Monday, March 07, 2016

Author Q and A : Cheryl Honigford

Recently, I read an e-galley of The Darkness Knows which is a fabulous start to a mystery series featuring a winsome radio star and Private Eye duo in 1930s Chicago.

I was delighted that Cheryl agreed to answer a few questions. I know my blog readers will love the zest and snap of the dialogue, the romantic tension and the intricate murder---not to mention the amazing setting !

1.) Most agents and publishers like a good "hook" when considering a novel. What was the hook for THE DARKNESS KNOWS?

It’s October 1938, and radio is king. Vivian Witchell is determined to be a star, and with her new role in the popular detective serial, The Darkness Knows, everything she’s dreamed of is finally within her grasp. Until, that is, Viv stumbles upon the body of the station’s biggest, and most reviled, actress in the employee lounge. Clutched in the dead woman’s hand is a threatening letter that targets Viv as the next victim. Suddenly, Viv’s biggest worry isn’t remembering her lines, it’s staying alive.

2.) One of the things I loved about the book was Viv's insistence on a career: despite her upbringing and the pressure from her society-obsessed mother to marry. The Darkness Knows did a wonderful job of painting a woman's plight in a "modern" society with some very traditional views still at the helm. Even though a new world was on the brink, warring women's roles were still a major issue. Was this an intentional layer in the story and something that you can see yourself exploring more in the next novels?

Yes, this was definitely intentional. You can’t get very far into research for the period before realizing what a woman’s role was supposed to be in 1938. I collect vintage women’s magazines and some of the ads are amazing. Dishpan hands were supposed to be a woman’s greatest worry, and don’t get me started on how they were using Lysol then… (Google it if you’re curious and not too squeamish about your lady bits.) Women didn’t have “careers” in 1938. They may have had jobs, but only if they absolutely had to and only until they found a husband. Then they were expected to promptly quit that job to take care of hearth and home. (In fact, that’s what the actress Vivian is replacing at the beginning of the book has just done.) Vivian can see how limiting this is and her becoming a secretary and then a radio actress is an attempt to buck that claustrophobic social structure (and infuriate her mother). To be fair though, Vivian’s wealth and social standing give her a lot of advantages that most women simply did not have then – like the luxury of being able to go to secretarial school out of spite. This theme of female independence will continue to be explored in the series – especially with the lead up to WWII and all that will mean for women’s changing roles in society.

3.) Radio Actress meets Sardonic yet good-hearted ( and dashing!) Private Investigator: How did these two characters come to be?

Well, Vivian was around first and then when I got the idea for her to be starring in a detective serial I thought it would be fun to play her off of an actual detective (and contrast that with the fictional detective ideal in The Darkness Knows, the radio serial). When Viv meets Charlie everything she thought she wanted flies right out the window - in a good way. J Their relationship is very much inspired by the Nick and Nora sort of bantering couples of 1930s screwball comedies.

4.) Your Chicago is to die for (okay pun intended)! So sumptuously painted with just the right amount of historical detail. I totally wanted to be at the masquerade at the Palmer, by the way. Did you intentionally use it as a starring character in the Darkness Knows or is that something that organically happened?

I wanted to be at that masquerade too! I love Chicago and I love that time period - and I think both are woefully underrepresented in fiction. I live in the far suburbs these days, but I spent 7 years in the Lakeview neighborhood and really got to know the city. I love history, in general, so even before I got the idea for this book I had already catalogued all of this random information in my head about the history of the city and the architecture. I really loved researching the details of the time period. It meant a lot of staring into old photographs and imagining how things looked, smelled, sounded. It was a different world, and I would give anything to sit in on a live broadcast of The Darkness Knows. So I guess, the answer is to your question is both - Chicago as a main character was organic and intentional at the same time.

5.) I wondered if you could give us any hints as to where we'll find Charlie and Viv next!

Book #2 (Fall 2017) is set a few months after The Darkness Knows - at Christmastime 1938. Vivian stumbles upon something that flips everything she thought she knew about her beloved (and now deceased) father on its head. Think Capone, speakeasies, and all of the shady activities that go along with that… Expect more radio station intrigue (especially with Viv’s star on the rise) and more historic Chicago detail woven throughout. And of course, Charlie is there to antagonize Viv and help her get to the bottom of things.

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