Q - First question! What inspired you to write about the Ringling Brothers?
Two things. My mom, who inspired me to love classic films from a very young age (The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952!), and my publishing family, who just knew Mable Ringling had a story to tell - so they asked me to write it. I am humbled and so glad they believed in me enough to let me do it.
Q - I know that some of the characters were fictional to enhance the story, but for those people and events that were real, how much time did you spend researching for the book before you sat down to write?
Tons of time. We spent a total of 3 days researching onsite at the Ca' d'Zan mansion in Sarasota. I also worked with curators at the museum and Ringling/Burton family members to learn all I could about the Ringlings. You can go on my YouTube channel and see the film footage of a tour - in the EXACT mansion where the story is set! It was so cool. I also had the honor of attending John Ringling's 150th birthday celebration at the Ringling Museum the past May - a 1920s lawn party with John Ringling's restored 1923 Rolls Royce there onsite! I was able to meet the Ringling/Burton families (who were so gracious and helpful). It was a researchers dream.
Q - What was your favorite plae and/or part of doing the research?
Oh it's hard to narrow that down! Ha ha! But I would have to say...that outdoor ballroom with the marble terrace overlooking the bay. It caputred me from moment one. You could almost feel the Gatsby-era parties that happened there. The history was so thick and I fell in love with Mable's Ca' d'Zan in the moment!
Q - What was the hardest part of the book to write?
It was Mable's story that took the most courage to write. It's semi-biographical fiction and I didn't want to get it wrong. I wanted so much to honor her, the Ringlings' legacy, and to wrap in a story of redemption at the same time. I spent much more time focusing on Mable's view just because she really lived, and I'd come to respect her so much.
Q - Was there anyone in particular that inspired Rose or was she completely of your own imagination?
Rosamund is entirely from my heart. Honestly. Both she and Ingenue came to my heart long before I knew I'd be writing a circus story. I just knew that I was called to the Jazz Age and wanted to tell their story.
Q - What does your writing process look like? Where do you write? How do you develop your characters?
I write everywhere! I do a lot of my writing on my phone, actually. I wrote my debut novel (The Butterfly and the Violin, on the art of Auschwitz) almost entirely on my phone. I have a favorite corner in a local coffee shop that is a very inspirational space. There are kayaks hanging on the walls and I sit at a table right under them, lost in story world.
Q - Is there anything about the main female character that reminds you of yourself?
YES! I'd stepped away from my former 15-year career in Corporate America just weeks ebfore I began writing the novel, and it very much felt like a leap of faith. I didn't have to cross an ocean like Rosamund, but I did have to step out into the unknown and that could be terrifying at times. Both women inspired me as a I wrote their story - isn't it funny how characters can inspire our own real life stories?
Q - Do you have a favorite character?
I would have to say...Mable, in this story. Simply because the research I did all told about her poise, wisdom, kindness, and generosity. She was as wonderful as I tried to write her, which felt honest and lovely at the same time.
Q - Rose was a very strong woman who was so brave to follow her heart. I was so hopeful to have a happy ending for her, which I know it was but a bittersweet one. I was wanting her to have everything, but why did you feel she couldn't?
I love that you asked this! I wanted Rosamund's story to end well, but realistically at the same time. We may have happy endings with seasons in life, but they rarely look exactly like we imagine they will at the start of the journey. I wanted there to be a hurdle for her to rise above and love for her to cling to. I think (without spoilers, haha!) Rosamund and Colin make a great team in that way. Love is a choice. Sometimes, it's a choice in the tough moments of life and that's so inspiring to me - not when things are easy, but when we mae a choice to love and stick to it.
Q - I felt like Sally made such an impact in the short amount of time she was in the book, especially on Mable. Was she based on someone that Mable really knew?
Sally's story is purely fictional in the novel, but I think the root of her journey is a familiar one. Too often we look back in regret over the "what if?" moments in our life. I wanted Sally to inspire Mable to move in a different direction, to never do that. To life her life in the relentless pursuit of love. My faith drives me and I wanted Sally's view of life and loss to serve as an example of that love.
Q - I felt very pulled in and transfixed by the way you were able to describe the characters in The Ringmaster's Wife, especially Mable. Before you write your books, do you find that you have to outline your characters on pen and paper to keep track of all the little details?
