08 April 2012

Guest Blog: DeAnna Cameron

This week, we're welcoming historical fiction author DeAnna Cameron. Her most recent title, DANCING AT THE CHANCE is set in New York City in the early 1900's, where a strong-minded but insecure heroine, Pepper McClair, chases an elusive dreams.  DeAnna is here to talk about the novel and give away a copy. Leave a comment for your chance to win. Here's the blurb:

New York City in 1907 is a kingdom of endless possibilities for anyone who dares to dream. The Gilded Age has ended, and immigrants fill the bustling streets. The glamour of Broadway lures those who desire the limelight-but only a few are fortunate enough to thrive in the lights of a city that casts long, dark, and merciless shadows...

Pepper MacClair and her mother arrived penniless in New York thirteen years ago, and their fortune has not changed. A dancer of fluid grace and motion, Pepper is still only one chorus girl among many, struggling for an opportunity to prove herself worthy of something bigger.
For now, Pepper dances at The Chance, a rundown venue long past its prime. It is not only Pepper's workplace, where she has pushed her physical endurance to its limit, but also her home. And as the larger world changes around her and she is pulled into the intrigues of New York's elite, it is her last hope, not only to fulfill her dream, but to fulfill her heart.

**Q&A with DeAnna Cameron**

What inspired you to write about vaudeville in Old New York?
When I finished writing THE BELLY DANCER, my debut novel about the scandal surrounding the belly dancers who performed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it was my intention to write a sequel that would follow the lives of those performers into the vaudeville circuits, which is where many of them went when the fair closed. But when I began researching the world of vaudeville, especially what was taking place in New York at the turn of the last century, I realized I had stumbled upon a forgotten moment in the history of the entertainment industry – or at least a moment that has been forgotten by many of us in the current generation.

Why would you say vaudeville has been forgotten?
When people recall that time in American history – the late 1800s and early 1900s – they tend to focus on what was happening out west with the settlers, the prospectors, the cowboys and all of that. But those individuals weren’t the only resourceful Americans pulling themselves by their bootstraps. The theatrical world, especially in New York, was full of them.

People also seem to have forgotten that many of the early vaudevillians became some of the greatest names of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, and Mae West, to name a few. But to me, the marquee stars weren’t as compelling or as interesting as the performers who toiled at the bottom of show bills. The show openers and chasers who put in so much time and hard work for very little pay and prestige who were merely following their muse and a hope that one day they would get that big break. There’s something very quixotic in that, and that became the world I wanted to explore in DANCING AT THE CHANCE. I wanted to know what kept those performers going and why they sacrificed so much for what seemed to be so little.

Since DANCING AT THE CHANCE began as a sequel to THE BELLY DANCERS, do the belly dancers make an appearance?
They do! The story belongs to a whole new cast of characters, but the belly dancers do make an appearance. And the heroine from THE BELLY DANCER plays a particularly important role as a mentor, of sorts. There’s also a glimpse of what happens to the belly dancers after their departure from the fair.

What part of DANCING AT THE CHANCE is fact, and what part is fiction?
It’s really a blend of both. The Chance Theatre is an invention of my imagination, but it was inspired by many of the small and struggling theaters operating in New York at the turn of the last century.  Similarly, the major characters are fictional, but in many cases they were inspired by real-life counterparts. For example, male impersonator Ella Shields influenced Em Charmaigne, and Trixie Small was based somewhat on the dancer Madge Lessing. Like many vaudevillians from this time, though, too little information was available to do a legitimate portrayal, so what I could learn about those performers was just a starting point for the characters they became in the novel.

Fortunately, there is ample information available on Florenz Ziegfeld and early cinema pioneer Edwin S. Porter, which made it possible to present them as themselves in the story. In the case of Ziegfeld, who plays a pivotal role in the story, I preserved the details of his life and work as much as possible, including the fact that in the spring of 1907 he would have been making arrangements for his inaugural Follies, which for that first outing was titled Follies of 1907.

New York was the center of the entertainment world at the turn of the last century, but Los Angeles now fills that role. Do you think living in Southern California influenced how you wrote DANCING AT THE CHANCE?
I believe it did. Around here, film shoots are common. It might be “90210” or “CSI: Miami” shooting at the beach, or a movie like “J. Edgar” shooting at historic old Santa Ana Courthouse. And just about everyone has some association with individuals who work in the local entertainment industry. It might be a screenwriter or an actor, but more often it’s the professionals who work behind the scenes. The people whose names appear deep in the rolling credits. The key grips, the makeup artists, the production assistants. So for many of us in this region, we feel close to this industry whether we have a direct connection to it or not. It feels personal, and it feels natural to me to want to celebrate its history. I think in many ways DANCING AT THE CHANCE is my way of doing that.

Thank you, DeAnna, and best of luck with DANCING AT THE CHANCE! 

To celebrate the back-to-back releases of DANCING AT THE CHANCE and the reissue of THE BELLY DANCER, weekly prizes & a grand prize of a Kindle or Nook (winner's choice) are up for grabs on the author's website. Visit www.DeAnnaCameron.com and follow the contest link for details.