Raeder Lomax - Speakeasies, Bootleggers, Flappers - A Gritty and Raw Jazz Age Noir

Raeder Lomax - Speakeasies, Bootleggers, Flappers - A Gritty and Raw Jazz Age Noir

Raeder Lomax is from the mean streets of New York, seemingly a cage, at times, constructed of concrete, tar, and noise, but also a lyric written in steel. CV: Columbia U., BA, MFA; NY Foundation of the Arts Playwriting Fellowship; 2013 Best INDIE Book Award for Wipeout (rewritten as STAND YOUR GROUND).  As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Midnight Sleeper.

Please give us a short introduction to what Midnight Sleeper is about.

The Midnight Sleeper Series is a time machine into the Jazz Age, Roaring 20s that puts you close-up into the lives of flappers, bootleggers, black Pullman train porters, detectives, and more. You walk the streets with them, ride the old midnight sleeper trains, buy and sell bootlegged whiskey, and experience the chaos of the times and what it takes to survive the folly of the 1920s that led to the stock market crash.

The story is set in the Roaring 20s, a time known for its extravagance and turmoil. What drew you to this particular era?

Actually, it happened by chance. My first novel: Stand Your Ground, which is about how legal mischief turns deadly and what are you willing to give up to be happy, has a scene where an old photograph of a character’s grandfather turns up and he’s a Pullman porter from the Jazz Age. The image stayed with me and soon Pullman porter Beau LaHood came alive and the series came about.

The premise of the book involves a high-speed Midnight Sleeper express train and a vengeful killer on the run in Prohibition America. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this thrilling setting and plot?

The book is based on a trial that happened in Clarksdale, Mississippi, 1925:  A black sharecropper is framed for murdering a white cotton plantation overseer.  While the town awaits the verdict, two people aren’t.  They hear the sound of the Midnight Sleeper train on its way,  and when the verdict arrives, so does the Roaring 20s and the Jazz Age.

The female bootlegger character seems to play a central role in the story, described as someone who can turn any man into a fool with just a smile and her quickness of mind. What inspired her character, and how does she navigate the dangers of Prohibition-era America?

The research inspired Shelby Prevette’s character as well as a female lawyer (a smaller player in the story). I found out that a real flapper wasn’t some silly Daisy in the Great Gatsby. Flappers were dead serious teenage girls who rebelled at the notion of having to rely on a man. Their main goal was to support themselves without having a husband tell them what to do. But it was harder than expected and few managed to survive on their own, as most could only find jobs as stenographers. In Midnight Sleeper, Shelby Prevette, 19 y/o, comes from a wealthy Southern family. But what she faces, instead of a boss in an office, are successful men, crooked and honest, who are not used to dealing with women on the same level, and this only gets tougher as the series moves on to Kiss Me Deadly, and Voodoo Child. Shelby navigates most danger by being underestimated, as women, then, weren’t supposed to be as smart as men. She also has a keen understanding that everyone is driven by self-interest, and it is this vulnerability that gives her an edge.

Louise Brooks
Inspiration for Shelby Prevette's Character

Readers say the book had them at the edge of their seats. How did you manage to maintain an atmosphere of suspense throughout the story?

I would say that the narrative I’ve constructed is a highwire act that the characters have to maintain out of fear of being washed away from the world, which I think we all have to deal with, though its casualty is a slower process that rarely allows us to see imminent danger until it’s too late. In the series, danger is never too late, but never too early.

KIRKUS Reviews praised the train setting as a wonderful narrative device and highlighted your knack for memorable phrases. How did you approach creating a compelling atmosphere within the confines of a train, and what challenges did you face in doing so?

Well, I was quite happy that KIRKUS Reviews took notice of that. I started amassing photos on my Pinterest page: Raeder Lomax, https://www.pinterest.com/cobrablue/trains-railroad-streetcars-stations… of trains and anything to do with the 1920s. (I even visited old trains and imagined riding on them.) I took everything apart in the photos and did research until I became part of the research and then the writing easily took over (or at least I hope).

The editorial review mentions your gift for capturing the essence of the Roaring '20s with spot-on period details. Can you share some insights into your research process and how you ensure historical accuracy while still crafting an engaging story?

