The Dream Lover — Author Interview


I would eventually see that certain kinds of melancholia are natural for many artists, and not only melancholia but strange kinds of behavior that are difficult for anyone who is not an artist to understand, let alone embrace.
George Sand in The Dream Lover

Elizabeth Berg has been one of my favorite authors for a very long time. She’s amazingly talented and prolific, even though she didn’t publish her first novel until she was in her mid-forties. Durable Goods came out in 1993, and almost every year since then I’ve had the pleasure of reading a new Elizabeth Berg novel or short story collection. Some years she even published two books. I was disappointed last year when no Berg book appeared on our store shelves.

“Aha!” you say. “She’s turning into a slacker.” Actually, no. A couple of years ago, Berg decided to change gears and write a historical novel. As she tells it, one day she was reading about George Sand in The Writer’s Almanac and became curious about Sand’s life and times, particularly what she calls “the good stuff” — “deeply personal things about her character as well as her thoughts and feelings.”

Berg called her friend Nancy Horan, author of two biographical novels (Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky) and implored her to write about George Sand. In a conversation with Horan (which appears at the back of The Dream Lover), Berg said to her fellow author:

I thought you would be the perfect person to write a novel about her; I so admired the way you provided intimate access into the character of Mamah Cheney in Loving Frank . . . I believe when you answered the phone I said, “Nancy! You have to write about George Sand! She’s so interesting! . . . You said, “You write it!” I told you I couldn’t, possibly. But then the idea wouldn’t go away, and so I plunged in, buoyed up by the last words you said to me: “Oh, of course you can write it. It will be fabulous!”

Horan was right — it is fabulous. Readers will be captivated by Berg’s lovely and perceptive rendering of George Sand’s brilliant and tumultuous life. Sand, born Aurore Dupin, left her unhappy marriage to become an independent woman — and eventually the first female bestselling author in France. The questions Berg raises through her imaginative portrayal of Sand’s inner and outer lives are as relevant today as they were in 19th century France. Must one pay a price for fame and success? How can a woman balance motherhood with her career?  What does it mean to be a female artist?

“Tell me, George. Do you wish you’d been born a man?”

I thought for a moment, then said, “In my youth, I wished that. I very much admired my father and I wanted to be just like him . . . But now I find I don’t wish to be either man or woman. I wish to be myself.”

Berg “plunged in” by reading Sand’s very lengthy autobiography, Story of My Life, and found that Sand took hold of her imagination:

George Sand entered my subconscious. I began to dream of her; then, I thought, to dream like her. I know that might sound arrogant or at least unlikely. But I believe she captured me, and I was a most willing prisoner.

Berg was kind enough to answer my questions about The Dream Lover, even though she’s on an exhausting month-long book tour. The tour started here in Chicago, and Lake Forest Book Store was thrilled to host a luncheon (at a French restaurant, of course) and an evening event at a nearby library on publication day.

Portrait of George Sand, 1835 (age 31)

I have to admit I knew very little about George Sand before I read The Dream Lover. I knew two things: that she was an 18th century French writer and that she wore men’s clothing. I suspect that’s much as most of your readers know. The character you brought to life is, as you say, “a mass of contradictions”. How would you compare the process of developing George Sand’s character on the page to the process of bringing a completely fictional character to life? And is any character completely fictional, or do they all incorporate elements of people you’ve known?

You’ve heard the phrase,” You can’t make this stuff up!”, right? That was my experience in writing about George Sand. Her life was so interesting, so full of outrageous incident, such tragedy, such scandal, but also such joy and tenderness and catharsis I could never get away with trying to suggest such things would be plausible if I were writing about a fictional character. Truth really is stranger than fiction!

697355-3How do you think modern readers who’ve never read the work of George Sand before would respond to her work (in translation)? Is there a particular novel that you would recommend? And are her works still widely read by the French?

