Flying Jenny

Flying Jenny

by Theasa Tuohy

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Finalist for the 2019 Oklahoma Book Awards, Fiction

"Another New York novel, Flying Jenny by Thesa Tuohy, is a fictionalized account drawn from an obituary that appeared in the New York Times in 2010. As seen through the eyes of Laura Bailey, a tabloid newspaper reporter, Jenny Flynn, a stunt pilot (inspired by the exploits of Elinor Smith), begins the book by swooping under the East River bridges on an audacious flight west."
--New York Times, included in Sam Roberts's Bookshelf roundup

"Besides Earth, females are also overtaking the sky. Flying Jenny is another read by Theasa Tuohy. Her mom, friend of Wiley Post, first to fly solo around the world, was a pilot in the '30s. And Elinor Smith in 1928 flew a Waco 10 plane under all NYC bridges. Mayor Jimmy Walker then suspended her for 10 days."
--New York Post

"[Protagonists Jenny and Laura] eventually find commonality in staring down the sexist mechanisms of the time, each in her own way. Tuohy uses fun period details and jargon to create a lively 1920s setting for this story about self-discovery, friendship, and upsetting the patriarchy."

"Tuohy uses both Jenny and Laura to explore gender roles in the late 1920s and how two young women push their own boundaries as well as the society around them."
--Historical Novels Review

"As entertaining a piece of historical fiction as I have read this year...Tuohy engages readers in all sorts of flying activities--air shows, air races and flying derbies--in which women pilots in the 1920s and '30s participated...I recommend it to anyone who might be interested in women who prepared the airways for today's female pilots."
--The Oklahoman

"The heroes and heroines and the characters Tuohy brings to life in the book were derived from tales told to her by her mother, the daring, petite fire-cracker female pilot (named Theasa as well), who was a conteporary of Will Rogers and friend of Wiley Post, the first pilot to fly solo around the world."
--Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine

"It is August 1929, and this romp through the early days of women's aviation history arrives with all the immediacy of a late-night edition. Theasa Tuohy memorably limns the adventures of not one but two pioneering women. Debutante pilot Jenny Flynn and cub reporter Laura Bailey carry the spunk of Thelma&Louise to new heights as they fight for space in the cockpit and the city room."
--Janet Groth, author of The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker

People are doing all sorts of screwy things in 1929. It is a time of hope, boundless optimism, and prosperity. "Blue Skies" is the song on everyone's lips. The tabloids are full of flagpole sitters, flappers, and marathon dancers. Ever since Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic solo, the entire world has gone nuts over flying. But everyone agrees that the stunt pilots take the cake.

Jenny Flynn defies the odds and conventions in her pursuit of the sky. She attracts the attention of Laura Bailey, a brash reporter crashing through her own glass ceiling at a New York City newspaper. Laura chases the pilot's story--and the truth about her own mysterious father--on a barnstorming escapade from Manhattan to the Midwest.

Flying Jenny offers a vivid portrait of an earlier time when airplanes drew swarming crowds entranced by the pioneers--male and female--of flight.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617756450
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Theasa Tuohy is the daughter and namesake of a pioneering pilot who flew an old World War I "Jenny" with an OX-5 engine. She is the author of The Five O'Clock Follies and is a longtime journalist who worked for five daily newspapers and the Associated Press. Her "first woman" stints include assistant city editor at the Detroit News and the copydesk at the (Newark) Star-Ledger. Tuohy lives in Manhattan.
Theasa Tuohy is the daughter and namesake of a pioneering pilot who flew an old World War I "Jenny" with an OX-5 engine. She is the author of The Five O’Clock Follies and is a longtime journalist who worked for five daily newspapers and the Associated Press. Her "first woman" stints include assistant city editor at the Detroit News and the copydesk at the (Newark) Star-Ledger. Tuohy lives in Manhattan.

Read an Excerpt



The Williamsburg Bridge was already jammed with photographers, spectators, and newsreel cameras when Laura Bailey and Cheesy Clark arrived on the scene. They had a tough time shoving their way through to a good vantage at the railing so they could see all the way upriver toward the Queensboro Bridge.