I learn best with hands-on experiences. So I like to travel to onsite locations - example, I am stopping by a vineyard to learn about French wine-making. My next book takes place in Loire Valley, France (wine country). I type notes on my phone, take TONS of video footage, interview as many experts as I can, and carry a journal and pen everywhere I go. I even name characters from life experiences. A character in my next book, THE ILLUSIONIST'S APPRENTICE, is named for an amazing barista at my local coffee shop (Olivia).
Q - Are you writing another Historical Fiction anytime soon?
YES! My next book comes out in March - a Jazz-Age story of a female illusionist (and one-time apprentice to Harry Houdini!) It's THE ILLUSIONIST'S APPRENTICE. I am also right now writing book 1 in a three-book historical series about abandoned mansions in Europe (and a journalist who is researching the origins of fairy tales onsite) - set for release in 2018-2020!
Q - How did you think up Mable and Rose's conversations together?
It's what happens with every story - the conversation, the scenes, the themes...they come to me and I document them. (Yikes, not a helpful answer at all.) . But truly, I try to imagine what life in that time/place would look, feel, smell, sound like, and how relationships would form in those spaces. I think Mable's friendship with Sally affected her mentoring of Rosamund. She didn't want to miss an opportunity to bless a younger (courageous too!) woman if she could. I firmly believe in mentors. I have many and I am blessed by them daily. I highly recommend bringing loving women into our journey - I wish Mable could be that for us too!
Q - First question to you Karin Tanabe! Did you personally like Lottie when you wrote about her? Obviously most people didn't like her much at the end but what did you think about the character? What were you trying to portray?
To answer the first question, I wanted Lottie to be a very modern woman. Dynamic and smart with a liberal view of women in the world. The women going to college during that era really were trailblazers, and I envisioned her leading the pack, which makes her deception more heartbreaking.
Q - During the process of writing, did anything you normally do help to add detail to scenes in the book?
Though it was my first historical fiction book, I did stick pretty solidly to my normal writing routine, but I allowed myself months more research. And reading books written during that era really helped me get the language right and hopefully avoid anachronisms!
Q - I was hoping you could tell us how you became interested in/inspired by Anita to write this story?
I actually learned about Anita when my parents made me clean out my childhood bedroom in their house! I found an old college alumni magazine from 2001 and there was an article about Anita Hemmings in it and her beautiful face on the cover. It was 2014 when I found it and as soon as I read about her, I wanted to write the book. Her dogged determination to get the education she deserved was so inspiring.
Q - The timing of this book seemed very appropriate as race relations in the USA have seemed to be at the forefront of the news. Was that a factor that you considered when writing/publishing this book?
When I started writing this book in 2014, I really wondered about the subject matter resonating with people. It was before the Black Lives Matter movement and though race had started to figure more prominently into the national conversation, it wasn't like it was today. Then as I was writing, race moved more and more into the conversation and Anita's story felt more modern (unfortunately) and even more important.
Q - Hi Karin! Will you tell us about some of your favorite or the most remarkable historical artifacts/sources you came across while researching the novel?
The most interesteing and eye opening things I found were the letters between the real Lottie Taylor and the Vassar president in 1924. To see how racist she still was a generation later was very sad but important for the book. Also really interesting was how helpful the phone books of the era were. They used to mark people's race in the phone book! And the census reports helped me immensely, too.
Q - I found it interesting to read about the strong desire Anita and her husband had to AVOID living a life of "passing" after their marriage in the book. But they ultimately decided to live as white in New York City. Can you elaborate on the events that may have lead to their decision?
So, very sadly, from what I know about Anita and Andrew, after they got married they moved to Tennessee where Andrew had lived before and practiced medicine as a black doctor. Once there, they were the victims of some pretty serious racism which I'm guessing was jarring for Anita. Not to say that Boston was perfect in The Gilded Age when it came to race relations, but I do think it was more progressive than Tennessee. From what I've read, the racism they experienced influenced their decision to then move up north and pass again.
Q - What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?
Oh, SO many good ones to choose from! Some classic favorites are The Remains of the Day and The Poisonwood Bible. More recently I loved The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls and The Kitchen House.
Q - What do you like to do when you're not writing?
If I'm not writing or reading, I love to explore the city (I live in DC), attempt to cook things that usually fail, go running, and send way too many text messages to friends!
Q - What do you like to read?
As for reading, I read 99.99 percent fiction! If anyone has any good non-fiction suggestions, let me know!