Please join me in welcoming Olivia Newport to Debbie's Book Bag today. Olivia is here promoting her latest Christian fiction book, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. These are combination of questions that Olivia already had prepared and a unique question of my own. Enjoy the interview!
How did The Pursuit of Lucy Banning get started?
I have Chicago suburban roots, but I had not heard of the Prairie Avenue Historical District until a friend of mine became a docent at the Glessner House Museum on Prairie Avenue. This house preserves the flavor of Chicago’s gilded age when the neighborhood was full of wealthy powerhouses of industry. As soon as my friend began his training, he saw the potential for the setting of a story. He is not a fiction writer, but he knew my interests. It did not take us long to cook up story ideas about a daughter of a privileged family who engaged with the changing social climate of her time.
Your book is layered with historical detail. Tell us about your research process.
My docent friend, Stephen Reginald, is a history buff. He spits out the most interesting details sometimes, and before I know it, I am digging too. We both scoured the archives of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times for headlines and language of the era. I looked for true events that serve as hooks in the stories. The Internet turns up all sorts of obscure books and historical accounts. One of my favorites was a first person travelogue written by someone who visited the world’s fair in 1893. Stephen’s work at the Glessner House Museum opened a portal into diaries and museum pieces that helped me faithfully recreate the story’s setting.
What impact did your research have on you personally?
One of the most fun research pieces I uncovered was a guide to caring for young children published in 1894. The prevailing expert advice was not to play with a baby before he or she was four months old, preferably six! I love giving a copy of this book to new mothers. On the other end of the spectrum was heartbreaking information about the desperate needs of orphans during that time period. We may think we have more sophisticated system for addressing certain social issues, but we have a long way to go.
How do you see yourself in Lucy Banning’s story?
I certainly have never been the daughter of a privileged family! However, Lucy Banning and I do share an infatuation with red velvet cake. More seriously, Lucy is looking for genuine meaning in her life, even if it means taking risks. I’d like to think I would do the same thing.
While you were writing the book, do you think it mattered that you grew up near Chicago?
Even as an adult, I’ve lived in the Chicago area for several stretches, and several siblings and their children live there. (Go Cubs!) When I was a child, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry was a wide-eyed experience for me. As a young mother, I took my kids there. I think of it as the Museum of Wonder and Curiosity. Then I discovered that the building itself was part of the 1893 world’s fair, the backdrop for my series. Little did I know I would grow up to write about events that took place in a building that held so much fascination for me.
Where do you like to write?
I advocate writing by keeping your bottom in the chair, but I’m flexible about the kind of chair! Research happens at my desk where I can spread things out. Several years ago, in a thrift store, I found a wide, comfy recliner with a built-in massage feature. When I’m in serious get-words-on-the-screen mode rather than researching, I write in cushy comfort. However, I also think that writing is a consuming process, and I may solve a plot dilemma while I’m walking through the neighborhood or hear the perfect line of dialogue in my head while pulling weeds. When I’m immersed in a story, it’s hard to set it aside until I get it out of me. The writing follows me around as I go about my life.
How do you handle distractions?
Classical music—no words—helps keep my brain in a productive gear. I have a big planner where I write notes so I can let go of information or an urge to do something for the moment. Being comfortable helps with distractions, in terms of the chair, lighting, and room temperature. Otherwise my body responds to every little bothersome sensation. And it’s amazing how effective it is to simply close the door on the household noise.
When you are not writing what authors or kinds of books do you like to read for personal pleasure?
That question makes me laugh a little. I'm in a book group that reads one book a month. Of course we discuss what to read, but my attitude is usually that I will read what they tell me to read because they all have such good taste in books and do a better job than I do keeping up with new releases. We've read everything from books that challenge our inner lives of faith to books that are just plain fun. In between book group selections, I've usually got a novel going in audio format because I learn so much about story from listening to other writers.