{Guest Post} Elisa DeCarlo: The Joys of Research

  • Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Joys of Research
by Elisa de Carlo, author of The Abortionist's Daughter

Research is the drug that keeps me writing. So far my novels have been set in Depression-era London, a fantasy European kingdom, and now the Adirondack Mountains and New York City in 1916. The Abortionist's Daughter tells the story of Melanie Daniels, whose family has been disgraced by her doctor father doing a stint in prison for killing a woman while performing an abortion. That is the jumping-off point for the novel, after years of study. I am an obsessive researcher. For instance, even though I had lived in London, I worked from tourist’s guides and old novels, and then submitted the manuscript to an England-crazed friend. Two novels were published by Avon, STRONG SPIRITS and THE DEVIL YOU SAY.

Research is MUCH more fun than writing, too. Traveling through the Adirondack Mountains with my camera, taking thousand of pictures, going to the Adirondack Museum, and staying with a friend at his enormous “camp.” Which was an estate by a private lake, complete with barn and garage. What writer wouldn’t prefer that to sitting slack-jawed in front of a blank monitor?

But back to The Abortionist's Daughter. Melanie is faced with the choice of a loveless marriage or becoming an old maid. Independence isn’t a possibility for a woman in her position. She lets herself be seduced by a handsome stranger. They elope to New York, where nothing is as Melanie expects. A series of twists and turns, as well as a difficult “friendship” with an actress, lead her to attempt a career on the stage. Melanie tries to reinvent herself, but her past keeps returning to haunt her.

Making her a star would be a cliché. So I researched Broadway down to the smallest detail, to write an authentic account of backstage life. I was aided by my own history as an actress and my knowledge as a fashion historian. There is a lot of fashion in this book!

Writing The Abortionist's Daughter became an exciting game getting the smallest details right. It took years. At The New-York Historical Society, I held actual New York City guidebooks from 1915 and 1916, delicate and faded, in my hands. Through these I recreated the Hotel McAlpin, where Melanie stays with her lover. And the restaurant where they have their first, disastrous dinner:

"In the Louis XIV restaurant, tables with pink cloths and small pinkshaded lamps were arranged around a large, highly polished dance floor. Embroidered tapestries hung from the walls. All through the room were glints of pinks and browns and gold. A small dance orchestra played. The sound of water splashing from a small ornate fountain blended with the music as couples in evening dress danced to the “Hesitation Waltz.”"

I visited Planned Parenthood and read articles in their archives. A friend leant me volumes of 1916 women’s magazines. The Abortionist's Daughter is the culmination of many happy hours scouring bookshelves, the Internet, and New York. Another friend, a professional editor and history buff, went carefully through the manuscript, pointing out anachronisms. As a result, the book has received high praise for its vivid depiction of the era.


“Elisa DeCarlo’s new book, The Abortionist’s Daughter, deftly mixes feminism, theater and the history of Broadway.”
- Laura Axelrod, The Clyde Fitch Report

"Elisa DeCarlo masterfully takes us back to 1916 New York City with a tale of romance and betrayal that rings even more true for today."
- Mike Player, Author, Viral - The Story of the Milkshake Girl, Out on the Edge

“Elisa DeCarlo brings the “risqué” world of turn-of-the-century Broadway to life with the story of Melanie Daniels, an aspiring actress who moves to NYC with a dream and violet-trimmed toque. Melanie struggles with the puritanical morality of her upbringing and her nascent feministic awakening against the backdrop of this captivating historical novel.”
- Lisa Haas, playwright, In Heat, Crown Hill Cemetery, Rita and Inez: The True Queens of Femininity

The novel is available for pre-order at www.elisadecarlo.com, and will be on sale on Amazon after November 18, 2014. It will also be available to retailers through Ingram. 

About Elisa DeCarlo

ELISA DeCARLO was raised in Westchester County, New York. Her first novel, The Devil You Say (Avon, 1994) won both “Locus Best First Novel” and “Amazing Stories Best First Novel”, and received the CaB Magazine Special Achievement Award. Her humorous essays have been collected in several anthologies. In 2015 the Exit Press will publish an anthology of her stage work, I Was Born To Suffer: The Plays of Elisa DeCarlo.

Elisa’s been a working journalist, an audiobook abridger, and magazine staff writer. For years she sold plus-size vintage clothing, both online and privately. She has a keen knowledge of both fashion and show business history.

Her greatest love is the theater. She has written numerous award-winning solo shows, including “Toasted,” “I Love Drugs,” and “Size Matters”, which have been produced in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Her show “I Love Drugs” was a Chicago paper’s “Critic’s Choice” in 1994, and “Cervix With a Smile” was a San Francisco Bay Guardian “Critic’s Choice” in 2005. In 2008, the New York Times profiled her in “Personality Plus” about a stage show she developed around her popular humor blog “Diary of a Mad Fashionista”.

In 2015 the Exit Press will publish an anthology of her stage work, I Was Born To Suffer: The Plays of Elisa DeCarlo.

Elisa lives in New York City with her husband, Jeff, and a fair amount of animals.


  1. I didn't think I'd be interested in this book from the title, but after reading what it was about I think I would enjoy it!

    And...the author makes the research aspect of being a writer sound like so much fun!!


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