Bootlegging

verb (used without object), bootlegged, bootlegging:
to make, transport, or sell something, especially liquor, illegally or without registration or payment of taxes.

I had the chance to pitch my story to some friends the other day. But as soon as bootlegging was mentioned, a listener said, “Oh! So NASCAR fans will love it.”

It was a depressing moment, to have my opus, exploring the impact of one’s choices and whether there is ever a good reason to break the law, reduced to souped up jalopies racing down dirt roads. To be sure, there will be a car chase or two in the novel, and even some souped up jalopies. But cars and racing are not really what the story’s about.

This got me thinking: what do people think of when they hear the term “bootlegging”? Is my friend spot on with his vision of NASCAR? Or is it Al Capone and mobsters or HBO’s Boardwalk Empire? Or maybe hillbillies and jugs of moonshine?

This is not a rhetorical question. I really need to understand what readers will expect when I answer the question “What’s your book about?” by saying, “After the stock crash of ’29, a midwestern farmer and his socialite wife find themselves in over their heads when they accept help from a local bootlegging kingpin in a last-ditch effort to save their farm.”

So, please, please, please… Comment. Answer the question. Tell me what picture comes to mind when you hear the term bootlegging.

10 thoughts on “Bootlegging

  1. Jackie Hower says:

    Prohibition. 1920’s and 30’s. Flapper girls. Bobbed hair. Gangsters. 🙂

    I also asked my office manager and she said, prohibition and alcohol. 🙂

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  2. All of the above, but I am a history teacher. I know the local legends–Paw-Paw’s still in the woods–and the NASCAR connection from my home state, but truly it’s a multi-faceted story from all over American history–even 1791 and the Whiskey Rebellion.

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  3. Wait, I’m confused. What does NASCAR have to do with bootlegging?
    I do think of alcohol, but when I hear “bootleg” the first thing that comes to mind is bootleg tapes and CDs!

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    • Ahhh… your age is showing, Deniz. 🙂

      As for NASCAR, it’s origins are from bootleggers making modifications to their cars so they could a) run undetected when carrying a heavy load, and b) still outrun the authorities in a chase, even though their car was weighted down.

      They found they had fun racing their souped up cars, so, once alcohol was legal again and there wasn’t a need for black market liquor, the “bootleggers” switched to racing.

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    • I may have to do that. I had not taken into consideration that Stock Crash of ’29 was not enough. (Remember, I’ve researched this era pretty thoroughly. It’s easy to lose sight of what the average non-historian knows.)

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