Titanic Survivor Esther Bloomfield Hart Recalls Tragic Sinking

Originally posted on Ravenscraig:

Esther Hart was never very keen on the idea of going to Winnipeg.  When her husband Benjamin announced his decision to leave Ilford, England and strike out for a new life in Canada,  she was immediately apprehensive.   But times were hard in the building industry and her husband’s business was suffering.   One fateful day, an old friend stopped in to visit.  He was an enthusiastic resident of Winnipeg, who had much to say about the booming economy in the Manitoba capital.  Benjamin was instantly taken with the idea that emigration would be the answer to his troubles and would give him the potential of a prosperous future.  Winnipeg it would be.

Esther and Benjamin along with their young daughter, Eva Hart, were given a festive send off by their friends in Ilford.

Eva and her mother survived the sinking, having spent a harrowing night in the lifeboats

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Titanic: Interview with Eva Hart on the 75th Anniversary of the Sinking

Sandi Krawchenko Altner:

As we approach the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, many researchers are looking for sources that help tell the stories of the survivors. Eva Hart and her parents were on their way to Winnipeg, Canada from Ilford, England. Reposted by request from followers.

Originally posted on Ravenscraig:

“Over to You”, was the name of this program that must have been on cable television.  The segment was called “Titanic:  a Survivor’s Tale.”

A  school teacher in England, whose name was not recorded, conducts an interview with Eva Hart on the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1987. His skills are limited and she is annoyed by his handling of questions, but the information is riveting for Titanic enthusiasts.

Eva Hart was a seven-year-old child when she was traveling on the Titanic with her parents, Benjamin and Esther Hart.  They were a Jewish family from Ilford, England, and were on their way to a future in Winnipeg, Canada.  Her father, Benjamin, had a trusted friend who had returned to Ilford on vacation in 1911.  He was full of stories of his wonderful life in Winnipeg.  In this interview, Eva recalls that her father immediately seized upon…

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Ravenscraig February Sale

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Click to buy

Need a heart tugging saga to brighten your February?

Ravenscraig is in the Kindle Countdown Sale. Catch it today at $3.99 and save 60% off the regular price.

  Rupert Willows buries the truth of his identity and schemes his way to wealth and power. Brilliant, rich and handsome, a new world opens when he buys the mansion Ravenscraig. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia. At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English”  as a well-paid maid at Ravenscraig. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.

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Ravenscraig Book Sale to Honor Book Clubs

One of the greatest pleasures I find in being a writer is talking with readers and especially book clubs to share thoughts about characters and stories.  I have been very fortunate that Ravenscraig seems to have taken hold with  book clubs in both Canada and in the US. Skype has been a real boon in bringing readers and authors together, and I am always happy to arrange a visit or video chat when possible.

As a small thank you to the readers and reviewers who have been so kind in their enthusiasm for Ravenscraig,  I am celebrating with a Book Club sale on Amazon.  This is the new Kindle Count Down Sale and what that means is that the book will start off at $1.99 and every day or so the price will climb until the end of the sale. Please pass it on. The sale starts tomorrow, February 20, 2014.

And if your book club would like to arrange a chat with the author, please do contact me at sandikaltner@aol.com. :)

Thank you!

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Book Club Questions for the Author of Ravenscraig

Book Club questionsOne of the greatest pleasures of being a writer is the chance to meet with readers who want to talk about the story you invented.

I am fortunate to be  invited both in person and on Skype to talk with book clubs, service organizations, synagogues and history buffs about the story and to give presentations on the research I did to create Ravenscraig.

It is just a lot of fun to talk with readers who become deeply involved in the story.

The following questions came to me from a book club in Florida.  I couldn’t attend this event due to an ill-timed appendectomy and wrote out the answers to these questions while I was recovering.

Here then, is a little background on the writing of Ravenscraig.  Please do write to me if you have any other questions!  Sandikaltner@aol.com.

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Why did you decide to title your novel Ravenscraig? What other options did you consider? 

Finding the title was challenging. My first working title was the incredibly blandWillows on the Crescent.  After that there were a number of titles that related to the Titanic.  Finally I settled on Ravenscraig because it was the name of Rupert’s home (Rupert Willows is the lead character) and because it just seemed to work better than any of the other titles I had on my list.

Ravenscraig Hall (a fictional home) is located in the real neighbourhood of Armstrong’s Point which has a charming history and truly remains a sought-after residential neighbourhood to this day.  On the location that I placed Ravenscraig Hall there originally sat a mammoth home known as Bannatyne’s Castle.  How unfortunate that only the gates of that home are still in existence today.  I took the name Ravenscraig from Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland, which is big, ugly and was among the first built to withstand cannon fire.  Once I tripped across that, I knew it was perfect for the mansion.  Coming to the conclusion that it was the right name for the book took much longer.

Naming characters was a similar problem.  I learned all of the baby name sites on the net in my search for names that I felt would be most appropriate. I also did extensive searching through archival materials from Ellis Island, the Canadian Census reports of 1901 and 1911, the Jewish Genealogy website and City of Winnipeg archives.

What is your greatest pleasure – researching the historical underpinnings of the plot or creating the characters and dialog to communicate the historical elements?

I love the research.  The idea of writing a novel first came from stumbling across a great story about the scandals involved in building the Manitoba Legislative building a century ago.  Great story.  The more I learned the further back I needed to go.  What I learned about the conflicts between rich and poor, and English and everyone foreign during the height of the immigration boom (1896-1914) became so interesting that the focus of my story naturally shifted to the stories of that time.

