Why I Dedicated The Art Deco Mystery Series to an Arts School

This year is the 83rd anniversary of a school that infused New York City with imagination unheard of, and brought life to its people. It’s still going strong.

Many might not know about the man behind the dream and the arduous era that somehow brought forth undeniable color and brilliance to a weary people. In a time where corruption was rampant, the hearts of the poor and in-need were punctured by despair, and racism divided and isolated…

New Yorkers needed inspiration. That bullies could be conquered. That the lazy and selfish could be brought to light. That corrupt institutions could be taken to task. That the little guy could get a break. The city needed a hero. It wasn’t accomplished with super powers. It was with spirit, a truck load of gumption, and a deep love of beauty. And that made it all the more spectacular.

Fiorello La Guardia, New York City’s ninety-ninth mayor, took office January 1st, 1934. It was a time where the long ache of the Depression had taken root and the ending of Prohibition began. It was a time where corruption was felt in every arena. Then, when everyone least suspected it, the 5’2” Italian-Jewish cyclone that was Fiorello La Guardia hit the scene.

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Fiorello – the little flower – is noted as saying that he wanted to give New Yorkers a government with a soul. One that reminded us all of heaven. He wanted to make the city happy, beyond just safe and content. Happy. He focused on health care, playgrounds, getting the city’s credit back up to par, and stamping out corruption that had gained a mighty foothold during Prohibition. Fiorello displayed brazen contempt for corruption, even using his own sledge hammer to bust up thousands of slot machines peppered throughout the city’s delis run by gang bosses. It was a total publicity stunt, but boy did it have pizzazz.

In his deep-seated desire for the city to flourish, an important stroke of genius was to bring more art to New York City. To all people high and low. Fiorello’s love of music and the arts was profound, having played and enjoyed classical music since he was a child. He was frequently found taking the guest baton at orchestral performances around the city. Times music critic Harold Taubman wrote, “He knows that band music should make the blood tingle.”

In his own role as the three-time mayor, Fiorello saw himself as the city’s sculptor. He understood art’s capacity to enlarge the mind, to ingrain a sense of pride and joy, and that it would be a key component to make the city thrive. As part of a rigorous plan, this year marks the 83rd anniversary that his dream came true. He dedicated the first publicly funded high school where students could major in music and visual arts: The High School of Music & Art. “I believe this to be one of the best contributions that I will be able to make… as long as I am mayor of New York City,” he declared that momentous day in 1936.

Now named the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (the school highlighted in Fame, the movie and TV series), it still embodies the hopes and dreams of Fiorello La Guardia. This spirit of beauty out of adversity is at the heart of The Art Deco Mystery Series. So this series that launched in September 2017 with Kensington Publishing Corporation that features Fiorello La Guardia, is dedicated to you, La Guardia High School.

I hope that every student, every teacher, every administrator will always feel the stirring spirit with which their school began in the midst of a dark time. That whether you graduated decades ago, or are a freshman this year, you will pour into the world and take part in making your own communities --wherever you land-- a place of beauty for all to enjoy. Creating happiness no matter what the world throws at you. And like Fiorello so deeply desired, making our world just a little bit more like heaven.

*Book one, The Silver Gun released in fall of 2017. Book two, The Gold Pawn, released in 2018 and is nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. Book three, The Pearl Dagger, releases August, 2019.

Fio’s Antics: Fact or Fiction?

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One of the questions I get the most frequently, is if Fiorello LaGuardia, New York City’s ninety-ninth mayor, was in real life as lively and outrageous as he is in my books. The answer is most definitely, YES.

In The Art Deco Mysteries, Fiorello LaGuardia is one of the main characters and I’m sure it’s clear that I personally adore him. I’ve romanticized him a little bit – but I feel that his character is true to form. I have also put in real things that he actually did in the books. In fact, people are often surprised that the most sensational antics are actually the real ones.

There is a scene where Lane and Valerie see Fio bound down the steps of City Hall, then look wildly around for his car and driver. Not seeing them and yet needing to get to a fire (he made it a habit to be at the scene of every major fire, car crash, and crime), he pounced on the nearest form of conveyance: a policeman on a motorcycle with a sidecar. As they drive off, he yells to the stunned and chuckling onlookers, “I am not a sissy!” Totally true. It really happened. And it still cracks me up as I’m writing this.

He also was a big-time bellower with his unique and screechy voice. He did create an office in his car complete with police radio, desk, and gun compartment. The Fire Chief gave him an honorary fire coat. And he was a lover of art and music. He often guest-conducted at symphonies around the city. He played the coronet and yes, he did stop the Artichoke King’s monopoly on artichokes complete with police escort, a lordly scroll, and two trumpeters.

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Fiorello was a five-foot-two firecracker of a guy. He was a fighter pilot in WWI, he was a congressman, and then the ninety-ninth mayor of New York City. He was a minority on both sides: half-Jewish, half-Italian. I love the tension of Fio. He was loud, abrasive and rude, yet he was a total romantic, loved music and art dearly, and always fought for the little guy.

Fiorello really did see in-person each and every petitioner in his office at the beginning of the work day. He was indeed rude and brash, yet he had an incredibly dear heart and fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. A lot of people remember him and his voice. His most memorable moment for my dad is when Fiorello read the funny papers over the radio for the kids when the newspapers went on strike.

