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Interview with Jennifer Lamont Leo

The 1920s is an era described as jazzy and roaring, but no matter the description, Jennifer Lamont Leo wants to sweep readers into a time period that is lively and energetic without glorifying the rampant crime associated with the decade. Her newest novel is set in Jazz Age Chicago, a favorite setting for this author because of the stories she heard growing up. Read on to find out more!

How did you become interested in writing about the 1920s era? What makes it fascinating for you?
As a child I loved hearing stories about “the olden days” (and still do). Unlike Victorian or pioneer days, which seemed very remote, the 1920s were recent enough that some older relatives actually remembered them. An elderly aunt showed us kids how to do the Charleston!

So the interest was there, but as an adult I’ve been disappointed that a lot of fiction set in that era glorifies crime, drunkenness, and other transgressive behavior as some sort of triumph. In my stories, I want to show another side, that God’s principles remain the same no matter what the culture around us is doing. It’s not about staying stuck in the past and rejecting everything modern, but about being discerning and weighing everything against the truth of God’s Word.

What words best describe that era? Fresh, lively, energetic.

What are some features of that era that aren't so romantic and how do you incorporate that into your stories?
The aftermath of World War I was a time of widespread disillusionment and sweeping social changes, with a lot of tension between the old ways and the new, and conflicting ideas about the best way to move forward. (Sound familiar?) I try to show that beneath the glitter and pseudo-sophistication were a lot of broken hearts and empty souls in need of a Savior. I think the same is true today--some of the people who are most rebellious and carefree on the outside are the most hurting and needy on the inside.

Name some characteristics that make 1920s heroines different from contemporary heroines.
In the 1920s, women were experiencing new freedoms, such as getting the vote and taking a more active role in public life. Rules were relaxing around things like dress and behavior. Today we take these freedoms for granted, and some of them seem almost laughable to us--the idea that cutting one’s hair could create a scandal, for example. Then and now, it’s how we’re using our freedom that matters. To shock and repel and draw attention to ourselves? Or to further God’s Kingdom?

What's your go-to research tool(s) for creating an authentic 1920s era Chicago for your setting?
My favorite tools are women’s magazines of the era, which show what women cared about back then and are a goldmine of images of clothing, hairstyles, and household goods. I’m also grateful that radio became available in the 1920s, to give us a sense of how people talked.

You say silence and solitude are two of a writer's best friends along with a lively literary community--what does the balance of those look like? How do you know when you need more of one and less of the other?
I’m an introvert living on a mountain in rural Idaho, so I’ve got the solitude thing down pat. I can tell I’ve been alone too much when my life--and my writing--start to feel sort of gray and stale. Relationships are important, so I make sure to schedule meet-ups with friends, including fellow writers. We encourage and refresh one another and “fill the well,” creatively. Sometimes it takes effort to get myself out the door, but I’m always happy I did.

Which fiction genres do you enjoy reading?
I lead a Facebook group called the Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle for historical fiction, including fiction that wasn’t historical at the time it was written, but is now, like Agatha Christie. Speaking of Agatha Christie, I also love a good non-gory mystery. I’d like to take a crack at writing a mystery someday.

What fills your time when you're not writing?
I volunteer at a local history museum and in music ministry. I’m also the church librarian, so I get first peek at new books.


Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family and the unexpected turns of life at

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