Friday, August 25, 2023

KEEPING IT CLEAN: Guest post by Lev AC Rosen

One of the most fun parts of researching for Lavender House was the soap! Since the book is about a murder in the secretive and secluded estate of a 1950s family who runs a soap empire, I knew I had to do my research. Not just on vintage soap making techniques (both small batch and factory), but on the way soap was presented to the world – because that’s the face this family would have to put on, too.
We all love vintage ads – they’re funny, campy, and filled with retro style. But imagine living at that time and having to BE those ads. Especially when you had so much to hide. 


Soap was clean! And during the postwar period the ads tended to focus on either family, or being a clear-skinned woman to attract a man. (The wartime ads were much more focused on the idea of soap as smelling like home, and often veered into homoeroticism, with so many naked young men bathing together). 
I took a lot of inspiration for Lavender House from not just the classic noir films my parents raised me on, but these vintage soap ads. And often the two had a lot in common. For example, this wonderful Camay ad:
That opening is absolutely noir! The shadows she’s hiding in until the soap brings her “out of the shadows, into the light!” Of course, in the novel, the shadows aren’t mere bad skin, but something that the family can never reveal to the public. That’s why they need to hire the recently fired police inspector to solve the mystery. They have to keep hiding, and when they do step into the light, they make themselves into ads, keeping their real lives locked behind the gate of their estate.
And it wasn’t just soap ads I drew inspiration from!


What I think I found most interesting, looking at all these ads, watching these commercials, was how they’ve created an image of the 50s in the communal memory. I wasn’t around in the 50s, but when I picture them, I picture the ads, the TV. I don’t picture people like me back then, because we never showed up in the advertising, and the books and newspapers we did show up in have been papered over by images like these. We’ve been made the realm of innuendo, deniable and powerless. 


Which is why writing Lavender House was so important to me. Because though the ads may only allude to it, people like us did exist back then – even if we had to stick to the shadows. I wanted to bring history into the light. I think I did that in my book, but I knew that I had to go back to my original sources – these soap ads – and create something that showed us stepping out of those shadows. That poked fun at what these ads were. And which advertised the soap in the novel: Lamontaine. So I hired some friends, and did just that! The ad is by Colin Verdi and the commercial is by M. Florian Staab and stars Jes Bedwinek.
(or here: )
I think we did justice to both those old ads, and to who we are now. I hope so. This blog post is a lot like those ads, too – filled with innuendo, but never outright saying what I mean. But you and me, we know, don’t we? And if you don’t, you should read Lavender House to find out. Until then, happy washing, and see you at Bouchercon! 

Lev Rosen writes books for all ages, most recently YA archeological adventure Lion’s Legacy and Lambda and Anthony Awards and Macavity finalist Lavender House, which and was a Best Book of the Year from Buzzfeed, Library Journal, Amazon, Bookpage, and others. His prior novel, Campwas a best book of the year from Forbes, Elle, and The Today Show. His next book, The Bell in the Fog will be released in October, followed by YA rom-com Emmett in November. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat.



Sue T. said...

LAVENDER HOUSE was my favorite mystery of 2022. I can't wait to read THE BELL IN THE FOG!

vallery said...

What a fun and illuminating article. I enjoyed Lavender House and look forward to the next in the series.