Please give a warm welcome to Willard Thompson. Today he is giving us some insight into his latest book The Girl From the Lighthouse, a historical literary fiction. Please feel free to leave him more questions or some comments about what you’ve read. I also have an excerpt from the book for you to enjoy. And then please follow the tour for more from both Willard and the book, as well as extra chances to enter the giveaway.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
I’ll never forget it. I was in the Santa Barbara Art Museum with my wife, standing in front of a painting by Berthe Morisot, one of the characters in The Girl from the Lighthouse. The painting was titled View of Paris from the Trocadero. In it, two women stand with a small girl looking off into the city of Paris far in the distance. The women are blocked from moving forward into the city by a wooden fence that cut diagonally across the painting. It isn’t a strong barrier, more symbolic. I was struck by how the painting represented the restricted status of Victorian women, and I got the idea to write about a young woman of that era who was strong and independent, and in no way indoctrinated about women’s roles. She had been raised by three lighthouse keepers at the remote Point Conception, California, lighthouse after her mother deserted her when she was five-years-old. She had had no motherly training and no experience in the Victorian world.
Which Character was your favorite to write?/To which character did you relate to the most?
This may sound strange coming from a man, but my favorite character is Emma Dobbins, my protagonist. After writing the original manuscript of The Girl from the Lighthouse in a third person voice, my editor and I realized the story was not working. So I completely rewrote it in the first person, present tense to bring the reader as completely into Emma’s life as possible. So I had been thinking about Emma for two years, but now I had to become her literally. She was always intended to be an independent woman with strength of character and a well-formed moral compass. Those traits had to serve her well as she dealt with the trials and tribulations that confronted her in a new country where the language is unfamiliar to her, as well as the social structure. I have always created strong female characters for my novels, but my experience with Emma has been unique. She is by far not a perfect young woman. That’s what the novel is about. I am pleased that many people have complimented me on how I captured her.
Which of your book worlds would you like to visit?
Researching and writing The Girl from the Lighthouse has required several visits to Paris. I know, a tough job, but someone had to do it. I have fallen in love with the city and France in general. Paris was not always the beautiful city it is today. When Emma was studying art there, it was still being rebuilt. I love exploring the places she knew in the book to see how they have changed or possibly stayed the same. In fact, my wife and I will go back to France soon so I can consider a new book, but it will not be a continuation of The Girl from the Lighthouse.
What do you hope people will get out of your book?
The Girl from the Lighthouse is more than just a romantic story about a young woman learning to be an artist in Paris. It is a study of how women in the Victorian era were restricted compared to women of today. I purposely created Emma as a blank slate, what you might call a Tabula Rasa. Much of her story is about how she adapts to the Parisian world of the 1870s while still maintaining her own sense of values.
What is the best writing advice you ever received?
The best writing advice I ever received came from a playwright, not a published author. He showed me how to bring my reader and my characters as closely together as possible without intruding my own voice on them. My writing is heavily dialogue with the absolute minimum of what we might call “reader feeder” to explain backstory or a character’s state of mind. I very much respect my readers and as such expect that they will understand what is intended without spoon-feeding it to them. The backstory appears where it is organically intended, not where the author chooses to place it. What that means is that it’s not linear, we learn about Emma for example and how her upbringing bears upon the present when it’s appropriate to the story. Done right my stories are like being an audience in a theater that has no stage and no walls, so the interaction is very direct.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Time travel! How I would like to visit and experience some of the historical periods I write about.
The Girl from the Lighthouse
The Girl From the Lighthouse tells the compelling story of Emma Dobbins.
Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she was raised by her father, a lighthouse keeper at Point Conception in California, where early on she discovers her artistic talent. At the age of 17, Emma travels to Paris with a chaperone, to attend art school but is separated from the chaperone when the woman becomes ill. Emma arrives alone in Paris with no money, no language skills, and no friends. A chance meeting with a young working girl in the train station becomes her first Parisian friend.
The setting is Paris in the 1860s-70s, the start of the Belle Èpoque. France soon is involved in the Franco/Prussian War and the Commune Uprising; difficult times for Emma and all Frenchmen. Initially rejected by art schools, her determination keeps her moving toward her goal in the art world, where the Impressionists are starting to change the world. Frenchmen fall in love with her beautiful face and lustrous dark hair. Some wanted to paint her, others to court her, but either way, she does not abide by the rules they try to impose on her because she never learned them. She grows into an accomplished artist but never gives up her own principles… even when someone steals something precious to her and she fights to get it back.
The story is told in the first person, present tense, allowing the reader to enter the story and feel a part of it as it unfolds, sharing with Emma her highs and lows, loves and rejections, all focused in the art world of Paris. The novel is filled with vivid characters, both fictional and real people, and the story unfolds gracefully from the 1870s until 1912, just prior to the start of WWI.
Read an excerpt:
The next morning, I go to the orchard with my easel and a canvas to capture the early light and the dew on the leaves of the apple trees. I set up the easel midway between two rows and concentrate on getting the perspective just right, as the trees appear to merge in the distance. It is delicate, tedious work, but the charcoal pencil I sketch with comes alive in my fingers, eagerly welcoming the challenge. In my mind's eye, I see myself in solitude on the bluff looking out at the headlands of the rugged California coastline merging into the mist.
"That is a very brilliant thing you have done to capture the complexity of the apple orchard fading into the distance," the voice over my shoulder says around mid-day.
When I look up, I see Lamar scrutinizing my morning's work. "The flowers are so delicate," I tell him, "So hard to get right. Tomorrow my challenge will be to reproduce in oil what I've sketched." I pause then ask, "How has your morning been, mon cher?" I wait for his reaction.
"Well enough, I suppose. I've read my mail and a couple of newspapers that came with it. What do you say we drive into the village for lunch? I'm ready."
"Can you wait just a few more minutes?"
"Ah, but Emma, I am hungry now."
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About Willard Thompson
Willard Thompson is an award-winning historical fiction and romance writer living in Montecito, California with his wife Jo. His newest historical romance, THE GIRL FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE was published in early 2019. His previously published three novels of historical fiction DREAM HELPER DELFINA’S GOLD, and THEIR GOLDEN DREAMS are part of his CHRONICLES OF CALIFORNIA trilogy. The Independent Publishers 2009 Book Awards selected DREAM HELPER for a gold medal as the best fiction in the Western/Pacific Region.
Thompson is a past president of the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. He is a native of Manhasset, New York and a graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Willard-Thompson/e/B00UCFSMDU
Willard Thompson will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.