Set in the mid-1930s, Filthy Sugar tells the story of Wanda Whittle, a nineteen-year-old dreamer who models fur coats in an uptown department store, but who lives in a crowded rooming house with her hard-working widowed mother and shrewd older sister, Evelyn, in the "slums" behind the city's marketplace; a world where "death is always close but life is stubborn." Bored with the daily grind and still in shock from the sudden death of her father, Wanda finds both escapism and inspiration in the celluloid fantasies of the Busby Berkeley musicals, Greta Garbo dramas, and Jean Harlow sex comedies. Strutting up and down the aisles of Blondell's department store, her peep-toe high heels drumming out a steady beat on the waxed linoleum floors, Wanda fantasizes that she's Ruby Keeler, the tap dancing sweetheart from 42nd Street. But Wanda wants more than to wear a glamourous woman's coat--she wants to live inside of her flesh.
Her dreams come true after a chance encounter with the mysterious Mr. Manchester, proprietor of the Apple Bottom burlesque theatre. Suddenly Wanda is thrust into a world of glitter and grit. Descending from the rickety, splintered roof top of the Apple Bottom theatre on a red velvet swing, Wanda Whittle morphs into a dream named Wanda Wiggles; sweeter than a strawberry sundae and tastier than a deep dish apple pie. At the Apple Bottom she meets Lili Belle, a naughty cartoon flapper brought to life; Queenie, a sultry headliner whom Wanda feels drawn to like a bee to a butterfly bush; the sweet and salty Eddie, a drummer who thumps out his words like bullets from a machine gun and Brock Baxter, the Apple Bottom's vaudevillian comic whose apple cheeked, pretty boy exterior belies his sinister intentions.
All will have an impact on Wanda's journey. Cowardly boxers, shady coppers, dime store hoodlums, and painted ladies--Wanda will encounter them all! On her voyage from rags to riches and back again, Wanda experiences a sexual awakening and achieves personal independence as she discovers that a girl doesn't need a lot of sugar to be sensational!
"Filthy Sugar takes us to the mid-1930s, from the struggles of a working class slum, to the hustle and excitement on and off the burlesque stage. Here, we follow redheaded heroine Wanda Whittle's rise and fall from fame in a journey of self-discovery that reveals desires and reserves of strength she never knew she possessed. Erotic, compelling and full of richly textured characters, Heather Babcock's storytelling is equal parts moxie and poetry--tinted with the heartbroken nostalgia of memory and lost dreams; and sparkling with striking, evocative imagery. More than a backstage pass into this world, Filthy Sugar shines a light on the challenges faced by working class women. Dancing as fast as they can in order to survive, they must navigate the unapologetic misogyny and hypocritical social codes that govern their bodies and behaviour as they pursue their hopes, dreams and desires. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?"
--Cate McKim, Life with more cowbell arts & culture blog (lifewithmorecowbell.com)
"With the grit and desperation of the Depression, the forgotten man, the sassy dames and dirty little secrets sprouting out of dandelions, Filthy Sugar is a dream wrapped up in a sassy pre-code cinematic adventure and its heroine Wanda Wiggles is all the parts of a swell dame made up of a fine mix of Barbara Stanwyck, Thelma Todd, Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell and Clara Bow. Heather Babcock has captured the pure essence of the 1930s with eloquent, colourful words that flourish across the pages. You literally feel as if you are part of the audience in the burlesque house, hooting and hollering as Wanda wiggles across the stage. You don't need to be a fan of pre-code movies to enjoy this wonderful debut novel."
--Lizzie Violet, writer, poet & spoken word artist. Nominated for and runner up for Best Spoken Word Artist, 2015 Now Magazine Readers Poll
"Filthy Sugar is so delicious it's positively sinful! Wanda Wiggles will take you to another time and place, but a place where love, lust, greed sex and power are just as heartbreaking and complex as they are today. Filthy Sugar was inspired the women of the Pre-Code period of Hollywood film, referring to the films that were made from 1930-1934, prior to the enforcement of the amended Production Code "to govern the making of motion and talking pictures" and Wanda Wiggles is a stellar female character of that time--she is a dame not to be messed with! Her heart is as soft as a kitten's fur but the claws come out when they need to! She's sensual, sassy and stunning and she isn't afraid to be her true self, even when that self lands her in some hot water. The dialogue and setting are pitch-perfect, demonstrating a great deal of research and love for the time period, but the author's voice never intrudes; the reader is fully engaged. I truly hope this exquisitely written debut novel will enjoy the love and attention it deserves. Superb, poetic and cinematic, Filthy Sugar will transport you into another world and you won't want to leave!"
--Lisa de Nikolits, author of No Fury Like That and Rotten Peaches
"Heather Babcock's novel, Filthy Sugar, artfully takes the reader into the Jazz Age of flirty flappers and boozy philosophers, an era which has always captivated me. Her vivid descriptions and strong use of language take you right into the action, and her knowledge and passion for the period are clearly vast. However, there is also sensitivity to her characters, and insights into human nature, which are timeless."
--Pat Connors, Toronto poet
"Heather Babcock's Filthy Sugar is both a sweet and saucy journey behind the curtain. Vicariously through Wanda's trials, tribulations and triumphs, we're taken through the tapestry of a difficult and opportunistic time. The characters are alive, and full of antique and vintage sentiments. The narrative is stark, romantic, and eloquent, while the dialogue all but inspires the crackling of a Victrola sound for every scene. A time traveled, tantalizing, and tumultuous tale, to be sure."
--Valentino Assenza, Co-Host/Co-Producer HOWL, CIUT 89.5FM
"Filthy Sugar is a real time-travelling excursion. Heather Babcock brings alive the era of Trilbys, hoofers and two-bit scriveners with vividness, imagination and striking description. A good read - and how!"
--Jeff Cottrill, writer, actor, journalist and spoken-word artist