W elcome to Renee Rosen, whose latest novel Dollface was an Editor's Choice in February's Historical Novels Review (!!). I reviewed Dollface in last week's blog and it's a delight to share some of Renee's experiences and advice this week.
JC: Your latest book, Dollface, is set in 1920’s Chicago, a time that provides an author with rich material. What insights into this era did you want to give readers that they may not have known from all those Hollywood movies?
Renee: Hollywood typically focuses on the men of this era and I wanted to explore what it meant to be a young woman during the ‘20s. I wanted to show both the glamour and the grit of this era. It was such a liberating time for women, especially young women striving for independence. For the first time women we’re living on their own, working and supporting themselves. They were pushing boundaries and challenging conventions, which shocked the general public. I’m convinced that women bobbing their hair and wearing lip rouge was the equivalent of today’s twerking.
JC: In a previous interview, you said that you switched the focus of the story from the gangsters to their women. I’m so glad you did! What opportunities did the female POV open up for your writing?
Renee: Shifting the novel from a traditional gangster tale to a female driven story opened up a world of possibilities for me. The female characters really started to come alive. Suddenly they took on much more interesting roles and found themselves tangled up in everything from bootlegging to murder. Letting the women take center stage allowed them to become bolder, stronger, more colorful and ultimately, more fully developed characters.
JC: You’ve been a professional copywriter. When you embarked on your career as a novelist, did any of that experience help you? Did you have to unlearn anything?
Renee: Great question! When you write for a living—whether it’s advertising copy or novels—you have to expect criticism and feedback. As a copywriter, there wasn’t a headline, a TV spot or print ad that didn’t undergo the scrutiny of the account team and the clients. Revisions were routine and as a result, I’m very comfortable with that phase of writing. Editing is my favorite part of the process. Revisions can make or break or break a book and I never take criticism personally.
As for things I had to unlearn…when you’re selling a product or service you have to cram all the product benefits and attributes in right away. The name of the game is to hit the consumer over the head with it. In a novel (or at least in the three that I’ve written) you need to slow down and let the story unfold more organically. It’s a real switch in perspective.
JC: Dollface is your second novel and very different from your first one, Every Crooked Pot. How has your approach/process changed between these books?
Renee: The biggest difference between these two books is that Every Crooked Pot was autobiographical whereas Dollface was pure fiction. Every Crooked Pot involved reaching back into a lot of childhood memories and Dollface relied on intensive research. Structurally, the two books are very different as well, in that Every Crooked Pot was entirely character driven whereas Dollface is much more plot driven.
JC: What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you, or that you had paid more attention to, when you first started writing novels?
Renee: I wish I’d approached my research a little more systematically. Honestly, I really didn’t know what I was doing and in the beginning there was NO method to the madness. I went to the Harold Washington Library one day and just jumped in and started reading through newspaper clippings and searching through microfilm. Later when I started writing, I couldn’t remember where I’d found certain facts and basically had to go back and research the same items all over again.
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