When a writer friend of mine asked if I would do a reading for her mother-in-law’s sorority, I pictured—I admit it—a roomful of starchy, upper crust ladies with Greek letter pins on their immaculate gabardine lapels. How, I wondered, would they react to rough-and-tumble Ruby, the main character of Ten Cents a Dance?
I slipped into my `40s vintage, put up my hair in victory rolls (no time for pin curls in the back, but that’s where a snood comes in awfully handy. Those old-timey gals had an answer for everything), slapped on the MAC Chili Red lipstick, and headed over to Albertina’s, a lovely restaurant/charity shop/venerable Portland institution. Most everybody was already there. Not a single Greek letter in sight, I noticed. Introductions were made all around, and then we sat down to lunch.
Over carrot-ginger soup, I learned that this was no ordinary sorority. The women belong to a chapter of Euthenics, which (they explained) is the science of improving the human condition through improvement of external factors: nutrition, education, environment. To join, each member had to have a degree in home economics. Listening to them talk, I realized—for the first time—that home ec is about more than learning how to sew a gingham apron. For these women, it’s a means to better the whole human race—a goal to which they had devoted themselves for over fifty years.
But back to lunch. Anita was talking about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees (Anita is a beekeeper, as well as the only member not in her eighties…having just celebrated her ninetieth birthday) when I realized that quitting full-time veterinary work to write was the best career decision I’d made in my life.
I’d thought this before, of course. But never with such absolute clarity and conviction. How else would I have met these witty, down-to-earth, wonderful women, had a chance to listen to their stories, and share with them mine and Ruby’s?
After lunch, I read from Ten Cents a Dance. The group responded with enthusiasm—they’d lived through the time I wrote about, after all, and it kicked off a lively discussion of the war…the homefront…the men who came back and never talked about what they’d seen or done. The afternoon was over way too soon—I felt I could have stayed for hours, listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes. If I’m half as sharp and half as active at that age, I’ll be thankful indeed! Thank you, ladies, for your wonderful hospitality. This was my first reading for the Greatest Generation—and I hope it won’t be the last.
Last Sunday, St. Johns Booksellers hosted the launch party for Ten Cents a Dance. Liz and Nena, the fabulous booksellers, cleared a big space in the middle of the store and set out all their chairs in preparation. After all, my last reading there had been a great success, with more than thirty attendees—fingers crossed that as many people might come this time! The party started at 3 PM. By the time I started reading, at 3:15, the entire store—front to back, side to side, every chair, between every bookshelf—was standing room only. More than sixty people came out to help us celebrate! To say I was gratified would be the understatement of the year—I was utterly overwhelmed.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to the reading, and in the Q&A session following, questions flew thick and fast: about the research and writing, about taxi dancing and the Chicago of the era, what a dime would buy in 1941 (besides a dance with Ruby!), and about the opportunities and sacrifices that WWII brought to a young generation—some of whom, I was honored to discover, were in the audience. And doubly honored when they told me, afterward, that Ruby’s world seemed to them truly authentic. I was going for some personal authenticity, myself. With the invaluable assistance of friend and fellow author Sally Nemeth, I snagged a fabulous 1940s dress. Then, armed with YouTube tutorials, advice and encouragement from the wonderful folks at the Fedora Lounge, I practiced and practiced my chosen 1940s hairstyle, reverse victory rolls and pincurls. (Our grandmothers had some dextrous fingers, to pull these off every day. Pincurls are hard!) Finally, seamed stockings, my mother’s ‘40s crocodile platform heels, a flower to top it all off—I was set!
Two days later, I’m still floating. Thank you to everyone who came to this colliding of my worlds: all my veterinary folk, my writing pals, friends, neighbors, and Tallulah fans who came to discover what this new book is all about. Special shout-outs: to my pal Amber, who bought a zoot suit costume for the occasion; to the Portland members of the Fedora Lounge, some of whom I finally got to meet in person, and whose vintage turnout put mine to shame! And especially to my good friend Walter, who flew in from Idaho just for the party, and had to fly right back out again.
A heartfelt thank you to my wonderful agent, Dorian Karchmar, who bought the champagne and sent a lovely message of congratulations. The crowd burst into quite an ovation!
And finally, my deepest gratitude to Nena and Liz of St. Johns Booksellers, who, the moment I told them I was working on a second novel, cried, “We want to host the party!” They made it a magnificent event—Liz even suffered high heels through the entire afternoon (I hope your feet have recovered, Liz!) These two are truly a class act, and their bookstore is a treasure in our neighborhood. Thanks to them, and to all who came, and to all who couldn’t but sent their congratulations—Ten Cents a Danceis well and beautifully launched.
Publication day! Ten Cents a Dance is officially available in bookstores and online. Are we excited? Is the Pope Catholic?
So what happens on pub day (as book insiders affectionately call it)?
Well, so far, not much. I got up, curled my lip at the frost outside (it’s April, people! Enough with the frost!), ate breakfast, and parked myself in front of my computer. Pub dates, alas, aren’t like a movie premiere. There’s no red carpet in front of the local Barnes & Noble, George Clooney ain’t showing up at my door in a tux. (Although, if he wants to, who am I to deny the man?) In short, it’s a lot like any other day. There’s pages to write on the next book, errands to run, chores to do.
But Ten Cents a Dance, the novel I’ve lived and breathed for two years, is now—finally—on the shelves. Ruby’s story is out of my hands, and into yours.
I'm a veterinarian who started writing and never stopped. I've published two young adult novels: Ten Cents a Dance, which was named a Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and Tallulah Falls, which was named a 2007 Book for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library. I practice veterinary medicine part-time; the rest of the time, I'm up in my office, clacking away at the keyboard.