I am pleased to today welcome April Smith to HIstorical Tapestry as part of the blog tour for A Star For Mrs Blake.
In choosing the setting for A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE, there was no doubt in my mind it would take place on the coast of Maine. Even though I grew up in the Bronx and live in Los Angeles, Maine is where my heart is. When our children were young, each summer my husband and I would rent a different house for a couple of weeks in the fishing village of Stonington. It was isolated and pristine. Organized activities for kids were non-existent, so our days were made of old-fashioned adventures – exploring the coastal forest and granite outcrops, riding the mail boat to Isle Au Haut, baking pies and boiling lobsters, picnics on the river – even making our own Play Doh! Trust me, I thought a great deal about using the actual name of the town in the novel, but local friends encouraged me to do so. They want more tourists, they said, and ultimately I acceded to their wishes, knowing my readers respect history and would leave only footprints.
My romance with Maine started with a high school fascination with the lyrical poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1928. She was born in Rockland, Maine and spent her girlhood in Camden. She and her husband, Jan Boissevain, bought a place off the coast called Ragged Island as a summer retreat, where she wrote of swimming naked in the icy waves. Come to think of it, that might have inspired the scene in A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE where Cora and her lover, Linwood Moody, do exactly that! In fact, I was so inspired by Millay’s bold, pre-feminist take on politics and sexuality (she was bisexual and had an open marriage) that years later I made a pilgrimage to Steepletop, her last home, in Austerlitz, New York, which was once the Millay Colony For the Arts and is now open to the public for garden tours.
The main character in my book, Cora Blake, is a librarian who manages the tiny library housed in a cottage in Stonington, which is still there. She is one of five women from New England who travel to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in WWI and buried in the American cemeteries overseas. They are called Gold Star Mothers – the gold star means you have lost a child in war, a tradition that continues today. Back in 1931 Congress authorized funds to pay for first class trips to Europe for Gold Star Mothers and Widows, and almost seven thousand American women made the pilgrimage. They were organized by where their sons fought and died. The only thing these ladies share with Cora is that their fallen hero sons were all part of the Yankee Division, and fought together.
It was important to anchor the reader in Cora’s world before she took off for New York, Paris, Verdun and the cemetery in Meuse-Argonne, and again, Maine filled the bill. Even today you can find purity and simplicity in its small-town way of life -- a culture that is the quintessential American mix of fierce independence and deep concern for neighbors. Those were the qualities I wanted Cora Blake to take with her on this journey of a lifetime – just as my experience of the vivid clarity of coastal Maine has sustained heart and soul over the years.
About the Tour
Tour Schedule: http://francebooktours.com/2014/03/19/april-smith-on-tour-a-star-for-mrs-blake/
April Smith's website.
April Smith on Facebook
April Smith on Twitter.
Sandra Gulland on Goodreads
About the Book
In 1929, The U.S. Congress passed legislation that would provide funding for the mothers of fallen WWI soldiers to visit the graves of their sons in France. Over the course of three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made this trip. Smith imagines the story of five of these women, strangers who could not be more different from each other. One of them is Cora Blake, a librarian and single mother from coastal Maine. Journeying to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, the lives of these women are inextricably intertwined as shocking events – death, scandal, and secrets – are unearthed. And Cora’s own life takes an unexpected turn when she meets an American, “tin nose,” journalist, whose war wounds confine him to a metal mask.