Jalopy by Wes VerdePublication Date: May 9, 2021 Paperback & eBook; 499 pages Genre: Historical Fiction New Jersey, 1928. All her life, Etta Wozniak has toiled on her family’s small farm, located on the outskirts of a lake resort town. After losing her mother and siblings to one misfortune or another, life has fallen into a rut of drudgery and predictability. That is, until the day she discovers something in an unlikely place; an old car. Energized by the prospects of a world beyond the one she knows, she decides to make this her last summer on the farm. However, disaster is not through with Etta yet, and there will be consequences for her upcoming departure. Art Adams, a recent college man, arrives in town for a family reunion. After years of moving from one city to another and avoiding conflict whenever it tries to find him, he becomes enamored with the lake. However, there is another reason for Art’s visit. He is to marry a woman he has never met before; an arrangement that was made on his behalf and without his knowledge. More comfortable around numbers and machines than people, Art is reluctant to confront his parents on the matter. But if he decides to do nothing, he risks losing who and what he has come to love. In a small town of farmers and firemen, musicians and moonshiners, bossy parents and barn parties, two people will come to understand what they must give up in order to have the chance to build something new.
About the AuthorWes Verde is an engineer by trade, a busybody by habit, and a lifelong Jersey boy. Writing has been a hobby in one form or another since 2006 when he started drawing 3-panel comics. When he is not putting words down, he is picking them up; the “to-read” pile only seems to grow larger. A fan of nature, he spends as much time outside as possible. Jalopy https://widget.gleamjs.io/e.js
Q&A WITH AUTHOR WES VERDE
Wes Verde graciously agreed to answer some questions and gave us great insight into the book and himself. Check out the Q&A below:
Hello Wes and thanks so much for agreeing to answer my questions.
Happy to do it. Hope your readers enjoy it as well.
What inspired you to write Jalopy?
It’s difficult to pin down one particular thing, but the prime driving force was probably a general interest in the topic. A couple years ago, I started reading history books in my spare time. You’ve probably seen the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing that specializes in collections of old photographs from around the US. On a whim, I picked up a bunch of the ones for New Jersey towns – mostly out of curiosity for what some of my old stomping grounds looked like a century ago. A few buildings had survived to the current day, but most had been lost at one time or another. “Lost to fire,” was something that I kept seeing.
It was during this time that I rediscovered the fact that NJ was a vacation destination around this time. This had been mentioned to me previously, but it was always in passing and I never really gave it much thought. Now I was seeing the pictures. Places that today are commuter suburbs, but 100 years ago were places for residents of New York City to escape the pollution, noise, and crowds for a short while. Many of these towns – to varying degrees – had a Coney Island or Atlantic City feel, albeit on a smaller scale.
That got me wondering if there was ever a “city mouse/country mouse” moment between a vacationer and a local who got together and how they sorted out who had the better situation. From there, enough of these elements started coming together where I finally decided to put pencil to paper.
The “Jalopy” in question is an abandoned car where Etta dreams of her future. Cars often inspire dreams for many of us–dreams of travel, adventure, success, and/or escape. What would you like the reader to take away from Jalopy and Etta’s dreams vs. her life experiences?
Totally agree. Cars were absolute game changers for the early 20th Century and I chose one for this reason. Travel and adventure are the obvious ones. It’s faster than walking. It carries more people than a bicycle. It’s not locked on a schedule like a train. Within practical limits you can take it off the road. In a pinch, you can sleep in it.
Escape is an interesting one. You don’t often hear about the “getaway horse” now do you? And of course, there is the less dramatic use of the word, where one is merely escaping monotony and drudgery in hopes that the grass is greener on the other side.
As for success, it will certainly expand your options for where you can work vs. where you want to live (I expect that we will see a transition of comparable significance resulting from the doozy that started in 2020). Per my earlier comment about commuter towns, it was the car that made it possible to live among trees and nature but still be able to commute east for employment. You can debate the wisdom and drawbacks of our car-dependent culture, but there’s no overstating what the automobile has accomplished for individual liberty.
At the end of the day, it’s just a tool.
When we meet Etta, she is not in a good way living in the past and trudging along, thinking only of how to get a fresh start somewhere new. On the surface, this is what she wants but not what she needs. Helen is her near opposite, and embraces her place in the social network almost to the exclusion of all other concerns. That’s not to say that we should settle for an untenable situation with people who are not worthy of our affection. Consider Art, who starts in what today we might call an unhealthy familial situation, but later (possibly spoilerish?) finds a place among people who embrace him and to whom he also contributes.
That’s probably the main thing I would hope someone takes from this story. Have dreams. Figure out where you want to be and – just as importantly – how to get there, but also recognize that it is the relationships we have with other people that give our lives meaning. I believe that this is why the trope of the small town is so enduring; it’s an idyllic model of this idea.
