Ok, here's the truth. I'm friends with all of these amazing women and the only thing I'd like more than hosting them on my blog would be to hang out with them around dinner and toast them. They're all part of Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion. I want to mention the other amazing women in this anthology, too: Sarah Jio, Melanie Benjamin, Alyson Richman, Karen White, Carla Mercer-Meyer, Amanda Hodgkinson, Pam Jenoff, Kristina McMorris. Thank you so much, Jenna, Sarah and Erika for being here--and for everything.
JENNA BLUM is the New York Times and # 1 international bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us (Harcourt, 2004) and The Stormchasers (Dutton, 2010) and novella “The Lucky One” in the postwar anthology GRAND CENTRAL (Penguin, 2014). Jenna is also one of Oprah’s Top Thirty Women Writers. Jenna’s debut novel Those Who Save Us is a New York Times and international bestseller; in 2011 it was the # 1 best-selling novel in Holland. Those Who Save Us is also a Boston Globe bestseller and the 2005 winner of the Ribalow Prize, adjudged by Elie Wiesel.
Jenna’s critically acclaimed and reader-beloved 2nd novel, The Stormchasers, which Jenna researched by chasing tornadoes for six years with stormchase company Tempest Tours, is also a Dutch bestseller, a Boston Globe bestseller, a Target Emerging Author Pick, a BORDERS bestseller, and has been featured in French Elle.
I had the BEST TIME ever being on a panel with Jenna, where we bonded over boots and laughed more than is probably legal.
SARAH McCOY is author of the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel,” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico; and The Mapmaker’s Children (forthcoming from Crown, May 2015). Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Huffington Post, and other publications. Sarah also taught me everything I know about how to pack three weeks of event clothes into one carry-on suitcase, and which boots are the coolest.
ERIKA ROBUCK self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Her novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL (NAL/Penguin), was a Target Emerging Author Pick, a Vero Beach Bestseller, and has sold in two foreign markets to date. CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin) made the Southern Independent Booksellers Bestseller list, and is a Target Recommended Read. FALLEN BEAUTY was released on March 4th, and she is a contributor to GRAND CENTRAL (June 2014, Berkley/Penguin), a short story anthology set at Grand Central Terminal in New York, following World War II. Her forthcoming novel, THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE (NAL/Penguin), will be published in May of 2015.
Erika taught me how to hand-sell our books at a book fest, even if it meant waving them in the air while seeming to dance.
So what sparked the idea for this book?
Sarah: "The Branch of Hazel” is actually a spin off from story from one of the characters in THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER. Elsie’s sister, Hazel, was a Lebensborn Program mother and throughout my national and international book tour, the reader crowds were consistently asking me for more Hazel. They wanted to know what really happened to her. They wanted more information about the Lebensborn Program— the Nazi program that bred pedigreed, young German women to SS officers of perfect Aryan lineage in attempt to create a “master” race. As soon as the war ended, these once lauded women were then shunned. Their perfect children were labeled shameful bastards of a monstrous initiative. The girls were typically between the ages of 17-24 so they were just at the beginning of their lives. How do you move on from such a past— can you? That was the question that haunted me for Hazel and all the Lebensborn women. This novella was sparked and fueled by their real-life, untold accounts.
Erika: Kristina McMorris called me and said she and Sarah Jio had brainstormed the idea, and would I be interested in joining? I was honored to be included. We chose the date and time based upon all of the authors’ experience with the time period and our shared love of the iconic New York location.
Jenna: Ask Kristina McMorris. She is the genius who thought of it! The story goes that Kristina and Sarah Jio, another GRAND CENTRAL girl, were having dinner in the Northwest where they live, and Kristina said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got a bunch of us WW2 author gals together and did an anthology of stories all set in Grand Central Terminal on the same day just after WW2?” And Sarah said, Sure, that’d be great, in that let’s-do-lunch kind of way. The difference being, Kristina actually made it happen. She corralled all us GRAND CENTRAL girls via email and Facebook, and we all said yes, and she and her agent pitched it, and Berkeley/Penguin bought it very quickly. That’s Kristina’s story, or my version of it, and I’m sticking to it. Also, if you’ve ever met Kristina, you know she has great personal charm AND she used to be a wedding planner, so none of us ever had a chance.