I don’t think George Sand is widely read by anyone, actually. But one book I would recommend is Lettres d’un Voyageur, which is Sand’s travel writing and contains some of the most ravishing descriptions of Venice I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Also, if you’re up for a loooooong book, try her 1,000+ page autobiography. It’s fascinating, and one of the things I liked best about it is the way that she respects where she came from, and devotes a great deal of space to her grandparents and parents. I also recommend her letters, especially those between her and Gustave Flaubert.

Did your research involve any travel to Paris and/or the French countryside, or any study of French?

I’ve been to Paris. I purposely did not go to Nohant, because I wanted to see it as it was, not as it has become. Now that I’ve finished the book, however, I’m dying to go. I minored in French in college, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten most of it.

George Sand had to change her name to succeed as a writer — and today, I am sorry to tell you, many men won’t read books they perceive as being “chick” books. (This includes about 90% of literary fiction.) Why do you think this is? I find women to be much more catholic in their reading tastes than men, and I’m always wondering why. 

Well, I guess the simple and unfortunate answer is that women are still second-class citizens, still often times not taken seriously, not given the respect (or salary or recognition) that they are due. A lot of people are tired of hearing that, but their ennui doesn’t mean the problem isn’t real. I make a concerted effort to support women writers—and women in general. That’s all I can do.

If we could have a glimpse of your personal library, what would it look like? How is it organized?

Like most writers, I have a gazillion books: literary fiction, poetry, essays, memoir, non-fiction titles, graphic novels. Organized? No. It is a mess. Once, I hired three college girls to organize my library and they made it worse. Help!

Could you tell us about your writers’ group(s)? Do you see yourself as part of a literary community in Chicago and how would you characterize that community?

My writers’ group is made up of seven women who meet weekly at a study room in the Oak Park Public Library. Not all of us are there every time, but we try to be. Anyone who brings pages reads them aloud and is then critiqued by the group. We are kind, but honest. Supportive and fun. Often times, we bring good food to share. I love that part. If only dogs could come to the library, it would be perfect. I do see myself as part of a literary community in Chicago, and am interested in working with others to convince publishers to send us more authors.

In your interview with Nancy Horan, you say, “I hope readers will finish the last sentence of The Dream Lover and say to themselves, Boy! That was a good read!” What have you read recently yourself that made you say that? Do you have any favorite historical novels?

Well, I loved Loving Frank, of course. Favorite recent reads include Rachel Joyce’s Perfect, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (volumes 1 and 2) and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. I thought Akhil Sharma’s Family Life was astonishingly good.

One woman brought me a wrist corsage--for the second time, as she pointed out.
One woman brought me a wrist corsage–for the second time, as she pointed out. “Oh, I love wrist corsages!” I told her. “I know,” she said. “You told me that last time” “I always wanted one to wear to the prom, but I never got one,” I said, and she said, “I know, You told me that last time, too.” I snapped that corsage right on and I felt like Principessa Elizabetta.

As you well know, an author’s work doesn’t end when her book is published — a whole new phase of her job begins. How do you feel about that — do you enjoy promoting the book, which involves social media and public speaking?

I love meeting people who read and like my books, and am so grateful when someone comes to a reading and says, “You know, I’ve never come to a reading before. This was fun!” I’m not nuts about doing interviews on the phone when I can’t see the person’s face; it makes me nervous. I’m not nuts about hanging around airports day after day. But I AM nuts about room service, and the fact that my wonderful publisher is willing to send me on the road.

I’m sure readers would love to hear about your Writing Matters events. Could you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to start them? I know you’ve mentioned that you are trying to gain some visibility for under appreciated authors. I’ve always wondered why some books “take off” and others — just as wonderful, if not more so — don’t find their audience.

Writing Matters was inspired because one day I was talking to a friend and extremely good writer, Leah Hager Cohen, about a book she had coming out. I asked if she were coming to Chicago on tour; I wanted to go to one of her readings. She said oh, her publisher didn’t tour her. She didn’t sell enough books to warrant a tour. Here is a brilliant writer (and wonderful, kind and engaging personality) who got a rave review on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Here is someone who is such an inspiration to read, so talented. I told her, “Well, you’re going to come to Chicago now, because I’m going to do an event for you.” With only three weeks to plan, we rented the Hemingway Museum, got food and flowers and wine , made posters to advertise and programs to hand out, and voila: Writing Matters was born. At the first reading, we had 75 people, at the second, 150.

