[TOP IMAGE: Margaret Bourke-White]

hello, hearters :)
On June 17, three months after Lockdown started here in Los Angeles, I started writing a novel called (for now) Manhattan Moxie.
It's set in 1935 and is about LOTTIE LYONS, a young woman from Pasadena, CA who goes to NYC to find her fortune - and love, excitement, satin dresses, late night jazz joints, shared apartments with a tiny bathroom but a good coffee percolator and lovely friends, a Proper Career and how to deal with ambitious femme fatale types who are gloriously wicked - and so on.
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I'm now just a smidgen over 20,000 words into it (I think it's going to be a novella - not very slim - but about 60,000 words, eventually - we'll see).
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Anyway, in the spirit of sharing, here's where I'm up to now - Lottie has got a job as a reporter on a newspaper and this is what happens in her first two hours there.

MANHATTAN MOXIE

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In the elevator, Lottie saw her face was shiny and her one smart navy dress with the pearl buttons and a white detachable collar was all wrong.

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There were very few women in the lobby, and only two in the elevator, but they all wore variations on a theme of tweed tailoring in the skirt suit line with a crisp blouse.

By the time the elevator reached the eleventh floor, Lottie was ready to run and buy a ticket back to Pasadena. What had she been thinking? A few months of freelancing in the mid-market women’s magazine world had not prepared her for the loud, clamoring, smoke-filled, male-heavy newsroom of a daily newspaper.

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No one looked up from their typewriter as she approached. In fact several ignored her outright when she asked where Mickey Brierley sat. She could see Olive - or at least Olive’s gesticulating hands - above the half-frosted door of the conference room.

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Mickey was probably in there, she thought, and looked around for a spare desk. There wasn’t one, so she took an empty trash can and turned it upside down, sitting on it, with her precious notes in a folder resting on the corner of the table, while she figured out what to do next.

She felt thirsty, and looked around for a water cooler, but couldn’t see one. If she got ignored asking for the editor-in-chief, she was sure a request for refreshment was going to be met with outright derision.

“BOY!” shouted one of the reporters on the large table at the center of the room. He was holding up a sheaf of papers in his left hand, while his right cradled a phone, one of three he was working at the same time, barking instructions into one, listening into another, while scratching out notes on a legal pad with a chewed down pencil.

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don't smoke, it's hell to quit.

He looked like Clark Gable in one of his classic tough guy roles: worse the wear with a vicious hangover and still wearing the same shirt since yesterday. A young man ran over and took the sheets out of his hand. “Brierley,” said the reporter, tersely, nodding over at a closed office door in the corner of the vast newsroom.

Lottie stood up suddenly and almost knocked her papers, and the copy boy, flying. “Watch it, sister!” said the boy, before sprinting across the office towards Brierley’s door. She followed him but the reporter stuck out his hand rudely, almost cutting her off at the waist. She flinched at the male contact.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he said, gruffly.

She looked at him from her not-very-great-height and said nothing. Mainly because she didn’t trust her voice to come out right, she was so nervous, and also because she knew that reporters don’t wait for permission.

“I said, where do you think you’re going?”

All she could do was indicate in the direction of the editor-in-chief’s office and move as quickly across the room as she could. Careful not to bash into any of the reporters who were all seemingly in constant motion, she finally got to the other side, just as Amaryllis walked out of Brierley’s office.

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Amaryllis stood talking by the door, and Lottie didn’t know whether to run, duck under a desk, or brazen it out. She felt a hand on her arm and almost jumped into the air. It was the Clark Gable type.

“Listen, kid, he’s not hiring stenographers right now, and especially not someone as fresh-faced as you.”

Finally, she found her voice. “I’m not a typist,” said Lottie, firmly. “I’m a reporter and Mr. Brierley hired me last night.”

“Last night?”

“Yes, I spoke with him at Chumley’s and told him about my interview with Chester Lennox.”

“Chumley’s?” he said, as if he couldn’t believe his ears.

At that moment Amaryllis called over: “Bill? Can you settle a dispute for us, darling?” If she’d seen Lottie, she gave no clue that she cared.

“Chester Lennox, huh?” said the reporter, whom Lottie figured was “Bill” (and “darling” she noted).

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“Did you meet him at Chumley’s too?”

“I interviewed him at his hotel after he played at the Savoy Ballroom - in Harlem,” she added, unnecessarily.

“I know where the Savoy Ballroom is,” laughed Bill. Then he grabbed her arm. “Come with me,” and marched Lottie straight into Mickey Brierley’s office, barely acknowledging Amaryllis’ presence, who stepped aside, but then followed them back into the room.

