1--What is the title of your latest release?
2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?
You know Pablo Picasso. Now meet his muses. Picasso’s Lovers is a tangled and vivid portrait of the woman caught in Picasso’s charismatic orbit through the affairs, the scandals, and the art. Only this time, they hold the brush.
3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?
The characters made this decision, not me! I wanted to tell the story of a young but already successful Pablo Picasso meeting the beautiful socialite Sara Murphy, their initial meetings in Paris in 1922 and 23, and then the summer they and their families spent at Antibes, in the south of France. The narrative is based on true events, and I ran it with from there, imagining all the “what ifs”. To tell this story I had to take a close look at the nature of Sara’s marriage to the very handsome Gerald, and at Picasso’s discontent with his own marriage. Mix passion, love (not always the same thing!) with sun and sand and fabulous food. Voila. The sun bursts in gold on your eyelids.
4--Would you hang out with your protagonist in real life?
Absolutely! She’s a seeker, ready to ask herself difficult questions than then risk much to find the answers. Alana Olsen is a woman of the 1950’s, trying to break through the barriers women faced in the workplace, trying to make sense of her relationship with her fiancé and wondering if he really is the right partner for her, and trying to discover her mother’s secretive history. All while she is grieving for her recently deceased mother. We could have great discussions, Alana and I. In fact, we did, while I was writing this book. Sometimes over a martini or a glass of Bordeaux
5--What are three words that describe your protagonist?
Determined. Questioning. Loving.
6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?
Very hard to choose one thing! Historically, I was fascinated by some of the minutiae I uncovered, like the sidecar cocktail is named after a type of World War I motorcycle. We envision the 20s as this long, glorious party, but in fact those partygoers bore many scars from The Great War and there was remnant despair lurking in the shadows. I loved delving into Picasso’s life and read many biographies, both by friends and critics, and my admiration of his life and work as an artist grew immensely. I do believe he was a genius and, like most geniuses, was very difficult if not impossible to live with. I was prepared to read about how his women grew to hate him, but in fact that was not the case. They were attracted to him, seduced by him, stayed with him until the affair pretty much burnt out, at least on his part. He is a man we love to hate and sometimes hate to love.
7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?
Both. For my morning’s quota, I force myself to forge ahead because I really believe a story shouldn’t be revised until you know what the ending needs to be. That said, I often begin the morning’s work by quickly going over the pages from the day before, just as a warmup, kind of like Hemingway ending the day’s work with an incomplete sentence so that he would be able to finish it the next day and get started up again. Not that I have anything in common with Hemingway, but authors do like to learn other writers’ tricks for how to keep going!
8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?
Currently, it’s a perfectly ripe pear with fresh mozzarella. It’s something I first ate some years ago when I was hitchhiking through Europe and ended up one day in a university cafeteria in Rome, where the food was cheap and excellent. My all-time favorite though is candied fruit from Provence, glazed oranges and cherries dripping with sugar syrup. They soak them for months in huge wooden vats to get that glorious texture and taste and when you bit into one it’s like biting liquid sunshine.
9--Describe your writing space/office!
Tidy (I can’t stand clutter) and with a window at my shoulder for lighting and a view to rest my eyes. A great wooden desk, a clay pot full of fine point pens, bookshelves lining the walls. I always have music in the background.
10--Who is an author you admire?
If I could only pick one, it would have to be Daphne du Maurier. Her eye for detail, her passion for history, her excellent and complicated characters. And her sense of prose, her style, does not age. She’s one of the authors you can read when young and then again when older and still appreciate what each novel achieves while also enjoying how the novels changes somewhat as you change.
11--Is there a book that changed your life?
When I was a teenager, I somehow got a copy of Blessed Are the Debonair by Margaret Case Harriman, about growing up in the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York City, where her father was the manager. Her memoir is witty, gossipy, lots of fun since she got to meet and spend time with all the great actors and writers on that era, the 20s and 30s. I grew up in a very small town, so all that cosmopolitanism was an eye opener for me. And Harriman made the point that it was alright to be a little quirky and bookish. She read so much that she could carry books around to match her outfit. I so related to that! When I was a kid my father, seeing me come home from the library with armloads of books, teased that I read books by the pound.
