Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Q&A with Kate Alcott

Kate Alcott is the author most recently of the novel A Touch of Stardust. She also has written the novels The Daring Ladies of Lowell and The Dressmaker. Kate Alcott is the pseudonym of journalist and author Patricia O'Brien. She is based in Washington, D.C.

Q: Why did you decide to set your new novel in Hollywood at the time of the filming of Gone With the Wind, and how did you research the novel?

A: I've always loved both the book and the movie of Gone With the Wind, and when I realized the 75th anniversary of that spectacular film was coming up, I began wondering what it must have been like making it. There was so much angst and friction and so many false starts - I was curious, what was the story behind the story?  

Another thing that drew me was the fact that I grew up in L.A., and writing about this would take me back to familiar territory (after several books set in the 19th century.) The period before World War II was the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the era was rich with detail. 

Q: How did you come up with your main character, Julie?

A: I was surprised to learn as I researched my story that there was a time in Hollywood - in the '20s and '30s - when women were respected writers and directors. They became less influential as the young industry became more lucrative for men.

I was fascinated by the career of Frances Marion, one of the most successful women script writers of the time. So, I thought, what if my main character did not aspire to be an actress - but wanted to be like Marion?  Bingo. Julie immediately became a stronger and more interesting person to me.

Q: The novel includes both historical and fictional characters. Why did you decide to focus in particular on Carole Lombard and Clark Gable?

A: Clark, of course, was to emerge as the fabled icon, Rhett Butler, so he was one of the first actors in Gone With the Wind that I knew I needed to know.  

Well, he took me immediately to the fabulous Carole Lombard. She was an amazingly free-spirited, talented comedian, and she and Clark Gable were very much in love - in fact, they were married partway through the filming of Gone With the Wind. She said what she thought and she did what she wanted, and bringing her back to life in A Touch of  Stardust was a joy.  

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make many changes along the way?

A: I usually have a hazy sense, but I don't plot toward a pre-determined conclusion. I want my characters to surprise me. One of the biggest treats of writing fiction is feeling your characters - both historical and fictional - come to life on their own terms.

Q: How have readers reacted to the novel?

A: My readers loved the mix of fiction and history - particularly getting a chance to peek behind the curtain of the magical era of making Gone With the Wind. Weaving fact and fiction, they told me, made the past come alive. And I was delighted to hear from quite a few fans of Carole Lombard.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: Edith Wharton, Hilary Mantel, Myra MacPherson, Wallace Stegner, Kate Atkinson, Erik Larson - I could go on and on. I gravitate to writers, fiction and non-fiction, with the skill to make history jump off the pages and feel real.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am about to embark on another novel centered in Hollywood, exploring a later time, in the '50s. Wish I could tell you more, but everything is still bubbling on the back burner.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous version of this Q&A, please click here. Kate Alcott will be participating in the Bethesda Literary Festival, which runs from April 15-17, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland.

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