Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interview with Lynn Cullen, Author of Twain's End

I can’t start this interview without first gushing over the fact that I absolutely LOVED your previous novel, Mrs. Poe. Before preparing these questions I went back and read my review and, I have to say, I became very excited again about the whole story. It might be time to re-read it! Anyway, I’m clearly a huge fan, so thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. And welcome to A Literary Vacation!

I’m thrilled that Mrs. Poe struck a chord with you, Colleen, and I’m delighted for a chance to discuss Twain’s End with you. Thank you for inviting me upon A Literary Vacation. I could certainly use one, having just finished nine months of intense work on the first draft of my next novel.

I imagine you do need a vacation of any kind after such intense work! But I have to say I love to hear you've been busy writing as that means another book will be on the way for me to read :) ! To start off our discussion of your newest, Twain's End, can you tell us a little bit about it? What drew you to tell this story?

We all know Mark Twain as the white-haired humorist with a pithy crack about every subject. Many of us imagine that he was a grown-up version of his character Tom Sawyer, the mischievous boy who grew up along the Mississippi. The actual human behind Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, is much different than our image of him, although we can’t be faulted for believing in it. He and his family carefully cultivated the public persona of Mark Twain. 

The real Sam Clemens came from an extremely poor family headed by a father whose bankruptcy caused young Sam great shame. All his life he wanted to be rich and beloved by the world, and by great force of will and a lot of help from his loved ones, Sam achieved this goal. One of the persons who helped him to this goal in his later years was his secretary, Isabel V. Lyon. 

For nearly seven years, until the year before his death, Isabel did everything for the man from taking care of every want of his grown daughters, to dealing with reporters, to handling all of his social needs, to washing that mane of white hair! Isabel’s diary, upon which I based my book, tells of her devotion, service, and, frankly, worship of the man. Yet, after six and a half years of service, she suddenly married Twain’s business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, and two months after that, Twain launched on a smear campaign against her that was astonishing in its viciousness and ugliness. My first reaction was “The man dost protest too much, methinks.” My second was, my goodness, the man must have been completely in love with her. I launched into my research to prove this theory and, in the process, found a noble and much-wronged woman in the real-life person of Isabel Lyon. Twain’s End is her story.

Is there anything in particular that draws you to historical fiction? Are there any particular times in history you gravitate towards or do you just enjoy history in general?

I’ve always been interested in how humans tick. What better way to study human psychology than through the lives of famous people? Over the years, as I’ve immersed myself in researching my real-life characters with the goal of understanding how they think, I’ve been struck with one salient factor: famous people are rarely who we think they are. I’ve made it a specialty in my books to square the reputations of my characters with their actual lives. I love a misunderstood legendary figure!

What sort of research did you conduct when writing Twain’s End? Have you ever traveled to the locations discussed in the story before or during the writing process?

I make a point of visiting the location of every scene in my books. Not only does that ensure the authenticity of the setting, but often gives me ideas for new scenes. The scenes in Twain’s End in Florence, Italy and Bermuda were very much influenced by my travels. The scene in the Pitti Palace, for example, came from my own tour there--Raphael’s paintings left a big impression on me. I could just see Twain viewing them with Isabel (which they no doubt did.) 

An important part of my research was to not only read dozens of biographies about Twain, but ones about other characters, as well. Clara Clemens’s book about her father, Isabel Lyon’s diary, and the recollections of the maid, Katy Leary, were invaluable. On top of that, there were letters to pore over and many family pictures to peruse. The body language in the photos were full of juicy clues.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

A typical writing day starts after a walk and lasts for eight or more hours. How many of those eight hours that I’m strictly glued to my seat depends on how close I am to a deadline. Early on in the first draft of a book, I’m up and down a lot—pulling a story out of the ether is extremely hard mental work and I pop up a lot for breaks. My grown daughters and their families live in town so I try to see them most days in order to keep sane. I visit book clubs locally or via Skype at least once a week, which keeps me grounded, too. I’m grateful for reader interaction—it not only enriches my writing but broadens me as a fellow human.

A lot of authors have become huge on social media, not only promoting their work but interacting with their readers and offering up giveaways, book recommendations, etc. Are you a big proponent of using social media in this way? How do you prefer to interact with your fans?

I really love connecting with readers through book clubs—I’m easily reached to set one up through my author Facebook page. I welcome comments from readers, there, too, and try to answer quickly. I’ll happily respond to anyone through A Literary Vacation, as well. I’m deeply grateful for the time and work dedicated bloggers like you put into getting out the word about my books.

That is so kind of you to say! I can tell you that we book bloggers love every bit of interaction we have with wonderful authors like you, especially since I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are also big readers like we are. When you have time for leisure reading what sorts of books do you gravitate towards? Have you read anything good lately?

I’ve been a reading fanatic my whole life, starting with the back of cereal boxes as a kid, so I can’t even begin to list my favorites. But I will say that Penelope Lively and Elizabeth Strout have greatly influenced my writing. I reread Olive Kitteridge for the third time while writing my latest.

Are you working on any other books that we can look forward to reading in the future?

My next book is about a woman and her two grown daughters who make a pilgrimage in the height of the Great Depression in 1934 to meet…drumroll, please… Betty Crocker. 

Thank you for the opportunity to chat! I enjoyed my time on A Literary Vacation.

Thank you so much for stopping by and answering my questions, Lynn!! You have made me soooo excited to read your next book!! I'll be waiting as patiently as possible to get it in my hot little hands!

Everyone! As I said before I became a huge fan of Lynn Cullen when I read her first novel, Mrs. Poe. I recently read Twain's End as well and thought it was amazing (click on the titles to read my reviews). Be sure to pick up her books if you want exceptional historical fiction. You can find more information about Lynn, her books, and links to everywhere you can purchase a copy on her website.


No comments:

Post a Comment