February 12, 2020
Dear Book Friends,
Happy Wednesday! I am thrilled to have Guest Writer Whitney Scharer on the blog today sharing one of her favorite books. Whitney’s debut historical fiction novel, The Age of Light (Little, Brown & Company), follows real-life Lee Miller, Vogue model turned renowned photographer/war correspondent. Click here to read what I had to say about this book. Whitney’s book was a 2019 Book of the Month Club pick and an IndieNext and Boston Globe bestseller. Parade, Glamour Magazine, and Real Simple Magazine all named The Age of Light, one of the best books of 2019. Pretty impressive, right?
I was so excited last year when I found out that Whitney was coming to Maine to talk about her book. The day before her event, I quickly discovered that my kids’ schedules trumped mine (always the way), and I was unable to make her reading. I decided to message Whitney explaining my dilemma and asked her to meet me over coffee to chat about her book (mind you, I am a complete stranger with a new blog and like two followers). I was pleasantly surprised when Whitney agreed to meet. Instead of coffee, we ended up having a spectacular brunch at The Press Hotel’s restaurant, Union in Portland, Maine. Whitney and I had a lovely meal and chatted all about her book, her writing process and the historical fiction genre. She is an absolute doll and wonderful to spend time with. I actually felt “cool 😎😎”” that day (hanging with an important author). It was such a pleasure and one I will always cherish.
I hope you enjoy her letter today to Mr. H.
P.S. Literary Whitney plays Scrabble EVERYDAY (wicked smart)! When she was in 5th grade, she won 5th place in the Colorado State Spelling Bee (😮😮). When Whitney isn’t spending time with her husband and daughter, she is snuggling with her 3-month-old pup, Clementine. Let’s face it, she is probably snuggling all the time with this fluff ball. Clementine is also a fellow “Book Lover”…chewing books is love too❤️❤️❤️❤️!!!
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
I’ve always loved reading historical fiction based on real people. There’s something so wonderful about falling into the world of a book and then being able to go to the library or online and learn the “story behind the story.” I loved reading Wolf Hall and getting a new, intimate perspective on Thomas Cromwell, or devouring Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank and reacquainting myself with the architecture and genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. But the book that changed my thinking about what historical novels could do and how we make fiction out of fact was Lily King’s Euphoria.
Euphoria is loosely based on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. King happened across a biography of Mead in a small used bookstore and was captivated by her entire life and story, yet her novel is based on a slim twelve-page section of the biography that centers around a 1933 research trip to the Sepik River, in New Guinea, where Mead (called Nell in the novel) and her second husband briefly worked with a man who would become Mead’s third husband. The relationship between the three anthropologists is passionate, both physically and intellectually, and King’s meticulous research and incredible scene-setting bring the world and love affair to vivid life. From the very first page of the book, when an angry tribe member tosses a dead baby at Nell’s head, and we learn that her husband may have intentionally broken her glasses, I felt completely immersed in this intense, violent world.
As a reader—and perhaps even more as a writer—the book blew me away. You could…do this? You could take a small slice of a real person’s life, fictionalize her name, infuse the story with your many hours of research, and make something that manages to capture a person’s essence while also feeling wholly, imaginatively invented? This, I realized, this is why I read historical fiction. To see how a modern writer’s brain can reinterpret history and make something that feels truer than fact.
Euphoria is a novel I can’t quit. I’ve read it seven or eight times. I’ve broken it down, outlined the structure, tried to understand the virtuosic way King tells the story. I’ve taught the first few pages in fiction writing workshops. I’ve recommended it at readings and given copies as gifts to more people than I can count. And just the other day, I received a delicious package in the mail: a galley of King’s new novel, Writers and Lovers, which comes out later this year. I can’t wait to read it.
Nice chatting with you, dear Mr. H—
P.S. Click on my book below to purchase from my local book store.
Click on the book picture below to purchase Euphoria (Grove Press)by Lily King.