Writing the Past: The Devil’s in the Details

I write historical fiction to reveal old worlds through a new lens.

On a trip to the Loire Valley in 2000, I was struck by the beauty of the vineyards and impressed by how generations of French families had battled blight, mildew, rot, and pests to produce superior wines. This centuries-old blend of passion and persistence, art and science, sparked the idea for my series about the ambitions of two French-born vintners to establish an American winemaking dynasty at the turn of the twentieth century. After my initial impression of the vineyards’ beauty and complexity, I had to know more to write the story I wanted to tell. I soon discovered that a historical novelist’s love of story must be wed with an endless enthusiasm for and dedication to research.

Biking between the vine rows in the Carneros region

Biking between the vine rows in the Carneros region

Researching vineyard life in the late 1800s was a pleasure. I visited a Loire Valley vineyard, and toured historic Napa vineyards by bike and on foot. I snapped photos of ripening grape clusters, scribbled down notes about historic gravity-flow wineries, sifted the rough, porous clay loam through my fingers, and, of course, sampled the wines! I also delved into French and California history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers, consulted a master winemaker, and reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society. Although I had a vague outline for the novels when I started, my research fueled the stories for The Vintner’s Daughter and The California Wife.

The turn of the twentieth century was rife with innovation and conflict. The glittering Paris World’s Fair, the advances in travel, medicine and economic opportunity, the destruction of saloons by hatchet-wielding temperance advocates, and tragic natural disasters riveted the citizens of our world. North American women led one of the most promising revolutions of that time: they left their kitchens in droves to fight for their rights. These historical elements also provide a treasure-trove of historical drama for the backdrop of the series.

Regusci Winery, Napa, built circa 1878

Regusci Winery, Napa, built circa 1878

When I finally put pen to paper, the demands of writing historical fiction surprised me. I had to learn how vineyards operated at the turn of the twentieth century, and study photos and accounts of period clothing, manners, literature, education, food, rents, and architecture. I read French civil and criminal codes, researched the smell of creosote and how it feels to hold a beating heart in one’s hand (I didn’t actually do this one—I consulted a surgeon!).

How does one aptly convey the thrill of assisting in your first heart surgery, or the horror of trying to escape San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906? To lead readers deep into the scene with the characters—so they experience everything just as the characters do—an author must include historical details that will enrich the story and raise the stakes for the characters.

Wine caves dug by Chinese circa 1877, Napa

Wine caves dug by Chinese circa 1877, Napa

During the first editorial phase of The California Wife, one of my beta-readers said something I’ll always remember. He read a scene I’d crafted about a historic celebration at the Italian-Swiss Colony in Asti, California in 1898. He said, “This is a beautifully written scene. I can smell the grass, feel the breeze and taste the food. But what’s the point?” My historical details—gleaned mostly from newspaper and eyewitness accounts—were all accurate, but I had failed to advance the story. To solve this problem, I swiftly inserted an explosive argument between the two main characters. Now, every time I write a scene, I ask, “How do this scene and its details advance the conflict/drama/story?”

Choosing whether or not to use dialect or historical slang in your story can also make it or break it. Dialect or slang should be used to deepen the reader’s understanding of a character or community, but both can become tiresome distractions. When in doubt, I always read the scene aloud or rely on my beta-readers and editors to steer me in a direction that best serves my readers and their experience.

The best historical fiction entertains and educates readers seamlessly. It challenges readers’ perceptions of the past, present and future and often stimulates debate. Perhaps some of the best advice comes from one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Isabel Allende: “Write what should not be forgotten.”

Love stories and wine pairings for Valentine’s Day!

Don’t have a valentine? So what? Pair these love stories with wine and you’ll have a ready-made date and an evening filled with laughter, romance and intrigue!

xo Kristen

Hotel on the corner of bitter and sweet

The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart with 2012 SeaGlass Sauvignon Blanc

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford with 2010 Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir

Persuasion by Jane Austen with Donelan Wines’ 2012 Nancie Chardonnay

Somerset by Leila Meacham with 2012 Beringer Vineyards Pinot Grigio “Founders Estate”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte with 2012 Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon

The Pulpwood Queens’ Texas Book Club Extravaganza!

