Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In which I was in Chicago

So, I have been rather silent on the blog: but with good reason.

My galleys for A Lesson in Love and Murder were due and I have been feverishly working on The White Feather Murders.

Busy, busy.

I did, however, get to steal away to Chicago for the latter half of last week.

I arrived on Wednesday after a bit of a gong show of a trip over there. We left Toronto early in the morning, arrived in Chicago, couldn't land because of fog, circled and circled about and finally returned to Toronto.

I spent most of the day in the Porter lounge at Billy Bishop writing White Feather. When I finally did get to Chicago I was excited to see all of the sites that I hadn't seen in two years since my last trip there ( especially because I had written A Lesson in Love and Murder  during the interim --- about 80 per cent of that book is set in Chicago).

My friend Sonja ( from Vancouver Island) joined me and we stayed at the W City Centre Hotel. It was fab: like this psychadelic disco castle.

We took a long ramble about and I gaped up at the amazing architecture and found dinner at Pizano's on State Street.  Score for us, it was half-off bottles of chianti.

The next day, I was pretty packed with all things bookish at Book Expo America.

I met the Harvest House crew for breakfast and then headed over to Book Expo at McCormick Place.   It was a zoo! I signed a few books and met a few readers and spent some time with my amazing editor.

A long day of bookish goodness later and Sonja and I were back prowling Chicago. We had dinner at the Emerald Loop and then cocktails at The Palmer House.  Note: I am obsessed with the Palmer House. It's where Jem and Merinda stay when they are in Chicago and you really, really, really must spend time there if you are in the Windy City.

Friday saw us out and exploring again....
Sonja is a professional photographer, so part of her vision for her portion of the trip was to use Chicago's gorgeous hybrid of historical and modern architecture to create a visual narrative.   Because she had a friend ( me!) along with her, I modeled for a lot of the shots.  

We spent a wonderful day getting pics at the El stations and perusing Marshall Fields and the Tiffany Ceiling (now Macy's), exploring the river and shooting near the Palmer.  After work was done for the day, we headed for cocktails at the Signature Room in the John Hancock Building where we were afforded amazing views of the city.  After which, we found dinner at Quartino which is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at in the States. The food was amazing, the wine was amazing, the wait staff was amazing ( thanks for the free limoncello! ).   After which, we left the W behind and headed to an air bnb in Lincoln Square to spend the rest of our Chicago weekend.

A new neighbourhood and new digs ( with a gorgeous swath of print! --- I love print!) , our borrowed apartment was cozy and gave us an entirely different feel for an interesting new neighbourhood.  On Saturday morning we wandered through the square which is home to several families with small children and inched through a street festival.   Lincoln Square ( unbeknownst to me previously) is a largely German area of Chicago and it was interesting to see that cultural influence.

A quick El ride in to the city proper and we were freezing along the river thanks to a quick temperature drop. Nonetheless, we took an Architectural Tour on the river before wandering the streets again and stopping at this adorable little wine bar.    Dinner was at Bistronomic--- a to-die-for French place on Pearson Street. Thereafter, we procured tickets to Disenchanted: a Disney musical spoof reclaiming a feminine space for princesses.

Sunday morning was a lot of packing followed by brunch at Le Cafe in Lincoln Square before she took an uber to O'Hare and I took an uber to Midway.

Chicago is an incredible city. It reminds me a lot of Toronto. I fell for it two years ago when I visited for the annual Dickens Fellowship Conference and was very lucky to spend more time there again.
The preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture and the on-going beautification process (started in the early 1900s on the magnificent mile and beyond) help establish one of the most alluring historical cities in the US.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Guest Post: 1910s Cinema and the Strong Heroines in those Films that led to A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR by Radha Vatsal

Rachel note: delighted that Radha Vatsal took time to talk about cinema in the 1910s:  Kitty Weeks' first adventure is one I loved  ( it is very Jem and Merinda approved!) and I so appreciate Radha taking the time to visit A Fair Substitute for Heaven today. 

Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, is a reporter for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel in 1915.  She’s dying to report real news but that’s the prerogative of the men who work at the City Desk or in the Newsroom. Still, Kitty is inspired by the strong, active heroines she sees on screen in the movie theaters.  These women—actresses like Pearl White, Kathlyn Williams and Helen Holmes—portrayed athletic, independent and intelligent heroines who were hungry for adventure and took matters into their own hands when necessary—and this was before women even had the right to vote.
I learned about the action film heroines of the silent era during my graduate studies at Duke University.  The 1910s saw a spate of silent film serials released, all of which featured women playing the lead in action roles.  These films showed women involved in mThe Hazards of Helen (1915).

atters far outside the home. They moved into the territory that we might now associate with male actors. They chased villains in cars, rode horses, flew airplanes, ran down hillsides chased by huge boulders, and emerged from dangerous situations basically unscathed. They were tough and also happy-go-lucky, and their films were popular both in the US and around the world.  Here’s a clip of Helen Holmes in

I thought they needed to be put into a story and the way I did that wasn’t to make an action heroine the protagonist of my book, but rather, to make an action heroine, specifically Pearl White, Kitty Weeks’s inspiration as she pursues her journalistic investigations.  In a later book in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series (A Front Page Affair is the first) I hope to have Kitty directly interact with Pearl or another silent-era film star.  Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, for instance, were very influential in persuading ordinary Americans to support the country’s entry into World War I.  Kitty Weeks will be there, watching it all unfold.  You can read more about the forgotten silent-film heroines of the 1910s in an article I wrote for TheAtlantic.com, and see images about them and other aspects of life in the 1910s on the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.

Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affaircomes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at radhavatsalauthor@gmail.com or friend her on Facebook.