Moonshine Monday: Prohibition

moonshinemonday Welcome to Moonshine Mondays! In the lead up to the release of my Jazz Age-set romance Such a Dance on October 27, I’m rolling out some history, photos, background info and other special features relating to the book.

“…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”

This is from the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, otherwise known as Prohibition. It went into effect in January of 1920, effectively heralding in the Roaring Twenties.

The reasons Prohibition came about are complicated, and I can’t really do all of them justice in a blog post, but here’s a quick summary: In the late nineteenth century, alcoholism was seen by some as a moral failing, and though alcohol has always been an integral part of American culture, organizations like the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began campaigning to dry up the United States. In New York City in the 1890s, Theodore Roosevelt, as police commissioner, began to enforce the tremendously unpopular Sunday Laws, which prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays in an effort to clean up crime in the city. But there were other factors contributing to the movement toward Prohibition as well. In part, the movement was xenophobic, a reaction to the immigrant cultures arriving in the U.S. in the latter half of the nineteenth century, primarily cultures in which alcohol played a key part (Irish and German mostly, but Italian and Jewish as well). In part, Prohibition was also an offshoot of the women’s movement. It was common in some pockets of society for a man to go to the local saloon after work, blow half his paycheck on booze, and then go home and beat his wife or otherwise mistreat and neglect his family. Many of the women involved in the suffrage movement took up the cause of temperance as well to prevent this very thing from happening. Some advocates of the suffrage movement got involved in the temperance movement as a kind of compromise position when full suffrage seemed unlikely.

tumblr_nb1szdvBHH1trrbo0o1_500In fact, one of the reasons women were finally granted the vote is that dry politicians counted on women to vote for Prohibition.

In theory, after January 1920, alcohol was no longer available, though there were legal exceptions, among them sacramental wine and alcohol used for medicinal purposes. More to the point, though, the new law, known as the Volstead Act, did not provide for Federal enforcement of Prohibition. Instead, the Federal government was mostly reliant on local governments to enforce the new ban. Prohibition agents were hired, but most of them were poorly trained.

All eyes were on America’s biggest city, New York, as enforcement went into effect. Many of the poorly trained agents accepted bribes to look the other way as speakeasies popped up all over the city. In 1920, half the new agents had to be fired. With so much media attention focused on New York, the city was forced to divert police resources to enforcement, but many of the cops accepted bribes as well. (Hence Officer Hardy in Such a Dance, an old cop who happily accepts bribes not to raid and shut down the Times Square speakeasies.) Ultimately, Prohibition in New York City was a spectacular failure.

The unintended consequence, of course, was the rise of organized crime. Many of the Mob bosses you know from popular culture got their start as part of the gangs running rampant in lower Manhattan around the turn of the century, but trafficking alcohol turned out to be the sort of lucrative business venture that encouraged them to organize. Brooklyn’s own Al Capone made a killing (har har) in Chicago. (I want to talk about the Mob more in a future post, but for now, the relevant piece of information is that Prohibition essentially made the U.S. mafia.)

Drinking actually increased across the country during Prohibition, with speakeasies quickly replacing saloons as nightly gathering spots. Arrests for Volstead Act violations tied up the courts and jails, preventing them from dealing with larger crimes. Mob-related activity and other crime went up in the era. Prohibition was a failure, and an increasingly unpopular one at that. It was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.

For further reading, I recommend Daniel Okrent’s excellent book on Prohibition, Last Call.

Moonshine Monday: The Hotel Astor

moonshinemondayWelcome to Moonshine Mondays! In the lead up to the release of my Jazz Age-set romance Such a Dance on October 27, I’m rolling out some history, photos, background info and other special features relating to the book.

Although Such a Dance is populated by a number of fictional locations—Lane’s club, the Marigold; the James Theater where the Eddie dances—I used a number of real locations, too. One of the most notable is the Hotel Astor, which was once a luxury hotel in Times Square, on the block of Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets.