PQ Stamp of Approval (1)I’m honored to announce that The Vintner’s Daughter has been selected by Kathy Murphy as a Pulpwood Queens bonus book selection for February! As many of you know, from my recent social media posts, I had the pleasure of spending the Jan 15-18 weekend with tiara-wearing Pulpwood Queen Book Club members and over thirty accomplished authors at the 15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, TX. Kathy Murphy started the Pulpwood Queens Book Club out of her beauty salon in East Texas fifteen years ago, and it has blossomed into the largest meeting and discussing book club ever, with over 650 chapters worldwide!

Girlfriend Weekend is a celebration of good books and friendship–with flashes of cheetah-print and pink feather boas–and a wonderful silent auction to support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Our hosts, Pulpwood Queen Kathy Murphy and NYT Bestselling Author Jamie Ford, guided us through an exciting weekend of Texas barbecque, author talks and signings, The Great Big Ball of Hair Ball (amazing costumes), and the announcement that Dreamworks is making Kathy’s autobiography, The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, into a big-screen movie!

Thank you, Pulpwood Queens and my fellow authors, for a fabulous time! To join a Pulpwood Queens Book Club near you, to start your own, or to sign up for Girlfriend Weekend 2016, click here!

15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend
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This Week’s #Sunday Sentence

My selection for this week’s #SundaySentence opens John Baxter’s Paris at the End of the World, an exquisite book about the City of Light during the Great War. It’s a quote from Winston Churchill:

“We sit in calm, airy, silent rooms, opening upon sunlit and embowered lawns, not a sound except of summer and of husbandry disturbs the peace; but seven million men…are in ceaseless battle from the Alps to the Ocean.”

May we never forget the price paid for those calm, airy, silent rooms.

The Vintner’s Daughter

TVD Cover

Here’s a first look at my debut novel’s cover!  The Vintner’s Daughter is scheduled for publication in June 2014.  Click here to pre-order your Kindle edition on Amazon!

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada’s Art Department for crafting this beautiful image for my book, and for permission to post this sneak-peek.  After editing The Vintner’s Daughter with my dream editor and mentor, Lorissa Sengara, we have now passed the manuscript into the capable hands of the copy editors at Harper Collins Canada for its final polishing.  I am so very excited and grateful for all their work!

The scheduled publication in the States and abroad will be announced soon!  Stay tuned!

One Writer’s Paradise: Visiting San Francisco & Napa

Veraison of Pinot Noir grapes, Bouchaine Winery

Researching historical fiction can be tricky and time-consuming, but if you enjoy your subject, it can be a delightful indulgence.  This July, I had the unique opportunity to spend seven glorious days exploring San Francisco and Napa Valley, California, two locations where my debut novel, The Vintner’s Daughter, and its sequel, are set.

The Vintner’s Daughter, set in 1896, chronicles the struggle of a wine maker’s daughter to reclaim her family’s Loire Valley vineyard, and the life that was stolen from her.  The second half of the novel takes place in San Francisco and Napa.  The best way for me to climb inside my characters’ minds, and write about their daily lives, is to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste what they experienced—at the turn of the century.

As a write-at-home mom of three young children, I couldn’t just go gallivanting off for a weeklong holiday in the vineyards (although I considered it!).  Instead, we made it a family affair, with my husband, mother and three kids tagging along for what we now call “our best family vacation ever!”

To sate the kids’ need for Mickey, Shamu and Minions, we spent our first week with cousins Gin & Craig in southern California, touring theme parks and reconnecting with family.  Then we headed north, through the rolling hills and farmland of the Central Coast, finally arriving in San Francisco.

Like every writer, I had my research agenda: visit historical buildings, archives, and vineyards to unearth what life was like living in San Francisco and Napa from 1890 to 1906.  However, it was the unexpected discoveries that made our trip unforgettable.

I had lived on Lombard Street in 1995, but it was wonderful to see the city again through the eyes of a tourist.  We rode the San Francisco cable cars, toured the city on a Big Bus, devoured banana splits at the (historic) Ghirardelli Chocolate Company Shop, and snapped photos of the Queen Anne and Italianate architecture of Haight-Ashbury.  Because a pivotal scene in my book takes place on what is now China Beach, I wanted to make sure I described every detail correctly.  At sunset, we stood on the half-moon, rocky shore of China Beach in Sea Cliff, enjoying the breathtaking sunset and view of the Marin headlands and Golden Gate Bridge.

