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Our bookseller Jenn got the chance to ask one of her favorite authors five questions. Of course she couldn't stop at just five...
Paula McLain is the bestselling author of The Paris Wife, and most recently Circling the Sun.
Circling the SunPaula McLain
Paris WifePaula McLain
A Ticket to RidePaula McLain
Stumble, Gorgeous,Paula McLain
Like FamilyPaula McLain
Less of HerPaula McLain

1. The women you write about have led such exciting and over the top lives, but they aren’t well known in history. How do you choose who to write about?

Actually, it feels a lot like my characters choose me rather than the other way around. I’d never heard Hadley’s name before she reached out to me through the pages of Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. I suppose that was part of her appeal, that she was utterly new to me, but more than this even the shadow of her obsessed me instantly. I lunged at biographies, needing to know everything about her, and that’s how I found my way to Hemingway and 1920’s Paris and that entire world.
Nearly the same thing happened when I read Beryl Markham’s West With the Night. The same instant connection; the same recognition that something special was happening, and that I had to know everything I could, immediately, about Beryl. Though I’d just met her, I already knew she would change my life.

2. Is it harder or easier to write a novel based on real people?

Good question—but I think it’s both! There is a challenge, definitely, in tackling a life where the plotline, for all intents and purposes, has already been written. My job, then, becomes find the story within the story, and discovering the arc that I want to draw out and point to within the larger scope of the life. Sometimes the facts are troubling. Sometimes the actual historical figures have done baffling things that make me want to pick them up and shake them. But in the end there is also real satisfaction and a powerful reward in learning true empathy for my characters. In overcoming those hurdles. And honestly, I can’t quite imagine the payoff being the same for fictional characters.

3. The Paris Wife  shot up the bestseller list and stayed on top for over a year. How has that affected your life?

The runaway success of The Paris Wife was such a wonderful surprise, and changed my life in all sorts of ways. The main thing is that I get to focus on my passion full time now, and just write—without having to cocktail waitress, or stitch together three different teaching jobs. That’s such a gift, I can’t tell you. I also have a readership for the first time. It’s so gratifying to go to events and hear the way readers are relating to my characters and the worlds of my books. It makes me feel connected to those readers, to the whole endeavor of storytelling, and shows me just how special my job—my vocation—is. I get to touch lives.

4. Since you have been touring, have you had any memorable fan experiences or seen your books in any unusual places?

The coolest fan experiences for me are when I meet people at events who actually knew my characters or have bumped against their lives in some meaningful way. Early in my tour for The Paris Wife, for instance, I met several members of Hadley’s family who’d come to an event in St. Louis (Hadley’s home town), and surprised me. That was such an emotional moment. Once I did an event in Chicago where a guy stood up at the back of the room during the Q&A and told me he owned the building on North Dearborn Street where Earnest and Hadley lived when they were first married, in 1921—and then he asked if I wanted a tour. Did I?!? Amazing!

5. In Like Family , you talk about growing up in the foster system. How do you feel those experiences affected your writing style?

My difficult childhood made me a reader, I have no doubt, and a very specific kind of reader, too…ready to disappear into worlds and be swept away. I think I learned an acute empathy because of the losses I suffered, and that my own experience made me susceptible to others’ stories. As I began to write, and particularly when I began to write historical fiction, I felt powerfully that I was ready to disappear into other worlds on this plane, too—to take on other voices and points of view. Honestly, I can’t imagine being the kind of writer I am now, or having the same evolution and transformation having come on any other path.

6. We all want to know – what’s next?

I have a new idea for another historical novel with a real life protagonist, set in a time period and world that’s already blowing my doors off. I’ve just begun the writing and researching, so feel it’s too soon divulge my subject. But keep your fingers crossed for me, Hudson readers!
Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 10:00am