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dhaupt
Posts: 11,829
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Interview with Katherine Howe - The House of Velvet and Glass

[ Edited ]

Monday starts our February feature

The House of Velvet and Glass  

The House of Velvet and Glass  

to start off the month with a bang here's an interview to enjoy plus my review of the novel

Interview with Katherine Howe
The House of Velvet and Glass

 

Debbie - Katherine, welcome to the General Fiction forum.
Katherine - Thank you, Debbie. I’m so excited to be back on the boards at Barnes and Noble. Thanks for inviting me, and for taking the time to read and discuss The House of Velvet and Glass.

 

You are not new to the forums at B&N, tell us how your experience with FirstLook was.
Well, to begin with, it was terrifying. First Look, as you know, was a special program that allowed B&N readers to get advance copies of novels and discuss them before they’ve even been officially published. I was a first time novelist, so First Look was the first time that anyone would be reading my work other than my agent, publisher, friends, and husband.  I was worried about letting this weird story that had been living in my head for the past several years emerge into the harsh light of the real world.

In the end, my terror was unfounded, because I found the First Look community to be incredibly warm, welcoming, inquisitive, and engaged with what I was trying to do with The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I loved being able to observe quietly while people read and responded to the book, and to then jump into the discussion during the author participation period. First Look really gave me the feeling that I was part of a community of fiction lovers, and I felt an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who participated. That gratitude has since evolved into a sense of responsibility.

 

 

Tell us what inspired you to write The House of Velvet and Glass.
I’m particularly interested in time periods in which life for regular people is in rapid transition. I was attracted to the 1910s for a long time, in part because we have this specific, Gatsby-esque mental image of the 1920s, and we have a very particular conception of Victorian life, but I think we forget that those eras occurred right next to each other, and the same people lived through both. Sibyl Allston, the protagonist of The House of Velvet and Glass, has been brought up to live a cloistered bourgeois life in Victorian Boston, but when her family is shaken to the core by the sinking of Titanic, Sibyl finds herself standing at the cusp of the twentieth century, with all the changes that will entail. The story really concerns Sibyl’s struggle to figure out who she is going to be in this new era, when the rules of society, gender roles, family, and belief are all being completely rewritten in ways she never imagined.

 

When you were researching for the novel did anything really shock or surprise you?
Two things really shocked me while researching The House of Velvet and Glass. The first was how mainstream the Spiritualist movement was in the 1910s. I knew it was still practiced, but I didn’t realize that séances were advertised in the newspaper right alongside main line church services. Harry Houdini actually built a large part of his reputation by debunking famous mediums in the 1910s. When Sibyl Allston tries to reach her mother and sister through a medium, she is doing something completely normal for her time and place.  

The second surprise was how widespread opiate use was before the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, which was part of the same Progressive reform movement as the law that resulted in Prohibition six years later. Before that, everyone used opiates, all the time, for everything. Opiates were in nerve tonic, opiates were in syrup for “feminine complaints.” Opiates were in teething medicine for babies! I was interested that a period of time so in thrall to technology –  automobiles, the telephone, the first movies, photography – would also have been in thrall to a substance that changes one’s perception of reality, and brings on vivid dreams.

 

It’s timely that the novel released on the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Was this planned?
The timing of the release wound up being a happy accident. The House of Velvet and Glass, like Downton Abbey (to my shock, by the way, when I first watched Downton Abbey! I felt like Julian Fellowes had been reading my email in secret) opens with the sinking of the Titanic, and concerns one family’s unique journey in the aftermath of the ultimate Progressive-era disaster. But I had started working on the novel back in 2007, and it was initially scheduled for publication in 2011. I didn’t even think about the fact that the Titanic centennial was coming up until my writing pace meant that the book would appear in 2012. And even then, it was a scramble to release it that week. If you come across any Advance Reader Copies of The House of Velvet and Glass, you will see that they say the book is scheduled for publication on May 1, 2012. It came out on April 12.

