Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Elisa DeCarlo: 'The Abortionist's Daughter'


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.

From the backwoods of the Adirondacks to the backstage of Broadway, The Abortionist’s Daughter explores love, sex, work and freedom in the first decade of the 20th century.  Filled with a colorful cast of supporting characters and vivid depictions of social mores, fashion, and family, Elisa DeCarlo tells one woman’s story with intelligence, passion, and wit.


ELISA DeCARLO was raised in Westchester CountyNew 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.

Her latest novel, The Abortionist’s Daughter, reflects her passion for vintage fashion and theater while painting an elaborate portrait of New York City just before World War One.


"It is crucial that we understand the historical challenges women have experienced regarding family planning and reproductive choice and the sacrifices that were made because it also sheds light on the very concerning roll back of rights in the present day. Elisa DeCarlo's historical  novel brings this to light in her imminently readable, dramatically rendered and useful book."
-Joan Lipkin, Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company

"Elisa DeCarlo masterfully takes us back to 1916 New York City with a tale of romance and betrayal that rings even more true for today."
- Mike Player, Author, Viral - The Story of the Milkshake Girl, Out on the Edge

"Truly entertaining and entertainingly true, DeCarlo's novel gives us the unforgettable and flawed Melanie Daniels, a heroine not only of her time, but of every time that women struggle to be fully human."
 Ruthann Robson, Professor of Law & University Distinguished Professor, CUNY School of Law, author of Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality, and Democracy

Elisa DeCarlo brings the “risqué” world of turn-of-the-century Broadway to life with the story of Melanie Daniels, an aspiring actress who moves to NYC with a dream and violet-trimmed toque. Melanie struggles with the puritanical morality of her upbringing and her nascent feministic awakening against the backdrop of this captivating historical novel -
Lisa Haas, playwright, In Heat, Crown Hill Cemetery, Rita & Inez: The True Queens of Femininity


