Fiona Davis takes us back to the McCarthy era, NYC theater and the Chelsea Hotel in her brand new novel, The Chelsea Girls. Author Q & A included!

The Chelsea Girls

The McCarthy Era, NYC theater, and the Chelsea Hotel…Fiona Davis has treated us to another wonderful novel, The Chelsea Girls!

I love the historical setting of the Chelsea Hotel in NYC in the 1950s, with writers, actors and musicians in residence; what an interesting place to live during the McCarthy era when there was a threat of blacklisting.

Hazel is a playwright and upon her return from being on tour with the USO in Italy, and against her parents’ will, she moves out of her childhood home and into the Chelsea Hotel to work in theater.  Soon after, she is reunited with Maxine, her actress pal from the tour, when she moves to NY and into the same hotel.  Their friendship is strong and they end up working together on a play that is headed for Broadway just when the red scare casts a shadow over the theater industry.  The hunt for communists becomes prevalent and causes fear and upheaval with the girls and their co-workers. These complicated times presented difficult challenges with friendships that threatened loyalties, and I was rooting for Hazel and Maxine to beat the odds.  I found myself absorbed in each of the young women’s stories through the linear storytelling, and the deep dive into their friendship we learn through narration, conversation and diary entries.  The Chelsea Girls was compelling, interesting, educational and satisfying.

The history Fiona Davis shines a light on is enlightening and google-worthy in all of her novels and The Chelsea Girls is no exception.  Many notable people have lived in the Chelsea Hotel over time…including Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Bette Midler, and due to the many deaths that occurred there, The Chelsea Hotel is known for its’ famous ghosts that are present.

A wonderful story that includes history, NYC and friendship, I highly recommend The Chelsea Girls and all of Fiona’s other novels too (The Dollhouse – takes place at The Barbizon Hotel, The Address – takes place at the Dakota, and The Masterpiece – takes place at Grand Central Terminal)!

Book Nation by Jen and Fiona Davis

Q & A with Fiona Davis

Q:  I love the setting of The Chelsea Hotel for your newest novel…how did you come across it and decide to use it as a backdrop for your book?

A:  I knew I wanted to have the plot be about two women trying to mount a play on Broadway during the McCarthy era, and the hotel made the perfect location, as several of its residents were investigated by the FBI during that time, one was even imprisoned, and the place has been a political and artistic hotbed since it opened in 1884.

Q:  The acting and theater challenges Maxine and Hazel faced were authentic and believable.  How has your background impacted how you wrote about them?

A:  I think maybe my background offered specificity when it comes to the details of putting a show up on Broadway, and I have no doubt that having read a lot of plays helped me when it came to writing dialogue. When I acted in a theater company when I first came to New York, we did everything behind the scenes – from costume design to selling tickets – so it was a crash course in how a play gets mounted as well as the many obstacles involved in producing.

Q:  The age of McCarthy and the witch hunt for communists took a toll on the people in the entertainment business in the Chelsea Girls- can you tell me a little about what happened during that time period in real life?    

A:  One of the best books to read on the subject is Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time. She describes the initial reaction that the witch hunt as a joke. They figured since they were innocent of anything illegal, it would all disappear in time. Instead, the circus grew stranger and stranger and more threatening, and her account of testifying before Congress will send a shiver up your spine.

Q:  I love the how the chapters alternate between the two main characters.  Did you write them in the order they appear in the book?  Why did you choose to have only Maxine keep a diary?

A:  I wrote the book in order, going back and forth between Hazel’s perspective and Maxine’s. I liked the way that their perspectives offered up a different viewpoint as to what was going on, depending on their own opinions and backgrounds. I wanted to have only Maxine keep a diary so we could get deep into her head, and have a recorded account of the events.

Q:  Hazel and Maxine had struggles and I enjoyed both of them so much!  Even though there was deceit, their friendship was powerful and necessary in order to sustain composure during those times.  Who do you identify with most?

A:  I think I identify with Hazel most, as while I loved acting, it wasn’t suited to my more introspective nature. She feels the same way, and finds herself by writing plays just as I discovered so much joy in writing books.

Q:  Do you see hints of McCarthy era parallels in reverse today with accusations toward our president of having Russian connections?  Is it equally as damaging?

A:  It’s amazing how history repeats itself, but I think the way that people are bandying about the term “McCarthyism” today requires a hard look at what really happened, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it in the first place. Back then, politicians were trying to find an “other” to demonize, a way to find a common enemy and thereby consolidate their power. My hope is by taking a close look at the past, we can avoid going down the same road again.

