Roaring Twenties Facts That Are Stranger Than Fiction – Guest Post by Renee Rosen, author of Dollface

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the industry launch party for a really fun new book, Dollface by Renee Rosen. We took a version of the Untouchables Gangster Tour which had been customized a bit to follow some of the characters of the book and then had food and drinks in an authentic 1920s speakeasy.

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Our Untouchables tour guide

I had the opportunity to read Dollface before the party and it is a very fun book that provides a great look into 1920s Chicago and in particular the Northside Gang. I was able to chat with Renee Rosen a bit at the party, and she agreed to share a bit more about the Northside Gang with my readers. Check out her post, and then check out Dollface to bring their stories to life.

When it comes to Chicago during the Roaring Twenties, most people think of Al Capone. But when I began doing research for my novel, Dollface, I quickly discovered that the lesser-known gangsters from Chicago’s North Side were a far more colorful and fascinating bunch.

Take for example, Dion O’Banion, the big boss of the North Side Gang. He was a former alter boy and attended Mass every day. He was a florist and such a devoted Catholic that he even opened his flower shop, Schofield’s, directly across the street from Holy Name Cathedral. Now does this sound like a ruthless, murderous gangster to you? Yeah, well, don’t let Dion’s religious practices fool you. He may not have drank a drop of alcohol himself, but he was vicious bootlegger who carried a rosary and three guns and is believed to have whacked more than sixty men before Capone succeeding in gunning him down inside his flower shop.

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The door to the speakeasy

With Dion O’Banion out of the way, Hymie Weiss was next in command and took over the North Side Gang. Hymie was another bewildering figured. Widely assumed to be Jewish, Hymie’s real name was Earl J. Wojciechowski. Rumor has it that he borrowed the name from a tailor’s label stitched inside one of his suit coats. Hymie was perhaps the meanest of all gangsters and was the only man Capone admitted being afraid of. Hymie even shot his brother during a family quarrel and was reputed to have shoved a sawed-off shotgun in a U.S. Marshall’s face. He was a somber fellow and like Dion O’Banion, Hymie was a God-fearing, Church-going man. So devout was Hymie Weiss that he supposedly went to church each day and on bended knee prayed to God to help him kill Al Capone. Unfortunately for Hymie, he didn’t pray hard enough because Capone got to him first, gunning him down in front of Holy Name Cathedral. Legend has it that a Bible in Hymie’s breast pocket was the only thing that kept a bullet from entering his heart. Of course it was the other ten slugs that took him out on his way to the hospital. If you go by Holy Name Cathedral today you can still see a bullet hole in the south east cornerstone from that bloody day.

With two North Side members down, it was up to Vincent “the Schemer” Drucci to run the show. Drucci was my favorite gangster and I probably could have written an entire novel just about him. He was an Italian and yet he belonged to the predominantly Irish North Side gang as opposed to the largely Italian South Siders. His nickname “the Schemer” was most befitting, as Drucci was a bit of a whack-a-doo. The best pranks pulled off by the North Side Gang can most likely be traced back to Drucci.

For example, it was Drucci who orchestrated the plot to sneak into one of Capone’s warehouse and replace all their whiskey barrels with barrels of water. One of Drucci’s favorite bits was donning a priest robe for grins and standing across the street from Holy Name, outside of Schofield’s, making lewd comments to women passing by or throwing punches at Dion as passersby looked on in shock at the rowdy priest. Drucci also had a bit of the acting bug in him and starred in a blue film, a.k.a. a porno flick called Bob’s Hot Story.

Drucci was the only gangster of the North Side Gang to die at the hands of the police rather than a rival gang member. And because Drucci had served as a doughboy during WWI and because he had been killed by the police, they felt it was only proper to bury him with full military honors including a 21 gun salute.

You can’t make this stuff up, right? So when people ask me why I chose to write about gangsters during Prohibition and why I chose to focus on the North Side Gang members, all I can say is that these characters were just too good to resist.

