Today we are pleased to welcome Ciji Ware to Historical Tapestry today to talk about her new novel, Race to Splendor.
QUESTION: Why do you love unusual settings?
In my former career as a reporter for ABC radio and TV, based in Los Angeles, and as a magazine journalist, I have travel extensively to cover stories all over the world, so I didn’t hesitate to head for the British Isles, or Wyoming, New Orleans, or Natchez to do the research required for the six historical novels I’ve published, thus far. For me, the exotic locales featured in my work, are, in themselves, “characters” in my novels. I love to take readers to worlds I know well, but places they may never have seen like the Scottish Highlands (Island of the Swans), or the West Country of Cornwall (A Cottage by the Sea), to the swamps of Louisiana (Midnight on Julia Street), or the plantation country of Mississippi (A Light on the Veranda)—and create surroundings as real as I can make them.
QUESTION: Why do you love writing about San Francisco, the setting for your latest historical novel, A Race to Splendor?
I am a California gal, through and through, born in Pasadena and raised in the bucolic village of Carmel, California. The biggest treat in my youth was to be taken on the old Del Monte Special train from Monterey to visit San Francisco, the setting for the classic radio drama, One Man’s Family, that my father wrote for 14 of its 27 years on NBC. I loved all the things abut the City by the Bay that tourists love: the cable cars, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, the ferries plying back and forth across San Francisco Bay, the wonderful Dungeness crab that comes into season each January—and the stunning hotels like the St. Francis, the Palace, and the Fairmont atop Nob Hill (which endured despite the horrific 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm). Most Christmases my family would take the old Del Monte Special train from my home town on the Monterey Peninsula up to “The City” and do our shopping. When my writer-father was in the chips, we’d stay at one of the gorgeously-decorated hotels and my parents would treat us to afternoon tea. Wonderful memories.
But I also embraced the incredible diversity of a port city that was built by citizens of every nationality on the planet, including Chinese immigrants who came from abject poverty in Asia to try to make a better life on our shores. All this background helped when I began the research for A Race to Splendor (Pub date April 5). I didn’t just leave my heart in San Francisco when I was a child, I spent thirty years trying to get back to the city I adore. After living in New York, Boston, and LA for a big chunk of my working life, I joyously started packing the second my husband was offered a chance to join the Silicon Valley “revolution” at Quicken.com at the end of the 1990s!
In 1998--long before Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan--my husband and rented a flat in an early twentieth century building a few blocks from the fabled Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. These apartments, I soon learned, were designed by Julia Morgan, the first licensed woman architect in California. Our building manager mentioned in passing that Morgan was also the architect who, at age 34, won the post-quake commission in the spring of 1906 to restore the ravaged beaux arts-styled hostelry just down the street. I was immediately curious to know more about my new neighborhood and the history of that turn-of-the-century cataclysm that leveled 400 city blocks and left 250,000 of 400,000 San Franciscans homeless for up to two years. Before long, I stumbled across insurance pictures of the hotel’s interior destruction and the absolute obliteration of the surrounding area, including harrowing images of the corner of Taylor and Jackson, the exact spot where we were then living! Then I learned of the race against the clock during the rebuilding of competing hotels to open their doors by the first anniversary of the quake--April 18, 1907--to prove to the world that San Francisco would, indeed, rise from the ashes. What historical novelist could resist such a call to her computer?
QUESTION: What books have influenced you and your writing over the years?
Since I come from a writing family, as a child I grew up with books stuffed in every corner of my home. My father was also a huge fan of what he called “Swash-Bucklers” –films like Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, and stories set in the UK, such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, or Jamaica Inn. I was encouraged to read the original books on which the movies were based, so I devoured du Maurier, of course, along with Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, and the Winthrop Woman, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Later I discovered Dickens and Jane Austen—which in their day were “contemporary” writers, of course, but give us such a glimpse into the past. Given these earlier influences, my idea of heaven is to curl up on the couch with a fire in the fireplace, a cup of tea by my side, and a good, juicy historical!
It’s been great fun visiting with you on Historical Tapestry. For more info about the other historicals I’ve written, please visit www.cijiware.com
Race to Splendour is released today (1 April)