Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Featured Author: Ellen Mansoor Collier

Historical Mystery writer Ellen Mansoor Collier is here today to talk about Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets, a Jazz Age Mystery #2. One reviewer called it "the ultimate fun read for the beach or backyard." With a whiff of romance, too!

About the book:

It’s 1927 in Galveston, Texas—the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross is an ambitious 21-year-old society reporter for the Galveston Gazette who tries to be taken seriously by the good-old-boy staff, but the editors only assign her fluffy puff pieces, like writing profiles of bathing beauties. The last thing Jazz wants to do is compare make-up tips with ditzy dames competing in the Miss Universe contest, known as the “International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue.”

She’d rather help solve the murders of young prostitutes who turn up all over town, but city officials insist on burying the stories during Splash Day festivities. After Jazz gets to know the bathing beauties, she realizes there’s a lot more to them than just pretty faces and figures. Jazz becomes suspicious when she finds out the contest is also sponsored by the Maceos, aspiring Beach Gang leaders and co-owners of the Hollywood Dinner Club, where the girls will perform before the parade and pageant.

Worse, her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis, a speakeasy on a rival gang’s turf, asks her to call in a favor from handsome Prohibition Agent James Burton—an impossible request that could compromise both of their jobs and budding romance. While Agent Burton gives her the cold shoulder, she fends off advances from Colin Ferris, an attractive but dangerous gangster who threatens Sammy as well as Burton. In the end, she must risk it all to save her friends from a violent killer hell-bent on revenge. Inspired by actual events.

Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets is the sequel to Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play.

Interview with Ellen Mansoor Collier:

How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I started writing as a kid, and my mom, who was a teacher and part-time writer, gave me my first functional toy typewriter when I was about 10. I took my first journalism class in high school, served on the school newspaper, and won a couple of writing awards (including a UIL award in News writing). In college (the University of Texas at Austin—hook ‘em horns), I majored in magazine journalism and wrote for the college magazine. I’ve been working as a freelance writer and editor most of my adult life.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

Obviously I like alliteration, and wanted to make the titles in my Jazz Age series consistent and recognizable.

I love alliteration too! You're a freelance magazine writer/editor, what else do you do?

I also dabble in antiques and collectibles. I worked for two antiques dealers right after college, between journalism jobs, and caught the bug early. Unfortunately I was too broke to buy much so always put things on lay-away, like Jasmine.

How did you create the plot for Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets?

When I found out the Miss Universe pageant originated in Galveston as a bathing beauty contest, I wanted to create a mystery around the actual events. My original idea was more ominous and menacing, but I didn’t want to kill off too many characters! 

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I’m definitely a pantser, not a plotter. With both books, I had a general idea of the plots, but they evolved and changed as I went along. Maybe I’d be more prolific if I plotted out everything first!

Tell us about your cover art.

As an indie, I get to pick and choose my cover artwork and fonts. Luckily my brother, Jeff J. Mansoor, is a talented graphic artist and pulls it all together for me in an attractive design. I’m very visual and enjoy the process of designing my own covers. Sure, I’d love to be traditionally published, but I’d hate to give up this creative control!

Have you ever bought any books just for the cover?

Yes, I hate to admit, I do tend to judge a book by its cover. I’ve found that an artistic cover usually means the writing is good as well, but not always. 

What do you do to market your books?

Since my mysteries are e-books, I’ve mainly spread the word through blog tours. I may get some hard copies printed up so I can distribute them to shops, hotels and bookstores. 

Are you like any of your characters?

I’m definitely most like Jasmine, outspoken and curious, but I’ve never wanted to cover crime scenes or murders. I’m a wimp in real life!

What five real people would you most like to be stuck on an island with?

As far as writers go, I’d love to meet Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, F. Scott & Daisy Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. They’ve all had controversy and mystery in their lives, and I’d probably interview them to death (no pun intended)!

Good one! What have been your favorite books from childhood up to adulthood?

I enjoyed the Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney mysteries, so they were my biggest influence though I don’t write romantic suspense. Of course, I love Rebecca, especially the final twist—so creepy and atmospheric! Also I read a lot of Dorothy Parker’s short stories and poems in high school.

Do you have a routine for writing?

Usually I just write when I’m inspired. I’m too hyper to sit and stare at a blank page. If I have writer’s block, I like to get up and move around, or go out and do anything but write. As a journalist, I like to set deadlines for myself since I’m a fanatic about meeting deadlines. I knew the Great Gatsby was coming out May 10 so I wanted to finish Bathing Beauties before then! 

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

I like to write late at night or early morning, when it’s quiet outside. I moved my laptop to the kitchen so I could have a view. If the weather is nice, I often edit outside (usually at CafĂ© Express or La Madeleine).

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

How nice! All over the US, Australia and the UK for a book tour. For fun, I’d love to visit Greece, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Turkey, Portugal, Morocco, New Zealand...I love to travel.

Excerpt from Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets:

Sammy appeared, looking disheveled and rumpled, his shirt half-buttoned and dark hair curlier than usual. “What happened to you?” I asked, stifling a laugh.

“All those dames!” He gasped for breath. “Get a few drinks in ‘em and they turn into vultures! They were all over me!”

“I noticed. So what are you complaining about?” I teased him. “I thought you liked having a fan club around.”

