Author Spotlight & Reviews of
Author of "Jazz Baby"
Guest Blog Post by Mr Weeks:
Emily Ann "Baby" Teegarten is a young girl with big dreams. She has the sort of voice that convicts sinners simply through song. But Baby has bigger aspirations than singing spirituals to that Mississippi congregation on Sunday mornings during the summer of 1925. The girl yearns to sing jazz in the clubs way up in New York City. Her father is her biggest supporter, standing behind the girl every step of the way--until he passes away suddenly. Her mother, accused in the father's demise, follows him to the grave shortly thereafter.
So what's a poor white-trash orphan girl supposed to do to answer the call of her dreams? Her strict, Bible-believing Aunt Francine has ideas of her own for this tiny girl with the big voice. She brokers a marriage between Emily and Jobie Pritchett, the preacher's son.
Emily Ann is a composite of several girls I've known over the years. There is a psychological element to this character that comes from reality, as harsh and dark as that might seem to some readers. She demanded to be written into existence. I could hear her voice, with that Mississippi lilt, calling out to me from the ether, arguing that it's her time, so pick up that pen, author man, and get to writing.
What Jazz Baby is meant to be is a trip into the year 1925; a shared summer with one young girl trying to find her way in life, in the world of her day. I spent untold hours in researching the era and that region of the country, and human behavior in general. The thing about human behavior is, it doesn't change, no matter the era in which we live. Stories from that era, told to me by my own grandfather, seem to suggest that the young people from the 1920s sought out the same things young people from the 2010s search after.
These weren't asexual, sober, boring people back then. Not at all. The stories I heard, either directly or through eavesdropping, told tales of young and vibrant lives, of men and women on the prowl for good times, cheap booze, and dirty sex. Not at all different from today. (Google "vintage porn" and see how many nudie pics from the 1920s pop up.) The thing is, today we see our grandparents (mine are long dead) as old people who spend a lot of time in church, doing good and Godly things. But they were young once. Young, and quite different from who they are today. Humans grow older, we mature, we change. It's part of the life experience.
I found it interesting that opium was a popular recreational drug in use during that era. Marijuana grew wild in parts of the country, going unmolested by the local authorities, many of whom would consider it silly to dedicate time, money, and effort in trying to eradicate a weed. The young people of the 1920s, the partiers, were the very ones partaking of these forbidden fruits.
One reviewer referred to the characters in Jazz Baby as "Blue Velvet-type characters." I like that comparison, though that movie never once crossed my mind as I wrote the book. These are indeed a collection of strange and bizarre types. I've always loved stories that break from the normal novel template. Good, quirky characters are a blast to create. The idea for the character called "Pig" came from a documentary film on 1920s movie star Fatty Arbuckle. He'd watched his career ruined through a sexual scandal that had no basis in truth. But in Jazz Baby, this character truly is scandalous. He really has those "unnatural" appetites.
Even Emily Ann has a bit of the quirky in her. She's fearless, reckless, and foolish, the way she traipses around the streets of New Orleans, running through the red-light district once known as Storyville, where she considers an invitation to allow her virginity to be auctioned to the highest bidder in a Storyville whorehouse. She's a fan of bootleg whiskey, opium, and cigarettes, and she hasn't a care in the world. Sexuality awakens in the girl, has her pondering the things that can take place between a boy and a girl--or between two girls. Is she bi-sexual? Labels mean nothing to Emily. And neither does race, as she spends much of her time in the company of "colored" jazz musicians, sharing intimacy with a certain piano player.
But the streets are quite dangerous for a young girl of Emily's size and age. Not everyone she meets has her best interests at heart. This is where that reckless side could cost her more than she's able afford. Dark characters have their own ideas for this girl, how best to profit from her talents--even her father's best friend proffers his own schemes.
It took me upwards near ten years to complete this novel, with all the rewrites, the research, and a two-year abandonment. It is available at Amazon as a paperback or an ebook for Kindle.
Here is my Goodreads Page
While all Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, a sudden orphanhood casts its icy shadow across Emily Ann Teegarten, a pretty young teen. Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, "Baby" Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that makes church ladies cry and angels take notice. "I'm gonna sing jazz up to New York City," she brags to anybody who'll listen. 'Cept that Big Apple--well, it's an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she used to call home. So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all kinda shortcuts, Emily soon learns it's the whorehouses and drug joints promising to tickle more than just a young girl's fancy that can dim a spotlight . . . and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out. Jazz Baby just wants to sing--not fight to stay alive.
