What the Lady Wants by Renée Rosen: Historical Novel | Author Jan Moran
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Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.
Owned & Operated by Sunny Palms Press, LLC.

What the Lady Wants by Renée Rosen: Historical Novel

What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen book coverToday I'm welcoming Renée Rosen to the blog to talk about her new historical novel, What the Lady Wants, which is based on the history of the venerable Marshall Field's department store in Chicago, which was acquired by and renamed Macy's.

As an author, one of my fondest memories of Marshall Field's was when they acquired my very first book, Fabulous Fragrances, in 1994 to sell at the fragrance counter.

Renée is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, Renée loves all things old, all things Chicago, and all things written.

A graduate of American University in D.C., Renée has contributed to many magazines and newspapers, including Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Complete Woman, DAME, Publisher’s Weekly, and several other now sadly defunct publications. She is the author of Every Crooked Pot, Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties, and What The Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. She lives in Chicago where she is currently working on a new novel, Above The Fold coming from Penguin/NAL fall 2015.

Renée also shared a commercial spot for What the Lady Wants:

 
 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your historical novel?

Wow, that’s hard to sum up in one sentence, but here goes…

Starting with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and spanning the next thirty-plus years, WHAT THE LADY WANTS tells the story of Marshall Field’s scandalous love affair with his neighbor, Delia Spencer Caton, and the creation of Marshall Field’s & Company, his famous luxury department store.

What was it about Marshall Field’s that inspired you to write a historical novel about the man and his store?

Renee Rosen AuthorFirst of all, Marshall Field was a visionary, and his dry goods store was unlike anything Chicago or the country had seen before. He paved the way for retail merchants for generations to come. For example, Marshall Field’s was the first department store (or dry goods store as they called them) that turned shopping into a luxurious, enjoyable experience. Whereas other dry good stores of his day were nothing more than a mishmash of merchandise with no prices and no one to assist the customer, Marshall Field displayed his merchandise beautifully and trained his clerks to “Give the lady what she wants.” He was the first merchant to allow customers to shop on credit and offered them a money-back guarantee. He was the first to make home deliveries, to build lavatories and a tearoom for his customers. Marshall Field’s was the first store with a moving staircase (an escalator) and a revolving door.

A lady in the 19th Century would arrive outside Marshall Field’s in her carriage and the doorman would escort her inside. If she wanted she could check her coat with him. She could even check her children at the store’s nursery. She could buy her theatre tickets there, have her gloves cleaned, her jewelry repaired, take a break in the lady’s lounge or read a spell in the store’s library. It was truly a city onto itself.

Were you influenced by the hit shows Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise? And what do you think accounts for this renewed interest in the grand department stores of yesterday?

It’s funny but when I began writing WHAT THE LADY WANTS, I had no idea that those TV shows were in the works. But luckily for me people are definitely interested in and dare I say, even charmed by this subject. As to why, I think a lot of it has to do with nostalgia. In today’s world of online, drive-thru, super-efficient buying options, I think we’ve traded the experience of shopping for convenience. I believe many of us are longing for those days when we met our girlfriends or our mothers and daughters for a day of shopping.

Remember how much fun it was to spend an afternoon browsing, delighting our every sense with the latest perfumes, clothes, and items for the home? And what about sales clerks who regarded their job as a profession and took great care to assist you in any way you needed. Sadly customer service in the retail world seems by and far to be a lost art and I think that shows like Mr. Selfridge and The Paradise and hopefully, novels like WHAT THE LADY WANTS will transport us back in time to the days when shopping was a special, magical experience.

Are your historical novel characters based on real people? Or imaginary people?

All the characters in WHAT THE LADY WANTS are based on real people, with the exception of a handful of secondary characters. But that said, I did take creative license with them where I had to. Though Marshall Field, Delia and Arthur Caton were public figures, they were fiercely private about their personal lives and the facts were few and far between. I spent hours at the Chicago History Museum and the Newberry Library where the Fields and Catons’ archives are housed, wearing protective white gloves and going through boxes of photographs and letters, trying to piece these people together. I’ve also included a pretty extensive author’s note at the back of the book so readers can separate the fact from the fiction.

What do you love most about the writing process?

I love that I never know what’s going to happen next. Even in the case of WHAT THE LADY WANTS, which was based on actual people and historical events, there were still countless surprises along the way. When I’m writing—and it’s going well—I feel like I get to be the first reader of someone else’s story. I love when a character does something and you haven’t a clue why until it's revealed to you about a hundred pages later. That’s when you know a character is alive and that they’ve been in charge all along. To me, that’s magical and makes all the revisions, all the false starts and hours of self-doubt worth it.

If you could give an aspiring writer one key piece of advice what would it be?

If you have serious aspirations to be a published writer, aside from the usual read and write, I think a key ingredient is good old-fashion determination. I know that a turning point for me came when I made the absolute, irrevocable decision that I was going to get my first novel published. I put on blinders and kept focused on that end result. I was rejected by almost 300 agents and for every one rejection I got, I fired off five more queries. I think I eventually wore down the system. But I think that’s the kind of commitment and tenacity you need to make your dream come true. Once you decide that this is it, nothing can stand in your way for very long.

What are you working on now? Any other historical novels?

I’m nearing the end of my next novel, BEFORE WE KNEW BETTER, which will be published next year, in November of 2015. This is the story of a young female reporter set against the challenging backdrop of the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s. It was pitched as Mad Men meets House of Cards. I’m having a ball with it and recently had the good fortune to meet some women who worked in the Tribune newsroom during the 50s and 60s. I really see this book as a tribute to those brave women who forged ahead in a male-dominated industry. They are courageous and inspirational and it’s been a privilege to hear their stories first hand and translate them into my novel.

 Where To Buy

What the Lady Wants is available on Amazon: Click to Buy

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