I’ve been a fan of Stephanie Morrill’s since I stumbled across her books in 2016. While I still haven’t read her debut trilogy, I’ve been a fan of the Ellie Sweet books since I first discovered them. When I found out that my library had Stephanie’s newest release, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, on the shelves, I checked it out without a qualm. I wasn’t disappointed. Not one little bit. While setting is often emphasized in speculative genres, The Lost Girl of Astor Street was brimming with tiny details that made 1924 Chicago pop off the page in all its Jazz-Age, flapper girl glory.
Study up on period appropriate lingo.
There will be more on this in Thursday’s post, but Stephanie really nailed this aspect of world-building. This brief exchange between the wife of a suspect in the murder case and Piper reflects this:
“You won’t have two nickels to rub together, doll.”
Better to be poor and married to someone honorable than wed to a rich devil in disguise like David Barrow. I wonder…
“Mrs. Barrow, maybe you could help us out with something. We’re hoping to go out after the show. Someplace where we could dance and get a gin fizz or two.”
Piper’s narrative voice and the dialogue both drip with setting. In a time where writers are ever wary of information dumps, it’s a non-obtrusive way to set the stage for your readers in a skilled way. Different phrases often fade in and out of style with each generation, but it’s a timeless way to reflect your story’s unique setting.
Center conflict around the setting’s limitations.
When I first began The Lost Girl of Astor Street, I was wary. Would this be another one of those “Anachronistic Girl Rebels Against Her Entire Time Period” cliches? I was very mistaken. While Piper rubs up against some of the limitations of her time, she either handles them with grace or copes with them. She’s uncertain, but excited about all the new inventions and changes in her time have to offer. Piper’s interaction with the world she lives in is seamless. While there weren’t many female detectives in the 1920s’, Piper is still able to learn ‘on the job’. People who are insistent on not telling her of ‘delicate details that aren’t fit for a lady’ communicate the changing worldviews of that generation without shoving it in the reader’s face.
Use detail to describe action.
When Piper Sail was dressing up for a hopeful date, she didn’t use mascara, eyeshadow, or any of the million-and-one hair products that we have available today. Stephanie described Piper’s beauty routine in a few quick details: she marcelled her hair, used a kohl pencil, and wore a dress especially tailored for the popular new dance of the time: the Charleston. Instead of skimming over the details (which would have showed lazy research), the author dug deep into what ladies really did to beautify themselves in the ’20s and showed us.
Don’t be lazy.
This applies to all writing, of course. How many of us walked out of a high school history course with enough knowledge to write a detailed novel set in any historical time period? Doing so requires extensive research before ever putting pen to paper. Digging up all the tiny details that make a setting pop to life are what make or break a story. Instead of Piper talking about ‘going to college’, she mentions her previous plans to ‘attend university’. When Piper speaks about one of her friends teaching her to drive, there is no mention of learner’s permits or an official licensing process. The difference is tiny, but small details often build authenticity.
After blazing through Stephanie’s newest release in two days, I’m really looking forward to her future books. I’ve already reread my library copy a few times, and expect to do so again. If I had any experience writing romance, I would also write a post about a certain ship in this book. Since I don’t, I’ll save that for another time. Happy reading!