One of the most fun things about writing Stella Hart is her dialogue. She’s a classic, F. Scott Fitzgerald-style New York flapper working in Hollywood as a silent movie actress and running around the globe solving murders with her hunky love interest, George Barrington, 13th Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. And she talks like a party girl of that era–if she were alive today, her TikTok would be amazing. The 1920s were a period of huge upheaval and cultural growth, and the slang reflects that. What amazed me when I started researching it was 1)how funny and snarky it was in a very contemporary way, and 2)how many of these expressions still sound modern right now. I mean, check this stuff out:
Bunny: Someone sweet but not very smart, usually female, though Stella has been known to apply it equally to men. ‘Dumb bunny’ is one step more clueless. ‘Poor dumb bunny’ is just pitiful.
Bushwa: One of Stella’s favorites, something that isn’t true, a less coarse word for bullshit. See also: Applesauce, baloney, banana oil, horsefeathers, hokum
Carry a torch: I still use this one today but apparently it originated in the 1920s. To have a crush on someone, particularly someone who doesn’t crush you back.
Crush: Also from the 1920s – a romantic infatuation
Eel’s hips, the: Something that’s awesome and amazing. See also: The cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. Stella usually takes this one a step further and says ‘the hips of the eel.’
Giggle water: alcoholic beverages. Stella’s favorite is champagne, but George prefers a good gin and tonic.
Jalopy: An old, junker car, though Stella uses it ironically to refer to George’s very expensive, state-of-the-art roadsters.
Kid/kiddo: A familiar form of address. Stella tends to call any woman she likes ‘kid.’
Nerts: A wholesome expletive to express disgust, dislike, or disbelief. Stella saying, “Nerts to that noise!” never fails to make George laugh.
Ossified: Intoxicated. See also: Spifflicated.
Screwy: Insane, bizarre, crazy. Bugs Bunny uses this one a lot, too–I think Bugs must have learned to talk in the 1920s.
Sex appeal/sexy: The 1920s is when this expression first became common, and it was still considered rather risque.
Valentino: A handsome, sexy man, obviously inspired by the movie star Rudolph Valentino. Stella applies it to George; George rolls his eyes.
There’s lots more, obviously, but these are some of ones Stella uses a lot. Check out her latest adventure, The Baronet Unleashed, on July 29.
The third Stella Hart mystery is available now for pre-order from Falstaff Crush. This is the one that takes place in Hollywood in the 1920s, and it’s an absolute scream. You’ll love it, I promise. Click the cover to … oh. You want a sample before you’re ready to commit. Fine then. Have a look at Chapter 1.
The Baronet Unleashed – Chapter 1
Stella was chained to the castle wall with shackles that were becoming damned uncomfortable. “Do your worst, Lord Blackguard!” she exclaimed with much tossing of her waist-length locks. “I shall never submit!”
“We shall see about that, my dear!” Blackguard snarled, bracing an arm over her head. He leered down at her, his hot breath smelling suspiciously like gin and tonic. “Is your virtue worth your father’s life?”
“You heartless fiend.” If her hands had been free, she would have slapped a delicate wrist to her forehead. As it was, she made do with flopping her head sharply to one side, trying not to dislodge her wig in the process. She closed her eyes and heaved her bosom, such as it was. “How can you be so cruel?”
“Easy,” Blackguard said, leaning too close for the camera to see his lips. “Your friend Sylvia wrote me this way.”
“Eddie, I swear to heaven,” she hissed through clenched teeth as she bit her lower lip in maidenly revulsion. He had made her laugh and ruin three takes already, the swine.
“Unhand that damsel, you cur,” a props assistant droned from off camera. Blackguard, also known as Edgar Worth, Hollywood’s most celebrated heavy, recoiled toward the camera, and Stella broke out in her most elated smile.
Lance Laramie swung in on a rope tied to a crane, a stunt he had perfected on his and Stella’s first picture together, The Ape Man Unleashed. But this time, alas, he missed his mark. Instead of landing lightly between Stella and her villainous attacker, he overshot and crashed face first into the wall.
“Darling!” Edgar cried, dropping character to run to his lover’s aid. “Oh, your poor nose!” Everyone on Maid of Avalon knew Lance and Edgar had been much more than roommates for years, though the rest of the world was in the dark.
“Now, Eddie, don’t make a fuss,” Lance honked as his hand filled up with blood.
“Cut!” the director shouted, incensed. “For God’s sake, get some ice!”
“You poor darling,” Stella said.
