As World War II
rages in Europe and the Pacific, the small town of Progress is doing its part
for the soldiers in the field with a war bond drive at the annual county fair.
Town gossip Ava Dempsey rumors that Clark Gable will be among the participating
stars. Instead of Gable, the headliner is Freddie Harrison, a B-movie star.
When Freddie turns up dead in the dunk tank, Irene Ingram, editor-in-chief of
The Progress Herald, starts chasing the real headline.
There are plenty of suspects and little evidence. Ava’s sister Angel, who was married to the dead actor, is the most obvious. The couple had argued about his affair with the young starlet Belinda Fox, and Angel was the last person to see Freddie alive.
Irene discovers there’s more than one person who might have wanted Freddie dead. As Irene draws on her well-honed reporter’s instincts to find the killer—nothing is what it seems in Progress, and now her own deadline could be right around the corner.
is the second book in Joyce St. Anthony’s (Joyce Tremel) Homefront News mystery series. I’m attracted to this series because it is set during WWII, which I know something about because my parents were in their twenties during this era. There are very few mystery series set during this time. Irene is a plucky main character groomed for her editor-in-chief job by her father, who volunteered to be a war correspondent. Like many young women who stood in for men during the war, it is a challenge and an opportunity for her, and she succeeds.
Please welcome Joyce back to WWK. E. B. Davis
Thanks for having me!
What attracted you to this era to set your series?
I’ve always loved the WWII era. I blame it on my mother listening to her Big Band records. Her favorite song was Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls. I grew up loving the sound, the clothes, the hairstyles—just about everything. I really wish those clothes would come back in style!
Like those new opportunities afforded women during WWI, WWII not only provided opportunities, but proved that women were indispensable to the war effort. Were they given more respect than the previous era?
I think they were for the most part, but like some of the men in the newsroom at the Progress Herald, they didn’t like it much. It was more tolerated than respected at times. It opened a lot of eyes to what women could do.
If Irene’s parents had had a son, would Irene have been given the same opportunity to fill in for her father?
That’s a tough question. I hadn’t really thought about it. I guess it would have depended on whether the son had an affinity for writing, editing, and running the paper. If he hadn’t worked there, I think Irene’s dad would still have put her in charge. He was pretty liberal for the times. It would also have depended on whether the son enlisted after Pearl Harbor, like most of the boys did. And I wrote the books, so I’d still put Irene in charge, lol.
Irene’s mother seems a quiet person, but she also has to be a product of the Victorian era. Is she supportive of Irene’s progressiveness or does she just stay out of the way?
In the first book, Front Page Murder, Irene’s mother gives her a lot of grief over Irene working an “unladylike” job. She comes around a little bit in Death on a Deadline, but still expects Irene to quit the job as soon as the war is over, get married, and have babies. Irene’s not buying it.
Hollywood seems to have headed up the war bond drive. Was it done collectively by studio or actors guild?
It was a collective effort by a lot of Hollywood stars. The Hollywood Victory Committee began on December 10, 1941, three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The idea was to give stars who weren’t in the military a chance to contribute to the war effort. They would do bond drives, USO shows, and radio shows among other things. The first chairman of the committee was Clark Gable, who enlisted other actors to join in the effort. If anyone reads Death on a Deadline, you’ll see him mentioned on the very first page. The actual Hollywood Victory Caravan travelled across the country for two weeks in late April and early May 1942. I fictionalized the caravan a bit so it would fit into the story. There’s a fantastic book by Christian Blauvelt called “Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II” that I highly recommend.
There are a number of young male actors like Kirk and Freddie. Why weren’t they drafted into service like the rest of the men?
Some probably were, and some enlisted. Those who weren’t inducted were able to contribute in other ways like the Victory Caravan, other war bond drives, making movies and documentaries about the war, etc.
When Hollywood starlet Belinda Fox dresses and acts in a provocative manner, Irene’s mother is offended. Was overt sexuality by women a form of rebellion?
Not necessarily. Women back then—and even earlier—weren’t much different than now. There’s just not as much stigma attached to being overtly sexual these days.
And yet—due to the need to conserve materials and fabric for the war effort, weren’t shorter hemlines encouraged?
Clothing definitely became more streamlined during the war. Dresses went from mid-calf to just below the knee, fuller skirts to A-line, smaller lapels on jackets, etc. No silk or nylon stockings.
Did you base the character of Greta Gray on Hedda Hopper? Unbelievably, Hedda was born to a Pennsylvania Dutch family in Hollidaysburg, PA.
Only loosely. Hedda Hopper was more likable and wasn’t purposely malicious. Greta is a nasty piece of work.
One of the problems Irene has when interviewing the suspects, most of whom are actors, is
that she doesn’t know if they are acting or not. Is it hard for people to trust actors? Like fiction writers, if they are good, everything they say could be made up.
I don’t know any actors, but if they were any good, I imagine it would be hard to know if they were being truthful or not.
What did they do with blue and gold stars displayed in windows? Did the mothers form clubs?
A blue star designates that the household had a family member in the service. There would be a star for each service member. A gold star meant a family member had been killed in action. There are blue and gold star groups across the country even today. You’ll still see those flags in people’s windows.
You start each chapter with a news headline. Are most of them real?
All the war related headlines are real. It was not only a way for me to keep track of what day it was in the book, I thought it was a good way to inform readers about what had happened on those days. I used the Google News Archive to check various newspapers. The only fictional headlines were the ones related to the town of Progress and the goings on there.
I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a little more to Richie becoming a pilot than that. Richie’s sister also hadn’t realized that he’d always wanted to fly and Kirk wasn’t to blame. I’m sure the blame game happened on occasion. We all think that everyone supported the war effort, but if you dig into history, it wasn’t the case. Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, there were still citizens who thought we shouldn’t get involved, and many were still in support of Germany.
Cousin Donny isn’t as contemptuous of Irene in this book. What happened? Did his ego get a needed boost?
It did! He has a girlfriend now, which makes all the difference.
Irene’s friend Peggy seems content
to play the sidekick. Will she be happy to become a homemaker/mother/wife after
the war is over? How about Irene?
I can see Peggy being a stay at home mom if she has children—at least for a while. Irene would never be content with it. At one point in the book she thinks if she ever has children she’ll just add a nursery to the newsroom. She is way ahead of her time!
Were there incidents of war bond money getting stolen from rallies?
I’m not really sure. It’s one of those things that could have happened, though.
What’s next for Irene?
I wish I knew! I was only contracted for the two books and I’m still waiting to hear if the publisher wants more. I really, really want to write more. I have a third book outlined so if my current publisher doesn’t want it, I’ll have my agent shop it elsewhere. I do have a contemporary series releasing in January 2024. The first book in the Cider House Mysteries is called Deadly To The Core and features a young widow who inherits a fruit orchard and opens a cider house. When her orchard manager is murdered with her walking cane, she vows to find the killer. I’m waiting on edits for that book at the moment, which I’ll be afraid to open. It needed a lot of work, lol.
Congrats on your latest, Joyce.
Sounds like a great new story, and I love the WW2 era also.
This is delightful, and what a fabulous follow up to Death on a Deadline. I do hope there will be more Homefront News Mysteries!
Wonderful interview! I'm getting my hands on your books today, Joyce.
Terrific interview, Joyce and Elaine. Congratulations on the new series. I hope your publisher picks up more in the series.
Great interview—very enjoyable. Looking forward to reading!
I think there are fewer mysteries, esp. ones that might fall into today's definition of "cozy," set in troubling times.
This was an interesting time, however, & I glad to see some writers using it as a background.
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