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When we arrived in Napa, the town was in the grip of a 98-degree heat wave.  Naturally, I had arranged to surprise my husband with a fifteen-mile Napa Valley Bike Tour (literally between-the-vines) for our sixteenth anniversary.  Despite the heat, it was phenomenal!  We toured three vineyards, enjoying tastings at BouchaineMcKenzie-Mueller, and Etude, all within the Carneros wine region (where one of the vineyards in my novel is located).  The San Pablo Bay breeze, along with ample water and a gourmet picnic lunch supplied by our seasoned guides, Steve Stone and Paul Torre, kept us happy and hydrated.

We started our bike tour beneath towering eucalyptus trees, noted for their durability, peeling bark and soothing menthol vapor.   American grape farmers took care to plant their vines far from these trees, to prevent the vine roots from soaking up the eucalyptus oil, which infuses grapes and wine with a menthol taste.

Veraison, or the ripening of the grapes, had begun.  The small, green pinot noir grapes were taking on a purplish hue.  Near the end of August, the harvest would begin.  Sparkling wine grapes would be picked first, then the dry wine grapes, and lastly, in late September, the dessert wine grapes, which require high sugar levels.   Our guide, Steve Stone, explained the bulges on the vines (where the vines were grafted), the netting (to deter birds and rodents from eating the ripening grapes), and the circling red hawks (to frighten away large birds and rodents).

Most memorable was our bike ride to the southernmost edge of Carneros, atop the crest of a vineyard hill, which overlooked the reservoir, marshlands and the San Pablo Bay.  To our right, rose Mount Tamalpais, the sleeping princess, and in the distance, we could see the San Francisco skyline.  It was the very spot I’d imagined my novel’s heroine standing, and it existed!  It was a goose-bump moment that I will never forget.

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The next day I strolled through the renovated downtown to the Napa County Historical Society, housed in the Goodman Library, bursting at the seams with maps, books, documents and photos of Napa through the years.  The research librarian, Alexandria “Alex” Brown, is a young, peppy native who effortlessly fielded my barrage of questions, and happily supplied me with stacks of 1895 maps, books, turn-of-the-century photos of Napa businesses, train stations and schools, and even photos of an old wine press she snapped at a recent visit to the Nichelini winery.  Her enthusiasm and knowledge gave me confidence in my research, and left me eager to continue writing.

On our next excursion, my mother and I enjoyed a private vineyard tour with Certified Wine Professional and Sommelier, Max Roher.  Max shuttled us in an air-conditioned SUV, with another family, to four Napa vineyards, which he’d carefully chosen to match our requests to tour small, historical family-owned vineyards.  We walked through rows of 113-year-old, untrellised Zinfandel vines, toured a turn-of-the-century farmhouse, and visited a 19th century French-style chateau winery built by Hamden W. McIntyre, the expert who designed many of California’s first gravity-flow wineries.  On each occasion, the vineyard owners or managers greeted us personally, taking time to explain how they craft their wines, and answer our questions while we swirled and sipped from our glasses.

Did you know that every bottle of wine we drink contains nearly three pounds of grapes?  The vulnerability of these grapes is striking: over the last century and a half, they’ve fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew, and Prohibition.  Still, the grape growers and wine makers persist in finding new methods to protect and improve the fruit.  It is a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, to perfect the wines that fill our glasses.  I am inspired and humbled by their efforts.  Cheers!

Kristen’s debut novel, The Vintner’s Daughter, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014.

 

Kitchen Table Chat: An Interview with Pat Donelan

(from left to right) Maryellen (my mom and Pat's sister-in-law), Pat, with my daughters Ellen and Julia

When I reflect on the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” I am reminded of the many people who shaped me into the woman I am today.  Besides my parents, one of the most significant people in my life over the past 42 years has been my Aunt Pat.  Mary Patricia Kulasa was a Polish girl from Akron, Ohio, who married my mother’s brother in 1961, nine years before I was born.  Since then, she’s been a bright light at the center of our family. 

Pat is classy, graceful, strong and quick to share a story.  Over her 75 years, she has survived the sudden death of her husband, single motherhood, two hip replacements, and brain surgery.   In her usual self-deprecating way, she only agreed to this interview if I promised “not to make her sound like Mother Teresa because [she] still use a few swear words now and then.”

I hope you enjoy the story of this week’s inspiring mom, Pat Donelan.

