Thursday, August 10, 2023

My Jazz Age Novel Is on Sale Today!

The Orchid Hour finds its place in the world today, and I feel proud and happy. Not that there haven't been bumps and setbacks on the road to publication. There have. And I expect more to come. But I worked hard on writing the book while taking great pleasure in doing the research. It was difficult and fun at the same time. What more can you ask for in writing fiction?

Now the story can be enjoyed as a paperback, an ebook, or an audiobook in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. 

The Amazon link is here.

For other links, go here.

“Bilyeau brilliantly evokes the intoxicating grit and glamour of Jazz Age Manhattan and layers a smooth blend of suspense and romance on top. Historical mystery fans will find this irresistible.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review 

"A gloriously heady and intimate tale of love, loss, and family, set within one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century." -- LoveReadingUK

Featured in Town and Country‘s “Must-Read Books of Summer 2023”

"From the family shops of Little Italy to the bright lights of Dreamland, Nancy Bilyeau takes you on a glittering tour of a bygone New York… " – Mariah Fredericks, author of The Lindbergh Nanny

"This is a novel redolent with sensuality, intrigue, and suspense. If you like Agatha Christie, you will love The Orchid Hour." -- Paulette Kennedy, author of Parting the Veil and The Witch of Tin Mountain

'Nancy Bilyeau has created a beautifully layered and utterly seductive tale… and, at its living, tender heart, a strong-willed and magnetic heroine.' – Emilya Naymark, author of Behind the Lie, finalist for the 2023 Sue Grafton Award

"Evokes the Jazz Age at its hottest" --Richie Narvaez, author of Hipster Death Rattle

"Nancy Bilyeau has become my go-to author for brilliantly written historical suspense... Read it and be seduced." - Kris Waldherr, author of Unnatural Creatures and The Lost History of Dreams

With a heroine you can’t help rooting for, a fascinating cast of characters, and a tense, high-stakes mystery at its heart, this is a book you can’t stop reading.' – Olivia Hawker, bestselling author of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

"Nancy Bilyeau draws you effortlessly into a layered story, rich in historical detail, with a strong, intelligent, determined heroine at its center. I loved Zia from page one."--Barbara Claypole White, author of The Perfect Son

'The Orchid Hour… reeks with the smell of lasagna in Little Italy, the smell of cheap gin in a 1920s speakeasy, and most importantly and most delicately with the scent of orchids at midnight… her best by far, and she’d already set a high bar.' – Timothy Miller, author of The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Hidden Street I Chose for The Orchid Hour


And now I’d like to take you behind the scenes of my writing process and explain my choice of a location for my fictional nightclub, The Orchid Hour. Some of the best-known clubs of the Roaring Twenties were either in midtown (The El Fey Club) or Harlem (The Cotton Club). I contributed a guest post to author Tony Riche’s blog on Times Square of the 1920s. Read it here.

But in certain ways, I wanted to model my nightclub on Chumley’s, a real-life speakeasy in the West Village. While it was favored by literary stars like Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Eugene O’Neill, it was carefully hidden. Its Barrow Street entrance was located at the end of a nondescript courtyard, and the Bedford Street entrance to Chumley’s was an unmarked door. After all, the whole point was to hide their drinking from the police!

For The Orchid Hour, I wanted to pick a place closer to the main part of Greenwich Village but on a little-known street. So I settled on MacDougal Alley. It’s a cul-de-sac that runs east off MacDougal Street in the block between West 8th Street and Waverly Place. People who love Greenwich Village history cherish MacDougal Alley.

Named after a Scotsman who was a hero of the Revolutionary War, the alley was home to the stables for the great townhouses along Washington Square North beginning in the 1830s. Despite its proximity to people who would have felt comfortable in a Henry James novel, the alley was in an area considered unsafe. The newspapers complained that this part of the city was “in the nighttime infested with base and unprincipled persons, who take advantage of the darkness in consequence of the dense foliage of the trees and the dimness of the ordinary street oil lamps to perpetrate acts of violence.”  When gas lamps were installed in 1849, there was some relief.

MacDougal Alley is technically a “mews,” which means it’s a row or street of houses or apartments that have been converted from stables. Around the time that horses were replaced by automobiles, MacDougal Alley became a beacon to artists, perhaps drawn by the ivy-covered brick walls and the gas lamps. Many of the buildings were turned into artists’ studios.

