Olivia Newport join us. her first novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning released May 1st. I always love to talk to new authors and see what their process is like. I hope you enjoy getting to know Olivia and her book as much as I have.
Olivia, can you tell us a bit about how The Pursuit of Lucy Banning got started?
I have suburban Chicago roots, but I had not heard of the Prairie Avenue Historical District until a friend of mine became a docent at the Glessner House Museum on Prairie Avenue. This house preserves the flavor of Chicago’s gilded age when the neighborhood was full of wealthy powerhouses of industry. As soon as my friend began his training, he saw the potential for the setting of a story. He is not a fiction writer, but he knew my interests. It did not take us long to cook up story ideas about a daughter of a privileged family who engaged with the changing social climate of her time.
I love the idea of a character who interacts with the issues of her day. Your book is layered with historical detail -- I know how tough that can be to get right. Can you tell us about your research process?
My docent friend, Stephen Reginald, is a history buff. He spits out the most interesting details sometimes, and before I know it, I am digging too. We both scoured the archives of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times for headlines and language of the era. I looked for true events that serve as hooks in the stories. The Internet turns up all sorts of obscure books and historical accounts. One of my favorites was a first person travelogue written by someone who visited the world’s fair in 1893. Stephen’s work at the Glessner House Museum opened a portal into diaries and museum pieces that helped me faithfully recreate the story’s setting.
One of the most fun research pieces I uncovered was a guide to caring for young children published in 1894. The prevailing expert advice was not to play with a baby before he or she was four months old, preferably six! I love giving a copy of this book to new mothers. On the other end of the spectrum was heartbreaking information about the desperate needs of orphans during that time period. We may think we have more sophisticated system for addressing certain social issues, but we have a long way to go.
While you were writing the book, do you think it mattered that you grew up near Chicago?
Even as an adult, I’ve lived in the Chicago area for several stretches, and several siblings and their children live there. (Go Cubs!) When I was a child, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry was a wide-eyed experience for me. As a young mother, I took my kids there. I think of it as the Museum of Wonder and Curiosity. Then I discovered that the building itself was part of the 1893 world’s fair, the backdrop for my series. Little did I know I would grow up to write about events that took place in a building that held so much fascination for me.
Okay, now some fun questions. I can write just about anywhere: home, Panera, the gymnastics gym. Where do you like to write?
I advocate writing by keeping your bottom in the chair, but I’m flexible about the kind of chair! Research happens at my desk where I can spread things out. Several years ago, in a thrift store, I found a wide, comfy recliner with a built-in massage feature. When I’m in serious get-words-on-the-screen mode rather than researching, I write in cushy comfort. However, I also think that writing is a consuming process, and I may solve a plot dilemma while I’m walking through the neighborhood or hear the perfect line of dialogue in my head while pulling weeds. When I’m immersed in a story, it’s hard to set it aside until I get it out of me. The writing follows me around as I go about my life.
How do you handle distractions?
Classical music—no words—helps keep my brain in a productive gear. I have a big planner where I write notes so I can let go of information or an urge to do something for the moment. Being comfortable helps with distractions, in terms of the chair, lighting, and room temperature. Otherwise my body responds to every little bothersome sensation. And it’s amazing how effective it is to simply close the door on the household noise.
If someone else were sitting at your desk right now, what would they see? (I'd show you a picture of my desk, but it's not pretty!)
A visitor to my office would see multiple attempts at organization, some of which are actually useful! I have several racks for folders and papers, and only I know what qualifies for which rack. I insist on colorful, fun folders. A couple of binders hold manuscripts in progress or research. I expect a visitor would be curious about the various notes I have taped up around my desk, some of which are information I refer to because I can’t remember otherwise, and some of which are inspiration, both to keep my writing on task and my heart in a settled place.
Writing a book is a big project! How do you keep the immensity of it from getting you down?
Writing a book does seen scary! I break things down. I don’t set out to write a novel. Rather, I set out to complete the next task that may become a part of the novel. The task may be working out a knot in the plot, or writing the next scene, or beefing up research. I focus on doing the next thing that needs doing
If you're like me, you walk around and a new idea pops into your head. How do you choose between ideas you’d like to write about?
That’s a great question, because I always have more ideas than time to write about them. I’ve had fun with the Avenue of Dreams series, which begins with The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, because I discovered a place I did not know about. That surprise factor launched my imagination. I’m sure I’ll be looking for the same experience in the future and be eager to pass it on to readers.
Where can people connect with you on the Internet?
I'm so glad you asked! I blog three times a week at http://www.olivianewport.com. Look for @OliviaNewport on Twitter, and if you prefer Facebook hop on over to http://www.facebook.com/OliviaNewport. I'm also on Goodreads. I love to connect with readers.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Olivia!