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That said, the twenties was contrast at its most extreme. From the high life to the low life, people lived hard, worked harder, smoked incessantly, drank continuously and got steady doses of heroin, morphine, cocaine and opium in their soft drinks, candy or medicines. People could get away with murder, and often did. This was the time when people were smart enough to distrust big government and made folk heroes of criminals like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Al Capone. A time when fortunes were lost or made in a single night and crime got itself organized. And, bee’s knees or gnat’s spats, this rough, bawdy time changed American society forever!
These were the days when a man’s word was gold, a handshake, a contract. A woman couldn't vote but she could own a fella with a flash of leg or a whispered innuendo. And, I mean OWN.
It was a place where the average American life expectancy was age 53 for a man and 54 for a woman. Forty was almost elderly and definitely not the new thirty! In fact, thirty was middle aged. The average joe earned $1,236 a year. Respectable jobs for women were few and far between and prostitution could be for some, the only choice between living or dying.
The twenties was a clashing, kaleidoscope of cultures and beliefs. Thousands of immigrants were arriving on American shores daily, anxious to come to the land of opportunity where the streets were reputedly paved with gold. The only true constant for everyone was change but there really was such a thing as the “American” dream.
People were inundated with new inventions daily; telephones, phonographs, automobiles, electric lights and indoor plumbing, to name just a few. Fashion was innovative, shocking and often scandalous. Women got rid of their corsets and hiked up their hemlines. They bobbed their hair and painted their faces. Many even smoked and had the nerve to demand equality. You could buy a home for $1,198 and order it from a Sears catalog.
There was no real middle class; people were either rich or poor. Doctors still made house-calls and often took their pay in goods or services. Most truly cared more about helping people than growing rich and they knew every family in their town.
Women sought a man who would be a good provider. Love was an ideal, something one could grow into over time and marriage was forever, whether you were happy or not. Security was key and divorce, a disgrace. It wasn’t at all uncommon for a man to beat or slap his woman around if she “misbehaved”.
Think rigid societal and moral restrictions and raging social inequities. No human, civil or equal rights. Separate rules, facilities and clubs for the rich, the poor and anyone dark or different.
Child and infant mortality rates were high and childbirth could be a dangerous and risky business. No such thing as reliable or safe birth control. If a girl had the misfortune of becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, her family either arranged for the evidence to be removed or destroyed, married her off or threw her out.
In 1916, a young nurse named Margaret Higgins Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. This led to her arrest for distributing information on contraception. Sanger was considered a feminist, which at the time was akin to being diseased.
Date rape, any rape was a disgrace, and rarely, if ever talked about. It always reflected worse on the victim than the perpetrator. To that end, incest and abuse were rarely acknowledged. There was no such thing as disclosure- a man didn’t tell his wife or other partners what or who he was doing because he was a man and he had a man’s “prerogatives”. Diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea ran rampant.
Hardship breeds adversity but also great creativity. The twenties birthed the advent and popularity of music, radio and film. It inspired great inventions, fashion, art and the implementation of infrastructure, expressions, laws and institutions…many still used and revered today.
People often ask me why I chose to set my book, ‘The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes’, in this time period. The answer is because this story chose me through a sequence of unusual dreams (See more about that below). And, I became enamored (even obsessed) with this rich, discordant era. A world similar yet so different from the world we all live in today, but a world where despite the hardships, people still had a good time.
The 1920’s like all eras was certainly a time full of contradictions…and yet there was such possibilities. And, as my main character, Hannah in ‘The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes,’ shares -- life and living, and dying is all about the possibilities.
Stay tuned for more about the sequel to The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes.
No, I am not particularly gullible or even someone who accepts the impossible easily but my first introduction to the heroine of "The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes' happened in 1985. I was 30 years old, living in Southern California, happily married two years and working my 'dream' job as Director of Publications at Chapman University. It is at this time that I began having a series of dreams that began right after I attended a lecture on 'Dream Interpretation and Recalling Past Lives.'
I consider myself a spiritual person and I have always had a curiosity about different viewpoints and an interest in the paranormal. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of reincarnation and the possibility of recalling past lives. After all, if given a choice between believing that we are here only once or believing in spirit and living many lives, I certainly prefer believing the latter. To that end, I keep my mind open to the possibilities because no matter what you believe, no one living (to my knowledge) knows 100% for sure what truly happens when we die so whether you believe in a heaven with harp playing angels, an audience with God, a ride on a UFO or the scary possibility of roasting in Hell for your sins, I think it is important to discern what beliefs feel right and comforting to you. At that time, I was just beginning to define this for myself so this topic intrigued me.
The instructor ( who later became a friend and a spiritual advisor of sorts) suggested we begin by not discounting any odd feelings, images or thoughts we have or may have had. To not discount anything strange as "imagination" and to allow our minds to roam should we experience any unusual ideas, thoughts or images. We were also advised to keep a dream journal by our beds; a notebook in which to jot down any memories we might remember immediately upon awakening.
Of course, I didn't seem to remember any dreams the first few weeks so I had nothing to write down. Then one night, I awoke in the middle of the night, heart beating fast, terrified as my mind raced with very clear memories of what seemed to be a very bad nightmare. I couldn't shake the fear and got up to go into the bathroom where I was inundated with images of what I'd been dreaming.