 

How was writing The House of Velvet and Glass different than, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane how was it the same?
In one sense, it was a little easier, since I already knew that I would be able to write a novel. When I started working on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, I had no idea if I’d be able to do it or not. But with The House of Velvet and Glass, I knew what my method looked like, and had confidence that I could finish. In another sense, though, it was much more difficult. First, because I was traveling to support Physick Book so extensively that my time was hard to manage, but beyond that, the writing was difficult because I was holding myself to a higher standard. I felt responsible to the readers who had enjoyed Physick Book, and wanted very much to give them another story that they would enjoy.

 

 

Both your novels are Historical Fiction. What is it about this genre that speaks to you?
Maybe it’s because I’m trained as a historian, but I enjoy thinking my way into characters who live and operate under very different constraints from our own. I also enjoy learning how different periods of time fit together, and inform each other. Physick Book, for instance, is primarily about the Salem witch crisis of 1692, but spans all the way from the 1680s to the 1760s and into the 1990s, following women characters who have much in common, but are constrained differently by their time. The House of Velvet and Glass takes place in a time that looks very much like our own, with cars and subways and telephones and electric light, but which operated under a very different set of understandings and assumptions about how the world works. I’m interested in what it feels like to live in a different world from our own.

 

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I’m nearly done with a novel that I’m tentatively calling Conversion, about a teenage girl, Colleen Rowley, at a prep school in Danvers, Massachusetts who sees some of her popular classmates fall mysteriously ill. The school assures everyone that they’re on top of the cause, but Colleen starts to suspect that the school isn’t telling the truth, and goes looking for the answer in another incident of teenage girls falling mysteriously ill in Danvers 300 years in the past. It’s inspired by the real-life case of a “mystery illness” that befell some teenage girls in Le Roy, New York last spring. I’m keeping a public Pinterest board of brainstorms about the new book, called “What’s Happening to the Girls at St. Joan’s?” in case anyone wants to spy on me while I work.

 

Are you a reader?
Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Who is/are your favorite author(s)?
I like both fiction and non-fiction, though when I’m researching or drafting I tend to read things that aren’t very current. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Rudyard Kipling ghost stories, in part because I’m scheming up a ghost story of my own. My favorite author is Edith Wharton, her stories of Old New York. I find her observation of character and setting and her awareness of the subtle signals of class and social constraint to be masterful.

 

 

Katherine, thank you again for being a part of our little group. We all look forward to reading, discussing and chatting about the novel and all kinds of things.
It’s my pleasure! Thank you so much for having me, and I look forward to the discussion.

Also, I want to mention that I’m easily kept up with on Facebook, as Katherine Howe, on Twitter as @katherinebhowe, and on the web at www.katherinehowe.com

And I’ve finally learned how to have a newsletter, which will only announce new releases and nothing else, and will not share emails for any reason. Write to connieandarlo@gmail.com

 

My review of The House of Velvet and Glass

 

 

What’s left of the Allston family of Boston’s Back Bay is still reeling from the loss of Matriarch Helen and youngest child Eulah who had the misfortune of being on the Titanic. Each remaining member is dealing with the loss and going about life in their own way. Sybil, the oldest has taken over running the house and furthering her spinster lifestyle, but it’s in the séance parlor of Miss Dee where she finds the most solace and closest to her lost family as she deals with the guilt she can’t seem to shed and knows that speaking of it to her stoic father Captain Lan Allston does no good. In the midst of all this it seems her younger brother Harlan has gotten himself kicked out of school, returned home only to get into deeper trouble. The troubles with Harlan also brings back an old family friend of the Allston’s, Benton Derby who was once much more to Sybil than just a friend and who is now in the position as a professor to help Harlan back in the classroom and out of trouble, but the complications continue as Harlan’s paramour Dovie arrives on the scene. Sybil joins forces with Ben to help her wayward brother but also turns to her faith in the occult for succor which has she and Ben butting heads. And as they seek answers journeying through the mystical psychic world they find only more questions and deeper puzzles, and some of those puzzles are leading back to a deep dark family secret.