There was such extreme poverty and so little political will to do anything about it that it just seemed unbelievable.  I read stories of 40 or more people living in boarding houses of 800 sq ft or less and thought it impossible that this had happened. Moreover it made me wonder that if it indeed had happened, how had I never heard of that before?  The1911 census is an amazing document that lays out the truth.  Then, knowing the extent the overcrowding existed set a different colour to the many essays and memoires that I had read and new materials that I sought out.  What I had seen as perhaps exaggerated through a nostalgic memory suddenly came into focus as an undertold story of suffering. I wanted to bring that story to life.

This led to learning about the Typhoid epidemic in 1904-1905 when Winnipeg had the highest rate of typhoid per capita in the western world.  I first learned of it in a book by Dr. Alan Artibise, titled: A Social History of Winnipeg, 1874-1914.  There truly was a Dr. Jordan called in from Chicago to investigate the health crisis. I ordered a full copy of his report from the Manitoba Archives and was shocked to learn that he did not condemn the use of dirty river water being brought into the water mains for use in fire control.  He did say the water should be used “as little as possible”.  Equally interesting was that the Winnipeg newspapers produced no screaming headlines demanding to know the source of the typhoid.  It appears the city leaders just didn’t want the shame on a national scale.

Did Rupert Willows ever get on your nerves?  

Yes. But as awful as his behavior is at times, I admit to a deep affection for him. I enjoy his complexity.

Which is easier for you, description or dialog?  

Dialogue is much easier for me.  There comes a point where you spend enough time with your characters that you understand their morals, failings, strengths and misery.  I don’t mean to sound nutty, but I got to like a lot of them, especially the ones I spent a lot of time with.  So then, with the kind of research I did in Ravenscraig, you have a real story that you need them to react to.  You create a circumstance, place the people in it and then listen…and type.   There was one night I remember where I had had a particularly productive day.  I work outside on the patio most of the time when the weather allows.  I was working away and was quite overcome by what unfolded.  It was dark. The pool light was on, as was a lamp on the patio table. Katiana, my daughter, came out to ask a question and caught me as I wiped the tears from my eyes.  “ARE YOU OKAY, MUM?”

I think that when we think that these are not just stories, but that each of us has someone in our own ancestry who suffered, who fled, who persevered so that future generations would have a good life, it becomes something worth learning.  Each of us has a history worth knowing. Sacrifice is a big word and it counts for a lot.  It enriches your life when you contemplate the suffering that was done on your behalf.

Who do you imagine as your ideal readers?

Wow.  To be totally honest, this was a selfish endeavor. I wrote something I had searched out to read and couldn’t find. I thought if my mum read the book I wrote I would be happy. It pleases me to no end that the story has touched others and that it has sparked interest among some readers to learn more about their own histories. Historical fiction is not one of those BIG genres publishers are clamouring to publish.

As an author are you more interested in portraying the history of a period/place or in drawing “life lessons” from historical events and suggesting parallels to present issues?

I think there are life lessons in every circumstance and I wanted to tell a story that was historically correct.  I was very concerned about reflecting the attitudes of the day, particularly in the impact on women and the underclass. I like the idea that readers might learn something new that makes them think about the immigrant experience, whether it be a hundred years ago or in modern times.

Even in the most seemingly objective narrations of history, the historian has a point of view, a bias, a cautionary message.  As an author working in the genre of historical fiction, how would you characterize your moral slant or philosophical position.

I think it is very humbling to look at all of the difficulties that were borne by our ancestors.  I have little interest in anyone who might whine about not having the latest Smart Phone. Freedoms are too easily characterized as entitlements. I look back at that time a century ago, and imagine who or what I might have done or been. My heart goes out to the unfed children, the women who gave birth with their hair frozen to a wall in an unheated shack, and to all of the men that drove themselves to find any way possible to provide for their families. All of those who faced the tremendous challenge of putting down roots in a country where so many people were against them, simple because of a  name, a religion, or an ethnic background.  I think if I were to have lived in that time I would have thrown all my might behind Nellie McLung and the group of women who saw to it that Manitoba would be the first province in Canada to gain the right for women to vote in 1916.  Can you imagine we haven’t had the right to vote for a hundred years yet?

Why did you choose to conclude the book the way you did? Did you consider other options?

The ending came at the very end.  I had an earlier version that I was not happy with. I have a deep affection for certain characters and it was very troublesome to learn what happened.  I was quite shocked, I must say, when I finally learned.

How does the ending reflect on or influence the themes of your novel. Family, Loyalty, Education, Integrity, Politics, Gender Issues (changing role of women, suffrage, etc.), Responsibility, Community, Work Ethic, Luck, Chance, Identity… personal versus social, ethnic, religious, economic, gender, family connections and expectations.-

Because the ending was the last of the book to be written, I cannot say it influenced the themes. It does influence thoughts of a sequel.  I am interested in the Great War and its impact on the city.  I am greatly interested in the work and strength of the women particularly through the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, and the suffrage movement.  Sam Bronfman became Canada’s best known Jewish leader after he became known for Seagram.  He and his family started out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a variety of jobs which ultimately led to the the hotel business. He became the owner of the Bell Hotel in Winnipeg when he was in his early twenties and ultimately became Canada’s most famous bootlegger. Lots to research in this area.  And then there is the matter of the 1915 scandal of the building of the Legislative Building.

