October 10th, 2013

Interview with Author John Florio

Writer John Florio is the author of “Sugar Pop Moon,” a novel set during the Prohibition era that features a mixed-race albino named Jersey Leo. His adventures take him from the speakeasies of Brooklyn to Philadelphia—which should be of interest to those Philly transplants in our area. The author will be reading from his novel and talking about writing in general on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 2-3 p.m. at the Chesapeake City Branch Library. In preparation for his visit, we asked the author a few questions for the library blog.
John Florio headshot 2013
Why did you choose to make your main character, Jersey Leo, an albino?
The Jersey Leo stories are really about all biases, not just albinism. Had Jersey been a different minority or scarred in some other way, the basic conflicts could have been the same. But there’s a strong, unaddressed bias against those with albinism and it seemed to me that this would be an interesting way to address it.

What interested you about the Prohibition era?
I’ve always been interested in 20th-century American culture, and find those years particularly interesting—not just the bootlegging, but the fashion, the music, the celebrities. Plus, I grew up on Humphrey Bogart movies and hard-boiled detective stories, so I felt at home with the material. I often tell people that I wrote “Sugar Pop Moon” in black-and-white—that is, I pictured many scenes in black-and-white as I was writing them.

What are some of your favorite books and movies set during the time period?SPM cover 96dpi
I really enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s “Live by Night”; and I just began Kevin Baker’s “Big Crowd,” which is excellent. Movies include the Bogart canon, along with Cagney, Garfield, and Howard Hawks (director). Off the top of my head, I’ll throw out “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and “Public Enemy.”

There’s a lot of boxing history and lore in “Sugar Pop Moon.” Tell us a little about that.
I’m fascinated by 20th-century American pop culture, and boxing’s heavyweight champions were a large part of it. I just released a non-fiction book, “One Punch from the Promised Land,” about Leon and Michael Spinks, heavyweight champs back in the ’70s and ’80s. You could put that book on the same shelf as “Sugar Pop Moon.”  Not because both include boxing, but because, to me, boxing and noir go hand in hand. In fact, many 20th-century noir writers have been captivated by the world of boxing—not the sport itself, necessarily, but the stories that surround it. The first name that comes to mind is Budd Schulberg, but there are so many others.

Will this be your first trip to Maryland? Have you ever eaten a crab?
I have friends who live in Baltimore, so I’m not a total stranger to the area. When I got married, the gang took my wife and me to a place that served crabs. I think it may have been called Costa’s, although I’m not sure. What I do remember is a hammer, a pile of shells, Old Bay, and a cold beer. Tremendous.

Join us Saturday, October 19 at 2pm at the Chesapeake City Branch to hear more from John Florio about his book and his writing process.  Call 410-996-1134 to sign up or click here.


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April 22nd, 2013

The British are Coming! Spreading the News about the War of 1812

USS_Constitution_vs_GuerriereIn the Spring of 1813, exactly 200 years ago, war came to the upper Chesapeake Bay. The War of 1812, declared nearly a year before by President James Madison and followed by an ill-fated invasion of Canada, surely seemed far removed to many Marylanders. But rumors of war changed to all-too-real smoke and flame with the arrival of British forces commanded by Admiral Sir George Cockburn.

Cockburn’s orders were quite clear—he was to wreak havoc and punish Americans as part of an amphibious campaign that would eventually reach from Norfolk to Havre de Grace. The sight of a British flag soon struck fear in the hearts of Marylanders up and down the Chesapeake.

While the war would continue for months to come and lead to the burning of Washington, the battle of Baltimore and the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and ultimately the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, Chesapeake Bay residents faced the worst of the British onslaught beginning in April 1813.

On Monday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m., join accomplished historian Mike Dixon for “Spread the News: The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake,” offering a look at how news and information was shared in an era before the instant communication we take for granted today.

Two centuries previously, the British campaign directly impacted Cecil County residents. Dixon will share anecdotes from local residents of the day, as well as details about the British rampages on the Sassafras River, Frenchtown, Elkton,  Principio and Havre de Grace—where much of the riverfront town was put to the torch despite the efforts of the heroic John O’Neill.

Mr. Dixon will be exploring how reports of the British campaign spread like wildfire, causing panic in some quarters, and in others prompting the local militia to organize a defense. He will also share some of the new discoveries that have come to light about the location of the earthworks at Elk Landing, the local historic site that played a key role in the defense of Elkton or “Head of Elk,” as it was then called.

“The times in these parts has been troublesome,” wrote militia Captain Andrew Hall of the 30th Maryland Regiment that took part in the defense of Elkton. “Our waters has been polluted with the English since last spring and is yet. They’re blockading all our seaport towns which causes merchandise of all sorts to be very high … on the 28th (of April) the British landed at Frenchtown two miles below Elkton and set it on fire, and consumed it to ashes and would have destroyed Elkton if they had not got cowed by the shot of one cannonball from a small battery thrown up at (Elk Landing).”

The War 1812 is sometimes called the Second War of Independence or even the Forgotten War, although so much of the action took place almost in our backyards here in Cecil County. After this talk, you’ll know and appreciate far more about what the War of 1812 meant for those who lived in Cecil County two centuries before.

Registration is requested due to limited seating for this talk, so please call 410-996-1134 or click here to sign up.


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