Tag Archives: 1950’s


From the Editor’s Desk: Stephanie Kelly, Associate Editor at Dutton Books, on The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. The concept isn’t novel, yet it’s still so often surprising—and always, always, important. The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis embodies this theme in many different ways. Firstly, there’s the title itself. “The Dollhouse” was the nickname for New York City’s iconic Barbizon Hotel for Women– called such because of all the pretty young things that lived there. But the Barbizon housed more than pretty faces: from 1927 to 1981, the Barbizon was a safe, respectable haven for young women looking to make their mark on the city as models, actresses, editors, secretaries, or wives. Many were successful, including Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, and Candace Bergen– all residents of the Upper East Side’s most coveted sorority. It’s a glamorous history, and what drew me to the novel in the first place. And in that regard, The Dollhouse delivered: I read it in one sitting, entranced by famous musicians in seedy jazz clubs, fashion shows in solariums, and the descriptions of delectable spice blends you can almost taste as you turn the pages. But looks can be deceiving, and The Dollhouse is so much more than glamorous. It’s a mystery; it’s an exploration of the changing rolls of women in the workplace, and what it means to be fulfilled as a woman; and it’s an ode to the many sides of New York City. And for these reasons, the Dollhouse is a novel that has stayed with me ever since I first read it over a year ago– and I know will continue to stay with me for a long time to come. The Dollhouse is a dual narrative, centering on three fictional women who are tied together not only by the Barbizon, but by a hidden tragedy that occurred there. There is shy Midwesterner Darby, who arrives at the famed hotel in 1952, determined to become a secretary and secure lifelong independence without a man. Instead (in scenes that highlight the power of female friendship), she befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid looking to become a star, in spite of prejudice against her as a Puerto Rican immigrant. Esme introduces her to another, darker side of the city— not to mention a boy who just might change Darby’s mind about remaining single. Fifty years later, the Barbizon, now gone condo, is home to journalist Rose, until she is unceremoniously dumped by her live-in boyfriend, leaving her homeless as well as heartbroken. She crosses ethical boundaries in her desperation to distract herself with a juicy story: the truth behind her elderly neighbor Darby’s rumored involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952. The tension of the mystery simmers throughout the novel and kept me flipping the pages as Darby’s and Rose’s stories intertwine to reveal the shocking truth. Rose’s fascination with Darby opens her eyes to the rich history of the building, and her research into the elderly denizens of the Barbizon– like Darby, all single women who never left the former hotel, now in rent-controlled apartments on the fourth floor– inevitably causes her to look inward. Is this her future? Is she destined to be lonely and forgotten? Rose’s story is one that resonates in today’s world: What roles do relationship status, career, and autonomy play in living a fulfilling life as a woman? Can women “have it all” … and can they be happy if they don’t? As Rose digs deeper, including talking to Stella, another Barbizon resident (and one of my personal favorite characters in the novel!), she is treated to a wealth of insights on life, happiness, female agency, and empowerment… from women she herself had dismissed for their age and single status, for how they appeared on the surface. And then there’s New York City. From the cloistered Barbizon (“God forbid we venture into the real world and buy something inap­propriate,” a character named Charlotte wryly observes to Darby while they attend a fashion show within the hotel) to the uninhibited jazz clubs, from the city’s charms to its dangers, from the 1950s to today, The Dollhouse truly captures the beautiful, fickle, and ever-changing heart of Manhattan. It’s not an easy task, but Fiona’s passion for research— she, too, is a journalist— and writing skill bring the city as alive as any one of her nuanced characters (another moment here to appreciate Stella, for it is not only the protagonists who are incredibly drawn in the novel. I could take the time here to tell you why Stella is so fabulous, but a character that wonderful is best experienced for yourself). When I first received The Dollhouse on submission, I knew it was something special. But looks can be deceiving, and I didn’t know just how special until I fell into its pages. I hope you too have a chance to read this glamorous, suspenseful, romantic, thoughtful, and affecting novel. Learn more about the book below!

Writing Tips from Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters?  The most important task is to figure out what your characters’ goals, history and personality quirks are – what they most want from life, and why. And for characters who live in an earlier time period, there’s the additional task of conveying what life was like back then. Since part of my book takes place in the early 1950s, I headed to the library and read old newspapers and magazines, scrutinizing the advertisements as well as the articles. I also listened to the music of the time period, from bebop to Rosemary Clooney, to get a sense of popular trends. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? The Met Museum in New York City is a great place to be inspired. I was lucky enough to catch the designer Charles James’s exhibit while working on The Dollhouse, and the fabrics and styles perfectly captured the essence of 1950s fashion. A run around the reservoir in Central Park can be helpful when I’m trying to solve a plotting problem or visualize an upcoming scene. I find I procrastinate for a good hour before getting down to the actual business of writing. This can include doing laundry, checking email, and reading the paper, until the guilt becomes inescapable. But once I start, I fall into that state of flow and become unaware of time passing. I love that feeling. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I got a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, which taught me how to research and do interviews and write on deadline, and all those skills transferred over to writing fiction. When you’re used to writing every day, it’s easy to power through the painful moments of the first draft, knowing you can clean it up later. The process isn’t precious, it’s just work. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? I have a Post-it on the bulletin board above my desk with the heading “Bad Words” written on it: these include “realized, wondered, felt, saw, thought, and heard.” Once I’m done with the first draft, I search for each bad word and instead use deep point of view. (For example, replacing “She heard the cat meow,” with “The cat meowed.”) Makes the writing simpler and more powerful. Luckily, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually catch myself before using them, but you can never be too sure. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound effect on you? The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro is set in two decades, the 1950s and the 1920s, and her attention to detail and descriptions are breathtaking. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, published in 1948, is eerily timeless, as is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I swear Brooks traveled back in time to write that one, it’s so rich in setting and character. In high school, I had a teacher who instilled an early love of Shakespeare, and the musicality of Macbeth definitely stuck with me. Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Jillian Cantor, author of The Hours Count

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! 

How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? The absolute first thing I do is decide my main characters’ names. I feel like I need to know someone’s name before I can start to know him or her. My favorite place to figure out first names is the Social Security popular baby names website, where you can view name popularity by birth year (back to 1879) to see what common and (uncommon) names were in the year your character was born. After I decide names, I’ll start to make notes of other things, like birthdays/age or relationships to other characters, quirks, where a character lives, or things he/she likes or dislikes. But I start drafting pretty soon into this process. I mostly learn and get to really know my characters as I’m writing the first draft, thinking about what they do and how they react and speak when I put them in different situations. So I think the best way I get to know my characters is to write them. By the time I get to the end of the first draft, they’re often different than what I started with (and I know them much better). But then I go back and revise. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? The first line of novel is really important. It sets the tone for the entire book. I want it to show what the book is ultimately about, but also to be interesting and hook the reader. When I first start thinking about and developing an idea I always start thinking about first lines. I jot down ideas, often for weeks or months. But, I don’t wait for the perfect first line before I start drafting a book. I begin with the first one that comes to me and then I keep writing from there to get my first draft going. So just the act of getting words and ideas down on the page is the most important action I take in order to actually start writing. I set a goal for myself – usually 3-5 pages a day – and I make myself sit down and write something, make some progress in the draft, even if it’s ultimately terrible and will all be changed in revision. Most of the time the first line that appears in the final draft of the book is not at all what I started with. I keep thinking on that first line, even as I keep writing the first draft. Usually I don’t understand enough about the story myself until I finish or get most of the way through a first draft. So I start writing at the beginning, but 9 times out of 10 that beginning changes by the time I make it to the end! Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I always write at home, and I need quiet to write. I negotiate my writing schedule around my kids’ schedules so I usually write while my kids are at school during weekdays, or very early in the mornings on the weekends or during the summer when my kids are home – really, whenever I can find uninterrupted quiet each day. I have an office in my house where I can shut the door, and I do write there, but when no one else is home I also write at my kitchen table. I like to drink coffee while I write, and that always helps to get me thinking. Or when I get stuck, I’ll exercise. Taking a long walk, run, or hike, often helps me work through a plot a point I was stuck on or figure out a problem in my story. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? The best advice, and I got this from a writing professor in grad school, is simply, “butt in chair.” As in, just sit down and force yourself to write something, no matter what it is or how terrible you think it is. The hardest part is making yourself sit down to do it. So I don’t let myself make excuses – I put my butt in the chair every morning and write something. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound effect on you? I read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott in the first fiction writing class I took, and I still have a copy on the shelf in my office. I love what she writes about first drafts and I feel like it’s still important to give myself permission to write something terrible the first time around as long as I write something. I’m a big believer in the importance of revision! Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite novels, and the first I read by her. I come back to it, and her novels, again and again, because I feel like I learn so much about sympathetic character development from her. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which I first read in college, always makes me think about writing characters in a world different from our own today (which is applicable for writing historical fiction as well) and the fact that characters still need to first be inherently human and relatable, no matter how different their world is from the one we know.