We’ve now completed a year’s worth of every-three-month readings, and next time we’re doing something different in that we’re having a children’s book writer: the delightful Amy Krouse Rosenthal. (The time after that, I’m shooting for highly esteemed poet Charles Simic.) I wanted Writing Matters to serve author, community, and audience, to make it an elevated kind of book signing that would be a real evening out. All proceeds go to buy books for children who would otherwise not have them; currently we give the money to Magic Tree Bookshop to set up an account for the kids at Hephzibah. They can go to the bookstore and pick out whatever book strikes their fancy. It’s really rewarding to see authors get the audience they deserve, audiences to get the authors they deserve, and to serve the community not only by buying books for children but by advertising (for free) local business and restaurants that we like on our programs. There is always a reading by a kid for a warm-up act, and there is always a surprise of some kind. It’s a lot of work to produce, but totally worth it.

I recommend you check out Elizabeth Berg’s Facebook page, which is an absolute delight — many of her posts are actually essays, and I think you’ll find them inspiring and uplifting.



10 Questions for Thomas Christopher Greene, Author of The Headmaster’s Wife (Plus a Giveaway!)

Headmaster's Wife-2
Paperback cover

Booksellers often fall in love with a terrific new book, only to find that the hardcover version is a tough sell. We console ourselves by saying that the book will really “take off” in paperback, and very often that’s true. Certain books, through a combination of serendipity and quality, sell enormously well in hardcover for years without being released in paperback. (Think of Gone Girl, The Goldfinch, Unbroken . . .) But most paperback releases are scheduled for 9 to 12 months after hardcover publication, depending on sales. Some of those paperbacks do sell much, much better than their hardcover versions, especially those that appeal to book clubs.

Author Nichole Bernier interviewed publishers, editors, authors, and literary agents for an article in The Millions about relaunching books in paperback, learning that “A paperback isn’t just a cheaper version of the book anymore. It’s a makeover. A facelift. And for some, a second shot.” Melanie Benjamin, whose paperbacks have been very popular with book club audiences, observed that “‘ . . .  almost every book these days gets a new cover for the paperback. It’s almost as if they’re doing two different books for two different audiences, with the paperback becoming the ‘book club book.'” M.J. Rose, of the book marketing firm Authorbuzz, said, “‘I think that as opposed to a re-release being less important, it’s more than ever important because it gives a book a second chance with a new cover and lower cost, plus you can use all the great reviews the hardcover got.'”

Hardcover jacket

The Headmaster’s Wife, by Thomas Christopher Greene — one of my 10 Favorite Books of 2014 — was just released in paperback. The publisher must think that ivy-covered brick buildings appeal to book clubs, because only one minor change appears on the cover: Richard Russo’s blurb has been replaced with a quote from a People magazine review. Too bad, because what Russo says is spot-on: “I read the second half of The Headmaster’s Wife with my mouth open, my jaw having dropped at the end of the first half. Thomas Christopher Greene knows how to hook a reader and land him.”

The Headmaster’s Wife opens when Arthur Winthrop, headmaster of a New England boarding school, is found wandering naked in Central Park. As he begins to tell his story to the police, it becomes clear to the reader that Arthur is an unreliable narrator. Just how unreliable he is only becomes obvious about halfway through the book. At this point Arthur’s wife lends her perspective to the story, and the reader must determine whose version of the truth to believe. Read more

Island Fog — Book Review and Author Interview

Island FogThe future draped before him like an island fog: dank, listless, and inscrutable. Possibly even dangerous. Only his next step was visible, nothing beyond.
“Island Fog”

The air feels more wet and more cold than even five minutes ago, a thicker texture of gray. You are in the high tide of afternoon fog.
“How Long Will You Tarry?”

