It’s good to be popular. Interest in the New Books Network has grown to the point where I can barely keep up with the requests for podcast interviews and even blog posts. And know that I deeply appreciate that, since without guests willing to talk, an interview series soon dies. At the same time, there are only so many hours in the day. As a result, I’ve decided to start a new monthly feature on this blog: the Bookshelf. Whenever I can, I will read the books and post about them—even interview the authors. But at a minimum, I can list titles that appeal to me, even if they are not historical fiction or reach me at a time when the schedule is already full.
This month’s list includes, in alphabetical order:
Alix Hawley, All True Not a Lie in It (a different look at Daniel Boone)
Catherina Ingelman-Sundberg, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules (not historical fiction, but it looks like a fun summer read)
Dorothy Love, Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray (female friendship during the US Civil War)
Antonio Manzini, Black Run (modern detective novel set in the Italian Alps)
Wilbur Smith, Desert God and Golden Lion (two novels by a bestselling author [the second with Giles Kristian] sent to me a while ago—ancient Egypt and the Sultanate of Zanzibar—they both seem fascinating, but the author doesn’t interview and I haven’t quite managed time to read them, although I will)
Beatriz Williams, A Certain Age (fun and games in Jazz Age Manhattan—stay tuned for a Q&A with this author in two weeks)
And last but not least, and not in alphabetical order, Mary Hogan, The Woman in the Photo. Her publicist sent me this Q&A, and I really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. So read on to find out more about this book. Normally I would have drawn the questions up myself, but I would have asked the same ones....
What’s the story behind The Woman in the Photo? How did the book come to be?
I first had the idea for this book 24 years ago! I’m not kidding. In 1992, my husband, actor Robert Hogan, was in an off-Broadway play called On the Bum, also starring Cynthia Nixon and Campbell Scott. The play was set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, several years after the epic flood. The characters talked about a “lake in the sky” which piqued my curiosity. A few days later, I went to the library to read about such strange geography. That’s when I read the real story of the Johnstown disaster. Wow. I was blown away. What a great story! I held my breath for 24 years worrying that someone would write my book before I got a chance to. There are other books out there about the flood, but nothing like mine.
How did you conduct your research for the book? Are any of the characters in the book inspired by real-life people?
While on book tour in Pittsburgh for my first young adult novel, The Serious Kiss, I had a free afternoon. So, I rented a car and drove two hours to Johnstown to see it for myself. I could have stayed there for two weeks. There was so much of interest for this Californian girl. Over the years, I would visit twice more. Generously, the President of the Johnstown Heritage Association gave me a day-long tour of everything I needed to tell a compelling tale, including access to the inside of the private Clubhouse which is still standing! Aside from the very real members of the exclusive club: steel titans Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, bankers like Andrew Mellon, U.S. Senator and Attorney General Philander Knox, all the characters are fiction.
How was the writing experience for The Woman in the Photo different from your experience writing your previous novel, Two Sisters?
Two Sisters was a process of opening up my heart and spilling its contents onto the page. Inspired by the early death of my older sister, I told a tale of family secrets that I knew all too well. Writing The Woman in the Photo was a completely different experience. First, I read a gazillion historical novels. Then, I read every book I could find about Johnstown. I even read a novel called Annie Kilburn that was written in 1889 to get a feel for the language of the day. Research, research, research. I was told that women who read historical fiction are fiends about accurate detail. So, my biggest fear about creating a main character who was an upper-class woman of the nineteenth century was getting her many corsets right.
Both The Woman in the Photo and Two Sisters center around female relationships. Why do you think readers are so fascinated by the bonds between female family members?
Ah, yes. Those bonds are complicated, indeed. I have yet to meet a woman who didn’t have a knotty relationship with her sister or her mother. Even when they are smooth, they are bumpy. In my case, my mother and I were very much alike, and my sister and I were very different. So there were a lot of crossed wires. We hurt each other even when we didn’t know it. My dad and my brothers sort of kept their heads down and watched sports :)
For me, the best characters are flawed, striving, loving, selfish, feeling, reacting, deep, curious, furious, and worried—mostly—about their hair. In other words: women.
Is there a particular message you hope readers will take away from The Woman in the Photo?
One of the themes of this novel is: Is DNA your destiny? Are you born to be who you are? Or, can life itself mold you? I would love for readers to finish The Woman in the Photo with the sense that we are all on this earth to be kind to one another. To live together. Even on bad hair days.
Thanks for joining me—and stay tuned for future lists of books worth watching.