Monday, May 14, 2012
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning and interview with Olivia Newport
Title: THE PURSUIT OF LUCY BANNING
Author: Olivia Newport
Lucy Banning lives on the exclusive Prairie Avenue, next door to the Pullmans and other rich and famous families of the late 1800’s. She’s engaged to marry an up-and-coming banker from a respected family. But Lucy knows that if she marries Daniel, she’ll be expected to give up her charity work—and her dreams. Right now, Lucy is keeping secrets from her family, and going to college, something frowned upon for women of respected, well-to-do families.
Will is an unconventional young architect who has just recently moved to Chicago, and is working on designs for the upcoming 1893 World’s Fair. He makes Lucy dream of living life on her own terms. But will she be able to break away from her family’s expectations? Will she ever be loved for the woman she is, instead of the woman she’s expected to be?
THE PURSUIT OF LUCY BANNING is the first book I’ve ever read by Ms. Newport, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. I think this is the first historical I’ve ever read set in the opulent area of Chicago featuring a character as bold, secretive, and set-in-her-mind as Lucy. She is fearless, brave enough to risk her parents’ wrath, and willing to forge her own trail.
Lucy is a character that could have been real. Set around real life events and real life families, the story could have happened as it told. There is a secondary story involving a maid, Charlotte, who has her own struggles and secrets. THE PURSUIT OF LUCY BANNING is recommended if you love historicals, and especially those featuring the more well-to-do city dwellers. $14.99. 290 pages.
Tell us about The Pursuit of Lucy Banning.
Lucy the privileged daughter and Charlotte the maid become friends separated by class and money. One holds a surprising love in her arms, the other has love but wonders if it’s enough. Each of them carries a scandalous secret that could ruin their chances for happiness. In a changing social structure, the two women must work together to overcome social barriers, find true love, and bring about their dreams.
How did The Pursuit of Lucy Banning get started?
I have Chicago suburban 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 write, 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.
Your book is layered with historical detail. 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.
What impact did your research have on you personally?
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.
How do you see yourself in Lucy Banning’s story?
I certainly have never been the daughter of a privileged family! However, Lucy Banning and I do share an infatuation with red velvet cake. More seriously, Lucy is looking for genuine meaning in her life, even if it means taking risks. I’d like to think I would do the same thing.
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.
Will we know what happens to Lucy Banning after the end of the book?
Charlotte Farrow is a secondary character in The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, and she will have her own full story next. The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow will release in January. After that comes Sarah Cummings, who is introduced during Charlotte’s story. Lucy Banning and her family appear in all three books. Even though the main characters will change, readers can follow the next several years of Lucy’s life.
Is any part of you sorry to be finished writing The Pursuit of Lucy Banning?
Yes! I’ve been living with Lucy for three years now. I feel I know her well. Lucy has a part in the two stories to follow, and these are still in the editorial pipeline so I’ll have opportunities to visit with her again over the next few months. Beyond that, I have a picture of what happened in her life and know that she found happiness and meaning. And that brings me pleasure.
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?
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.
When you’re working on a 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.
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.