8 Things about My Life and My Novel

Fun facts abound this week! Which is kind of a lot of pressure. What if my facts aren’t fun? What if the fun* parts aren’t facts? I’ve told you all so much already. What is there possibly left to spill?

Normally this is where I’d retreat to my bourbon and gummy bears to find my inspiration, but husband and I have decided to try to modify our diet in hopes it’ll give me more energy and less insomnia (don’t know why he’s doing it). It’s based on the book ALWAYS HUNGRY, which more or less advocates for a Mediterranean diet, except these first two weeks demand no grains, no sugar… and no booze! That is definitely not a fun fact. It is decidedly unfun. (Does it count as a fun fact that I spelled Mediterranean correctly on my first try? That was pure luck on my part, as I always guess at those rs and ns.) So instead of “fun facts,” let’s call this “interesting things.” Although “interesting” implies I’ll write something you want to read, so let’s just go with “things.”

*I’d like to point out that my ten-year-old daughter has some serious thoughts about the word “fun,” which she shares on her own blog.

Here’s my list of things:

  1. In my novel, Willie Klein is the scoundrel of the story, but for the first three drafts of MODERN GIRLS, his name was Morty Klein.
  2. When I am drinking (which I will be doing again in exactly six days and ten hours), my favorite drink is a Black Manhattan.
  3. Daveed Diggs (who recently left his role of Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton) is going to be my next husband. But please don’t tell my current husband. I’m not done with him yet.
  4. When I’m writing, I jot down wonderful quotes and trivia that I don’t end up using, and it always kills me to have these wasted tidbits. In MODERN GIRLS, I found a wealth of household hints that ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor, such as soaking table linens in buttermilk can remove stains, vinegar and a newspaper page are best for cleaning windows, and bringing lemon slices and cold water to a boil in a coffee pot make it easier to remove the grime.
  5. I’m so obsessed with Hamilton that I have a shortcut for texting on my phone. I type in SMDR and it automatically changes to… (anyone care to take a guess?)
  6. Eugene Debs for PresidentThe character Eugene in MODERN GIRLS, Dottie’s youngest brother, is named after Eugene Debs (1855–1926), who ran for U.S. president five times as the Socialist Party candidate. In Jewish tradition, you name a baby after someone who is deceased, and when I discovered that Eugene would have been born in 1928, I knew that Rose would have named him after a man she admired, so she would absolutely have named him for one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World. (I just noticed the coincidence that Eugene was a Debs and we are Debs therefore… Hmmm, I guess there’s no “therefore.” But that counts as mildly interesting, no?)
  7. I collect WPA travel guides (guidebooks written during the Depression), and I own twenty, although I have a few duplicates. I read them for inspiration, for fact finding, and just for fun. I don’t own the original New York state or city guides, and it’s the only WPA guide for which I broke my rule of originals only and I permitted myself to purchase a reprint. I needed the guidebook to better understand Dottie and Rose’s New York. In the Florida book (which I do own) I love that Al Capone’s house on Palm Island is listed as one of only three points of interest on the entire Miami Beach. He was still alive at the time, too.

    …[A] white mansion with a green tile roof barely visible over a high white wall. There are heavy wooden gates at the two entrances. Alphonose Capone purchased the house in 1928 and occupied it at intervals until he was sentence May 1932 to 10 years imprisonment for violation of Federal income tax laws. He was transferred from Atlanta to Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay, in August 1934, and removed to Terminal Island, San Pedro Harbor, in January 1939.

    (What were the other two points of interest? The Harvey S. Firestone Estate and the Flagler Monument. Miami Beach didn’t seem to have much going for it in those days) A pre-Disney Orlando warranted a mere five pages, with the town highlights being the Orlando Zoo and Sunshine Park, with its facilities for shuffleboard, roque, lawn bowling, and horseshoe pitching.

  8. I have to force my children to watch black-and-white films, and I usually fail at it. But I still am devoted to classic cinema. If I’m flipping channels and find an older film, no matter how busy I am, I watch it. Casablanca is a long-time favorite. Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels makes me swoon for Veronica Lake. I am in awe of the Marx Brothers and how timeless their comedy is. I think they have a lot to do with my nostalgia for a time I never experienced. You can’t ask me (or my father for that matter–he’s the one who started it all) to set a table, without me thinking, “And my alarm is always set for eight.”

    Film noir, however, always has been and always will be my favorite. The desperate plots, the tragic endings, the incredible camera work and lighting; I think my ultimate goal with my writing is to capture the pathos found in films like Double Indemnity and Kiss Me Deadly.

So there you have it. My “things.”

I’m already compiling lots of fun facts as I research my next book. For instance, did you know that there’s a town in Canada, Moose Jaw, that holds as its claim to fame that Capone ran its prostitution and gambling rings as well as had his tonsils removed by a local doctor? Yet when a reporter asked Capone about Canada, Capone said, “I don’t even know what street Canada is on.” (from LAST CALL: THE RISE AND FALL OF PROHIBITION by Daniel Okrent)

Prohibition research is much more cocktail-party-conversation worthy than the Depression. If I can just make it through the next six days, nine hours, and fifty-eight minutes, I’ll pour you a Prohibition-worthy drink and regale you with the new things I’ve learned.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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  1. I was raised in black and white films, but I do know some people resist them. I had to pretty much insist that my last girlfriend watch To Have and Have Not with me (she liked it).

    “Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels makes me swoon for Veronica Lake.”

    As well it should. I remember watching that when I was a kid and noticing that, even with pants and a cap and so on, she sure didn’t look much like a guy.

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