Strange things happen in John Vanderslice’s Island Fog, sometimes under the mysterious cover of fog and sometimes out in the open. The eleven linked stories in Island Fog all take place on Nantucket, a small island (49 square miles) 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The haunting, often surreal stories are tied together by the island’s unique history and geography. The collection begins with a story set in 1795, “Guilty Look”, and ends with “Island Fog”, a story that takes place in 2005. In both stories, the protagonist is nightmarishly trapped in a situation that doesn’t seem to offer any hope of escape. A respected wigmaker and bank board member is determined guilty of theft on the basis of a “guilty look”, despite the fact he has located one of the actual criminals, and a college student becomes ensnared in an unbreakable “employment contract” with a diabolical employer. The sinister undertones in these stories, and in several others, reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s dark and ominous short fiction, set in seemingly peaceful New England towns. Read more

Come to Lydia’s Party — And Meet Margaret Hawkins

9780670015764HLast week, Chicago author Margaret Hawkins made the trek north to Lake Forest and delighted a group of 35 avid readers with a discussion of her new novel, Lydia’s Party.

Lydia has a secret she needs to share with her closest friends when they gather for their annual “Bleak Midwinter Bash” at her Chicago home. Readers will quickly discover the secret, but that’s not the point. This quietly moving novel is about the power and significance of women’s friendships, and the regrets that we all face when we realize we’re approaching – or past – the halfway point of life. Lydia is an art teacher at a “godforsaken suburban community college” and a failed artist. She’s divorced, childless, and living with her elderly dog, Maxine. Her group of friends all met as employees at the college; none of them – with one exception – has achieved career success. Lydia’s Party raises interesting questions: How should we define success? How do our fears hold us back? What role does competition play into women’s friendships?  What regrets will we have when we look back at our lives? These questions will inspire spirited discussions among book groups.

Our event took place at Jolly Good Fellows, a bakery across from our store that makes delicious muffins, scones, and pastries — perfect for a cold winter morning. The audience had many questions for Margaret, about her writing process, the road to publication, the characters in the novel, and more. I had a list of my own questions, but we ran out of time. So Margaret graciously agreed to answer my questions in writing.

Before becoming a novelist, you were an art critic. You also wrote a memoir. What led you to switch to fiction writing?

I’d written stories before but hadn’t done anything with them.  Then I got the first sentence for Cats and Dogs in my head and had to write it down.  After that I just kept going.  That’s while I was still writing my art column, but I’d been feeling constricted by that form for some time, having to critique a show or shows every week for years, and I really wanted to break loose and use language differently.  Frankly, I wanted to tell my own stories, not just comment on other people’s art.

As for the memoir, I wrote that while I was writing How to Survive a Natural Disaster.  That was something I felt I had to do, a story that needed to be told about untreated mental illness and how help can be found even later in life. (My sister was 63 years old when she started getting better, while I was writing the book.) I was awed by the help that came my way just for the asking, after decades of secrecy and shame and fear. I figured lots of other people were in the same situation and I wanted share the good news – that healing, some at least, is always possible.

IMG_0178Lydia’s Party is told from the point of view of female characters. Can you imagine yourself writing from the point of view of a male character?

Absolutely.  I’d love to write a whole book in a male voice.  I don’t know if I could, effectively, but I’d like to try.  I did write Craig in first person in How to Survive a Natural Disaster.  Enjoyed it immensely and I feel like he taught me a few things about tolerating other points of view.  Men and women are different, of course, but not that different.

Maxine, the dog, is important to Lydia’s Party. You might say she is a character. Dogs are significant in all three of your novels. Can you comment on that?

Dogs are significant in my life.  Plus I think they are fascinating personalities who make life richer and sweeter. Their pure devotion makes a good contrast to some of the less attractive human qualities.

Lydia, like Roxanne in How to Survive a Natural Disaster, sees herself as a failed artist. Do you think a person who conceives of himself or herself as an artist, yet never attains “success” can find fulfillment? Or will that person always feel dissatisfied and frustrated?