It seems I'd been inside a very small, crowded apartment that in the dream I'd recognized as mine. There was a bedroom, the bed plush with an overstuffed feathered comforter, pillows and silk sheets and the room a mess. Drawers were open and spilling over to the floor with clothes, as was the small closet bulging from it's seams with all manner of hats, dresses, coats and shoes. The items looked fashionable and expensive; an explosion of lace, silks and satins. Everything felt familiar to me yet I couldn't help but note that it all looked very old-fashioned, as if I were seeing a twenties movie set.
In the dream, I clumsily but hurriedly made my way from the obstacle course of objects strewn about the bedroom to the living room, feeling a sense of panic, a need to hurry before someone or something caught up with me. Not defining the reason for the fear, I remember the soft Persian rugs beneath my feet and a heavy feeling of deep sadness as I looked around the room.
I saw walls covered in a butternut yellow textured silk and fancy oil paintings of fruit, flowers and birds in golden frames on the walls. There was a small kitchenette barely worth mentioning and a small living room dominated by furniture; a green brocade and velvet tufted couch, a caned chair and a dark wood but gilt edged table. There were silver framed photos and a letter on it. It was addressed to a Miss Hannah Glidden at 363 NW Diamond Street, Brooklyn, New York. It was from her mother. Looking at it, made me feel sad that I'd never be able to resolve things with the woman I thought of as 'Mama" and I put the letter down. It mentioned, Ray, and I could picture him; a rangy, weathered and handsome man in worn work clothes, with shiny auburn hair and green eyes that could sparkle when he smiled.
I remember feeling very attached to all the things in the room but also very burdened by them. With each thought, came memory and then intense sadness.
There was a narrow, glass etagere littered with fancy jou jous I felt attached to. I grabbed a small gold, sapphire and diamond encrusted songbird in my hand, fondling it as the fear I'd felt earlier returned full bore. Torn by an urgency I didn't understand, sad and so scared, I walked towards the door. I noticed a small mirror on the wall by the coat rack. I happened to glance into it and the shock of seeing the face of a blue-eyed, blonde that was not me jolted me wide awake! I sat up gasping in shock as I recalled the woman's face and her 20's hairstyle and reached for my journal.
I was feeling excited by how vivid and real this dream had felt. It was still the middle of the night so I lay back in bed and forced myself to take deep breaths to relax. We had been encouraged to breathe through any fears that may arise and to keep our minds open and ourselves calm. It wasn't long before I fell asleep again.
Amazingly, I found myself back in that room and in that dream.
I am not sure how long it took me to calm down and then work up the nerve to fall asleep one more time, but eventually I did because now I just had to know what this was, was it a dream, a past-life memory, imagination or something else. And, I wanted to know what she/I was afraid of and what had happened to her.
Believe it or not, when I did fell asleep two more times, I returned to that dream. This time I saw a brownstone like the ones in New York and a dark haired man in a hat shadowed by two other men on each side of him entering it. I saw them get into a small elevator, the kind that had a glass and black iron gate. It looked like a scene from The Untouchables, the old building, the elevator and the men wearing long trench coats, baggy pants and dark, Panama hats.
I remember trying not to panic because once again I was back in the body of the woman-Hannah and feeling her confusion. She didn't know if the man was coming or if he'd already come. She/I couldn't remember if he was her husband or lover but she knew he was someone close to her, someone she'd loved and someone as handsome as he was dangerous. In her head, I could picture him quite clearly. He had black hair and soulless dark eyes. He was Italian/Latin and the name Johnny seemed to whisper at me.
Hannah began remembering and I seemed to share her memories and feel her emotions as if they were mine. She was unhappy and felt very trapped, tired and burdened, as if she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. There weren't a lot of options open to her; she didn't feel she could give up the lifestyle she'd gotten used to or desert her career as a singer. She knew Johnny would kill her rather than let her leave. In essence, in her view, there was no way out, no escape.
I first dreamt about Hannah in 1986. I spent much time at the library trying to see if I could find data to substantiate her actual existence. In the meantime. my career continued to flourish and I became the mother of two with very little time for indulging what seemed like a strange whim. Still, the dreams opened a floodgate that would not be ignored. In time, Hannah and a variety of the characters in her life began to haunt me. There were many nights I couldn't sleep for their voices in my head, each with a unique accent or tone, each wanting to tell their version of this story. I didn't get a chance to write Hannah's story until many years later but by then, I was convinced I had to tell this story.
'The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes' isn't only about my search for knowledge or the chance to understand dreams, muses or the paranormal, however it did become an exciting and enlightening journey, a chance to follow a dream and in the doing, profoundly affected me and changed the way I will forever view life - and death.
Please stay tuned for more about the strange and wonderful journey I took by talking to ghosts.
To be continued...
I have developed an unequivocally, irrevocable passion for the era of the 1920’s because it is one of the most fascinating times in American history-ever. And, I am pretty sure I lived back then too. That is, if like I think there is such a thing as past lives. If not, then I was stalked and haunted by Hannah’s ghost and my book is the result of many years of talking to ghosts.
It focuses on one of the first things of value gangster Johnny Gallo gave to cabaret singer Hannah- the songbird with sapphire eyes brooch. Truth is expertly woven with fiction into this riveting story about a sunken Russian battleship, a failed mission, a mysterious treasure, family legacies, the holiday season and learning to believe in the magic of love. Stay tuned, I will be working hard to get the next book out and I promise, it will be worth the wait.
I am so thrilled to announce the release of Mermaid's Treasure, a novella and a prequel to 'The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes.' While I am still at work on the sequel- to be entitled, 'Anthony's Angel,' I was challenged to contribute a short story to the Windtree Press holiday anthology, 'The Gift of Christmas and that is how the unabridged version of this story evolved.