Interview: Anna Godbersen

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Earlier this year, I was scanning the New York Times Best Sellers list and was intrigued by a book about "Manhattan’s young social set, circa 1899." The book was called The Luxe.

Needless to say, I sped through it and then began to anxiously await the follow up novel, Rumors.

Luxe author Anna Godbersen intertwines multiple love stories in such a such an elegant fashion that you too soon wish you were living in 1899!

In two months time, Envy, her final book in this deliciously gossipy series comes out. For this final installment of Thank Goodness for Books, we were fortunate to be able to speak with Ms. Godbersen about her novels, the future of our beloved Diana and Henry, and what's projects she hopes to work on next!

Hi Anna! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

Thank you so much for having me!

First off, over here at The Reader's Quill, we love all sorts of books and music. We're curious, what are your top three favorite books? And top three favorite musicians?

This is always an anxious-making question for me, because what fascinates me changes, and because I think as writers we define ourselves so much by what we read closely and passionately. But I will give it a shot and say Joan Didion’s Democracy, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. As for musicians, at this precise moment, we’ll go with Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke and Fleetwood Mac.

Fashion plays a big role in the series. If you could travel back in time to 1899, what would we find you wearing?

I am lucky to live in the era I do, because elaborate clothing always trips me up. I am at my best with in a state of slightly disheveled hippie ease, and, well, getting me into a corset would be a sad story indeed. This is why we have books and our imaginations!

How did you come up with the idea for the series?

I was ghostwriting young adult novels, and I wanted it to be big and glamorous, but I also didn’t want it to have as much of the ironic slyness that YA novels with contemporary settings sometimes have. The gilded age seemed to have the perfect combination of gaudy scenes and dramatic situations, and though many of the characters are quite cynical, their era gives them a little more of the stuff of life and death, tragedy, really big stakes. And that is all really rich material to work with as a writer.
Which character can you relate to the most? Which was your favorite to write, if different?

It is probably a Diana-Lina tie. Diana is really the heart of the series- her searching and ardor and sense of fun set the tone for the whole book, and those are all qualities that I relate to. But Lina has a special place in my heart, even though she’s sort of a “bad guy,” because she sometimes lacks the confidence and wherewithal to get what she wants, but still stubbornly believes that her life should be beautiful, too, and she pursues that even in the face of tremendous risks.

If you had to choose between Henry and Will, who would you pick? Why?

I have always been a sucker for a troublemaker—Henry, I’m afraid.

We love historical fiction at The Reader's Quill. What kind of research did you do to write the series?

I began by reading histories of the time, of which there have been many, and then I dove into old memoirs and gossip rags and etiquette books from the time. I spent many, many hours at the wonderful New-York Historical Society, which is such a treasure and so full of information on the city during this period especially.

Historical novels tend to be tricky to write. If a young writer had an interest in the genre, what would you recommend they do? Do you frequent any specific websites or books?

It is very difficult, and I would say that she should be very careful to use the research to her advantage and not let the research rule her. There are wonderfully researched novels that are so tedious because they have these clunky lectures on what-it-was-like-then where plot turns and character development should be. Ideally, the historical record sparks the writer’s imagination, and then she is able to create her own fictional world based on it, with its own rules and ambience. I think anybody considering writing a historical novel should read E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. I try not to use websites, except that I do often find myself turning to the New York Times’ site, because they have everything from around 1860 on archived, and the New York Public Library’s digital image archive, where you can search for things like ‘Ladies’ hats, 1890-99’ and get a visual. Awfully useful!

Which other historical periods do you find fascinating? Would you be interested in writing about them in the future?

Yes—probably any period, if I looked deeply enough, but particularly the twenties and the fifties. But I want to write something set in my own time soon, before I forget how to do that.

Before each chapter, you give excerpts from different tabloids of 1899. Do you read any gossip columns or magazines? If so, who's your favorite person to read about?

Ah, this is so embarrassing! Yes, though I try to confine my celebrity weekly reading to airplanes and nail salons. And I am a total sucker for those famous people who sell magazines— Britney, Angelina, etc. Pretty much anyone unbalanced.

In The Luxe and Rumors, Will and Elizabeth as well as Henry and Diana must keep their love sheltered from society. Do you feel that their attraction to one another is partially based on "the forbidden fruit" effect?

For both couples, I think that is part of the original thrill. But particularly for Elizabeth, she sees some part of herself that doesn’t fit in with the rest of her world reflected in Will. Call me cheesy, but I see there’s as a very true love. And Diana and Henry, too, are a good match—and one of the things they have in common is that they are drawn to trouble. That they should not be together is part of their natural chemistry.
Any hints you can tell us about what's in store for our characters in the year 1900?

Oh, big stuff! Some travel, a lot of heartbreak, some gargantuan misunderstandings and betrayals. And of course a lot of chandelier light and disordered breathing and gaudy dresses and another wedding.

What's your next project after the next book comes out?

I plan to pitch another series for young people. It will be historical, I think, and involve teenagers struggling to get into and out of a glamorous, tragic world. And I’d like to try my hand at writing for adults, too—a novel set in our time.

A Note from The Reader's Quill:

First and foremost, Happy Thanksgiving! This is a special time to be thankful for all we have and a time to spend with the people who make each day truly unique.

I would like to take this time to thank Cassandra Clare, Laura Whitcomb, Lisa McMann and Anna Godbersen for taking the time to talk to me about their writing. All of their books have truly struck a cord in my life, as I hope yours as well. Their books have been my constant companion throughout many nights and I am thankful to have taken part of the literary adventure they laboriously created.

I would also like to thank you, the readers, for checking back every week of Thank Goodness for Books. I love interacting with each and every one of you, reading your emails and laughing about book jokes that hardly anyone else would understand. It is because of you that all this is possible. And it is in your name that all this is for.

Later next month, The Reader's Quill will be hosting another compliment of author interviews! Be sure to come check it out! Happy Holidays!