The Little Girl from Akron  MaryPat” was raised in Akron, thirty-five miles south of Cleveland, Ohio during the 1940s and ‘50s.  She’s the daughter of a Polish electrician who emigrated from Warsaw to America at age four and a fourth-generation American stay-at-home mom who was raised on a small farm in western Ohio.  “I was the only child, but mom always had homemade cookies and my dad was available for a game of catch or to help me ride a bike,” Pat remembers.

Finding kids to play with was easy.  “The neighborhood I grew up in was something that you read about today:  playing outside until the porch lights went on, the neighborhood parents knowing everything you did.  I remember when I got my first bicycle and was under strict orders not to ride on a busy street in the neighborhood, which I proceeded to do as soon as I was out of sight.  In less than 15 minutes, a neighbor saw me, called my mom to comment on my new bike and mentioned seeing me riding on the forbidden street.  Guess who was grounded for a couple of weeks!”

Pat Donelan

Growing up near the city, Pat enjoyed going to the theatre and spending time with her three unmarried aunts.  “I had the best of both worlds,” Pat recalls.  Her life in the city consisted of “fashion show lunches at the local department store tearoom and Cleveland Indian baseball games where we sat in the press box and I became an autograph hound.”  As soon as school ended, “my mom and I would get on the train and spend summer with her parents on the farm where I fed the animals, gathered eggs, ‘helped’ with the canning, learned to make soap and embroider.”

With her dad’s family’s Polish gatherings, there was always a lot of good food and plenty of older cousins to spoil and tease her.  As Pat remembers, “Soup was not a meal—just a beginning for the feast to follow!”  For those of us who know her, and have eaten at her well-laden table numerous times, that makes perfect sense.  With regards to food and entertaining, before there was Martha Stewart, there was Aunt Pat.

Pat’s father died suddenly when she was thirteen years old.  She was one of twelve graduating that year from the town’s parochial school.  Pat remembers how difficult it was losing her father and what a “culture shock” it was entering public high school.  “My mom encouraged me to bring friends home, no need to ask twice for many of them who still remember, and I managed to survive four years.  By the time I was a senior, I made Student Council, National Honor Society and class secretary—things that are important to a teenager.”

Pat as a flight attendant

Come Fly with Me  In the 1950s, career choices for women were limited to teacher, nurse, or secretary, which Pat tried for a while.  “I really wanted to be a pilot from the time I was in 3rd grade.  We were studying aviation, and my uncle, who was a pilot in the Air Force, came in his uniform to talk to the class.  He made flying seem so exciting; we were all in awe.  Becoming a flight attendant was the next best alternative.”

Pat worked as a flight attendant for a little less than a year.  She rented an apartment with two friends in Boston, explored new cities, and experienced being broke before payday with no hope of borrowing money from anyone.  However, Pat muses, “it began to lose its glamour one morning at the hotel in Chicago when the phone rang:  ‘Good morning, this is your wake up call.  It’s 4:30 and 14 degrees below zero.  Enjoy your day.’  Right!  And I was on my way to Buffalo where it was snowing.  The day ended at 2:00 the next morning when we were the last flight into snowy Boston, and the only food that day was hot chocolate and whatever we could scoff from the trays that the passengers didn’t want.  No meals were provided for the flight attendants.”

Pat and John Donelan's Wedding Day

She met her husband, John Donelan, shortly after she moved to Boston.  His roommate was dating her roommate.  “John was teaching at Newman [Preparatory School] and was correcting papers when we came in, no more interested in ‘another flight attendant’ than I was in him, but he did invite me out that evening.  I was in the throes of a miserable cold and had planned the next the next chapter in my life:  to transfer to an international airline after a year so I could live in Europe.  He had just returned from the seminary in Europe and was focusing on his teaching job.  In other words, the best laid plans.  That was 1960 and we were married the next year.”

Like a Bad Dream  Pat and John eventually moved to Cape Cod, spent the next sixteen years together, working, running a bed-and-breakfast on Main Street in Centerville, and raising their son, John Paul.  In 1978, at the age of 42, Pat’s husband John passed away, leaving her a single mom to her seven-year old son.  “When John died, it first seemed like a bad dream, and everything would be fine and normal when I woke up.  When that didn’t happen, I just became angry—with him and with God because there was no one else to blame.  Then the normal grief process took over when there was time.  The house was under agreement, so I had six weeks to find my current house and move, my mom was staying with me because she had fallen and broken both her legs, and we had the blizzard of ’78.  So, for a while, it was a matter of which crisis came first.”

