Happy Friday, guys!
Today, we're thrilled to feature an interview with Karin Tanabe, author one of my favorite books of 2016 - yes, yes, I'm calling it - The Gilded Years.
It's a fictionalized look at the life of Anita Hemmings, and I had the opportunity to ask Karin about writing the book, and more!
Read on for the interview + giveaway!
A Q&A with Karin Tanabe
Author of The Gilded Years
Washington Square Press, June 2016
Thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk to us about The Gilded Years! I’m VERY excited for this book – as you know – so let’s dig in!
1) First things first: a bit of a challenge. Could you please describe The Gilded Years for us in one hundred forty characters or less?
2) The Gilded Years is your third published book, and your first book fully dedicated to fictionalizing a real life-event. (I know that you’ve described The List as being about 50% based on your experiences at Politico, but it was still a fictional tale. :] )
What are some of the writing lessons that you’ve learned from writing The List and The Price of Inheritance, which you’ve incorporated into The Gilded Years?
Are there any specific approaches toward research and/or fictionalizing events that you’ve learned and adapted along the way?
With The List, I learned about my love affair with dialogue, as strong and fast as I can make it. I’d been a journalist for a handful of years before I wrote The List and was surprised by how much more fun dialogue writing was for me than dealing with those pesky facts. And with The Price of Inheritance, I wrote about something I knew very little about—art crime and antiques—so it was a good exercise in research. And research that took months, not just days as I was more used to doing.
As for specific approaches to fictionalizing events, I learned as I went that we as readers are not dying to read books written about The Gilded Age set in the exact tone of the time. When I read Henry James, or even my spirit animal Edith Wharton, the language is formal and you just don’t fly through their books. So while I read best sellers and devoured student newspapers and journals of college girls from the turn-of-the century, I tried to make my writing modern enough to have appeal now, while staying true to the feel of the era.
3) You mentioned in your author notes, that you first came across an article about Anita in an alumni magazine, and you were intrigued both by Anita’s time at Vassar, and Louise Taylor’s part in revealing the truth.
What made you decide to write about and fictionalize Anita’s story? Is there a specific reason you decided not to pursue the possibility of writing a biography, especially given your copious research into Anita’s background?
(Side note: I will say that as a reader, I felt a more direct intimacy with your fictionalization, but easily feel that you could have written a sterling biography as well. Am very curious as to what went in your thought process to go this route, especially given your journalism background.)
Also, no article I read about Anita -- from 1897 on up -- mentioned her roommate’s name. So I figured that there wouldn’t be much info about her, whoever she was, and that I would have to dig for a while to find her! Another reason to fictionalize was that I wanted to focus on Anita’s time at Vassar and she didn’t leave much of a paper trail from her time there. If she had kept a diary or had mountains of scrapbooks and letters as some girls did, I might have been tempted to go with non-fiction.
4) I think that there are few readers who have experienced the genuine challenges that Anita experienced while at Vassar.
However, I think that there are definite themes we as readers – especially females readers - can relate to, especially when it comes to striving for footholds in education, and in the career sector.
What’s one specific theme or idea that you hope readers will come away with, after reading?
She fought through heartbreaking prejudice, racism and classism to have the education she was qualified for, taking huge risks and throwing caution to the wind. To take her from 1897 to 2016, let’s just say she ignored the haters, broke the bulls--t rules and entered college like a boss.
5) If you had the chance to talk to Anita, what’s one question you would ask?
(Personally, I’m a little curious about her relationship with her family, after her marriage.)
Bessie was very light-skinned as well, but did not pass. She married a prominent African-American man and Anita was even her maid of honor, but I can’t find any evidence of them staying friends after Anita had a family and lived as white. Bessie was fascinating and I really hope they stayed close!
6) Finally, what’s next for you? I noticed that there are readers asking for a sequel to The Price of Inheritance. Is that something we can expect?
As for sequels, I would absolutely love to write a sequel to The Gilded Years, focusing on Anita and Bessie’s daughters’ lives, which were equally fascinating!