Today I have a very special guest with me! I have been a fan of Deeanne Gist's historical fictions since I was a teenager and if you have not read any yet you should make doing so a priority. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Deeanne about her upcoming title, Tiffany Girl, and also about her writing life!
You can buy Tiffany Girl TODAY, and it is the perfect book to start your Gist collection. Here is some information on the newest title to get you excited! My review will be posted next week.
From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair and Fair Play comes a compelling historical novel about a progressive “New Woman”—the girl behind Tiffany’s chapel—and the love that threatens it all.Here is our conversation, hope you enjoy!
As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—seizes the opportunity to unveil his state-of-the-art, stained glass, mosaic chapel, the likes of which the world has never seen.
But when Louis’s dream is threatened by a glassworkers’ strike months before the Fair opens, he turns to an unforeseen source for help: the female students at the New York Art Institute. Eager for adventure, the young women pick up their skirts, move to boarding houses, take up steel cutters, and assume new identities as the “Tiffany Girls.”
Tiffany Girls is the heartwarming story of the impetuous Flossie Jayne, a beautiful, budding artist who is handpicked by Louis to help complete the Tiffany chapel. Though excited to live in a boarding house when most women stayed home, she quickly finds the world is less welcoming than anticipated. From a Casanova male, to an unconventional married couple, and a condescending singing master, she takes on a colorful cast of characters to transform the boarding house into a home while racing to complete the Tiffany chapel and make a name for herself in the art world.
As challenges mount, her ambitions become threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?
C: What inspired you to write Tiffany Girl?
DG: My mom is always on the lookout for good ideas and has given me ideas for a lot of my books. She was watching a PBS program and the detective show mentioned the Tiffany Girls and how Tiffany was making his big debut at the World's Fair and the men who were making his mozaic chapel went on strike around 5 months before the Fair was scheduled to open. Tiffany didn't have time to negotiate, out of desperation and without any other option he turned to a group of female art students and hired them to finish the job. Everyone was scandalized and upset, no one could believe they could do it because it was a man's work and they were young and inexperienced and there were only about 150 men in New York who could do the work that Tiffany required. So when this group of girls stepped up to the plate not only did they finish it and do a good job, they also became a permanent fixture in Tiffany's studio.They added a woman's department and became known as Tiffany Girls. I knew that when my mom told me about them that I would want to one day write about them.
C: I was very surprised when I heard that Tiffany began and worked in glass, I find that fascinating.
DG: His dad was the jeweler, so Louise who did the glass was the heir to the jewelry empire and did inherit it but by that time he had really made a name for himself in the stained glass and mosaic industry. They did it at the same time, father Tiffany had his place on 5th avenue and his son, rather than going straight into the jewelry was very interested in the stained glass. The thing that was so revolutionary about Louis Tiffany was that back then when they did stained glass they painted the back of it so it wasn't really transparant. What Louis did was he poured this hot molten glass onto a big iron table and he poured color into them and stirred them up with this big fork and it made the color transparant and it made it very fluid with all different shapes and shades. So these windows were like nothing they had ever seen because they were so transparent.
C: How long does it normally take for you to write a book? From idea to finished copy?
DG: It takes me a year to write a book, I spend six months researching and six months writing. I find that my time has become a lot more fractured with the introduction of Social Media. I have found that it all becomes rather addicting and I find that I don't have quite as much time as I used to, so I may slow that process down. I may slow it down for my next book because there were several books that I wanted to read on Tiffany that I didn't have an opportunity to read so who knows what I missed in those that I could have included. I think I'm going to slow down a little bit. Tiffany Girl is my eleventh book and I've had one every year since I started.
C: What is your writing process like?
