Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Ellen Mansoor Collier

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Ellen Mansoor Collier
with Ellen Mansoor Collier

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Ellen Mansoor Collier to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

Ellen's third Jazz Age mystery, set in 1920s Galveston, is Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns (DecoDame Press; May 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to talk with her about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Why did you decide to set your series during the Jazz Age?

Ellen Mansoor Collier
Photo provided courtesy of
Ellen Mansoor Collier

Ellen Mansoor Collier: Personally I love the 1920s, and really enjoy researching and writing about that era. I admit, I'm living vicariously through my main character, Jazz Cross, who is an ambitious and rebellious society reporter trying to make her mark in journalism. While Jazz starts out as a little naïve and inexperienced, I gradually want to make her stronger and more fearless as she encounters various challenges, both personal and professional. In time, I hope she can influence some of the men around her, especially the newspaper reporters, who tend to be chauvinistic and old-fashioned. Wouldn't that be nice (if unrealistic)?

OMN: Into which mystery genre would you place this series?

EMC: I'd call my novels soft-boiled, since they have elements of hard-boiled novels (gangsters, crime, violence, etc.) but since there's no real gore or graphic violence, some romance but no sex, they're closer to cozy mysteries. My novels feature real-life Galveston gangsters, people and landmarks and some stories were inspired by actual events (the Bathing Beauty Revue that led to the Miss Universe contest, for example) so they're historical mysteries as well. I wanted to showcase real characters and places not well known outside of the region.

By using a fictional heroine, it freed me up to invent her personality and imagine her reactions to various situations. I've heard wild stories about the gang leaders, Sam and Rose Maceo, Ollie Quinn and Johnny Jack Nounes, and tried to create personas that embody their larger-than-life reputations.

OMN: Tell us something about Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

EMC: Galveston generally not only tolerated the gang leaders, many bigwigs and politicians embraced them since they buoyed the economy and the tourist trade. In fact, business was so good on the Island that Galveston never really suffered during the Depression, largely thanks to the Maceo brothers' business savvy. While crime and corruption still existed, the Maceos were considered "gentlemen gangsters" since they didn't condone needless violence and murder, unlike Al Capone and other gangsters in Chicago and New York.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

EMC: When I was Jazz's age (21), I worked as a summer intern for a Houston community newspaper and was even offered a full-time position as a reporter, but wanted to finish my Journalism degree. I learned so much on the job, but my experiences there led me to specialize in Magazine Journalism. One summer, I served as a cocktail waitress which gave me some insight into the speakeasy/bar world. After graduation, I worked as an editor/writer for regional magazines and also in public relations. I imagine PR is a lot like being a society reporter in that you're only allowed to highlight the positive aspects of a story or celebrity. Both jobs allowed me to imagine a society reporter's life during the 1920s, when tidbits were mostly fun and entertaining, perhaps with only a hint of scandal and gossip.

Sure, like most women, I've experienced quite a bit of chauvinism and frustration in the workplace so those scenes were easy to write.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

EMC: I'm definitely a pantser as I find it more exciting to let the story develop as I go. Often I come up with new ideas as I'm writing or doing something totally different and that makes it more fun to see what happens next. Flappers was plotted out in more detail and I knew the villain in advance, but in Gold Diggers I changed the killer literally at the last minute, only days before I released the e-book.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

EMC: As a journalist, I initially over-researched my novels but I think it held me back since I wanted to double fact-check every minor detail — I even pulled out records of the original trolley lines in Galveston! (Who cares?) I spent countless hours poring over books, magazines, short stories and articles, watching old noir films, looking through menus, photos, ads, cartoons, etc. Newspaperarchives.com is an invaluable resource for finding old newspaper records, but the type is hard to read online.

Finally I realized most readers just want a sense of time and place, they don't want a history lesson. While my plots and characters are fabricated, it's hard for me to completely "make stuff up" so most of my stories are based on fact.

To summarize the history and provide an introduction, I included a short preface in each novel. Still, I researched as much as possible and made sure I didn't incriminate or libel anyone!

OMN: If you could travel anywhere in the world to research a setting for a book, all expenses paid, where would it be?

EMC: Western Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and Spain, etc) because it's fascinating, steeped in history and beautiful! I love to travel but unfortunately we don't get to travel as much as we used to. I'm sure I'd find lots to write about while sipping Kir Royales along the Seine!

OMN: Tell us more about the striking covers for the books.

EMC: I'm lucky to be able to use actual Deco era fonts and illustrations from the 1920s since they're in the public domain. I wanted my covers to reflect the Jazz Age at a glance and was fortunate to find such representative artwork. My brother is a graphic artist and he put it all together — he even added a dead body in my Flappers title (see the "O")! Since I'm very visual, I looked at dozens of Deco designs, photographs and fonts for each cover until I found exactly what I wanted.

Obviously I like alliteration and wanted my titles to stand out so I played around with different combinations until they made sense (and fit the cover). I do think people judge a book by its cover!

OMN: What kinds of books do you read for pleasure?

EMC: Mysteries, of course, especially historical mysteries. I also love biographies about fascinating people.

OMN: What's next for you?

EMC: Good question! Now I'm debating whether to continue this series, start a new one or open up a book store/coffee shop/antiques store — or all of the above!

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Ellen Mansoor Collier Book Tour

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).

For more information about the author, please visit her website at FlapperFinds.com or find her on Facebook.

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Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns by Ellen Mansoor Collier

Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns
Ellen Mansoor Collier
A Jazz Age Mystery

During Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, the Island was called the "Free State of Galveston" due to its lax laws and laissez faire attitude toward gambling, girls and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she's stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.

After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton's life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he's framed for murder, he and Jazz must work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames Jasmine's half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.

When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against a common enemy.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)  iTunes iBook Format

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for featuring me today--great questions!

    ReplyDelete

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