12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)/Or, for indie authors, when you decided to self-publish.
I’m working with a fabulous agent Kevan Lyon, and she called to say my proposal had been accepted. This wasn’t my first novel, but that moment never gets old. It’s a smile-all-day and perhaps all week moment, you feel like gravity has lost some of its power and you’re floating, you plan a celebration meal to include champagne. And then, you get to work.
13--What’s your favorite genre to read?
I read just about anything. Historical, mystery, horror, science non-fiction, philosophy, art history. Everything. If there isn’t a book around, I’ll read a cereal box. I read for pleasure and for information so all genres are fair game.
14--What’s your favorite movie?
At this point, I have to turn romantic. It’s Love Actually. I’ve watched it over and over and I cry at the ending every time. It achieves what I hope my novels achieve: show the sweat and tears, the obstacles, the pain of the characters but leave with a feeling that yes, it is all worth it.
15--What is your favorite season?
Autumn. It’s moody and fickle and nostalgic and I love the cooler weather. Getting up and throwing on a sweater and jeans and boots is the right way to start the day. After coffee, of course.
16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
A dinner out with friends, lobster maybe, wine, too many people in a small booth laughing and enjoying each other’s company. At the last birthday dinner, I went to people were asked to share something they loved about the birthday woman and the comments were so thoughtful and precise and caring. It’s great way to remind ourselves of why we choose particular friends and why we spend our time with them. Celebration is important.
17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?
I love A Very English Scandal with Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. It’s an English mini-series, based on a true story, about a politician who gets caught out in a sex scandal. It’s funny, extraordinarily well acted and ultimately very, very moving. Love, in its own way, conquers.
What’s your favorite type of cuisine?
Mediterranean. I love sea food, fresh vegetables, crusty bread, anything splashed with olive oil! Ripe fruit for dessert. Sometime ago I discovered Pomegranate molasses, a middle eastern specialty that made its way to the Mediterranean and if you haven’t tried it yet, do! Roasted eggplant topped with yogurt and drizzled with Pomegranate molasses. Heaven.
19--What do you do when you have free time?
As much as possible, I spend time with friends. Non-writers sometimes don’t realize how time consuming it is to write a novel, and I have to say no to things I would enjoy doing, long morning walks with friends, lunches, weekends away from my desk. So when there is time, I seek companionship. And when I need a two- or three-hour vacation from everything and everyone, I go to a movie, an afternoon matinee, by myself.
20--What can readers expect from you next?
Another novel, probably set elsewhere, different time and place. But until the first draft is finished, I won’t be more specific. I’m superstitious about that.
Thanks! Happy reading, everyone.
A tangled and vivid portrait of the women caught in Picasso’s charismatic orbit through the affairs, the scandals, and the art—only this time, they hold the brush.
The women of Picasso’s life are glamorous and elusive, existing in the shadow of his fame—until 1950s aspiring journalist Alana Olson determines to bring one into the light. Unsure of what to expect but bent on uncovering what really lies beneath the canvas, Alana steps into Sara Murphy’s well-guarded home to discover a past complicated by secrets and intrigue.
Sara paints a luxurious picture of the French Riviera in 1923, but also a tragic one. The more Sara reveals, the more cracks emerge in Picasso’s once-vibrant social circle—and the more Alana feels a disturbing convergence with her own life. Who are these other muses? What became of them? What will become of her?
Desperate to trace the threads, Alana dives into the glittering lives of the past. But to do so she must contend with her own reality, including a strained engagement, the male-dominated world of art journalism, and the rising threat to civil rights in America. With hard truths peeling apart around her, it turns out that the most extraordinary portrait Alana encounters is her own.
Women's Fiction Friendship [Berkley, On Sale: January 23, 2024, Trade Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781101990568 / eISBN: 9781101990575]
Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels, including The Last Collection, which has been translated into five languages and optioned for film, and The Beautiful American, which won a CNY Best Fiction award. She has taught in the MFA Creative Writing program at Goddard College and won journalism awards for her work as a human development and science writer, and received a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society, her favorite research library.
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