Today Ellen Mansoor Collier is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Deco Dames, Rum and Death, her latest novel in the Jazz Age mysteries series.
Welcome, Ellen. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
EMC: DECO DAMES is the last novel in my five-part series featuring Jasmine (Jazz) Cross, a society reporter who’s caught between two clashing cultures: the high society and high-rollers she covers in the Galveston Gazette, and her brother’s illicit underground world of gangsters, speakeasies and bootleggers.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
EMC: According to Galveston legend, a ghost bride has haunted the Hotel Galvez since the 1950s when a bride-to-be killed herself after her fiance was reportedly lost at sea. In my 1920s version, the bride-to-be drowned herself in the Gulf, but Jazz discovers that she was actually murdered.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
EMC: During the 1920s, people were fascinated with the supernatural and occult. Galveston is famous for its cemeteries and I wanted to use that setting to combine the dual stories of murder and the supernatural world. A skeptic, Jazz asks a fortune teller to delve into the ghost bride’s past to help solve her murder.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones?
EMC: Naturally I’m partial to my main characters because they’re bits and pieces of different people, but I combine their characteristics to create unique personalities. I feel like I know them!
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
EMC: I try to incorporate actual locations and settings, and also mention places that were lost over time. To convey the Jazz Age, I’ve described flapper fashions, cars and habits of that time as well as used period slang in dialogue ( e.g. “You’re on the trolley!” means “You’ve got it!”).
Many readers found some of the slang distracting in FLAPPERS, so I revised and shortened that novel and cut down on the slang in the rest of my series. I do include a glossary of slang in the back, and try to use terms with clear meanings.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
EMC: I’m a magazine journalist in real life, and found the subject and research fascinating. I’ve used Gary Cartwright’s book and various books on Galveston quite a bit and have done online research as well as personal interviews. In DECO DAMES, a murder victim was found in Broadway Cemetery—and I based that on hearsay from a Louisiana gangster’s daughter. In those days, most gangland activity wasn’t reported so my plot lines are purely fictitious and imaginary.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the books?
EMC: Everyone has heard about Al Capone and the Chicago mobsters, but Galveston gangsters are virtually unknown outside of Texas. The Beach Gang and Downtown Gang were real-life rival gangs who faced off during Prohibition, profiting from the Island’s lax laws. In my series, Prohibition Agent James Burton must confront dirty cops, savvy gangsters and ruthless bootleggers to uphold the Volstead Act—with little support. Fact is, a crime family ruled Galveston for 30 years, from the 1920s-50s while the locals turned a blind eye, since they contributed to the community.
I call my novels “soft-boiled” historical mysteries since they deal with actual people and places—namely gangsters and criminal activity—but they’re not gory or violent. My character, Jazz Cross, is an ambitious young society reporter who strives to write hard news—but unlike many flapper slueths, she’s not British royalty or rich or privileged. In FLAPPERS, the first novel, Jazz wants to protect her half-brother Sammy who owns a speakeasy, the Oasis, but the local Prohibition Agent wants to shut down his bar. I find that era fascinating yet I can’t stand blood and guts stories since I’m a wimp in real life. I live in a big city and if I wanted to hear about grisly murders and violent crimes, I’d turn on the news!
Thanks for answering my questions, Ellen, and good luck with Deco Dames, Rum and Death, the latest book in the Jazz Age Mystery series.
The novel is available on Amazon stores:
About Ellen Mansoor Collier: Ellen is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.
A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, 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 and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).
She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts and visits Galveston whenever possible.
“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.”Co