Anything that I write, I make sure happens at the same time as it did in history (or now for that matter). I won’t use a song title, clothing, or an event, or anything that hasn’t yet happened. I keep things narrow, within arm’s reach, as if I’m walking down the streets of 1920s Manhattan or Berlin, and in that the tension is created by leaving out all that is unnecessary, unlike a certain novel that gets everything mixed up (Evelyn Nesbit was never obsessed with a little Jewish girl from the Lower East Side: wholly outside her character). I keep characters within the rules, limits and boundaries of the time and of the character’s real life, e.g., Robert Benchley (1920s: The New Yorker magazine), is in the series––but he won’t be bumping into Elvis. Also, I read as much as I can about the time the story takes place, so that I can keep the characters constrained by what they know “today” and not what I may know about “tomorrow.” By writing on the day that something happens the tension intensifies.

The characters in your book are described as speaking in the wiseacre repartee typical of the Roaring '20s. How do you develop authentic dialogue that reflects the slang and speech patterns of the era while remaining accessible to modern readers?

Dialogue is always of its time, much like music, and in the 1920s it was heavily influenced by Jazz and its polyphonic form, or one horn answering another. The repartée that KIRKUS Reviews mentions is of the same manner, but its tone is imbued with a particular irony that focuses on the futility of expecting too much from life: except wit: without it you are lost. (20s Slang is easily accessible on and off line.)

Book covers

"MIDNIGHT SLEEPER Book 1" is the first installment in a series. Can you tease any hints or upcoming developments that readers can expect in future books?

I suppose I should answer this question (lol) by quoting KIRKUS Reviews: The author has a good thing going here. Kiss Me Deadly, Book 2, takes us further into the complicated death rattling dance of 1920s bootlegging in Manhattan where the wizardry of Wall Street, the shallowness of Broadway, and the payoff era of big city politics leaves corpses, everywhere, as calling cards. Shelby, our brainy flapper, gets between some big bootleggers and a Hell’s Kitchen politician, and then does something that literally scares the hell out of them. Voodoo Child, Book 3, takes our characters into the depths of 1920s cabaret Berlin and the politics of the unstable German Weimar Republic where political factions are trying to subvert Germany’s first democratic government. But to get this going they need something that Shelby, and someone else, has access to. Will they get it or will she “get” it?

The review from KIRKUS Reviews praises your narrative style and quirky plot. How do you balance quirkiness with maintaining a sense of suspense and seriousness in a mystery novel?

I’m only assuming that KIRKUS Reviews meant to say that the plot is not conventional in that it has surprises, and that the plot is driven by character and not by some spreadsheet. If you look at any real life situation and get to know the characters in it, they are almost always quirky, off-beat, quite often unpredictable, and essential in holding any interest compared to say a chest pounding novel that holds the usual.

Your bio mentions your educational background at Columbia University and your experience as a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship. How have these experiences shaped your writing career, particularly in transitioning to novel writing?

Absolutely have they shaped the writing. As a playwright I had to have the characters tell the story and that’s what I do in my novels along with prose to create the images of the trains, cities, and terrain of the Jazz Age.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

The average writing day: I keep it simple. I write then think. I don’t count words. I don’t think plot. I wake up writing; I go to sleep writing. It’s always on. I’m walking down the street it’s on. Sitting down and writing is just part of it. The only thing that gets in the way are the usual interruptions, and there are many. The hardest thing about writing is not writing (but getting readers lol.)


What are you working on right now?

I’m working on Book 4 of the Midnight Sleeper Series.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I can be contacted at https://raederlomax.com/contact/. My four novels, to date, are listed on the website, which is a somewhat interactive of the 20s experience.

Midnight Sleeper
Raeder Lomax

Trouble brews on a Roaring 20s high speed Midnight Sleeper express train when a vengeful killer, on the run, in Prohibition America, hunts down a ravaging female bootlegger who can turn any man into a fool with just a smile and her quickness of mind––but will she be quick enough for him? Turn the pages and find out who will live and who will die, and how a touch of evil can go a long way.