Learn more about the book below!


From the Editor’s Desk: Matt Inman, Senior Editor for Crown Trade on Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. On a recent Saturday morning, I glanced over at my iPhone and saw the words “O de Havilland” light up my screen. A new e-mail had arrived from Paris, where Olivia de Havilland was pondering a question I’d posed earlier that week (“In the past, you’ve referred to the guiding philosophy behind Parisian style as ‘the Paris principle;’ in your opinion, what are the key tenets of that principle?”) That I was discussing the timeless style of les parisiennes with the two-time Academy Award-winning actress who played Mellie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), while I, myself, was wearing sweaty tennis clothes and watching “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” now strikes me as a little, well, déclassé. But even if the details of this exchange are a little embarrassing, the story of how our paths crossed perfectly captures two aspects I love about my job: discovery and serendipity. About a year ago, I read a fascinating article about Olivia de Havilland’s groundbreaking 1944 lawsuit against Warner Bros. and found myself wanting to know more. I love reading about Hollywood’s Golden Age—and have always admired Miss de Havilland’s work—and I assumed that she’d already written about her extraordinary life and career. After a little searching, I was surprised to learn that while she had written a book, it was a 1962 memoir about falling in love with a Frenchman and moving to Paris. That book, Every Frenchman Has One, was long out of print and very expensive to buy online, so I went to the New York Public Library to check it out. As I read, I found myself laughing out loud at her witty, candid, and completely charming stories about her skirmishes with French customs, French maids, French salesladies, French holidays, French law, French doctors, and above all, the French language. A Francophile myself, I’d recently seen the Broadway staging of An American in Paris, and was surprised that such a wonderful book about Americans in Paris—and the lessons we can learn from the French—was so difficult to find. But as I read further, I realized that Every Frenchman Has One was about something much more profound. In her own way, Olivia de Havilland was quite brave, not only to drop everything; leave Hollywood behind; and take a chance on life, and love, in a new country, but to write so honestly about her bumpy ride as an expatriate. More than fifty years before Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman married Frenchmen and moved to Paris and long before celebrities revealed every detail of their lives to their followers via social media, de Havilland was sharing her gaffes and insecurities with her fans, saying, yes, even glamorous women can be embarrassed every once in a while; it’s the price one pays for trading comfort for change. More than anything, though, I was struck by Miss de Havilland’s wonderful writing. It exudes an effortless, timeless charm that makes it as appealing today as it was in 1962. Upon returning to the office, I learned Bennett Cerf himself had reverted the rights to Olivia in 1971, and so began my journey toward e-mailing with Olivia de Havilland about all things French on the eve of her 100th year. I’m thrilled that Crown Archetype will put Every Frenchman Has One back in print for the first time in decade—and publish it as an e-book for the first time—on June 28th. I’ve also had the great honor of corresponding with Olivia on a series of questions and answers that reflect on the book, and on her sixty-plus years as an American woman in Paris. They are delightful, and will appear as a postscript to this new edition. (Her answer to my original question about her philosophy of Parisian style, by the way: “1. Discretion, 2. Discretion, 3. Discretion.”). With this reissue, I’m excited to have even a small part in celebrating the centennial birthday of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars on July 1. I hope that anyone who loves Olivia de Havilland, Paris, or stories about Americans abroad will enjoy her book as much as I did. Learn more about Every Frenchman Has One below!
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From the Editor’s Desk: Jake Morrissey, Executive Editor, on Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. The best present an author can give an editor is the gift of surprise. Editors spend their days reading a lot of manuscripts that don’t tell them anything new. So reading a story about a world you thought you understood framed in an unexpected way that prompts you to think differently about it, that’s hitting the publishing jackpot. Which is what I did when Three-Martini Lunch came across my desk. In this terrific novel, Suzanne Rindell delves into a world I knew something about – book publishing – but sets her story in the late 1950s, which was when big changes were about to take place. I thought I had a decent grasp of the era. I’m familiar with two other iconic New York stories from around that time: Rona Jaffe’s classic novel (and eventual movie) The Best of Everything and the television show Mad Men. In both of those, New York City is portrayed as one of the places to be in the mid-20th century. If you know anything about either The Best of Everything or Mad Men – or even Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 movie North by Northwest – you see a New York that’s sleeker, cleaner, less crowded than it is today. And the roles of men and women were as clearly defined then as their ambitions: Success for men meant career and advancement; success for women marriage and family. In Three-Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell peers beyond that mid-century mindset and explores the lives and worlds of Miles, Cliff and Eden, three young people struggling to gain a toehold in New York and hoping that publishing is the way to do that. The lives they lead are a far cry from the expense-account lunches and pristine suburban enclaves of the publishing elite. These young people are drawn to Greenwich Village and its emerging beatnik culture, with its dark and smoke-filled bars, jazz clubs, and poetry readings. And they struggle to stretch their meager bank balances by living in cramped, ramshackle apartments and having just enough money for food and beer but not always both. Suzanne gives her characters fascinating opportunities to pursue their individual ambitions and indulge their temptations. Even more compelling, she shows readers how the choices they make to achieve their goals changes them. I’m not giving anything away when I say that what you think of Miles, Cliff, and Eden at the beginning of Three-Martini Lunch will not be what you think of them at the end. As I followed the characters’ journeys through successive drafts of the novel, I found myself reassessing my own ideas about what was possible in publishing, in New York, and in America during that time. It was an era on the cusp of upheaval and turmoil, and it’s that change that Suzanne Rindell explores so effectively – and so surprisingly – in Three-Martini Lunch. Which is one of the highest compliments I can pay. Learn more about Three-Martini Lunch below!

