I was in Darien, Connecticut this spring, performing live with Penguin Random’s Dan Zitt and actor Dennis Boutsikaris, at one of the most well-appointed, enthusiastic libraries I’ve ever known. The library staff rolled out the red carpet for us, welcoming us into their community, graciously making us feel at home as we read selections from our audiobook projects and answered questions from the 100 passionate audience members/audiobook listeners.
After the performance and Q&A wrapped up, a soft-spoken, lovely woman approached me to introduce herself. Kristen Harnisch told me she was a novelist, and that she had just published the first in a trilogy of historical novels. She was excited about the possibilities of an audio edition of her novel, and I was excited about the description of her story — a international adventure romance between wine-growers from France’s Loire Valley and California’s Napa Valley.
Our short but warm conversation was the start of a very happy collaboration between Kristen and me; I recently completed the audiobook narration of her beautiful book, The Vintner’s Daughter, for Blackstone Audio. Joyful project partnerships don’t often generate from such chance encounters, but when they do — when the author, voice actor, and publisher are all equally delighted by a unique story and committed to making the project the best it can be — it is wonderfully satisfying.
Kristen and I so enjoyed working together on the audiobook and developing a friendship that we wanted to share with our blog readers some of what we appreciated about each other as women and artists. Not only that, we wanted to share copies of her audiobook with listeners who love historical novels, inspirational fiction…and wine! Two lucky winners will be randomly chosen to win a free digital download copy of The Vintner’s Daughter from Downpour.com. Just enter via the Rafflecopter form (which follows Kristen’s interview below). You can read Kristen’s interview with me here, and for her answers to my questions, read on!
Tell us about The Vintner’s Daughter.
In 1895, seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault dreams of following in her father’s footsteps as master winemaker at her family’s Loire Valley vineyard, Saint Martin. However, when Sara’s father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their land to a business rival whose eldest son marries Sara’s sister, Lydia. Sara’s shock quickly turns to fear when she realizes that her new brother-in-law Bastien has no real interest in the vineyard and far too much interest in her.
A violent tragedy compels the sisters to flee to America. Sara plans to eventually reclaim her family’s vineyard, but for now she must travel to California in hopes of making her own way in the winemaking world. When she encounters Bastien’s brother, Philippe—a man as committed to bringing his brother’s killer to justice as he is to building the largest vineyard in the region—they are instantly drawn to each other. But now she must make a choice: to risk discovery or to run again. Will Philippe restore Saint Martin to her family, or prosecute Sara for her crime?
The Vintner’s Daughter immerses readers and listeners in the rich vineyard culture of both the Old and New Worlds, and a spirited heroine’s fight to determine her destiny.
I know this book was a labor of love, and took more than a decade of research and writing. How did you keep pushing ahead, not losing momentum and drive? What compelled you to keep at it until this book was brought to life?
This book was indeed a “labor of love”! While caring for my three young children over the last fourteen years, I took several online classes through the Gotham Writer’s Workshop in New York, practiced the writing craft, and researched nineteenth-century life and winemaking in France and America.
I often grew frustrated because I didn’t have large blocks of time to sit down and write. My husband gave me the best advice. He said, “Each day, just write a little bit. Take that one paragraph, that one page, and make it the best it can be. Before you know it, you’ll hold the finished manuscript in your hands.” He was right—and once I held that manuscript in my hands, I was determined to publish it. Ten major revisions, and numerous rejections later, I finally succeeded. Why push so hard? I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I hoped to show my children how to persevere with passion, even if you’re unsure of the outcome.
I’m always interested in how writers research, and, maybe even more important, how they know to stop researching. You did a tremendous amount of research about, and, I presume, actually in France and California. Did you write the novel as you were researching, or first one thing and then the other? When did you feel you had enough research to let that part of the project come to a close and just write? What was your favorite research discovery, location, or anecdote?
With this particular novel, the research and historical discoveries I made early on helped me to develop the novel’s plot. However, I strive for authenticity in every scene, so while I wrote and revised the manuscript, I continued my research. I toured historic Napa vineyards by bike and on foot. I snapped photos of ripening grape clusters, scribbled down notes about historic gravity-flow wineries, sifted the rough, porous clay loam through my fingers, and, of course, enjoyed the wines! I also delved into French and California wine history books, consulted a master winemaker, and reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society.
My favorite discovery was The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, the major trade publication of California’s wine and liquor industry in the late 1800s. This monthly publication provided me with details about the most notable vintners of the day, the science behind grape growing and winemaking, and gave me an understanding of the economic and political perils that winemakers faced in the nineteenth century. My favorite location for research is Bouchaine Vineyards, located in Carneros (southern Napa). This beautiful, sprawling vineyard continues to serve as the inspiration for the fictional Eagle’s Run vineyard, also located in the unique Carneros winemaking district.
What’s your writing process? As a busy mother of three, when do you make the time for your writing practice? Do you have a community of fellow writers? Are you able to take writing retreats or attend residencies to concentrate only on your work?
My writing process varies from day to day. Usually, I prepare to write a scene the night before. I’ll select a scene, and make sure I have all the research at my fingertips, so I can dive in the next morning. I don’t always write sequentially, but rather choose to write the scene that most excites me on that day—usually one with dialogue and lots of gritty conflict!
As a busy mother, I try to set aside three to five hours each day to write. Sometimes, I wake at 4am and write until the kids bounce out of bed at 6:30. Now that my youngest attends Kindergarten, it’s such a luxury to have blocks of time during the day!
I belong to the online writing community of shewrites.com, but I’ve not yet made time to participate in a writer’s retreat—although I’d love to someday! I do have a wonderful team of beta-readers who constructively critique my work, and their time and advice is so valuable to me!
The Vintner’s Daughter is the first of a trilogy, is that right? What’s next for Sara and Philippe? How was writing the second book different than the first?
Yes! I’m excited to say that the sequel, The California Wife, begins right where The Vintner’s Daughter leaves off, chronicling the lives of Sara and Philippe in their quest to gain international recognition for their French and California wines. Some characters from the past, such as midwife and aspiring physician Marie Chevreau, as well as several new characters, will entertain readers. A voyage to the Paris World’s Fair captures the imagination, a new romance blossoms, and catastrophic events shake the very foundation upon which the characters have built their lives.
I wrote the first draft of the sequel in eleven months, which was a new challenge for me! The second novel begins in 1897 and ends with the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. Because I’m developing the story over a longer timeframe, the novel features more interwoven storylines, and allows for a deeper exploration of the characters and their motivations. I’m revising the sequel now and it’s scheduled for release in the winter of 2015/16.
Have you always written? Have you always wanted to tell this particular story? Are there many more novels inside you, do you think? Once this trilogy has been written, will you continue to write? Would you write something wildly divergent, or is your passion for historical fiction?
I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, but when I visited the Loire Valley in 2000, I was struck with the desire to write this story. The inspiration for The Vintner’s Daughter came to me in a flash. I was standing on the edge of a vineyard in Vouvray, France, marveling at the pristine rows of chenin blanc grapevines, the limestone caves, a whitewashed winery, and an abandoned watchman’s house. I envisioned a young woman walking between the vines, and I knew she would be the perfect heroine for the novel I’d always hoped to write.
Once I finish writing the trilogy, I plan to write a contemporary women’s novel, a young adult novel, and I’m bursting with ideas for more historical novels! I can’t wait!
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