 Here are just a few of the people who lived off MacDougal Alley:
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, had a studio on the alley, prompting horrified headlines such as "Daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt Will Live in Dingy New York Alley.”
  • A beautiful artist’s model and silent film actress named Audrey Marie Munson dubbed “American Venus” lived there around 1915. As one newspaper put it: “ ‘Venus of MacDougal Alley,’ Whose Beauty Is Embalmed in a Thousand Sculptures.” Later a man would murder his wife in hopes of marrying Munson and that dimmed her career.
  • Isamu Noguchi, after a stay in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona, moved to a home and studio number 33. Some of his best-known works, a series of interlocking sculptures begun in 1944, were created here. 
  • From 1949 to 1950, Jackson Pollock lived at number 9.

Audrey Marie Munson
Gertrude Whitney in studio

What’s MacDougal Alley like now? The cobblestones were paved over, and at some point it became a private street, locked to the public, although you can peer through the gates and see its charm. The homes are very expensive. One of the properties sold for $5 million in 2009. I must admit that whenever I wander past, I hope that someone will take note of my interest and beckon.

My novel The Orchid Hour will be published on August 10th.

I stopped for a peek March 2023

MacDougal Alley

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Review of the Medieval Historical Novel "Hastings"

Hastings, by Griff Hosker


Review by Nancy Bilyeau

Like many other people, I have always perceived William the Conqueror and his Norman army as a menacing and relentless invading force that squashed the Saxons through overwhelming brute force rather than following up on a legal right to succession.

Griff Hosker’s novel Hastings at first glance, may look like an interesting take on the traditional view of 1066. It is subtitled “Conquest: Book 1” with the cover message “The Battle That Changed Everything.” This is a book coming to 1066 from a Norman perspective.

I knew that with Hosker, I would get a deeply researched and authentic medieval-age story. He has written historical novels spanning the Roman era to World War II, with my favorite series being the Lord Edward’s Archer books set in 13th-century Wales and England.

What I wasn’t ready for in Hastings were the emotional stakes of the story, which soon captured me. The protagonist, Richard fitz Malet, is a man with a complicated family background living in a complicated time of constantly shifting alliances. His father was a Norman knight, Lord Robert Malet, but his mother was English. She was the young daughter of an English housecarl, a bodyguard who served Lord Robert when he came to England. Seduced and swiftly discarded, she gave birth to an illegitimate son that the Norman family reluctantly raises, but at a distance.

There are enormous tensions springing from the circumstances of Richard’s birth. His grandfather resents the seduction of his daughter, which ruined her for marriage and broke her health, leading to an early death. Richard learns conversational English from his grandfather, the only loving family he has, which will prove crucial in later chapters. As his grandfather is responsible for teaching warrior skills and weaponry handling to the boys of the large household, he pays special attention to the training of his grandson. As he tells Richard, the Normans see the English as inferior and Richard is intended to live as a bodyguard of his half-brothers, inherently disposable. He needs the finest warrior skills obtainable in order to stay alive.

“Thanks to my grandfather, I never felt myself a Norman,” Richard tells the reader. But throughout his childhood and young manhood, he absorbs Norman standards of manhood and strengths in warfare. He respects those strengths, which made the Normans a feared group throughout Europe. However, his emotional loyalty is to his grandfather and the friends he makes himself, and later to warriors who go out of their way to look out for him, as opposed to seeing him as nothing but a human shield.

There is a great deal of tense and absorbing drama in Richard’s changing position as he slowly transforms from ignored bastard son of an obscure English girl to a formidable warrior. The Malet family is not wholly proud of those skills, especially his nasty half-brother Durand. Because Richard is not one of the “important” legitimate brothers, and these knights, squires, and housecarls often plunge into deadly conflicts, it’s by no means a certainty to the reader that Richard will escape from any encounter unscathed.

In these encounters, Hosker’s ability to describe battles--both the “big picture” and the reality of up-close fighting between men grimly trying to kill each other—really shines. He knows every detail of the weapons and armory. Those curious about William the Conqueror will find fascinating descriptions of his court and his trips to England with Richard in his retinue. These trips were diplomatic for the most part, and I was surprised by how close he was to the childless King Edward. Duke William’s claim to succeed to the English throne is outlined well.

Richard fitz Malet is more than a proficient warrior and a feared athletic combatant in a time of fierce war. He is someone of deep loyalty. While he has a good heart, there is a simmering bitterness inside Richard. I am eager to see where the next novels in Hosker’s series take this engaging protagonist.

To learn more about Hosker, go here:

Hastings on amazon: