Today, it is my pleasure to host amazing author and friend, Janet Fox. I’ve known Janet since my Class of 2k9 days, even though her first novel, FAITHFUL, ended up releasing in 2010. We’ve presented workshops together all over the country, hung out together—including in her new hometown of Bozeman, MT, which I visited because after I read FAITHFUL, I simply had to go to Yellowstone!—and I’m a HUGE of her writing. FAITHFUL (Speak, 2010) was followed by its companion novel, FORGIVEN and now Janet has published a third historical fiction YA, SIRENS, which grabs readers with its two narrative voices and holds them, breathless, until the end.
Plus Janet is doing a giveaway, so make sure to read to the end of the post!
Here’s what Amazon has to say about SIRENS:
Two girls. One gangster. A deadly secret.
When Josephine's father ships her off to live with her rich cousins on the glittering island of Manhattan, he says it's to find a husband. But Jo knows better--there's trouble brewing, and in 1925, all that glitters is not gold. Caught up in a swirl of her cousin's bobbed-hair set--and the men that court them--Jo soon realizes that this world of jazz and gangsters and their molls hides a nest of lies. But when she befriends the girlfriend of one of the most powerful and dangerous gangsters in town, Jo begins to uncover secrets--secrets that threaten an empire and could destroy everyone she loves. Jo is faced with a choice: hang on to her soul, or lose herself in the decade of decadence.
Fans of The Great Gatsby, Libba Bray's The Diviners, and Bright Young Things will be captivated by Janet Fox's Roaring Twenties tale.
I had some questions of my own about SIRENS, and here’s what Janet had to say:
Joy: Personally, I find the Jazz Age continually contemporary. What drew you to the 1920's/Jazz Age for this project?
Janet: You are so right about the Jazz Age being contemporary! That was the first thing I noticed while researching: the parallels between the Roaring Twenties and the high-rolling 1990s. They even share the scarier aspects – acts of terror and fear of/discrimination against immigrants. And they share the more bizarre aspects, too – a return to spiritualism and the quest for “self”.
Now, to be fair, this project originated with my publisher, who asked me to write another book and set it in the 1920s. But the minute she proposed it, I said yes. I don’t always say yes. But this idea appealed to me – it’s an era I wanted to know more about, one that was rich with cultural overtones.
Joy: Why 1925 in particular?
Janet: I searched for a year that had some resonance in music, culture, and current events. I wanted it to be far enough away from the Great War, Prohibition, and Women’s Suffrage that those things were not immediate but “felt” throughout society. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that The Great Gatsby (one of the inspirations for this novel) came out in 1925.
Joy: Why did you decide to set the story in Manhattan? What kind of research did you have to do?
Janet: You know, that was the easy part. I did toy with placing the story in Chicago and even Butte, Montana, but settled on Manhattan because I was born there, and lived there, and I really, really love New York. I’ve been back often. Plus, New York was happening in the twenties, just as it is today. I know it well, feel at home there, have family and friends there, would probably live there if I didn’t live in Montana.
But then, if I lived there, I would miss my big skies...
Joy: Anything you discovered in your research that was new or particularly fascinating to you? Anything that you didn't include?
Janet: Two things were really fascinating and new to me. The first was the Wall Street bombing of September 1920. Yes, that’s right – a total parallel to 9/11, except that the loss of life was lower and they never caught the culprits, even though they offered an enormous reward. The bomb, thought to be an act of terror around the treatment of immigrants and labor issues, targeted JP Morgan, but he was in Europe, so only the common folk – secretaries, runners – died. And the horse pulling the loaded wagon.
The second new piece of information that intrigued me was this aspect of spiritualism that pervaded the culture. Seances were big. Houdini was huge. He and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (good friends, by the way, which I hadn’t known) had arguments about whether there was life after death, or not. I play with that theme, the idea of some sort of abiding spirit, as an undercurrent in the novel.
I didn’t include much about the new role of advertising in the twenties, which is fascinating but I didn’t think needed to be in the story. Nor did I include the Ku Klux Klan, or the inner workings of speakeasies, also fascinating but not relevant.
Joy: Gangsters/Mobsters play a role in Sirens. What drew you to this type of story?
Janet: Well, of course, Al Capone was a starter. He’d left New York for Chicago by then, so I didn’t need to deal with him directly; I could only imagine the guys who’d want to fill his shoes. There’s something about the guy who is really only trying to make his way up in the world, but finds that it’s easiest to do so by behaving badly. I think that’s why viewers love programs like Boardwalk Empire – these “self-made” men who made themselves by making themselves bad.
And I admit that Gatsby was an inspiration in that regard. He is a nuanced and layered character, and that’s what I wanted to portray in my made-up gangster Danny Connor.
Joy: Author Libba Bray has said that when writing her new series THE DIVINERS, she developed an entire 1920's play list. Did you listen to 20's music? Any thoughts/favorites?
Janet: You know, I can’t listen to anything – and I mean anything – while I write. I find sound thoroughly distracting. I’ve never made a playlist to listen to while working, though I’ve made plenty for when the novel is done.
I have two teasers and a trailer that feature great 20s music, a little out of the mainstream music, which I love.
Joy: Like your other two novels. Faithful and Forgiven, Sirens falls in the genre of historical fiction. What about the genre continues to appeal to you?
Janet: I love being able to access a world that is already defined by some parameters. (That said...see my answer to #9). I’ve always loved history, and think that we really are condemned to repeat it until we “get” it. Women in particular – I’m fascinated by the role of women through history. I’m hoping we’re just coming into our own. I’m hoping that I’ll be alive to witness the age of true women’s liberation.
And there is something fun about describing the clothes, I’ll admit.
Joy: Tell us about your main character, Jo. Does she share any similarities to Maggie (Faithful) and Kula (Forgiven)?
Janet: Not really. Maggie is kind of selfish and dependent until she finds herself needing to stand on her own two feet. Kula is frightened and feels cornered until she realizes that she can control her future by letting go of her past.
Jo is independent right from the start, but she doesn’t know how to get what she wants. She thinks that being a flapper means being silly but comes to understand the real meaning of women’s independence – and that’s when she begins to define her path.
I’m big on empowerment for my characters, especially my girls.
Joy: What's next for Janet Fox?
Janet: Well...I’m trying my hand at a genre I’ve loved since childhood. Kind of a science fiction/magical realism mix, set in part on the moon, in part underground on Earth, in the far distant future. It’s a stretch, and I’m in the self-doubt stage, but I plan to see it through, even if it doesn’t sell. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try.
Joy: And now the lightning round:
· Twizzlers or M and Ms? M&Ms
· Zombies or unicorns? Unicorns. (I don’t eat red meat. Yuck.)
· Book you wish you'd written? Right now – The Scorpio Races.
· Guilty pleasure TV? We don’t have TV! But I’ve discovered Downton Abbey on Netflix. Oh, yeah.
Joy: Excellent answers! I have always been a huge fan of anything 1920’s and so I was particularly thrilled that Janet had taken my favorite historical period and used it as her backdrop.
And now the contest!
WANT TO WIN A COPY OF SIRENS?
Comment on this blog post and let Janet know what your favorite historical period is and why. I’ll put you in the contest hat. Extra bonus points for following Janet and me on Twitter. She is @janetsfox and I am @joypreble
Contest will be open through Thursday 12/6 and I will announce the winner on Friday.