Vintage postcard of the Hotel Astor

Vintage postcard of the Hotel Astor

In the novel, the hotel’s proximity to Lane’s speakeasy on 46th Street is important, but I included the hotel in the book specifically because of the Astor’s notorious hotel bar. Starting in the 1910s, it became a meeting place for homosexual men. It wasn’t subtle, either; an entire section of the bar was set aside for gay men, and they were welcomed as long as they were discreet (for the time). It was part of the thriving gay culture in Times Square in the era, a logical evolution perhaps from the music halls and dive bars for men seeking men that cropped up in the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village in the late 19th Century—gay culture essentially followed the Theater District uptown. By the 1920s, both gay culture and theater are thriving in Times Square, and though the Marigold is fictional, clubs like it existed at the time. (More on this in a future post, but for now I’ll say that a straight line can be drawn from the Bowery music halls of the 1890s to Stonewall, with some points along the way you might not expect.)

Anyway, with this history in mind, I set a pivotal scene in the book at the Astor. For more, here are some exterior photos. And here are more photos, mostly interiors.

The hotel was torn down in the late 60s and today, the block is dominated by a monolithic office tower that is home to MTV studios and the Minskoff Theater (currently home of The Lion King). (Wikipedia.) Next time you’re in NYC and walking through Times Square, imagine a previous era when this block was dominated by one of the most luxurious hotels in the city, and think about who might have been meeting each other at the hotel bar.

Moonshine Monday: NYC Then and Now

moonshinemondayWelcome to Moonshine Mondays! In the lead up to the release of my Jazz Age-set romance Such a Dance on October 27, I’m going to start rolling out some history, photos, background info and other special features relating to the book.

New York has changed quite a bit in the 90 years that have passed since the book takes place. Such a Dance takes place almost entirely within a few blocks of Times Square. We’ll get into some of the specific locations from the book in the coming weeks, but first, I thought I’d set the scene by sharing some photos showing how NYC used to be.

Consider this: in 1927, there was no Empire State Building. There was no Rockefeller Center, no Chrysler Building, no Lincoln Center. There were still elevated trains running down major arteries in Manhattan and whole subway lines that hadn’t been built yet. It’s Prohibition, but though it was illegal to sell “intoxicating beverages,” liquor flowed freely in speakeasies all over the city. It was a seminal year for Broadway as well, with more shows opening that year than any year before or since. Vaudeville was on its way out and Broadway as we know it today, with shows like Showboat opening that year, was taking shape.

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Here are some links to posts with photos of Jazz Age New York:

Spotlight on Broadway: The Great White Way—Some fantastic photos of old Times Square

Then vs. Now: 1920s New York—Photos showing NYC in the 1920s and now

Stock footage showing NYC in 1927

I also have a Pinterest board showing NYC in the 1920s.

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Tune in next Monday for more!

State of Kate: What I’ve Been Up To

This past May was one of those months that was so insane and busy that people got a glazed, tired look on their face just from me telling them everything I was doing. Here’s what went down:

Such a Dance charms!

Kensington put these little book charms on Mardi Gras beads to give out at their party. This book’ll be out in October!

First, I went to Dallas for RT, which was zany fun as always. I like RT because it’s a flat-out fun time, and it’s big and overwhelming and can be hard work from the author side of things, but I always walk away thinking, “That was amazing.” I met a lot of really cool people and got to hang out with good friends. I talked to readers about books we liked and fangirled authors I like—or tried to keep my cool, like the time I started chatting with Tessa Dare and we talked about feather boas because I didn’t want to get all screechy about how much I love the Spindle Cove series, although I do love it a lot and kept thinking, “I’m just casually talking to one of my favorite authors like it’s no big thing and I can’t believe this is my life”—and it was generally surreal and awesome. I love, too, that the general reaction to me saying, “I write gay romance,” was, “Uh-huh. Tell me more.”

Kate McMurray as Rosie the Riveter

Doing my best Rosie the Riveter at the National WWII Museum in NOLA.

