Friday, July 14, 2017

Beatriz Williams,- Cocoa Beach

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It is so interesting the way serendipity throws things our way sometimes. I'd seen the notice for Beatriz Williams' new novel, COCOA BEACH, in a bookstore newsletter (the fabulous Poisoned Pen!!!!) and I thought what a gorgeous book (it is stunning) and I'd love to read an historical novel set in Cocoa Beach, Florida. 


Then, on Monday, I found out that Beatriz was actually signing here in Dallas that night--in fact, it was the debut event for our new independent bookstore, INTERABANG. (Which is fab!)

Of course, I went, and Beatriz was smashing, so interesting and vivacious, and she made me want to devour every single one of her books. Listening to her speak also gave me lots of ideas for our Q&A here.

I am the short one:-)

But first, here's a little snippet about COCOA BEACH, so that you'll have context for the Q&A.

The New York Times bestselling author of A Certain Age transports readers to lush, lawless Prohibition-era Florida in this rich historical novel—an intricate blend of suspense, betrayal, and redemption set among the rum runners and scoundrels of a paradise far from home.

France, 1917. Virginia Fortescue journeys overseas with the Red Cross in order to escape the claustrophobia of a childhood spent hiding her father’s criminal past. While driving an ambulance across the battlefields of the Western Front, she meets a brilliant, charismatic British army surgeon and falls into a passionate affair. But Captain Simon Fitzwilliam’s charm disguises a history filled with its own darkness, and as the war draws to its close, Virginia is forced into a terrifying choice for herself and their unborn child.


Florida, 1922. Newly widowed, Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach to settle her estranged husband’s estate, and discovers a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, and rumrunners, to which Simon’s brother and sister welcome her tenderly. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the hedonistic surface of this oasis. The more she learns about Simon’s life in Florida, the more she fears that the uncanny circumstances of his demise point to a sinister agency, and that her life as well as their daughter’s may lie next in its crosshairs…

DEBS: Beatriz, it was such fun getting to meet you and hear you speak in Dallas! You touched on so many interesting subjects, both about this book and your previous books, that it's hard to pick and choose questions. But I'll dive in! You have set books in many different historical periods. What was it that drew you to the early 1920s in COCOA BEACH?



BEATRIZ: Thank you so much, Debs — it was such a thrill to “open” a brand-new bookstore as its first author speaker! As you probably noticed during the course of my talk, “obsessed” is really not too strong a word for my fascination with the first half of the twentieth century, in which a mighty social and cultural transformation overturned just about every aspect of our lives. And so much of this change had its roots in the First World War and the years that followed, which is the real story of COCOA BEACH: a society disillusioned and unmoored, searching for something to place its faith in.

DEBS: I visited Cocoa Beach for the first time in February, when I was a guest of the Friends of the Cocoa Beach Library. I was fascinated by the 1950s and 60s history of the  town. My hosts showed me the famous astronaut hangouts, and we drove through the "I Dream of Genie" bungalow-lined streets--which might exist in a time capsule-- and we visited the Cape. But what was it about Cocoa Beach in the 20s that inspired you to use it as a setting?

BEATRIZ: I’m endlessly susceptible to the details of physical environment—that’s why setting plays such a role in my books—and at the time I first imagined this story, I happened to be traveling frequently to Florida. As I looked out my airplane window, my car window, my hotel window, as I walked around and drove around, I was powerfully moved by the scale of Florida’s wilderness, by its lushness, by the sense of natural mystery and that sort of tropical stillness that’s almost sinister, once you get out of the developed areas. I thought Florida would make such an evocative setting for a Gothic type of book—Daphne du Maurier set in a tropical Cornwall—that I could merge with all those 1920s themes I already had running through my head.

DEBS: Your books have many strong female characters. How do you keep from modernizing their world views so that they seem more sympathetic to contemporary readers? 


BEATRIZ: Well, that’s such a fine line to walk! I always try to keep foremost in mind that, to my characters, this is not a historical novel. It’s a contemporary novel, it’s their present, and they have no foreknowledge of the future to come, nor any sense of themselves as living in history. So it’s not the historical details themselves that matter so much as the way they’re introduced, the role they play in the story—not as a history lecture, but as elements of setting. And voice! Getting the voice right is absolutely essential, the most important thing a writer can do to immerse the reader in this historical world. I don’t mean trying to sound like you’re actually writing the book in 1922, but you’ve got to understand vocabulary and syntax and inflection, you’ve got to make it as real and natural as possible. You can’t just have a contemporary person plopped down in 1922. They don’t think the way we do, they don’t talk the way we do, they don’t act the way we do. This is their world, not ours, and the challenge is to communicate those differences in a relatable way, to find the common humanity that links us.
 

DEBS: I love the way your stories skip across time and form webs of connections. Was there a particular book (or books) that inspired you to use this device? Or just a fascination with history?