What I especially loved in this book was the way the pages breathed history. What do you think these stories can tell us today about war, love, and reunion?
Jenna: I have to laugh about this because my story is the sole novella in the collection that isn’t about love and reunion in the traditional sense; it’s about a man trying to outrun his unimaginably anguishing past. But I suppose that really is about love, isn’t it?, its lasting and pervasive effects, which can assume the form of deepest grief. And now that I think about it, all the novellas in GRAND CENTRAL are this way: about imperfect, fragile, damaged, enduring love—of men and women, children, friends—and how it survives even death.
Erika: When I travel, I often gaze around air and rail terminals wondering what has brought each person to the station, and where they are going. I love seeing people embrace after separations, and ponder those who return alone. There is a certain magic in realizing our connections to others, even when it is not immediately clear how we are joined. In this time in history, like no other, our county was united in a common goal. Like Karen White has said, this generation was called “The Greatest Generation” for a reason. It was a pleasure to spend time telling their stories.
Sarah: What I cherish about this collection and what my fellow authoresses have created that I don’t believe could be achieved in a one-author novel is the vast range of story perspectives. Each of our novellas highlights a little known or nearly forgotten aspect of World War II, the great love that people had for each other and their country during that time. It is something to marvel! And to be remembered. I see the book as a reunion in narrative form too— reuniting readers with the heart and emotions that infused the historical facts and dates. A love story to the men and women of 1945.
What surprised you in the writing?
Erika: I was surprised about how different the authors' ideas for their stories were, while sharing themes of love, sacrifice, courage, and reunion. There were many moments in the writing and publishing of the anthology that felt serendipitous.
Jenna: Two things. 1) I fell in love with my own story. I was initially, if secretly, reluctant to return to World War II in fiction because I spent ten years there researching my first novel, THOSE WHO SAVE US. But I couldn’t resist the concept of GRAND CENTRAL and I did have a story I’d always wanted to tell, inspired by a Holocaust survivor I interviewed for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, who’d been a chef in Czechoslovakia before the war and after the war was fired from his job as a busboy in America because his concentration camp tattoo upset the diners. Once I started writing this story, it surprised me by deepening into what it means to have lost one’s entire original family, what it means to try and assimilate after such a blow, and what it means to be a gentle man in a brutal world.
The other thing is that I thought the story was meant to be a short story, and I was all proud of myself because I got it turned in by deadline. My agent called me and said, “I love, love, love the story—but did you read your contract? It is supposed to be a novella.” I was 6,000 words short. It was lucky I was so in love with the story because I then got to expand it.
Sarah: "The Branch of Hazel" was incredibly difficult for me to write. I had to go back into that dark Nazi psychology to understand what Cata had been through and what she might be willing to do to start anew, to make a future. Once there, I had to cleave myself from “Sarah McCoy” of 2014 and all my women’s and religious rights dogma. I had to put myself inside the skin of Hazel and Cata; girls who came of age in an entirely different culture where their ability to produce, seduce and be abused was valued more than their hearts and minds. It stunned me how much compassion I could have for them, despite the fact that they were tried and true Nazis. So the writing was surprisingly difficult but surprisingly moving for me, personally, and I hope for readers, too.
Why do you think Grand Central Station is such a character in itself?
Erika: Walking into Grand Central is like stepping in a cathedral or museum. The soaring architecture draws the eye upward and quiets the heart. It is a monumental reminder of how small we are.
Sarah: Once you’ve stepped inside Grand Central Terminal, you understand. It is alive. The wall tiles are breathing. The floor is singing. There is something unbelievably powerful about that place and I’ve been to hundreds of train terminals around the world. It's different. It has a beautiful, bittersweet, electrifying and undeniable mojo. The perfect resume for an author’s imagination.
