While all Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, a sudden orphanhood casts its icy shadow across Emily Ann Teegarten, a pretty young teen. Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, “Baby” Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that makes church ladies cry and angels take notice. “I’m gonna sing jazz up to New York City,” she brags to anybody who’ll listen. ‘Cept that Big Apple-well, it’s an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she used to call home. So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all kinda shortcuts, Emily soon learns it’s the whorehouses and drug joints promising to tickle more than just a young girl’s fancy that can dim a spotlight . . . and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out. Jazz Baby just wants to sing-not fight to stay alive.
Jazz Baby is currently Number One on the Indietribe Top Ten Indie Books
“Jazz Baby” by Beem Weeks is a very authentic feeling and atmospheric novel set in 1925 New Orleans. The dreams of a young white, talented Jazz singer, are slightly shattered by family tragedies and other obstacles in her way to fame. Story telling from a young voice often has the quality of honesty and rawness that befits the at times bleek or sad character of the book.
Weeks captures the colourful and varied aspects of the place and time wonderfully, just as we would imagine it: A young girl’s naive dreams of fame in New York and the famous Jazz clubs, the ongoing prohibition, latent or obvious racism, the Southern accent and the harsh, rough and seedy sides of the city and of those circles aspiring to become famous artists.
There is quite a lot of sex in the book – Jazz baby also has ties with a brothel and mixes with some drug users while growing up and pursuing her dream.
I enjoyed reading the book and got through it very quickly. There were times when the authentic use of the accent felt maybe a bit too much for my European ears and I wanted the story to go on for a little longer.
Technically and stylistically however the book is of high quality, well paced, plotted and told and with carefully and lovingly constructed characters that stayed with me long after I had finished the book. This is great novel from an author to watch.
Tell us a little something about yourself as both a person and an author:
I’m a 46-year-old divorced father of two grown children, and grandfather of twin girls. After years of drinking to excess and chain-smoking, I’ve quit all the bad habits and have become a fitness nut over the last decade or so. Living a clean life has really helped my writing. I have greater focus, a better grasp on mechanics, and a stronger desire to create work worthy of release to the book-buying public. I love loud heavy music, great indie films, and a well-told story. I’ve really been enjoying life in recent years, which I suppose comes with age. The older I get, the less I worry about all those things that have never been in my control.
What made you decide to be a writer?
I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I co-wrote a play way back when I was 10 years old. A take on the time-machine theme, I believe. We were invited to rehearse it and perform for our fellow students—as well as for the school faculty. Short stories followed. I just fell in love with the idea that written words strung together could create what doesn’t really exist—and still be interesting. There are certain stories that have the power to draw emotion from the reader. If an author can write a scene that makes me laugh, cry, or want to break something, they’ve done a splendid job. I wanted that power from a very early age.
What made you pick that particular time and the issues involved? Do any of them have a particular personal significance to you?
I chose the year of 1925 for my novel Jazz Baby because I’ve always been fascinated by the Roaring Twenties as an era. This is the most amazing time in history—from an inventions standpoint. Those who lived during that decade invented, not only products, but they invented culture and ways of life. Movie theatres grew in popularity during the twenties. Automobiles became a common mode of transportation, allowing for ease of travel. The invention of the phonograph player and radio brought popular music into homes and businesses in ways only live musicians had previously been able to do. With prohibition, speakeasies sprang up all over the United States, allowing women an opportunity to belly-up to the bar—same as a man. Prior to the speakeasy, saloons dotted the landscape; and no self-respecting woman would be caught dead or alive in a saloon. But the speakeasy was a different sort of animal, a product of the times, a thing that belonged to the generation coming of age at that time. Women had only just received the right to vote in 1920. Flappers became the fashion plates—which meant dresses became shorter, putting sexuality on display. Girls and women were feeling their oats. They demanded equal opportunities, a level playing field. As for personal significance, there really isn’t anything I can put my finger on. I write to tell a story I hope will entertain readers. I wanted a character—a young girl—coming of age during this time of great change. She’s drawn in by the sweeping vistas of New America—a place where no isn’t a stumbling block to girls and women. My POV character—Emily Ann—has never known any of the hardships that her mother might have known simply for being female. Emily sees the world through the magazines she’s been reading, and she wants her portion, her share—and damn the fool that stands in her way. She’s too full of curiosities to be told no!
How do you come up with your ideas?
