weeks tackles diverse issues running the gamut from Alzheimer’s disease to civil rights, abandonment to abuse, from young love to the death of a child. Long-hidden secrets and notions of revenge unfold at the promptings of rich and realistic characters; plot lines often lead readers into strange and dark corners. Within Slivers of Life, Weeks proves that everybody has a story to tell—and no two are ever exactly alike.

Click here to view the Slivers of Life book trailer

Click here to buy Slivers of Life

Once again, thank you for stopping by. Don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments below.  Good luck on winning my giveaways!  I’ll see you at the next stop of this awesome BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY!

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A Novel Called Jazz Baby

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Hi and WELCOME to Rave Reviews Book Club’s BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOK & BLOG BLOCK PARTY!  Location: Beem’s Blog, Lansing, Michigan. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win prizes!

Sorry, due to postal costs, my giveaways are open to those within the U.S.

 

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Here’s What I’m Giving Away Today:

* Autographed copies of the Jazz Baby paperback.

* Handy book/tote bags with a screen print of a classic novel on both sides.

* Bookmarks, so you won’t lose your place.

**This giveaway is now closed! But we have WINNERS!!!**

Congratulations to:

*Rea Nolan Martin

*Bette Stevens

*Nonnie Jules

*Marc Estes

*Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko

 

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Number of Winners for this stop:  5

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Just what is Jazz Baby all about?

Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten is a young girl with big dreams. She has the sort of voice that convicts sinners simply through song. But Baby has bigger aspirations than singing spirituals to that Mississippi congregation on Sunday mornings during the summer of 1925. The girl yearns to sing jazz in the clubs way up in New York City. Her father is her biggest supporter, standing behind the girl every step of the way—until he passes away suddenly. Her mother, accused in the father’s demise, follows him to the grave shortly thereafter.

So what’s a poor white-trash orphan girl supposed to do to answer the call of her dreams? Her strict, Bible-believing Aunt Francine has ideas of her own for this tiny girl with the big voice. She brokers a marriage between Emily and Jobie Pritchett, the preacher’s son.

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Emily Ann is a composite of several girls I’ve known over the years. There is a psychological element to this character that comes from reality, as harsh and dark as that might seem to some readers. She demanded to be written into existence. I could hear her voice, with that Mississippi lilt, calling out to me from the ether, arguing that it’s her time, so pick up that pen, author man, and get to writing.

What Jazz Baby is meant to be is a trip into the year 1925; a shared summer with one young girl trying to find her way in life, in the world of her day. I spent untold hours in researching the era and that region of the country, and human behavior in general. The thing about human behavior is, it doesn’t change, no matter the era in which we live. Stories from that era, told to me by my own grandfather, seem to suggest that the young people from the 1920s sought out the same things young people from the 2010s search after.

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These weren’t asexual, sober, boring people back then. Not at all. The stories I heard, either directly or through eavesdropping, told tales of young and vibrant lives, of men and women on the prowl for good times, cheap booze, and dirty sex. Not at all different from today. (Google “vintage porn” and see how many nudie pics from the 1920s pop up.) The thing is, today we see our grandparents (mine are long dead) as old people who spend a lot of time in church, doing good and Godly things. But they were young once. Young, and quite different from who they are today. Humans grow older, we mature, we change. It’s part of the life experience.

I found it interesting that opium was a popular recreational drug in use during that era. Marijuana grew wild in parts of the country, going unmolested by the local authorities, many of whom would consider it silly to dedicate time, money, and effort in trying to eradicate a weed. The young people of the 1920s, the partiers, were the very ones partaking of these forbidden fruits.

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One reviewer referred to the characters in Jazz Baby as “Blue Velvet-type characters.” I like that comparison, though that movie never once crossed my mind as I wrote the book. These are indeed a collection of strange and bizarre types. I’ve always loved stories that break from the normal novel template. Good, quirky characters are a blast to create. The idea for the character called “Pig” came from a documentary film on 1920s movie star Fatty Arbuckle. He’d watched his career ruined through a sexual scandal that had no basis in truth. But in Jazz Baby, this character truly is scandalous. He really has those “unnatural” appetites.

Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle has his tie tightened in clip from the film 'When Comedy Was King', 1960. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle.

Even Emily Ann has a bit of the quirky in her. She’s fearless, reckless, and foolish, the way she traipses around the streets of New Orleans, running through the red-light district once known as Storyville, where she considers an invitation to allow her virginity to be auctioned to the highest bidder in a Storyville whorehouse. She’s a fan of bootleg whiskey, opium, and cigarettes, and she hasn’t a care in the world. Sexuality awakens in the girl, has her pondering the things that can take place between a boy and a girl–or between two girls. Is she bi-sexual? Labels mean nothing to Emily. And neither does race, as she spends much of her time in the company of “colored” jazz musicians, sharing intimacy with a certain piano player.

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But the streets are quite dangerous for a young girl of Emily’s size and age. Not everyone she meets has her best interests at heart. This is where that reckless side could cost her more than she’s able afford. Dark characters have their own ideas for this girl, how best to profit from her talents–even her father’s best friend proffers his own schemes.

It took me upwards near ten years to complete this novel, with all the rewrites, the research, and a two-year abandonment. It is available at Amazon http://www.tinyurl.com/bbj4my7 as a paperback or an ebook for Kindle.