Melanie knew she was pretty, but a lot of good that did her.  If only she were a movie actress, like Pearl White, who was on the cover of that month’s Photoplay.  Famous, rich, sought after.  Actresses weren’t just people.  Actresses didn’t have to muck out stables or darn the same pair of wool stockings ten times over.  “I’d make a wonderful actress,” she told herself.  In school, she had played Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”.  It had been such fun, wearing the long romantic costumes and saying Shakespeare’s words.  And having everybody watching her, with admiration rather than queasy curiosity, not like the way they stared at her during the trial, or when she accompanied her mother to church.  Instead of Shakespeare, she would have rather done a rip-roaring melodrama like “The Drunkard”, but the school would hardly approve of such a thing.
Her pace slowed. Unconsciously Melanie arranged her face into an expression of languorous boredom and began to walk with her hips slightly forward, head back. She saw herself, glittering and desirable.  Away from her parents, she could transform herself into a “vampire” like the screen actress Olga Petrova.  A “vampire” was the antithesis of the sweet, innocent blonde movie heroine: a coldblooded temptress with long black hair and carmined lips. Melanie swayed down the road, the mud impeding her progress and interfering with the attempted seductiveness of her walk.
She was in a sitting room, filled with fine antiques.  A man in a velvet smoking jacket murmured, “Would you care for a cordial, my lovely?”  Her white shoulders were  magnificent in a backless evening gown.
“Hey!  Hello there!”
Startled, Melanie straightened up and turned.  A tall man in gray lounged against the rail fence of Abercrombie’s meadow.  It was the man from the ice cream parlor.  He was still in his gray worsted suit and a dashing black fedora.
“Hello,” he repeated.  Melanie knew that she should ignore such freshness.  But he was good looking. 
“Good afternoon,” she said, in what she hoped was a suitably uninterested tone.  She kept the languorous expression on her face, her eyes half-closed.
The man straightened up and swept off his fedora. “If it isn’t Alice Blue Gown!” he exclaimed, grinning. He had a wide, friendly mouth. Melanie remembered the small, bright eyes, bushy black eyebrows, the small, bulbous nose. His skin was ruddy, and there was a nice heft to his figure.
Her heart accelerated: what would a “vampire” do at this moment?  She wished she was wearing something more alluring, but in this weather she would have frozen stiff.  She favored him with a smile.
“You remember my dress,” she said. Oh, mercy, why couldn’t she think of anything to say?
“It was some dress,” he said.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” She fished for the right tone of  indifference. “Do we have—ah—mutual acquaintances?.”
“No, I don’t know anybody here,” he said. “My name is James Louis Throckmorton. Won’t you tell me your name? That’s a cute hat you got on.”
“Thank you.” He was indeed older than Lawrence Badger. The dusty look to his hair was caused by the gray sprinkled through his black curls. There were fine lines around his eyes.
He fell into step alongside her. “Come on, what’s your name?  I’ll wager it’s an attractive name.”  His accent was citified, with the r’s pronounced very strongly, his voice deep.
Melanie looked up and into his eyes, then looked away. Her throat was drying up. “I ought not to tell you this, Mr. Throckmorton. I don’t, ordinarily, but those who know me call me Miss Daniels.”  She cleared her throat.  On impulse, she added, “But you can call me Melanie.” She averted her eyes, her heart pounding. She had gone too far.
“Say,” said Mr. Throckmorton, “that is an attractive name. Are you from these parts, Miss Daniels?”
A gentleman!  She smiled.  “Yes.  Where are you from, Mr. Throck­morton? Tupper Lake?”
“No, I’m just traveling through these parts. I was in Saranac Lake and thought I’d take a look around.”
She felt that he hadn’t quite answered her question, but she let it pass. “Oh, that’s nice. My mother is from Saranac Lake.”
Mr. Throckmorton smiled, trying to see her face under the brim of her hat. “I might be in Muller’s Corners for some time, Miss Daniels. Perhaps I might call on you? You’re awfully pretty.”
Again, she managed to look briefly at him, then away. She couldn’t look directly at him.  When she did, she could feel his interest.  She didn’t know why it scared her, but it did.  “I don’t mind,” she said.
“How’s about tomorrow afternoon? Or tomorrow night? If you’d let me, I could stop by your house.” 
“No, no. Why don’t we make it in the afternoon? If it’s a nice day, we could go for a--for a walk.” Melanie did not want Mr. Throckmorton coming to her house. That would spoil everything. She wanted him to herself, without her mother languishing over him.
“That would be swell,” he agreed. “That would be grand. You know this town better than I do, Miss Daniels. Where’s a good place to meet?”
“You can meet me at White’s. I might want some ice cream, if it’s a warm afternoon.”
“You’ve got it! Two o’clock all right?”
They had reached the top of the steep hill that sloped down into Main Street. At the foot, Melanie saw with dismay that the usual gang of boys was hanging around Saxton’s Garage. She didn’t want them to see her with Mr. Throckmorton. It was bad enough having to listen to their filthy remarks, without this man also hearing them. He would find out her reputation in the worst possible way.
She stopped and smiled at him as prettily as she could. “Mr. Throckmorton?”
“Yes, Miss Daniels?”  He held his fedora in his hand, lightly tapping it against his thigh.
“Those boys down there, by the garage.”  She lifted her hand daintily, the way her sister would. “It wouldn’t do to be seen together by them. We haven’t been introduced, you know.  You do understand, don’t you?”
“Oh, sure, I understand.” He nodded vigorously. “Wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea about you.”
“No,” she said with a light laugh. “People will talk. They haven’t got much else to do around here.”
“I’ll wait up here for a spell. It’s such a beautiful day, it’s a pleasure. You go on home, Miss Daniels.”
“All right.” She extended her hand. He shook it. His hand was fleshy and warm, the skin surprisingly soft.  Melanie blushed to the roots of her hair.
“Until tomorrow, at two?” Mr. Throckmorton said.
“Until tomorrow. Good day.”  Melanie hurried down the hill, not daring to look behind her. If she looked back, he’d be looking at her, and she didn’t know if she could bear that just at the moment. Melanie didn’t know which frightened her more, his interest in her or her reaction to his interest.
The gang of boys in front of the garage were between thirteen and nineteen years old; a cheaply dressed, loud, obnoxious crew. Sometimes their loitering spot of choice was in front of White’s Candy and Soda Emporium; more often it was Saxton’s Garage (Ford Authorized Sales and Service), because Saxton didn’t care if the boys were there and White did. No unmarried woman in Muller’s Corners was safe from the boys’ lascivious cat-calls.  Melanie was a particular favorite. It was a gauntlet she ran at least once a week when she went to the market, because the garage was on the only road leading in and out of the village. She didn’t dare look at any of the boys, lest they take it as encouragement.
Melanie went hot and cold all over, hearing the low murmurs begin. But she kept walking, head high, eyes fastened on a point in the middle distance.  I’m better than all of you, I’m better than all of you, I’m better than all of you, she repeated with each step.
“Hey there, baby doll,” said Lucas Freeman, one of the older boys. He had been two years behind her at school. “Have fun at the dance?”
“How’s the old doc doing?” said another boy. “Killed any whores lately?”
“You rape ‘em, we scrape ‘em,” a youth said, to raucous guffaws from his fellows.
“How’s about some squeezin’? Hey, Rufus, how’d you like to get her behind the baseball field?”
“Ah, she’s too old,” said Rufus, a virile specimen of fifteen.
Melanie was shaking all over by the time they were out of her earshot.  She wanted them all to burn in everlasting flames.  Thank heaven Mr.Throckmorton had stayed behind.  The boys only said what everybody thought but was too polite to say.