Author Interview - Renee Rosen
After reviewing Renee Rosen's latest book, Windy City Blues, we maintained an email correspondence and social media exchange discussing writing, Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones exhibit, and fashion history. Part of those discussions led to this interview with Renee discussing her thoughts on Windy City Blues, being a historical fiction author, and her upcoming book about a fashion legend.
About Windy City Blues:
1. What first attracted you to the story of Chess Records?
I wanted to do another novel set in Chicago but it had to be one that could only take place here and not in any other city. My editor suggested the blues so I did a little preliminary research and it very quickly became obvious that it had to be the story of Chess Records. Chess really started the whole Chicago Blues sound, plus the story of the Leonard and Phil Chess—two Polish, Jewish immigrants with no musical abilities who start a record label and launch the careers of such icons as Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry and others—was just too good to resist.
2. Are you a fan of blues music? Do you have a favorite blues musician or song?
I am now but honestly, when I started this book I didn’t really know much about the blues. I think my favorite artist is Howlin’ Wolf. That voice is just so distinctive and he was really a very decent man. My favorite song of his “Smokestack Lightning”.
3. How did you come up with Leeba’s character? Why did you choose her as your central character?
I always knew that I was going to have a young woman working at Chess at the center of the story. I wanted to show someone who didn’t quite fit in and found her escape through music. I read Carole King’s memoir and found some insights there. The other aspects of her character grew pretty organically as I got to know her and her story better.
4. Could you tell us a bit about your writing process for this book? How long did it take you to research and write? Did you have this story in mind for a while or did the project develop quickly?
Great question. This book was the hardest book I’ve ever written. There were lots of false starts. Initially, it was just going to be Leeba’s story, but as I progressed I realized that I also needed to bring in two other POV characters which were Red Dupree, a bluesman from the Delta and Leonard Chess, the founder of the Chess Records. The subject matter just proved to be too vast for one character’s POV. I ended up trashing about 200 pages before I figured out how to make the story work. And of course, this book was really research intensive. We went down to New Orleans, rented a car and drove the Blues Highway, stopping at juke joints and every museum we could find along the way. I would say that I spent a good two or three months doing nothing but research which included listening to a lot of great music.
About writing in general:
1. Do you have a favorite novel you've written? Why or why not?
Definitely Windy City Blues. I think it’s the most important story I’ve told and even though it’s a historical novel, it’s sadly very timely for today. I also think I grew in my craft and that it’s the best writing I’ve done to date.
2. Do you think there is a common theme across the books you’ve written so far?
Hmmm, I don’t think so. They’re all so different and set in different time periods. If there are any common themes, I’m honestly not aware of them.
3. What is it about historical fiction that interests you? Why do you write in this genre?
I love historical fiction because it’s an opportunity to learn about new time periods and events. I also love seeing how much, as a society, we‘ve changed and how much we haven’t. I think history is a really rich landscape to get lost in.
4. What genre do you prefer to read?
I really do enjoy historical fiction but I’m also a big fan of literary fiction. I just love beautiful writing in whatever genre that comes packaged in.
5. Regarding fashion, do you have a favorite decade for historic clothing?
I think the Roaring Twenties was a great time for fashion. Women were starting to show some flesh and flex their sexual independence and that was reflected in the clothes. Plus, who doesn’t love a pair of spats!
About Helen Gurley Brown:
1. Your next book is about a fashion legend, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for over three decades, Helen Gurley Brown. How did you first come across her story and what inspired you to write a book about it?
I really wanted to write a novel set in New York and one that drew on the old glamour of the city. My editor and I were brainstorming about a fictional magazine in Manhattan during the 60s and that just lead us right to Helen Gurley Brown’s door.
2. What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about Helen Gurley Brown during your research for this book?
Well, I’m still in the early stages of research but I can tell you that she always ate her salads (that is on those rare occasions when she ate) with her fingers! Something else that struck me was that her sister’s backyard was covered in four-leaf clovers. Helen used to give them to people for good luck. She was a very complex woman and I’m fascinated by her and all that she accomplished.
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