"So," said Cheesy, removing the bulky flash attachment from his Speed Graphic as he set himself up for shooting, "here we is, me and you. A gal reporter and a cheesecake artist. Whaddaya think the deal is?"

"This whole thing doesn't make any sense." Laura frowned as she wriggled into a space between a steel post and Cheesy, and stepped up on a rung of the railing for a better view. A puff of breeze warned that she needed to hold as tightly to her little hat with one hand as she was gripping the railing with the other. "I bet that span isn't even two hundred feet above the water," she yelled to him over the noise of the crowd. "No one can fly under that. And look," she said, pointing west toward the Manhattan side of the bridge, clogged with Sunday traffic moving to and from Queens over the East River. "There are cables and stuff hanging down that could catch and rip a wing in a second."

Cheesy, the stub of a cigar clenched tight in his teeth, did no more than grunt. He was too busy jamming plates in and out of his Speed Graphic, turning one way for shots of the swelling crowd, whirling back, shooting the bridge up ahead, the barges, Sunday sailors, and other river traffic, then leaning back to get a dizzying shot of the soaring towers of the bridge they were on.

"Heck of a spread for the paper tomorrow," he finally said. "Don't wanna miss any angles. If the fool pilot gets hisself killed or not, still heck of a spread."

"Ouch, get your clodhopper off my foot," Laura yelped, as a Pathé newsreel cameraman backed into her.

Laura was at a distinct disadvantage jockeying among all these men, dressed as she was in a mid-calf-length skirt that hobbled her movement, the tiny hat with a veil perched atop her dark marcelled wave.

"Sorry, lady," the cameraman said. "But what are you doing here, anyway? You're in the way."

"So are you, buster," Laura snapped, giving him a shove and turning her attention back to the bridge ahead, scanning the horizon on the outlandish possibility that there could really be a little bi-wing airplane approaching. It was a perfect summer day, blue, cloudless sky. The rumor was, as hard as it was to comprehend, that some crazy barnstorming pilot from Roosevelt Field was planning to fly under all four bridges that crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens.

People were doing all sorts of screwy things in 1929, as a glance at any newspaper would reveal. They called their era the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. The Great War had been over for ten years, it was a time of boundless hope, optimism, and prosperity. "Blue Skies" was the song on everyone's lips. The tabloids were full of flagpole sitters, flappers doing the Charleston, and marathon dancers leaning on their partners through endless nights. The more serious journals had many readers believing that Herbert Hoover would put a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and that the bull market would run forever. But everyone agreed that these stunt pilots took the cake. Ever since Charles Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic solo two years before, the entire world had gone nuts over flying. Even women were doing it.

The traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge was light but growing; it didn't yet look as jammed as the Queensboro up ahead.

"Let's hope he flies north to south," Laura said to a reporter jammed next to her with an Evening Graphic press card stuck in his hat. "If he starts downriver from the Brooklyn Bridge, we won't be able to see him coming, only going."

The man laughed. "If he crashes into the Queensboro before he gets under it, we won't be able to see that either. Some guy I just talked to has binoculars; he says he can see a lot of press stationed up there. They'll get the good shots."

"We shudda had another shooter here," Cheesy grumbled. "I can catch action north, but with the bend in the river, I'm outta luck if he crashes into the Manhattan or the Brooklyn Bridge."

"You've got to crash doing this stunt," said a photographer Laura recognized from the Evening Standard. "There's hardly any clearance under most of those bridges."

At that moment a collective "Ooh, ah" rose from the growing crowd. Laura could make out a dark speck moving through the sky toward the Queensboro Bridge. "Can you see any better through your camera lens?" she turned to ask Cheesy. But the photographer was slamming plates with the staccato of a machine gun.

The black spot was coming closer. It wobbled, caught a sunray that flashed on the water, and headed straight for the dangling cables. Laura's chest tightened; she realized she was holding her breath. The poor guy was going to kill himself! She'd never seen anyone die before. She gritted her teeth. I suppose it's part of the job, she told herself. I can't be weak-kneed, I have to be strong. I have to prove myself. She watched the speck swerve, then merge with the shadowed waters beneath the bridge, her held breath turned to a gasp. The little spot popped up into the sun! A cheer went up from the bridge watchers.

"He made it."