Who are your favorite authors, particularly in the historical fiction genre?

Most of what I read is non-fiction, but I very much admire and enjoy: Chaim Potok, Ken Follett, James Michener, Allan Levine, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Carol Shields, Irwin Shaw, Alice Munro among others I have forgotten to mention.

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Inspired by Tallulah Bankhead

0001aZInspiration for a writer comes from many places. For me, pictures and videos of real places and people are  primary triggers to inspire the plot lines and help color the characters who are dominating the development of the story.  So when I happened across this utterly fantastic photo of Tallulah Bankhead decked out in a feather headdress in the 1920s, I had no choice but to learn more about this fascinating person.

Tallulah-Bankhead-3Bankable Tallulah

Tallulah Bankhead, born in 1902 in Alabama, was an actress and wild child with a husky voice and a tremendous presence on stage and off. She partied hard, smoked marijuana and used cocaine.  She was a regular at the Algonquin Hotel in NY, and a participant in the Algonquin Round Table where writer Dorothy Parker sharpened her tongue.

Tallulah was said to be wonderfully outrageous and uninhibited, known to peel her clothes off to sit down and have a chat. Tallulah was a huge celebrity both here in the US as well as on the London stage and was known for calling everyone “Dahling”. She said it was because she never could remember names.

Tallulah Trivia

She tested for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, but at the age of 36 she was considered too old for the part. Scarlett is 16 at the opening of the story.

Tallulah, witty and charming, is also an influence on a one of my characters. For now her name is CC, and she is an American heiress who marries a penniless count.

Now back to work…writing that is…

Research is such an appealing type of work avoidance. I really do have to be more disciplined about settling down to continue on with my novel, so please excuse my hasty exit. I’m writing about art forgery in 1914, (a novel yet to be named) and naturally that leads to the need to learn not just about art, the art market, the fabulous world of art collectors in New York society, but also the larger than life people of that era.  My story centers on a fantastically talented artist, Arthur Bryant of Paris, who makes fake Claude Monet paintings.  He cons one Mr. R. J. Wilkesbury into being his dealer in New York.  The material lends itself to an endless trail of delicious distractions in research. The novel is a sequel to Ravenscraig.

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Storytellers: Author Mary Glickman on Marching to Zion

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Mary Glickman, author of Marching to Zion

Every once in a while you come across a writer whose stories continue to reside in your imagination long after the final words of the characters have been spoken and weeks after the novel has been moved from your night table to your bookshelf.

Such is the talent of Mary Glickman, a very fine storyteller with an exceptional gift for bringing us into the struggles, passions and challenges that must be faced by the vibrant souls who inhabit her novels. Her use of language and depth of spirit resonates truth in all that she has to tell.

3Glickman_MarchingToZionwebMary Glickman’s newest book, Marching to Zion, published by Open Road Integrated  Media, presents a complicated love story but gives the reader so much more.

The novel opens in St. Louis in 1916 as Mags Preacher, a young black woman, arrives in the city to make her future in the beauty business. Circumstances lead her to a job not in a hair salon but in a funeral parlor, owned by a Jewish immigrant. What follows is a broken road of dreams bringing us into the forbidden love between a beautiful young Jewess with a tragic past and a black man who fights his own demons.

Marching to Zion is being launched today to critical acclaim:

“Mary Glickman’s novels embrace complexity of the Jewish South.” -Southern Jewish Life

“This moving novel . . . handled with credibility by the talented Glickman . . . is sustained by the rich period detail and by strong and fully realized characters.” —Booklist

“Coincidence or not, the publication of Marching to Zion on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The March on Washington is a powerful reminder of the discrimination and unspeakable hardships African Americans suffered. . . . Marching to Zion is a memorable story, with a very clear message that the journey is not over.” —Jewish Book Council

“Readers who are interested in Southern historical novels examining black-white relationships and those who enjoy good storytelling are the natural audience here.” —Library Journal

homeinthemorning_coverMary’s themes in all three of her novels are broadly concerned with how people manage in the face of adversity, loss and discrimination. She writes of the American South in times gone by, and shines a light on the experience of Jews, of blacks, of tolerance and of intolerance, all the while taking us into places and conflicts and sometimes even into the heart of shame in a way that is as complex as it is direct.

Her first novel, Home in the Morning is being made into a film. Open Road president/co-founder JeffreySharp will executive produce Home In The Morning for Open Road with Luke Parker Bowles and Peter Riva.

What I like most about Mary’s writing is that she carries a delicate touch and deep sense of humanity as she explores the troublesome parts of life that don’t fit into neat and moral solutions.

Mary has had her own complicated journey which she discusses in this video.

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I first discovered Mary at the Jewish Book Council. I had traveled to New York to present my novel Ravenscraig the same year Mary was listed with her second novel, One More River,  a follow up to her outstanding debut novel, Home in the Morning.  As I read through the catalogue searching for appealing summer reads, I decided that Mary Glickman would be the most interesting person to meet during my visit to New York. Unfortunately we were not scheduled to present on the same day, but social media later took care of all necessary introductions and we began a regular correspondence as a friendship naturally took hold.

I was greatly pleased when Mary asked some months ago if I would like to receive an advance copy of Marching to Zion.

