As most of you know, I am an avid lover of history. What fascinates me most is how human nature has stayed the same, in all its glory and ugliness, throughout the ages. That’s why I can write (what I hope is) convincing stories set in the far ancient world, where people live in times and cultures so different from my own. Because at the root of it we all want the same things our ancestors did. The beauty of historical fiction is its ability to transport you into another time, another person’s shoes. That is what author Beem Weeks is trying to do with his latest book, Jazz Baby.
Why Did I Write Jazz Baby?
Jazz Baby began life as a series of recollections. As a child and young adult, I grew up hearing the stories of my grandparents’ era. They came of age in the 1920s and 1930s. My grandfather ran bootleg whiskey and mixed with dangerous sorts of men—and women. While Jazz Baby doesn’t deal with any specific details from my grandparents’ lives, the spirit of their era is what comes through on those pages.
What Jazz Baby is meant to be is a trip into the year 1925; a shared summer with one young girl trying to find her way in life, in the world of her day. I spent untold hours in researching the era and that region of the country, and human behavior in general. The thing about human behavior is it doesn’t change, no matter the era in which we live. Stories from that era, many told to me by my grandfather, seem to suggest that the young people from the 1920s sought out the same things young people from the 2010s search after.
These weren’t asexual, sober, boring people back then. Not even close. The stories I heard, either directly or through eavesdropping, told tales of young and vibrant lives, of men and women on the prowl for good times, cheap booze, and dirty sex—not at all different from today. The thing is, today we see our grandparents (mine are long dead) as old people who spend a lot of time in church, doing good and Godly things. But they were young once. Young, and quite different from what they are today. As humans grow older, we mature and change. It’s part of the life experience. Regrets are born in old age, never in youth.
I found it interesting that opium was a popular recreational drug in use during that era. Marijuana grew wild in parts of the country, going unmolested by the local authorities, many of whom would consider it silly to dedicate time, money, and effort in trying to eradicate a weed. The young people of the 1920s, the partiers, were the very ones partaking of these forbidden fruits.
The thing is, I could have set Jazz Baby in any era and achieved similar results. But writing about a time and place I’ve never known became a challenge I was eager to tackle. And while it took me the better part of eight years from outlining to publication, this is the one story that made me a better writer, and more importantly, a better storyteller.
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