22 May 2013

A Conversation with Jennie Fields -- and a giveaway!!

Jennie Fields is the author of The Age of Desire, a novel about Edith Wharton.

Edith Wharton is one of your favorite writers. How did that influence your writing?

Well, I must say, I felt very conscious of the language I used.  I wanted it to be appropriate to the era, hard-working and beautiful all at once.  I could never dream of writing as exquisitely as Edith.  I often get chills when I read her writing.  If angels could write, they’d write as she did.  The music of her language is instructive and breathtaking.  But I tried to write in a way that I felt might please her.  Also, I often started my writing sessions by reading a few pages of one of her books.  I never get tired of her books, no matter how often I read them.

The book follows Edith’s sexual awakening. What was it like writing sex scenes for such a well-known writer?

Not many people know this, but when Edith died, among her effects, her literary executor found some pornography that she’d penned.  There was nothing shy about this work.  It was bold, shocking, and also, of course, exquisitely written.  While I did not use any of the language of this piece (named Beatrice Palmato, for those who are curious—and yes, it’s on the internet) it did instruct me as to how she viewed sex and passion, and gave me insight into what excited her.

Paris figures heavily into the book. What did the city mean to Edith? What’s your relationship to Paris and did it figure into the writing of the book?

Edith adored Paris.  It was everything that New York wasn’t: culturally oriented, worldly, beautiful.  She found New York society closed and stifling.  She blossomed when she finally moved to France full-time, and her devotion to France is clear in how she helped the women of France during World War I with her workrooms and charities. (France awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honor for her work during the war.) She had loved Paris as a child, and even more as an adult.  And of course, she fell in love with Morton while in Paris. That would forever insure a place for Paris in her heart.
There was a period where I did not like Paris.  I found it jostling and sad.  But about the time I began the book, I also began a new relationship to Paris, and fell in love with it all over again. 

What’s your writing regimen?

Generally, I walk in the mornings and do errands.  I write in the afternoons.  Usually I read starting at 1 or 2 pm.  (While I was working on THE AGE OF DESIRE I always read something by Edith). Then, with a strong cup of tea I get down to work by three.  I write in my writing room, a large old sleeping porch with windows on three sides overlooking my backyard.  I sit in a comfortable chair with an ottoman, my MacBook Pro on my lap.  I rarely write more than three hours at a time, usually less.  But it’s extraordinary what three dedicated hours can generate as far as pages.  If I get five good pages a day, I’m thrilled.  But not every day can be a successful day.  I always take weekends off—perhaps a holdover from my years in advertising.  My brain needs time to recharge!

What’s next for you?

I'm working on a new biographical novel about a woman who was world-famous in the 1890's but that few people know about today.  She was one of the richest women in the world, accomplished, highly intelligent, beautiful and charming.  Because of her power and fame, she was able to go places where most women weren't allowed, and used her access to further the cause of women.  She was also an art-lover, and one of the first Americans to purchase Impressionist paintings.  She and her husband bought hundreds which now make up the majority of the Art Institute of Chicago's collection.  If you can guess her name, you're good!  If not, I'm hoping my book will make her far more well known.

Photo: Anthony Scarlati
Jennie Fields received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of three other novels, Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages.  An Illinois native, she spent many years as an advertising creative director in New York and currently lives with her husband in Nashville, Tennessee.

Penguin has graciously offered a copy of THE AGE OF DESIRE to one of my readers.  Please comment below with your favorite Wharton novel (don't forget to include contact info).  Entries from the US only, please.


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