BEATRIZ: I can’t think of any particular book that inspired me to adopt the dual and even multiple narrative structure, unless it’s Sebastian Faulks’s wonderful Birdsong, which I read a couple of decades ago! Certainly it draws from my love of history, and my interest in creating that juxtaposition of different eras, but in the end I just find it’s a powerful storytelling device. If it’s done well—if you write with a sense of overlapping story arcs, each chapter borrowing momentum from the one before—it creates suspense and conviction, it allows the reader to perceive, at a visceral level, the changes taking place in the characters and—when the two narratives are decades apart—the times in which they live. That being said, I always write the narratives in a linear way, almost always beginning with the story that occurs first, which I write in its entirety before creating the second narrative around the first. In the case of COCOA BEACH, I had to know exactly what happened to Virginia in 1917 in order to understand the person she becomes in 1922.

DEBS: Your novels are not a series in the usual sense, but they are interrelated. How do you tie the different books together?

BEATRIZ: Back when I was getting my MBA, I went through a two-year binge reading of Anthony Trollope, and I loved the way that—without writing sequels, exactly—he took secondary characters from one novel and featured them in another, creating this sense of an entire alternative universe in which these people lived and breathed. So when I sat down to write THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT after A HUNDRED SUMMERS, it seemed natural to revisit the Schuyler family in another branch…and before I knew it, I’d created what the Marvel people call a “shared universe.” It’s a bit like a family — you might need to look up birthdates and keep track of how old everybody is in 1965, but you know who all the people are, who they’re married to, and how many children they have!


DEBS: I love the "shared universe" concept! REDS and readers, is there a particular social/historical period that draws you? If so, why?

Beatriz Williams is the New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Along the Infinite Sea, A Certain Age, and several other works of historical fiction. A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA in Finance from Columbia University, Beatriz worked as a communications and corporate strategy consultant in New York and London before she turned her attention to writing novels that combine her passion for history with an obsessive devotion to voice and characterization. Beatriz’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and appear regularly in bestseller lists around the world.


DEBS: Beatriz is on book tour but she will do her best to drop in and chat about history and mystery and all our favorite subjects!

P.S. Debs' bonus question: who knows what an interabang is? Without looking it up. No cheating!

33 comments:

  1. I must say, Beatriz, that I find your idea of a “shared universe” concept quite intriguing. “Cocoa Beach” sounds like a fascinating story and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    [An interabang, sometimes called an interrogative point, is a question mark and an exclamation point combined to create a nonstandard punctuation mark.]

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    1. I looked it up too, Joan, and find I use this all the time?!?!?!?

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    2. Interabangs rated a brief mention in one of our college English classes, Ann, but I hadn’t given them much thought since then. I remember trying to come up with a decent sentence to end with an interabang . . . it was one of the more interesting topics in an otherwise uninspiring proper use of punctuation discussion . . . .

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  2. This book sounds fascinating. I don't read enough historical fiction.

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  3. How terrific! I had just read your interview in… Shelf awareness? And was so thrilled to see you are here today. Welcome!
    I'm eager to read your book, so forgive me if the question is obvious… Do you lose real people in your books as well ?
    And how do you get yourself into the "other time" mode when you write?

    ( and I do know about interabang-- But because I read about the bookstore… cannot wait to come visit! ) ( Debs, maybe you can interview them for jungle red! )

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  4. An author friend is writing a novel with two timelines, and she said she also writes one storyline (the one in the past) all the way through and then weaves in the one set in the present. I'm sticking to the late 1880s so far. The book sounds fascinating!

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  5. Beatriz, I totally get what you say about Florida. Although I haven't spent much time in the state, it carries a veneer of modernity over something not quite 'known'--a sense of history, a sense of danger, a sense of not being altogether in the here and now--as if you could step off a path and emerge in a different world. I'll be looking out for yuor book!

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  6. Beatriz, what a gorgeous book cover! I'm writing a story set in 1942 right now and yes, the voice is so important to get right.

    Mary/Liz

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  7. Beatriz the book sounds wonderful. Welcome to Jungle Red.

    I've written multiple timelines and narrators and it's more challenging, on some levels, and less on others. The trick is to keep the reaer (and yourself) grounded. I usually need a chart to keep everything straight.

    I've never been to Coco Beach, but old Florida fascinates me. Fast disappearing old Florida. Time period that fascinates me is, of course, '50s Hollywood.

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  8. My cousin lived in Cocoa Beach in the mid-70's, and I stayed with him a couple of days when I took my daughter to Disney World. It's changed so much now, even, from forty years ago, when you could see the turtles digging nests on the beach, without human intervention of any kind, and there were miles of nothing but palmettos and flat, scraggly landscape. The last time I was in Florida I could barely see the raw wildness it was back then. There were always hundreds of egrets, herons, cranes, and other birds in every drainage ditch and freeway edge. On our drive from Miami to Jacksonville and back we spotted three birds.

    I can't imagine the changes between 1917 and now in that area. Beatriz, was there a particular source you used, like a museum or other repository of photos from the time period, that helped?

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  9. Welcome Beatriz, and bonne chance on your new book.

