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St. Petersburg author capitalizes on local history in her new book

A woman sits in front of a ginger plant looking into the book, "Florida Girls."
L.L. Kirchner
Author L.L. Kirchner peruses her new novel, "Florida Girls."

A photograph sparked the idea that led to Author L.L. Kirchner's first novel, "Florida Girls."

When young Thelma Miles leaves Keokuk, Iowa, to escape her criminal past, she forgets that she can never escape herself.

She arrives by bus in sunny St. Petersburg and winds up as a poster girl for a local emporium that recalls the city’s famous “Webb City.”

But in L.L. Kirchner’s new novel, “Florida Girls,” it’s called the “Sun City Emporium.”

World War II is winding down, and “Sun City’s” owners are lining up a troupe of young women to travel as poster girls to help sell war bonds and bring tourists back to St. Petersburg.

And while it’s a pretty place to be, as Kirchner shows, crime is bubbling beneath the surface. The mafia is entrenched in Tampa’s Ybor City and historical figures who helped Kirchner write the story dot the landscape.

The front cover of L.L. Kirchner's new novel, "Florida Girls," shows the back of a young woman in a sleeveless dark dress with her brown hair pinned up.
Lisa Kirchner
The cover of L.L. Kirchner's "Florida Girls."

Kirchner said a photograph she saw years ago of poster girls traveling the country during World War II inspired the book.

“But you know, during World War II, we were rationing tires and gasoline, and you were supposed to limit your travel. And I thought, 'Well, well, what were they doing touring around the country?' What kind of hustler set that up?” Kirchner said.

Hustlers are just the beginning. Kirchner's book also touches on the lengths that some women went to to survive after men came home from war and wanted their jobs back.

And she said, the country's attitude seems to have provided an opening for people who were prone to crime.

“So similar to the way there was a lot more permissiveness with the law in Tampa and specifically Ybor, say during prohibition and even beyond, because the war created this weird vacuum where, the prohibition was over but we were all focused," Kirchner said. "Our focus was external. So people were getting away with a lot at home.”

And the cultural response to death was not what it is now.

“There was so much more intimate relationship with kind of the frailty of human existence," Kirchner said. "At that time, people died in childhood, much more than they do now. People returning home from war, you saw very visibly, the signs of their battles on their physical person. But also, there were so many industrial accidents that happened. I believe that there was a kind of different relationship with death.”

“Florida Girls” was only supposed to be a single book. But Kirchner said that’s not what happened.

“It might have been a very different book because I planned this to be a standalone novel, but the characters, they take on their own lives, and some of them— they really just arrive fully formed with these whole backstories,” Kirchner said.

Now it’s “The Queenpin Chronicles Book I.”

Tonight, Kirchner will be talking about the historical figures who helped inspire her storytelling at The St. Petersburg Museum of History, starting at 6 p.m.

And on Thursday, author Paul Wilborn will be speaking to Kirchner about “Florida Girls” at Tombolo Books, in St. Petersburg, starting at 7 p.m.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.