Author Interview: Joseph P. Garland


JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Joseph. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

JPG- I live in Westchester County, which is just north of the Bronx. I grew up near where I live and have lived there and on Manhattan’s Upper West Side my entire life. My great non-writing life is running, which I’ve done since high school in the 70s. The perfect day? Sitting out on my sunporch and reading or writing.

JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

JPG- Between the Civil War and the outbreak of World War I. It was a period of remarkable change. For me, and for many Americans, it’s when my forebears came to the US. My poorer ones from Ireland. My well-off ones from northern Italy. As I was writing my first historical novel, I came upon, and had to deal with, more and more fundamental changes in daily life. Gas lights, toilets, transport of all kinds (from trans-Atlantic steamships to elevated trolleys). The explosive growth in cities, with the contrast between the fashionable society of The Age of Innocence and the abject poverty of How the Other Half Lives, the latter likely being far closer to my family’s experience on New York’s Lower East Side.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be?

JPG- Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens. Not so much for his writing as for his involvement in both the publishing—which at first did well and then collapsed—and the investing—which also went very badly in the end—sides. He went bankrupt and was able to pay off all his creditors. A fascinating guy. I’d simply want to sit out on a porch with a drink in the early evening of a not-too-hot/not-too-humid summer and ask him what he saw of the Industrial Revolution.

JMR- How did you come to be a writer of historical fiction?

JPG- I began writing contemporary romances, most of them set in and around where I’ve lived. I thought it would be interesting to write something set in New York at about the time some of my Irish ancestors came. So, I picked 1870, after the harshest point of the Famine—or the Hunger as some refer to it—but when most children had to leave for England or America when they turned 18.

Though other American cities received Irish immigrants, I focused on those who came to New York. These were the pre-Ellis Island days. I did a fair amount of research about the period. It was not long after the Civil War, and one of my novel’s wealthy families made much of its money selling leather goods to the Army in the war. It was also the beginning of both the Gilded Age with its tiers of society and of the Industrial Age. As to the latter, I had to figure when basic things came into play. Bathrooms and central plumbing. Gas lights. Communication. That was the most interesting thing.

JMR- Several of your main characters are women. What do you think is the hardest part of writing a female character?

JPG- Most of those who vet my stories are women. I get lots of feedback from them. I have to leave it to my readers to decide whether I do a good job at it. But crucial to my plots is a woman’s role in society. When we read Austen, say, with one exception I can think of—Elinor Dashwood—each heroine ends up marrying a wealthy man. Anne Elliot was persuaded not to, but for her Captain Wentworth made his fortune in the Napoleonic Wars.

Turning to Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence is set when Róisín Campbell (pronounced “roe-SHEEN”) and A Studio on Bleecker Street are. Thoughts of Wharton’s book were not conscious on my part, but because that is the period, The Age of Innocence provides a good contrast and in some situations I know exactly where some of my characters would have been in a scene in Wharton’s novel since they were physically in the same neighborhood.

I wanted a main character who was expected to marry well—to a man from the proper family at the proper level of New York society—in Róisín, the second Main Character, Elizabeth Geherty, ends up leaving it all behind for something else. It was more complicated than that, but several other characters in that book and in Studio consciously leave behind the life that’s expected of them.

JMR- Joseph, you are also a musician. Does your music influence your writing or vice versa?

JPG- I began writing songs. I tended to write ballads, and when I decided to write a story, I picked a song and expanded it. It took on a life of its own, and I’ve used several other songs as the starting point for stories.

Writing lyrics is useful for an author. You develop a rhythm of the language. Though you don’t rhyme in prose, you need to have rhythm. (I ended up self-publishing a book of my lyrics.)

JMR- Did you visit any one of the places in your book? Where did you feel closest to your characters?

JPG- Almost all my contemporaries are set in Manhattan and Westchester, where I’ve lived my entire life. New York City, of course, creates an instant image in the reader’s mind, so it helps me tell my stories.

My historicals, too, are chiefly set in New York City. It was a very different place, though, in the 1870s. So, research helped me describe certain places. In both those novels, the Mall in Central Park appears in important scenes, and I used my familiarity with it to flesh those scenes out somewhat. Both books also have important episodes in Berkshire County, in Western Massachusetts, that I know well, so that knowledge helped with those scenes, too.

JMR- Joseph, tell us about your new book, A Studio on Bleecker Street.

JPG- When I finished Róisín Campbell, I wanted to write something about its characters, see what became of them. I didn’t want a sequel, though. I picked an obscure line in the book—“Emily Connor, whose family was in similarly desperate straits [as were the Gehertys], had already decamped to Greenwich Village, moving in with an unmarried friend who had artistic aspirations”—and decided to use that line to start a separate book. So, A Studio on Bleecker Street begins while Róisín is going on, following one of the secondary characters in Róisín and adding a new one. Both of these were women in wealthy families and both set on courses (in one case largely forced upon her from her family’s financial setbacks) that ran against society’s expectations.

One (Clara Bowman) became an artist and the other (Emily Connor) was her great friend and favorite model. I built it so that the two of them were sitting having breakfast outside when the latter hands the former a newspaper article that reports on the final scene in Róisín. This reignites Emily’s wish to reconnect with Elizabeth and thus with Róisín, so we can find a bit of what happened to the main characters in Róisín Campbell after that story ends, but the focus is on the lives of Clara and Emily. (Clara, as an artist, had interactions with others who appeared in the first book to set up the reunion Emily would have with Róisín and Elizabeth.)

JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline?

JPG- I’ve just published a contemporary novel, I Am Alex Locus. It tells the story of a daughter’s discovery about her late mother’s life starting with stories her mother wrote that few people saw. Alex uses the patterns she picks up in her mother’s stories to begin a quest to learn all she can. The novel’s arc is from one reading at Barnes & Noble to another one two years later, with all manner of revelations—good and bad—in between. It’s literary fiction set chiefly in New York City.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

JPG-On Twitter, I’m @JPGarlandAuthor and on Facebook, though I don’t go there regularly, it is JPGarlandAuthor. My website is, Dermody being my father’s mother’s original surname. When her father died, she took her stepfather’s name, which was Campbell (though my use of the name was coincidental).

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

JPG- What’s the deal with your covers? John Singer Sargent, active around the turn of the twentieth century, was the foremost portrait painter in America and Europe. (He was born in Philadelphia but spent much of his life in Paris and London and Venice as well as New York.) I use his portraits for the covers of my books that are set in the Gilded Age. (He tired of painting portraits, but it paid very well. Perhaps his most important painting is entitled Gassed, a huge canvas showing soldiers in World War I.) To a very slight extent, Clara Bowman’s mentor in A Studio is modeled on Singer Sargent; she becomes a portraitist.

Joseph's books are available on Amazon 


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