A Wicked Welcome to Judy Copek!

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.

Dressed for the hike
Dressed for the hike

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.

Girls with attitude
Girls with Attitude

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.

House in Pomona

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.

The Freyne Mansion
The Freyne Mansion

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.

The Arroyo Seco near Pasadena
The Arroyo Seco near Pasadena

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.

Research can be dangerous
Research can be dangerous

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.

17 Thoughts

  1. What a wonderful trip, Judy and congratulations on the book! I thought doing the research for my historical series (the early 1940s) would be hard, but it turns out I enjoy it.

    However. Rattlesnakes on the bathroom floor? Yikes!

  2. Judy, so many congratulations, and what fun to explore the area where I grew up! I know all those spots well. I wasn’t able to do the on-site research I wanted to for my own 1920s Pasadena book because of the pandemic (and if I ever get a contract for it, I will), but this week I’m in northern CA doing exactly that kind of trip for my new series.

    In the two fabulous photos of the girls, which was your mom, and what was her name? I love their hiking knickers!

    1. My mom was the brunette. I love these photos. In some respects 1920s women were not so different from us.

  3. I do so love when an author’s done their research and readers can tell almost immediately if they have. It’s a fun way to explore both present and past places, see the sights, smell the smells and hear to voices and music of the times. Love my arm chair traveling whether in the present or the past.

    “Such Stuff As Dreams” sounds like an amazing book and one that I would greatly enjoy having the opportunity to read. I’ve added it to my TBR list.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Had a lot of primary sources with the photos and scrapbooks and memories of my mom’s conversations, but the California trip just brought everything alive, and it was very energizing

  4. I enjoy any book that is so well written that I am walking along side with the protagonist. I have to really “see” the location. Then I can learn so much which is one of the two reasons I read: to learn and to be entertained.

    1. I think setting/location often becomes a “character,” because it brings so much knowledge and even drama to the novel. I like to read about interesting settings as well as write with setting being important to the story. You’re right. You are learning while being entertained. A win-win.

  5. What a fabulous research trip! I’m not sure I have the patience to research for a historical but am so glad others are. I love that the house your mom visited is still there. Congratulations on the new book!

    1. Thanks,Sherry! The thing is, as a writer I become so focused on finding cool details that will help bring the story alive that patience doesn’t really enter into it, and I am not by nature a patient person. It was exciting to see the house where my mom lived and I met the woman who lives there, and told her about my mom. There are so many arts & crafts houses in that area that one can drive for blocks and not see anything else. They have such charm. Tjhere’s one in Sharon, MA that I pass sometimes, and I always slow down to admire it.

  6. Hi Judy and welcome to the Wickeds. I love the era Such Stuff as Dreams is set in. I have my grandmother’s scrapbooks and other ephemera from the same time period. So close yet so far. I love visiting locations that I’m using in my books. It brings them alive and also gives me confidence as an author that I think comes through in the writing.

    1. Aren’t we lucky to have those “souvenirs” of a past age? My mom remained friends with those “girls” her whole life and we visited them once in California when I was 14. At that age, I never understood how lasting friendships could be. Of course the novel diverges substantially from the real life story but I dedicated it to my mom. I can just hear her sayiing, “but it wasn’t like that at all!” Sometimes, I felt guilty about getting so far afield of the truth of that summer, but it was all in service of the novel The period was so interesting, too.

  7. As a writer and a reader, I love well researched historicals. There is something so exciting in discovering the one true detail that brings it all to life!

    Rattlesnakes on the restroom floor. No, just no.

    1. Kait, he “snakes” notice was pretty creepy and I did not venture inside the building, in fact I left the area rather precipitously. But the whole trip was wonderful, and the research was always fun and rewarding.

  8. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Judy! I love research! In fact, it can be difficult sometimes for me to stop the research phase and move on to the writing!

    1. Jessie, I’m with you. Sometimes it is hard to stop the research and write. Of course, the research continues when some detail stumps you and it’s necessary to find the answer. I loved writing research papers in college and even high school. A professor once told me I should become a scholar, but instead I became a wife, mother, IT professional, and finally a writer, and loved the research I did on my job and in my writing.

  9. Hi Judith my mom was also a flapper and I I’ve always been fascinated by the twenties
    Can’t wait to read about the era in California versus Florida beautiful cover!

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