Please help me give a warm welcome to Author Ciji Ware.
Q1. I'm always interested to discover the story behind the story. Where did the inspiration for A Race to Splendor come from?
Ciji: When we first moved to San Francisco from Southern California in 1998, we rented a flat four blocks from the fable Fairmont Hotel, atop Nob Hill. I soon discovered the apartment house had been designed and built by Julia Morgan, the first licensed woman architect in the state, in the wake of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm. Not long afterward, I learned that Morgan, at the mere age of 34, had also gotten the commission to restore the badly scarred Fairmont in a year’s time, all of which seemed incredible. I started digging and the story turned out to be so amazing…I knew immediately I had the subject for my next historical, A Race to Splendor—right in my own backyard!
Q2. Tell us one surprising thing about your experience writing this book, or about the research for this book.
Ciji: I was amazed to learn that the famous architect, Stanford White of New York (who built, among many stellar buildings, the Washington Square Arch), was originally hired post-quake in 1906 to restore the wounded Fairmont. Three weeks after he got the job, he was murdered by his lover’s husband!
In the chaos following the quake and fire in San Francisco, all the other local designers and builders were taken, except for the “Lady Architect,” who, at that point in her fledgling career, had a hard time getting hired--so Julia Morgan got the gig! It was a fluke, really. Later on, she gained great fame as the architect and builder of the Shangri-la known as Hearst Castle on the central California coast—constructed during the years 1919 to 1947.
Q3. Which did you find more difficult: writing nonfiction or fiction?
Ciji: This may sound strange, but I spent 23 years of my earlier career as a working reporter and on-air commentator, meeting deadlines every day when I was a broadcaster for ABC in Los Angeles. For me, writing news and nonfiction was a “job” and I gained the confidence, toiling all those years, to do my “just the facts, ma’am” assignments with no fuss, no muss. There was no time or room to indulge in “writer’s bloc.” Writing fiction has always been for me an absolutely pleasure, and I suppose having to produce words each day for all those years with no excuses has rendered me one of those writers who simply write and don’t agonize over it much.
Q4. Is any of your writing from your own experiences or is it completely your imagination?
Ciji: My nonfiction (the latest of which is Rightsizing Your Life: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most) has parts of my own story woven throughout all the factual and prescriptive material in such a “self-help” genre. When it comes to fiction, my commitment to getting the facts right (even if I’m chasing a story that’s two-hundred-years old) has brought after researching and writing six historical novels to the subject of “What were the women doing in history?” And that’s probably because I was “the only woman in the room” years ago in many of my on-air jobs--a female broadcasting pioneer, I guess you’d say—and so I’m always seeking to find other women in earlier eras who broke those barriers in their fields. I found women playwrights at Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres in London; I discovered women musicians in the court of Marie Antoinette; I uncovered women artists working for Josiah Wedgwood in his pottery factories. I think my own experiences of working in fields dominated in the twentieth century mostly by men has been a central theme in my own fiction.
Q5. Do your work career/hobbies/interests influence your writing?
Ciji: It’s kind of the other way around! After I wrote my first historical, Island of the Swans, a biographical historical centered on the life of Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon, I became what my husband of 35 years fondly calls “a Scot-o-manic,” dressing everyone in a kilt whenever the occasion slightly called for it. During that period, I learned Scottish country dancing and even joined a troupe (akin to American square dancing), and, after living and working in New Orleans for a year writing Midnight on Julia Street, I became a passionate devotee of southern specialties like gumbo and grits and even bought a guest house in the French Quarter!
Q6. How long does it take to research and write your books?
Ciji: That’s actually been a problem in my career—I cannot research and write a decent historical novel in a year. Because I’m such a stickler for the facts--and because I earn a living by my writing; it’s not a hobby--I have to work simultaneously at writing jobs that actual pay money. That has meant I always had a “day job” writing, as with my 17 years at ABC in LA, or I’d stop to write a nonfiction book which I found paid a living wage, or take a gig, as I did last year, writing a 9-part series for AARP, The Magazine. Since my background was as a reporter (and even with the Internet saving huge amounts of time), I still insist on “going there” to see and experience what I’m writing about. That has meant eight trips to Scotland; many to France, New Orleans, Natchez, or wherever else I set my books, since the setting is just as much a “character” in my books as the heroines and heroes. My first novel took five years; Wicked Company took three; and I managed to do the paranormal historicals like Julia Street, A Light on the Veranda, and A Cottge by the Sea in two years. My publishers would rather it be different, but they know I’m not a lazy bones…just fanatically thorough, I guess you’d say.
Q7. Do your characters live with you as you write? Do they haunt your dreams?
Ciji: I feel the most awful pang when I finish the book and the characters stick with me for months afterward. I’m currently having dreadful separation anxiety from Amelia Hunter Bradshaw and J.D. Thayer in A Race to Splendor. These two, in particular, have been hard to let go of as I almost get the sense that they’re still walking around Nob Hill! We’re having a big launch and costume party for the book at the beautiful Fairmont Hotel this month, and I fully expect Amelia and J.D. and maybe the “real” Julia Morgan to show up. Many people will be in 1906 attire as we’re holding the event on the eve of the 105th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake and firestorm. Who knows? Maybe they’ll turn up?
Q8. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the mood to sit down and write?
Ciji: A cup of tea by my side—but away from the keyboard, as I have twice tipped liquid into my laptop. Aaaarg!
Q9. What do you hope your readers get out of your books?
Ciji: I write to entertain and enlighten and I hope my readers, especially of the new one, A Race to Splendor, will come away from the book dazzled by the courage and moxie it took for these fabulous women to excavate and renovate a gorgeous beaux arts hotel in 1906-07! I also want them to revel in the story of a woman, Amelia Bradshaw (a composite character based on the lives of the people who worked with Julia Morgan restoring the Fairmont to its former splendor), who struggled with the same issues that many working women—and men—face: how to integrate their passion for what they do with the important “others” in their lives. Can they learn to balance love and work and responsibility? By what means are genuine partnerships between men and women forged so that everybody wins? These questions faced pioneers in any field, and they are central to what my latest book is all about. Plus, I want readers who don’t live in San Francisco to leave their hearts there when they close the book. Those of us who do inhabit this wonderful region have already lost ours….
Q10. If you could have readers finish a sentence what would it be?
Ciji: What makes me happiest in all the world is_______? (Not what you think should make you happy, but the thing or activity that makes your heart soar?)
Ciji enjoys hearing from readers at www.cijiware.com
Thank you for such an informative interview, Ciji.
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