Friday, July 17, 2015

A Lady of Good Family by Jeanne Mackin: Interview with Excerpt


Welcome!  Thanks so much for taking time to visit and answer a few questions!  Does travel play in the writing of your books?
Oh, yes. Travel lets me connect with other people and places in a way that makes my own life seem larger, and writing historical fiction lets me, and eventually the reader, travel in time as well as geographically.  Most of my novels are set in places that I have actually traveled to, sometimes many times (Paris!) , but when I’m back home at my desk, the travel internalizes and helps shape the story and the setting.  Author Jennifer Robson said that reading one of my historical novels is “the next best thing to having a time machine.”  That’s great praise for what I try to do in fiction.

Tell us about your current release.

A Lady of Good Family  is a novel about the Gilded Age, and the life of  Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece of Edith Wharton and friend of Henry James.  Beatrix made some very surprising decisions in her life and I wanted to explore and speculate on what gave this particular woman the courage and strength to live and love according to her own desires.  She was an unconventional woman during that very conventional time. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?
To trust the process. Every morning, when I sit down to work, there is an initial moment of panic when I think nothing will show up on the page or the screen. But if I just put my hands on the keyboard and breathe, and pay attention, I start to hear dialogue, and I start to see places and people. The story picks up wherever I dropped it the day before and sometimes things I didn’t plan for or expect appear on the page.  Those moments when the unexpected appears are golden.

What do you think makes a good story?
I am fascinated by the play between public  events and private lives.  People, and therefore characters, are complex, complicated, but they seem one-dimensional to me if the story never moves beyond the purely personal.   We don’t exist in isolation or outside of the day-to-day workings of our cultures and societies, and I think characters in a good novel reflect this. A good story more than anything needs balance:  characters, action, setting, all need to be strong but working together to make a whole.  Bottom line, though:  the writing has to have moments of breathtaking beauty and wit.  A novel is about language, after all.

What was the scariest moment of your life?
When I was twenty-two years old I traveled alone in Egypt.  It was beautiful and exotic and demanding, especially for a woman on her own, and by the time I got to my destination in Cairo my nerves were just shredded. I am very, very claustrophic, and I accidentally got stuck in a room with no lights, no windows, total darkness, and  the door had locked, and I couldn’t get it open.  I almost passed out from fear and anxiety. But this is the good part. I kicked at that damn door, and finally one of the hotel people heard and came to my rescue, a beautiful, tall ebony gentleman who looked at me, sighed, led me to a sofa, and brought me a cup of sweet mint tea.  He never said a word, and I’ll never forget him.

What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
Obvious question:  should writers even be sane?  If you value balance, objectivity and constant harmony, perhaps writing isn’t for you?  Most writers I know are somewhat obsessive and a little self-centered; they need to be, to do the work, even when those qualities don’t (shouldn’t) show in the work.  Having wondered if sanity isn’t over-rated, I will add that yoga, meditation, a glass of good red wine,   a walk in the park, dinner and a movie with my sweetie, my belly-dancing class, all help restore balance lost during the writing day.  Ultimately, writers, all people, need a sense of perspective and the ability to put someone else’s needs and considerations first, once in a while.

And of course, I garden.  Like Beatrix, I find incredible release, challenge, delight and occasionally ecstasy in a garden.

What are your hero and heroine of the story like?
Beatrix Jones Farrand was a woman of extraordinary talent and determination and, as I speculated about, her, full of unreleased passion. She was a lady in the true sense of the word and needed to preserve that reputation at a time when reputation was a lady’s most important possession.  The true hero of the story doesn’t arrive until late in the novel and he is, like Beatrix, a person of strong conviction who values self-knowledge and self-realization.  Love starts in the brain and the imagination, doesn’t it?


A Lady of Good Family
by Jeanne Mackin


Raised among wealth and privilege during America's fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Farrand is expected to marry, and to marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe, she already knows that gardens are her true passion. How she becomes a woman for whom work and love, the earthly and the mysterious, are held in delicate balance is the story of her unique determination to create beauty while remaining true to herself.

Amazon   B&N


“Daisy,” she whispered after that afternoon in the Borghese gardens, when I had arrived in Rome and we met in the tearoom.  “I have seen a face I will never forget. There is nothing remarkable about it, I assure you.  Yet…it is unforgettable.  Am I clear? Remember the white alba?”

The summer before, when I had visited Beatrix in Bar Harbor, she had pointed this particular rose out to me during a tour of her garden…The white alba was one of the oldest varieties of rose, having been around since before the Crusades, and it was not remarkable in any way. The color, to my eye, was pale and nameless, the scent whispery, the petals soft but nothing like silk.  Yet gardeners, ones who knew their materials, always planted some bushes of this rose, and it was always this rose that visitors remembered, even though they couldn’t say why.

“It has a quality of constancy,” Beatrix had explained. “It is a trustworthy rose.  And it reminds one of the simple goodness of life.”

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

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.  She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie,  in Ithaca.
A Lady of Good Family is available at Barnes and Nobles, Amazon, and other bookstores.


BUY LINKS:  Amazon   B&N


Jeanne will be awarding a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $15 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn host.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Jeanne Mackin said...

thanks for hosting. Very pleased to be with you today.I loved the question about the scariest moment, and wonder if your readers would like to share some of theirs.

Victoria Alexander said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing :)

Rita said...

I liked the interview.

patrick siu said...

I have enjoyed learning about the book. Thanks for sharing it.

Betty Woodrum said...

Great interview! Thank you!

Betty Woodrum said...

LOVE the cover! Great post! Thank you for sharing!