UGLY: Target Audience and Themes

Over the weekend, someone asked me some interesting questions about Things Could Get Ugly.  Here are my responses:

– What is the “elevator pitch” for your book?

As the final days run out before World War II begins and changes the world forever, Jack O’Brien is a young reporter in a hurry.  He returns home looking for a story that will give him credibility as a reporter and — he hopes – win him an assignment in Europe covering the events coming to a climax there. Jack finds a story that pits him against a corrupt politician and a vicious mobster.  If he pursues the story, things could get ugly.

– What types are readers are your target audience?

— Readers interested in stories about newspaper reporters.  “A reporter looking for a scoop” was a popular storyline in movies in the 1930s and early 40s, and this novel probably has at least as much in common with those movies as it does historical fiction. Like those movies, Ugly is a fun romp with suspense, romance, and humor.

— Readers interested in the gangster era.  By 1939, Prohibition was over, but the Prohibition-gangsters had staked out their territories. The Cleveland Syndicate controlled vice in Newport and was spreading its tentacles into Newport’s sister city, Covington, where this novel takes place.

— Readers interested in the Depression, Jim Crow, or World War II may be interested.  Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  This novel takes place entirely in Covington and Cincinnati in July-August 1939. Jack O’Brien, the main character, is a young reporter who wants to break a story that will establish his credibility as a reporter. He hopes he can parlay a scoop into an assignment to cover the events unfolding in Europe.

— Readers interested in stories set in a bygone era but with a bit of romance.  Jack finds an important story, but he also finds the love of his life. If he pursues the story and his career ambitions, he risks losing Maggie.  And if Maggie pursues her career and her desire to do something exciting and important, will Jack slip away?

— Readers interested in Northern Kentucky’s history, especially its gangster era. It has a scene at the Latonia race track in its final season; another at the old Lookout House in its heyday; a scene in Covington’s Devou Park, when Jimmy Durante performed there; and brief scenes in the Cathedral Basilica, the Baker Hunt Art Institute, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and Cincinnati’s Art Deco masterpiece, Union Terminal.

– What themes are present in your book?

The novel explores the moral ambivalence or moral corruption that existed in the decade before World War II imposed its own moral clarity. The novel has a scoundrel preacher who is getting more than “amens” from the ladies of the choir; a corrupt politician who has agreed to route the city’s trash-collection contract to a Syndicate-controlled company; and a police department that looks the other way, allowing Syndicate-controlled bookies and brothels to operate freely.  More generally, the novel puts characters in a time and place when religious and civic figures — and the community at large — largely tolerated racial injustice, political corruption, and organized-crime activities.

The novel also explores the choices young men and women often face, when their desire to establish themselves in their professions or to do something exciting and important pulls them in one direction, and romance pulls them in another. Is it possible for Jack to get the big story and go off to Europe without losing Maggie? Is it possible for Maggie to have a career and do something important without letting Jack slip away?

– Does your book contain strong language, violence, or sexual situations? What would you rate your book (PG, PG13, R)

 P-13.  The novel contains some mild profanity; a preacher who runs away naked when a husband comes home early catches him doing “missionary work” with his wife; a car that blows up and kills someone; and a couple scenes in an upscale brothel.  The first brothel scene is funny — reporters take a messenger boy to the brothel on the pretense of wanting to “make a man of him” on his birthday, but in fact are looking to get a photograph of two women who work there. In the other scene, the corrupt politician who is the villain, or at least the main antagonist, has a couple stiff drinks and gets sick — either because he drank too much on an empty stomach or (more likely) because his wife put something in his coffee to make him sick before he left home. Neither scene has a “sex” scene, but after the Vice Mayor passes out, the brothel has a couple women climb into bed with him, so the gangsters who run the brothel can take photos to use as blackmail.

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