The story immediately captivated me and it is a pleasure to share my thoughts in a five-star review:

Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman is a literary triumph, and easily the best novel I have read this year. Starting in 1916 in racially tense St. Louis, the story twines the lives and heartaches of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a forbidden black “fancy man”.  The complexity of their love is wrought with a depth of understanding of human frailty that lingers long after the back cover is closed. 

As with all of Glickman’s novels, a quiet truth flows with strength and beauty through elegantly written passages that beg to be marked, re-read and quoted aloud. Marching to Zion is an excellent choice for book clubs that crave rich discussion material and an opportunity to learn about America’s less than shiny past. Mary Glickman’s story of hope burns brightly through the darkness, driven by characters fighting to maintain dignity above all else.

Sandi Altner, author of Ravenscraig (Amazon 5 star review)

Mary was kind enough to agree to an interview, facilitated by email

What inspired you to write Marching to Zion?

I don’t know if inspiration is ever one thing entirely and of course, Marching to Zion started out as something very different from the story that emerged. Its working title was “Women Alone”. I’d intended to focus on women from the first two novels, Home in the Morning and One More River, each of whom spent considerable time on their own without the support of a male at various decades of the 20th century. I thought it’d be interesting to investigate the different ways women coped according to their decade, age, class, and race. As a device, I thought I’d use the money-lender, bail bondsman Magnus Bailey as the thread that knit their stories together.

Then one of my readers observed that the earlier novels provided a view of African American and Jewish relations throughout the 20th century and this perception interested me. I considered what I’d left out and realized I’d not included the Eastern European immigrant experience. I came up with Mr. Fishbein and his daughter Minerva. Once I put those two together with Magnus, sparks flew. The whole novel changed. In the end, though, when I look at the characters of Mags, Minerva, and Aurora Mae, there’s a portrait imbedded in Marching to Zion of different kinds of women handling differently the challenges of being alone. The original intent bled through.

Glickman Alternate Author PhotoThere is so much depth and credibility in your characters in all of your novels that I cannot help thinking that you are writing from personal experience.  Do you know the people you are writing about?

Only in the sense that they live, fully fleshed, in my mind. I’ve always been interested in people. I like talking to people. I’m the woman that sits next to you in the bus or the train that you find yourself telling your life story to. I’ll probably tell you mine, too. It took me decades to achieve publication. I had a small freelance career. But I was married all the while to a very smart attorney and when we were out together, people I’m afraid treated me as an ornament or an appendage of my husband. It was irritating sometimes. But it also gave me a chance to observe, to investigate, to listen to what made the people around me tick. Sort of like being an undercover psychologist. Maybe that’s where the qualities you describe come from. But all my characters are very definitely fictional. Even when events occur that are inspired by what’s happened to people I’ve known, I go to great efforts to change biographies, down to such defining aspects as gender and race, out of respect for their privacy. Along the way of that process, the characters’ responses will vary from the original persons’ accordingly, sometimes quite radically.

Can you tell us something about your writing habits?  Do you outline your story before you start writing?

Oh! I never outline! I think that would cramp my style! Often I have an idea of what I’m starting with and a direction I’d like to go in. But I leave the story lots of space to develop in its own way, to allow the imagination to breathe. I believe character drives plot and, as Heraclites said, character is fate. No character springs from the creator’s mind fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. How then can anyone see ahead and outline what a character is going to do?

Uncertainty gets my juices going, I suppose. I want the story I’m telling to engage me even as I’m designing it. If you can’t feel empathy or suspense for your characters, you’re unlikely to inspire the reader’s empathy or suspense either. The process of discovery enlivens language.

Everyone writes differently. I’m not saying my way is the right way. It’s just the one I’ve got.

Glickman_OneMoreRiver-lowres (1)What is your writing routine?  Do you set word goals? Do you have a specific time of day you like to write?

I like getting up early in the morning and after I’ve caught up on my online newspaper and such, jumping right in. I’ll work three hours or so and then, in the afternoon, the banalities of life interfere. If I’m lucky, I’ll find time to re-read what I’ve done in the morning and refine, refine, refine in the afternoon. Sometimes, I go back to work in the early evening for a while. If I’m on a roll, you can’t stop me. I plow away all day and night long. This doesn’t happen too often, but usually at the end of the story the pressure to complete builds up so forcefully the endgame is like a dam burst. I love that part!

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get unblocked?

I don’t believe in torturing myself with the very idea of writer’s block! It’s a word with power, that one. I prefer to think I have periods when I’m writing and periods when I’m not. Usually, those periods of not writing occur when I’m between projects, so they might be simply periods of resting the brain circuitry. Eventually, I’ll feel restless and cast about for something new to do. Re-reading my favorite books helps. Music. Films. Walks or bike rides around my island. Then, as Woody Allen says, it’s all just a question of showing up.

How did you become a full-time novelist?

Practice. Practice. And a little help from my friends. I never seriously considered any other career. I did have a small freelance career in educational writing and public relations, fundraising for a time, but I involved myself in that only to (a) make money and (b) to validate myself as a writer. My best friend, i.e. my husband, Stephen, encouraged me to do so. The first writing job I was offered was writing copy for a museum exhibit, I think it was, and I thought: what do I know about that kind of writing? Stephen told me a good writer can write anything and that I should try. So, I did. It went pretty well, and afterwards, I tried every other kind of writing job I could chase down. I never made a mozza of money, but every word I wrote advanced my ability to write novels, simply by teaching me that each writing arena has its own rules and once you learn them, the rest comes.

Eventually, marital life and economics progressed, my husband offered me the opportunity to “just” work on my novels – I was probably on number four by then – and that’s what I did. Success came a few more novels down the line. But I do believe working on seven novels over 35 years without publication had its benefits. It enabled me to discover a unique voice and develop it without interference. And it grounded my identity as an author. I knew I would continue to write with or without success because that’s who I am, that’s what I do. I fully expected to write without reward until I died and I was ready to do so.

Your publisher, Open Road Integrated Media, is a relatively new company that is embracing e-book trends with a heavy focus on bringing out-of-print gems to a new reading audience.  At the same time you have become an “e-star” in the company, as a new author with a strong voice, and we see you frequently mentioned in articles about Open Road. How does their business model help new authors?

Unknown (6)Where to start? When former CEO of Harper Collins worldwide, Jane Friedman, launched Open Road Media, it was in response to the crisis in publishing that began in 2008. Publishing was in a mess, losing buckets of money, laying off a third of its work force. Jane identified endemic problems in the industry, where it was overspending, what it was neglecting, among them, the high cost of warehousing, returns, distribution, enormous advances for books which basically amounts to casino style gambling. So Jane came up with a new model. She’d focus on ebooks, which require none of the above, with print issues on demand. Instead of grand advances, she’d dedicate power and resources to full-court press marketing, something largely absent in traditional publishing today. And, she’d offer the author a 50/50 split on royalties.

When my agent, Peter Riva, first put Home in the Morning out there, there was interest from traditional publishers and Open Road both. Peter advised me to take the Open Road offer for many reasons but what attracted me most was the marketing budget because that marketing expertise is exactly what a debut author most needs. These days, new authors are required to spend $25,000 or more out of their own pockets on a freelance marketer to make up for what their traditional publisher will not or cannot provide. Or they have to learn how to do it themselves. That’s a full time job plus overtime I wasn’t prepared to take on.

I’ve not been disappointed. ORM’s marketing efforts on my behalf have been stellar and the results remarkable. My sales were ten times that expected from a new author! And that 50-50 royalty split didn’t hurt either!

What advice do you have for authors who dream of being published?

Develop your own voice. Listen to the rhythms and music inside you and let it be reflected on the page. You can have the most fabulous concept in the universe, but unless you tell your story in a powerful voice, it will be neglected. And that takes work.

But most importantly, no matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how great and deserving those novels are, and how depressed you get at continued rejection, don’t let that stop you. Keep going. Never, never give up.

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About Mary Glickman:

Born on the south shore of Boston, Mary Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for twenty years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things Southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and until recently, her beloved horse, King of Harts, of blessed memory. Home in the Morning is her first novel. Her second novel, One More River, was a 2011 Jewish Book Award Finalist in Fiction. Her third novel, Marching to Zion, is the tempestuous, tragic love story of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a charismatic black man during the early twentieth century.

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Storytellers: Kevin Fitzpatrick Honors Dorothy Parker

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Dorothy Parker

One of the highlights of my recent visit to New York was meeting with Kevin Fitzpatrick, author, tour guide and the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society.

I have long been a fan of the writings of Dorothy Parker and have a true fascination with Prohibition in America especially in how it gave rise to nightclubs, the Jazz age, and women drinking in bars for the first time.

Dorothy Parker, witty, depressed, alcoholic, and ever so bold and talented, stands as an icon of the age known as the Roaring Twenties, and makes for fascinating research for a novelist writing about this time period in New York.  So it is that I found Kevin Fitzpatrick.

KevinCFitzpatrick1His name is among the first you will find in a google search on Dorothy Parker.  Kevin has a clear passion for his subject matter and stands among the foremost experts on the Algonquin Round Table. His website, DorothyParker.com, provides a great deal of information about Mrs. Parker’s life in addition to her most famous quotes, audio files, and links for more information. You can sign up for his newsletter and become one of more than 3,000 people who are counted as members of the Dorothy Parker Society.

under_cover01Kevin Fitzpatrick is the author of the very popular guide: A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, and has just released a catchy new book, that will provide you with all of the recipes and information you need to dazzle your friends this holiday season with a Speakeasy Cocktail Party. With the cheeky title, Under the Table: a Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide, it will certainly be a hot gift item this year. He explained that it was one of her poems that inspired the title:

I love a martini
two at the most
three I’m under the table
Four I’m under the host

I was delighted that Kevin accepted my request for an interview. Naturally, we arranged to meet at the wonderful Algonquin Hotel, New York’s most significant literary landmark, according to Kevin. Though polished and modernized in a recent extensive renovation, the Algonquin still holds the charm and glamour of an earlier era.  It was here that Dorothy Parker and a cadre of literary luminaries gathered in the 1920s for a daily exchange of wit and gossip. Here they laughed, and lunched, and supported each other and their talents. They formed friendships and collaborations that resulted in novels, plays, a seemingly endless source of material for newspapers, and even the inspiration to launch The New Yorker magazine. All of this without the benefit of a cocktail at the Algonquin. This was in the height of Prohibition, and while The Algonquin followed the law, the Round Tablers who liked a drink or three, as Mrs. Parker certainly did, became intimately acquainted with many secret and illegal nightclubs of  New York.