Your depiction of the drudgery and worry of trying to get by in the late 1920s captured the era perfectly. What was your research process for this time period?
Aside from the local history books which I mentioned previously, a lot of it came from discussions with my grandmother. She was born in 1932, a few years after the events of the novel, but she grew up on a farm in a then-rural part of New Jersey. I attempted to remain as authentic to her experiences as possible. They grew their own vegetables and raised chickens and pigs – what soap they had was made from the tallow of their own animals. The incident with the chickens pouncing on Etta was inspired by something that actually happened to Grandma. To this day, she still uses the term “ice box” to refer to the refrigerator. The division and specialization of labor was far different than what most of us know today. They did much of it themselves – some might call that drudgery.
Other aspects were things I extrapolated from standalone facts. For example, in 1908 – when Etta would have been born – there were 2 cars per 1,000 people in the US. By the events of the novel in 1928, that number had jumped to over 200. Her formative years would have been during a time when parts of the country were surging ahead while others were being left behind.
If you were of limited means but still wanted to hear music, church was probably your best bet. Alternatively, options for consumer radios were quickly expanding for those who could afford one. A cabinet radio like the one described in the novel would be about $1,500 adjusted for inflation. Even then, not everyone was hooked up to the electrical grid. While refrigeration was starting to become the standard, ice was largely harvested during the winter months and in some places would remain so for decades. There were many more farmers: about 30 per 100 workers at the time compared to just 2 per 100 today.
Additionally, the 18th Amendment obliged many to add beer and wine making to their list of chores… All told, that’s a lot of manual labor.
Jalopy is your first novel. What will you be working on next?
The Interwar Period in New Jersey is my literary home for the moment. There’s just so much worth exploring. As mentioned previously, it was the home of many lakeside vacation towns where residents of New York City would go to let their hair down. Novel #2 will mostly keep with this setting, but in a different direction thematically and tonally.
Not long after I started Jalopy I had this idea for a story about a heist involving a band of rogues and shysters who bite off more than they can chew. Mostly staying within the Garden State, this novel will be somewhat greater in scope and include locations of historical interest. It will also delve more into the social, industrial, and commercial concerns of the time.
Your bio describes you as an Engineer by trade. How do your experiences as an Engineer reflect in the novel and how does an Engineer become a writer of Historical Fiction? It’s not necessarily a traditional path for an Engineer.
Indeed, it is not a traditional path, but neither is it completely unheard of. While he doesn’t do HisFic, Andy Weir worked on software before his success with The Martian and later Project Hail Mary.
As for how such a background translates into writing – well… there’s a reason I include details like how many pedals are on a 1926 Model T vs. a 1914 Studebaker. Mechanical engineering is my specific discipline which is great for the setting of the novel. The time before electronic controls and digitization inspired many novel solutions that often blurred the line between careful design and whimsical tinkering – I love stuff like that. Early automobilists were more pilot or operator than modern drivers.
I also love to learn, especially when it comes to old machines. The description of the menagerie of farm equipment lining the walk up to Gregory’s workshop was heavily based on my experience at a farm museum in Northern New Jersey. In fact, the same place features a 1918 burgundy REO which served as the model used for the cover image.
In short, I’d say that I’m a gear head first, an engineer second, and an author as time allows.
You self-published this novel. What advice can you give new authors who want to self-publish?
Be patient. The time from my first handwritten notes to publication was about 25 months. That was setting aside about an hour or so each day, but even 15 minutes will add up over time if you are consistent and stick with it.
The barrier to entry has never been lower. If you have an idea and something to write with (I wrote two chapters on my phone) you can find an audience.
The cover artwork is fantastic. Who created the cover for your first novel, and what is your opinion of the importance of the book cover in overall sales?
Angela Fernot, a friend of mine for many years and – as luck would have it – a professional artist. I believe she has something like ten years of experience (not including school) mostly doing portraits and fantasy work as well as graphic design (Link to her website is below). This may have been her first car, but you can see she’s got the hand for it. I cannot recommend her enough and will most certainly look to commission her for my own future books.
As for importance of the cover, there’s a reason we have to tell people not to judge a book by it because that’s exactly what everyone does. It’s not entirely without good reason. After all, if the author didn’t care enough to make it look good, how much effort could they have possibly put into the content?
The current trend for HisFic covers is an individual woman, often looking away from the viewer and toward a sepia-toned city or landscape. For the romance-centric, it’s a woman in a flowing gown which tells you exactly what you need to know (you Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean fans know what I’m talking about).
To its credit, this quickly informs the potential reader what you’re about. On the other hand, there’s a fine line between looking professional (like every other book) and standing out (possibly in a bad way). There’s a whole thread somewhere featuring a bunch of book covers that are woefully apparent in their do-it-yourself quality.
If you must cut expenses somewhere in the process of getting to print, don’t do it on the cover.
Thanks Again, Wes, for taking the time out to let us get to know you better.