Be sure to read the Author notes at the beginning and end of all my books for the fun details, where reality is often stranger than fiction.

An Interview with L.A. Chandlar

What is something many people might not know about you?

When I was twenty-four, my husband and I quit our jobs at General Motors and toured in his rock band for five years. I was the booking agent, manager, and sound tech (which I loved – I had no idea I’d enjoy mixing sound so much). He was the guitarist and lead singer. We wanted to have more oomph in our lives, so we did this in conjunction with a non-profit where we also did a ton of charity concerts with the military, prisons, schools… It was really hard work. But a great experience!

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How did you get the idea for the Art Deco Mystery series?

Well… we moved to New York City for a job offer, and we had no idea if we’d love it or hate it. We ended up moving to New York only two weeks after 9/11. It was a crazy time to move to the city. It was so raw and hurting. And yet, alive like I’d never seen. People were aware and helping and passionate. We had several people stop by our moving truck to welcome us to the city! During that time, I started reading a biography about Fiorello LaGuardia. His time coming into office right after Prohibition ended and during the Great Depression, was interestingly like the city in our own era. And it depicted a view of life during the Depression that I hadn’t seen before. Yes, there were awful soup lines, despair, staggering need... But there was also a gritty spirit, innovation that toppled over anything I’d imagined about the era, and that New York wit that is full of satire and that grin-while-you’re-sneering realness… And women’s rights! Women going into professional arenas way before WWII, racial tensions running high all while the first integrated giant dance hall, The Savoy, was opened and raging with success, where it didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic…it only mattered if you could dance. I love that tension, and that’s the story I wanted to tell.

Why did you decide to have a backdrop of art in each book? And how does that work?

Well, that era was such a short and spicy era. Between jazz, film, visual art, you name it, its powerful punch has influenced every era since. I wanted to highlight that, too. Art moves us. It has a way of opening our eyes and hearts in ways that nothing else can do. Even if we don’t consider ourselves “artsy.” It’s why we can be moved to tears from a TV commercial. Art also has a way of coming alongside us to give voice to things we are navigating, feelings we can’t quite articulate. So, in each book, there is a different kind of art that compels a character and mirrors that character’s life. In the first book, there is a famous artist who is a household name now, but wasn’t then, and the main character comes across a journal from that artist and it helps her navigate the choices and feelings she’s going through. In the second book, The Gold Pawn, there is a chilling classic novel that everyone has heard of, and hardly any have read, that comes alongside the main character and a villain as their lives are intertwined. And in the third book, The Pearl Dagger, in 1936 there was this delicious –God, I hope it gets a revival– play that Orson Welles produced through the Federal Works Project with the first all-black theater cast in America. They performed MacBeth, set in Haiti instead of Scotland, with a jungle and skeleton-covered stage. It was called Voodoo MacBeth. What I would do to travel back in time to see it first- hand. A character walks with this, as it echoes and brings light to his own trials and the mystery at hand. 

Is this going to be a series or a trilogy?

I hope a series! I can tell you right now that if Kensington does a fourth book, it’s going to have a mystery set at The Savoy and the art that will be the backbone of that one will be jazz and dance. And the fifth will have The End of the Trail sculpture by James Earl Frasur.

The Jewish Santa Claus - a short story

“Why do you do it?” said Ed, his voice raspy and deep, filled with scorn and old things not forgiven or forgotten.

“What do you mean?” said the man with a large bag in his hands, continuing his methodical gift placement. Two small square boxes with blue and silver wrappings next to the menorah. Two small square boxes in bright red wrapping next to the miniature Christmas tree. One large rectangular shirt-sized box next to the menorah, one next to the tree, and so on. His large hands carefully, tenderly placing each gift just so.

“Why do you leave gifts for us? You don’t owe us anything,” said Ed gruffly, shifting himself a bit higher in the plaid chair as he steadied his cane that was resting on the arm.

“I just do,” he said simply with an enigmatic grin stretching across his face.

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The Dividends of Art

What if we were living up to our creative potential? What if we were living more fully? Creativity leads to employee engagement, imagination, innovation, higher productivity, and emotional investment at work (Entrepreneur Magazine). If one person creates and feels more full, more alive and productive, what about a whole community? A whole city? A whole nation? What would that look like? What good could be achieved? What could be built? What could we overcome?

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The Journey of Writing Pt 2 - What the Process Looks Like: from Pen to Publisher

Everyone’s journey, process, road – whatever you feel like calling it – looks different. Some people are 21 years old, write a manuscript, and voila! Presto Change-o, someone they know knows someone else and suddenly they get a publisher right off the bat. Those are exciting stories. Yet for the 99.999% of other writers, like me, stories like that...

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SILVER GUN to be released September 2017 through Kensington Publishing

Announcing The Silver Gun, to be released in September 2017 through Kensington Publishing. This first book in L.A. Chandlar's historical mystery series is set in 1930s NYC and features Lane Sanders, the personal aide to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Lots of famous cameo appearances, gangsters to wrangle with, humor, romance, and capers throughout the awesome city that even in the midst of The Depression showed its incomparable grit, innovation, art, and of course cocktails and music. THE GOLD PAWN (book 2) to be released in September 2018, and THE PEARL DAGGER (book 3) in September 2019.

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