Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours Presents…
By Thelma Adams
In turn-of-the century New York, a mobster rises—and his favorite sister struggles between loyalty and life itself. How far will she go when he commits murder?
After midnight, Thelma Lorber enters her brother Abie’s hangout under the Williamsburg Bridge, finding Jewish mobster Louis “Pretty” Amberg in a puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. She could flee. Instead, in the dark hours of that October 1935 night before the dawn of Murder, Inc., she remains beside the fierce, funny brother who has nurtured and protected her since childhood. There are many kinds of love a woman can feel for a man, but few compare to that of the baby sister for her older brother. For Thelma, a wild widow tethered to a young son, Abie is the center of her world. But that love is about to undo everything she holds dear…
Flipping the familiar script of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and The Godfather, Bittersweet Brooklyn explores the shattering impact of mob violence on the women expected to mop up the mess. Winding its way over decades, this haunting family saga plunges readers into a dangerous past—revealed through the perspective of a forgotten yet vibrant woman.
“Thelma Adams has found her niche as a wonderfully vivid historical chronicler of the female spirit. Her tale of a Jewish girl making her way amid gangster-studded NYC is a marvelous must-read.”
Michael Musto, columnist
A conversation with Thelma Adams
I'm Thelma Adams, journalist, critic and novelist. I made my writing reputation reviewing movies in New York – first for the New York Post, then Us Weekly when it went weekly and then covering the Oscars for Yahoo! Movies. Along the way, I interviewed many celebrities including Jessica Chastain, Diane Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Richard Gere, Kerry Washington, Viggo Mortensen and many more. During that time, while I had two children and shepherded them from Nursery School and into college, I've always written books. I now have three published novels: Playdate, The Last Woman Standing and Bittersweet Brooklyn. I love pizza and fresh peaches, can lecture you about whiskey and write on the left-hand side of a couch I share with five cats (not all at once!).
It is so nice to meet you, Thelma. Wow! You certainly interviewed some amazing celebrities. Could you tell us what inspired you to write Bittersweet Brooklyn?
So many things inspired me to write Bittersweet Brooklyn, originally entitled Kosher Nostra. The first is being named Thelma after a grandmother who died before I was born – she left so little behind except what passed through my father. And, then, that name: Thelma! Try playing kickball with that on the Southern California playground. Worst nickname: Thudma. Who was this woman? I knew I wouldn't find out anything about her in the newspapers or much in census records – but she had this brother, Abie, who became a low-level thug in the Jewish mob aka Murder Inc. That was a way in: what happened when you flipped the mobster saga and focused on the women in the family? I wanted to know. And I never could have predicted what I found out about them and their house on Montauk Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn.
Did you face many research challenges?
The major challenge – and surprise – was that I thought I would be able to access Abie's criminal records in New York. But the records, on micro fiche, and often in an ornate cursive, and disbursed through a number of archives, were hard for me to sort through (especially with imperfect eyesight). I sometimes wonder if his criminal history was scrubbed. But that left me with newspapers, which are growing more accessible everyday thanks to the internet, and the wonders of Ancestry.com. Through Ancestry, and requests for death, birth and marriage records, I began to piece together the lives this family lived together. And I traced their rise from relying on Hebrew charity to owning a house in the new neighbourhood of East New York. I have to give a shout-out to Nick Hitchcock, the historian son of an historian friend from college, for doing the shoe-leather research that allowed me to discover when the family bought the house on Montauk Avenue that provided them with a new level of stability – and the surprising names on the deed.
It sounds like you spent many hours researching. Can you tell us what makes your book different to other turn-of-the- century novels out there?
There are many books about turn-of-the-century New York and the immigrant experience – whether it's E. L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate that was made into a movie with Dustin Hoffman, or Alfred Kazin's contemporaneous account A Walker in the City. However, there aren't as many novels that focus on a female heroine and her narrative arc, her struggle under the historical radar. That's one thing that sets this novel apart. Also, novels with criminal elements tend to focus on the bang-bang of it all but I have chosen to see how a life of crime – and the freedom it can create from suffocating norms – impacts the entire family. And, into this, I put a woman who wants to live, to have an ecstatic experience with life itself, to dance and experience joy -- but she's not a perfect individual or a responsible mother, which is not a common main character in the literature of that time period. She was a liberated woman well before her time – and paid a price for it.
Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
I'm currently working on a very different historical novel called May the Circle Be Unbroken also largely set in New York. It’s about the entangling of Spiritualists and Suffragists in the fight for woman’s rights in mid-19th Century America from the viewpoint of a Spiritual Medium. It includes many historical characters including Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to chat to us!
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Thelma Adams is the author of the best-selling historical novel, The Last Woman Standing and Playdate, which Oprah magazine described as "a witty debut novel." In addition to her fiction work, Adams is a prominent American film critic and an outspoken voice in the Hollywood community. She has been the in-house film critic for Us Weekly and The New York Post, and has written essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for Yahoo! Movies, The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Marie Claire and The Huffington Post. Adams studied history at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was valedictorian, and received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in upstate New York with her family.