There was only one spare seat without a pile of papers on it. Amaryllis sat on it, pulled her skirt slightly up and smoothed an imaginary wrinkle in her stocking. Lottie knew she’d never have the effect on men that Amaryllis did.

But when she looked over at Bill, he was deliberately not catching Amaryllis’ act. She figured he’d seen it all before, and stifled a smile.

Unfortunately Amaryllis, who missed nothing, saw it and glared.

Mickey Brierley looked like he’d not slept since she last saw him.

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His face was craggy with exhaustion. The desk was littered with coffee cups, some put into dual-use as ashtrays, and two stenographers were typing into machines at either end of his long desk.

Behind him, Lottie could see into the next building.

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Each floor was demarcated into offices. Some looked like insurance, or ladies’ milliners. Then, directly opposite, a garment sweatshop full of Chinese workers gave an unwelcome insight into how other people barely survived New York.

“You’re late,” growled Brierely.

It was useless to complain about the boys on the front desk, or the reporters who ignored her in the newsroom, especially on her first day, Lottie knew that much. Silently she handed over her article. He didn’t take it. She looked for a space on his desk to place her folder but the look on his face made her think twice.

Olive J. Cooper put her head around the door and saw Lottie. “Hello again, rookie,” she said, quickly. Then turned to Bill. “Got the pages back yet?”

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“No,” said Bill, but didn’t go back to his desk.

Brierley lit another cigarette, even though one was burning in the coffee cup nearest his hand, and looked for a place to rest it. Lottie was amazed he’d never set fire to this building. Everyone waited for him to speak. He ran his fingers through his somewhat greasy hair and wiped them on the side of his chair. Lottie nearly gagged. But was fascinated all the same.
This was a real newspaper office, with a real newspaper editor, and she was surrounded by real reporters. Including Amaryllis for some reason.

“You know each other?” said Mickey, finally, looking between Olive and Lottie.

“We had breakfast together, at Max’s Diner,” said Lottie. It wasn’t strictly true, and she knew it, and so did everyone else in the room.

“I bought the kid eggs,” said Olive, frowning at her slightly. “She said you’d hired her.”

“You hired her?” said Amaryllis, shocked.

Mickey Brierley shifted in his seat. It was clear he didn’t remember much from last night.

“We had a drink at Chumley’s,” said Lottie, rather too eagerly, “And discussed my interview with Chester Lennox.”

Again - not strictly true but the facts were all in the right place. They had drunk together. Her article did come up for discussion. She knew she’d made it sound as if both Olive had invited her for breakfast, and Mickey for a drink. But she wanted to get ahead so badly that she was willing to be as ballsy as it took.

“Oh, Lottie,” said Amaryllis, patronizingly. “I just got the go-ahead from Teddy Taylor to give a preview of my Savoy Ballroom story in MODE to the Dispatch.”

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It was completely the wrong thing to say. Mickey Brierley stood up and Lottie saw that he towered over everyone in the office, even Bill.

“Teddy S. Taylor doesn’t dictate to ME what goes in the Dispatch,” he snarled, doing the clicking motion with his hand towards Lottie’s sheets.
She realized that meant ‘hand it over - and now’. So she did.

He leaned back against the casement windows and read her corrected draft. She’d done everything he asked for. Lottie held her breath. Olive and Bill exchanged a look which she couldn’t decipher. Amaryllis quietly fumed and checked her stockings again.

They were, of course, wrinkle-free, and her shoes brilliantly polished, and not by her. Lottie looked down at her own navy pumps and wished she’d done a better job of polishing them before she left the apartment this morning.

“Hmmm,” said Mickey, thoughtfully. “Now you’re sure this is all on the record?” He looked for her byline on the front page. “Lottie Lyons? That’s your real name?” He didn’t sound as if he liked it one bit.

“Well, Carlotta Grace Lyons, is my real name,” stammered Lottie.

“Kinda ‘society columnist’,” snorted Bill, who didn’t make it sound like a compliment. He also said it while looking at Amaryllis Michaelides, who came from a wealthy family so the insult was a double blow.

Lottie cleared her throat. “Now I’m a reporter on the Dispatch,” she said, bravely, avoiding everyone’s eyes but the editor’s, “I’d like to be known by my initials - C.G. Lyons.”

“I should have done that years ago,” sighed Olive, grabbing Bill’s sleeve. “Come on, we’re on deadline.”

Bill was considering Lottie’s byline choice. “Yeah, not bad. And no one will know you’re a woman, either.”

