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Excerpt from The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Roaring Days of Zora Lily

A Novel

by Noelle Salazar

The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar X
The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar
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    Oct 2023, 416 pages


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Washington, DC, 2023

The fluorescent lights blinked on in a domino effect, one after the other, a faint buzzing sound filling the room as I stood squinting in the unnatural light.

I inhaled, taking in my small slice of heaven within the storied walls of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The long room with its high ceiling, soothing taupe walls, and wood floors—weathered in spots from years of conservators standing and pacing as they labored over the works of great minds—brought a sense of peace as soon as I stepped inside.

The museum had been my happy place since I was a little girl, when my mother would walk with me from our baby blue–painted row house on Capitol Hill, her slender fingers wrapped around my pudgy ones. We'd wander past sprawling parks, melancholy monuments documenting history, to the austere but magical facade housing wonders my six-year-old eyes could barely comprehend. By the age of eight I knew all the regular exhibits like the back of my hand, and waited anxiously for the monthly newsletter that arrived in our mailbox, telling us what traveling exhibits we could expect next. It was one such exhibit, a gallery of gowns worn by British royalty, that had burrowed itself inside me in such a way that a dream was born.

"I'm going to work here one day," I'd told my mother, pushing back a strand of dirty-blond hair as I stared up at a jewel-colored gown once worn by Queen Elizabeth the Second.

I was twelve.

I wanted to exist within these walls. It was my church, and I believed in its teachings wholeheartedly. I had drunk the water. Read the great books. And prayed to the gods of knowledge and creativity. I wanted to be part of whatever it took to bring history to life for others. And for the past nine years...that's exactly what I'd done.

I stared at the scene sprawled out before me.

"Sanctuary," I whispered, tucking a blond-highlighted strand of hair behind my ear.

Gleaming table after gleaming table sat covered in silk, satin, lace, and velvet. Gowns and dresses and blouses previously only seen on movie screens and in photographs now lay delicately in wait of tending to, their sparkle and sinew in contrast to the stark lights and tepid surroundings. Mannequins, my constant companions, stood at the ready, waiting for their moment.

Thread in every color imaginable, like a rainbow of rotund spool soldiers on a rolling rack, waited to be chosen. Needles in pincushions, strips of bias tape, shimmering appliqués, ribbons, seam rippers, clear drawers filled with buttons and clasps and snaps, and boxes upon boxes of straight pins, their colorful heads a happy bouquet of tiny plastic globes, were scattered across every surface, peeking from where they'd fallen to the floor, rolled beneath furniture, and stuck—I bent to pull a pink-headed pin from the rug beneath my feet—in a variety of inconvenient places.

The door clicked open behind me and I smiled.

"Good morning, Sylvia," a familiar voice said.

"Morning, Lu," I said to the one member of my team who, like me, couldn't wait to get to work.

Every day, my friend and fellow fashion-obsessed cohort, Lu Huang, and I arrived within minutes of one another, and a full half hour before anyone else. Working as conservators for the museum was a coveted get for us. A dream job that every morning caused us to rush from our respective homes, grabbing an insufficient breakfast on our way out the door, and wondering hours later why we were so hungry. We lost track of time constantly, surviving on coffee and bags of chips from the vending machine, and leaving friends and family waiting on us as we turned up late to holiday parties, dinners, and events we'd implored others to attend but couldn't possibly get to on time, and having forgotten to blend the concealer we'd hurriedly dotted on in the train, with paint under our nails and bits of thread or glue on our jacket cuffs.

Excerpted from The Roaring Days of Zora Lily by Noelle Salazar. Copyright © 2023 by Noelle Salazar. Excerpted by permission of Mira Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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