“Oh, I’ve had worse, I dare say,” Lance said gamely. “Not to worry…” His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed.
“Somebody get the nurse!” the production assistant called as the director flung down his bullhorn, followed by his hat.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Stella said to Edgar, who looked on the point of hysterics.
“His nose is squashed flat!” Edgar said.
“It is,” she had to admit. She would have liked to have given him a comforting pat or something, but she was still chained to the wall.
“Clear the way, please,” a medic said. The nurse led Edgar gently away as Lance was heaved onto a stretcher.
“Say, Eddie,” Stella called as they all walked away. “Do you have the key to these shackles?” But no one seemed to hear.
“That’s a wrap for today, everyone,” the assistant director called through his boss’s dented bullhorn. “See you all tonight at Mr. Scott’s party—sober, if you don’t mind; it’s for charity.” Lights were going off all over the set.
“Excuse me!” Stella shouted as people started disappearing from the stage like rats deserting a sinking ship. “Isn’t anybody going to turn me loose?” She gave her shackles a healthy tug, but the props department had outdone themselves. They didn’t budge. “Oh come on,” she cried as all the lights but a single spot went out. “This is ridiculous!”
A man’s silhouette stepped into the spotlight. “Pardon me, miss,” a familiar voice said. “Are you in distress?”
“George, thank heavens,” she said, laughing with relief. “They’ve all gone off and left me.”
“So it seems.” Her fiancé, George Barrington, thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike and the future Lord Barrington, came out of the light. “That’s rather a pickle you’re in, Miss Hart, if you’ll pardon my mentioning it.”
“My handsome hero,” she said. And he was, too; he looked very dashing and just a bit disreputable in a stylish leather coat. “Go quick and find out who has the key.”
“Oh, I have the key,” he said, holding it up with mischief dancing in his eyes. “But what makes you think I’m the hero?”
“Oh dear,” she said. “The villain, then?” She felt a lovely little flutter in her stomach. “Will you ravish me before you set me free?”
He leaned closer, bracing a hand on the wall the same way Edgar had. “What an intriguing suggestion.” His lips were so close to hers, they were almost kissing already. “I suppose I could.”
“I’ll scream,” she warned.
“Well, maybe not scream,” she said as he nuzzled behind her ear, making her shiver. “More like sigh…and maybe the odd moan or two.” He made a bit of a moan himself as he kissed her, pressing her to the wall.
“Miss Stella!” her maid, Sophie, bellowed, her heels clicking on the concrete floor. “Are you still in here?”
“Damn the woman,” George grumbled, banging his forehead against the wall over her shoulder.
“George, darling, stop,” Stella said, laughing. “You’ll be concussed.” She kissed his cheek. “Over here, Sophie!”
“Hey, what’s this?” Sophie said, coming into the light. “Mr. Barrington, I’m surprised at you!”
“If it helps, I’m thinking of dead puppies,” Stella murmured in his ear.
“Thanks for that, sausage,” he muttered, stepping away. “Sorry to disappoint you, Sophie.” He unlocked the shackles.
“Oh, I’m not disappointed,” Sophie said. “Just surprised. You ought to leave her chained up there until she promises to stop postponing the wedding.”
“It’s not my fault!” Stella protested. “No one expected The Ape Man Unleashed to be such a smash.”
“No one who hadn’t seen you and Mr. Laramie in those rags they called costumes, anyway,” Sophie said.
“And Bertie said we really needed to strike while the iron was hot,” Stella finished.
“Bertie said,” George said. “You mean Nathan Stanley said.”
“Him, too.” Nathan Stanley was her stepfather’s partner at Pinnacle Pictures. He was also the one man on the planet she had ever seen George openly dislike. “The point is, Maid of Avalon was already in the pipeline, and Lance and I were under contract. I really had no choice.” They both looked skeptical. “Anyway, we’re almost done. We should be one more week at the most. Just as soon as we wrap, we’ll be on the train to New York and on a boat to England in plenty of time to be home at Barrington Hall for the new wedding date.”
“And our visit to your grandmother in Newport?” George said, arching an eyebrow.
“We may just have to give Granny Hart a miss,” she said.
“There’s a shocker,” Sophie said.
“Trust me, darling, it’s no great loss,” Stella said.
“Say, are you folks almost done?” one of the stage technicians called from the shadows. “I’d like to lock up sometime before midnight.”
“All right, keep your shirt on,” Sophie called back. “We’re coming.”