"That was close."


The crowd roared. The expanding dot was clearly identifiable as a plane now, fast approaching, threading its way among the ships and barges in the harbor. It neared the Williamsburg, and the open-cockpit biplane rocked from side to side in greeting to the cheering, waving crowd. Laura could have sworn she caught a momentary glimpse of a grin under the cloth helmet and goggles of the figure in the cockpit. Bridge traffic was at a standstill.

The plane was heading straight for them, its nose pointing down. Laura elbowed and clawed her way back through the crowd and zigzagged past the stalled cars in what could only be described as a broken field run. The goal post was a view from the other side.

As she shoved one last person out of her way, she grabbed up a handful of skirt, yanked it above her knees, kicked off her high heels — Thank God they're not the ones with the strap across the instep, she thought — and hoisted her lithe five-foot-four frame up several rungs on the bridge's railing. Jeez, I hope Cheese has the good sense to be right behind me.

Cheesy Clarke, nicknamed for his penchant for pinup photos, was known in the trade as a cheesecake artist, but his talents went way beyond that. Before he was taken on as a staffer at the Enterprise-Post, the tabloid where he and Laura worked, he'd continually scooped most of the staff photographers at the numerous newspapers in New York City. Always in the same black rumpled suit with no tie, he all but lived in his car with its police radio. Day or night, he was at a crime scene faster than anyone else, often beating the cops.

Cheesy was a swell guy, one of Laura's favorite photographers. He was a deez and doze type from the Bronx, with little education, and not the best table manners in the world, but he was funny and dedicated to his work.

Sure enough, there he was hanging over the bridge railing right beside Laura.

"You're pretty fast on your feet for a broad," he said with a grin.

"Darn right," Laura yelled into the wind. Mild though the weather was, there was more than a little breeze when you stuck your head out this far. "I was saving you a spot." She was already half over the rail leaning on her abdomen to help balance while she stretched for a better view of the water.

"Holy cow, here he comes." Laura could barely hear Cheesy over the sound of his camera's slide click as she caught sight of the first dark shadow of wings spread on the water.

At that same moment, she felt the wind tug at her hair. Uh oh. She didn't dare grab at her hat. She needed both hands on the rail, or she'd be in the drink as well. With something akin to seasickness, she watched the little veiled felt that represented a week's salary sail off. Borne by the fickle wind, it floated, then dipped, then glided down to the river far below.

She didn't have time to mourn, here came the plane. It did the very same kind of pop-up Laura had seen when it had come out from under the Queensboro Bridge moments before. I must ask someone how they do that, Laura thought. If the pilot is too dead to talk, someone at an airfield or someplace like that will know. Must be like gunning a car engine. Wow. I've never had a story like this before. It's a real humdinger. She shifted her belly slightly on the railing and peered down, straight into the hole of metal that passed for a cockpit — a flutter of white.

A silk scarf flashed, blowing in the wind.

In a long-ago picture, it had been wrapped around the woman's throat and a car's rear wheel. Isadora Duncan, her mother's lover. It had broken Isadora's neck, and her mother's heart. But, nothing ever really touched her mother, Laura had decided then. Just another moment of her narcissism. Mother had wailed, "Poor Isadora, a part of me has died. How shall I go on?" It always felt to Laura that everything in the world except herself was a part of her mother's past; Isadora had been her modern dance phase. It would take a genius to ever predict what phase Mother would ...

"Good grief," Laura screamed at Cheesy, "that was a

woman!" She knew it. She didn't know how, but she just knew it! "A woman!"

The tiny biplane and its shadow were already skimming through the sky and gliding along the choppy surface of the water. The crowd behind Laura was cheering. Some people were actually dancing around the stalled cars or doing jigs on the roadway of the bridge.

"A woman!" Laura screamed again at Cheesy. "I've got to get to a phone." As she dropped off the railing and scrambled into her shoes, she caught a view through the bridge's lacy grillwork. The tiny dot of a plane was swinging slightly to its left trying to avoid the smokestack of a river barge on its way to the next bridge. I've got to file this story. I can't stay to see what happens, Laura thought. Cheesy will get a picture.


Excerpted from "Flying Jenny"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Theasa Tuohy.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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