As you may have heard, Ellen Mansoor Collier released her second New Adult novel, Bathing Beauties, Booze & Bullets in May. It's the sequel to her 1920s-era mystery novel Flappers, Flasks & Foul Play. She has a great way of pulling you into the time period and keeping the romance and mystery alive. She was awesome enough to stop by for an interview, and here are her thoughts on everything from flappers to writing methods!
The Flapper Era. It's so glam. So mysterious. What drew you to this time period initially?
I loved The Great Gatsby and the 1920s era, especially the design aesthetic and attitude of the era, the sense of freedom and “anything goes” spirit. On a trip to Chicago, my husband and I took a “Mobsters” tour of Al Capone’s stomping grounds and visited the famous Green Mill bar. While in Galveston, I heard wild stories about the Maceo brothers, real-life bootleggers who owned several high-class speakeasies, like the Turf Club and the Hollywood Dinner Club, now long gone. I became more intrigued when I found out there was a link between Capone and Galveston’s gangsters. As a journalist, I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching.
Maybe you should tell us a little more about yourself. Who are you? Why did you decide to start writing?
My mother was a World History teacher and part-time writer, and encouraged me to take a journalism class in high school. I served on the school newspaper as the Features editor and won a couple of writing awards (including one for a feature story and a UIL award in newswriting). In college (the University of Texas at Austin), I majored in magazine journalism and wrote for the college magazin. Originally I wanted to be a news reporter, but was more interested in the craft of writing than being the first to track down a story. Magazine journalism gave me the opportunity to explore topics more in-depth.
I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor most of my adult life.
I love Jasmine's character. She's an independent, free-spirited girl who likes adventure. How did you come up with her character?
Like Jazz, I’m naturally curious, rebellious and restless, but Jazz goes places I’d never go! Personally, I have no interest in covering crime or murder.
She’s a younger version of early TV/film female journalists like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, Lois Lane and real-life crusader Nellie Bly.
My novels tend to be soft-boiled since I want a break from today’s true crime stories. If I wanted hard-core murder and violence, I can just turn on the news!
I hear there's some romance brewing in this sequel. Tell me more, please!
Here’s a hint: Jazz and Burton have a falling out and she’s pursued by a handsome but dangerous gangster. You’ll have to read BATHING BEAUTIES for the rest!
One of my favorite things about your writing is the little details you sprinkle in about period clothing and furniture. It makes the story real. Do you do a lot of research for this type of thing?
Yes, it’s part of the fun, and I do tend to get carried away! I have countless books on Art Deco, and love shopping at antiques shows and flea markets. My interest in the era really developed when I worked for two antiques dealers and designers after college, so I caught the bug at an early age. The art, fashions, architecture and furniture—even industrial items—have such a distinctive and timeless style. Susan Langley’s book “ ROARING 20S FASHIONS: DECO (Schiffer)” provided great images of late 20s clothing and accessories, and was a very helpful resource. The term Deco wasn’t coined until the 1960s, so I used descriptions like “sleek” or streamlined or stylized.
Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?
As a magazine writer, I was getting tired of freelancing and constantly pitching ideas to new editors. I wanted to produce work that was more permanent and not yesterday’s news. I tried to think of each chapter as an article and that helped me keep going forward.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Research. I really enjoyed researching all the history, people and places as well as the slang, but it really interfered with the writing. I found it hard to maintain the flow of writing when I constantly had to stop and look something up to make sure it was accurate. Often I’d get carried away and start reading unrelated period magazine and newspaper articles and go off on tangents because the information was so fascinating. Also since I wrote about real people (Galveston gangsters and high society), I had to be careful not to write anything too offensive or incriminating.
Dialogue was also a challenge because too much slang can sound corny and outdated. Certain words like “teen” weren’t in use until 1930, while other slang words were more common in the North than South. I tried to make my characters sound authentic but not go overboard. Also I wanted to use words that readers could understand in context, but some expressions were so colorful and fun that I wanted to include them anyway.
Favorite writing snack?
I drink Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade) or iced coffee like crazy. No wonder I’m a night owl!
Background music: yea or nay?
Yes, I like listening to instrumental jazz. Singing just distracts me and I’m easily distracted.
Advice to aspiring authors?
Write what you love about topics that interest you. Don’t chase trends or try to write for the market. Writing and publishing are hard work,
so you may as well enjoy the journey!
Thanks so much for dropping in, my friend!
About the Author
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer whose articles and essays have been published in several national magazines including: FAMILY CIRCLE, MODERN BRIDE, GLAMOUR, BIOGRAPHY, COSMOPOLITAN, COUNTRY ACCENTS, PLAYGIRL, etc. Several of her short stories have appeared in WOMAN'S WORLD. A flapper at heart, she’s the owner of DECODAME, specializing in Deco to retro vintage items (www.art-decodame.com). Formerly she's worked as a magazine editor, and in advertising and public relations. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism. During college, she once worked as a cocktail waitress, a short-lived experience. "When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper's life in Galveston during Prohibition."
Official Synopsis for Bathing Beauties, Booze & Bullets:
It’s 1927 in Galveston, Texas—the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross is an ambitious 21-year-old society reporter for the Galveston Gazette who tries to be taken seriously by the good-old-boy staff, but the editors only assign her fluffy puff pieces, like writing profiles of bathing beauties. The last thing Jazz wants to do is compare make-up tips with ditzy dames competing in the Miss Universe contest, known as the “International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue.”
She’d rather help solve the murders of young prostitutes who turn up all over town, but city officials insist on burying the stories during Splash Day festivities. After Jazz gets to know the bathing beauties, she realizes there’s a lot more to them than just pretty faces and figures. Jazz becomes suspicious when she finds out the contest is also sponsored by the Maceos, aspiring Beach Gang leaders and co-owners of the Hollywood Dinner Club, where the girls will perform before the parade and pageant.
Worse, her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis, a speakeasy on a rival gang’s turf, asks her to call in a favor from handsome Prohibition Agent James Burton: He wants Agent Burton to raid the Hollywood Club during the bathing beauties dance routine--or risk revenge from the Downtown Gang leader. Her loyalties torn, Jazz is faced with an impossible task that could compromise both of their jobs and budding romance. Meanwhile, Jazz fends off advances from Colin Ferris, an attractive but dangerous gangster who threatens Sammy as well as Burton. In the end, she must risk it all to save her friends from a violent killer hell-bent on revenge. Inspired by actual events. (Sequel to FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY)