Now that THE DARKNESS KNOWS is officially out in the world (as of this past Tuesday – Yippee!), I thought I’d share a little of my musical inspiration with you. When I listen to these songs I imagine Vivian slipping a shellac 78 onto the record player and dancing around her bedroom while she gets gussied up for an evening at Chez Paree. Enjoy!
(I wrote this brief history of Chicago radio for my publicist at Sourcebooks, and I thought I’d share.)
Chicago was a major player in radio from the beginning of the medium in the early 1920s. AM band stations (which was all they had at the time) were and are known for their strength of signal. Because of the flat geography of the Midwest, it was possible tune in a Chicago broadcast from the east coast all the way to the Rockies. Chicago was also a central switching point for transcontinental network lines (like NBC, CBS), and production facilities in Chicago fed programming to the various time zones in the days before pre-recording technology. The networks were committed to 19 hours of original programming a day and a good portion of that came out of Chicago.
National favorite programs originating from Chicago included Fibber McGee and Molly and Amos ‘n’ Andy (both eventually moved production to Hollywood). One of my personal favorite spooky shows Lights Out originated in Chicago.
The soap opera format was pioneered in Chicago by Irna Phillips on WGN in the early 1930s. Many soaps were produced in Chicago, among them one of the most popular soaps of the radio era, Vic and Sade. The Guiding Light started in 1937 in Chicago and played on radio for 15 years before moving to television to become the longest running soap opera of all time (72 years!).
There were live radio remotes from Chicago nightclubs like the Empire Room, the Edgewater Hotel, etc… that showcased sets from the top bands of the day like Benny Goodman (who was born in Chicago). “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge” was a popular national musical quiz show broadcast live from Chicago’s Blackhawk restaurant.
Radio guides and fan magazines in the 1930s had three distinct gossip columns focusing on New York, Hollywood, and Chicago. That’s a screenshot above of a Chicago gossip column from a December 1938 issue of Radio Guide.
There were three major stations/networks in Chicago in the late 1930s. (WCHI – The station in The Darkness Knows is completely fictional. J)
- WGN – CBS/Mutual Broadcasting (broadcast from the Wrigley Building)
- WMAQ – NBC Blue Network (broadcast from the Merchandise Mart)
- WLS (Standing for World’s Largest Store – aka Sears) was famous for its programming aimed at the farmers of the rural Midwest. The station was famous for The National Barn Dance with the “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry
Chicago itself was also a major stopping point for those traveling from NYC to LA. They had to change trains and stations while in Chicago. That meant a lot of celebrities stopped, at least briefly, in Chicago during that era and were interviewed on the radio and had their photos taken for the newspaper.
Comedian Jack Benny was from Waukegan (where I lived briefly) and mentioned it often on his popular radio program.
Chicago’s heavy involvement in producing original radio content petered out by the end of WWII. Most shows were produced in LA or NYC after this time. And radio, as a medium of original content anyway, died out with the growing popularity of television in the 1950s.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of old time radio… I’m writing a mystery series around it after all. But the problem with old time radio is, well, it’s old. It is a finite resource. New episodes of shows like Lights Out, Jack Benny and Gunsmoke stopped being produced sometime in the 50s or 60s (or in the case of Lights Out, the 40s). The good news is that audio drama is experiencing something of a resurgence with the rise of podcasting in recent years. In honor of #AudioDramaSunday I’ve made a list of my current favorites below (and as you can see, I like to be scared). Check them out if you get a chance. Happy Listening!
Thrilling Adventure Hour – A stage show and podcast in the style of old-time radio
The Black Tapes – A serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.
Tanis – A serialized docudrama about the myth of Tanis (tangentially related to The Black Tapes above)
Campfire Radio – Original horror
No Sleep – Original first person horror that originated from the nosleep forum on Reddit
Suspense – A revival of the classic old-time radio anthology with all new stories
Manor House – Original horror
Fireside Mystery Theatre – An old-fashioned, live radio show with a modern horror twist. Recorded live in Manhatten.
One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is that it gives me the excuse to take the day off and explore beautiful places like the Black Point Estate on Geneva Lake, WI. This Victorian Queen Anne “summer cottage” (I was told it can be called a cottage since it has no insulation and not habitable in the Wisconsin winter) was built by a beer baron in 1888 when Geneva Lake was known as the “Newport of the West” and remained in the family until it was donated to the state of Wisconsin about ten years ago. It’s only accessible by the general public via boat – which only adds to the romance of the place, in my opinion. It’s gorgeous and might just be the basis for a location in Book #3 of the Viv and Charlie Mystery Series (hint, hint).
If you’re at all curious for what may be happening to Viv and Charlie in Book #3, you can also check out my Pinterest board on the subject.
It was a whirlwind. A bit like getting married I suppose – you start and then when you have time to look up and breathe it’s already over. Two hundred ARCs of THE DARKNESS KNOWS are now signed and out in the world. I only misspelled a signee’s name once – my own name twice – in the process. Thank you to those lovely people in line who chatted with me and made me feel a little less awkward about the whole thing. Regardless of what happens with my writing career (and I hope it will chug along into a career) I will forever have the honor of acting blasé when I say in casual conversation – Oh, a book signing? Yeah, I had one of those.