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How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman – Book Review

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, a Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

There are hundreds, thousands, millions of ways to write a novel, many of them good. Of course, many of them are also oh so very bad. Luckily, if you WANT to write a bad novel, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman have got you covered. These two long-time denizens of the world of writing have identified 200 Very Bad Things writers do in their novels in categories such as plot, character, style, and world building and have laid them out with detail so you can either avoid them or aim for them, depending on what you’re going for.

The advice here is wonderful. Mittelmark and Newman are not telling you what to write or how to write, because there are so many different things that work for different people. But seriously, no matter who you are, this stuff is bad and should be avoided at all costs. I’m not sure that by simply avoiding all of this you can write a good novel, but you can definitely make your novel better, something that will be hugely helpful for all of you beginning your NaNoWriMo work (you may want to revise with this by your side).

There was something that seemed slightly off, I felt that I didn’t always know from one moment to the next whether they were warning writers away from something bad or pretending to encourage the terrible thing. However, the fact that the conceit didn’t always seem consistent never impeded my ability to understand just what was horrible and what was not. I am also able to forgive any inconsistencies because this conceit made How Not to Write a Novel hugely engaging to read. I figured I’d get some pointers for my own potential writing and more ways to think about what I read, but my reading of How Not to Write a Novel was as much about enjoyment of the style and authorial voice as it was about analyzing specific writing issues.

If all writing books were as fun and helpful as How Not to Write a Novel, I might have a blog of nothing but writing books.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – Mini Book Review

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life-sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition-its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

I read Olive Kitteridge after thoroughly enjoying Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, The Burgess Boys. The two books are so different that it is difficult to compare them, and I believe I did them a disservice by attempting to do so. Olive Kitteridge is fascinating, the linked stories an intriguing way to get at who Olive is. It was hard for me to come into the linked stories after the more cohesive The Burgess Boys. It is a brilliant book, I just wish I had read it at a time when I could better appreciate it.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers – Book Review

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin

This is the second book in the His Fair Assassin series. I have previously reviewed the first book, Grave Mercy. This review may contain spoilers for Grave Mercy.

Picking up just where Grave Mercy left off, Dark Triumph focuses not on Ismae, as the first book did, but on her fellow initiate from the convent of St. Mortain, Sybella. Damaged and hurting, Sybella is forced by the sisters at the convent to return to the home that tortured her, that made her the creature she is today.

Can she find a way to save her friends and Brittany, or will her time at home return her to the thrall and control of her father.

I am absolutely thrilled that LaFevers chose to tell Sybella’s story in Dark Triumph. For one thing, it is a much more involved and compelling story than I had imagined when we met her in Grave Mercy. For another, telling Sybella’s story allows LaFevers to move the story of the Franco-Breton war and Anne’s duchy forward without falling prey to the middle-of-the-trilogy slump. Much of what happens in regards to Anne’s story is in the background, but Sybella’s engaging story means there is significant narrative thrust to keep the reader entertained.

I can’t wait to see what is next for us in this series. Highly recommended.

For more information, please see the author’s website.
Source: Library.

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Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey – Book Thoughts

Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
Published by Ballentine Books, an imprint of Random House

In this, the last book of the Marie Antoinette trilogy (see my reviews of Becoming Marie Antoinette and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow), Juliet Grey covers the well-worn territory of the last days of the French monarchy, beginning with the march on Versailles and the family’s imprisonment in the Tuileries.

Despite the fact that Marie Antoinette’s life has been written about so often, Grey’s series continues to be immensely compelling – partly because she is taking the time of three books to tell the queen’s story and thus can delve deeply into her life.

If you have a decent background on pre-Revolutionary France, you could pick up any one of these books separately for a more in-depth look at a given period of Marie Antoinette’s life, but taken together they provide a great deal of insight not only into the queen herself, but also into France and the genesis of the Revolution.

Very highly recommended, but take the time and read the whole series, they are all worth it.

Find this book on the publisher’s website.

Source: Blog tour.

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