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IL Interview- Myths, Legends, Books, and Coffee Pots

Feb. 21, 2019

A conversation with Historical Fiction author, Sherilyn Decter.

Please give a warm welcome to Historical Fiction author, Sherilyn Decter. Sherilyn could you tell us a little about yourself. 

A few years ago, I retired from a demanding job in the public sector. Staring ahead of me, for the first time in my life, was a blank slate. It was thrilling and intimidating to look out and see… nothing. It felt like I could become whoever I wanted to be, do whatever I wanted to do. It took almost a year to sort through the choices and decide on a course of action. Perhaps this is why the theme of a middle-aged woman at the crossroads of her life resonates with me. Write what you know, right?

With the arrogance of most readers, I decided I wanted to write a book. ‘How hard can it be?’ Pretty darn hard, apparently. But I had time and passion, two Mexican rescue pups to keep me company, and a loving husband to listen to me whine.

Launching my fourth career, this time as an author of historical fiction has been an adventure. I love history, and I live in a century-old house. It is perhaps its creaks and groans that inspired the touch of paranormal in the series.

What inspired you to write Innocence Lost and the Bootleggers’ Chronicles series?

I have always had a deep love of history. From the legends of King Arthur to the temples of Julius Caesar, from Elizabethan palace intrigue to the trenches of World War I. Understanding, not just the who and what of the past, but also the why has always held me captive.

One era in American history that fascinates me is the Roaring Twenties. Americans had made it through the gauntlet of destruction and violence of the Great War to emerge on the other side; living for today, revealing in the casting off social values and expectations of their parents’ generation, determined to enjoy all that life could offer and then some. The music, the fashion, the opportunities for women; the 1920s were an exciting and dangerous time.

Overlay that with Prohibition, a government that dared to tell this devil-may-care hedonistic generation that they couldn’t do something and it’s bound to get interesting.

I always thought there is something wildly romantic about the 1920s — the dresses, the hairstyle, and the music. What kind of challenges did you faced while researching this period of history?

Some aspects of the Twenties are very well documented. I spent countless hours poring over fashion. There is something addicting about feathers, fringes, and sequins: I couldn’t take my eyes off them. (and if you too have a secret passion for flapper fashions, check out my Pinterest page… enough eye candy there to make Miss Fisher or the gals at Downton Abbey green with envy.)

The day to day life, when the bootleggers and flappers weren’t out cutting-a-rug, had less information. Fortunately, even though we are one hundred years away from those times, it’s still within the living memory of our older family members. Stories passed down by grandparents; secret illegal hooch runs in the dead of night by disreputable great-uncles, sepia-tinted wedding photographs of blushing brides and bashful grooms, are part of our collective memory.

The internet became my doorway into this era, and I knocked on many others’ doors in the process. If I had a specific question, I could fire off an email. What were the Business classes like in 1923, especially for women? An email to the archivist at Drexel University in Philadelphia (where the series is set) produced electronic copies of old recruitment brochures, photographs, and introductions to resident historians. What did nurses wear in 1924 in Hahnemann Hospital? There was a museum eager to help.
Research is never a solitary process, and I want to give a huge shout out to all those that helped me make my books as authentic as possible.

I love researching and it sounds like you do as well. There are many books about Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties. Can you tell us three things that set your series apart?

Firstly, I wanted to look at what it was like as an ordinary person living through extraordinary times. Philadelphia was a bootlegger’s playground, albeit overshadowed by the gangsters in New York and Chicago. What did that mean for a widow struggling on a tight budget trying to raise her son and keep him safe? There were some critical choices for Maggie to make that need the spirit of those times to push her well outside her comfort zone. Some of them were good choices, and some had catastrophic consequences.

Like Maggie, all of us face forks in the road, of being put in impossible situations that ask much of us. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. (Martin Luther King).

Secondly, while Maggie is deeply and richly drawn, I didn’t want to shy away from some of the more unpleasant aspects of the era. It’s a book about bootleggers, and so there is crime and violence. It is a book about a woman devoted to her son and the memory of her husband, so there is minimal romance. Cracks begin to appear quickly in Maggie’s well-ordered world. The disappearance of her son’s friend, the arrival of a mysterious retired police detective, opening her home to lodgers, all push her along a path of rediscovering who she is.

Finally, the world is not ruined by the wickedness of the wicked, but by the weakness of the good. The foundation of the series is who will stand for justice and the consequences of when that call isn’t answered.

Your series sounds utterly enchanting. Can you tell us what you are currently working on?

I’ve just finished the five book series of the Bootleggers’ Chronicles. Inspired by the research and some of the characters I met along the way, I’ve just started work on the Rum Runners Chronicles set in Florida, the Bahamas, and Havana. This trilogy is also about a woman who is launching a new chapter in her life and is the story of how she thrives in the murky world of illegal liquor, sketchy speakeasies and blind tiger-gin joints.

It has been lovely talking with you, Sherilyn. Good luck with the rest of your tour.