Sofia Grant is the author of the new novel The Dress in the Window, which focuses on two sisters in the period following World War II. Grant has written many novels under the name Sophie Littlefield. She lives in Oakland, California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Dress in the Window, and why did you set it in the post-World War II period?
A: As a lifelong seamstress and amateur artist, I’m fascinated with fashion illustration and garment construction.
A number of years ago, I stumbled on historic newspaper accounts of the controversy that greeted French designer Christian Dior’s “New Look” in 1947 after the conclusion of World War II. I had no idea that some Americans resisted the lush new styles that came to symbolize an entire era of fashion.
Combined with my interest in the role of women in the workplace during and after the war, I was eager to explore these themes through fiction.
Q: How did you research the time period, particularly the fashion industry, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I found wonderful resources ranging from books of photographs of New York and Philadelphia in the 1940s and 1950s, to scholarly tomes about the evolution of the fashion industry, to a trove of online resources devoted to the development and adoption by the textile industry of synthetic fibers.
I was surprised by the clash of style makers, politics, and American tastes—the new synthetics were greeted as “miracle fabrics” by some and decried by others as heralding the death of couture!
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: As with all of my novels, I have a general idea of where the plot will go, but as I get to know my characters better in the early chapters of the draft, I always find that my initial assumptions shift.
In this novel, Thelma became a far more complex and important character than I anticipated. Indeed, she became my favorite, and I enjoyed giving her the story arc that I felt she deserved.
Q: You tell the story from different characters' perspectives. Did you write it in the order in which it appears, or focus on one character at a time?
A: I do jump around a little now and then, especially when revising—typically, I’ve left myself holes that need to be filled in by further research and plot reworking. But in general, I try to write that first draft chronologically from start to finish, letting each character tell her part as needed.
Early in my career, I learned a very important tip: in a multiple-POV book, each scene should always be in the point of view of the character most invested in its outcome.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m putting the finishing touches on my book that will be out next summer, titled The Girl in the Picture. I loved writing this book about a modern-day young Boston career woman who receives an unexpected inheritance from a grandmother she never knew, and follows it back to her native Texas where she connects with a cousin—and a shared past—that forces her to rethink everything she thought she wanted.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I’m grateful to you and to every reader who gives one of my novels a chance. I’m writing this in my local library, where I spend many happy hours surrounded by books, which as I get older seems a particularly blessed kind of wealth.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb