In 1910, before her father was convicted of accidentally killing a woman during an illegal abortion, Melanie Daniels was considered the most marriageable girl in her tiny Adirondack village. Now, six years later, the “Killer Doc” has been released from prison and the family are social outcasts. To cope with her fear of ending up an “old maid”, Melanie loses herself inside glamorous motion picture magazines. Until she meets James, a handsome stranger who promises adventure and a chance to leave the stifling small town life behind her. Shortly after they elope to New York, Melanie meets James’s ‘friend’ Gladys Dumbrille, a Broadway actress, and discovers he is not the man he seemed. In an attempt to re-invent herself, Melanie lies her way into Gladys’s new show. Their lives become intertwined in ways neither of them could have expected.
Excerpt + Insights
“Of the two, I prefer James.”  He took a step closer to her, bent slightly, and kissed her on the lips. Melanie  froze in confusion. She knew what she was supposed to do—slap his face and call him names—but that wasn’t what she wanted to do. Not at all.
“How was that?” he asked, dropping his voice. He looked into her eyes.
“Are you making love to me?” 
“I liked it,” she replied, tilting her face up for more, thrilled with her own daring.
“I’m glad,” he murmured. He kissed her again, his lips soft, his mouth tasting of a hint of split pea soup. He put his nose in the hair just behind her left ear and took a deep breath. The feeling of the tip of his nose on her skin was electric.  It had been so long—years—since she had felt a man’s touch. And that had been back at school, before the trial, a few chastely clumsy kisses in cloakrooms and in stuffy parlors. Paul Clyde didn’t count.
“You smell so good,” he said, and kissed her again. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He lifted a finger and gently slid it from her chin to the top of her collar. Melanie quivered. She was afraid to make a move on her own. Half of her was awash with pleasure such as she had never known, the other half watched critically.  What would Olga Petrova do now? An image flashed through her mind of a predatory movie actress in black satin dishabille with her hair down her back. Again, she knew she was supposed to do. Melt against him (that was the alternative to slapping his face), but she couldn’t. Her hands hung uselessly at her sides.
“Mr. Throckmorton, you shouldn’t be doing this,” she whispered.
“I know. I can’t help myself.” He kissed her again, a long, slow, lingering kiss.
“Please—please stop.” Her words came out a little gasp. She didn’t want him to stop.
Mr. Throckmorton took a step back, smiling, holding her arms. “You are a peach of a girl, Miss Daniels.”
“Thank you.” Melanie averted her face. “I don’t know what you must think of me.” Oh, she wanted him to kiss her again! And again and again.
His left hand ran up and down her upper arm. She felt as if little shivers of desire were following along with it. “I think very highly of you. That’s why I kissed you.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’d like to see you again, Miss Daniels. Soon.” His hand closed around her upper arm.
It was an outrageous request. He had taken liberties with her. “I’d like that.”
“Could I come by your house tomorrow afternoon? I have an appointment in the morning at the paper mill.”
“No, no, let’s meet here.”
Mr. Throckmorton gave her a quizzical look. “Say, are you afraid of having your folks meet me?”
Melanie was flustered, because it was the truth. “They—they—I’m not ready for that, Mr. Throckmorton. Please don’t ask me any more.”
“All right, Miss Daniels.” He shrugged. “Tomorrow, then.”
“Two o’clock. I’ll count the hours.”
She insisted on walking home alone. Her emotions were in a tumult. “Nice girls” didn’t let men kiss them until they were engaged. In fact, more than one Muller’s Corners boy had been roped into marriage because of an errant kiss in the moonlight. And a traveling salesman…goodness knows what sort of women he consorted with. But he seemed to be almost as surprised as she was by what was happening between them.
Melanie had no words to express what she was feeling.  She could not recall anything from the books she read that described this surging physical excitement. Oh, sure, she reflected, the novel she was currently reading, Lady Celia and the Temptress spoke of “voices husky with passion,” “pulsing necks,” and “burning lips.” But all of their passion seemed to die below the collarbone.
The smell of James’s cologne and the taste of his mouth were still with her. Every now and then she lifted the sleeve of her jacket to her face and sniffed it. “James Louis Throckmorton, James Louis Throckmorton,” she chanted in rhythm with her steps as she swung along the muddy road. “Melanie Daniels Throckmorton.” For the first time in years, the loneliness that she carried in the pit of her stomach had been replaced by something else…anticipation. This was life, this was real, this was altogether different than the cocoon she had been in for six years.  His face when he looked at her…she could not help smiling.
