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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Novelist's Interview: Rebecca Rosenberg



Bienvenue, Rebecca!

I met our featured author, Rebecca Rosenberg, at Story Masters: A Discussion of Story with Three Experts on the Art: Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Christopher Vogler in Seattle. I am tickled to have her with us on Planting Cabbages this morning. 


About the Author

A California native, Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where Jack London wrote from his Beauty Ranch. Rebecca is a long-time student of Jack London’s works and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian London. The Secret Life of Mrs. London is her debut novel. Rebecca and her husband, Gary, own the largest lavender product company in America, selling to 4000 resorts, spas and gift stores. The Rosenbergs believe in giving back to the Sonoma Community, supporting many causes through financial donations and board positions, including Worth Our Weight, an educational culinary program for at-risk children, YWCA shelter for abused women, Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center to provide performances for children, Sonoma Food Bank, Sonoma Boys and Girls Club, and the Valley of the Moon Children's Home. For more information, please visit Rebecca's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads. Visit the Facebook page for The Secret Life of Mrs. London.


Thank you so very much for the opportunity to interview you!
First, some questions about your novel, and then about your writing life.


Planting Cabbages: What intrigued you about Jack London and his wife, Charmian,
to write this novel?




A (Gorgeous!) View of Beauty Ranch

RR: I live on our lavender farm in Sonoma, Valley of the Moon, where Jack (and Charmian!) London wrote 50 novels (in 20 years) from their thousand acre Beauty Ranch, which you can still see today. I have been hiking that ranch with my family and friends, soaking in the story of this brave, adventurous, genius couple, questioning how they lived, and what motivated them to work so hard on writing. Those questions led me to read the majority of their work, and start researching their lives.



PC: I loved all the great food scenes in TSLOML. They really paint a convincing
picture of being there. From Thanksgiving at Beauty Ranch to Tadich’s Grill to
Hawaii to NYC’s rooming house above a restaurant. How did your love of food
and your work with WOW influence this theme?  


RR: Food inspires us all, doesn’t it? That is one intriguing thing I remember about
meeting you, Dorette, is that you are a chef! The taste and smell and look of food
is a tangible thing that marks different times in our lives. I volunteer for
worthourweight.org, a culinary apprentice program for at-risk young adults.
The director, Evelyn Cheatham, transforms lives with the comfort of preparing
food. I love bringing food into the picture, because it makes it come alive for me.
And the meanings behind the food. Thanksgiving on the ranch is filled with local
specialties grown right on the ranch:


…ten-minute mallard, barely warm and bloody; wild turkey, quail, and venison accompanied by wild rice with forest mushrooms; baby pumpkins filled with curried pumpkin soup; Swiss chard sautéed with purple beets; chestnut gnocchi; brussels sprouts with piggery bacon.


And later, in New York, Charmian boards with a Romanian cook and enjoys
kreplach and goulash, foods that bring her comfort.


I’ve included one of London’s recipes for Lomi Lomi Salad below.



PC: I'd love to hear more about the wine industry as it was in Sonoma at that
time, especially at Beauty Ranch.


A Vintage Sonoma Winery Label

RR: Wine making started in Sonoma in the 1850’s, and was well established by 1915, when the novel is set. Our friends, the Kundes, still own Kunde winery close to Beauty Ranch, which Louis Kunde began in 1904.

The stone winery on Beauty Ranch was damaged in the 1906 earthquake. London used the foundation and built an upper story wooden building used as a carriage house and as a living quarters for ranch hands, rooms for his many guests and an office where his sister, Eliza Shepard, could manage the ranch.


PC: Can you visit his estate?


RR: Jack London Park is definitely worth visiting. You can see the cottage the London’s lived in, the stone Pig Palace, the fishing and swimming ponds, The great stone ruins of Wolf House, the vineyards, the eucalyptus groves, and Happy Walls, Charmian’s home, which is now a fabulous museum of the London’s belongings.



PC: Tell us more about the Hawaiian ingredients mentioned, such as the Hapu'u
fern sprouts.

Hawaiian Hapu'u Fern Sprouts



RR: From Hawaiian websites: Hāpu'u is also used as a food. Both the young core
and new leaves can be cooked.

PC: Have you eaten this?


RR: The hapu fern sprouts definitely intrigued me, but I have not had the
pleasure of eating them! My guess is they would be similar to hearts of palm.
Yum!