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Ninety odd years later, Kevin Fitzpatrick strides into the lobby at the Algonquin, dapper and energetic in a dark suit, white button down shirt and sporty red tie, appearing quite ready to sit down to a discussion of my financial portfolio. He quickly assures me that his attire was chosen to suit his speaking engagement that evening, and that this was quite out of custom with the usual style of dress at MTV where he works as a special projects director.

Our conversation is transcribed below.

1383306_618873468164079_997700405_nI was terribly sorry that my visit did not coincide with an opportunity to take a walking tour with Kevin.  What an interesting way to see this part of  New York and learn about the vibrant night life of the writers we continue to quote today.

He is tremendously knowledgeable and engaging and struck me as someone who would have comfortably fit in to the Round Table, and would have been quite at home in a top hat, spats, and an evening suit in 1919.

If you are interested in his tour, contact Kevin through the Dorothy Parker Society Website.

To prepare for such an adventure I recommend you first view the award winning documentary about the Algonquin Round Table, The Ten Year Lunch, which you can see here.

Kevin FitzpatrickKevin Fitzpatrick interviewed by Sandi Altner, October, 2013, at the Algonquin Hotel, New York City

What led you to become founder of the Dorothy Parker Society?

Well, my friends and I started the Dorothy Parker Society in 1999 after a walking tour that was at the Algonquin and a speakeasy that was around the corner called Flute. So we went there and people said this is so much fun let’s do it again so we started having get togethers.  Now we don’t call them meetings, we call them parties, so the Dorothy Parker Society doesn’t have meetings we only have parties.  We have a monthly speakeasy party where everyone dresses up in vintage clothes and we have vintage cocktails and dance to live jazz  music from the 1920s and 30s.

(We hear the sound of fire engine racing by) And as you can tell we are in New York.
It sounds like the ladder company is going right down the street on 44th. I hope it’s not here.

the-algonquinWe are meeting this afternoon at the Algonquin Hotel which of course is very much a part of the Dorothy Parker story.  What can you tell me about the Algonquin?

Well, I like to tell people I think it is New York’s best literary landmark and here’s why. Other places might have a claim to fame for a fictional character going there like the Plaza or the Chelsea Hotel where different ner do wells lived but the Algonquin then as now is a place where writers and editors come to meet and when they come to meet they come to collaborate and work and what comes out of that are books and novels and plays and movies and tv shows.  Then as now, for more than 90 years it has been a literary hangout.  Dorothy Parker and her friends got together in June, 1919, as a welcome home to New York luncheon or roast for Alexander Woollcott who was a drama critic for the New York Times. So almost daily for ten years the group was coming here right where you are sitting to have lunch together.  And out of those came fantastic stories, shows, plays books, comedies and a lot of ink was spilled.

And it fostered the inspiration for a major magazine.

Original_New_Yorker_coverYes. The New Yorker would not be around if it were not for the Algonquin Round Table because the founders Harold Ross and Jane Grant tapped their friendships at the Algonquin Hotel to get their magazine off the ground. If it wasn’t for the use of the name of people like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley and Marc Connelly, Harold Ross and Jane Grant probably wouldn’t have had the success they did in getting the magazine launched.

How did you become interested in Dorothy Parker?

In the late ’90s a friend had given me the fantastic Dorothy Parker biography by Marion Meade, What Fresh Hell is This?  and I learned that we both lived on the same street 72nd Street on the upper west side and I was looking for a research project at the time to do something on line about New York City history and books and just reading about Parker’s life and then reading her poems and her fiction, I thought, I really like this person a lot. I saw a lot of things in me in her, bad relationships, bad bosses, bad jobs, you know, a freelance writer, so I really identified a lot with her and she really spoke to me. So that really kicked off the research phase that became DorothyParker.com and that led to doing a walking tour of the places on the site which led to the Dorothy Parker society and the book and everything else.

item3.rendition.slideshowWideHorizontal.algonquin-ss04Tell me about the Algonquin Hotel.

Well, it’s between 5th and 6th Avenues, and at the time there was an elevated train going up 6th Avenue and across the street was the Hippodrome  Theatre which was Broadway’s biggest ever theatre. The Hippodrome was on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street. It ran an entire city block. You could have a thousand actors on stage. It was enormous. So that was 6th Avenue. It was kind of a circus with the elevated train going up it.  And 5th Avenue, then as now, was always nice. High society people lived there. Great shopping, great retail and if you keep walking east you run right into Grand Central Terminal.  So it’s a fantastic location because this block is called Club Row. On this block is The Harvard Club, the Cornell Club, The New York Yacht Club, the Bar Association and down the street you have Yale and around the corner is the Princeton Club and Williams, so this whole street has always had a really nice cozy atmosphere of where to go to meet people.

In the research you did was there anything that changed your view of the Algonquin Round Table? Was there anything that was surprising to you?

What a lot of people don’t know is the group was very political and they were in the era of Sacco and Vinzetti and there was a lot of anarchists in the country and there was the coming change and the rising fascism in Europe and what not and it was at that time that Parker became very political, partly sitting with Donald Ogden Stewart who was very liberal and Robert Benchley who was from Harvard and was also very forward thinking. Parker’s FBI file, which I got from a freedom of information request is three inches thick and parts of it are still redacted almost 50 years after her death. J. Edgar Hoover was following her around for many many years because of all of the left wing causes she was giving her name to. The only time she was ever arrested was in Boston for protesting Vinzetti’s planned execution. So what a lot of people might think is “oh, the Algonquin,” they are going there for a good time and jokes and laughing.  They are also talking about very serious issues of the day that later after the stock market crash and the rise of the American depression and so on, that played into what they were working on and really helped color their careers at that time.

