By Leslie Lindsay
Captivating tale of glamour and glitz in the early-mid 1950s traversing culture and cities, including NYC, Havana, and Miami. She chats with me about how research is probably her most favorite part of writing, the political and social climate of the mid-century, how she loves CRAZY RICH ASIANS (movie coming!), and so much more
LADY BE GOOD (Crown, June 26 2018) pairs perfectly with a rum and Coke or a strawberry daiquiri and a sun-drenched patio. I found Amber Brock quickly and effortlessly transported me to the time period and the various cities in the story–I felt every scarf and blouse, every hair-do and every pair of sandals, that’s Brock’s greatest strength here– capturing the time period with absolute perfection. She’s clearly done her homework because these characters–Kitty and Hen–practically jump off the page with their accessories and ways of speaking.
Kitty is a rich socialite who primarily lives off her father’s money; he owns several high-class hotels in NYC, but in other cities, too (namely, Havana and Miami). Kitty is at marrying age and her father wants to ensure his precious daughter is married off to the ‘right’ kind of guy; one with status and money. But Kitty isn’t interested in the one he wants for her. In fact, she has her ‘designs’ (to use a lovely 1950s word) on someone else…
Hen is Kitty’s best friend. She comes from the ‘right’ kind of family: connections and old money. Together, the women are inseparable, and a bit of trouble. The real fun begins when Kitty’s father sends them both to the Miami hotel to oversee a few things and perhaps fall for the ‘right’ guy.
But Kitty is intrigued with Max, a musician at the Miami hotel and well, he’s not exactly the marrying type, at least not in Kitty’s father’s eyes.
Of course, Kitty is used to getting what she desires, and with her charming and delightful manipulations, she very nearly does.
Brock’s prose is witty and graceful, and her descriptions of the glitz and glamour of the time period really bring the narrative to life.
Please join me in welcoming Amber Brock to the author interview series.
Leslie Lindsay: Amber, so glad you’re here. I am stunned with your gorgeous descriptions of the 1950s. The sayings, the pop culture, the style, all of it is spot-on. I am curious if this is a period of time that just ‘spoke to you,’ if there was a character you wanted to explore, or perhaps a situation to delve into?
Amber Brock: Thanks so much! Glad to be here, and I appreciate your kind words about the setting. I’ve loved the pop culture of the 1950s since I was young, especially some of Kitty’s favorites in the novel: I Love Lucy and How to Marry a Millionaire, for example. The relief from wartime austerity and the booming postwar economy meant that it was a glamorous era, which felt like a fun backdrop for a socialite like Kitty. But it was only glamorous and prosperous for certain segments of society, and I was intrigued by the simmering social tensions that would lead to even greater changes in the 60s. That questioning of norms felt like a natural setting to push a young woman to question herself and her place in the wider world.
L.L.: Can you tell us what kind of research you did to bring the time period to life? Do you enjoy the research?
Amber Brock: I love research; it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of writing. I’m fortunate enough to have a librarian in the family, and she got me started with articles and oral histories, especially about Miami and Havana in the 1950s. She also helped me discover Irving Fields, a Jewish musician who played Latin music from the 1940s until his recent passing, and he was a joy to read about.
The best thing about researching in the internet age is that people have very specific, niche interests that they catalog meticulously. So, for example, I found a whole website devoted to PanAm, with photographs and scans of brochures, menus, luggage tags, even playing cards! I watched home movies that people have posted to YouTube of their mid-century trips through South Florida and Miami, which gave me a feel for the tourist experience of that era.
With all of my novels, I want the details to be as authentic as possible. If my characters go to a restaurant, I want to know what dishes they’d have to choose from. I want to see photographs of the interior, so I know I’m describing it the way it would have been. It feels like a nice way to honor and connect with the past.
