Wednesday, March 23, 2016

FEATURED AUTHOR: ELLEN MANSOOR COLLIER



ABOUT THE BOOK

In 1920s Galveston, society reporter Jazz Cross is in for a surprise when she attends a traveling vaudeville show with her beau, Prohibition Agent James Burton, and discovers that an old flame acts in the production. That night, they find a stabbing victim behind the Oasis — her half-brother Sammy’s speakeasy — who’s identified as an actor in the troupe. When the victim disappears and later turns up dead, Jazz must help prove that Sammy wasn’t the killer.

Meanwhile, a ring of jewel thieves is turning up all over town, robbing rich tourists of their precious gems. After a second vaudeville actor is found dead, Jazz discovers that the events behind the scenes are much more interesting than the outdated acts onstage.

To make matters worse, Sammy’s old nemesis demands that he settles a score and forces him into yet another illegal scheme. Can Jazz help solve the murders and prove her brother’s innocence—so he can escape the Downtown Gang for good?

A historical Jazz Age mystery inspired by real-life Galveston gangs and local landmarks.





INTERVIEW WITH ELLEN MANSOOR COLLIER


Ellen, how did you get started writing?
My mother was a World History teacher and always wrote part-time so I used to play around on her old typewriter. (She’s had several articles and a novel published as well.  We actually co-wrote a couple of romantic short stories published in Woman's World.) I won a few writing awards (and placed in the Texas state UIL contest) when I worked on my high-school newspaper so naturally majored in Journalism at UT/Austin.  Originally I always wanted to be an international correspondent, like Christiane Amanpour—but after my first newspaper internship, I quickly realized I don’t have the stomach for hard news.

What's your favorite thing about the writing process?
Working in my pj’s! LOL  I love being able to create characters and plots that interest me and getting to control the outcome. Obviously I’m fascinated by the 1920s and enjoy doing the research needed to bring the Jazz Age era to life. When I can connect the dots in ways that make sense or come up with a new plot twist, that can be very satisfying.

Do you have a writing routine?
I write when I’m inspired and have free time without distractions, often at night.  As a magazine writer, I always had deadlines to meet so that was my motivation.  Now I let my ideas percolate and when I suddenly get a burst of energy (usually every other day), I can write fairly quickly. I envy those disciplined writers who just pound it out every day. I worked as a magazine writer and editor for most of my adult life, so I don’t want writing fiction to turn into a job. So far it’s worked for four mystery novels!

What do you wish you’d done differently when you first started the publishing process?
I wish I’d done more research into marketing and “building a brand.”  Since I don’t blog or tweet (by choice), I had no idea how important it was to have an online presence.  But I’d rather spend my time trying to get my books on shelves than selling online.  I used to work in advertising sales and PR, but it’s a lot harder to sell your own books! 

What do you think is hardest aspect of writing a book?
In a mystery, everything has to make sense and build to a satisfying yet logical conclusion. What’s difficult is keeping readers in suspense while connecting the dots.  We’re told to “play fair with the reader” and include a lot of clues — but then again we need to provide a surprise ending so critics don’t call your novels “predictable.”  Tough to do both well!

Do you have any marketing tips you could pass on to indie authors?
My advice to indies is: Discover what is unique and special about your novels and target your books to that market. e.g. If your book centers on a candy store or bakery or spice shop, locate shops in your area who might want to sell your books.  If your novel involves pets or animals, perhaps a grooming salon or pet shop may want to sell your books.

Better yet, find a chain who can place your books in several locations so you won’t be running all over town just to sell a handful of books.  Since my novels are set in 1920s Galveston, I’ve approached local and regional outlets as well as souvenir/gift shops.  Wherever I go, I try to pass out postcards with my book covers and info printed on front.

Currently my books sell well at luxury hotels in Galveston and area stores. In addition, I’ve set up at a few antique shows and sold several books per show (usually 10-20).  Not only do I make twice as much selling my novels directly, I’ve made new friends who come back for the latest titles. So far, I’m the only author who sells books along with vintage Deco items — and my books seem reasonable in comparison. LOL  A few dealer friends also display my books and/or postcards on their tables during major antique shows.

Why not ask your friends and contacts about various markets that might be interested in featuring your books? They may even be willing to set up a book-signing or talk. (I’ve done several book-signings in Galveston.) Also I’ve donated my books to area charities and fund-raisers — not only is it a great way to make new friends and contacts, your books receive wonderful publicity and exposure. Once you find that unique niche, you may hit just the right target market for your novels. Good luck — and think outside of the big box shops!  


What are you working on now?
I’ve just begun the fifth book in my Jazz Age series but now I’m spending more time marketing than writing! Hope to release it later this year.  Stay tuned! 


EXCERPT FROM VAMPS, VILLAINS AND VAUDEVILLE


“Please take your seats. The Villains, Vixens and Varmints Vaudeville Show is about to begin.” The master of ceremonies’ mellifluous voice boomed across Martini Theatre, and lights dimmed as a uniformed usher escorted me and Agent Burton to our front-row seats.

Disoriented, I tried not to trip in the dark while the orchestra broke into a classic overture. We squeezed in the cramped seats, our elbows and knees bumping, his long legs stretched out in front. Always a gentleman, he rarely took my hand in public though we’d dated steadily for four months now. You’d think I still lived in my old University of Texas dorm with its strict code of conduct: No ODA — overdisplay of affection.

