by Julie, changing seasons in Somerville
I am delighted to welcome friends of the Wickeds Judy Copek to the blog today. We love celebrating new books, and books by friends give us extra joy.
Reading, Writing and Research
By Judith (Judy) Copek
Such Stuff As Dreams
In 1928, the twenties roar with Prohibition and partying. Carla Curby, a young teacher and photographer, arrives in Southern California from rural Kansas to visit girlhood friends. Carla anticipates an exciting summer away from her staid Mennonite town, a summer where lipstick, bobbed hair, and dancing the Charleston are normal. She doesn’t anticipate the graft and corruption that permeate life in the Golden State where many dream of discovering gold or hitting oil.
Carla is drawn into the local art scene and becomes friendly with a pair of Bohemian artists who admire her photography. When her mother insists that she return home to help with summer chores, Carla, in an act of uncharacteristic defiance, sells her return ticket, sends her mother the money, and determines to stay in California.
Her choice haunts her, but romance beckons as she becomes involved with two men: one, a painter who doesn’t believe in marriage, and the other a get-rich-quick dreamer. On the uncertain road ahead, Carla travels far from her staid Kansas life. A young woman with gumption and perseverance, she will be required to make hard decisions and to face challenges that were never part of her dreams.
The idea for Such Stuff As Dreams came from my late mother’s documents: a photo album, a scrapbook, and letters. I knew she had spent a summer in the Los Angeles area visiting two sisters from a family she had once been friendly with in her small Kansas hometown.
From the photographs and the scrapbook, I knew the friends had shared a wonderful summer, but a wonderful summer does not a compelling novel make. Something besides fun and girlish camaraderie had to happen. From the letters, I knew that one of the male characters had died. It became part of my story.
Still, I needed to flesh out my rudimentary plot. I researched the Web and read books about the times. I checked out the colorful slang of the era, and discovered the disturbing corruption of a society on the make. Prohibition had made flaunting the law normal.
I began writing with Carla, my main character, the Santa Fe train en route to California. But something was missing. I didn’t have a good grasp of 1928 suburban L.A. Boots on the ground research was required.
My husband and I landed at LAX in October and found a boxy gray KIA Soul awaiting us. We headed for the centrally located town of Arcadia.
The first pleasant surprise was that we found the house in Pomona where my mother had lived that summer.
We had a list of places to check out, from Mt. Baldy, where the old dance hall had been, to the Freyne mansion where the heiress lived. We spent time in Pasadena. We looked at Arts and Crafts houses. We visited the historical society and read old newspapers. We wandered through museums and gazed at beautiful en plein air paintings which related to my story.
In the San Gabriel mountains, we discovered another spot for a dramatic scene. We explored the famous Santa Monica pier, and I wrote about that. Our cup runneth over. Not only was it fun, but rewarding to come upon the perfect locations for my novel.
At week’s end, we said goodbye to the KIA Soul and flew home with pages of notes and dozens of photographs.
Without on-site research, my novel would have lacked crucial details. Research is heady; research is cool; and often, research is mandatory.
If you are a writer, do you enjoy doing research? If you’re a reader do you like to learn about new locales and historical times? Do you like the author to transport you to an era and a setting you’ve never visited?
Author Bio for Judith Copek
Such Stuff As Dreams is a leap into another genre for Judith, a historical novel set in the twenties. She discovered that bad guys and scary situations are not limited to mystery fiction. Judith belongs to The Historical Novel Society, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. In addition to five crime-fiction novels, she’s published memoir, poetry, and short stories.