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber was in this group as well as George Kaufman and many of the group ended up writing in Hollywood. How would you describe the impact of the Round Table not just on New York, but on the nation?

Well, Kaufman and Ferber were a fantastic playwriting team that did meet here at the Algonquin, you are correct.  They were at an out of town tryout for one of their shows in Conneticut and the producer said to them: “Well, if it doesn’t work, we can take it on a showboat”. And Edna Ferber was sitting on the floor dejected and she said, “What’s a showboat?” And he told her and within six months she was going up and down the North Carolina Coast looking for the very last showboat.  Within a year she had a novel out. And out of that novel came probably the greatest American musical of the era, “Showboat”. It was all because a collaboration was happening here at the hotel.  It was a spark of an inspiration to get things going.  You know even some of the secondary Round Table members that people don’t talk about

George Kaufman

George Kaufman

much like Herman Mankiewicz who won an academy Award for Citizen Kane he was a round table member, but all of the experience he got working on New York newspapers and being around William Randolph Hearst, that also was the inspiration  that gave him the idea for the screenplay with Orson Welles twenty years later. There were a lot of these little kernels of thought, or networking if you will, with their friends or people sitting next to them at a table and they would then go on to write a show together or collaborate on  a script or the forward to a book or things like that. I mean it was here that Dorothy Parker met James Thurber. They both had a shared love of dogs and drinking. Parker wrote all of the forwards to his books because she just thought he was a great cartoonist and a great dog lover and that’s how that came to be, too.

photo-sample-dorothyparkerAnd Dorothy Parker lived here at the Algonquin.

Yes. At different times, she lived in the hotel. She didn’t always pay her bills.  There was a joke that she was staying here around Christmas time and they asked her if she was going to hang up a Christmas stocking and she said, “No. but I’m going to hang up Frank Case.”  He was the manager of the hotel.

In that time, people would often stay in hotels for long periods of time. They didn’t have kitchens and all of that but they lived in hotels. Is that correct?

Yes. And it was perfect for someone like Parker who had absolutely no domestic skills. I mean she would put her dirty clothes back in the drawer and just expect that the maid would sort through her clothes and take out the dirty and put back the clean.

And did she?

I would hope so. You know someone was around to cook for you and clean for you and take care of your messes and take care of your messages and your telephone calls. That was the real benefit of living in a residential hotel like this.

Kevin, was this strictly a residential hotel at the time, or was this a hotel that took all kinds of visitors?

It had a lot of long term visitors, but the turnover was great because of it’s great location, but no it was never a residential hotel, 100%. It always was open to the public along with having people living here for extended periods.

Do you know what room Dorothy Parker would have stayed in?

I have heard it was on the second or third floor but you know as much as we have looked over the last 15 years you can’t find any kind of records. There is no guest book where she signed in and out of and things like that.  And room numbers have changed and the layouts on different floors have changed and there is a beautiful Dorothy Parker Suite here which I would encourage all to try and check into that has some of her letters on the wall and pictures and what not. So , we think that was probably the room she was in but who is to say?

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The hotel has been renovated over the years.  Are the floor plans thought somewhat similar to what would have been here prior to World War One?

There are less rooms now, because they did change some rooms around but it is very similar. I was here last year. They did a gut renovation of the hotel. It was closed for five months. They did a multi million dollar renovation where they took everything down to the bare bones and the general manager, Gary Budge, took me to the top and we walked all the way down and you got to peer into the actual skeleton of the building. It’s a hundred and ten years old. So they replaced all the pipes, all the heating and air conditioning, because you know if you are staying in a hotel it has to be historic but you really don’t want to be cold or hot in your room so they upgraded everything and they kept their traditions, but it is very very modern at the same time.

You have such a passion for this era, this research. What drives you Kevin?

Well it is just like someone who is a Yankees fan and loves Yankee stadium. I really like New York City history. I like the traditions. And just like you are a baseball fan and follow different players in different generations, it’s the same way here.  If you are an Edna Ferber fan you can go out and get Edna Ferber’s books.  If you like George S. Kaufman, you can go and see his plays, the Marx Brothers, and you know all of those have a tie in to this building, which is still open for business and you can come and take your friends to tonight, which I think is amazing.

I was told it is the oldest hotel in New York still running in the same location.

I don’t know if it is exactly the longest running. Definiteluy one of the oldest in the neighbourhood but definitely New York’s best literary landmark and I don’t think anything else can take that away from it. And one of the things I like and  I tell people is you can come here tonight and there is an editor meeting with a writer. You don’t know who they are because who knows what an author looks like or an editor looks like, but you know that they are plotting something or doing something over that drink which I think is amazing and really nice to do because you are going to honor the tradition of all those other authors who have come before you.  Everyone from Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley and William Faulkner and all of the other greats who have come through here and you keep on the tradition because this is the place you want to go to meet.

Dorothy Parker's NY_0Tell me first about your books. Let’s start with A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

This book is 100 locations tied to Mrs. Parker’s New York, so it is all of the homes, haunts, hangouts, offices. She was born and raised on the upper west side so all the locations of her apartments and houses with her family and later in life places she lived, but also a lot of speakeasies, a lot of theatres.  She was a Broadway critic for 6 years so all those theatres, where they were, or if they are long gone, or if they are still in business today.  and then places associated with the Round Table. some of the hangouts they would go to and the former offices of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue and all the places that she and her friends worked at. The new book called Under the Table, A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide comes out in November from Lyons Press.

