Blogger Patricia "Patti" Abbott is the creator and host of the regular Friday's Forgotten Books feature, but she's also a prolific author of crime short stories (with over 100 published!) and received a 2008 Derringer Award for her story “My Hero.” Her debut novel Concrete Angel from Polis Books has been a long time coming, but it's worth the wait for both Patti and crime fiction fans.
For the book, Patti drew upon her experiences of growing up in Philadelphia and was inspired by a news report of a mother and daughter charged with credit-card theft, where the daughter told the court her mother made her do it. Concrete Angel takes that concept and runs with it, delving into a family torn apart by a murderous mother straight out of "Mommy Dearest" and her children, especially her daughter Christine, who are victims until they learn that fighting back is the only way to survive.
Patti is currently on a blog tour and stops by In Reference to Murder to take some Author R&R and discuss researching and writing the book:
CONCRETE ANGEL takes place in Philadelphia and its suburbs in the sixties and seventies. I grew up in Philadelphia, a decade after the mother in the book, Eve Moran, and a decade and a half before her daughter, Christine. Not coinciding exactly in age with either character allowed me to take a step back from recreating myself too much. I wanted their reactions to come from my imagination rather than my experiences.
Getting Philadelphia and Bucks Country right was very important to me although I mostly used my memories of the city in that era to do that. Downtown Philly features prominently in several sections so I spent a lot of time reviewing maps of the downtown in that era. Online research is a god send. Of course, the town of Shelterville only exists in my mind as do various schools I mentioned. Very real though was the four department stores of my youth: John Wanamakers, Gimbels, Strawbridge and Clothier, and Lit Brothers. It is hard to get across how much those stores defined Philadelphia in the fifties and sixties. So too the extravagantly gorgeous movie theaters and restaurants.
Mental illness plays a large part in this story. I relied on two books for help with the treatment of mental illness at the time. WOMAN AND MADNESS by Phyllis Chesler was the first to ask questions about women and mental health. It combined patient interviews with a history of women's roles in history, society, and myth. Chesler writes that there is a terrible double standard when it comes to women's psychology. Some of the treatment women received at the hands of their therapists was abusive if not felonious. The second book I read was MADWOMAN IN THE ATTIC. Now this book looks at the treatment of women in 19th Century literature and was not relevant to this era, but it helped me to form the character if not her treatment.
Although I read a news story about a mother and daughter arrested for various crimes they committed together, I deviated from their tale pretty quickly. I didn't relate much to the crimes themselves but more to the personalities of the women who would commit them, and what kind of relationship would lend itself to such crimes. And it was then that I remembered a childhood friend and her mother. Their relationship had the twisty, complicated nature of Eve and Christine's. Here was a mother who exerted exactly this type of control over her daughter even if it didn't lead to crimes.
Finding the humanity in Eve was important to me. She is a villain but why. I tried inject enough sympathy into her portrait to make her feel human. Is someone suffering from a undiagnosed disorder responsible for their crimes? If the era couldn't define her issues or treat them, should we hate her? I'll leave it to you to judge.
Pick up a digital or paperback copy of Concrete Angel today via all major online and brick-and-mortar stores - just follow the "buy" links on the Polis Books website.