Q&A with Deeanne Gist, Bestselling Author of TIFFANY GIRL
Today I have the pleasure of bringing you a wonderful novel that takes place around the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893. We have a fabulous main character in Flossie. She's a girl living with her parents and not making any money off her efforts. Yes she has a home to live in and food on her plate, but she feels she should get some money in hand for all her efforts spent on the family business. Her father is gambling much of the profits away and she's losing her art lessons. So what is a girl to do when the thing she loves is being ripped out of her hands? She gets a low paying job and moves out. She's on the way to being a "New Woman", but at the same time she's crossing picket lines and tarnishing her reputation with her own social set.
Throughout the story we get to see into the Tiffany company and meet many interesting and well developed characters.
Pick-up Tiffany Girl to find out what happens to Flossie as she takes on this "New Woman" lifestyle and forges on with her potentially precarious future.
Talk about the aspects of the Chicago’s World Fair that most interest you and inspired you to write three books (It Happened at the Fair, Fair Play and the May 5 Howard hardcover, Tiffany Girl) set during the 1893 event.
Everything about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair fascinates me. I love that it was the debut of the Ferris wheel—the first ever amusement ride. And that the Ferris Wheel was our response to France erecting the Eiffel Tower as a grand entrance to the Paris World’s Fair just four years earlier. I love that so many iconic American industries debuted their products at the Chicago World’s Fair—Juicy Fruit Gum, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Cracker Jack, and Shredded Wheat, to name a few. I love that Louis Comfort Tiffany established himself as the grand master of stained glass due to an exhibit at the Fair that almost wasn’t completed because his glassworkers went on strike just months before the Fair opened—so he hired a bunch of young, inexperienced female art students to complete the exhibit. His exhibit alone took more awards than any other single exhibit in the entire Fair (more than 50 awards). As a result, those women were awarded a permanent fixture in his company and became known as Tiffany Girls.
You’ve called the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair a “watershed moment in our country’s history.” Please explain the relevance of that time in our history and the impact it has made on our modern world.
Our country was celebrating its 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery. We were but a babe compared to all the other countries of the world. Yet it was American technology that led the way with Edison’s 40-foot tower of lights; with Alexander Graham Bell’s theatorium, where fairgoers could sit in a giant room in Chicago and listen to a live orchestra play in New York City, with Westinghouse’s giant engine powering the first all-electric fair in history (and requiring 45 miles of wire). The Fair also revolutionized city planning and architecture. Its legacy can be seen in many American cities today. Yet those snippets are just the tip of the iceberg!
If you were attending the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, at which exhibit would you be working and why?
Oh my goodness, I couldn’t possibly choose. And truly, I’d want to be a guest so I could walk every inch of every building and outdoor exhibit. If I had to work one, I’d probably choose to man Tiffany’s all-mosaic chapel just to see people’s reaction when they went inside. According to some reports, men doffed their hats upon entering, because it had such an incredible impact upon them.
What was the most fascinating discovery from your extensive research about renowned glass maker and leader of the Art Nouveau movement, Louis Tiffany?
The discovery that Tiffany took credit for the women’s designs all these many, many years. It wasn’t until 2005 that scholars discovered the Tiffany Girls were responsible for some of Tiffany’s most iconic lamp designs. The rational was that Tiffany didn’t want to compromise or confuse the Tiffany brand, so he was very careful to keep his employees (women or otherwise) from being singled out. He approved all the designs, but he didn’t always come up with them.
So if a descendant of Clara Driscoll—who was one of the original Tiffany Girls—hadn’t found boxes of letters in her attic that Clara had written delineating the work she’d done at Tiffany’s studio, the world never would have known about the incredible work of these women.
We love the colorful character names in your novels, like Marylee Merrily, Mr. Bookish and Flossie Jayne. What’s your process for choosing names for the characters in your books?
The names used in the satires my hero wrote for his newspaper job were inspired by what I found when reading other satires from the turn of the century. Back then, instead of giving their characters normal names, they gave them figurative (and not so figurative) names like Mr. Whitechoker (minister), Mr. Scribuler (writer), Mr. Idiot, etc. I tried to mimic that in my hero’s satire for authenticity’s sake.
As for Flossie’s name, it is short for Florence, which means “to flower or blossom.” And that’s just what she does. :)
You have a background in education and journalism, and it’s obvious you have an affinity for all things historical. If you were a time-traveling journalist, which event in history would you most like to cover?
Without question, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Our country was experiencing the worst depression it had ever seen up to that point—so I wouldn’t want to live during that time, per se. But I would love, love, love to “cover” the Fair—or even to simply attend!
Flossie Jayne breaks a lot of societal rules to become a New Woman, who is focused on becoming an artist in her own right. What are your beliefs about such societal rules? Are they made to be broken? Do you prefer to follow the letter of the law in most cases?
Oh, yikes. Now you’re just trying to get me in trouble. *wink* Let’s see, I think that in order to progress and to change as a person, a community, and a country, we need to be willing to sometimes push against the boundaries and to explore new things. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pull back when necessary. But being closed-minded can be a very dangerous thing—as can being so open-minded that it borders on recklessness. So, I guess I’d like to see us, as a whole, try new ideas but with wisdom and a good dollop of common sense.
Share with the readers one hurdle you encountered while writing Tiffany Girl and how you overcame it.
My dad died about seven weeks before the manuscript for Tiffany Girl was due to my publisher. Though he was 84, his death was totally unexpected. He was extremely healthy and had even hiked 600 miles across Spain with my sister just two summers earlier. But on this particular day in July, his heart decided it was plumb worn out.
Having to finish the book after such an earth-shattering event was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my entire life. In order to accomplish the task, I moved in with my mom for those seven weeks and sat in my dad’s office and typed from morning till night until my word count for that day was done. Then, I’d creep into my mom’s room and sleep in my dad’s bed. But in the middle of the night, Mom and I would wake up to talk and talk. It was one of the most special and healing things—for both of us, I think.
You have some highly entertaining videos on your website as well as the “Juicy DeeTales” videos available through your eNewsletter. You’re also a sought-after speaker. Which comes easier to you—the writing or speaking and performing in front of an audience, and which do you prefer?
I love them all, actually. If I hadn’t gotten married the week after I graduated from college, I’d planned to head off to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming a star. I’d even minored in Theatre Arts. I love, love, love to write, but as a people person, I wouldn’t at all mind having the time to do a bit more on the speaker circuit.
Will there be another book in the Fair series? What’s next on your publishing schedule?
I’m afraid Tiffany Girl is the final book of the World’s Fair series (though the books are all stand-alone and can be read in any order). It has been great fun to camp at the Fair for the last three years, though! As for what’s next? For now, a nice long nap. :)