Interview with historical fiction novelist Jeanne Mackin

happy to start off Jeanne Mackin’s virtual book tour for her new historical
novel, A Lady of Good Family.
her tour, Jeanne will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s
choice) gift card to a lucky person. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your
chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there,

Mackin’s latest novel,
A Lady of Good
, explores the secret life of gilded age Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece
of Edith Wharton and the first woman professional landscape design in America.
Her previous novel,
The Beautiful
, based on the life of model turned war correspondent and
photographer, Lee Miller, won the CNY 2015 prize for fiction. She has published
in American Letters and Commentary and SNReview
and other publications and is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers.
She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American
Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the
Advancement and Support of Education.

Welcome, Jeanne. Please tell us about
your current release.
A Lady of Good Family is historical
fiction about Beatrix Farrand, one of the first truly great professional
landscape designers. Raised among wealth and privilege during America’s Gilded
Age, she was a niece of Edith Wharton and friend to many of the great people of
her time, including Henry James and President Roosevelt. She was expected to
marry soon, and marry well, but Beatrix was a determined and intelligent woman,
and had other plans.

What inspired you to write this book?
I have loved gardens all my life and when I learned that some of the most
famous gardens in our country were created by a woman (at a time when well-off
woman didn’t work outside the home) I knew I needed to write about her, to
explore her life, to get to know her and to understand her. Now, when I sit in
my own garden, or spend the morning pruning shrubs and pulling weeds and
stopping once in a while to admire a rose or smell an herb, I feel closer to
also a bit of a ghost story built into the novel. I think gardens are great
places for hauntings!

Excerpt from A Lady of Good Family:

Lenox, Massachusetts
My grandparents had a farm outside of
Schenectady, and every Sunday my father, who worked in town, would hitch the
swayback mare to the buggy and take us out there. I would be left in play in
the field as my father and grandfather sat on the porch and drank tea and
Grandma cooked. My mother, always dressed a little too extravagantly, shelled
the peas.
A yellow barn stood tall and broad
against a cornflower blue sky. A row of red hollyhocks in front of the barn
stretched to the sky, each flower on the stem as silky and round as the skirt
on Thumbelina’s ball gown. In the field next to the barn, daisies danced in the
breeze. My namesake flower.
I saw it still, the yellows and red
and blues glowing against my closed eyelids. The field was my first garden and
I was absolutely happy in it. We usually are, in the gardens of our childhood.
When I opened my eyes I was on a porch
in Lenox, a little tired from weeks of travel, a little restless. My companions
were restless, too, weary of trying to make polite conversation as strangers
It was a late-summer evening, too
warm, with a disquieting breeze stirring the treetops as if a giant ghostly
hand ruffled them. Through the open window a piano player was tinkling his way
through Irving Berlin as young people danced and flirted. In the road that
silvered past the inn, young men, those who had made it home from the war,
drove up and down in their shiny black Model T’s.
It was a night for thinking of love
and loss, first gardens, first kisses.
Mrs. Avery suggested we try the Ouija
board. Since the war it had become a national obsession.
“Let’s,” I agreed eagerly.

What exciting story are you working on

my next novel I’m returning to Paris between the wars, a very vivid,
mysterious, wonderful and dangerous time. For this story, I’m exploring the
intense and destructive rivalry between two of the strongest women of that time
and place, the fashion designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. What drove
them? What sustained them? It will be a story of triumph, certainly, and also
of failure.

Do you write
full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than
write and how do you find time to write?
work in the morning, and whether or not it’s full time depends on how you
define the work. The writing part only takes a few hours a day, but I spent
many more hours reading, editing, doing research. Let’s just say that at this
point writing is my main work. I taught writing as well, but stopped doing that
recently, so that I could spend more time with more own work. It is rewarding
working with beginning and emerging writers, and also very demanding, very
taxing. Sometimes you just don’t have enough left over for yourself.

What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?

write almost in a trance, and get really frantic if I am interrupted. The
strange thing is that I can work in really loud, distracting places, like a
coffee house with heavy metal playing (my last choice in music) and still go
into that trance. It’s only when someone speaks to me directly that the spell

As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?

a nun or a courtesan. I figured neither one had to do housework.

Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?

I became very good at housework. When my husband and I got together, neither of
us could cook, so I taught myself how, and I now love working in the kitchen.
Sharing a good meal at home is one of life’s great pleasures. I still hate
mopping floors and dusting, though.


Thanks, Jeanne!

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12 thoughts on “Interview with historical fiction novelist Jeanne Mackin

  1. Unknown says:

    I really enjoyed the interview! It made me think of Vita Sackville-West and the lovely gardens she created! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Jeanne Mackin says:

    Sorry for the delay on the comments. Remember how, in school, the dog mysteriously ate your homework? Well, I had ants in my laptop. For real! Had to take it in for an emergency cleaning!! So, thank you for hosting me, and thank you for your questions. Time for answers:

    strange writing habits. Definitely not on my head. I'm a bad enough typist as it is. My habits are actually quite common: only write first drafts in the morning – after that my imagination begins to shrivel up. And that interruption thing. Friends who call me in the morning learn the hard way not to do so again! Sometimes I stand up when I write. I created a taller standing station so that if I'm tired or day-dreamy I can stand, and somehow that forces me back into focus. I can't write longhand a lot because I'm left handed, but when I do go back to pen and ink I can only use one kind of pen, and one kind of paper: yellow legal pads. Sometimes, when I've been working in a coffee shop and I pull out my pen and that yellow legal pad I've seen other writers (we have a lot in my town) almost droll with nostalgia.

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