Someone recently posted in a historical fiction group about popular book cover trends within the genre and author Tam Francis posted the image from her novel, The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress. Since I’m such a sucker for these types of books, I knew I had to find out more about these books and invited Tam to do an interview here on the blog. Welcome Tam!
Tell me about The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress series. What is the series about?
In THE JITTERBUG DRESS SERIES, you enter a world of nostalgic fashion, classic cocktails, and dance halls, following two 18-year-old women (Violet in the 1940s and June in the 1990s). In the first novel, you’re introduced to the 1940s life of a jitterbug and her sailor beau. In the second book, you explore 1940s Los Angeles juke joints, and early 1940s Las Vegas. The last book finds you embarking on a harrowing WWII Foxhole USO tour with Violet. The parallel 1990s narrative gives you a front-row seat to the neo-swing revival as a plucky new adult explores her passions and discovers the sub-culture of vintage fashion and swing dance. In the second novel, you’re brought along on a wild ride across Europe to explore the international jitterbug scene. And in the last novel, June battles a mysterious illness as Violet attempts to reach across generations and lead June out of the dark and into the light.
Where did the idea come from?
Way back when Myspace was the online social media gathering place, I was blogging (not sure it was called blogging then) my swing dance adventures of being a Navy wife with two young children of a sailor who was intermittently deployed. Friends suggested I write a novel. My poetry and short stories had been published, but I knew nothing of writing a novel but the process filled a void when my husband was away.
We both loved vintage movies, music, and fashion, and when we met, I had just begun dance lessons and invited him. Our courting was a whirlwind of dance classes, workshops, and events spanning the east to west coast of the US. He joined the navy and proposed to me when I was at his boot camp graduation in Chicago.
At home with two children, when he was away, I imagined my characters having adventures that I wasn’t able to, carrying on our dance explorations. I wanted to include everything I loved, vintage fashion, sewing, cocktails, collecting, music, and dance. So, the main story was born from a hand-sewn jitterbug dress that both women would wear and would ultimately connect them.
Will there be more?
For now, I don’t have any plans on expanding the Jitterbug Dress series. I feel that Violet (the 1940s jitterbug) story is told across the three books. Never say never, though. Readers have suggested I jump into the future and write about June’s children or grandchildren.
If not, are you working on another historical fiction book or series?
In a roundabout way, I am doing that, but in the far, far future. I’ve written speculative fiction that has vintage fashion (steampunk and 1940s) and swing dancing but would not be historical fiction.
I do however have a published stand-alone 1920s time-travel, murder-mystery, paranormal historical fiction with fun 1920 facts of course peppered with fashion, passion, music, and dance called THE FLAPPER AFFAIR.
I’ve also written a 1980s narrative non-fiction based on my adventures backpacking Europe with a hundred dollars in my pocket and a Eurorail pass. (Are the 80s historical fiction, yet? Hee hee).
What are a couple historical fiction novels you’ve read recently that you especially enjoyed?
Recent stand-outs: I absolutely flipped over The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine, Swing by Lindsey Renee, and of course, All the Light We Cannot See, and honestly, anything by Tracy Chevalier. I tend to gravitate toward those books that are heavier on the daily minutiae and lighter on politics and war (with some exceptions).
What are your favorite things about writing in the historical fiction genre specifically?
I really like going down rabbit holes when researching facts and learning amazing interesting unexpected tidbits. Oftentimes, the research doesn’t make it into the story or it only supports one line, place, person, song, dance, or event, but the authenticity simmers beyond what’s included in the narrative.
The music, fashion, and dance speak to me on a level that sends my toes a-tingling. I try to write about how a particular piece of clothing makes the character feel. How a gabardine skirt feels unfurling when in a dance spin. How a beaded dress hugs the body like a protective sheath. Or how a crepe wool coat with a fur color tickles the chin and makes a character smile.
Some might say that my use of fashion in fiction is superfluous fluff and indulgent. I love writing about fashion because it can inspire us, make us feel confident, and empower us, something we have personal control over. And there is undeniably a distinctive feature about dance and music that connects us and helps us cross-cultural divides. I love immersing myself in these characteristics of my fave eras.
And your least favorite thing?
My least favorite thing is my struggle to be culturally sensitive and politically correct while telling an authentic story with characters and dialogue that are true to the era still including an ethnically diverse cast of character without appropriating or misrepresenting. That said, I’m embracing this exploration of my own generational and hidden biases that I hope will strengthen my future writing and my person.
You can find out more about Tam’s books at Girlinthejitterbugdress.com