A few months later, Pat’s friend gave birth to a daughter with Down’s Syndrome and at Christmas, another friend, who’d had a mastectomy, wrote that her husband left her and their five children to marry his secretary.  “It dawned on me that I wouldn’t trade places with either of them, and I guess I just learned to live with the hand I’d been dealt.  My mom, unknowingly, was a role model from the time my dad died.”

Laughter is the Best Medicine  When you ask Pat how she healed from such a painful time and moved forward with her own life, she insists that she was buoyed by friends wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and family who would just show up at her doorstep.  “I still laugh about the time when I came back from Logan airport (having a pity party for myself on the way home) to find cousins Carol and Peter drinking beer in lawn chairs in my front yard with bikes parked nearby—or Clare Cuddy in clown costume playing the fiddle under the kitchen window on St. Patrick’s Day, with croissants from a Quincy Market bakery.  It didn’t take long for the neighbors not to feel sorry for the young widow who’d moved in!”

Pat's husband John, with John Paul

Muddling  What advice does Pat have for single parents who find themselves in similar circumstances?   “Muddle.  Seriously, the best advice I received was from our pediatrician who told me that kids take cues from the adults in their lives.  He told me to keep things as normal as I could including meals, and to do something nice for myself every day—whether it was taking a bubble bath, going for a walk or even making snow angels and looking at the clouds.”  She also points out that going back to work opened a new world for her.  “I started as a part-time receptionist for a local bank and eventually became a mortgage originator; I took courses, always at night, (which meant waking a sleeping boy to take the babysitter home), and made new friends.”

With regards to parenting, she missed having John to serve as a sounding board for her decisions.  However, Pat is quick to point out: “when things turn out right, you get twice the reward.”  Her friends Ag and Fred, parents whom she greatly admired, told her to say “yes” as often as she could, so when she said “no” it carried more weight.  “I said ‘no’ to hockey, a 20 mile drive to an early morning practice, and ‘no’ to football, but a reluctant ‘yes’ to a paper route.  I drove on collection evenings when it got dark early and on Sundays when the papers were huge.  On the plus side, it was uninterrupted chat time and a good excuse to buy donuts.”

I hope John [her son] knows I was always available, but had my own friends so I wasn’t smothering him.”  Like her own mother, Pat invited John’s friends over to her house, so she knew who they were.  She never did enjoy much sleep on Friday nights.

John, Pat’s son, most admires his mother’s resilience.  “She’s one of my very few heroes. ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,‘ said Nietzsche.  And that’s how mom has been since I was old enough to pay attention: able to zero in on the why with an effortlessness that continually amazes people.  She has a back yard full of English ivy that has become one of many running family jokes over the years, but she reminds me of it: no matter what you throw at it, the ivy keeps thriving.”

Remember Me, God?  I asked Pat what role faith has played in helping her survive two hip replacement surgeries and brain surgery for a benign tumor discovered during a retinal scan.  “Faith isn’t something that’s easy to define.  I’m a firm believer that if God gets you to it, He’ll get you through it, but I don’t believe He wears a wristwatch, so it’s not always the way or at the time we plan it.  I do keep in touch with Him daily; so when a crisis arises and I need help, I don’t have to say, ‘Remember me?’

“After my second hip replacement (a week after my first), I kept thinking of the young girl I’d seen—she was on crutches with severely deformed legs and no hope of ever walking normally; and the woman who shared my hospital room after my brain surgery who’d had an aneurysm—she could ever return to teaching.  In other words, someone always has more problems than you do, so count your blessings.”

Cioppino over Sterno, anyone?  One of my favorite memories of Aunt Pat was in 1991 during Hurricane Bob.  Winds were howling, trees were down, power was out, and Pat digs through the back of her bottomless freezer and comes out with mussels, clams, scallops…everything you need for Cioppino over Sterno!  I was incredulous…it was delicious.  That’s one of Pat’s great talents: making even the most absurd circumstances fun.

