Jazz-Age America promises all the drama you could ever hope for: bootleggers and flappers, parties and criminals and crooked government agents. All this and more come alive in Karen Abbott’s compulsively readable The Ghosts of Eden Park.
For all the surprises packed within its pages, perhaps the greatest is that every single line of dialogue comes directly from a primary source. It’s a true researching feat—and it means we’re extra excited to see Abbott at this year’s Southern Festival of Books. We reached out to her about book-tour traditions and what it’s like to interact with her readers.
What is the mark of a really great book event?
The enthusiasm and the energy of the crowd, lots of sales, people who laugh at my jokes . . . 😉
What have you most enjoyed about interacting with the readership of The Ghosts of Eden Park?
I love hearing people’s personal connections to the history: Someone’s grandfather was a bootlegger; another’s grandmother was a flapper; and numerous others share fascinating tales of far-flung ancestors who operated speakeasies or ran errands for George Remus or sought legal help from Mabel Walker Willebrandt. Those kinds of connections make these long-dead characters come back to life.
When visiting a city for a book event, do you have any rituals, either for yourself or to get to know the city?
I like to find an off-the-beaten-path local bar—something tucked away, with an interesting and possibly wicked history—and enjoy the signature cocktail while I review my notes.
If you could sit in the audience of an event with any author, living or dead, who would you like to see read from and discuss their book?
Tough one! Male author: Edgar Allan Poe, talking about The Fall of the House of Usher and The Philosophy of Composition. Female author: Patricia Highsmith on This Sweet Sickness, The Blunderer, The Talented Mr. Ripley or any of her choosing.
What have you learned about your book through your interactions with its readers that you didn’t know before it was published?
This book was a bit of a departure for me; I structured it like a true crime thriller and whodunit. Even though The Ghosts of Eden Park is history and the events are google-able, I am pleasantly surprised that people want to approach it as it if were fiction. They want to be surprised by the twists and turns and to guess who murders whom.
Were there any elements of your research into The Ghosts of Eden Park that didn’t make it into the book?
I could have written an entire chapter on ways ordinary citizens smuggled alcohol or subverted Prohibition laws. There was a “book” titled The Four Swallows that disguised a flask; flip the top and you’d find four vials to be filled with the whiskey of your choice. There were “cow shoes” that didn’t hold liquor but were invaluable for bootleggers who made moonshine in meadows or forests. The wooden heels were carved to resemble animal hooves, and they literally covered the bootleggers’ tracks when being pursued on foot by Prohibition agents. And one more: a female Prohibition named Daisy Simpson, aka “Lady Hooch Hunter,” who deserves a book of her own.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Ghosts of Eden Park.
Author photo by Gilbert King