Olivia Newport: I have Chicago suburban roots, but I had not heard of the Prairie Avenue Historical District until a friend of mine became a docent at the Glessner House Museum on Prairie Avenue. This house preserves the flavor of Chicago’s gilded age when the neighborhood was full of wealthy powerhouses of industry. As soon as my friend began his training, he saw the potential for the setting of a story. He is not a fiction writer, but he knew my interests. It did not take us long to cook up story ideas about a daughter of a privileged family who engaged with the changing social climate of her time.
ib4b: How was writing this story affected by the fact that you grew up near Chicago?
ON: Even as an adult, I’ve lived in the Chicago area for several stretches, and several siblings and their children live there. (Go Cubs!) When I was a child, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry was a wide-eyed experience for me. As a young mother, I took my kids there. I think of it as the Museum of Wonder and Curiosity. Then I discovered that the building itself was part of the 1893 world’s fair, the backdrop for my series. Little did I know I would grow up to write about events that took place in a building that held so much fascination for me.
ib4b: The World's Fair was one of my favorite parts of the book. :) Is any part of you sorry to be finished writing The Pursuit of Lucy Banning?
ON: Yes! I’ve been living with Lucy for three years now. I feel I know her well. Lucy has a part in the two stories to follow, and these are still in the editorial pipeline so I’ll have opportunities to visit with her again over the next few months. Beyond that, I have a picture of what happened in her life and know that she found happiness and meaning. And that brings me pleasure.
ON: My docent friend, Stephen Reginald, is a history buff. He spits out the most interesting details sometimes, and before I know it, I am digging too. We both scoured the archives of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times for headlines and language of the era. I looked for true events that serve as hooks in the stories. The Internet turns up all sorts of obscure books and historical accounts. One of my favorites was a first person travelogue written by someone who visited the world’s fair in 1893. Steve’s work at the Glessner House Museum opened a portal into diaries and museum pieces that helped me faithfully recreate the story’s setting.
ib4b: What impact did your research have on you personally?
ON: One of the most fun research pieces I uncovered was a guide to caring for young children published in 1894. The prevailing expert advice was not to play with a baby before he or she was four months old, preferably six! I love giving a copy of this book to new mothers. On the other end of the spectrum was heartbreaking information about the desperate needs of orphans during that time period. We may think we have more sophisticated system for addressing certain social issues, but we have a long way to go.
ib4b: Wow! It's interesting how things change. I can't imagine NOT playing with a baby until they're 4-6 months old. The orphan storyline was so interesting to me, and I was glad that you included that aspect of society. How do you see yourself in Lucy Banning’s story?
ON: I certainly have never been the daughter of a privileged family! However, Lucy Banning and I do share an infatuation with red velvet cake. More seriously, Lucy is looking for genuine meaning in her life, even if it means taking risks. I’d like to think I would do the same thing.
ib4b: Where do you like to write?
ON: I advocate writing by keeping your bottom in the chair, but I’m flexible about the kind of chair! Research happens at my desk where I can spread things out. Several years ago, in a thrift store, I found a wide, comfy recliner with a built-in massage feature. When I’m in serious get-words-on-the-screen mode rather than researching, I write in cushy comfort. However, I also think that writing is a consuming process, and I may solve a plot dilemma while I’m walking through the neighborhood or hear the perfect line of dialogue in my head while pulling weeds. When I’m immersed in a story, it’s hard to set it aside until I get it out of me. The writing follows me around as I go about my life.
ib4b: If someone else were sitting at your desk right now, what would they see?
ON: A visitor to my office would see multiple attempts at organization, some of which are actually useful! I have several racks for folders and papers, and only I know what qualifies for which rack. I insist on colorful, fun folders. A couple of binders hold manuscripts in progress or research. I expect a visitor would be curious about the various notes I have taped up around my desk, some of which are information I refer to because I can’t remember otherwise, and some of which are inspiration, both to keep my writing on task and my heart in a settled place.
ib4b: How do you handle distractions?
ON: Classical music—no words—helps keep my brain in a productive gear. I have a big planner where I write notes so I can let go of information or an urge to do something for the moment. Being comfortable helps with distractions, in terms of the chair, lighting, and room temperature. Otherwise my body responds to every little bothersome sensation. And it’s amazing how effective it is to simply close the door on the household noise.
ib4b: When you’re working on a project, how do you keep the immensity of it from getting you down?
ON: Writing a book does seem scary! I break things down. I don’t set out to write a novel. Rather, I set out to complete the next task that may become a part of the novel. The task may be working out a knot in the plot, or writing the next scene, or beefing up research. I focus on doing the next thing that needs doing.
ib4b: How do you choose between ideas you’d like to write about?
ON: That’s a great question, because I always have more ideas than time to write about them. I’ve had fun with the Avenue of Dreams series, which begins with The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, because I discovered a place I did not know about. That surprise factor launched my imagination. I’m sure I’ll be looking for the same experience in the future and be eager to pass it on to readers.
ib4b: And because we're all about books at i blog 4 books, what were some of your favorite books growing up?
ON: Mrs. Shiner ran the church library, and I wish every child had a Mrs. Shiner in her life. While I was a weekly visitor at the public library as well all through my childhood, I have strong memories of standing in the children's fiction section of the church library. I used to read books from a series that was old even then, I realize now, and I have not been able to track it down with the bits and pieces I remember. But it involved a set of triplets—two girls and a boy—who got into all kinds of adventures. I loved reading in the series because each book felt like a visit with old friends.
ib4b: What were the last "must read" Christian fiction book that you read?
ON: As far as what I'm reading now, it's always hard for me to rank favorites! So I'll just tell you some of the latest. For suspense, I've been reading Erin Healy's books. The latest was The Baker's Wife and I'm looking forward to House of Mercy. I've also been reading the books of three authors I met online. We have banded together to support each other with our May 2012 debut novels. Check out Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert, Submerged by Dani Pettrey, and Wish You Were Here by Beth Vogt.
ib4b: Ooh ... I read Wish You Were Here earlier this month, and Wildflowers from Winter and Submerged are in my TBR stack. :) Thanks so much for stopping by, Olivia! I had a great time getting to know you better and learning a little more about the background of The Pursuit of Lucy Banning!
Let me tell you, Olivia Newport is one busy lady! She's currently working on two series. Yep, you read that right—TWO!
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is the first book in the Avenue of Dreams series. The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow (book 2) is scheduled to release in January 2013, and the third book will be released in September 2013.
Olivia's other series is the Valley of Choice series, which debuts with Accidentally Amish this October, followed by the second book in June 2013, and the last book at the end of 2013.
Makes me tired just thinking about it! If you're so inclined, leave a comment for Olivia and let her know if something in the interview struck you or if you enjoyed her book. I'm sure she'll appreciate the comments!
Olivia Newport Online