Debut Author Snapshot: Suzanne Rindell

Posted by Goodreads on May 1, 2013
Short skirts, short hair, and even shorter love affairs—channel the deliciously scandalous lives of 1920s flappers in debut author Suzanne Rindell's historical mystery, The Other Typist. At first uptight and prudish, narrator Rose Baker prides herself on being tough enough for her work as a police precinct typist on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, recording the confessions of hardened criminals. She soon loosens up when she becomes fast friends with Odalie, another typist whose charisma gives them entrée to the jazz clubs and speakeasies of Prohibition-era New York. But Odalie is keeping secrets, and Rose's growing obsession with her flirty new friend may prove deadly.

A New York City resident and a Ph.D. candidate in American modernist literature at Rice University, Rindell shares with Goodreads some of the period atmosphere that inspired her characters.

"Louise Brooks was the physical inspiration for Odalie." A still from the film Pandora's Box (1929).
Goodreads: Would you have been a flapper had you lived during the 1920s?

Suzanne Rindell: Flappers were true rebels, and I'd like to believe I would've been one, but I'm not sure I'm that cool in real life—I've always been kind of shy. Flappers were gutsy; they liked to break rules. Part of a flapper's sex appeal was her ability to shock and scandalize, all while maintaining a girlish, breezy, blasé attitude. She always knew how to make it look like she was having fun and didn't give a hoot what people thought!

In general I find the 1910s and 1920s captivating because it was an era of oppositions. There was a sizable generation gap between the young people of the day and their Victorian parents, and I believe this is always a key ingredient to any vibrant counterculture. In the 1910s and 1920s, you've got the older generation trying to carry on conservative traditions, instructing their children to behave like proper ladies and gentlemen, to mind their p's and q's and all that business. Meanwhile the younger generation is coming of age in a world that is rapidly changing all around them—modern innovations like electricity, telephones, and cars are changing daily life, and the world has been through its first "modern" war. In my opinion, the disconnect between generations ultimately translated into a period of social liberation, and along with great social liberation came greater freedom of expression and heightened creativity. I've always loved the ethos of the writers, artists, and designers of that era: Hemingway, Picasso, Coco Chanel, etc. There were a lot of major trendsetting trailblazers who were unafraid to bend the rules.

And...I suppose it also doesn't hurt that there was a lot of money and champagne flowing in the Jazz Age! I'm kind of a sucker for glamour, and the speakeasy scene, down-and-dirty though it might've been, still conjures up all kinds of glamorous images in my imagination.

"[This] image of two flappers sitting around smoking and having a private conversation struck me as simultaneously casual and intimate and reminded me of Rose and Odalie." (Photo: Smithsonian.)
GR: Rose Baker has a very distinct voice. How did you get inside her head and develop that unique perspective?

SR: I was doing research for an academic dissertation on early 20th-century literature and culture, and one of the things I came across while sifting through various historical documents was an obituary for a woman who had worked as a typist in a police precinct during the 1920s. I was already fascinated with how the proliferation of the typewriter after the turn of the century meant more and more women were entering the workplace, and that this often meant women were working in places—like the police precinct, for instance—that had been historically dominated by men. After coming across the obit, I began imagining what it might've been like to work as a typist in that particular environment: all the things this woman must've seen and all the crime reports she must've typed up. Shortly thereafter, I started hearing Rose's voice, and I couldn't help but follow where that voice led me. I was further intrigued when I realized Rose was not exactly what she seemed. Hers is a distorted perspective. As I wrote, I became increasingly aware that she is an emotionally unstable individual, and I focused on working out the sources that account for how and why. From there, the book pretty much wrote itself.

GR: What's the secret to setting up twists in mystery writing? Any favorite novels with plots that surprised or impressed you with their craftiness?

SR: Well, I think it helps if you like puzzles. There's a lot of misdirection in The Other Typist, and I had to constantly remind myself which narrative threads were the false ones, so as not to get confused! I've also learned you really need to be unafraid to cut and edit things, even if it means having to reengineer a great deal of the rest of the plot. Have you ever played that game Jenga? Editing a mystery is kind of like that—you pull the wrong piece from the bottom of the stack of blocks and the whole thing falls down. But you can't be afraid to do it. When something needs to be cut, it needs to be cut.

Rindell bid unsuccessfully on several vintage stenotypes, including this one on eBay, while writing The Other Typist.
In terms of favorite books that juggle a great many plot puzzle pieces, well, I've always loved Margaret Atwood, and I remember the impact Alias Grace had on me when I got to the end. And like the rest of the planet, I was very impressed with the layered plot of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. The kinds of books I like best are always character driven. I don't think you should contrive to outline what will happen in the plot; it's better to let the characters reveal what they're going to do and trust that it will all come together in the end.

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

SR: Right now I'm going like gangbusters working on a second novel. I don't want to say too much about it at present, but I will say it revolves around the Greenwich Village literary scene of the 1950s, and I'm having great fun with this new batch of characters!

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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message 1: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Bokma This sounds like a fantastic book! I cant wait to read it! And the second novel sounds good too, cant wait.

message 2: by Laurie (new)

Laurie My "kinda" book!!

message 3: by Marybeth (new)

Marybeth Sounds great! Can't wait to read it! Sounds like my kind of book. An older friend was a flapper in the Chicago area and she told some great stories.

Edel Waugh Salisbury This was a really great book!! Loved it!

message 6: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Roper The 20s-the era I would have chosen

message 7: by Hessa (new)

Hessa To Read!!!

message 8: by Robert (new)

Robert Huddleston My late mother-in-law, Emilie Sandsten Lassalle (1903-1990) was a "flapper" in the truest sense of the word. In 1929-1930, chaperoned by her mother, she cruised around the world. In China in February 1930 she stood on the Great Wall of China. The photograph was so interesting we sent it to the American Heritage magazine and it was published in the February-March 2000 issue. A reader noticed that Emilie's unbuckled footwear and wrote for the next issue: "There was a fad where young women would wear large, clunky galoshes with big metal clasps. But one did not close the they would swing back and forth as you walked, making metallic noises. This was very chic." And Emilie(who loved martinis) was, most certainly, a "flapper."

Edel Waugh Salisbury That is awesome!! Great bit of history right there. I had no idea where the term Flappers came from :0) Your mother in law sounds like a very cool lady!

message 10: by Erika (new)

Erika This book sounds great, and I can not wait to read it.:)

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Book sound great, will be sure to pick this one up!

message 12: by Robert (new)

Robert Huddleston To Edel: Yes, Emilie S. Lassalle was indeed "cool." And if you would like to read more try my book about Emilie and her husband who was a Mexican-American spy in WW II:

message 13: by Gabriella (new)

Gabriella This book looks great! Can't wait to read it!

message 14: by Linda (new)

Linda Salkin-figliuolo Sounds like a good read...different kind of subject that hasn't been exploited much in literature.

message 15: by Christine (new)

Christine Goldbeck Both are on my reading list. I share a love of early 20th century American lit and history with the author.

message 16: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I bought this on audio book. This will keep me out walking as I listen! Can't wait.

message 17: by Carol (new)

Carol I just finished reading....and wow....I love this book. I didn't want the story to end.....

message 18: by Subramanian (new)

Subramanian Looks like this book is worth a read. Think I'll buy it right away.

message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy Just bought it and can't wait to dive right in! Sounds terrific!

message 20: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Bokma This book was so good. It keeps the reader fully engaged from beginning to end!

message 21: by JJ (new)

JJ Amazing book! Couldn't put it down!

message 22: by Lynn (new)

Lynn What is the difference between "modern" and "modernist" literature?

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