It all starts with that idea of: What if? With Jazz Baby, the character came to me first. This young, feisty, impressionable girl who has the whole world figured out—or so she believes—and sets out to leave her mark. She wants fame and fortune from singing jazz. Pieces of the plot came from stories my grandparents told of the 1920s and 1930s, of how the world had changed right after the First World War, when this carefree attitude began to permeate the younger generation coming up in this decade. We see that today with those children born in the 1990s. They’ve never known a time without smart phones, Xbox, the internet. Those of us born decades earlier still remember when television offered only three channels to choose from, computers were for managing household budgets, and phone calls made from outside of the home were made on payphones—not a cell in your pocket! The 2000s were sort of like the 1920s in the technology aspect. I saw that and imagined that a kid in the twenties might have more in common with a kid in the 2000s than either may consider. Some of the scenes in Jazz Baby were pulled from modern stories on the evening news. I saw a report on underage kids getting into clubs with fake identifications—I drank at a club for two years before being legal, because of a fake ID. And so often these kids don’t even look old enough. It gave me the idea to put Emily in those speakeasies. This would be where she’d seek her ticket to get to New York. Nobody checked IDs in the 1920s. Nobody really cared enough to stop such activities. I also used an old high school American history book to fill in the cracks. That came in quite handy for accuracy.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took the better part of a decade to write and complete Jazz Baby. I put it through numerous re-writes, plot changes, and even a change in era. Jazz Baby was originally set in 1939, with the character of Emily being older, an artist, and on her way to Paris to study. I hated that early manuscript. It just bored the hell out of me. If I’m bored with it, others will be just as bored. The twenties offered so much more: prohibition, speakeasies, and that era of new. So after five years of work, I completely changed the plot, the character, and re-wrote the story now available to readers all across the world.
How many rewrites did it take you?
I’d guess that to be somewhere around seven. I wrote the original manuscript by hand and burned through a lot of paper and pens. I still have the final hand-written manuscript, complete with edits and notes in the margins.
What is your writing environment like?
I have to have silence. On the author’s website Koobug.com several of us writers recently engaged in a conversation about this very subject. Some writers need music to aid their concentration. Stephen King tells of locking himself inside his home office, cranking up the stereo with AC/DC or Metallica, and banging out chapters worthy of best-seller lists. AC/DC and Metallica are two of my all-time favourite bands. But I can’t focus enough to write if there’s a challenge for my attention. I did listen to some old-school jazz from the 1920s and 1930s while fleshing out a few of the speakeasy scenes in Jazz Baby; but I need silence and limited distractions when I set pen to paper. As for the writing by hand, well, I’m using my laptop for the second novel—though having paper in front of me does allow for a look at the big picture that is the story I’m telling.
Who does your editing / quality control?
The indie author Stephen Geez is my editor, quality control, and second set of eyes. He has degrees in English from the University of Michigan, has written several fantastic novels, and offers keen insight into putting a good story together. I trust him completely. I was able to bounce ideas off him, and his feedback proved vital to many key scenes in the story. If I choose to change a scene and have this happen, he’ll point out the possible consequences the change could have on an earlier scene. So then I’ll need to go back and set up that earlier scene. He’s really a brilliant writer and a great friend. But even with three and four sets of eyes on my manuscript, a few errors and typos crept into the final copy. Those have been noted and should be fixed at some point.
Would you say your book has a message, and if so, what would it be?
I’m not sure there’s a message here. I get emails from readers often pointing out the “message” in the novel or in one of my short stories. And that message sounds wonderful—though not intentional. If somebody takes away some sort of message or lesson, great. I hope it’s helpful to that particular reader. Truthfully, I’m only trying to tell a story and entertain readers. I’m not going to preach about social ills or injustices. Those things exist in our daily world. I offer my stories as a means to escape those daily horrors—even if only for a moment. Sure, many of those injustices and social ills creep into my writings. We, as humans, are flawed creatures. We so often do the wrong things. In Jazz Baby, Emily Ann is good for doing the wrong things. But she also does the right thing from time to time. She’s dealing with racial issues (a white girl singing with a Negro jazz band), sexuality that runs afoul of what’s preached in her church, and an era when females are only just beginning to use their voices. She’s at odds with many from the previous generation, be it her mother or aunt or the secretary in the sheriff’s office. She stands her ground, though. When her Aunt Frannie judges another girl for her perceived lesbianism, Emily points out that it’s nothing but rumour—since nobody has ever witnessed this girl doing the unthinkable. Hypocrite, Emily screams, without uttering the word. If there is a message here, it’s that all of us are flawed. There is none good, no, not one. We all have, at times in life, made the wrong choices. We all-too-often seek after what we want rather than what we need. Sometimes that means trading our very souls for fame or fortune—or both.
How do you find the experience of being an independent writer?
I love what I’m doing as a writer. It truly amazes me to receive emails from readers all over the world telling me how much they’ve enjoyed my work. That still excites the hell out of me. Working with The Fresh Ink Group has been a wonderful experience. They’ve made it a pleasure from the start of this project. I’ve had final say in every aspect of Jazz Baby’s publication. And a 75% royalty rate does not suck! The only drawback is the lack of a big marketing budget. As indie writers, we have to do much of the promotion and publicity on our own. It’s difficult work, sure, but with the internet and sites like Goodreads.com, theindietribe.wordpress.com, and koobug.com things are made easier. I’m just starting to discover blog sites like yours, offering interviews and book reviews. I am truly thankful for this opportunity you, Christoph, have presented.
You say you are also a great reader. Who are your favourite authors?
