My lovely re-dears: in the interest of full disclosure, 'cause I love you, I unbound the tight wrap that ensnared this book from the publisher and immediately thought 'mreh'. Admittedly, I am becoming a little tired of the same old chick lit. Everything on the market today is indistinguishable from its shelf neighbor. Predictable characters, cloying dialogue and plot twists that make little sense? I wasn't looking forward to plowing through this book. However, when I opened the book, what I thought next can only be described in a breathless rush: 'holycrapIwanttoliveinthisnovel' - that actually happened. I couldn't put it down. Truly, I couldn't put it down to function (though that may be in part due to the hair spray my two year old got into over the weekend - I don't want to talk about it.) I read VINTAGE in the kitchen, in the bathtub and at red lights. I loved it. Well written characters, a realistic town, even a could-have-been-plucked-from-the-courtroom legal battle? Every nuance of this book screamed "believable". It's the story of a vintage clothing store, the women who work and shop there, and the garments that come through the door, but is so much more involved, with themes of betrayal, an in-depth look at the relationships between mothers and daughters and even a passing glance at a kick-ass pair of vintage Marc Jacobs heels. I was hooked.
When I was done devouring VINTAGE, I was fortunate enough to interview Susan Gloss, the author of this lovely novel, which hits stores today.
Nikki Tiani: Individually, where did Amithi, Violet and April originate? Are they an amalgamation of small pieces of you, or people you've known?
Susan Gloss: The only character who was inspired by real people or, rather, an amalgamation of real people, was Amithi. Her character grew out of a lot of conversations I had with friends’ parents who, like Amithi, immigrated to the US from India. I’m fascinated by the idea of taking on a new continent and new culture as a young adult, like so many immigrants did and still do. Although Amithi’s story is fictional, the tensions she faces between work and family, tradition and independence, loyalty and self-sufficiency are very real.
The idea for Violet’s character came to me first out of the three main points of view. Even so, hers was the hardest character to write. I had a very specific picture of her in my mind, down to her tattoos and red lipstick. But her inner workings were harder to grasp. I wanted her to be feisty and a little bit jaded, but tender beneath it all. Striking that balance took me many drafts.
April’s character just barged her way into my brain. At first, I wasn’t sure how the story of this lonely, pregnant young girl would fit in with the story of Violet and her vintage shop. But I’m someone who works out a lot of problems by simply writing them. The more I wrote of her story, the more I realized that she had an essential place in the novel and in the lives of the other characters.
NT: How long have you been interested in vintage culture? I noticed in your bio that you're a vintage aficionado.
SG: My fascination with vintage culture began in childhood. I loved going to antique stores with my mom and grandmother. While they looked for furniture, I’d sort through bins and boxes of ephemera, perfect for child-sized hands. My imagination would run wild as I pored over campaign buttons from past politicians and postcards written on vacations long since forgotten.
NT: How were you able to harness April's grief over the loss of her mother? Have you ever lost someone close to you?
SG: A close girlfriend I'd grown up with died unexpectedly when we were in our mid-twenties. The sort of hole that's left behind when someone dies too young is one that never quite fills up again.
NT: If VINTAGE concluded differently, how would the alternate ending have read?
SG: I was quite adamant, throughout my many drafts of VINTAGE, that the novel would end the way it did. My critique group at one point suggested that I change the ending to something more ambiguous. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that I can’t imagine the characters’ stories ending any other way. And I do think there still are questions left open for the reader to ponder. Will Amithi and her husband reconcile? Will Violet achieve her goal of having a family? Will April and Charlie stay together or drift apart?
NT: I loved the descriptions of the vintage items precluding each chapter; are these items you've owned, or do any have special meaning?
SG: A few of them are items I own, or similar to items I own. The yellow Samsonite suitcase that Violet uses when she packs up to leave Bent Creek is like one I found at a garage sale, but in red. I use it for weekend trips. The mink coat that one of the drag queens wears in the fashion show scene is identical to a coat I bought at a neighborhood thrift store, complete with initials embroidered on the peach silk lining. Many of the descriptions are of things I wish I owned, though.
Now for the personal stuff!
NT: How long have you been writing? What was the first piece you had published?
SG: Like many would-be authors, I made books for my friends and family members as a kid. My first "real" publication, outside of school newspapers and internships, was a short piece about living in Madison, Wisconsin, that I contributed to Delaying the Real World by Colleen Kinder (Running Press, 2005).
NT: What's a typical Monday morning like for you? Friday night?
SG: Monday mornings usually start around 5:00 a.m. with my 2-year-old son yelling from his room, "Mama, I'm awake!" After resigning ourselves to the fact that the kid is not going back to sleep, my husband and I get up and go about the obstacle course of our morning, which involves getting ourselves and the kid dressed and fed, the dog walked, the coffee made, and ourselves out the door to our respective offices (I work part-time as an attorney).
On weeknights, I often write from the time my son goes to bed at seven until ten or eleven. So by the time Friday rolls around, everyone in our house is pretty exhausted. Sometimes we’ll go out to a fish fry in our neighborhood with friends, but more often it’s take-out pizza and a movie at home. Usually Cars. And then wine and some sort of HBO series after the toddler is in bed.
NT: Shoe size. Seriously.
SG: 8.5. And I hate it because it’s such a common size that there’s never anything good left! I did luck out, though, when I found a pair of Marc Jacobs patent peep toe heels a couple of weeks ago at a favorite secondhand store. I’ll be wearing those to my book launch party this weekend.
NT: We all have them - what's the most embarrassing thing you've ever written?
SG: I went to a Catholic high school, so we were often given essay assignments with religious themes. I was the type of student who had “cracked the code” for getting good grades. I basically just wrote whatever I thought my teacher, in this case a nun, wanted to hear. She entered one of my essays in a state-wide contest and I ended up winning. I shudder to think what that essay said. It probably read as a regurgitation of Catholic dogma that I didn’t buy then and don’t buy now. But I did get an A+. It was a good lesson, though, about never to write something you wouldn’t want to run in the paper with your picture next to it.
NT: How are holidays spent at your home?
SG: My family is one of those families that goes to Black Friday sales every year. People think we’re nuts, but it’s actually kind of fun. It’s a bonding thing. I haven’t gone along the last couple of years, though, because I have a toddler. And if there’s anything worse than shopping with a toddler, it’s shopping with a toddler at the crack of dawn in a store crammed with people lining up to buy new coffeemakers.
NT: I should mention to my readers that not only are you an author, a lover of all things antique, a blogger and a mama - you're also a lawyer! Worst legal case you've ever handled...in gory detail: names changed to protect the innocent, obvi.
SG: I once had a client bring a voodoo doll to a settlement conference. She sat sticking pins in the voodoo doll while the mediator went back and forth between our conference room and the one down the hall where the other party was located. Needless to say, that case didn’t get settled.
NT: Any other writing projects on your radar?
SG: I’m currently working on edits to my second novel, a stand-alone title slated to come out in summer 2015 from the same publisher.
For more information on VINTAGE, or Susan's other titles, visit her blog, website, 'like' her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter - not gonna lie, I may have done all three. Okay, all four; I'm a stalker.