Y. Correa's Read & Review Team's Review of "Jazz Baby" by Beem Weeks:
Y. Correa's Review:
From the first line the character of Emily Ann jumped to life. I was instantly taken into a time and place that I knew little about (excluding what I'd learned in text books), and by the time I turned to the last page I felt as though I'd gone on a one of a kind journey with Emily Ann "Baby" Teengaten leading the way.
It amazed me how I could clearly hear that "Southern Miss'ippi twang" leap off of the pages and ring clear in my ears, bright and true.
Baby, was in heart and mind the definition of a rebel, only being a rebel was something that her life thrust her into. A girl with a dream--she wanted nothing more than to sing Jazz in New York City--who had become an orphan in the most heinous of ways, forced to live with her adamantly religious aunt consequently making her real voyage begin.
A curious, by no means shy, take the bull by the horns type, Emily Ann isn't afraid to explore anything, including her sexuality!
She's strong willed: yes. She talks to fast: yes, that too. She has an almost reckless personality: indeed. But, her heart is always in the right place, caring for the people in her life regardless of race and color. She could see past that.
The people that eventually came into her life where the catalysts that changed her life completely. Jobie a preachers son, Nessie a young black wash girl, Billy Blood a bold Native American boy, DeShay a young black Jazz musician, Pig a drug dealer, Rydekker a King Pin. So many powerful characters that mold and shape Baby's life and open the door, leading the way to womanhood.
I was flabbergasted at the realization that one of my favorite characters (Tanyon, Baby's father's best friend) was not what he seemed.
The culmination was also not necessarily what I'd expected but that's not exactly a bad thing. This story did not have a Cinderella ending, but the ending it had rang true to the time and gave the idea of the characters having much more to come.
Warning: This is NOT a story for the faint of heart!
I do assure you however, "Jazz Baby" is a story that you are sure to enjoy if you are looking for something out of the norm.
I was very impressed with the authors execution of the story, the progression of the story, and the writing was refreshing and creative. An excellent read! I highly recommend "Jazz Baby" for those who are looking to take a trip back in time.
Queen of Spades' Review:
For the extended review, please stop by The Review Board
“Baby” Teegarten has a dream: a dream to sing Jazz in New York City. However, in her quest to achieve that dream, she runs into many pitfalls causing her to grow up way too soon. This is set up in Mississippi in the summer of 1925, and this sparked my interest greatly, due to the fact that Mississippi is my place of origin.
The first thing I noticed was the tone of this work. Jazz Baby is a mix of comedic sprinkles, bold dreams, slaps of reality, long suffering, and lingering hope, yet conveyed in a way of it being “just another day” in a Mississippi town.
I could feel all the emotions the main character experienced. From the apprehension of her first shot at escaping her circumstances (singing for church folks); to her conflicting inner battles with her attraction to different characters; to her longing for something beyond her Mississippi existence.
The Southern dialect was amazingly on point. I found myself smiling each time the author used “fixin’” because it’s one of those terms where if I was talking to my neighbor at home, he would know exactly what I meant.
The spelling and grammar (not related to dialect) was flawless. The resolution has a lingering effect, leaving the reader to come up with his own conclusion. Does “Baby” still have the Jazz in her or did all of the troubles sap it out of her?
Nicola McDonagh Review:
This is a truly memorable read with a rich and evocative narrative reminiscent of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. It is a story of a very strong-willed 13 year-old girl desperate to become a Jazz singer. Emily Ann Teergaten smokes opium, canoodles with boys and girls alike, and somehow manages to survive the threat and menace that surrounds her, as she attempts to make her dream come true and sing in New York City.
Tragedy follows Emily at every turn as she spirals towards drug addiction and prostitution on her way to fulfil her passion. She encounters many people who help and hinder her as she develops into womanhood. There is Nessie, the wash girl in her aunt’s house with whom she forms a strong bond, and Jobie the preachers son, who becomes her protector-of sorts. Then there are those that want to abuse her talent and lead her astray; Pig a fat drug dealer, is nearly her undoing, but Emily Ann is made of sterner stuff. It does appear that her strong willed attitude and eagerness to be grown up, causes a lot of her troubles. When she steals money from a notorious gangster, Emily must become resourceful and cunning if she is to survive.
The writing is vibrant and sensuous, evoking a real sense of what living in Mississippi in 1925 was like. All the characters and locations are utterly believable due to the wonderful descriptions throughout the narrative.
If I have one criticism, it is the ending. It seemed too abrupt and open ended after all that had gone on before. Because of this, I almost gave the book a 4*. But on reflection, the ending does seem fitting. Maybe there is going to be a sequel. I hope so.