Monday, July 13, 2015

Interview with historical fiction novelist Jeanne Mackin

I’m happy to start off Jeanne Mackin’s virtual book tour for her new historical novel, A Lady of Good Family.

During her tour, Jeanne will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky person. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Jeanne Mackin’s latest novel, A Lady of Good Family, explores the secret life of gilded age Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece of Edith Wharton and the first woman professional landscape design in America. Her previous novel, The Beautiful American, based on the life of model turned war correspondent and photographer, Lee Miller, won the CNY 2015 prize for fiction. She has published in American Letters and Commentary and SNReview and other publications and is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

Welcome, Jeanne. Please tell us about your current release.
A Lady of Good Family is historical fiction about Beatrix Farrand, one of the first truly great professional landscape designers. Raised among wealth and privilege during America’s Gilded Age, she was a niece of Edith Wharton and friend to many of the great people of her time, including Henry James and President Roosevelt. She was expected to marry soon, and marry well, but Beatrix was a determined and intelligent woman, and had other plans.

What inspired you to write this book?
Gardens. I have loved gardens all my life and when I learned that some of the most famous gardens in our country were created by a woman (at a time when well-off woman didn’t work outside the home) I knew I needed to write about her, to explore her life, to get to know her and to understand her. Now, when I sit in my own garden, or spend the morning pruning shrubs and pulling weeds and stopping once in a while to admire a rose or smell an herb, I feel closer to Beatrix.

There’s also a bit of a ghost story built into the novel. I think gardens are great places for hauntings!

Excerpt from A Lady of Good Family:
Lenox, Massachusetts

My grandparents had a farm outside of Schenectady, and every Sunday my father, who worked in town, would hitch the swayback mare to the buggy and take us out there. I would be left in play in the field as my father and grandfather sat on the porch and drank tea and Grandma cooked. My mother, always dressed a little too extravagantly, shelled the peas.
A yellow barn stood tall and broad against a cornflower blue sky. A row of red hollyhocks in front of the barn stretched to the sky, each flower on the stem as silky and round as the skirt on Thumbelina’s ball gown. In the field next to the barn, daisies danced in the breeze. My namesake flower.
I saw it still, the yellows and red and blues glowing against my closed eyelids. The field was my first garden and I was absolutely happy in it. We usually are, in the gardens of our childhood.
When I opened my eyes I was on a porch in Lenox, a little tired from weeks of travel, a little restless. My companions were restless, too, weary of trying to make polite conversation as strangers do.
It was a late-summer evening, too warm, with a disquieting breeze stirring the treetops as if a giant ghostly hand ruffled them. Through the open window a piano player was tinkling his way through Irving Berlin as young people danced and flirted. In the road that silvered past the inn, young men, those who had made it home from the war, drove up and down in their shiny black Model T’s.
It was a night for thinking of love and loss, first gardens, first kisses.
Mrs. Avery suggested we try the Ouija board. Since the war it had become a national obsession.
“Let’s,” I agreed eagerly.

What exciting story are you working on next?
For my next novel I’m returning to Paris between the wars, a very vivid, mysterious, wonderful and dangerous time. For this story, I’m exploring the intense and destructive rivalry between two of the strongest women of that time and place, the fashion designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. What drove them? What sustained them? It will be a story of triumph, certainly, and also of failure.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I work in the morning, and whether or not it’s full time depends on how you define the work. The writing part only takes a few hours a day, but I spent many more hours reading, editing, doing research. Let’s just say that at this point writing is my main work. I taught writing as well, but stopped doing that recently, so that I could spend more time with more own work. It is rewarding working with beginning and emerging writers, and also very demanding, very taxing. Sometimes you just don’t have enough left over for yourself.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write almost in a trance, and get really frantic if I am interrupted. The strange thing is that I can work in really loud, distracting places, like a coffee house with heavy metal playing (my last choice in music) and still go into that trance. It’s only when someone speaks to me directly that the spell breaks.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Either a nun or a courtesan. I figured neither one had to do housework.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Actually, I became very good at housework. When my husband and I got together, neither of us could cook, so I taught myself how, and I now love working in the kitchen. Sharing a good meal at home is one of life’s great pleasures. I still hate mopping floors and dusting, though.


Thanks, Jeanne!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Mai T. said...

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

Patricia said...

I enjoyed the interview, thank you for sharing!

Rita Wray said...

Sounds like a great read.

Kate F. said...

Thanks for the great giveaway!

bn100 said...

nice interview

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the interview! It made me think of Vita Sackville-West and the lovely gardens she created! Thank you for sharing!

Nikolina said...

Really enjoyed reading the entire post, thank you!

Jeanne Mackin said...

Sorry for the delay on the comments. Remember how, in school, the dog mysteriously ate your homework? Well, I had ants in my laptop. For real! Had to take it in for an emergency cleaning!! So, thank you for hosting me, and thank you for your questions. Time for answers:

strange writing habits. Definitely not on my head. I'm a bad enough typist as it is. My habits are actually quite common: only write first drafts in the morning - after that my imagination begins to shrivel up. And that interruption thing. Friends who call me in the morning learn the hard way not to do so again! Sometimes I stand up when I write. I created a taller standing station so that if I'm tired or day-dreamy I can stand, and somehow that forces me back into focus. I can't write longhand a lot because I'm left handed, but when I do go back to pen and ink I can only use one kind of pen, and one kind of paper: yellow legal pads. Sometimes, when I've been working in a coffee shop and I pull out my pen and that yellow legal pad I've seen other writers (we have a lot in my town) almost droll with nostalgia.

Victoria Alexander said...

Great post - I really enjoyed reading the interview. Thanks for sharing.

Ally Swanson said...

I enjoyed reading the interview! Looking forward to reading the book!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the chance!