Q:  After your book tour for The Chelsea Girls, What is up next for you?

A:  I’m hard at work on the next book, which is called The Lions of Fifth Avenue and set in the New York Public Library. It’s a big endeavor but I’m enjoying it immensely.

Q:  What is on your nightstand to read next?

A:  I have two books that are coming out next year to read: Red Letter Days by Sarah-Jane Stratford (which is also about the blacklist, I like to think I started a trend, although I’m sure she’s been working on it for years), and The Girls in White Gloves by Kerri Maher. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the author:

Fiona Davis is the nationally bestselling author of THE MASTERPIECE, THE DOLLHOUSE and THE ADDRESS. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Visit her at www.fionadavis.net, facebook.com/FionaDavisAuthor/ and on Instagram and Twitter @fionajdavis.

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Memories of the Past, a Vision to the Future, and the Power of Music Join Together in this Magical Wartime Love Story.

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In Another Time  by Jillian Cantor is a wonderful historical fiction novel with deep characters who love books, music and each other.

In 1930s Berlin, Max, a German bookshop owner sees Hanna playing what she loves most, the violin.  He is enchanted and in an attempt to get her attention, he brings her what he loves most, a book.  After his dedicated pursuit, he wins her over, and the relationship between the two blossoms. German life during the rise of Hitler is not easy and to make matters worse, because Max is not a Jew, Hanna’s family is not supportive.  Then Max has an unexplained disappearance which causes Hanna to be worried, angry and confused.   She steps back from their relationship for a time, but the love between them is powerful and eventually it draws them back together.  

Antisemitism is increasing in Germany and although Hanna, so focused on her violin playing, does not take much notice, Max worries about her and his Jewish friends.  Hitler and the Nazis are taking over, panic is starting to set in and his longtime Jewish neighbors are in terrible danger.  When Max sees them in distress he reaches out to offer help.  Max has a huge secret that he believes can save those in danger, but when his beloved Hanna is looking the Nazis in the eyes, can he bring her to safety?

In 1946 Hanna finds herself in an open field with her less than pristine violin and no memory of the recent past.  Hitler is dead, the train station has been bombed, she has no idea what happened to Max, and she has lost her memory of the last 10 years of her life.  Hanna’s sister comes to get her and bring her back to her home in London where she searches for opportunities to play her trusted violin in an orchestra.  Her love for music and Max are the only things she remembers and without him she focuses on playing violin to bring peace and joy to her life, and to give her a purpose.  Will Hanna and Max cross paths again?  In Another Time is a heartbreaking story of love, and survival in difficult times, and the ability to learn the truth.

I enjoy narration by two characters alternating chapters as it is easy to read and it compels me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more, always wanting to know what is going to happen next…Jillian Cantor created interesting characters and I get immersed in her writing with the World War ll setting,  appreciative for the research involved in historical fiction.  I adored The Lost Letter published 2017, and I highly recommend In Another Time too!

Q & A With Jillian Cantor

Tell us a little bit about In Another Time.

In Another Time is the story of Max, a German bookshop owner, and Hanna, a Jewish violin prodigy, who fall in love in the 1930s outside of Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. Max narrates the story in the 1930s, before the war, and Hanna narrates beginning in 1946, after the war, when she wakes up in a field with only her violin, no memory of the past ten years, and no idea what happened to Max. Max’s story moves through the 1930s as Hanna’s moves through the 1940s and 50s. I wanted it to be a love story between Max and Hanna but also a love song to books and music in our most trying times.

When I learned about Max’s huge secret, the special closet door in his bookshop, it first made me think of the novel Exit West where Mohsin Hamid wrote about doors people went through to get to other countries.  He mostly used it as a metaphor for immigration, allowing him not to have to focus on the physical journey. In In Another Time, I was unprepared for the magical time travel that happened in the closet but was pleasantly surprised.  Unexplainable, supernatural elements like this are not often used in historical fiction.  How did you come up with the idea?

I really wanted to explore the question of what made people leave, or not leave, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the lead up to WWII. I spoke with a Holocaust survivor who’d been a young Jewish girl in Berlin at the time. She said her parents refused to leave, saying it was their country too. They were Germans too. So I thought a lot about what it means to love your country, and feel allegiance to your country even if terrible things start happening. And how hard it would’ve been to fathom how horrible everything would eventually get if you were living there in those years. The question I set out to answer before I even sat down to write the book was, what if you had every way and means possible to leave, even a magical escape, would you still want to stay? 

I just accepted the magic and immersed myself in the lives of the wonderful characters, Hanna and Max.  Did you ever consider explaining more of the details regarding time traveling through the closet?  How did you decide what to explain and what to leave unsaid?