 

Katherine Howe burst on the literary scene with her debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and now brings us another blockbuster in The House of Velvet and Glass. She took me on board the Titanic, through the streets of Shanghai and the elegant and eclectic Boston of early 20th century America and as she did so I could see in my mind’s eye the scenes, the people and the happenings around them. As she spun her tale of misfortune and of catastrophe she showed me also the lengths that we will go to find comfort, she showed me the strength it takes to go on in the light of loss and she once again went into the preternatural world and did it with aplomb. She introduced me to some amazing characters that will stay with me for a long time with Sybil, Ben and the Captain leading the cast but not foreshadowing her co-stars, Harlan and Dovie and finally her cameo appearances by Helen and Eulah and we can’t forget Baiji. Her narrative is all reminiscent of the era she’s portraying and done beautifully and vividly expressive with such attention to detail that her research is obvious not only in the industrial miracles of the times but also the costume and attitudes brought out in her characters. And finally this is a love story, of familial love and romantic love, it’s a story of the right thing to do in the face of opposition and the love of oneself.
If you’re a fan of historical literature, family drama, or just a great story this is a novel you should read. If you like just a little woo-woo with your big dose of reality you’ll also find what you’re looking for between the pages of this novel.
Ms. Howe thank you for another wonderful all expenses paid trip with your wonderful storytelling and imagination and I can’t wait for the next one.

 

 

Inspired Bibliophile
thewanderingjew
Posts: 2,247
Registered: ‎12-18-2007

Re: The House of Velvet and Glass, Review

The story begins in 1912, and then proceeds, in detail, for a period of about five years.  Several times, it employs the use of interludes to move back in time, almost five decades, to 1868, to introduce the reader to Harlan Allston’s 17 year old incarnation, and foreshadows the things to come. The book improves as you read on, so don’t give up if it seems a bit slow in the beginning with the tedium of Boston propriety.
The Alston’s, a well to do family, live on Beacon Street, at a time when social standing is de rigeur, and the marriage of a daughter was of prime concern. Spinsterhood was often mocked by people of the upper class.  Presenting one’s child to the world, to find an appropriate mate, was a major undertaking.
Harlan Allston, made his fortune in the shipping industry. His wife, Helen, a good deal younger than he, had given up hopes for her elder daughter’s marriage. Sybil, a very proper young woman, had refused one marriage proposal and did not receive a second, from Benton Derby, the one she longed for, as he married someone else and moved to Italy. Helen decides to take her younger, more outspoken daughter, Eulah, on a trip to Europe to prepare her to enter society and find a suitable marriage mate. The whirlwind tour is a success and they are very happy when they make their return trip home, unaware of the tragedy to come, on the magnificent ill-fated ship, The Titanic.
The story is a romantic piece of historic fiction, and it covers many of the major events and issues of the time, including many real people that did exist, as well as characters made up from the author’s imagination. The sinking of the Titanic, illicit use of opiates and its addiction, the horrors of World War I, the cultural and political climate of the time, are all accurately portrayed. The lifestyle of the gentry is well described, illustrating their carriage and their demeanor, their attention to manners and proper decorum, coupled with the snobbism and prejudices of the day. The early belief in spiritualism and clairvoyance add to the storyline. We witness behavior patterns that go to the depths of depravity, and alternatively reach the heights of heroism. There is an interesting parrot Baiji, that is introduced at the beginning of the tale, in Shanghai, and makes additional appearances until the end, in Boston. It seems to symbolize change and progress, as the narrative moves forward. There is an Asian theme concerning opiates, threaded throughout the book, as well.
Ships and water are major themes, as is addiction and clairvoyance or second sight. The sinking of both The Titanic and The Lusitania are catalysts that move the story forward and mark momentous changes in the lives of the characters, moving the story toward its conclusion.
Katherine Howe writes with an easy to read prose, often injecting subtle humor and eloquently describes the grief and tragedy the character’s experience. Her characters feel as if they belong in the time of the book and you will easily recognize them and get to know them well. The introduction of ideas that are somewhat supernatural flows well and does not feel awkward. At the end, you will learn of the author’s connection to that time period. It would be helpful if the reader enjoyed delving into the supernatural a bit, especially with extra-sensory projection and/or psychic phenomenon, since they are major ideas presented in the book.
In my reading, I discovered that in the Chinese culture, the parrot symbolizes freedom and life. It is the bearer of good news, signifies change and wisdom and represents our hopes and ultimate goals. How we live our lives, long or short, is a very major theme of the book. Were we able to leave a permanent, positive mark on society, did we live the best life we could? Dovie, the unconventional girlfriend of Sybil’s brother Harlan, brings the circle of life full circle and explains how the characters have each made their own indelible mark on life.