PC: Might you share a recipe for any of these dishes?


RR: I’ve shared one of the London’s recipes, below.



PC: I love how you worked in such brilliant tension such as the bones in the
brook trout scene. Was a ten-minute mallard a favorite dish of Jack's?


RR: In Charmian’s biography she complains that Jack always eats 10 minute duck,
and she blames his gout and kidney disease on eating the undercooked fowl.
Charmian, herself, was a pescatarian.



PC: In the novel, the baby theme is a huge part of the tension between Jack and
Charmian, with plot tensions accelerating over the battle with their sexuality.
The baby theme is felt through the child-like qualities of Houdini’s wife, Bess,
and also in her doll collection. In some odd and charming ways it seems as
though Bess becomes Charmian’s baby.


RR: Both Charmian and Bess Houdini wanted children, and did not have them.
In the novel, I explore the different ways they manifested this thwarted desire.
Charmian turns to exploring the world, and writing. Bess collects dolls and pets.



PC: It’s been said that Charmian was a strong and feisty woman yet I often felt
her timidity and her deference to Jack and his work. Was this part of her interior
life, but not part of what she showed the world?


RR: Yes, you got that Dorette! Charmian is known as a brave courageous,
adventurous woman, and yet in her (auto) biography I found her a very
thoughtful person who thought a lot about the events of their lives.

Jack London and his wife, Charmian, writing.

PC: It really isn’t till later in the story that Charmian has the confidence to speak and write effectively. Was this true to life or part of the fictionalized story? Would you shed any light on how the woman’s movement during this time of history influenced the novel?


RR: Charmian dedicated herself to be Jack’s coach, mentor, muse, manager, editor.
She knew he was an extraordinary talent, but needed a strong hand to guide him,
and she was willing to do it. I don’t think she was weak, just focused on making
Jack London be the best he could be. Of course it was early 1900, women didn’t
even have the vote until 1920! Hard for us to imagine the difference in their
society. Still, Charmian and Jack were exploring an “equal” relationship,
calling each other “Mate”, and Charmian did write her own books and articles.
They both supported suffrage.



PC: Did Houdini really send Charmian a wooden puzzle box?

RR: I wouldn’t doubt it! Houdini owned every type of magic paraphernalia
imaginable, much which you can see at the Houdini Museum in NYC
or the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.

PC: Tell us more about the conflict/story regarding Houdini’s name. Was his name
really Erich Weiss?


RR: Houdini was born Erich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, though he always told
reporters he was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. He worked through childhood, to
bring money into his family, working as a street magician. At 20, he changed his
name to Harry Houdini after the French magician, Robert Houdin, and performed
magic at Coney Island, where he met Bess, and married her 2 weeks later.


Early and Rare Photo of Harry Houdini



PC: There’s a wild scene where Houdini levitates Charmian, what was your intention?


RR: Everyone who met Houdini thought he had supernatural powers. Even his good
friend, the famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt, asked him to restore her amputated
leg! What would it be like to have a romance with a man who could walk through
walls, make elephants disappear before your eyes, calm you down with a nice
levitation? See photo of Houdini levitating!


Harry Houdini Levitating!




About Your Writing Life!

PC: When did you start writing and what motivated you?

RR: Maybe ten years ago, I started a writing group in order to write my first novel,
the one that I’m still working on, called MATCHLESS, about the Silver Queen,
Baby Doe Tabor.


PC: Often the journey from being a writer to being a published novelist is a story
in and of itself. Tell us about yours.

RR: Once the writing bug bit me, that urge to tell a story well, I took every class,
workshop, and even a Stanford novel writing 2 year certificate. I have written 5
books, published a non-fiction, Lavender Fields of America, and this novel.
Lake Union Publishing was very excited by The Secret of Mrs. London, and they
have been phenominol to work with! I’m working on 2 other novels now.


PC: Who are the writers who first inspired you to write and who are the writers
you read now? What's changed?

RR: I confess, while I read a hundred books a year, for inspiration, I still go back
to the prose of Gone With the Wind, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and My
Cousin Rachel. Anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald.


PC: How important is 'everyday life' to your work?

RR: Every sensation or experience one has in everyday life will come through
on the page one way or another, like the palette of paints an artist uses to
create a painting.