DG: I guess the first thing I do is start with a premise like the one that my mom gave me. Then I try to research as much as I can about that topic. Once I have exhausted the books in my library and the sources on the internet that I can get my hand on that are reliable I spend ten days in the location of where my books are set. So in this case I spent ten days in New York, because I had done so much research on the front end I knew exactly where in new york that I wanted to go. The head of the women's department, Clara Driscoll, penned a whole bunch of letters to her family and within those letters she talked about her job at Tiffany's. That is how the scholars found out that there even were Tiffany Girls because this is a brand new discovery as of 2005, before that Louis had taken credit for these iconic lamps that we found out through these letters were clearly designed by the Tiffany Girls.
C: From my reading of Tiffany Girls so far, Flossie is very much into the idea of the "New Women" and female empowerment in general. Why did you include that so prevalently in the novel?
DG: Part of that is due to the research and I started when i research a time, I researched New York City in 1892, 1892, I read a lot about the social climate, the economic climate, the political climate and it was just the climate, like the weather. From doing that I found out about the New Women and I found out that it was really quite scandalous for women to leave home before they were married and that women could not retain a job if they were married. So the only way they could work is if they were single, but their parents didn't want them to work they wanted them to stay home and get married. So these women were going to the city to work and they had to have a place to live. The fact that they were living in boarding houses was also scandalous because they were coed and they were unchaperoned and if they went to an all female boarding house that was also seen as suspect because a lot of the brothels would disguise themselves as all female boarding houses so it became associated with brothels. It was a lose, lose for these girls. They had to really, really work hard to establish themselves in those boarding houses as respectable and they did all kinds of things which is one of the things I have Flossie do to try to make sure everyone knew that her boarding house wasn't really a boarding house. It was a home and she tries to turn it into a home. I got that idea from reading journals from people who lived in boarding houses and that is when I discovered how scandalous it was and how hard a time these girls had. I was actually trying to research how she got from the boarding house to Tiffany's studio and read about the street cars and discovered that the men abused the women and they were called "bustle pinchers" because they would pinch them and rub against them and do inappropriate things to them because they were on the street car, in rush hour, when they considered that an all man domain like smoke rooms and things of that nature. This was an all man domain and they really resisted the women infiltrating them. When I saw all of these things that women had to do in order to pave the way for women like you and me, I really felt compelled to research and write that as accurately as I could.
C: Why do you focus on historical fiction?
DG: Well, you know that I am just really intrigued with the fact that humans are still struggling with the same things now as they were in the Middle Ages, and in Victorian times and Biblical times. It doesn't matter what generation it is we are still struggling with the same things. I like to be able to write about these things. For an example, in Tiffany Girl Flossie is an only child. I read contemporary books about being an only child and what the struggles were and what the pros were and all of those kinds of things about being an only child. I was able to take that and then place it in a time where things were just a little bit slower, things didn't move as fast as it did today. It allows me to slow down and see things from a different perspective and it hopefully allows me to take something that is relevant today and places a fresh outlook on it.
C: Do you think you will write any contemporaries anytime soon?
DG: I have ideas for five right now, but I'm not sure. I'm trying currently to transition from the inspirational market to the general market and I don't want to change everything too fast. Right now I am going to focus on historicals that are general market. Then maybe after I have established myself there I may just get a wild hair and try my hand at a contemporary. The only contemporary I have done so far is a romantic suspense, Beguiled, I cowrote with J. Mark Bertrand.
C: I was looking through the physical copy of Tiffany Girl, and was struck by all the artwork included. Why did you choose to make that a part of the novel?
DG: That started with the first book in the series, It Happened at the Fair, which if any of your readers have read Tempest in the White City, that book takes you through the forming of the fair while mine takes you to the fair. That book is also a general market book. When reading about the fair I found it very hard to describe in words how over the top that fair was because you can't go too over the top in your writing. I called the publisher and told them that we had to include some pictures because I don't think people had any idea how amazing the fair was. I own so many books from the 1890's with images in them that are now public domain, and the publisher agreed to include them. So I pulled all of the images and scanned them to put them in the book. When we decided to make a World Fair series we continued including the artwork so they could follow that same example. I've had the best time with it and it has really been a lot of fun to include the images.