    Heretofore I've avoided Florida in all its permutations, but maybe it's time I got over myself!?!

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  10. Beatriz's books are excellent. This new one sounds delicious - perfect for a summer vacation. I too love the idea of shared universe. I wish more series authors would do this - because it makes trying an authors latest book easier, without having to worry about what you might have missed in earlier books.

    As for the Interabang, I know it's a punctuation mark. Something like a question mark and a exclamation mark combined - I believe. Thrilled to hear of new bookstores opening - Good luck to them.

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  11. Great question about strong female characters. I am not sure if it applies exclusively to modern times. If you read Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, there were strong female characters, especially during and after the First World War.

    Beatriz, welcome to JRW! Cocoa Beach sounds intriguing and I put this on my TBR list. I love historical novels. Not a big fan of graphic violence, though. I love this blog because I discover new authors here. I am happy to learn about you and your books from this blog!

    Diana

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  12. Beatriz, you've done a great job in Cocoa Beach of describing the area's unique geography, as it is separated from the mainland by the Indian River. Driving from Orlando to Cocoa Beach, I was also struck by how wild much of Florida is, even now. There are miles and miles of uninterrupted scrub. It seems both alien and inhospitable. There's something romantic in the wildness, though. I think you said it reminded you a little of Daphne Du Maurier's Cornwall. I am loving imagining what it was like in 1922!

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    1. Most of the wild stuff is in the middle. When we drove through Florida a couple of years ago we crossed the state somewhere south of 10 (I'd have to ask Steve where we were). We were stunned to see warning signs for bear crossings.

      Later on, I asked a park ranger in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary about the bear population. She said there were between 5-7,000 black bears in the state.

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  13. Welcome, Beatriz! COCOA BEACH looks like a perfect beach read! I love the idea of creating a shared universe. Do you already have the next book in the universe planned? Written? ;)

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  14. Hello Beatriz! I finished reading Cocoa Beach last night and loved it! That time period is so rich. One question. The two refugees at the end of the story? Should I know them from Wicked City or another story? As for interabang my first reaction was that it is Batman punctuation. Pow! I'm not too far wrong.

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  15. Beatriz, I finished reading Cocoa Beach last night and loved every twist and turn. That time period is so rich. I have one question. Should I recognize the two refugees at the end as someone from Wicked City? Lousy memory. Loved the book and looking forward to the next WWW venture too.

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    1. Sorry about the double post. The first one didn't show up and I thought the dog ate it.

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  16. I have loved historical fiction since I read Sharon Kay Penman's books set in Plantagenet England starting with Sunne in Splendour back in the 1980's. Her books on the Welsh Princes and Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are my favorites. Although I am heartily sick of novels set in Tudor England, I couldn't resist picking up Alison Weir's latest books on the Wives of Henry VIII during a book signing I went to in Stratford.

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  17. I'd never even heard of an interabang. I assumed it was something related to language. That or a new hairstyle!

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    1. We are so excited to have a new independent bookstore in Dallas! When I first heard they were going to call it Interabang, I thought, "What?" Now I love it, and the store has a great graphic. www.interabangbooks.com

      And everyone take note--we now have a terrific venue for touring authors!

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  18. I really like historical fiction of all eras - I read all of Cecilia Hollands books, Taylor Caldwell was one of the first "adult" authors I read in high school, also In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden was given to me in 8th grade by my English teacher, who saw that I needed more challenging reading.

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  19. One of the best things about this blog is how up-to-date it is about new books coming out from authors that may be new to some of us. Debs, I also first read about Cocoa Beach by Beatriz in the Poison Pen newsletter. I've seen it on some must-read lists, too. Beatriz, this book is certainly getting buzz. It's now on my TBR list. I love the Cocoa Beach area, although I haven't been there for many years. It's the old Florida appeal that touches me.

    The shared universe is such a favorite concept for me in reading. I think it's one reason why I enjoy series reading so much. Debs, you do this shared universe concept beautifully with your secondary characters, something I look forward to in each book.

    Beatriz, I'm so glad you stopped by here today, as this post has certainly sealed teh deal on me reading Cocoa Beach. After all, how can I resist this book when you describe it as "Daphne du Maurier set in a tropical Cornwall"?

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  20. Oh, I just realized that I could have used an interabang at the end of my last statement/question.

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    1. But what does it look like? Is it both pieces of punctuation?

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    2. And how can you do it on a computer? One over the other, right?

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    3. No, I don't think it can be done on a computer, at least not mine. One over the other isn't possible on mine. Now, if I had my Selectric typewriter.

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  21. !? No,I don't think you can on the computer. Darn!?

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  22. Hi Deborah, so nice to see two 2017 author visitors on the same post. We're looking forward to Beatriz's visit to our library on Sunday to talk about her new book.

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  23. I like this place. I was here the other night, I've been there for about four or five hours and found the prices reasonable on all fronts and the staff to be so friendly. I would be the perfect person to have on an infomercial for Chicago event venues if they ever had one.

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