PC: Do you see your work in terms of literary traditions and/or broader
cultural or political movements?

RR: I write biographical historical novels, because I don’t want us to forget the
women who lived before us who forged new freedoms for us.


PC: What aspect of writing and working as a writer is the most challenging?

RR: Finding time and getting into the groove!


PC: What reading, other than fiction, is important to your work and why?

RR: I read TONS of biographies and related non-fiction to fuel my historical
accuracy.


PC: How is fiction relevant or valuable to contemporary society and culture in the
U.S. and/or at an international level?

RR: Good fiction causes thought and conversation about issues we face as humans.


PC: What writing workshops etc would you recommend to a struggling novelist?
What was your takeaway from the Story Masters Conference where we met?   


RR: Attend writing conferences, and follow writing experts that appeal to your
sensibility. My favorite writing guru is Donald Maass, and I’ve attended 5-6 of his
workshops, or classes at Writing Conferences. At the Story Masters, I focused on
structure of a novel, and the different approaches our instructors presented for us.
I also really like Larry Brooks for concept/premise and structure.

My advice for writers: Keep writing. Get a writers group and stick with it.


Merci beaucoup, Rebecca! I appreciate your time, as do your readers. I'm so glad to have had this chance to visit with you! And we can't wait to read your series on the Widows of Champagne! 


Five French widows (from 1800 to 1950) work through heartbreak, the restraints of a male-dominated wine industry, economic disasters, bad harvests and wars to head their own Champagne wineries during times when it was unheard of for women to hold such positions. Through their intelligence, perseverance and creativity, they create wildly successful champagne wineries and an explosive world-wide champagne market.
Barbe-Nicole Clicquot 1800, book one
Louise Pommery 1860, book two
Mathilde Emelie Perrier-Laurent 1890, book three
Camile Roederer 1930, book four
Lily Bollinger 1940, book five
Charmian & Jack London’s Hawaiian Salad
Serves 6 to 8

Lomi Lomi salmon is a dish that did not come to the islands until after contact with Haoles, (whites or Europeans). Salmon is not a Hawaiian fish. Hawaiians did not begin using it until traders brought salted salmon from Alaska to trade for Hawaiian goods. Lomi Lomi means to knead or massage. It was necessary to “lomi lomi,” the salmon in water to remove some of the salt, and that is how this recipe was developed. Actually, most of the ingredients used in lomi lomi salmon were unknown in Hawaii until after contact with Haoles. Lomi lomi salmon is raw, just like sashimi and the fish usually used on sushi. Today the dish is usually made with fresh salmon.

About 1 pounds of very fresh salmon
1 smallish white onion, diced very small
2 to 3 green onions, chopped small
2 to 3 tomatoes, seeded and diced small
1 small hot chili, seeded and minced or a pinch of dry chili flakes
The juice of 1 or 2 fresh limes
1 teaspoon Kukui not, or to taste
Red Hawaiian Salt to taste

Dice the salmon into about 1/4 inch dice, removing any bones and bits of fat of sinew as you do. Place in a colander and rinse under cold running water to remove any blood. Add the remaining ingredients and lomi lomi until well mixed. Place in a serving dish and set the dish on a larger dish filled with crushed ice. It should always be served very cold.

* You will most likely not be able to find Kukui nut. A reasonable substitute is roasted and pulverized peanuts or walnuts.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Read With Me: The Secret Life of Mrs. London

The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg

Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Lake Union Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 348 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape. As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Praise for The Secret Life of Mrs. London

“The Secret Life of Mrs. London is a heart-wrenching portrait of a marriage between two people who utterly depend on one another, but ultimately aren’t enough for each other. With skillful precision of language, Rosenberg weaves a narrative that defines the complexities of love, passion, and art. This is a perceptive, deeply moving novel by a great new talent about a couple who has gone unnoticed in historical fiction until now. Anyone who has ever loved another person will want to read this book.” —Victoria Kelly, author of Mrs. Houdini: A Novel “One of Houdini’s best kept secrets was his affair with Charmian London in 1918. Now Rebecca Rosenberg tells the story using an elegant blend of fact and fiction, creating a Houdini book like no other. The Secret Life of Mrs. London is a true peek behind the curtain and a page-turner.” —John Cox, Wild about Harry

About the Author

A California native, Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where Jack London wrote from his Beauty Ranch. Rebecca is a long-time student of Jack London’s works and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian London. The Secret Life of Mrs. London is her debut novel. Rebecca and her husband, Gary, own the largest lavender product company in America, selling to 4000 resorts, spas and gift stores. The Rosenbergs believe in giving back to the Sonoma Community, supporting many causes through financial donations and board positions, including Worth Our Weight, an educational culinary program for at-risk children, YWCA shelter for abused women, Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center to provide performances for children, Sonoma Food Bank, Sonoma Boys and Girls Club, and the Valley of the Moon Children's Home. For more information, please visit Rebecca's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads. Visit the Facebook page for The Secret Life of Mrs. London.

