If you’ve read The Count of the Sahara, you know my fascination with real-life characters who behave in ways so crazy you’d think someone was making it up. So when I found Rebecca Rosenberg’s book, “The Secret Life of Mrs. London” I was intrigued. I mean, the wife of the world’s best-selling novelist (Jack London) having an affair with Harry Freakin’ Houdini? And it really happened? I had to learn more.
BTW the title of this post was originally “A Harry Houdini/Jack London Love Triangle With Rebecca Rosenburg,” but I realized that probably read wrong and would probably upset Mr. Rosenberg. Punctuation and grammar matter, people.
So Rebecca, what’s your deal?
I live on our lavender farm in Sonoma, California, which Jack London named Valley of the Moon, and wrote his books. My first book was Lavender Fields of America, a non-fiction coffee table book. Recently, our farm was destroyed in the Sonoma/Santa Rosa fires, but we are rebuilding and replanting as we speak! I am fascinated with remarkable people who lived before us and their improbably, fantastical stories. That’s why I write biographic historical fiction.
Oh my gosh. I have nothing clever to say to that except I’m so sorry. Tell us about your book…
The novel starts in San Francisco, 1915, just as America teeters on the brink of world war. Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, struggle under the strains of marital discord, brought on by infidelity, a lost baby, their dream home destroyed by fire. (There’s a creepy coincidence don’t you think?) Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband. But Jack doesn’t see it that way. Until, Charmian is pulled from the audience at a magic show of the beguiling escape artist, Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own troubled marriage. And suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her, entranced by his sexual magnetism, and drawn into his mysterious undercover world, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape
I share your fascination with this period of time. What makes it so intriguing?
I wanted to write about Jack London, the most popular, highest paid author of the early 1900’s, who wrote 50 novels in 20 years with the help of his muse, editor and typist, Charmian London. The couple was as unconventional, free-loving, and bohemian as they were adventurous, building a ketch and sailing around the world in 1907, encountering the Lepers of Molokai, cannibals and headhunters. They created a utopic 1400 acre Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, complete with pig palace, one-hundred thousand tree eucalyptus grove, prize winning Shire horses. All the while entertaining guests as diverse as Socialist cronies, Mother Jones, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow, to famed botanist, Luther Burbank, to Ed Morell, the prisoner who inspired The Star Gazer.
But, when I discovered the little known fact that Charmian had an affair with Houdini, I knew the story had to begin there. Houdini was the most famous magician of his era, but his mystery only starts there. Houdini traveled Europe performing for the Tzar of Russia and the German Chancellor, and reportedly spied for our government.
Nothing could hold Houdini- no safe, no jail cell, no chains or locks… yet he wrote Charmian:
“I now understand how kings give up their kingdom for a woman. I love you.” Houdini wrote her passionate letters until the end of his life.
What was your favorite scene to write?
It was fascinating to depict Houdini’s iconic illusions and escapes, and include the Londons in them. But perhaps, I love how the novel starts with Jack and Charmian boxing! They loved to box, and it is symbolic of their relationship and how it binds them, yet tears them apart.
Where can people learn more?
I would really appreciate readers to review the novel on Goodreads!
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