Pat and her son John, with my son Ryan

My cousin John recalls, “When Hurricane Bob roared over the Cape and I was stranded at her house with my best friend and two cousins (including this blog’s author); we had no power for almost over a week, no hot water, trees across the streets, and nature bombing us back to Colonial times. Most households in the area were stuck eating instant soup or mac and cheese but mom followed her usual storm-preparedness drill: after a rummage around her basement, kitchen and garage to assess supplies she quickly had drinks made, Jimmy Buffet playing and five-star cuisine that just seemed to keep manufacturing itself from the kitchen. We ate like libertines while Bob eventually howled himself out–largely ignored.  Twenty-two years later, just last month, I was stuck at my best friend’s house during the blizzard and we were laughing with his own kids about ‘Grandma Pat’s hurricane feast.'”

Stories of Pat’s entertaining escapades are legendary.  The very first Thanksgiving she cooked for her new husband’s family was disastrous.  “The oven door on which the turkey was resting broke under the weight, the turkey went sliding across the kitchen floor, I screamed “s*$#!”—no juices for gravy and I ruined a new pair of suede heels.  The dog lapped it up, the baby was screaming, and Uncle Frank was strumming his guitar and singing, ‘Gobble, gobble, gobble, it’s Thanksgiving Day!’”

Pat’s always been a fantastic improviser.  “A guest chastised me once for not serving red wine with roast beef, so I did what any gracious hostess would do: went to the kitchen and poured some white wine into a carafe and added enough red food coloring until it was just the right shade.  Julia Child, I think, said it right: ‘whatever happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen’”.  At my request, Pat has shared some of our favorite family recipes below, including the Cioppino!

Cioppino
Baked Brie
Marinated Shrimp (or mussels)
Aran Blathai (Irish Soda Bread)
Lemon Tea Bread
Steamed Pudding
Macaroni and Cheese
Sweet and Sour Pot Roast
Potato Casserole

“I Did It My Way”  When asked what her theme song would be, Pat didn’t hesitate: Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.”  One of the things I most admire about Pat is that she doesn’t wallow in life’s disappointments—she finds the fun in life.  She’s also built a vibrant social life for herself. The “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” group she joined eventually evolved into the “Macaroni and Cheese” friends who seek out and sample different recipes for mac ‘n’ cheese.  She volunteers at the Centerville Historical Museum, as a wedding coordinator at church, and an usher at the Cape Cod Symphony (“it’s a free ticket to great concerts”).

Since retiring from her job as a mortgage originator, Pat’s been working part-time for a local car dealership.  “In between I try to be a good person for Pepin, my 13 year-old puppy, and keep in touch with the friends I’ve collected from school and parts of my life along the way.”

I will always be grateful to Pat for teaching me about faith and grace under pressure.  Does her story remind you of someone you know?  Sometimes, we needn’t look far for our role models—they are often seated right around the kitchen table.

 

Saturday Night on Broadway!

As a writer, I love to immerse myself in the exploration of the twists and turns of plot—in novels, newspapers, film, television and occasionally, theatre.  When I heard that The Heiress, based on Henry James’ novella Washington Square, was closing soon, I just had to see it.  Knowing that my husband would never schlep into Manhattan on a cold winter’s night to see a 19th-century play about a wealthy plain-looking woman, smitten by a suitor whom her father believes is only after the family money, I instead rang up my friend Autumn.

Autumn Howard, a longtime theatre lover and my dutiful plus-one, was totally up for girls’ night out.  On the train ride into New York, she entertained me with tidbits about the history of the adaptation of The Heiress for stage and screen throughout the years.  By the time we sat down in the plush red velvet seats of the Walter Kerr Theatre with our sippy cups of red wine (a revelation) and salty snacks, I felt completely prepared.

We soon became engrossed in the beautifully-acted Heiress, starring Zero-Dark-Thirty‘s Jessica Chastain, Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens, and screen and stage veteran David Strathairn.  Jessica Chastain’s spot-on portrayal of a socially awkward heiress was noteworthy; it was also great fun to see Dan Stevens playing the conniving gold-digger rather than Downton Abbey‘s cloying Matthew (he’s well over 6’ tall and just as dashing in person).  Autumn and I give The Heiress two thumbs-up.

By the way, if you’re interested in seeing a Broadway show, and if you’d like to take the kids to see Mary Poppins before it closes, it just so happens that Feb 25-March 3 is Kids Night on Broadway week!  With the purchase of a ticket for an adult, a child can attend for free at select performances!  Click here for more details!

Enjoy the show!