I don’t think worldly success is necessarily a measure of quality in an artist or that it is the only way to attain fulfillment as an artist.  I think a real artist is an artist no matter what the world says.  Making good art is satisfying in its own right. Of course, it’s great if people notice and even better if they pay you, but success is a different thing than actually making art.  Some very good artists never become “successful.” Some of them make peace with that, but it’s hard in our society.  It has partly to do with money.  If you’re comfortable and can make your art without worrying about how to make a living, life is easier than if you have to choose between the two.

What books/authors have helped you develop into the writer you are today?

One true answer: everything I’ve ever read.  Also, as a young person, fourteen, fifteen, I loved Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.  It’s the one book I reread. Writing doesn’t get better than that.  Also, I attended a Baptist church with my friend Deb and her family for seven years and we read the Bible.  That made a big impact, too, not just the content but the style. Beautiful language always entrances me.

This is your third novel. What have you learned about fiction writing along the way? What didn’t you know when you wrote your first novel that you know now?

I didn’t know anyone would want to read my books. It really took me by surprise. I felt free to write anything in Cats and Dogs, break a lot of rules I assumed existed because I didn’t think anyone would read it. In terms of technique though, I haven’t learned much.  I just start and trudge into the mess, drive in the dark the whole way.  I’m not much of a planner.

What books have you read recently that you particularly enjoyed and would recommend?

In no particular order:  My Education by Susan Choi, a fascinating portrait of obsessive love and how it changes over time.  (Which, come to think of it, is how you could describe Lolita.Arcadia by Lauren Groff, about a boy growing up in a commune. I’m reading Foxfire now by Joyce Carol Oates, about a girl gang.  Wow. Isn’t she great?  She does not shy away from rough stuff.  In photographs she looks like this fragile little bird and then she writes this muscular, violent prose – I love that.  This list is just off the top of my head.  Oh, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – loved that.  Also, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.  I’m binging on fiction these days.   My cousin Kate Kasten’s book about a farm family in Iowa, Better Days.  Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.

You’ve published four books in five years — that’s quite an accomplishment. What’s next? How many creative projects do you work on at a time?

I have two books in the works now, at very different stages.  I never know though if my projects will see the light of day.  I feel like someone planting a garden.  I hope it will all grow and flower but if something dies there’s more where that came from.  Remember, I got a late start, so I have a lot of material stored up!

As a writing teacher, what is the most important advice you give aspiring writers? Are there common misconceptions about writing that you notice among your students?

My most important advice to students:  Write every day!  And read!  (Sometimes life intervenes and you can’t write everyday but I don’t say that. You should at least try, or feel guilty when you don’t!)

Most common misconception: Writing is fun.

As a Chicagoan, do you have any favorite places to go — parks, museums, restaurants?

I love Ravinia. The Art Institute, of course. Millennium Park. My dog park. Superdawg.The lake shore, from Hyde Park all the way north to the tip of Door County, though I guess that’s not Chicago anymore.

How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not writing (or reading)?

 I like to be in nature and I do love hanging out with my dog though he’s a maniac now. Having a dog is a way to be in nature even if it’s just taking walks. I look forward to his mellow middle age, if I make it that far.  I may not survive his robust youth.

Thank you, Margaret, for visiting Lake Forest and for taking the time to answer these questions!

Mob Wives Chicago: Renee Rosen’s Dollface

I recently met Renee Rosen at a Palatine Public Library event called Writing the Past– a panel discussion with three historical novelists. Renee and two other Chicago-area writers (Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series, and Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife, Mrs. Tom Thumb, and Alice I Have Been) talked about the challenges and rewards of writing historical fiction. I’d just finished reading Dollface and was especially interested in Renee’s perspective on historical fiction.

816Several years ago, when Renee published her first novel (Every Crooked Pot, a contemporary novel), I recommended it again and again to both teenagers and adults. Renee’s portrayal of the relationship between a young girl with a disfiguring birthmark and her complicated father has remained one of my favorite coming of age stories. At first, I was surprised that the same Renee Rosen wrote both Every Crooked Pot and Dollface. But both books are about young women who feel like outsiders, struggling to belong and to find out who they are. Vera Abramowitz (a.k.a. “Dollface”), the title character and narrator,  just happens to be a gun moll.

