Q: In the introduction to The Artist Colony, you credit a landscape painting by your great-aunt as an inspiration. How did the painting lead you to write this book?
A: “Eucalyptus Trees,” by my great-aunt, Ada Belle Champlin, has been moved from one house to another during my 30 years on the East Coast. On brisk nights, I would often look at this gorgeous sunny landscape and wonder where it was painted.
But when I moved to a mountaintop cottage in Carmel Valley, California, I needn’t wonder any longer. I have been told by several locals that my great-aunt Ada Belle set up her sketch box near our home to paint “Eucalyptus Trees.”
That coincidence tweaked my curiosity. I decided to find out more about Ada Belle and her life in Carmel’s artist colony in the 1920s. It wasn’t long before I knew I’d found my next novel.
Q: What did you see as the right blend between history and fiction as you worked on the book?
That is a good question. When I started the first draft, I was planning to write a mystery, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. But as I learned more about this idyllic artist colony on the Pacific coastline, I couldn't ignore its profound artistic and cultural history so The Artist Colony became an historical novel with an element of mystery.
I researched the artists that lived in Carmel and probably knew my great-aunt and had them interact with my characters. I scouted historical locations as if I was making a movie. I created scenes and let my characters talk freely in these remarkable settings.
So in answer to your question, locations, several artists, historical events, and social behavior came from my extensive research. The plot and main characters are fictional.
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel, and if so, what did you learn that especially surprised you?
A: Much delightful research. That’s why I write historical fiction. If I wasn’t a writer I’d probably be an historian. Once you get started, as many of you know, you just drop into one rabbit hole and then another until finally, exhausted, you have to stop and write your story.
What surprised me the most were the many similarities between the 1920s and the 2020s.
The 1920s is known for its many innovations and so are the 2020s: Telephone to Internet. Radio to Spotify. Ford Model T to Tesla. Makeup to Facelifts.
These two eras, a century apart, are also similar in their racial attacks against Asians and the Ku Klux Klan’s popularity. On a more positive note, the economic forecasters predict an extraordinary financial recovery that will rival the Roaring Twenties.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Better understanding of the difficulties immigrants faced then and are facing now in our country. Empathy toward people that are different. Respect for the women artists who were forced to use initials on their paintings to compete in the art market dominated by men, but they would not be silenced.
Learn from our history so we don’t make the same mistakes again. And I hope readers have the pleasure of reading a good story.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The Artist Colony release is on Sept. 7. My wonderful publicist and I have been working together to reach as many people as possible.
Come 2022, I will take a long deep breath and conjure up my next novel. A sequel to The Artist Colony if enough readers want to hear more from Sarah, my artist/amateur sleuth, or I might write a comedy.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: How much I appreciate blogs like this that give me the space to talk about my writing, a favorite subject of mine. The forum you offer allows me to stay in my writing practice. Thank you.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb