The woman who called herself Romany Marie was a cafe fixture in 1920s Greenwich Village. She’s depicted by her nephew journalist Robert Schulman in his biography Romany Marie:Queen of Greenwich Village of his famous aunt as being exotic, charming, loving and direct with her sometimes quixotic and impertinent guests.
Marie became an important character in BEGUILED, as she, along with Frank Shay, became Miriam’s (and her girlfriend Minerva’s) mentors and family away from home. She introduced them to literary and artistic literati who frequented her “centers’ where her so-called “creatives” gathered. She befriended them, so that no arrogant know-it-all would offend these pretty girls by questioning if their “beauty is skin deep.” She believed in them, and made them believe in themselves. It more than made up for the constant criticism that Miriam experienced growing up with an embittered grieving mother.
I was easily able to flesh out her personality from Schulman’s lovely biography and to imagine how she may have treated these two young starlets from immigrant tenement neighborhoods in Boston. It’s surprising to me that Romany Marie is so little known, as her portraits were painted by many of her artist patrons, who later, if not then, became established American artists.
I enjoyed the process of incorporating snapshots of real people in BEGUILED, but I recognized that some of my imagination had to be curtailed in those scenes to respect the story of their lives.
As a reader, how do you process being introduced to real historical figures in fiction? Do you always wonder: how factual is this? Since this is a story about star-struck girls who wannabe in the midst of famous arty people, I felt it legitimate to include some real figures of the Roaring Twenties. For historical verity, I tried to depict them based on public information about those characters and not to take much liberty as a novelist. I hope I accomplished this.