Moderator
dhaupt
Posts: 11,829
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: The House of Velvet and Glass, Review


thewanderingjew wrote:

The story begins in 1912, and then proceeds, in detail, for a period of about five years.  Several times, it employs the use of interludes to move back in time, almost five decades, to 1868, to introduce the reader to Harlan Allston’s 17 year old incarnation, and foreshadows the things to come. The book improves as you read on, so don’t give up if it seems a bit slow in the beginning with the tedium of Boston propriety.
The Alston’s, a well to do family, live on Beacon Street, at a time when social standing is de rigeur, and the marriage of a daughter was of prime concern. Spinsterhood was often mocked by people of the upper class.  Presenting one’s child to the world, to find an appropriate mate, was a major undertaking.
Harlan Allston, made his fortune in the shipping industry. His wife, Helen, a good deal younger than he, had given up hopes for her elder daughter’s marriage. Sybil, a very proper young woman, had refused one marriage proposal and did not receive a second, from Benton Derby, the one she longed for, as he married someone else and moved to Italy. Helen decides to take her younger, more outspoken daughter, Eulah, on a trip to Europe to prepare her to enter society and find a suitable marriage mate. The whirlwind tour is a success and they are very happy when they make their return trip home, unaware of the tragedy to come, on the magnificent ill-fated ship, The Titanic.
The story is a romantic piece of historic fiction, and it covers many of the major events and issues of the time, including many real people that did exist, as well as characters made up from the author’s imagination. The sinking of the Titanic, illicit use of opiates and its addiction, the horrors of World War I, the cultural and political climate of the time, are all accurately portrayed. The lifestyle of the gentry is well described, illustrating their carriage and their demeanor, their attention to manners and proper decorum, coupled with the snobbism and prejudices of the day. The early belief in spiritualism and clairvoyance add to the storyline. We witness behavior patterns that go to the depths of depravity, and alternatively reach the heights of heroism. There is an interesting parrot Baiji, that is introduced at the beginning of the tale, in Shanghai, and makes additional appearances until the end, in Boston. It seems to symbolize change and progress, as the narrative moves forward. There is an Asian theme concerning opiates, threaded throughout the book, as well.
Ships and water are major themes, as is addiction and clairvoyance or second sight. The sinking of both The Titanic and The Lusitania are catalysts that move the story forward and mark momentous changes in the lives of the characters, moving the story toward its conclusion.
Katherine Howe writes with an easy to read prose, often injecting subtle humor and eloquently describes the grief and tragedy the character’s experience. Her characters feel as if they belong in the time of the book and you will easily recognize them and get to know them well. The introduction of ideas that are somewhat supernatural flows well and does not feel awkward. At the end, you will learn of the author’s connection to that time period. It would be helpful if the reader enjoyed delving into the supernatural a bit, especially with extra-sensory projection and/or psychic phenomenon, since they are major ideas presented in the book.
In my reading, I discovered that in the Chinese culture, the parrot symbolizes freedom and life. It is the bearer of good news, signifies change and wisdom and represents our hopes and ultimate goals. How we live our lives, long or short, is a very major theme of the book. Were we able to leave a permanent, positive mark on society, did we live the best life we could? Dovie, the unconventional girlfriend of Sybil’s brother Harlan, brings the circle of life full circle and explains how the characters have each made their own indelible mark on life.


Thank you- a beautiful review :smileyhappy:

 

Moderator
dhaupt
Posts: 11,829
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: The House of Velvet and Glass, Review

Katherine thought you might be interested in this

 

http://megwc.com/1stbooks/20books/