Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interview with Kristen Harnisch, author of The Vintner's Daughter

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Kristen Harnisch to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her debut release, The Vintner's Daughter.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Kristen. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Vintner’s Daughter. 
The Vintner’s Daughter is the story of Sara Thibault, a winemaker’s daughter, and her struggle to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. The novel takes the reader on a journey through the village of Vouvray, France, the slums of lower Manhattan, and ultimately to the rolling hills and sprawling vineyards of the Napa Valley.

What inspired you to write this story? Where did it start? 
The inspiration for the story came to me in a flash. In October 2000, I was vacationing with my family in the Loire Valley. I was standing on the edge of a Vouvray vineyard, marveling at the pristine rows of chenin blanc grapevines, the limestone caves, the whitewashed winery on my far left, and the abandoned watchman’s house on my right. I knew it would be the perfect setting for the novel I’d always hoped to write.

Your novel begins in the last years of the nineteenth century. How did you bridge the gap in time, and in some cases geography, to bring The Vintner’s Daughter to life? 
A lot of research and travel! I delved into French and California wine history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers such as The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, and consulted a master winemaker. I researched the sights, smells, and sounds of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society and toured several historic Napa vineyards. The process of learning was an absolute joy.

The story takes the reader to several different locals. France’s Loire Valley, turn-of-the-century Manhattan, and California’s Napa wine country. How do these places differ atmospherically and how did you approach that diversity as an author?
I chose these settings to mirror the emotional changes we see in Sara throughout the story. France’s Loire Valley is comprised of little villages along the Loire, like Vouvray, in which most of the small vineyards are family-owned and centuries old. The Loire River is the lifeline which connects them all and keeps the vineyards thriving. Life in her small village is predictable, and safe—for a time. The slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side provide a stark contrast to the bucolic life Sara led in Vouvray. The streets are dark, crowded with unfriendly faces and unnerving noises, which reflect Sara’s anxiety at this point in the story. Finally, the golden hills, rambling vineyards and modern city of Napa offer Sara the freedom to reinvent herself in the New World.

Photo by Stan Shebs
Many readers have praised your heroine. What kind of woman is Sara Thibault and why do you think she holds so much appeal? 
It’s so rewarding when a character resonates with readers. Sara Thibault is passionate, principled and self-possessed. She appeals to me because, even though she’s young and inexperienced, she shows a fierce loyalty to her family and the courage to keep moving forward. She fights against a rival to reclaim her family’s Loire Valley vineyard, sails across the Atlantic to bring herself and her sister to safety, and then journeys to Napa, California, determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. She does all this while facing crushing loss and the threat of discovery. 

For those readers who aren’t familiar with it, can you tell us a bit about wine culture and how it influenced your work?  
I’ve always enjoyed wine, but I never immersed myself in the wine culture until I began researching this novel. Several things fascinate me. First, the terroir—the soil and climate conditions in which the grapes grow and that give the wine its unique taste—differ vastly between vineyards. For example, the chalky limestone of Vouvray yields fruity, sweet chenin blanc, whereas the porous, clay soil of lower Napa and the breezes off the nearby San Pablo Bay yield crisp, citrusy chardonnays. Secondly, every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses. Knowing all this, I now understand the passion winemakers and connoisseurs have for their wines. 

There are several themes within your narrative. Which is your favorite and why?
My favorite theme is perseverance through seemingly insurmountable loss. Like many people, I have experienced my share of grief and disappointment. I write because I want to provide an escape for the reader, and hopefully inspire readers to push through the pain and setbacks, to not give up, to continue to reach for happiness. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
My favorite scene is between Sara and Philippe in the stable, when the tension between them reaches its peak, when he’s forced to make the decision that will change both of their lives forever. To say more than that would be a major spoiler!

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
The scene in which Sara is attacked was technically and emotionally difficult to write. I wanted to convey the brutality of this man, and the terror Sara feels, but without turning off the reader. The scene was emotionally difficult to write because I was thinking of so many girls and women who are beaten, raped, or sold into slavery every day. For their sakes, and mine, Sara needed to fight back with all her strength—and win. In the end, my own sensibilities and my editor’s advice helped me smooth out the descriptions and leave in those details that are crucial to the story’s plot.

