Behind the Scenes

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When the MM Romance group over at Goodreads kicked off another one of their fantastic writing events, I knew I wanted to join in on the fun. For those unfamiliar with the group or the events, the group’s moderators and members selected photographs for writers and group members to write prompts for. For the members’ photographs, the person who chose that particular photo got to write a letter to an author with their prompt. At a specific time, the event opened, allowing writers to jump in and claim a photo and prompt/letter which they would then write a story for. The group hosts this event every year, resulting in an amazing selection of free m/m romance stories which is then collected together and published for free as an anthology.

There were loads of great photographs and prompts for all kinds of stories, though the majority were for contemporary stories and at the time I was focusing on historical, of which there were only two photos, both with authors already expressing interest. Looking through all the photographs again, I came across this one.

This is the prompt from group member Ilona:

Dear Author please tell me why this man is armed and dangerous and who it is he belongs to. I really would like to know if he is defending his beloved or about to shoot him for cheating. 

The shadows made things ‘click’, and then several words started popping into mind. Prohibition, bootleggers, gangsters, Jazz, nightclubs, speakeasies, 1920s, seedy, sexy, danger, shadows, action, excitement, risk, quick wit, arrogance, confidence…

Taking that time period into consideration, I started the process of asking myself who this fella was. He was obviously hardboiled, carried a gun (guns), and looks dangerous. Is he…

    • … on the wrong side of the law?
    • … the right side of the law?
    • Perhaps he struggles to remember what side he’s on?
    • Considering his age, would he have fought in the war? If he did, how did it affect him?
    • Who’s he going to match wits with, and what side of the law will they be on? Who is his beloved or will become his beloved?
    • Do they already know each other or have they yet to meet?

Like a mad scientist, I started gathering bits here and there to piece together our handsome and dangerous hero. After a good deal of research Harlan Mackay was born. In the story however, Nathan calls him ‘Harley’. Why you ask? Well, because back in 1918 when he was twenty-two years old, Harlan was recruited by the Motor Transport Corps, which operated under the American Expeditionary Force that deployed to France during World War I. During a particular skirmish, Harlan refused to leave his beloved Harley Davidson behind enemy lines, earning him the nickname from his beloved. You just don’t get between a man and his motorcycle.

Harlan and his partner are Prohibition Agents in a city where lawlessness is coming at them from all sides, including their own. In NYC, the mayor himself doesn’t believe in upholding this law, and the number of cops and agents on gangsters’ payrolls is growing by the day. After creating Harlan, I needed to get him his man. Nathan Reilly appeared with a cheeky grin, a playful attitude, and a knack for getting into trouble. He uses humor to keep people from knowing what he’s really thinking or feeling. He’s cocky, a good actor, and knows it. He comes off as laid back and nonchalant, giving Harlan the impression that he needs Nathan more than Nathan needs him, which would make Harlan quite mistaken. Nathan can switch from sweet to scary in 0 to 60.

Some facts about Prohibition in NYC during the early 20s:

The Prohibition Unit was a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue established in 1920. It became an independent unit within the Department of the Treasury in 1927 and changed to the Bureau of Prohibition.

There were roughly 1500 agents nationwide with an equal number of administrative staff, more than the Bureau of Investigation, but not nearly enough to police something as prevalent as alcohol.

NYC alone had 150 to 200 agents to police all the illegal alcohol activity. By 1927, it was estimated that there were 30,000 speakeasies in NYC alone. That didn’t include nightclubs, illegal distilleries, bootleggers, house stills, and general public consumption. It was often referred to as a “… a hopeless and thankless task…”

Agents were sent onto the field with minimal training and little regard for the dry agenda. The best men were attracted to the job by the promise of a steady government paycheck, the worst were violent, unstable, and drawn by the potential riches that could be made.

Prohibition agents earned $150 a month, but could get anywhere from $50 to $25,000 in bribes to leave a speakeasy or still alone or provide a tip off. Agents were more often than not, on the take. Files and evidence either disappeared or was planted. Their arrests failed to hold up in court and soon they were no longer credible witnesses.

In 1920, an illegal liquor ring was operating in the office of the bureau’s State Director. It was so bad, that outgoing telephone service was cut off from headquarters the evening of raids, so agents wouldn’t phone in tip-offs.

One of the many provisions of the Volstead Act, was the requirement to add poisons to industrial alcohol to prevent it from being used for beverage purposes. However, large quantities of this alcohol made it onto the black market and into the glasses of unsuspecting patrons, blinding, debilitating, and killing many people.

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