“I do, but...” He looked down, smoothing out his shirt, then buttoned it back up. “I just feel so bad. I don’t know what to do...” His mood turned somber.

“About what? Amanda?” No secret my best friend had a big crush on my handsome half-brother.

“About everything...” He paced the tiny office, rubbing his unshaven face, as if trying to think. “I’m in a jam and I don’t know how to get out.”

“What kind of jam?” I could tell Sammy was stalling for time, so I went over to him and shook his arm, to stop his pacing. “Sammy, tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s about the gangs. Their turf wars.”

“What else is new?” Galveston gangs had a long-standing rivalry, and it didn’t take much to set things off. Broadway served as the boundary separating the two gangs, and it was no-holds-barred if and when that line was crossed—the Beach Gang’s turf was located north of Broadway, and the Downtown Gang was south.

Naturally Sammy wanted to stay on good terms with both gangs, who controlled the flow of booze on the Island. Agent Burton had tried, but failed, to shut down their operations, but he did manage to cut off a few sources, including a dangerous bootlegger, for a while—with our help.

“What’s the latest feud about?” Word was, Ollie Quinn had set his sights on the Downtown Gang’s turf, and with his reckless wheeling and dealing, Johnny Jack seemed ripe for a coup.

“Let’s just say the Maceos don’t always see eye-to-eye with Ollie or Dutch Voight. They want to get out of the prostitution racket, but Ollie wants to line up houses all over the island, even set up shop in the clubs.” Sammy took out a Camel cigarette and lit it, avoiding my gaze.

I’d heard similar stories and Mack, our top reporter, confirmed several rumors in a hard-hitting series for the Gazette describing the turf wars, a string of eye-opening articles the gangs didn’t appreciate. In his latest piece, Mack quoted anonymous sources who claimed the Maceos were trying to oust Quinn and Voight, vying for the top spots in the Beach Gang.

“You don’t say. How does that affect you?”

“Word is, the Maceos want to break away from the Beach Gang, branch out onto new turf, start their own operation.” Sammy puffed away, hiding behind a cloud of smoke. “Johnny Jack knows we’re friends, and he didn’t care as long as they kept out of his way and left Market Street alone. But after the ice man hit, all hell broke loose. Now Johnny Jack wants to stop the Maceos cold before they muscle in on his territory.”

“How does he plan to do that?”  After a string of recent killings, I saw first-hand how vicious the Galveston gangs could be if you double-crossed them.

Finally Sammy quit pacing and plopped down in his worn banker’s chair. “Jazz, you’ve got to help me. I need a favor, a big favor. ”

“What kind of favor?” I eyed him, skeptical. Sammy always made it clear that I was supposed to stay out of his business, for my own safety, but now he wanted my help?

“Remember the night I spent in jail?  Somehow Johnny Jack got the idea that your Prohibition friend bailed me out. So now he thinks we’re best buddies.”

“That’s not true.” I bit my lip, feeling guilty, since I’d asked Agent Burton to get involved, to help get Sammy out of jail. Fortunately he’d managed just fine on his own.

“I just tolerate the guy ‘cause of you. But now I need his help.” Sammy leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Johnny Jack’s putting the squeeze on me. He threatened to tell everyone in the Downtown Gang that I’m Agent Burton’s squealer if I don’t do what he wants.”

“His informant? Bunk! What does he expect you to do?”

His shoulders slumped. “He wants me to convince Burton to raid the Hollywood Dinner Club and shut it down—during the bathing beauty dance routine this Friday night.”

About Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play, Book 1 in the Jazz Age Mystery series

The Great Gatsby meets Midnight in Paris in this soft-boiled historical mystery, inspired by actual events. Rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston: the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Jazz Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, feels caught between two clashing cultures: the seedy speakeasy underworld and the snooty social circles she covers in the Galveston Gazette.

During a night out with her best friend, Jazz witnesses a bar fight at the Oasis--a speakeasy secretly owned by her black-sheep half-brother, Sammy Cook. But when a big-shot banker with a hidden past collapses there and later dies, she suspects foul play. Was it an accident or a mob hit?

Soon handsome young Prohibition Agent James Burton raids the Oasis, threatening to shut it down if Sammy doesn't talk. Suspicious, he pursues Jazz, but despite her mixed feelings she refuses to rat on Sammy. As turf wars escalate between two real-life rival gangs, Sammy is accused of murder. Jazz must risk her life and career to find the killer, exposing the dark side of Galveston's glittering society.

About the author:

Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer whose articles and essays have been published in several national magazines, including: Family Circle, Modern Bride, Glamour, Biography, Cosmo, Playgirl, etc. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman's World. She’s profiled a variety of people, from CEOs and celebrities (including Suze Orman), to charity founders (Nancy Brinker et al) and do-gooders. A flapper at heart, she’s the owner of DECODAME, specializing in Deco to retro vintage items.

Formerly she’s worked as a magazine editor, 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, where she enjoyed frou-frou cocktails and lots of lattes. When she’s not concocting stories, she enjoys traveling, shopping at flea markets, listening to instrumental jazz, reading cozy mysteries (of course) and taking walks with her husband Gary and hyper Chow mixes (Coco and Champagne).

Connect with Ellen:
Website | Facebook | Goodreads: Flappers | Goodreads: Bathing Beauties

Buy the book!
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