Friday, October 24, 2014

From Facts to Fiction: Jazz Age Mystery Trilogy for October!

Happy October! We're already reaching the last week of the month, which means Halloween is rapidly approaching. A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I threw a mystery party, celebrating classic books like Nancy Drew and playing Clue until almost midnight. It got me thinking about Writing Belle's 2014 Fall Author Program. I've been trying to find books that are mysterious or even scary, and Ellen Mansoor Collier's mystery trilogy certainly fit into the former description! 

Writing Belle has hosted Ellen before, and I'm glad to have her back! Today, she's talking about her Jazz Age Mystery Trilogy - from facts to fiction!        


  By: Ellen Mansoor Collier

          I’ll admit, I was never much of a history buff in high school or college. What did Ancient Egypt or the Civil War have to do with my daily life of classes, Student Council meetings, football games, parties, deadlines and dances? Although my mother was a World History teacher, I wasn’t at all interested in learning about past wars and generations. History was old news. 

Between journalism jobs, I managed an antiques shop owned by two dealers and decorators who took me on buying trips and taught me about different styles and period design. Antiques provided a visual peek into the past: I could see the way people lived, touch their clothing, furniture, understand their habits and trends. Suddenly, for me, history came alive.

          That glimpse of the past led to a fascination with the Roaring Twenties. I loved almost everything about the Art Deco era:  the style, interior design, the flowing flapper fashions and jewelry, the lingo, the jazzy music and dances. Not only did the right to vote in 1920 lead to women’s emancipation, it was a time of invention and innovation, the “flaming youth’s” rebellion against the stuffy old Victorian mores, the giddy excitement of the Jazz Age.

            I tried to convey that sense of fun, freedom and “anything goes” attitude in my soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery trilogy, through the POV of my main character Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a society reporter who longs to cover hard news. I created Jazz as a flapper version of real-life Victorian journalist Nellie Bly, the first female investigative reporter in a male-dominated world. Jazz’s ambition is thwarted by her old-fashioned editors, yet she’s determined to find ways around the newspaper’s rules and restrictions. Set during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas, the mysteries feature actual gangsters, events and local landmarks interwoven into the plots. 

While researching FLAPPERS, I was intrigued to find out that Al Capone tried but failed to muscle in on Galveston’s rival gangs, the Beach and Downtown gangs. I included this fun fact in the preface to show the powerful reach and reputation of Galveston’s gangsters, little known outside of Texas. When I discovered that Galveston originated the first Miss Universe contest in 1926, I based my second mystery on the bathing beauty pageant (aka The International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue), titled: BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE And BULLETS.

As a journalist, I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching. I enjoyed watching old silent movies, period dramas and documentaries, especially noir films featuring gangsters and mobsters, noting the settings (furniture, lamps, clothing, music, etc.) and jotted down expressions and bits of conversation.  (True, I’m guilty of overusing Jazz Age sayings so I included a glossary of slang in the back of my novels.)

Since I wrote about real people, politicians (and gangsters), I had to be careful not to include anything too offensive or incriminating since much of the information was undocumented. Still, I learned a lot about early organized crime, politics and Prohibition, and how often their worlds intermingled.

          What’s interesting is that the gangsters and bootleggers of yesteryear mirror today’s drug dealers, gangs and cartels. History may repeat itself, but fiction makes it fresh and new. 

About the Author 
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer/editor whose articles and essays have been published in several national magazines, including: FAMILY CIRCLE, MODERN BRIDE, GLAMOUR, BIOGRAPHY, COSMO, PLAYGIRL, etc. Several of her short stories have appeared in WOMAN'S WORLD. She’s profiled a variety of people, from CEOs and celebrities (including Suze Orman), to charity founders (Nancy Brinker et al) and do-gooders. A flapper at heart, she’s the owner of DECODAME, specializing in Deco to retro vintage items. (

Formerly she's worked as a magazine editor, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism, where she enjoyed frou-frou cocktails and lots of lattes. When she’s not concocting stories, she enjoys traveling, shopping at flea markets, listening to instrumental jazz, reading cozy mysteries (of course) and taking walks with her husband Gary and hyper Chow mixes (Coco and Champagne).

Author Links: 
Deco Dame Vintage
(Ellen's books are also available as trade paperbacks)


Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!