A fabulous title, I must say.

Thank you, thank you. This was a very fun book to work on.  It’s 75 recipes for cocktails, 65 from the prohibition era.  These are the drinks people would have been having in 1919 to 1933.  The other ten are from some of the best places around the country that make speakeasy style drinks and these are from New York, Las Vegas, Boston, LA, San Fransisco.  Really amazing drinks. and with every drink you find out the story behind it. You learn about the Manhattan, Rob Roy, a side car, horses neck and a bad romance, all these drinks people used to drink back in the day that we don’t really know about so much anymore, so there is a lot of interesting stories about people in that day, like Flo Zigfeld and Jack Dempsey, who was the heavy weight champion of the world and had a drink named after him.

What’s your next book?

In 2014 we are going to release a book of Mrs. Parker’s Broadway reviews. All of her short fiction has been collected, all of her poetry has been collected,  but not her drama reviews. She started writing Broadway reviews when she was 24 for Vanity Fair, so this is 150,000 words that never have been collected of Dorothy Parker’s work. And it is just some fantastic stuff.  She saw some of the greats in theatre history: the very first shows by W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers and Eugene O’Neill’s early shows, so she was in the aisle seat for a lot of fantastic shows. A lot of people have never read any of this work, so it’s really fun to get that out. So that will be out in 2014.

A final word from Sandi: To my readers, please know that I will be giving away a copy of Dorothy Parker’s New York.  It will go to one of the readers of this post who will be chosen randomly, so please do add your name to my list of subscribers, or email me at sandikaltner@aol.com to enter the draw. The draw will be made on December 1st, 2013.

And I heartily recommend a stay at the Algonquin hotel!  I will be writing about the hotel in an upcoming blog post.

Algonquin-Lobby-1

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Sequel Inspiration: Art Forger Ken Perenyi

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Photo by CBS News

The idea of writing a sequel for Ravenscraig was in the back of my mind for some time  before I found the right story to tell. I have the CBS Sunday Morning Show to thank for providing the inspiration for the story line for this new historical novel, which is yet to be named. In March of this year, CBS ran this fascinating story reported by Lee Cowan profiling master forger Ken Perenyi.

“I take pride in my work, and I think it speaks for itself. I would find it difficult to feel bad about creating beautiful paintings.”   

                                 –Ken Perenyi

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CBS did the story because Perenyi was attracting a lot of attention with his tell-all1930 memoire, Caveat Emptor in which he explains in great detail how he was able to create more than 1,000 fakes over thirty years. He made a ton of money, was never caught, and is continuing to paint today, although in a perfectly legitimate and legal business, selling his art as works painted in his hand in the style of a number of talented and famous artists. His website is filled with examples of the kinds of paintings he is happy to paint to order. How delicious is this story for inspiration? I immediately ordered Perenyi’s book and finished it in one day, totally inspired by the talent, the scandal, and the naughtiness of it all.

There are many critics, including art consultant and appraiser, Brenda Simonson-Mohle, who find Perenyi and his intent to profit from deception utterly despicable:

sa_logo_72dpi“I found myself cringing at every page turn. I find it appalling that Perenyi duped people for so many years with his fake paintings with no legal consequences and doubly insulting that this book is his venue to brag about it. While I had to read it, and feel like I had to report on it in this blog, my greatest wish would be that the book would flop, that it would be given no press coverage and that Perenyi would die in oblivion. It is not a likely scenario in our prurient culture that absorbs and celebrates such anti-heroes with more enthusiasm than we give to people who make real contributions to society. Perenyi will likely get the 15-minutes of fame that he seeks from publishing this book. The book’s afterward states that he continues to pump fake paintings into the marketplace from his Florida studio and that they are collected as reproductions or as “Perenyi-copies.” I get nauseated just thinking about it.”

I see why people who make their living in the art market would be horrified at the story, but as for me, frankly I find it fascinating that he got away with it. It turns out a great many artists have preceded Perenyi on this path.

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Click for Renoir mystery

Perenyi’s story led me to begin a most interesting line of study to gain an understanding of artists who traffic in fraud and other art crimes.

There are many wonderful scholarly works as well as documentaries, news articles and the works themselves to examine in this area, and I was immediately hooked. More than anything else, it is the personality type of the art forger that I find so intriguing.

The new novel I am writing deals with a very talented art forger in France in 1914 who enlists the help of a familiar Ravenscraig character to sell forged paintings to American millionaires.

Stay tuned for more news on the developing storyline!

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Sequel Inspiration: Dinner at Eze in 1914

The Mediterranean view from Eze

The Mediterranean view from Eze

I am working on a scene in the Ravenscraig sequel which takes place at Eze, an incredible Medieval Village that is known as the “Eagle’s Nest” for it’s view of the Mediterranean.  We had the good fortune to visit this stunning place on the French Riviera some years ago and we enjoyed a most elegant lunch at the Chateau Eza.

Today I came across this beautiful video that will give you a sense of why I chose Eze as location for a very important dinner in 1914. Luxury is always inspiring. Eze is a few miles away from Monaco.

For someone raised on the prairies, like me, I can tell you it is a bit of a hair-raising ride up that mountainous road to get to Eze, but worth every pounding heartbeat.

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