Friday, April 26, 2013

Have Passport Will Travel for Inspiration

by Koko Brown

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know I love to travel.  As a consummate daydreamer, I always find inspiration wherever my feet land.  So whenever I pack my bags, I always make sure I take my 35mm camera. It's become a habit that's served me well because I've used dozens of my travel photos to help spark my muse.

I've seen a slice of the world (30 states, 24 countries and 3 continents) and there's no better city in the world for inspiration than the Big Apple.  Each neighborhood,  every street is a window into a different world.  One of my favorite neighborhoods is Harlem, located in upper Manhattan. Founded in the 17th century, Harlem began as a Dutch village, transcended into a thriving Jewish community then became legendary as an African community noted for spawning the Cotton Club, the Harlem Renaissance, and one of the biggest gangland wars in history. How can you not love a community with that kind of history?

Harlem also holds a special place in my heart because it was the neighborhood my maternal grandparents decided to call home during the Great Black Migration. Despite more visits than I can remember and some I want to forget, like a heat wave in 1980, our family doesn't have any pictures of New York's architecture or landmarks.

Compelled to find more inspiration in order to recreate the setting of my recent historical release, Jezebel, I decided to pack my bags and head home. My mission? I wanted to capture the real heart of the city, its heartbeat, and its rhythm.

In the gallery below, you'll find a few pictures from the three dozen or so I took over the course of a weekend. After the jump, you can read an excerpt from, Jezebel. The scene takes place in chapter 13 where my heroine attends a party in Sugar Hill, a neighborhood in Harlem.

Get Adobe Flash player
Photo Gallery by QuickGallery.com


Located on West 144th Street, Countess Vaughn’s four-story townhouse was one of three residences she owned in the Tri-state area.  Located in the highly desirable Sugar Hill neighborhood, the home sported a slightly curved staircase that led up to double black oak doors, containing lead glass etched with palm trees and flamingos. 

As they ascended the stairs, the doors swung open, blinding them with lights and blaring music. People intent on seeking their pleasures squeezed past the front entrance, oblivious to the trio on the front stoop. 
Coughing in a gloved hand, the butler gained their attention. “Who’s your sponsor?” he asked, looking down his nose at them.

“Our sponsor?” Trudy hissed in Celeste’s ear. “That’s how they do it in high society?”

Celeste had no idea what a sponsor was either, but she took a guess. “Beatrice Gerard invited us.”

The butler snapped his fingers and another man appeared beside him. “Benard will take your coats.” The other man smiled pleasantly as he divested them of their outer attire. “The band is in the ballroom, located at the back of the house.  Refreshments and spirits can be found on every floor. If you have a stronger constitution or other vices you can find your pleasure on the upper floors.” 

“Where’s the reefer?” Trudy asked loudly.  

Pulling back as if hit with a bucket of cold water, the butler temporarily lost his composure, but quick on his toes he recovered. “Second and third floors.”

“Well, that’s where I’m headed,” Trudy declared, grabbing three glasses of champagne from a passing waiter.  She handed each of them a glass and kept one for herself.

“I’m right behind you,” declared Lenny, close on Trudy’s heels. “Are you coming, Celeste?” 

“You two go on. I’m going to case the place.”

Lenny’s lips curved into a knowing grin. “Two birds with one stone?”

“Something like that,” Celeste said, setting the glass of champagne aside.

Thankfully, her cousin didn’t make a big deal of her trying to remain dry. Sober for only three days, it wouldn’t take much for her to fold. And she wouldn’t dare admit it to anyone, but she felt stronger and more confident without it.

After parting ways, Celeste ambled through the various interconnected parlors, taking note of the opulent Louis XV furniture and matching antique gold, brocaded window treatments. 

Like Versailles, full-length glass mirrors covered walls not occupied by gold leaf wallpapering.  The opulent surroundings clashed comically with the night’s refreshments—chitterlings, collard greens, sweet potato pone, and pig’s feet.

Finished with searching the first floor, Celeste wandered upstairs.  Met with twin hallways, she decided on following the sound of a tinkling piano. 

The first room she came to was a salon filled with various guests seated at gaming tables spread throughout the room.  In the center of the room, an Asian man decked out in a tux caressed the keys of a baby grand.  His song of choice, Duke Ellington’s Caravan, evoked erotic images of sweaty bodies, clandestine kisses…and Shane.

Celeste slid her hand over the fluttering butterflies in her belly.  Just thinking about Shane Brennan made her restless to the point of aching for him. 

Darn...she had it bad.

What do you think? Did you feel like you were in a townhouse in Harlem's Sugar Hill neighborhood in the 1930s?

website: www.kokobrown.net
facebook: www.facebook.com/authorkokobrown
Read another excerpt of Jezebel


Kelli Scott said...

Great photos. I love that era in history.

Tina Donahue said...

Welcome to SNSD, Koko!! I love to travel too. Jezebel sounds awesome. :)

Fiona McGier said...

I thought I was there! You captured very well the spirit of the time, as well as the conventions. Hope you find lots of readers who find it interesting as well.