Interview + Giveaway || Decorum by Kaaren Christopherson
Kaaren Christopherson’s brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world’s most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras–as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine…
In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city’s settlement movement. But a young woman of means can’t shun society for long, and Francesca’s long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn’t blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do…
Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O’Casey–an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel–and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.
Rules Of Decorum
A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter.
If you wish to avoid the company of any one that has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that your reasons are correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able either to blame or mistake you.
The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told… Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions…
I had an opportunity to have a question & answer with our awesome author, Kaaren Christopherson. I was stoked, to say the least. I love this particular Q&A because it was more in depth and she really answers what you asks of her. So without further ado, let's get into this!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I had a wonderful English teacher when I was in 9th grade who had a real knack for teaching literature—not only reading it, but writing it. She had us experiment with writing using concepts that many writers have trouble with, like point of view (who is telling the story) and onomatopoeia (using words that sound like what they represent, like sizzle or hush). I wrote a short story for class about Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, from the point of view of her sister, with whom Jennie had been staying to care for her after childbirth. It was such a great challenge, using my imagination to bring a scene from history to life. I think I realized then that writing would be in my future.
Where did you get ideas for Decorum?
Decorum is very character driven. When Connor O’Casey, Blanche Alvarado, and Francesca Lund appeared in my imagination, they were wearing Gilded Age fashions, so I never struggled to figure out what time period to portray. Many of the situations and their visual elements and descriptions in Decorum were inspired by studying engravings from fashion and news magazines of the 1880s and 1890s, photos of events and interiors, and American and European Impressionists. Trips to flea markets and antique shops yielded old cabinet photos that reminded me of the characters, as well as some of the items they may have used.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Work on Decorum began as the result of a fascinating course I took in 1999 on writing historical fiction. Up to that point, I had made a number of false starts in trying to research and write historical fiction. I would research a topic until I realized I would never know enough and then became immobilized. The historical fiction writing course helped loosen me up enough to focus on storytelling. I probably got serious about finishing a full book in about 2002 and forged ahead.
Can you describe your writing process?
When I start to write I have a general idea of where the story is headed and have lots of notes, but I don’t have an outline per se. How the characters evolve is important, so I have to write quite a lot—maybe 100 pages—before the characters have had enough page space to reveal their motives and decisions and how they will interact with and react to each other. Regarding research, I generally do some broad-brush research to start and then focus on more of the historical details as the story unfolds. When I get stuck, I research. Morning is generally my best writing time.
What do you do when you're not writing?
When I have the time I love to travel. I prowl art galleries, museums, and historic landmarks and enjoy theater. I’m an artist and work mainly in painting and drawing. I’m involved in my local church. I enjoy getting together with family and friends.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family is very proud and supportive. My mother and two of my cousins read early manuscripts for me and encouraged me to keep going. My brother has jumped in and done a lot of promotion work. Everyone has been very excited about Decorum’s release.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?
I can think of two things. One was how challenging it is to wield so much information, not only all the research that goes into a book like Decorum, but also in how much I wrote that wound up in the trash simply because I was learning to put a book-length story together. Writing historical fiction involves a lot of decision making, especially in choosing what historical information to use explicitly in the text and yet not make it sound like a textbook on the Gilded Age. I wanted the writing to flow, almost as if it had been written in 1890.
The other surprising thing was that I had read and heard other authors talk about how at a certain point in the writing, the characters took over. Being a first-timer, I didn’t think that was likely to happen to me, but it certainly did. The characters said and did some surprising things that I didn’t expect and proved to be wiser than I was in many instances.
How did you come up with the book title?
I was using my great-grandmother’s etiquette book, called Decorum and published in 1881, for research on behavior and etiquette of the period. What a goldmine. As I researched, I realized how contrary to the rules of decorum the novel’s characters were behaving. I thought, a-ha! The etiquette book gave me a theme that helped tie the story together, as well as a great title.
Is there anything you would like to change in this book?
No, not really. I learned a tremendous amount from writing Decorum—lessons in research, process, plot, and character that I hope I can apply to writing novels in the future. For this novel though, Decorum captured what the characters had to say about their lives and their world in the Gilded Age of 1890 and 1891. Whether they have more to say about their lives and their world, only time will tell.
If you could go back in time, what era/year would you want to visit?
Wow, that’s tough, there are so many years and eras, especially linked to events. I would love to have been in the crowd at Lindbergh’s landing at Le Bourget Field in Paris in May of 1927 or to have walked the streets of Boston or Philadelphia or New York before the American Revolution. I would love to have seen London before the great fire of 1666 or before the Blitz destroyed so much of London during World War II. I would love to have caught a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth I or France’s Louis XIV or to have seen San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and fire. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles or the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Way too much interesting history.
Who are your favorite literary inspirations? Why?
Edith Wharton’s writing was a great inspiration. In writing Decorum, I wanted to achieve a voice that sounded authentic to the period; Wharton’s literary voice is readable and yet evokes beautifully the Gilded Age through which she lived. Alan Paton and his book Cry, the Beloved Country are inspirations, but for totally different reasons. Paton, writing in the 1940s, was able to create a poignant and breathtaking story with very tight language. The pacing is beautiful, especially in the use of dialogue. I love Dorothy L. Sayers because she took a literary approach to writing detective fiction in her wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.
What's next for you?
I have many ideas and many directions my writing could take. I’m doing background research on the period before the American Revolution, the period between the World Wars, and the plague years in England. Who knows where the next story will take me?
Kaaren Christopherson is the author of Decorum—a novel about Gilded Age New York—that began taking form in 1999 during a course on writing historical fiction. From that moment, Connor O’Casey (who had been rattling around in her brain for months) finally appeared one night and said, “All right, woman. Here I am. What are you going to do about my story?” So she began to put his words on paper, and he hasn’t kept quiet since. Soon Francesca, Blanche, Tracey, Vinnie, and the rest of the characters began arguing, gossiping, loving, and forming themselves into Kaaren’s first novel.
Kaaren has had a professional career writing and editing for over 30 years and is a senior editor for an international development nonprofit organization in Washington, DC.
She has written fiction since her school days, story poems, children’s books, historical fiction, and time travel, and continues to be active in writer’s groups and writing workshops. In addition to her career as a writer, Kaaren was the owner of a decorative painting business. She loves to travel and prowl through historical sites, galleries, and museums. She is active in several churches in DC and in her local Northern Virginia community, where she shares her home with feline brothers, Archie and Sammy.
A Michigan native, Kaaren received her BA in history and art and her MA in educational administration from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
For more information visit Kaaren Christopherson’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
GiveawayOne paperback copy of Decorum by Kaaren Christopherson (US only) 09/18
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