1. James’s name is James Louis Throckmorton. I know it’s a silly name, but I love the sound of it, so there. He is a habitual liar who’s known by many names, as Melanie comes to find out after they arrive in New York City. This scene is set beforehand, along a quiet road in the Adirondack Mountains in 1916, which is another reason I thought his name fits.
2) I love the name Melanie. Several earlier drafts of other manuscripts have main characters named Melanie. Later I found out that Melanie Daniels is also the name of the Tippi Hedren character in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”. Too damn bad, I love the name. Like the title The Abortionist’s Daughter, she can’t be called anything else.
Before her father was sent to jail for accidentally killing a woman during a botched abortion, the Daniels family was ranked high on the scale of their small village’s society. Her mother still maintains the dignity she had before the trial, and sees their family as fine people. At the beginning of the story, she understands far more about her husband’s actions than his daughter does.
3) “Making love” meant flirting back then. One of the fun things about writing a historical novel is replicating the way people speak. I’m a natural mimic and it’s always enjoyable to write in other people’s voices. It helps me get into their heads, as well.
The writing of the early 1910s to 1930s is some of my favorite writing. It tends to be clear and to the point, as in Sinclair Lewis, or M. Somerset Maugham. One of my goals as a writer is to use language to say exactly what I mean.
4) When I was first dating, it was all completely new. I had been fat in high school, then at 21 I lost 100 pounds. I knew nothing about dating, sex, flirting, anything! Those first years were amazing, experiencing so much for the first time. I drew on those memories to create Melanie’s reactions.
5) There has always been this duality in me. Something happens, I’m experiencing it, but at the same time I stand apart. When I was a teenager, crying about some boy who thought of me as “just a friend,” another part of my brain went: “Never had she been in such pain. She reeled around the room as she cried! Pain crushed her heart” etc. I’ve never been able to turn that off completely. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis, in the back of my mind: “this will make great material”!
6) Insane movie buff here! In high school I lived my life through old movies. They remain one of my main interests. Movies pre-1920 were for the most part melodramatic, with “good girls” and “bad women” (note the distinction; innocence was the most important quality a girl could have). Olga Petrova was an actual star, billed as “Mme. Petrova”. In reality she was born Muriel Harding, in England. Melanie idolizes actresses of the stage and screen, living vicariously through them the same way I did.
7) Melanie wants to keep James to herself, in part because she knows deep down he’s “disreputable.” I didn’t want my parents to meet my boyfriends, because they rarely lived up to my family’s standards. I was supposed to marry a CEO. Until I met my husband, introducing my parents to my boyfriends never went well. Usually after the guy left, their opinions would be expressed in no uncertain terms.
8) This was one of the themes that made me write the book. What is it like to experience sex, sexual feelings, etc., where there is no vocabulary for them? NONE. You could look at a medical textbook, but as a woman, you had no access to pornography or anything mildly salacious. Men tended to be severely uneducated as well, some not knowing what to do on their wedding nights. Some couples found each other’s genitals disgusting. Often, for women, the idea of having pleasure during sex was unthinkable. More so because men didn’t know about foreplay or that their wives were supposed to enjoy it. Melanie first sees James’s testicles and they remind her of “an funny mauve corsage, awkwardly pinned on.”
When she walks along trying to understand how she feels, the reader will note there is quite a bit of interior monologuing in this story. We see everything from Melanie’s POV. It’s considered an old-fashioned device. Again, it goes to my love for early 20th century literature. There’s probably only one-quarter of what older novels have, however!
9) I love the way my husband smells. Smell is a huge part of physical attraction. I smell my husband’s pillow. After my father’s death, my mother admitted she went into a closet where his shirts were kept and buried her face in them.
10) Melanie is isolated and in modern terms, suffers from deep depression. I’m bipolar, and my depressions flatten me. At those times I feel alone, lonely. Everything darkens. She does not suffer the same level of depression I do.
ELISA DeCARLO was raised in Westchester County, New York. Her first novel, The Devil You Say (Avon, 1994) won both “Locus Best First Novel” and “Amazing Stories Best First Novel”, and received the CaB Magazine Special Achievement Award. Its prequel, Strong Spirits, was published by Avon in 1995. Her humorous essays have been collected in the 2002 Random House anthology “Life’s A Stitch: The Best of Women’s Contemporary Humor”; Morrow Books “The Best of The New York Times’s Metropolitan Diary”; and Freedom Voices Books “Goddesses We Ain’t”.
Elisa’s been a working journalist, an audiobook abridger, magazine staff writer, and comic performer. For 10 years she sold plus-size vintage clothing, both online and privately. She has a keen knowledge of both fashion and show business history.