(Even More) Historical Research Behind STARCROSSED

One of my favorite parts of writing the Magic in Manhattan series has been diving into American history–not just what I was taught in school, but the history that would have impacted Rory, Arthur, and their friends. Although works of fiction, the books are still set in “real” historical New York, and I try to weave these real historical details in alongside the magic and romance.

I’ve written some about my historical research already, but with Starcrossed’s audiobook now here after Covid-19 delayed production for months, I wanted to share a little bit more–including some pictures of my own!

(All images copyright as noted or otherwise mine.)

Upstate New York

Hyde Park, West Park, Poughkeepsie

Some readers may have recognized the inspiration behind Harry Kenzie’s Hyde Park mansion as the real-life Vanderbilt Mansion. Built between 1896 and 1899, this mansion is now a National Historic Site. Harry’s library was inspired by the den and study/office, and Rory’s basement quarters were inspired by the mansion’s staff quarters. 

From the mansion, you can walk down to the edge of the Hudson River, and look across the water to see Holy Cross Monastery, which has stood in that spot since 1902. When I was drafting Starcrossed and discovered that there was a historical monastery exactly where Arthur and Rory would be stranded, I emailed my editor and asked, “Would this be too unbelievable??” While a monastery is historically accurate, St. Francis–the Catholic monastery in Starcrossed–is completely fictional. 

Just south of Hyde Park is the Walkway over the Hudson, which in 1925 was still the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. At just over one mile long, you can walk out over the Hudson River and take in the beautiful views. It let me get a feel for Rory standing out on the Hudson’s ice–and how far he’d have to run after he made a questionable decision.

Manhattan

A few famous New York landmarks still celebrated today make an appearance in the book: Grand Central Station, the flagship New York Public Library and its stone lions, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Arthur’s building isn’t explicitly named in the books, but he lives in the Dakota.

I hit a historical snag at City Hall, when I discovered that the 1800s fountain that decorates the park had actually been moved to the Bronx for several decades before it was returned to its original City Hall spot. I had already drafted a scene with Arthur and his alderman brother, John, and had to edit to take the fountain out.

As the small domed tower of City Hall loomed in front of them, John suddenly stopped. “So you do dream of the war.”

Arthur glanced around. They were completely alone in the small park where the Victorian fountain had stood before it’d been shipped off to the Bronx.

Starcrossed

Other parts of New York’s history that appear in Starcrossed have been lost or changed through time. I reference the NYPL’s Digital Collections quite a bit to find these details. Arthur’s ex, Lord Fine, arrived at the North River piers along the Hudson (postcard on left), and he stays in the original Waldorf-Astoria at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd (middle), which was torn down in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building. Arthur drives over the Brooklyn Bridge and sees the ships below (postcard on right).

Images copyright: NYPL Digital Collections
(Historical Postcards of New York)
West and North Piers; Waldorf-Astoria; Wharves from Brooklyn Bridge

From Grand Central, the “Prohibition Scooby Gang,” as my editor calls them, take the subway. And because American laws have historically been racist and terrible, I needed to check if they could ride together or whether the New York subway was segregated in 1925. My history education should have included Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who in 1855 successfully sued Third Avenue Railway Company for evicting her from a streetcar on the basis of race, and set a precedent for transit desegregation in New York.

(Unlike the subway, baseball was segregated in America in the 1920s, and there were more teams in New York City than the Yankees.)

“[Rory] may not have known much about football, but it turned out he had plenty to say about the coming baseball season and the Yankees, Robins, and the Lincolns, Royals, and New York Giants.”

Starcrossed

Philadelphia:

Part of Starcrossed takes place in Philadelphia, and I had a ton of fun digging into Philly’s food history. Arthur and Rory just missed having Philly’s famous cheesesteaks, which didn’t hit the scene until the 1930s, but World War I-era Italians were creating what became known as hoagies. Arthur buys Peanut Chews, a Philadelphia-made candy that he might have eaten as a ration during his time as a WWI soldier, and Rory’s scrapple breakfast dates to at least the 1800s in Philadelphia. 

