If you’d asked me two years ago if I’d ever write a historical novel, I probably would have laughed. “Oh gosh, not me,” I’d have said. “I’m terrible at history!”
Fast forward six months and you’d find me combining a partially drafted romantic suspense novel with an urban fantasy idea about magical bonds and hunting supernatural relics—only to have my traitorous brain whisper, “But what if we made it feel like a pulp magazine and set it in the 1920s?”
And, of course, now here I am. The Roaring Twenties fit the old-fashioned relic hunting and magic I’d created and brought a new dimension to Rory and Arthur’s cross-class, against-the-odds love story. It unfortunately also meant my characters would have to deal with the racist, xenophobic and homophobic laws of the time, and that was almost enough to make me scrap the idea. But marginalized groups and allies were pushing back against the terrible oppression, and Spellbound became a way for me to reclaim and share a small part of that often-buried American history, to write a fantasy heist that stars these heroes as they save New York and find happy endings to their LGBTQ+ and interracial romance.
Although Spellbound takes place in a fictional world where magic exists, for the most part it’s set in a realistic 1925 New York City. The 1920s were something of a crossroads—a time when people still traveled by ship, but things we think of as modern, like cars and telephones, were spreading rapidly. With such a mix of old and new, I tried not to take details for granted as I did my research. Here’s an example from chapter 18:
“Nah, I don’t need anything.” Rory dug in his messenger bag, then held up a thermos. “I made coffee. And I got you pastrami on rye. Jade said it’s your favorite.”
I wrote those lines and then immediately had to hit the internet. Did thermoses exist in the ’20s? How about messenger bags? Were they called messenger bags? Could Rory have made coffee without access to a real kitchen? Did hot plates and instant coffee exist? Were people eating pastrami on rye?
I also searched for real settings and buildings to add to Spellbound’s world. The lines above were said on top of an under-construction skyscraper, and it took me forever to find a real skyscraper in the right stage of development in January of 1925. I almost gave up and changed to a different year! Eventually, though, I was able to set the scene at the top of the Standard Oil Building.
Some of the historical details aren’t explicitly stated but might still be recognizable to New Yorkers: for example, Arthur’s apartment is in the Dakota and his favorite pastrami on rye sandwich is from Katz’s deli. Much of the cast was inspired by 1920s Manhattan’s biggest immigrant groups, including the Italian, Irish, Russian, Jewish and Chinese diasporas.
Many purely fictional details still drew inspiration from real history:
A big thanks to the New York Public Library’s incredible digital archives, which preserve so much of the city’s history and make it available online.
Spellbound’s historical setting also owes a huge thanks to my amazing editor at Carina, Mackenzie Walton, whose sharp eyes caught all sorts of out-of-place details and dialogue, including words like pantsuit, radar and 26 anachronistic instances of the word goon.