“The Next Big Thing” – Lynna Banning Asks Elizabeth Grayson About her Work in Progress

Welcome to my blog —

I’d like to thank Lynna Banning who invited me to answer her questions and talk about my hopes for my newest novel.  Over the last seven years, Lynna has become a dear friend and mentor to me.  She is also the author of my absolutely favorite book of 2012, GAUCHOS AND GUMPTION, which is based on her own grandmother’s adventures in Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century.

These are the questions Lynna asked me to answer:

Courtesy of the Monterey History and Art Association

> What is the working title of your book?
This title came from the women artists’ San Francisco art organization that offered day-long train excursions to Monterey so the members could sketch and paint the marvelous scenery.

> Where did the idea come from for this book?
My agent suggested the subject after she had seen a show of California Impressionist paintings. I was very excited with the idea because I was familiar with and loved these vivid works of art. I have spent a good deal of time on the California coast, taught art for years, and enjoy writing stories where ambitions and passions intertwine.

> What genre does your book fall under?
After happily writing historical romance for years, this story seems a perfect segue into the world of historical fiction.

> How long did it take to write the first draft?
I guess you could say I am still working on the first draft.  I edit as I go, so a first draft takes me quite awhile.  But with any luck at all, I have a manuscript that usually only needs light revisions when I reach the end.

> What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
Cecelia: Amanda Peet
Joe: a younger version of Antonio Bandaras
Evelyn: Mila Kunis
Mary: Maggie Gillenhall
Lucia: Ellen Page

> What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
THE SKETCH CLUB is an intimate portrait of the lives and loves of four women painters who struggle for recognition as members of the Monterey Art Colony at the turn of the twentieth century.

> Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
It will be represented by the agent with whom I’ve worked for some years.

> Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Research is always how I find my way into a story and what inspires me as I write.  For many months, I read about the artists who lived and worked in Monterey, visited museums and studied the paintings these women artists have left behind.  As I did, I came to see each of them as talented individuals who made extraordinary art in a period when critics did their best to dismiss women artist’s work. In reading about their struggles and the Bohemian lives they lived, I came to see each of these artists not as historical figures, but as living, breathing women with stories to tell.

> What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Readers who enjoy the books of Susan Vreeland (author of GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE) and Tracy Chevalier (author of THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING) might well enjoy THE SKETCH CLUB.

> What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope that readers will be fascinated by the same things that made these real women compelling to me: that each faced her own challenges. One must weigh her artistic ambition against her marriage to successful muralist.  Another must silence the self-doubt instilled by her domineering father. A third is forced to make the heart-breaking choice between her child and her career. And the student who comes to learn from each of these remarkable artists, must decide if she can marry a man she fears she cannot learn to love, so she can keep on painting.

Charles Rollo Peters

Dear Friends —

It’s funny where the ideas for stories come from, and how far they sometimes travel to awaken a writer’s imagination. One of these story journeys began when I stumbled across gravesitethis beautiful and intriguing grave site behind the ornate iron fence of one of California’s oldest cemeteries. The burying ground in Monterey dates back to the 1820’s and lies on a peninsula between the sheltering arms of the Estero, a fresh water estuary that meanders down from the hills above the town and out into the bay. This exquisite portrait bust, I found out, marks the grave of Kathleen Mary Murphy Peters who, the inscription said, died in Monterey in 1902. Intrigued by the marker, I went home and Googled Kathleen Mary to see who she was. What I found was that she was the wife of painter Charles Rollo Peters whose nocturnes critics compare to the work of James McNeill Whistler. (Nocturnes are works done to simulate the landscape or the building in the painting in the light of early evening or the glow of the moon.)

Apparently Charles Rollo Peters and Kathleen were a love match and around the turn ofportrait_bust the twentieth century they lived an idyllic and Bohemian life in their estate that overlooked the sea in Monterey. Drawn by the beauty of the ocean; the beaches; the moody, magnificent cypress and pines, many of their artist friends came to stay and paint and party at the estate that became known as “Peters’ Gate.” (The house — much altered — and stone gateposts still stand today on Munros hill.) Gradually more and more artists congregated in Monterey, turning the picturesque little town of adobes into a flourishing artist colony.

As I researched Charles and Kathleen’s life in Monterey, I discovered that there were a surprisingly large number of women active in the colony. I fell in love with their sunny colors and the vibrancy in their brush strokes as they painted in the style that came to be known as American Impressionism. I also found myself wondering what it would be like for a woman to make her way as an artist in the early nineteen hundreds.

I know from being a career novelist how challenging it is to balance the demands of being a creative and a woman. It made me wonder what difficulties a woman might face in becoming a serious artist a hundred years ago. Was she accepted as an equal? What sacrifices might a woman be forced to make to fulfill her ambition of being a painter? And therein — I thought — might just hang a tale worth telling. Though I am not ready to talk about it yet, that appears to be the historical direction the next novel is taking.

I will tell you that the Peters will probably not make more than a cameo appearance in the book, because their story is so sad. In 1902 their charmed life shattered when Kathleen portrait_bust2died after giving birth to twins. Two years later their baby daughter, also named Kathleen, stumbled into an open fire and perished. Charles was inconsolable at the depth of his loss and commissioned the beautiful grave marker for his wife and daughter. He continued to paint for another twenty-five years and went on to even greater fame and fortune. But in many ways his life was empty without his first love and their baby daughter.

Little did I know when I paused beneath a row of towering eucalyptus trees to look at Kathleen’s grave, that in the rattle and rasp of the leaves fluttering overhead I’d hear the whispers of a story.

My very best —