Though half of Tomboy takes place on RMS Queen Mary in 1939, I was never able to visit her in person. The ship, currently harbored in Long Beach, California, was closed during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020–2021, when I was writing, and on top of that, her owners entered bankruptcy proceedings in that period.
A 2017 study conducted by naval architects and vessel experts, requested by Long Beach city officials, recommended $289 million worth of renovations and upgrades to keep the ship from flooding, and $23 million in immediate repairs to prevent it from potentially capsizing. As the book headed to its publisher, the city of Long Beach, California had taken over the Queen Mary’s stewardship, aiming to refurbish her.
So, because I could not board the ship, I relied on many books on the topic, as well as spending an awful lot of time on a website devoted to exploring the gaps between the ship’s original and current state and design, published by Julian Hill. I also deeply appreciated the generous answering of questions by Cunard expert Chris Frame.
But also, I was inspired by imagery and by artifacts. My college friend, Carole Bright Alvarez, sent me her grandmother’s cigarette-sponsored RMS Queen Mary trading cards–a memento of her travels between her birth place on the Isle of Man and the United States on the QM. The cards, pictured above, sit in a leather envelope on my desk, where I was able to flip through them for inspiration as I wrote.
Another friend (and my son’s father-in-law) Mike Fox shared a folder full of his family’s artifacts of Atlantic crossings—photographs, welcome materials, and menus. One menu found its way directly into the novel, in a key scene taking place at table.
Though I had the menu, I couldn’t find the wine list, so I reached out on Facebook to ask friends what wines might have been served with such a menu on a 1939 Atlantic crossing. I got 72 answers from wine lovers, connoisseurs and even the President and General Manager of Knights Bridge Winery, Debi Leal.
Here are the wines they guided me to: Charles Heidsieck, Sec Gout American; Chambolle Musigny, Cote de Nuits, 1920; White Hermitage, Corton Charlemagne; Chateau Latour 1917; and 1921 Chateau d’Yquem.
Their recommendations made it into the cabin class private dining room scene. No wonder poor Jane gets sloshed and acts out.