Photo by Aaron Logan
Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on? 
Yes, I love the character of Marie Chevreau, the single mother and midwife who helps Sara and her sister during their stay in New York. I wasn’t ready to let her go! Fortunately, I’m able to explore Marie’s character more in the novel’s sequel, The California Wife. Outside of the Manhattan convent, and on her way to becoming a surgeon, Marie is challenged in new and exciting ways, both professionally and personally.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Vintner’s Daughter and if so, what did you alter and why? 
I invented the convent in Manhattan. As far as I know, none of this size existed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1800s. The convent is an important part of Sara’s journey because it offers her protection, but soon becomes a sort of prison, keeping her from what she believes is her destiny.  She has never lived in such a cramped, dark place before, but because she resides there for many months, she truly appreciates the wide open spaces and freedom that California offers her.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why? 
Aurora Thierry, because she’s such a spitfire. I’d love to know more about her childhood, growing up in California in the years that followed the California Gold Rush, as the daughter of a quicksilver miner. What tales she would tell!

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the primary roles in a screen adaptation of your work, who would you hire? 
For Sara Thibault, I’d probably choose Charlotte Le Bon, and I think Marion Cotillard would make a wonderful Marie Chevreau. Perhaps Chris Pratt for Philippe Lemieux? As for the others, I can’t decide, but I’d love to hear what readers think!

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I write while raising three kids, so “sporadic” would be the best description! I write best in three-hour blocks, and before I begin, I research every aspect of the scene I’m writing, and I have a plan and a source of tension in mind for each one. If I become stuck, or the writing is lackluster, I immediately switch to developing a scene that’s exciting or fun for me. I write many scenes out of order, but that works for me. Once I’ve completed a manuscript, I edit it a minimum of five times—up to ten—with input from many beta readers, and my agent, before submitting it to my editor.

Who are your favorite authors? 
Paulo Coehlo (The Alchemist), Sandra Gulland (The Josephine B. Series), Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth), Adriana Trigiani (The Shoemaker’s Wife), Jane Austen (Persuasion), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre), Philippa Gregory, (The Other Boleyn Girl), Paula McLain (The Paris Wife), Dr. Wayne Dyer (The Power of Intention), and many more!
Photo by Aaron Logan
What are you currently reading? 
Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. I’m riveted by both, but for entirely different reasons!

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
I like to travel with my family. Our youngest is just old enough to travel overseas, so we enjoyed a lovely holiday touring Rome, Florence and Venice this summer. We also travel to Cape Cod every summer, and I’m planning trips for my book tour to Florida, the Washington, DC area, San Francisco Bay Area (and wine country again) this fall.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate?  
One cup of fully-caffeinated coffee in the morning (skim milk, no sugar), and in the winter, I add an afternoon cup of decaf English Breakfast tea (milk and sugar).

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Yes! I’m excited to say that the sequel, The California Wife, begins right where The Vintner’s Daughter leaves off, chronicling the lives of Sara and Philippe in their quest to gain international recognition for their French and California wines. Some characters from the past, such as midwife and aspiring physician, Marie Chevreau, as well as several new characters, will entertain readers. A voyage to the Paris World’s Fair captures the imagination, a new romance blossoms, and catastrophic events shake the very foundation upon which the characters have built their lives.

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Kristen Harnisch drew upon her extensive research and experiences living in the San Francisco Bay Area and visiting the Loire Valley to create the story for The Vintner's Daughter, her debut novel. The Vintner's Daughter is the first in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the century. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University, and currently resides in Connecticut. 

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Harnisch’s palatable debut is enriched with historical detail about the wine industry. Sara is a dynamic heroine…. Wine aficionados and fans of romance and historical fiction will drink this in.
- Kirkus Reviews

One of the novel’s highlights is its rich history of the wine-making process through the eyes of a woman who is passionate and meticulous about each step.... In the beginning, [Sara] endures nonstop pain and loss, but these tragedies transform her from a smart, hardworking girl into an independent, resourceful woman. At its core, The Vintner’s Daughter is a story of perseverance and transcending one’s past.
- Booklist

A lovely novel with sparkling dialogue, intricate plot and great characters. This tale of a young girl determined to hold onto to her beloved father’s vineyard in the Loire Valley will invoke inevitable comparisons to Gone with the Wind. Sara is a girl with grit and determination, and seizes what she wants from life with both hands, evolving over the course of the novel from an impetuous, headstrong girl to a mature woman. A pleasure.
- Roberta Rich, author of The Harem Midwife and The Midwife of Venice

[A] fast-moving romantic saga about two independent, ambitious people hoping to succeed in winemaking….This relaxing summer read offers an enjoyable armchair voyage to wine country.
—Historical Novels Review

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Released by: She Writes Press
ISBN-13: 978-1631529290
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction


Meg @ A Bookish Affair said...

Great interview! I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this one!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!! I'm reading the book now and absolutely love it.