My Review of The Secret Life of Mrs. London


The Secret Life of Mrs. London is a fabulous read and lingered long after I closed the back cover. From the opening scenes of Charmian and Jack sparring in the boxing ring, it keeps me turning the pages. From intriguing political debates, to their writing life, Jack and Charmian London’s friendship with Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess, plus their love triangle is told through a lot of delicious details.

Even though I am a long-time admirer of Jack London’s work, I haven’t read anything before about Jack or his wife, Charmian. And as the title of the novel suggests, the character I am most interested in is Charmian. Her education, spirit, and literary pursuits in the early 1900’s must have seemed daunting. Inspiring. Both Jack and Charmain are big personalities and colorful people full of as much magic as a Houdini act. But this is the heart of their conflicts too.

Charmian’s tale weaves it’s way around and beside Jack’s, and Charmian does achieve success as a writer of her own material. Some of that success she achieves is in the later part of the story, and who better than Charmian to put on the boxing gloves again, so to speak, and fight for the right to write the biography of Jack.

Some of the delicious details are related to food and this is no surprise because Rebecca also is the director of Worth Our Weight, an educational culinary program for at risk children, in California. 

Please visit the C'est si Bon! Cooking School's website for Hawaiian Sweet Potato and Papaya Salad, a recipe reminiscent of the London's time spent in Hawaii.  

Here’s a description of Thanksgiving at Jack and Charmian’s Beauty Ranch.

“Dinner is served, everyone.” I hold my hand out to Bessie. “Follow me.” Nakata opens the heavy wood doors to the dining room, and our guests reel back and gasp. I myself can’t believe the sight. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness.” Bessie flutter claps. “It’s a fairy tale.” Garlands of colorful leaves festoon the stone walls, lined with French wine barrels. Our long table, hewn from a giant redwood, stretches twenty feet into the far side of the room. Down the middle, beeswax candles in wine bottles illuminate plump, round pumpkins; gnarled gourds; and Indian corn speckled scarlet and gold. Woven palm place mats set with pewter plates and utensils flank the sides of the table, replete with four different wineglasses for Buena Vista sparkling wine, Kunde Gewürztraminer and Cabernet, and our own late-harvest Riesling. Jack says we can never have too many wine glasses.”
I hope you’ll agree that just as you can never have too many wine glasses, you can never have too many good books, and one of those surely is “The Secret Life of Mrs. London.”  

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 30 Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Wednesday, January 31 Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, February 1 Guest Post at Let Them Read Books Feature at What Is That Book About

Friday, February 2 Review at View from the Birdhouse Feature at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, February 5 Review at Creating Herstory

Tuesday, February 6 Review at Planting Cabbages

Wednesday, February 7 Review at A Bookish Affair

Review at History From a Woman's Perspective

Thursday, February 8 Interview at Planting Cabbages

Friday, February 9 Review at Bookish

Sunday, February 11 Review at Carole's Ramblings

Monday, February 12 Review at Cup of Sensibility

Tuesday, February 13 Review & Giveaway at The Maiden's Court

Wednesday, February 14 Review at Donna's Book Blog

Thursday, February 15 Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Friday, February 16 Guest Post at Short Book and Scribes

Monday, February 19 Review at Reading the Past

Tuesday, February 20 Review at The Lit Bitch

Friday, February 23 Review at Pursuing Stacie

Monday, February 26 Review at Back Porchervations

Tuesday, February 27 Guest Post at My Reading Corner

Wednesday, February 28 Review & Giveaway at Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Thursday, March 1 Review at What Cathy Read Next

Friday, March 2 Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Monday, March 5 Review at Caryn, the Book Whisperer

Tuesday, March 6 Review at Bookish Beck


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