Monday, March 24, 2014

Cars, Women, and Whiskey

The 1920’s was a wild, changing time for America. Cars become the popular mode of transportation even for the average family. Woman came into their own in many ways, and whiskey—the selling of it—became the next big gold rush.

Although I normally write westerns, I’m currently writing a series for Harlequin about four sisters during the roaring twenties. Set in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, each sister gets her own book. The four Nightingale women, Norma Rose, Twyla, Josie, and Ginger, all embrace the freedom gained by women in the 1920’s. 

However, their father, Roger Nightingale, aka The Night, is one of the country’s largest bootleggers and is set on keeping his girls as innocent as a morning breeze. 


The first story is Ginger’s, a short e-book only tale. (The entire series will be released the summer of 2015.) Ginger, the youngest of the girls, takes her future into her own hands and runs away from home—by hiding away in the back of Brock Ness’s truck when he leaves for Chicago to perform on the radio. Brock unfortunately owes Roger Nightingale a good sum of money, so when he discovers Ginger under the tarp of his truck, snuggled up to his guitar case, Brock is anything but impressed.

The next story is Norma Rose’s. The oldest of the four sisters, Norma Rose’s story is a full length book. Working alongside her father, Norma Rose brought the family’s business, Nightingale’s, from nothing more than a dance pavilion to a sprawling resort that caters to those with money to spend. This also includes plenty of gangsters, and where you have mobsters, there’s sure to be a revenue man sniffing about. Norma Rose recognizes Ty Bradshaw as a government agent the moment she meets him, and is determined he will not bring her family down. Ty is after public enemy number one, Ray Bodine, and doesn’t care who he has to bowl over to catch the mobster, including Norma Rose Nightingale and her bootlegging father.

The third story is Twyla’s, the boldest and wildest sister. I just finished Twyla’s story, a full length book. She loves living in the largest speakeasy in the country and isn’t about to let anyone rain on her parade, including rival night club owner Forrest Reynolds. Her father sent his to prison, and she won’t let him forget it, even if he takes her flying in his airplane. Forrest had to come home and take over his family's business, and knows the bad blood between his family and the Nightingale’s could be the death of them all.  

The last story is Josie’s. Another full length book. Josie’s the quietest and most secretive sister. I’m still plotting out her story, so at the moment, all I can say is the ladies aid meetings she’s continuously going to aren’t as innocent as they appear.  

Bootlegging, as it’s known when running shine on land (rumrunning is when boats were used because they were usually transporting rum out of the Caribbean) was a money maker for some, death for others. A plethora of people, from small town farmers to famous mobsters, got involved in making, selling, and transporting moonshine.

Here in Minnesota, a corn derivative, named Minnesota 13 had been discovered by the University of Minnesota in the late 1800’s. The corn flourished in the shorter growing season and during WW1 the demand for corn escalated. Farmers put their necks out to purchase as much land as possible to grow Minnesota 13 corn. Well…the war ended and soon farmers found themselves with more corn than they could sell and more land than they could afford.

Being immigrants from Ireland and Germany, these farmers were well-versed in brewing their own alcoholic beverages, and discovered Minnesota 13 corn made a whiskey as fine as the Canadians. When Prohibition hit, the demand for their private stock grew, and these farmers soon had a commodity that was wanted world-wide. Also named Minnesota 13, a traveler in Europe (Prohibition was an American act) could request the whiskey, right down to the small towns of Avon, Holdingford, Melrose, and other central Minnesota towns, the bottle had been brewed in.

For many farmers and families, brewing and selling Minnesota 13 was what kept food on the table.

I’ve had a wonderful time researching for these stories. Here’s a picture of me and some family members at a ‘Bootlegger’s Ball’ in St. Paul last fall when the historical center brought in the “Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibition.  


  1. Fascinating, Lauri. I don't recall a story about bootleggers, especially with young daughters to protect. The series sounds intriguing.
    You're right that the Roaring 20s aren't used much as romance material, but if one stretched the imagination, all sorts of story lines could emerge.
    Wishing you much luck on your new venture.

  2. Great post, Lauri, and the ball looked like a fun event. Best of luck on your stories. I'm sure you know bootleggers were the predecessors to drag races and NASCAR.

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  5. Sorry for the deletes, sheesh. I mispelled too many words being so early Pacific Time to look like an intelligent human being .Grrrr.

    Anyway, Lauri, I loved the post. I never understood Prohibition. I know of one California winery that was able to still produce for "medicinal" purposes. Tons of good story lines though, I agree.

    Loved the pic. Best wishes for much success with this series.


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