Jenna: Because it’s historic and beautiful. I mean, the teal ceiling, the constellations—come on! Also, it’s a crossroads of so many departures and reunions; you know how happy it can make you to watch people kissing hello at an airport? I think some of that mojo has seeped into Grand Central’s gorgeous marble walls.
I loved the way you all got glammed up for the launch party! How much fun was that, and did you do research for it?
Erika: Kristina McMorris was the brainchild of so much of this project, and I believe it was her idea that inspired all of us to shop for 1940s dresses. She set up the hair appointments and created a spreadsheet for our stylists of hairdos we each found that would capture that 1940s glamorous style. The salon, West Vibe, was a dream—they had music of the period playing for us, mimosas for our enjoyment, and had practiced making “Victory Curls.” By the time we emerged and stepped into Grand Central, it was as if decades had disappeared.
Jenna: It was SO much fun! Many of us love 1940s clothes anyway (for my first novel I dressed in that sort of costume all the time while writing—but only in the house, since at that time my get-up was one of a German domestic circa 1939). So we knew we wanted to rock a GRAND CENTRAL USO-chorus girl line at our launch. Kristina found an incredible salon for us, West Vibe, and we sent our hairstyles to them via email weeks before; the morning of the launch, while we were all getting Victory Curls and Kate Hepburn hair, we found the stylists had been practicing for weeks on mannequin heads to get our ‘dos just right. (I wanted to take my mannequin head to the launch with me but the other girls convinced me it was a bad idea.)
Sarah: We had the best time at the June 28-29 New York City launch weekend! The seven of us authors who were able to attend said it over and over: there was kismet between us. We truly could’ve been a group of sassy USO sisters standing strong together on that September 21, 1945 day. It felt like we were, in any case. Research for our costumes was painstakingly arduous. It required countless hours of online shopping at Modcloth.com and even more time texting, emailing, tweeting and calling each other to ask, “How does this look? Polka-dots or stripes? What do you think of these shoes with this?” Oh, the burden we endured for authenticity in our work. Ahem… But seriously, the process of creating this book and preparing to launch our collective darling in the world bonded us as sisters of ink blood.
What’s obsessing each of you now and why?
Erika: After a trip to Concord, Massachusetts, tours of the Old Manse, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and rereading the work of the writers of that period, Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne made it clear to me that their story needed to be told. THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE releases in May of 2015. It is a novel about the marriage of creative people, what they give up for love, and the search for peace and "home" on earth by those who cannot be settled.
Sarah: I’m still obsessing over the stupendous time we had launching Grand Central in NYC and wishing I could wear a red rose fascinator every day! But more specifically regarding writing and reading: I'm totally obsessed with the Underground Railroad, John Brown’s lineage, runaway slaves and dark mysteries of the Civil War. All of this and more is in the novel I just completed and handed into my publisher, Crown/Random House. The novel is titled THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN, another contemporary-historical hybrid like THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER. This time, I dabbled a bit more in the craft of mystery writing and learned that I so enjoy mapping out thrilling adventures— as the author and as a reader. That’s set to release in May 2015 and I cannot wait to share it with everyone!
Jenna: My upcoming nuptials. I switch channels between being a normal person and Bride-Brain. Also, my agent wants me to write a novel based on my GRAND CENTRAL character and what happens to him after the novella’s conclusion, and she’s as persuasive as Kristina and with a French accent, so that will probably happen.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Erika: Will you ever collaborate on an anthology again? YES!!
Sarah: If I can come visit and we can go shopping for cowboy boots together. (It is a well-known social media-crowed fact that we are boot bling sisters.) You forgot to ask me to do that, but I know you were thinking it. So I’ll go ahead and RSVP ‘Yes.’ I have my heart set on a pair of floral embroidered, rainbow ones. I want to stomp around in a leather garden on my feet with you by my side... to boot.
P.S. Thanks so much for having me on Leavittville again! Always an honor and a pleasure, my dear.
Jenna: Where did we get our dresses! Modcloth, baby. Otherwise known as the Rabbit Hole of shopping. You are forewarned.