Writing Tips from Renee Rosen, author of White Collar Girl

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!  renee 2Renée Rosen’s newest historical fiction novel is called White Collar Girl, and takes place in 1950’s Chicago. What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? For me the most important part of writing is editing. But within the world of editing I’ve come to truly value the importance of the paper edit. Before I turn my books in I always do a paper edits, and if time permits, I’ll do more than one. I’ve found that my work reads very differently on paper than it does on the screen. The paper edit stage is where I’ll catch things like word echoes, continuity errors, something like a three- page chapter following a thirty-page chapter and other problematic issues. Sometimes I’ll even print the manuscript out using a different font, which helps me see it with fresh eyes. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? Creating characters that come to life on the page is really one of my greatest challenges. Just like with real people you meet, some characters come to you and you feel like you’ve known them all your life while others take time to reveal themselves. When I come across the latter type, I usually start by trying to find out as much about them as possible. For every one detail I use in the book, I’ll have ten or so others floating around in my head. I might begin with something as simple as their physical description and then I’ll drill all the way down to what the inside of their closet looks like. When all those little details come together the story generally starts to write itself. The characters take over and I become the vehicle that merely delivers their tale. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? I was fortunate enough to have studied with Carol Anshaw and I’ll never forget that she used to tell us that the first draft is you telling yourself the story. Don’t worry about how sloppy or full of holes it is, just get a beginning, middle and end down on paper. Once you have that foundation you might very well go back and change every word on every page but before you can do any fine tuning, you have to first tell yourself the story. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser –I think my love of Chicago history started with my first reading of this book. It made me fall in love with the city. Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters—totally original and filled with wisdom in ever monologue. Each time I read it, I discover something new. Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux—80 of the most powerful and brutally honest pages you’ll ever read. This slender book is one I treasure. Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson. This is such an amazing character-driven novel and when I first read it, I realized what was possible to do on the page.   Check out Rosen’s book below.