C: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
DG: You know, I never dreamed I would be a writer because I had dyslexia as a child and I managed to graduate with Texas A&M with my 2.3 GPA with a lot of celebration. If you had told me then that I would be making my living with the written world I would have laughed, my parents would have laughed, my sisters would have laughed... no one would believe it. I had always been a good writer in creative writing at school or letter writing and my parent's knew it because they were very focused on my disability before people really knew what learning disabilities were, but they knew because it was hereditary. They were quick to zoom into what I was good at and they were great at encouraging me. One thing I was always good at was writing. When my dad went to a writers conference he came home and called me and told me to come over and read me all of the notes he took. He convinced me to be a journalist that day so I could work from home with my small children. So I started pitching ideas to magazines and ended up writing for People Magazine, Parenting, and Family Fun. That experience taught me how to write to a deadline, how to write to a word count, how to edit, and it really gave me a lot of good practice so that when I began to write a book I had a good idea of what to expect.
C: I read that you were an entrepreneur at one time, how has that influenced your writing?
DG: Yes, much to my husband's distress, I have a very entrepreneurial spirit to the point when he would tell me to please not make him anymore money! I was losing way more money than I was making. I dabbled in all kinds of things. Antique booths, and I have a parenting product out, what I think it is something called ideaphoria where you have lots and lots of ideas. When you have ideaphoria you want to see that idea become an end product but the problem is is most creatives don't have much business savvy. So, I see now why so many brilliant ideas never make it to the store shelves because the creatives have no business savvy. It has affected my writing by allowing me to never run out of ideas. I will never run out of ideas for books, or plots, all of that. I don't think it is as much the entrepreneurial spirit as it is the ideaphoria.
C: What is your favorite historical period?
DG: I have written everything from 1644 to 1905 and I have really parked myself in the Victorian Era. I think I really like the clothing of that era, and it is a lot easier to find information about that era. When I wrote the book placed in 1644 it was so hard to research. There just wasn't a lot about America in 1644. Trying to find what kind of houses they lived in, what clothing they wore, what food they ate, and what slang they used along with the political and social climate was so hard. I gravitated then towards Victorian because there was so much more to choose from and I could be a lot more accurate. I think I am ready to move on, whether I will move forward or backward I'm not too sure, but I am ready to try something new.
C: What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
DG: When I realized I wanted to be a writer I was in a used book store. With dyslexia reading doesn't always fuse in the brain until sometime during adolescence, and for me it was sometime between my junior and senior year of high school. I'd become a voracious reader and I was introduced to the wonderful world of fiction. I had a lot of catching up to do, and I was in a used book store where they had a sign that said, "Have Lunch With Judith McNaught" who was one of my favorite romance writers back then. I picked up the brochure and it had some information about meeting editors and agents. I called the number and they said they had some editors and agents coming in from New York that you can sign up for a 15 minute appointment to pitch your book to and if they will ask you to send it in. I told her to sign me up for it, and the woman advised it was best to have already written a book, but I said I'd have one done by then. I was so clueless! I sat down and wrote the worst book ever in about six weeks. It was so bad, but I thought it was so good. I had my appointment and the agent loved my idea so he had me send it to him. He sent it back and said I could write, but I needed to learn my craft. What I tell people is you can be the best athlete in the world, you can be Michael Jordan, but you still have to learn the rules of basketball. You can't play unless you know the rules. To me, that is the way writing was, it was a natural ability but I still had to learn my craft. I spent the next three years learning my craft and then that book sold immediately, A Bride Most Begrudging. I guess my advice for writers is just to finish the book. If you finish the book you are so far ahead of so many people. My second piece of advice is to learn your craft. If you don't learn your craft you're just spinning your wheels. I read How To books, I joined a critique books, I went to conferences, I did everything that I could to learn the craft. I still do that, I don't feel I have learned everything. You never know it all and you will always learn something knew. That would be my two things, finish the book and learn your craft.
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog today Deeanne! It was so wonderful to have you!
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