I was home for four days, during which time I went to a book club meeting and took a history class, because why take time off, really. Then I flew to New Orleans for a family wedding and stayed a few extra days for visiting with family/tourism. Highlights of the trip for me include all of the fantastic food I ate (my favorite meal was probably the catfish at Superior Seafood in the Garden District, so there’s a rec if you want one); going to the World War II museum with my 90-year-old grandpa (who is a WWII vet and was duly honored by the museum staff, which was heartwarming—although Grandpa was like, “I don’t get what all this fuss is about”); the wedding itself, which took place in this gorgeous old house; and finally touring the Cabildo and Presbytere, which were great if you, like me, derive dorky joy from history museums.

Kate McMurray in the Harlequin photo booth.

Harlequin had a photo booth at BookCon, so this happened.

I got home in time for Book Expo America/BookCon, which I attended as a Dreamspinner author, so the majority of my time there was spent working the booth. I did get to meet Gloria Steinem and Michelle Visage on the same afternoon, because that’s how BEA rolls. BookCon felt more organized this year, which was nice. And we got a nice reception at the Dreamspinner booth, especially for the YA imprint, Harmony Ink. We talked to a lot of librarians who told us about how important books are for those kids who feel isolated and misunderstood.

Michelle Visage

That time my friend Alexis and I were total crazy RuPaul’s Drag Race fangirls and Michelle Visage gave me a hug because we’re both Jersey girls.

We did a signing on Saturday as part of BookCon. I just found out there were 18,000 attendees, which is one of those numbers that seems so large it’s incomprehensible. When it ended Sunday, I got caught up in a terrible thunderstorm, but wound up riding the subway next to a girl who had also just come from BookCon and had nothing but excited things to say to her friend. Watching teenage girls with that kind of unbridled enthusiasm for books was pretty exciting for me. Gives me hope, you know?

Anyway, all of this was enough, but during the same period of time, I also had a bunch of things going on behind the scenes, among them: I dealt with second edits of Rainbow League Book 2 and proofs for Such a Dance; I edited 3 novels in my capacity as a freelance editor; and I put in a few hours at the day job. So that was bananas.

Kate McMurray at Lady Jane's Salon.

Here I am reading at Lady Jane’s.

The day after BEA, I read at Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC. Then this past Saturday, I taught my setting workshop at my local RWA chapter meeting. And that, my friends, was basically four weeks of fun insanity. I am TIRED. Sunday, I did nothing (well, I knit and watched TV, but mostly I was taking a break).

I’m currently getting ready for the next things: RWANYC’s Romance Festival on June 20th and then the RWA national conference in July. Then the second half of the year will be a much welcome break from public appearances; I don’t have anything scheduled again until 2016, so I hope to use the time to write, etc. And that’s a wrap!

Cover Reveal: Such a Dance

Such A DanceYesterday, I revealed the cover for my upcoming historical romance Such a Dance on Joyfully Jay. The book is set in New York during the Jazz Age, and it involves a vaudeville dancer and a mob boss. I’ll have more to say about the book when the pub date gets closer, but for now, here’s the blurb:

When a vaudeville dancer meets a sexy mobster in a speakeasy for men, the sparks fly, the gin flows, the jazz sizzles—and the heat is on…

New York City, 1927.

Eddie Cotton is a talented song-and-dance man with a sassy sidekick, a crowd-pleasing act, and a promising future on Broadway. What he doesn’t have is someone to love. Being gay in an era of prohibition and police raids, Eddie doesn’t have many opportunities to meet men like himself—until he discovers a hot new jazz club for gentlemen of a certain bent…and sets eyes on the most seductive, and dangerous, man he’s ever seen.

Lane Carillo is a handsome young Sicilian who looks like Valentino—and works for the Mob. He’s never hidden his sexuality from his boss, which is why he was chosen to run a private night club for men. When Lane spots Eddie at the bar, it’s lust at first sight. Soon, the unlikely pair are falling hard and fast—in love. But when their whirlwind romance starts raising eyebrows all across town, Lane and Eddie have to decide if their relationship is doomed…or something special worth fighting for.

This is my first novel-length historical, and I’m really psyched. I can’t wait for you all to read it. It’ll be out October 27th from Kensington!