I definitely don’t see this a science fiction novel in any way, even though time travel does play a small role, like you said. So I never wanted to get bogged down in the details of how it worked. And Max is a bookshop owner, a reader, not a scientist, so I didn’t believe as a character he would get bogged down in these details either. My goal was to explain enough to make the plot and Max’s actions make sense, but not too much where the book became more science fiction than historical fiction. 

Your novel has Max’s story and Hanna’s story each from their own perspective. Did you write them alternating chapters like we read them, or did you create each character’s narrative separately?

  I wrote them exactly in the order that you read them, as they appear in the book now, alternating chapters. It did get a little confusing, and at a certain point as I was drafting (about 100 pages in) I stopped, and made a giant chart on the wall of my office to keep track of where each character was in each year, how old each was, etc.! But I felt I needed to write the book the way it would eventually read so I could get the pacing and the story arc right in the first draft. When I went back and revised, however, I did pull each story out and revise each one separately to make sure it was all coherent and made sense in order. 

All the chapters are narrated by Max or Hanna except for one. Why did Elsa have her own chapter?

Elsa is married to Max’s best friend, Johann, and she has a small but important role in the novel. The chapter she narrates allowed me to give the reader information that neither Max nor Hanna could’ve known.

What are you reading now (if you even have time) and what do you recommend?

I’m reading a lot of research for the next novel I’m writing right now! But I have a giant to-read pile sitting on my desk that I plan to get to once I finish drafting my next book: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, just to name a few. One upcoming historical novel that I got to read early, and that I highly recommend, is The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s out in July – look out for it!

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Music did actually keep people safe during World War ll; here is a video that tells a story of a woman who survived Auschwitz.

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If you would like to hear some orchestra music, here is a clip from my teenage son’s most recent concert with the NORWALK YOUTH SYMPHONY .

According to Google:  Listening to music can help reduce stress according to many studies. It can help relieve a person from anxiety, depression, and other emotional and mental problems. Music is also capable of eliminating physical exhaustion as it allows the body and mind to relax.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the USA Today bestselling author of THE LOST LETTER, THE HOURS COUNT, MARGOT, and, most recently, IN ANOTHER TIME, which is a March 2019 Indie Next pick. Her work has been translated into 10 languages, and has been featured as a Library Reads pick, and in People Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and PopSugar among others. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

The Danger 1940’s Food Tasters Faced is highlighted in At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino (includes video interview)

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My Review:

According to Google, “coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in almost every place in the world”.  Eating together, and eating at all is usually considered a good thing, but after reading Rosella Postorino’s latest novel you may just change your mind!

Based on truth, At the Wolf’s Table is about a group of German women in 1943 who are recruited by the Nazis to taste Hitler’s food before each meal to ensure it to be poison-free.  As food becomes scarce and people are going hungry, these women are shuttled to the “Wolf’s Lair” in the morning to have full breakfasts and early lunches under the scrutiny of armed Nazi soldiers, then returned home and brought back at the end of the day for full dinners.  After forcing themselves to fully consume each course they wait for illness to kick in, eating to stay alive and at the same time fearing death.

Newly married and all alone, Rosa has lost both her parents, her husband Gregor has gone off to war and she has moved to the country to live with her in laws outside of Berlin.  She has been recruited as a food taster for Hitler where she “would participate in the liturgy of the lunchroom together with other young German women- an army of worshippers prepared to receive on (our) tongues a Communion that wouldn’t redeem us.”  Rosa tries to make friends with the other tasters but relationships between the women are strained; some of them are Nazi supporters, some are not, and some are hiding something; Jewish roots, affairs, pregnancy, rape, abortion…nobody is sure who to trust.  Rosa’s husband is declared missing, and as her loneliness intensifies, she develops a risky relationship with one of the soldiers.  Will her husband ever be found?  Will she escape the perils of war?

At The Wolf’s Lair provides a unique setting that highlights secrets, betrayals and sorrow amidst the constant fear in everyday life during World War ll. I enjoyed this story and recommend it!

Here is an article about one of the real food tasters from WWll…

http://m.spiegel.de/international/germany/hitler-food-taster-margot-woelk-speaks-about-her-memories-a-892097.html

And a video interview…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MNcZyBqJCzk

Goodreads Summary

Unknown-6.jpegAbout the Author:

Rosella Postorino is an internationally bestselling author and an editor. She speaks fluent English, Italian, French, and German. At the Wolf’s Table is her first novel to be translated into English.