Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Since I didn’t grow up with the Flapper, her character can be elusive. I’m back to my book, writing about her and the intersection of a story I covered back in NJ. A story about a mobster and a long line of Irish women. So this Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share with you a snippet of the book, from my older sister Kay’s point of view:

Men found it hard to look away from Mama’s legs when she sat up at the counter. She had this way of crossing them, her tiny feet balancing on the brass bar that ran along the smooth wooden baseboard. Stockings rolled down, T-straps punctuated her ankles like a proper Flapper. She smoked lazily, holding court with all the customers. My Daddy was a pharmacist and his Rexall drug store was our family’s meeting place after school.

Every day my little brother Mikey and I would stroll over for ice cream, and to see if Daddy needed any help. I’m the oldest and only girl after Shirley moved out, so I’m the sugar in his coffee. Only lately Daddy was having trouble moving his left arm, and sometimes he had headaches. Then I would get to pound some powders into pills for him in the back office. I was just heading there when I heard my name.

“Katy honey, bring me that new lotion that came in last week.”

Mama stabbed out the cigarette, willing me to her. It was her pleading, sweet voice. The one you didn’t want to cross. She was pregnant now and found it easier to ask me for all kinds of favors. Mikey was sitting in the store window, sunlight sparkling off his blond head, reading a Superman comic. He was tired of being the baby in the family.

“Mama can I name the baby, please? Can I name her pretty please?” 

His voice was pleading. The baby was due in September, and we all wanted a girl with red hair. Mikey would name her Rose.

As I searched for the new lotion, I watched Mama twirling her fingers in her heavy lap; never still, pivoting around in the counter seat, flashing a smile so brilliant you’d think a light bulb went off. There was a cold, sweating Coke in front of her, and the fan was aimed at her neck. She was waiting for a new life, never imagining what was to come.

Of course this was the summer of 1948 when she was pregnant with me, her sixth and last child. You could hear Frank Sinatra crooning in the background, and I always imagined Reese Witherspoon playing her part in a movie. The Year of Living Dangerously was about to begin. She had left the city lights behind. The Flapper was a complicated Mother, full of contradictions and forged out of steel. She outlived three husbands and worked hard all her life. Still I loved her and moved in with her when I was twelve.

Happy Mother’s Day to all! We are not perfect, we are all of us complicated women. But above all, #LoveTrumpsHate


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Forget about the asteroid hurtling towards earth today. Or even the discovery of King Richard III’s bones under a car park in Leicester. I’ve been immersed in past royalty of the historical fiction-type. In my zeal to de-clutter all things, Goodwill received a truckload of books from my bedroom. And while donating tomes I’ve read, I managed to uncover those books I’d always planned to read when I got the time. Like the 532 page winner of the Man Booker Prize, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. And of course, I had to start with her second book about Henry VIII, Bring Up the Bodies, written from the POV of his Master Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.

So even though I know how and why the reign of the imposter Queen Anne Boleyn ends, I’m now learning more about her beginnings. How she helped the King to sever his relationship with the Holy Roman Church and its Pope, to start up his own church where the priests could marry. Because in Catholic school I was not taught that priests and popes kept hidden mistresses and children, so the Anglican idea was only legitimizing the culture. And of course, helping Henry to annul his twenty year marriage to his first Queen Katherine.

Chock full of intrigue and political schemes, I was caught up by something the King’s future paramour Queen says while she is still just a lady-in-waiting for Anne. Cromwell asks Jane Seymour 2 questions, “What have you been doing? Where have you been?” A shy woman, she answers the first, “Sewing mostly.” But of the second she says, “Where I’m sent.” And being a sly councillor, he knows she has been sent to court by her father in order to spy on the King.

Going where one is sent was true of women both royal and peasant in Tudor England. Queen Katherine of Aragon was sent to live out her life in a damp manor at Kimbolton, where she dies either of cancer or poisoning. And we all know that Anne is sent to the Tower, where she loses her head. They were guilty of growing old, of flirting and most importantly, not producing a male heir. But not so much of Queens in the Twelfth Century. Last night I happened to watch a PBS show called “She-Wolves, England’s Early Queens.”

I know I’m growing old when I much prefer this type of documentary to say, the Super Bowl. But after reading about the powerlessness of Britain’s Queens, it was remarkable to find that earlier Queens, like Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, actually raised armies and fought off their Kings, even managing to escape from their prison/castle. One finally being restored to the throne, after her estranged husband dies, by her son, the new King. You see, her son was off fighting the Crusades, so she had to rule the country…in her 70s!

Which makes the current Queen Elizabeth’s proclamation so sweet more than 800 years later. HRH the Queen issued a Letters Patent to make Kate’s baby bump (should it be a girl) a “Princess” and not just a “Lady.” So that whole trouble with Henry VIII should never be a bother again because even if the new royal first born is a girl, she will be next in line, behind William, to the Throne. Can we have an Amen Sister!

“Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, said the alteration was expected, especially in light of moves to pass legislation removing discrimination surrounding women succeeding to the throne.” Now just think, where have we heard of Debrett’s before? http://www.debretts.com/people/essential-guide-to-the-peerage.aspx

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