In a Chicago Tribune review, Rick Kogan says:

There are few local writers who are more determined than Rosen. Her first, the novel Every Crooked Pot, was published in 2007, and she has spent the intervening years immersing herself in local history and polishing her style. These have been years well spent and excitingly realized in Dollface.

In the panel discussion, Renee mentioned that her original manuscript focused on male gangsters of Prohibition-era Chicago. In a post on her blog (“The Original Bad Boys”), Renee points out that these deadly criminals were very young men:

When you think of bad boys, they didn’t get any “badder” than Al Capone and Hymie Weiss.  In fact, Hymie Weiss was so bad that even Capone was scared of him.  And yet, in reality these original bad boys were indeed really just a bunch of boys.  During the Roaring ‘20s, the average age of a gangster was probably twenty-five and most of them were gunned down before their thirtieth birthdays.

imagesEveryone knows that Prohibition was a colossal flop that did more to accelerate the consumption of alcohol than curb it. But it was also a breeding ground of opportunity for young street thugs, safe crackers and petty thieves. Practically overnight these kids went from scuffed up boots and soft caps to doubled-breasted suits and fedoras. They suddenly found themselves with money, power and broads. Girls everywhere chucked their corsets, defiantly bobbed their hair and flocked to these dashing young men who were just as forbidden as the hooch they were bootlegging.

Renee followed valuable advice from an editor to “move the men to the sidelines and give your women their due”.  We’re all familiar with Al Capone and his contemporaries, but the story told from the point of view of the female characters is fresh and imaginative.  Vera wrestles with the morality of loving a gangster:

I looked at the others and wondered how they could live with it — knowing what their men had done. I thought I’d found a way to justify it. I told myself that Shep was different from other gangsters, that he would never hurt anyone unless it was in self-defense, that underneath it all, he was a kindhearted, loving man. But what was I supposed to tell myself now that he’d been arrested and was out hunting Capone?

After listening to the panel discussion, I had many more questions for Renee — here’s the Q and A.

I loved your debut novel, Every Crooked Pot. (I’m always on the lookout for adult novels that appeal to teenagers — I’m not a fan of the “YA” genre.) Your second novel, Dollface, is historical fiction and clearly a departure from your first novel. What inspired you to move into historical fiction?

I actually started working on Dollface before Every Crooked Pot was published. I always loved history, especially the 1920s. I was drawn to that era even before Boardwalk Empire and the remake of The Great Gatsby came on the scene. I figured if I was that interested in this time period, maybe others would be, too.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact? How much liberty do you think a writer of historical fiction can take with the facts? Is Vera Abramowitz based on a real person?

Great question. I’ve talked to other authors about this very thing and I admit that it is something I wrestle with. In Dollface I really tried to be as historically accurate as possible and spent a lot of time on my author’s note in the back to point out wherever I deviated from a timeline or a historical fact. I also tried to indicate what really happened because fact is definitely stranger than fiction, which is one of the great joys of conducting research.

As to how much liberty I take depends in part on how much information is available. For example, in my next book, What The Lady Wants, there was very little written about Marshall Field and Delia Canton’s personal lives so I’ve had to fill in the blanks. However, when I do that, I’m very conscious of basing it on other information that I’ve uncovered.

And lastly, Vera, the main character in Dollface is purely fictional, but again, I tried to make her true to the time.

Which current-day authors do you most enjoy reading? Do you read historical fiction? I read an interview with another historical fiction author who said she never reads historical fiction, only fact, because she is afraid she will then get fact and fiction confused in her mind. 

The usual suspects instantly come to mind: Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon, Michael Cunningham, Donna Tartt. And yes, I do read historical fiction, though I can see why some would shy away from it. When I started researching Dollface there weren’t a lot of novels based in the 1920s so bleeding fact with fiction wasn’t really an issue. I’m finding many more novels set in my new time period from 1870s – 1900s and I’m loving it. I personally love getting a history lesson in while I’m reading.

