Today I am so pleased to welcome Liv Rancourt to Joyfully Jay. Liv has come to talk to us about her latest release, Aqua Follies. She has also brought along an exclusive excerpt and a great giveaway! Please join me in giving Liv a big welcome!
Getting into the ‘50s mindset…
Thanks so much, Jay, for having me as a guest today! I’m here sharing thoughts about my new release Aqua Follies, an m/m romance set in 1955 Seattle.
Research is obviously a part of any historical romance, and there are some general principles that almost always apply. Start by looking at the calendar for the year you’re focused on to identify historical milestones like wars or changes in government. Narrow your field by searching for information on social customs, sex roles, and educational expectations. Then, to make the period really pop, refine your search further, looking for first person accounts for details of the life and times you’re considering.
This is where a story set in the 1950s will really differ from earlier periods. Beyond the big-picture elements – the end of WWII or the McCarthy trials, for example – it’s pretty easy to do a google search for information on education and social roles. And it’s even easier to find first-person accounts for life in the ‘50s. I mean, it could be as easy as talking with your neighbor.
When I set out to research 1955 Seattle, I found a tremendous amount of information in the Seattle Times archives. They’ve been digitized, and the keyword search is fairly sensitive. I also found relevant information on historylink.org, which is a Seattle-based encyclopedia with stories from all over the state of Washington. My favorite part of the research, though, was calling my friend’s father-in-law, Overton Berry.
Overton is a jazz pianist, and he’s been playing around town since the early ‘50s. (Click HERE for the historylink article on his life. Go ahead. I’ll wait till you get back.) It took a bit for us to coordinate our schedules, but when we did, we had a lovely chat about what it was like to be a working musician back then.
Overton started playing around town before he graduated from Garfield High School in 1952 (The same school where my son is now a junior, for a little bit of serendipity.) In 1962, Overton and a friend ran a coffee shop in Pioneer Square (near the bar where my characters Skip and Russell hang out), so he had all kinds of memories to share.
He talked about the influence of the musicians unions. At the time, there were two unions in Seattle, the local 76 for white musicians, and the 493 for blacks. The unions stipulated the number of performers different ensembles required, and they dictated where people could play. Blacks could get gigs south of Yesler Avenue, in the Skid Road area, while whites played the higher-paying gigs downtown. Establishments had to have special licenses for people to sing in addition to playing instruments, and it wasn’t until 1958 that the two unions merged.
One of the heroes in Aqua Follies is a trumpet player, and I drop a bunch of names and many songs by title. It was so helpful to be able to ask Overton if a musician was likely to know such-and-such song, as well as what might be considered standard repertoire. I won’t say I got everything right, but I promise if there are mistakes in the novel, they’re my own fault and not something I learned from this tremendously talented man.
I also want to give a shout-out to the musicians union Local 76-493. Their office dug through the archives so to help me figure out the size of the ensemble that played the Follies, and they emailed me a pdf copy of an original program. (Which was awesome because it showed me how many numbers were in the show, along with the kinds of songs they chose.)
The 1950s aren’t the most popular time period for historical romances, but they make a great backdrop for a couple of gay men in love. The fact that it’s possible to find eye-witnesses for the place and time adds a layer of reality that just wouldn’t happen with older time periods.
Thanks again for having me! Keep reading, because there’s an excerpt below, and there’s also a rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 gift card. I’m excited to be releasing Aqua Follies into the world, and hope you’ll give it a chance!
The tavern was comfortable, warm, touched with the familiar scents of fries and stale beer. Skip waved to acquaintances, amused by the swell of interest in Russell. This place had a select clientele, and if Demetrio the doorman didn’t recognize someone, they weren’t getting in.
If the characters in this bar were Skip’s extended family, then Demetrio was his favorite uncle.
He claimed a booth and tipped his head in the direction of the bartender.
“Lawrence?” Russell dropped onto the seat across from him, chin cocked like he was ready to take a punch.
Over the years, Skip had learned how to balance a friendly smile with a steely attitude, so he rarely ran into trouble on the street, but he sure liked this bulldog side of Russell. He flashed him a grin meant to reassure. “You could take your jacket off, at least.”
Russell unwound enough to reach for his buttons.
Leaning forward on his forearms, Skip was amused and a little concerned. “Don’t make too much of a show, or you’ll have half the guys in here offering to help.”
Russell loosened his tie with a smile that gave Skip hope. He’d come on strong, maybe too strong, but his date hadn’t run. Worth a shot to see where things would go. He really wanted to know what kind of man sat on the other side of the table.
Maybe a little teasing would loosen Russell up. “Do you always dress like a lawyer?”
“Do I?” Russell gave an awkward laugh and shrugged out of his jacket. “Guess I’m just practicing.” He paused when the bartender approached them. “Whiskey?”
“I’ll have one too.”
The grizzled old bartender laid down cocktail napkins and let them alone.
“So what kind of place is this, anyway?” Russell asked. The vibration of his shaking knee traveled under the table, though his hands rested quietly.
