Canaries, Cups of Joe, and Getting Dizzy with Dames …

LNS-coverEven though Letters Never Sent has only been out a week and a half, I have been overwhelmed by the support I've gotten from friends, family and people that I'm only just getting to know. I've been amazed and humbled at the interest and also, thrilled with some of the great questions folks have asked -- everything from context and setting to what I did to research the novel. I've tried to answer each individual question, but I also thought (since there seems to be a fair amount of curiosity about the process)  I'd share the answers to the three most common ones here. (You might want to grab a cup of coffee for this because I can ramble on with the best of them.)

What research did you do for the novel? 

Well, I read A LOT -- particularly as pertaining to the social norms of the time and social movements regarding woman and women's rights. The fact that Kate left her hometown to go to the city to work at the Sears glove counter was kind of a big deal because she was almost defiantly stepping outside of the socially-accepted norm of getting married and having children. I found the accounts written by women like Kate, who actually bucked the system and embraced these new freedoms, to be fascinating reading.

In addition to slang, clothing styles,and food and beverage prices, I also spent a lot of time researching women's health issues. Not to give away any of the plot, but certain health care/procedures were more accessible (and common) than I realized. It was surprising to learn how successful women in the 1930s were at finding the resources that they needed. In some ways this proved to be both good and bad.

Annie's Building

Kate's building (2)

Kate and Claire's Building

The part of the research that was the most fun was when I went to Chicago for a long weekend to get a feel for what Kate, Annie and Claire would have seen and experienced. Before leaving Kansas City, I had researched Near North Chicago and identified some places where the characters could have lived. Once there, I was able to look at the buildings and determine which ones I wanted to use. I even chose their rooms based on the outside windows . From that point, I was then able to walk the routes Kate, Annie, Claire and Margie would have walked to work and around the city. I also spent the better part of one afternoon at the Chicago public library where I gazed up at the 38-foot Tiffany glass dome, touched the Carrara Marble and sat in the reading room where Kate loved to hide away and read. There were also visits to museums and the grounds of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.


What got left out of the novel that you would have liked to have seen in it?

1933 World's Fair grounds today

1933 World's Fair grounds today

I spent a lot of time researching the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. I looked at tons of pictures, postcards and read accounts of the amazing (for the time) things people were able to see and experience. For anyone interested, you can see great, grainy black and white videos of the crowds, the exhibits and of course, Sally Rand and her famous fan dance on Youtube. Having Kate, Annie and Claire there for only a day was tough. I could have written chapters about all there was to see and do but in the end, it didn't push the story forward. Alas. Pictured at the left is what the grounds look like today -- essentially an open field with walking paths.

Do you listen to music and if so, what did you listen to when writing Letters?

I DO listen to music when I write -- but only specific songs. Prior to writing, I typically create a playlist that is specific to each novel. There are songs that are the "soundtrack" to the characters and then songs that set the mood. For Letters, I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday (even though many of her recordings were from 1935 - 39), some Glen Miller, Jack Cooper and Ethel Waters. But I also listened to some more contemporary music that I thought personified the characters. I won't share with whom I associated each song (I'll let you figure that out). But here's the non-period playlist I listened to when writing and editing:

"Breathe Me" -- Sia

"Jar of Hearts" -- Christina Perri

"Slow" -- Grouplove

"Little Round Mirrors" -- Harvey Danger

"Wild One" -- I Am Harlequin

"Knut" -- The Unwinding Hours

"Wild World" -- Cat Steven

"Never is a Promise" -- Fiona Apple

"The Wire" -- Patty Griffin

"White Flag" -- Dido

"Me and My Charms" -- Kristin Hersh

So, I'm guessing by now your coffee is cold but if you want to chat or ask additional questions, please feel free to drop me a line. I'll do my best to answer -- or at least make up a creative lie. And until next time, Moran ...out!


4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Canaries, Cups of Joe, and Getting Dizzy with Dames …”

  1. Lori Janos August 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Wow Sandra, this was really fascinating. I can’t believe the amount of research you put into this book. Is this pretty much a standard with authors to go to this level of research? You also have me pretty hooked now into reading it. I will be totally honest and say that I have not read “Letters” because of the time period. The 20′s to the 50′s are my least favorite time span to read about. But after listening to the high praise from other readers and authors, and reading this blog, I am pretty much captivated. I think the characters and the concept have won out over the time period.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this information with us.

    I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and have never been to the library downtown or the site of the fair.

    The other thing I find very surprising is the concept of being able to listen to music while writing. I am not a writer, but it just seems so distracting. The fact that you designed a playlist including music of the times is really great, though. As for the rest of your music choices, you can tell I’m an old broad because the only one I know is “Wild World” by Cat Stevens.

    • Sandra Moran August 18, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Hey Lori:

      I’m not sure what level of research other writers do so I can’t speak for them, but for me, I really need to get a feel for the characters. So, for me, sense of place is really key. I truly believe we are the result of our experiences. The manuscript I’m working on now has characters who live in Indiana and Philadelphia. Fortunately, I have friends who live in both cities so I can not only spend time with them, but also get a local’s take on the cities and towns.

      What suburb in Chicago?

  2. Lori Janos August 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    I was raised in the suburb of Berwyn, IL. At one point when I was very little we lived in an apartment above the Ritz Theater, which was opened in 1926 which is right during the era you’re writing about. My mom was born in Chicago in 1930. I am currently listening to your ep of Cocktail hour and laughing may azz off.

    • Sandra Moran August 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Lori … I would love to know more about what your mom recollected. Such an interesting era!

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