The publishing process is so long and drawn out that sometimes I forget that I have an actual, real book coming out. There are long periods of time where nothing much is happening at all on my end. The day job gets crazy and the almost 7-year-old gets crazy, and I manage to forget for a time. Then my eyes fall over the ARCs of The Darkness Knows sitting pretty behind the glass of the dining room cabinet and I think to myself, “Oh yeah, THAT’S happening.” It’s even stranger because now I’m working on book #2 in the series and even though I’m actively writing and revising that book, I still have times when I have to remind myself that all of this isn’t a fever dream. Then, of course, my mind really latches onto the reality of the situation, and I am reminded that I have book #3 due at the end of 2016 (And then I panic a little because it isn’t even started.) But then I take a deep breath and tell myself that I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. (And hopefully, again and again and again – Ad Infinitum. Amen.)
So here’s to 2016 – the year my first book finally comes out – and all the fabulous craziness it’s sure to bring!
I was inspired by this post on The Debutante Ball to write about the rest of my publishing journey. The prequel, if you will. I wrote a book way back in 2005. I got an agent. The book went out on submission – and didn’t sell. Ever. To anyone. My agent dropped me . And I cried. I thought that was the end of the dream I’d had since I learned to read. I told myself – well, at least I tried. And I stopped writing for a long time.
If I had only known then what I know now I wouldn’t have stopped writing, and I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure. Because this story is so much more common than you may think.
But I did eventually start writing again – in a different genre – older and wiser about not just publishing, but everything. And after everything I wrote about in my last post, this book sold! And you know what? I’m glad now that that first book didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. Rejection (many many many rejections) gave me perspective and a thicker skin. And it taught me so much about myself. Mostly, that I made this happen. Me. And it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up.
It was a long and winding road, my friends. My novel, The Darkness Knows, started life as a NaNoWriMo experiment in writing a mystery in 2009. I love mysteries – true life ones as well as the fictional kind. I was also listening to a lot of old time radio on my earbuds at work at the time, so that inspired the setting. I liked the story, characters, and setting so much that I kept writing it after NaNoWriMo ended. I finished, roughly two years later – mainly because I’d seen the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest (now defunct) and it gave me a reason to finish and review and rewrite and clean the whole thing up. I entered that contest and got to the quarterfinals of the mystery group. Not bad. That gave me enough confidence to revise and revise and revise some more and then I started querying agents. I didn’t get much response, because querying the traditional way (by email) is a terribly inefficient way of getting attention from agents – who are swamped with queries. And query writing is an art unto itself. (I’ll write about this more in the future).
So how then did I get my agent? Well, I revised some more and entered another contest (The Daphne DuMaurier through the Kiss of Death Chapter of Romance Writers of America). And I won. The whole thing! And the agent judging my category asked to see my full manuscript. So gleefully, I sent it off to her. Then I heard nothing for months. I was disappointed and confused. So I contacted the agent. She was also confused as she’d expected to hear from me. Ooof, mixed signals. That, in itself, is sort of a long story, but anyway, turns out she’s a lovely person and boy, does she know what she’s doing. I signed with her at the end of September 2014, and by the beginning of December 2014 I had serious interest from Sourcebooks. I spoke with my now editor at Sourcebooks just before Christmas about my ideas for a series (!). Thankfully, I had some (and had already started writing book two). About a week later as I was waiting in the international arrivals area of O’Hare waiting to pick my sister up for Christmas my voicemail started blinking. It was my agent telling me the offer from Sourcebooks was a three-book deal. I couldn’t believe it. That was almost a year ago. And signing that contract was really just the beginning of the publishing journey… more on that another time.
*Or How I Will be Published in August 2016
I couldn’t resist.
Other (real) things happening in October 1938:
- Passports of German Jews are declared invalid and they are required to have the letter “J” stamped onto their passports for them to become valid again.
- The Munich Agreement was signed Sept 30 allowing Hitler to annex the Sudetenland (part of ethnically German Czechoslovakia) and prompting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time”. It would be less than a year before Germany invaded Poland starting WWII.
- Top radio shows are Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Lux Radio Theatre, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Amos & Andy.
- Filming has just started on The Wizard of Oz and will soon start on Gone with the Wind (though the part of Scarlett O’Hara will remain uncast until December).
Finally, here are some ads pulled from the October 27, 1938 edition of The Chicago Tribune ($1 in 1938 is worth about $16 today).
I first heard the original War of the Worlds broadcast in Sister Barbara Jean’s 8th grade reading class. The first ten minutes or so gave me goose bumps and sparked my love of old time radio. It made such an impression on me that I set my first mystery, The Darkness Knows, in October 1938 to coincide with the original Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast on October 30, 1938 (a character is actually listening to the live broadcast near the end of the book).
Do yourself a favor and listen to the original (It’s brilliant and so far ahead of its time.): Orson Welles Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast on YouTube
One of my current favorite radio shows, Radiolab, did a fascinating episode around the psychology of the broadcast – why it worked so well and what happened when it was repeated: Radiolab War of the Worlds Live Episode
There’s also a PBS documentary on the subject: American Experience War of the Worlds