The society editor — my boss, Mrs. Harper — had snagged two front-and-center seats to Friday night’s opening performance. No doubt the traveling troupe expected the Galveston Gazette — rather, me — to give them a rave review. Well, we’d see if this dog-and-pony show lived up to its billing, literally. The MC gave a short introduction and a chubby clown paraded onstage with a spotted pony, a small terrier-mix perched atop its back. When the clown tried to coax the pup to stand on its hind legs, the spunky mutt refused to cooperate, while the audience laughed with glee.

Next Farmer Brown came onstage with Polly, a “talking pig” that oinked and grunted to Old McDonald. Luckily the pig drowned out Burton’s groans of, “You call this entertainment?”

“Relax and try to enjoy the show,” I nudged him. “You’ve got to admit, it’s funny.”

“I’d rather catch crooks than have to endure this nonsense.”

“Hogwash! Personally, I think the pig is cute,” I razzed him, feeling sorry for the poor farmer who beamed proudly at his porky pig. “You do your job, and I’ll do mine.”

Burton could be so stubborn and yes, pig-headed, at times.

After the animal acts came a beautiful ballerina, a French mime, a boyish barbershop quartet, and a short scene from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H. M. S. Pinafore.  A chorus line of long-limbed hoofers clad in sparkly sequined tap pants and tops danced to lively Cole Porter tunes, reminding me of the bathing beauties.

When Vera, a burlesque dancer, appeared in a Gay ‘90s costume and feather boa, Burton perked up, saying, “This is more like it!” Annoyed, I hushed him to keep quiet. Fortunately she only strutted around the stage twirling her boa, not disrobing, while the men clapped and whistled. What a relief!  Overall, the performers appeared more polished than the local yokels who competed in talent shows, hoping to be the next Fanny Brice, Buster Keaton or Theda Bara . . .

During intermission, the MC announced a last-minute replacement for Dan Dastardly in the final act. So far, the routines seemed accomplished yet rather outdated, a point I’d make in my review. No need to be rude or demeaning, but a little constructive criticism never hurt, right?

“Now we can make our escape,” Burton half-joked.

“The show’s almost over. Besides, I can’t give my honest opinion without seeing the whole production. What kind of critic would I be?”

After the break, Burton stayed seated, stoically suffering through two corny comedy acts.  He perked up after a sword-swallower appeared, and applauded a knife thrower who narrowly missed his victim, a beautiful showgirl in a silky gown. I yelped and squirmed when he aimed an arrow at his brave target—and struck an apple on her head.

“These are my type of acts,” Burton grinned, while I clutched his arm, trembling.

Next “Milo the Magician” took the stage, elegant in a tux, top hat and white gloves, and  performed his requisite card tricks and rabbit in the hat act. Millie, his pretty redheaded assistant, flitted around in satin tap pants and top, diverting the audience’s attention.  I cringed when Milo sawed his willing sidekick in two halves while Millie smiled sweetly at the audience. Then he made her disappear in a large painted box—and reappear again in a gypsy outfit.  Voila!

Last but not least, Milo invited a volunteer to participate while he distracted the audience with his sleight-of-hand, deftly stealing the man’s  wristwatch. “Do you have the time?” Milo asked the flustered fella, who fumbled for his missing watch—then pulled it out of his top hat.

The final act highlighted a short scene from The Perils of Pauline, featuring a dastardly villain wearing a black mask and cape trying to kidnap helpless, hapless Pauline. Twirling his handlebar moustache, the evil masked man tied poor Pauline to a tree while the Tom Mix character managed to chase off the villain, and rescue his beloved damsel-in-distress. Yes, the act was so corny and hammy that it was comical, but I enjoyed the melodrama of it all.

I knew Amanda, an aspiring actress, would love the show. Too bad the troupe remained in town for only a week.
After the show, the performers gathered on stage, and as each act stepped forward to take their separate bows, the applause grew louder. When the Perils of Pauline actors appeared, the audience stood up, clapping wildly and cheering as the performers grinned and waved. Seems I was wrong about vaudeville: The appreciative audience gave all the actors a standing ovation.

Strange, I noticed the villain smiling at me from his vantage point onstage — or was he? Surely I imagined it . . . until he took off his hat and held it out to me like a rose, or a bribe. Then he gave me a bold wink—right in front of Burton.


Blushing, I did a double-take: Was the villain flirting with me?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.

A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).

Flappers, Flasks And Foul Play
is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, Bathing Beauties, Booze And Bulletshttp://www.amazon.com/Bathing-Beauties-Booze-Bullets-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00CO30ANS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.

“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”

Connect with the author:
Website  |  Goodreads  | Pinterest  |  Amazon




5 comments:

  1. I want to read this book. It sounds really interesting.

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    1. Thanks for hosting us VAMPS, Amy! Hope your readers enter the blog-wide giveaway--FLAPPERS is the first in the series, followed by BATHING BEAUTIES, GOLD DIGGERS and finally VAMPS. Stay jazzy! E

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  2. I'm looking forward to reading this book. A Jazz Age setting is perfect for a book.

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    1. And Ellen knows the 20s! Thanks for commenting.

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