For the latest 10 Question Author/Artist interview series I have Laurie Loewenstein, the author of “Unmentionables.”
1) I met you as a driver, picking me up from the airport to go to Wilkes University for their Low-Residency MA/MFA Program. You were listening to “A Farewell to Arms” on cassette tape, which brings to my first question many young readers want to know. Does listening to books on cassette tapes have magical powers that can help you write a good book and get published?
Cassette recordings of great books absolutely have magical powers. As they circle the spools, the magnetic tapes emit ions that infiltrate the listener’s brain. Suddenly the listener’s grey cells are awash with multi-syllabic words that writers adore such as “iridescent,” “cerulean” and “multi-syllabic.” Of course, if the tape is of a Hemingway novel, the words will be “clean,” “drink” and “hyena.”
2) How does it feel to go from airport driver to published author?
Many good conversations were had driving writers to and from the airport. Passengers talked about their projects or imagined projects. Plays were performed, novels written, poems birthed in the 20 minute drive down the steep incline of Route 81 South and into the grey valley of Wilkes-Barre. As a published author, I am more often doing the talking and that is not as interesting.
3) You are the first book to be published under the new imprint Kaylie Jones Book. What was that process like?
It has been a fabulous learning experience. Fortunately, Kaylie Jones Books is under the umbrella of Akashic Books, an independent press founded almost 20 years ago. These people know what they’re doing and have been so generous in sharing their time and wisdom. The general steps were 1) Revising chapters for the 12th or 20th time 2) Checking galleys for errors 3) Providing input on the cover 4) Filling out an extensive questionnaire to help market the book, the toughest question being “Why would someone want to read your book?” 5) Waiting for the finished book to arrive in the mail 6) Setting up a website, author Facebook page, Amazon author page, Twitter account and using these social media to promote the work of other writers and artists 7) Sending thank you notes to everyone who helped along the way. The final step for me will come in a couple of months when the window softly closes and I turn to give the next debut author a hand.
4) My mom gave me a list of things I couldn’t say at 5 years old and labeled them ‘unmentionables’. What does your title “Unmentionables” mean in your novel for those that have not read the book?
Unmentionables was commonly used in the early 20th century as a euphemism for underwear. They were also sometimes called “invisibilities.” The novel takes place in a village. “Unmentionables” also alludes to the many secrets that commonly pass among small town residents. Secrets that are not at all secret. They are known but not stated aloud.
5) I enjoyed this book because the writing was tight and strong, but more importantly I liked the protagonist Marian. How did you come up the character?
Nina Wilcox Putnam (1888-1962), a flamboyant writer and reformer whose causes included dress reform, strode out of the pages of a book on historical clothing I was browsing and could not be shaken off. A striking, bold and outspoken woman, she was the inspiration for Marian Elliott Adams.
6) Undergarments play a role in your story and plot, what do you think are the undergarments women deal with today? You can answer this metaphorically and get all deep and political. All is good; I encourage soapboxing.
For all of her adult life, Susan B. Anthony made her home in Rochester, NY. As a newcomer to the city, I’ve toured her house many times in the last year and am now re-learning the history of the women’s suffrage movement. In its early years (1848), American women argued that they should be granted the right to vote based on the equality of the sexes. That, like a man, no woman should be governed by laws she did not have a voice in forming. Women and men were essentially the same, they contended. By the 20th century, many suffragists claimed the right to vote by arguing that men and women were different. And that women, as voters, would be more adept at governing in the arenas of public health, child labor laws, and pure food regulations. I think women today are still encumbered by the impulse to simultaneously define themselves as the same as and different from men.
7) We did both go to Wilkes University where we got to hear and meet one of the coolest writers and biographers of Norman Mailer–Dr. Lennon. Have you ever heard him wax philosophically an about Madame Bovary and/or Moby Dick? It is quite amazing.
My first resume, typed on an electric typewriter by the way, listed Moby Dick under the “Interest” category. This was decades before I met Mike Lennon. My favorite college course was on Melville. Frederick Busch, who went on to an illustrious writing career, was the professor. He was brilliant. Moby Dick is still one of my favorite novels. And yes, Dr. Lennon is amazing.
8) Here is a combined question I always like to ask many first time novelist that do this series: how many drafts did you do, and did you outline?
“Unmentionables” went through at least a dozen drafts, I would say, in the five years it took me to write it. I did outline on one of those big newsprint pads that you find on easels in conference rooms. The outline took up several pages that included notes on timelines, character arcs, scenes and themes. By the time the novel was finished most of the characters from the outline remained, but the timelines and scenes had shifted significantly. I really don’t understand the theme until the manuscript is finished and somebody I respect tells me what the theme is.
9) I am lazy so I probably won’t ever do a historical novel because of the research, so I just use current pop-culture in my writing. So, I must ask, what did your research entail for making sure you got that the era correct?
As a former history graduate student, I have to confess that researching, for me, ranks right up there with a pint of strawberry gelato. Besides spending a lot of time reading about World War I, Traveling Chautauqua and the Chicago trolley system, I listened to period music, watched silent films from the era and checked word usage by typing questionable vocabulary into Google books and selecting my period (1900-15). If the word didn’t show up in one of the books, I figured it was not used and substituted another.
10) Last question, what are you working on now.
A mystery set during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression is my current project.
Definitely check out Laurie’s book. You can reach her below at the following links.