With Sophie’s help, getting out of her costume and into her jodhpurs was the work of moments. “Call ahead and tell Bertie we’re on our way,” she told Sophie as she tossed a scarf around her neck. “I’ll see you at the house.”
“No taking any long, romantic rides,” Sophie ordered. “You’ll need a full overhaul before that party tonight.”
“See you later, kid,” Stella called back over her shoulder.
George was waiting outside the stage on his shiny new red Indian motorcycle. “It’s a bit chilly, sausage,” he said, handing her a pair of goggles. “Would you like my coat?”
“No, thank you.” She slid the goggles over her curls and climbed on behind him, snuggling close. “I’ll be fine.”
And that’s it, kittens! To find out what happens next, get your copy starting July 29!
I have a new book out. It’s called The Passion of Miss Cuthbert, and it’s the second in my series of romantic mysteries starring amateur detective Stella Hart. Stella is a silent movie actress in the 1920s whose stepfather owns an English manor house. Her fiancé and partner in crime-solving is George Barrington, Thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. Stella is white. George is white. Stella’s mom and stepfather are white. Stella and George spend this installment on an ocean liner where the passengers we meet are all white, including the corpse, the killer, and Miss Cuthbert, the frumpy chaperone whose passion ignites the plot.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you begin to see my problem.
The book was actually released as scheduled on June 4, 2020, a/k/a Day 10 of the protests following the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. That morning, my publishers and I talked it over and agreed that yeah, any kind of big promo push for my book that day would be disrespectful, tone deaf, and just generally gross. We all had friends on the front lines of the protests. More importantly, we had friends and colleagues whose lives were in danger every time they left the house.
I won’t pretend it made me happy to ignore my book release. I worked really hard on that story, and I’m proud of it. Plus it’s the first book I’ve ever written specifically and completely for Falstaff Crush, the Falstaff Books romance line, and I think that’s kind of cool. And trust me, I’m as arrogant and self-involved as any writer alive, and I really, really want to sell books. But not even I could stomach doing commercials for an easy-breezy story of a white girl on a cruise ship last Thursday.
John, Melissa, and I decided to wait to do any major promo until tomorrow, June 9, and as you can see, I’m blogging about it today. Is that any better? Is it still too soon? Honestly, I don’t have a clue.
Diversity has been on my mind with these books since the beginning. My original inspirations for this kind of story were two of the most overtly racist popular writers of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google it. I don’t have the heart to tell you.) I knew going in I had to fix that, that my main characters were going to be sensitive to the world view of people not like them and aware of their privilege. And I think I’ve stayed true to that; I hope I have. But in these first two books at least, everybody is still #sowhite. I actually toyed with the idea of making Stella’s lady’s maid, the wise and fearless Sophie, a Black woman. I even floated the idea to my alpha reader, my sister, Alexandra Christian. Together we agreed it was a bad idea for two reasons: one, I’d only be doing it to have a Black character in the story, and two, if my story was only going to have one Black character, she did NOT need to be a lady’s maid.
So in Book One: Guinevere’s Revenge, which is set at that English manor house, everybody’s white. The second book I actually wrote for the series was The Baronet Unleashed. It takes place in Hollywood and has multiple Black characters, at least two of whom are scheduled to turn up in future installments. But when I started writing the Miss Cuthbert story, I realized it needed to happen before George saw Hollywood, so The Passion of Miss Cuthbert became Book 2, and The Baronet Unleashed became Book 3. If we’re all still around and books are still a thing, it should be coming out sometime this fall.
I wrote The Passion of Miss Cuthbert in January, February, and March of 2020 as the dumpster fire that my own personal life had become exploded outward into the dumpster fire that has engulfed everybody else. Writing it was my comfort, my escape, and I make no apologies for it. It’s a damned good book. Do I wish that for the week of its release, half of America was not at war with the other half? That we weren’t all in danger of getting sick and/or making one another sick, that some of us weren’t threatening violence for the right to make our neighbors sick? That Black Americans could live their lives as safely and fearlessly as I do mine, that we as a country could collectively agree to that as their inalienable right instead of brutalizing them in the public streets for even asking? I do, of course I do. I wish that every day whether I have a new book out or not. I’ve written lots of words that speak to that wish both in fiction and not, and I’ll keep doing that because writing words is the thing I do best.
But this week, I’ve got Stella, and she’s good. She’s fun. She means well. If that seems wrong to you, I get it; ignore me. My feelings won’t be hurt. But if you could use what my editor calls “All goodness and light with just a little touch of murder,” let me hook you up.