L.L.: Much of the heart of LADY BE GOOD has to do with race and culture and finding the ‘right’ person to settle down with. There’s a section I wanted to highlight, which really speaks volumes:
“Then it hit her. Those who couldn’t hide being Cuban, or Dominican, or Jewish, didn’t. They had to live with the restrictions or face consequences. Those who could hide, on the other hand, had to choose to bury part of themselves to be accepted. It was more than pretending to be part of the elite. It was pretending to be someone you weren’t. Disowning and disavowing your memories, your home, your family.”
It’s a gorgeous and meaningful passage. Can you speak more to that, please?
Amber Brock: All Kitty wants in the beginning of the novel is to feel accepted by a group that she believes has everything she needs for the best life. She’s so focused on the benefits of inclusion, but she doesn’t see immediately what that might cost her. Inclusion in an elite group necessarily means that some must be excluded, and this is the moment when Kitty recognizes that fact. She also begins to realize that the cost she faces is not as great as the cost other excluded groups might face. A lot of this awakening is due to her relationship with Max. For most of her life, she thought of her family’s immigrant story as a stumbling block, so she’s surprised that he’s proud of his heritage, despite the way he’s treated because of it.
L.L.: I’m so curious how Cuban culture wove its way into the narrative. Obviously, it’s close to Miami (where a piece of the story takes place), so why not just leave the reader—and characters—in Miami?
Amber Brock: As I drafted the novel, I wrestled with whether or not the characters should go to Cuba. I had created Sebastian and fallen in love with him as a character, and I saw the trip as a way to spend more time with him and explore his background in a more meaningful way. Still, as Kitty quickly learns, it wasn’t the ideal time to visit. Though the revolution was still several years away, Fidel Castro was already rallying supporters and causing disruption. Huge numbers of Cubans were suffering under a corrupt government. Eventually, I decided to include the Cuba trip as a way not only to develop Sebastian further, but also to show a beautiful, distinctive culture on the brink of enormous change.
L.L.: I understand you are also an English teacher. How has—or does—teaching influence your writing?
Amber Brock: Being an English teacher means I hardly ever breeze through a novel. I usually can’t resist digging deeper into what I read, analyzing characters especially. I value a good discussion about a text, so when I write, I know I’m trying to make that kind of discussion possible for my readers. Still, I think reading should be fun, so I want to create something fun for the “breezers”, too.
I teach at an all-girls’ school, and my students are always in the back of my mind when I write. I consider the messages they’re confronted with in the media they consume (including novels—many of them are voracious readers). I want to make sure that, if any of them read my work, they can walk away with a sense of empowerment and a story that makes them think about their own contributions to the world.
“Kitty Tessler, a headstrong glamour girl determined to move up in the world, steals the spotlight in Amber Brock’s latest, a tour-de-force filled with intrigue and surprises.”
–Fiona Davis, nationally bestselling author of The Address and The Dollhouse
L.L.: Kitty and Hen have a bevvy of guilty pleasures—from cigarettes to luncheons, high-end fashion, and their taste in men—what’s on your list of guilty pleasures?
Amber Brock: Like Kitty, I can’t resist a good cocktail or a pretty dress. I also have a notorious sweet tooth. Oh, and I love indulging in a long afternoon nap.
L.L.: What’s the last book(s) you recommended to a friend?
Amber Brock: AI have been handing the CRAZY RICH ASIANS series to anyone who will sit still long enough to let me tell them about those books. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, and the characters are so wild and fun. Definitely my favorite type of read.
L.L.: Amber, it’s been a delight. Is there anything I should have asked about but may have forgotten?
Amber Brock: It was such a pleasure to chat! Please let your readers know that I will be on tour this summer to talk about the inspiration and research behind LADY BE GOOD. Full details are on my website, and I’ll be in Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida. If anyone is interested in learning more, I encourage them to come see me!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LADY BE GOOD, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMBER BROCK teaches British literature at an all-girls’ school in Atlanta. She is the author of A Fine Imitation and LADY BE GOOD, which Crown will publish on June 26, 2018. She holds an MA from the University of Georgia and lives in Smyrna with her husband, also an English teacher, and their three rescue dogs.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author images courtesy of Crown Publishing and used with permission.]