Thursday, August 31, 2017

Q&A with Claire McMillan

Claire McMillan is the author of the new novel The Necklace. She also has written the novel Gilded Age. She lives near Cleveland, Ohio.

Q: You’ve noted that some of the inspiration for The Necklace came from family memorabilia. How did these letters and journals help lead to the creation of the novel?

A: My husband’s great-grandmother’s scrapbook memorializing the house parties she threw in the 1920s was a useful primary document. Looking at it was almost like looking in a portal as it provided such a direct glimpse into another time. 

We moved into a family house about 10 years ago, and the scrapbook had always been in the house. I revisited it a lot while writing the 1920s portions of the book as it helped to get me in the mood of the ‘20s.

I also had access to Amasa Stone Mather’s journals and letters of a grand tour he took around the world in 1907. The letters were most helpful to get the wording and word usage right for the letters that show up in The Necklace. 

Q: The book includes sections set in the 1920s, as you’ve noted, and also in 2009. Can you say more about how you researched the 1920s chapters?

A: Aside from the scrapbook, I spent time at the Western Reserve Historical Society here in Cleveland in their reading room.

The excellent librarians there introduced me to two society gossip magazines in Cleveland, The Bystander and Town Topics. They were the Us Weekly and People magazines of 1920s Cleveland.

I requested boxes of them, and it was incredibly helpful to just page through the magazines and look at the topics of the articles, the advertisements, the wedding announcements and the engagement announcements. They gave perspective as to the concerns and distractions of the time.

Q: Did you write the chapters in the order in which they appear in the book, or did you focus on one time period before tackling the other?
A: I wrote the 1920s story first. That story had been percolating in my head for a long time, and I wrote it straight through. Then I turned to the modern-day story and worked on that.

I was going to keep them that way, in two chunks. But then I printed them out, put the chapters on my floor, and started literally, physically combining them. I was mainly concerned with pacing at that point.

After I had them combined in a plot and pace that made sense to me, I needed to sand and polish the joints, rewriting some portions and rearranging others so that it flowed and made sense.
Q: The necklace in the book is inspired by an actual piece of jewelry. What made you choose to include it in the novel?
A: The necklace acts as an important part of the plot. It’s a physical object that joins together the two timelines. It’s also a useful device for examining what the Quincy family looks like at its peak and what it looks like a hundred years later.

Additionally, I had lived in India and became interested in Indian jewelry while living there. So that interest too, served as inspiration for the necklace in the book. 
Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m doing research and considering writing a solely historical novel.

Q: Anything else we should know?  
A: I wrote part of the book while I was an Edith Wharton Writer-in-Residence at the Mount, her home in Lenox, Mass. The program is offered once a year in the spring before the house is opened to visitors for the season. The two-week residency allowed me to work in Edith Wharton’s very bedroom where she wrote.

They’re accepting applications now for the 2018 residency.  It’s open to three women writers. The experience was productive and transformative for my work. I highly recommend it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb 

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