I enjoy anybody who can tell a strong story. I find Barbara Kingsolver to be just brilliant with her novel The Poisonwood Bible. She really captures the voices of the characters telling their stories in this wonderful book. Each voice stands apart from the others. There’s never any confusion as to which character is speaking. Stephen Geez is a personal favourite—and not just because he’s a friend. I’ve read most of his novels and short stories. I’ve even read many before they were completed. I find it fascinating to watch his stories take shape prior publication. I’m also a new fan of Sienna Rose, whose novel Bridge Ices Before Road just grabbed hold of my imagination and still hasn’t let go. Alice Sebold is amazing. Janet Fitch wrote a masterpiece with White Oleander. I like anything from Clive Barker. And for some of those who feel there might be too much sexuality in Jazz Baby, see The End of Alice by A. M. Homes. Great writer, Ms. Homes, though quite dark at times. I love the dark stuff, though; it’s real and often forces us to confront the demons of humanity.
Did you picture any actors or actual people when writing your characters?
I did—though it would be impossible to get that particular actress today if this were to become a movie. I envisioned Brooke Shields, circa 1978, when she starred in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby. Obviously Ms. Shields is well past Emily’s age today, so that’s out of the question. I recently saw the movie Hick. Chloe Grace Moretz played a character similar to Emily Ann. She’d be an interesting consideration. As for the other characters, I never really pictured actual people while writing this. I do have mental visuals of what each character looks like.
What else would you like us to know about your book?
The accuracy of the story’s era is important to note. I put an awful lot of time, effort, and research into this book. I learned a lot about the 1920s while writing Jazz Baby. A story that is full of inaccuracies quickly falls apart. I once read a fantastic story by an author I won’t name; great writing with a strong plot, this particular novel. Problem is, this author has his characters riding around in a car in 1928, listening to the radio, singing popular songs of the day. Then, a few months later, I see this documentary on the History Channel explaining how radios didn’t make it into cars until 1932. A minor error, sure; but that error stands out to me whenever I think of that book. I tried to avoid a situation like that with Jazz Baby. I believe it’s important to keep an era accurate in writing. But, hey, nobody’s perfect.
Have you plans for your next book?
I’m working on it. I’m five chapters in at this point. Another historical fiction/coming-of-age story set in 1910. I don’t expect it to take a decade to complete; I’ve learned technique since Jazz Baby. Hopefully it’ll be ready by next winter or spring of 2014. I’m always working on short stories, though. Those are published on the Fresh Ink Group site, as well as other sites.
I have an author’s page
Jazz Baby can be purchased at
Jazz Baby is currently Number One on the Indietribe Top Ten Indie Books
Here is the woman who connected me with Beem, Sienna Rose, who by chance is No Five in the same listing this week. Her review:
Jazz Baby reminds me of the time when I, as a small child, peeled open my very first pomegranate. Hidden beneath the unassuming skin I discovered a treasure of sparkling, edible ruby-red jewels that felt smooth to the tongue and when bitten, burst into a luscious sweetness with a tart, sassy edge. So too with Jazz Baby!
In the interest of disclosure I offered to review the novel for author, Beem Weeks, and was forthwith gifted a paperback copy (since I’m an old fogy who hasn’t broken down and bought a Kindle or other reading devise). I hefted the small book-only 205 pages-in my hand, admired the cover and commenced to reading. From the first pages, the voice of protagonist/narrator, Emily Ann A.K.A. Baby Teegarten demands your attention with the raw power one would expect of a character who is a natural born vocal artist. It is easy to imagine her belting out soulful tunes to the accompaniment of various rag-tag “colored” jazz musicians, who more than make up in spirit for what they lack in musical training.
The novel is set in the deep South during prohibition, in a backwater place called Rayford, Mississippi, with forays over the river to New Orleans where drinkin’, druggin’, whorin’ and the occasional murder are inextricably entwined with the jazz scene of the speak-easies. The language is so southern that as I read, I could almost feel the heat and humidity rise, and swear I smelled a hint of swamp water wafting in. Perhaps it’s due to the languid climate, or maybe it was something in the water, but for Emily Ann, just about everyone she encounters (‘cept maybe Aunt Frannie) – from the Choctaw Indian boy who works in the garden to the colored help, a girl about her own age— whips up a lust in her loins. I declare, belts come a-loose and panties flutter to the floor like magnolia blossoms in a stiff breeze.
There are moments when Mr. Week’s writing danced with its back to an erotica cliff, one foot over the edge and the other on an oil slick; truth be told, I think he fell off more than once, but that’s for you to decide. (If you have curious children about the house, you might want to stash the paperback in your sock drawer and read it after they go to bed.) In any case, I can just about guarantee that you will not be bored. The tempo is steady and throbbing as a hot jazz tune; the characters and their adventures are as wild and dangerous as a swamp full of alligators (oh yes, there is a scene with a gator!) I couldn’t stop turning the pages and finished it the second day.
In the final analysis, Apples are good for leaving on the schoolmarm’s desk, but pomegranates, well…they’re for something else altogether, so go ahead and drink in the sumptuous juice of Jazz Baby.