If you had lived during the 1920s, what sort of life do you imagine you would have led?

I’m certain that I would not have had half the excitement that Vera has. And that’s a good thing! But knowing me, I’m sure I would have gone to speakeasies and I’m probably just enough of a rebel that I would have bobbed my hair and worn lip rouge. Probably would have flashed a kneecap or two as well!

How long did it take you to write Dollface — and how much of that was spent on research?

I worked on Dollface for about 10 years and the research was ongoing. I found that as the story evolved, I needed to learn more about a particular aspect of that era. I spent a lot of time meeting with people, everyone from Al Capone’s great niece to local historians as well as digging up old newspaper clips from the 1920s. It was really thrilling. I loved every minute of it!

As I’m sure you discovered with the publication of your first book, a whole new phase of a writer’s job begins when the book is published. How do you feel about that? Do you enjoy promoting the book, which involves networking and public speaking?

I’m actually loving it, mostly because I love the material so much. The gangsters and the Roaring Twenties were just fascinating so it’s very easy for me to talk about. I also have a background in advertising and marketing so for me, promotion is second nature. I know a lot of authors struggle with this and for me the most challenging aspect is finding the time to do it all and still continue working on the next book. Because there’s always a next book in the works!

The characters in Dollface are vivid and three-dimensional. Do you identify with any particular character — or with more than one? 

Another really terrific question! I definitely didn’t base any of the characters on myself but I can relate to aspects of their personalities. For example, given her background, I can appreciate why Vera is seeking security and a more glamorous life. I also can understand Evelyn’s insecurities and I feel for her when she tolerates Izzy’s abuse. I loved Shep’s diplomacy as much as Basha’s brashness. And something all the characters do is justify and rationalize their lot in life. I think many of us can relate to that, even if we don’t approve of their choices.

What are your favorite books set in Chicago (besides Dollface!)? (Mine would have to be The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen . . . I also loved Crossing California by Adam Langer.)

I’m with you on The Devil in the White City. I’d also add another non-fiction book, Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott.  I adore Sister Carrie and The Jungle and for a fascinating historical overview of the city, I don’t think you can beat City of the Century.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? Do you see yourself as part of the literary community in Chicago and how would you characterize that community? 

I do have a critique partner but I’m not currently part of a writer’s group. However, I would say that I’m fairly involved in the Chicago literary community, which is vibrant and very much alive. There’s an ever-expanding group of folks here comprised of writers, booksellers, reps and agents that meet once every other month for Publishing Cocktails that Keir Graff and Javier Ramirez started up. It’s always at a different location—sometimes we’ll do a cash mob at a bookstore and then move on to a local watering hole, other times, we’ll do a book swap. It’s always great fun.

Something else that has kind of taken on a life of its own is our All-You-Can-Eat-Sushi Lunches. And I know, no one should look for a bargain when it comes to sushi, but we’ve found a great little place (best kept secret in Chicago) and once a month we meet and eat and drink and talk for hours about books and writing and reading. It’s our version of the Algonquin Round Table.

What are your favorite places to go in Chicago — for example, any special parks? museums? restaurants? 

I do adore the Chicago History Museum and the Art Institute. I’m also fortunate enough to have the lakefront within walking distance from my home and there’s nothing better on a beautiful day. Another great thing about Chicago are all the wonderful restaurants—new ones popping up and old favorites you can always count on.

Gang violence continues to plague Chicago. How would you compare the violence that took place nearly 100 years ago with the violence that’s happening today?

Wow, that could be a thesis! I’m sure there are many people more qualified than I am to answer this, but I’ll try. Sadly, there are still a lot of parallels in terms of loyalties, the oath of silence, territories, bloodshed, etc. But, I will say that in the Twenties there were far fewer innocent people and children who became victims of gang violence. I also think that the gangsters of the Twenties saw themselves as businessmen first and foremost. They were much more likely to mingle and do business with other legitimate, established businessmen and even celebrities. Some gangsters, like Capone, even became a celebrity of sorts in his own right.