Jennifer Laam is a special guest on my blog today to answer some questions about her latest historical novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, set in 1800s Russia. And to celebrate her fabulous book and kick off 2018, we’ve got a giveaway! To enter, you can comment on the Facebook contest post, or Retweet the contest post on Twitter. And if you don’t have an account, just comment here on the blog. This giveaway is open until Saturday, January 6th (US and Canada only, sorry).
Jennifer Laam’s latest is a beautiful, nuanced portrayal of a woman whose reputation through history hasn’t been kind. Natalya Goncharova, wife of famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, is often blamed for his death in a duel. The Lost Season of Love and Snow paints a more sympathetic, realistic depiction of her as a complex person caught between politics and personal relationships. Her romance with creative, rebellious Alexander is passionate and often turbulent, and their scenes together light up the pages, making it impossible to put down. I gladly fell for Natalya within the first few pages, when I immediately related to her feelings about needing to wear glasses – and how often do we get heroines, especially historical, who wear them? I found myself thinking about the characters and their emotions and actions long after I’d read to the visceral conclusion. Highly recommended!
What was your inspiration for The Lost Season of Love and Snow?
In 1837, Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin, died after a duel fought to defend his wife’s honor. For a long time, I knew Natalya Goncharova only as that beautiful wife, but I always wanted to understand her version of the events that led to her famous husband’s death.
A few years ago, I came across several references to Natalya in the novel Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith. Let’s just say the characters in the book aren’t kind to her. At one point, she is even called “Pushkin’s whore.” There’s something intriguing about a woman with a bad reputation and I decided the time had come to learn more about Natalya. Once I did, I knew I needed to tell her story.
On another level, I felt compelled to write this book because in my view, Natalya had been mistreated in older histories told largely by men. For example, she is sometimes “accused” of being the tsar’s mistress. First of all, there is no evidence of this. Natalya may have been charming to the tsar, but if the tsar flirts with you, are you really in a position not to flirt back? Like so many women before and after her, Natalya was under tremendous pressure to please men – to be attractive and charming. And then, perversely, she was condemned for fulfilling those same expectations.
Alexander Pushkin is – very intriguingly – described as Russia’s ‘most lauded rebel poet’. Did you read much of his work while writing the novel? What poem would you recommend to others just discovering him?
While researching this book, I had the pleasure of reading several of Pushkin’s love poems. His writing definitely influenced the way I depicted Alexander and Natalya’s amorous relationship. Even though it wasn’t written for Natalya, my favorite poem is “I Loved You,” a perfect expression of enduring romantic adoration. For readers interested in Pushkin, I would also recommend two works I reference frequently in The Lost Season of Love and Snow. Eugene Onegin or Evgeny Onegin features a memorable heroine and what in retrospect seems like a prophetic duel. I also enjoy Pushkin’s epic poem The Bronze Horseman, which animates both the great flood of 1824 and St. Petersburg’s famous statue of Peter the Great and his horse.
Your novel brings Natalya Goncharova’s side of the story to life, giving the reader a sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of her. What three words would you use to describe Natalya’s character?
First and foremost, Natalya was a true romantic and passionately in love with Alexander. Their relationship is the heart of my story. At the same time, she had a romantic view of the world overall, and this drew her to the beauty of the imperial court, despite the dangers that lurked therein. Secondly, Natalya was resourceful. While in a near constant struggle to stay afloat financially, she experienced the pressures incumbent in being a famous writer’s wife, expected to partake of the social life of tsarist Russia. She balanced these competing demands admirably. Finally, the way Natalya handled herself during the scandal that surrounded the duel and in the aftermath of her husband’s death speaks to her great resilience. She made a life for herself both in her marriage and afterward, even in the face of the great limitations placed on nineteenth-century women.
Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on this novel?
A challenge in writing historical fiction is trying to imaginatively recreate a past world. My travel budget is limited, but I’m fortunate to have wonderful local resources at my disposal, most notably the UC Davis Shields Library, which has shelves of book devoted to Alexander Pushkin. One of the pleasant surprises in writing this novel was discovering that Pushkin wrote Mozart and Salieri, the basis for the play and film Amadeus, one of my all-time favorites.
What was your favourite scene to write?
I loved writing the scenes between Natalya and her sister, Ekaterina, particularly in the first chapter when they attend the dance master’s ball. I don’t have a sister myself, but I find the dynamics of love and rivalry between sisters fascinating. And I have to admit, it was fun to let them say the nastiest things to one another.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?
The early chapters of The Lost Season of Love and Snow were written quickly and I felt so compelled to tell Natalya’s story that I truly could write anywhere and anytime. Once I was under contract, though, I knew I needed to keep myself on a strict schedule to meet my deadline. I finished the remaining chapters by working two hours each morning before my day job began, and in longer stretches on weekends.
When not under contract, I’m not someone who can stick to writing every day. I need days off to refuel. Still, I try to make my writing time a high priority, even when life gets hectic. Sometimes this means writing just a few hours each week, but at least I’m sticking with it.
If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you recommend?
Champagne! I was tempted to say a White Russian or another thematic cocktail, but champagne is meant for celebration. Alexander and Natalya’s relationship represents principles worthy of celebration: love, devotion, passion, intellectual curiosity, and creative energy.
How can we stay updated on your book news?
Thanks for asking!
Facebook: Jennifer Laam
From the book jacket:
The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.
At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imagination—the compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love.
Jennifer Laam is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow, all from St. Martin’s Griffin. She is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management. Jennifer has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, and currently resides in California’s Central Valley. When she is not busy writing or reading, Jennifer spends her time obsessing over cosplay, trying new vegetarian recipes, line dancing, and spoiling cats. She works for her alma mater, University of the Pacific.