Friday, April 26, 2013

Q&A with novelist Caroline Preston

Caroline Preston
Caroline Preston is the author of four novels, Jackie by Josie, Lucy Crocker 2.0, Gatsby's Girl, and, most recently, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Q: You have written three "conventional" novels and one novel in the form of a scrapbook. Which format do you prefer, and why?

A: For now, I would say that I prefer the form of a scrapbook novel.  I have collected vintage scrapbooks and photographs since I was in high school.  This led me to a graduate degree in American History, and a 15-year career as an archivist at the Peabody/ Essex Museum in Salem, and Harvard’s Houghton Library.  In doing research for my three earlier novels, I studied historic photographs and scrapbooks (especially the ones kept by Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald), and was struck by the storytelling power of visual material.

In making The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, it was exciting to combine words and vintage ephemera.

Q: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt takes place in the 1920s, and your previous novel, Gatsby's Girl, deals in part with a similar time period. What about that period intrigues you?

A: I have been fascinated by the 1920s ever since I was a little girl and used to pore over my grandmother’s scrapbooks from her glamorous days as a flapper in Paris.  I loved the clothes, the haircuts, the grand ocean liners, the cars,. The 1920s were a period when every aspect of American life and culture was upended. There was the advent of new technology such as the movies, radio, and the automobile. There were radical modern experiments in literature, art, and music.  Women’s lives were dramatically transformed.  Women could vote, drive, work, and live on their own.  They could forgo marriage, and have many of the sexual and social freedoms that men had.  In other words, a perfect setting for a novel with a female heroine.

Q: Jackie by Josie, your first novel, also looks at history, in its case, that of Jackie Kennedy. What got you interested in doing a novel with a Kennedy theme?

A: At Harvard, I cataloged the papers of the journalist Teddy White, who wrote The Making of the President, 1960.  After that, I worked very briefly for the celebrity biographer Ed Klein doing research on Jackie Kennedy.  That gave me the inspiration for the frustrated and hapless research assistant in Jackie by Josie.

Q: Your second novel, Lucy Crocker 2.0, was published in 2000 and its characters are involved in running a software company. Why did you pick this theme for the book?

A: I am the mother of three sons who at that time were obsessed with a fantasy computer game, and I found myself becoming addicted too.  The game had been designed by a husband and wife team, which provided the inspiration for Lucy Crocker.

Q: You've written that you're now working on another scrapbook novel. What historical period are you looking at this time, and why?

A: My new scrapbook novel is about a war bride during World War II.  My office is completely buried by ration cards, war bonds, war time letters, and old issues of Life magazine.  The clothes, the music, the movies are all so high octane and glamorous.  I think this may be my favorite subject and time period yet.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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