“The kind of place where no one asks your last name,” Skip said. “And if you stare at someone too long, they’re likely to take you out back and get down on their knees.” He stifled a grin at the color staining Russell’s cheeks. The boy from Red Wing knew what Skip was trying to say, all right. “Or get you down on yours.”
Russell stiffened, his gaze locked on the tabletop. <em>Uh-oh</em>. Better downshift to a different subject. “So, you got family?” Skip asked.
With a sharp inhale, Russell came up with a smile that looked forced. “Two brothers and two sisters, all older than me.”
The bartender interrupted their conversation, setting their cocktails on the table. After taking a healthy swallow of whiskey, Russell lowered his hand, brushing his knuckles against Skip’s fingers. The contact juiced Skip good. He’d have been happy to sit right there all night as long as Russell wanted to hold his hand.
“So you’re the baby?”
Russell grimaced. “I suppose.”
“Are they all back in Red Wing?” Brothers and sisters were a novelty Skip didn’t know much about, so he was sincerely curious.
After another swallow of whiskey, Russell eased back in his seat. “Mostly. Robert’s the oldest, and he runs Dad’s farm supply company.” He spun the whiskey in his glass. “Then there’s Dumpling; well, her real name is Regina. She and my other sister Rayanne used to swim with the Aqua Dears, and since I always got dragged to their practices, I learned enough to coach. They’re both married and have kids now, though.”
On the radio, Chet Baker played “My Funny Valentine,” a soft purr in the background. “You’re missing one, I think.”
Another sigh, this one deep and tinged with sadness. “My brother Rory. He was in the middle, and I guess he always felt bad that he was too young to go fight in Europe.” Russell paused and cleared his throat. “When the government started things in Korea, he joined right up.” Another pause. “He was killed about four years ago.”
Skip was pretty sure he’d stepped into something way more painful than he’d intended. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Russell shrugged, his expression closed. “Can’t be helped, but thanks.”
“My family’s not as big.” Did he really want to talk about old news? “Just me and Mom, really. She used to work down here,” he said. “She’s at Firland now. Got TB.”
Russell nodded, a wordless expression of sympathy. Surprised by a sudden burst of emotion, Skip had to look away.
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “So I work at Boeing, you know? I can’t make enough money in this town playing music, and I can’t leave until she’s better.”
“You’re so good, though,” Russell said, with gratifying enthusiasm. “You’re the best horn player I ever heard.”
Now it was Skip’s turn to blush. “Um…” He rubbed his mouth with an open palm. “Thanks.”
Russell reached across the table and laid his hand on Skip’s. “And I think it’s swell that you’re staying here to take care of your mother.”
Skip honestly didn’t know what to say. Silence filled the space between them.
“Geez,” Skip snorted, “if we keep this up, we’ll be weepy as a couple of girls.” He flipped his hand around to squeeze Russell’s fingers before pulling away. “If you want, after this we can go to a club where I can teach you to dance.”
“Is that right?” Russell’s laugh warmed Skip through and through.
“Yes, sir. The place is down in a basement so no one can see. Gents dance with gents all the time there.” Skip gazed up from under his lashes. “And I’d be happy to dance with a fellow as handsome as you.”
Russell turned away, expression so perplexed, Skip had to burst out laughing. A wild spirit took over before he could get himself under control. “So what are you going to do? Go back home and look for Susie’s replacement without trying to kiss me?”
Russell went from grinning to furious in a heartbeat. “So what if I am?”
Still caught in the moment, Skip leaned forward. Yeah, he was teasing a tiger, but he couldn’t help himself, what with the way Russell’s eyes were locked on his mouth. “I don’t believe you.”
The stare-down lasted several long, hot seconds.
“Fine.” Russell downed the rest of his whiskey and banged the glass on the table. “You win. I don’t want to go home without kissing you.”
The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.
Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.
From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.
The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?
I write romance: m/f, m/m, and v/h, where the h is for human and the v is for vampire … or sometimes demon … I lean more towards funny than angst. When I’m not writing I take care of tiny premature babies or teenagers, depending on whether I’m at work or at home. My husband is a soul of patience, my dog’s cuteness is legendary, and we share the homestead with three ferrets. Who steal things. Because they’re brats.
I can be found on-line at all hours of the day and night at my website (www.livrancourt.com) & blog (www.liv-rancourt.blogspot.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt). For sneak peeks and previews and other assorted freebies, go HERE to sign up for my mailing list.
Come find me. We’ll have fun!
To celebrate Aqua Follies release, my writing partner Irene Preston and I are running a rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 gift card to be awarded at the end of June!
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Congratulations, Liz, on the release of Aqua Follies. I enjoyed reading the excerpt and learning about your research. Best wishes on your next writing project!
Thanks so much, Kareni!
Thanks for the great excerpt. I really enjoyed it.
I’m so glad, Debra! Thanks!
Ah I saw this on Twitter! Congratulations! XD