Advertisement from the evening world, Jan. 29, 1920, p.8
Source: NYS Historic Newspapers

I also found this Inboard Profile S.S. Leviathan from the National Archives Catalog to be helpful in crafting an ocean liner for the book’s climax. (Which also involved me reading up on ship boiler conversion from coal to oil burning, although none of that made it into the final version.)

Your ears can now hear all these places woven into Starcrossed in Erik Bloomquist’s amazing performance of the audiobook, now available from Audible, Hoopla, and more!

NOTE: If this kind of historical stuff is your jam, you can find more details in this Archives Appreciation post I wrote for Queer Books Unbound, which shouts out some of the amazing resources I was able to use in my research. I also wrote a blog post for Harlequin on some of the real history behind the Spellbound.

Racial Justice Resources

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I am outraged by the race-based police brutality, injustice, racism and human rights violations that continue to poison our country.

I want to share resources for racial justice for anyone else looking for how they can help:

Page will continue to be updated.

#RomBKLove 2020

Trope: Wrapped around your pinky


See, don’t ever set me free
I always want to be by your side

You Really Got Me/The Kinks

May 2020 is #RomBkLove, a social media celebration of romance tropes and romance-related conversations. I’m a romance author, but a reader too, and as part of the fun, I’m talking about the trope wrapped around your pinky

To me, this about softness. Who, or what, makes the MC show their soft side? Who enchants the tough cookies or melts icy hearts? What does that normally stoic character get mushy and adoring for? 

I think this trope can go beyond love interests, too. Maybe that stern and imposing MC has an adorable child that owns their heart, or even a puppy or another pet they care for. It’s seeing someone who guards their emotions form a special relationship where they can be soft.

The phrase can also be used in a negative way, but for me personally, if someone’s being taken advantage of, I’m not going to enjoy reading about it. I like this trope best when you’ve got two MCs who already have a power differential–and the one with more power is the one who ends up smitten. Or perhaps combined with some of my other favorite tropes, like grumpy/sunshine and hurt/comfort. 

I’ve been writing queer historical romances for the last couple years and you’ll also find histroms filling my TBR stacks. One of the anthology authors, Cat Sebastian, also has a wonderful historical romance, It Takes Two to Tumble, an utterly charming grumpy/sunshine love story between a naval captain and a vicar that’s reminiscent of The Sound of Music. I also absolutely loved seeing competent, no-nonsense Pat become smitten with the lovely Fenella in KJ Charles’s Proper English.

Readers (me included!) love Jordan Hawk’s blend of historical and paranormal romances. I adored how he handled this trope in the first of the vivid and imaginative Hexworld books, Hexbreaker, with a witch policeman thoroughly enchanted by his cat-shifter familiar in an alternate 1890s New York. Mixing historical and contemporaries is a wonderful recent anthology, He’s Come Undone, with five stories of tightly-wound, starchy heroes finally losing their control.

What books do you love where we see a stoic MC’s softer side? Who’s got your favorite romance characters wrapped around their pinky?

Release week guest posts!

Starcrossed is here! To celebrate, some lovely bloggers invited me to share on their sites. You can catch me at the below (will be updated again later this week):

Author Q&A with Evie Drae

Talking about my (hypothetical) wrestling entrance theme song, my demon of self-doubt, and my car, Swift Wind, over on Evie’s site.

The Archive Appreciation Post

Queer Books Unbound hosted me shouting out my thanks to librarians and three of the archives I used while drafting a 1920s America-set novel.

Six Romance Series With Stellar Queer Sophomores

I’m over on Joyfully Jay talking about second books that I loved.

How I Incorporated the Supernatural into the MiM Series

Find me on Smexy Books with thoughts on how paranormal and fantasy arcs fit into romance.

Fresh Fiction’s Get to Know Your Favorite Authors

Twenty questions about STARCROSSED and more at Fresh Fiction.