“Exactly,” said Lottie, suddenly bold.

The two men laughed. Amaryllis did not. Lottie knew Amaryllis traded on her feminine charms, which only added to her considerable talent as a writer. Lottie didn’t have that option. She only had talent, and it was nascent at best.

“But Mickey,” said Amaryllis, standing up and looking exquisitely fragile and appealing all at the same time.

Mickey held up his hand. “Look, I said I’d only think about it, and I have. Lyons’ story is good. She’d done exactly what I asked. Plus, you know as well as I do, Dispatch readers don’t care about upcoming stories in MODE, they care about jazz musicians from the Delta.”

He picked up one of the phones on his desk. “Bring me those pictures Jesse’s stringer took in Harlem.”

Amaryllis picked up her purse and walked towards the door. With her back to Mickey she gave Lottie a vicious stare, then it left her face as quickly as it had arrived. She turned around: “You win some, you lose some,” she said, sweetly, and left. Lottie exhaled as quietly as she could, but she knew she was shaking.

A picture desk editor rushed in with a folder of black and white prints. He looked at Lottie and did a double take. The picture of Lottie and Chester Lennox was on top of the pile. Mickey grabbed it.

“That was YOU?” he said, showing her the photograph, searching on his desk for the edition it had run in.

“Yes, I told you,” said Lottie, firmly. “I was at the Savoy Ballroom with some friends who - well - I lost them as the crowd left. So Chester took me to his hotel, bought me breakfast, and agreed to an interview,” she indicated the story in Mickey’s hand.

“You were there the same night as Amaryllis Michaelides?” he said, confused.

“Yes, I know her nephew James,” she said, hoping against hope that this wouldn’t mean her story got spiked.

“The one marrying the heiress?”

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“Juliette Ripley, yes.”

“You know her too?” demanded Mickey.

Lottie didn’t like where this was going. She just nodded.

“You some kinda society dame?” barked Mickey. Lottie shook her head vigorously. “Where you from?” he said, suspiciously. Lottie realized her newspaper career might be over before it had begun.

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“Pasadena,” she said, quietly, knowing enough not to say Los Angeles to a hard-boiled reporter from the East Coast.

He just snorted. His family were originally from San Francisco, but you wouldn’t find that in his cuttings file, or bio. Then a lightbulb went off. “Can you get an invite to her wedding?”

It couldn’t get worse. Not only was he putting her on the society beat, he was testing her by seeing if she’d betray familial connections - if she had what it took to be a real reporter. Lottie stood tall and hoped he couldn’t see the sweat marks gathering her arms, ruining her one good navy dress. “I’m a bridesmaid,” she said, carefully, “So it would be a conflict of interest.”

Mickey roared with laughter. “I don’t care about the Ripley wedding,” he said, “I want a story from Caltech and I don’t want to pay for you to go cross-country to get it. We don’t have MODE budgets like Teddy S. Taylor does, with all his fancy perfume ads.”

That made all the difference. She had been dreading going back to Pasadena. But if the wedding was just an interlude between assignments she’d feel much more relaxed about it.

The picture desk editor took the shots that Mickey had marked up and nodded. “What page, Chief?”

“Stick this after Bill’s fight story.”

“Right you are, Chief.”

Mickey turned to Lottie and handed her a red pencil. She knew what he was asking her to do. She walked over to his desk, took the top sheet of her story from him, crossed out “Lottie Lyons” and wrote - in caps - “C.G. Lyons”.

“You sure, now?” grinned Mickey, looking quizzically at her. “A byline is sacred, Lyons.”

She nodded, overcome with emotion, which she knew Mickey Brierley would be on the lookout for, so she stayed as stoic as possible on the surface. She had to be as brave as the boys. Or she’d not last a week in the crazy newsroom out there.

“One last question, Lyons,” threatened Mickey. “You’re not planning on copying your friend Juliette Ripley anytime soon are you?”

Lottie was shocked. “No, Chief!”

He laughed as if he’d heard it all before. “Okay. Well, welcome to the Dispatch, Lyons. You’re on trial for ninety days. Take the desk by the copy boys and Olive will give you an assignment for Friday’s paper.”

“Thank you, Chief,” breathed Lottie, but Mickey had already picked up a phone and was barking orders into it, his back to the door.

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She located her desk. The red pencil which Mickey had handed to her was still gripped in her fist. There were two empty coffee cups on her desk which looked clean. She peered inside to check. Then she put the red pencil in one of them and grabbed the other to look for the coffee machine.

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to be continued.....