Today we're sharing a guest post by Meredith Jaeger, author of The Dressmaker's Dowry, available in trade paperback now!
About the Book:
For readers of Lucinda Riley, Sarah Jio, or Susan Meissner, this gripping historical debut novel tells the story of two women: one, an immigrant seamstress who disappears from San Francisco’s gritty streets in 1876, and the other, a young woman in present day who must delve into the secrets of her husband’s wealthy family only to discover that she and the missing dressmaker might be connected in unexpected ways.
An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom...
San Francisco: 1876
Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O'Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city's most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna's future is altered forever. With Margaret's encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision...one that will echo through the generations.
San Francisco: Present Day
In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?
From the Author:
The Dressmaker’s Dowry is not the first novel I have ever written. In my twenties, I attempted to write books like the authors I loved: Emily Giffin, Helen Fielding, Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes. I read their stories when I was in college, pursuing my literature major. Compared to Chaucer, they were so much more fun.
By 2013, after two failed women’s fiction manuscripts and countless literary agent rejections, I decided to try something new. For years, I’ve kept a daily gratitude journal. In addition to writing down things I am grateful for, I write down my desires and dreams. On July 17th I wrote, “I will be inspired to write a historical novel from my heart, better than previous ones. Writing it will be fun and exciting. I will publish it.”
My favorite books that year were Sarah Jio’s Blackberry Winter, Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, and Tara Conklin’s The House Girl. I desired to write a plot-driven dual narrative with a present-day story and a historical story, but I was afraid to dip my toes into unfamiliar waters.
On my Greek honeymoon, I decided to take the plunge. I had been working crazy hours for a San Francisco startup, and I finally had the time and space to create. In a little leather notebook, overlooking the Aegean Sea on the island of Mykonos, I put pen to paper and The Dressmaker’s Dowry began to take shape.
I thought back to the week before my twenty-ninth birthday, when my husband proposed to me with a beautiful heirloom ring, a delicate cluster of diamonds from 1903. He told me the ring had belonged to his great-aunt Peg.
Looking out at the ocean, I asked myself: What if I didn’t know whom this ring had once belonged to? What if there was a creepy story behind it?
With that idea, I had my modern-day character, Sarah, a San Francisco writer in possession of an incredible heirloom ring, a 3-carat emerald surrounded by diamonds.
Working for a startup, I constantly overheard conversations about new apps and series C funding. San Francisco transplants seemed to only recognize the city for Twitter, AirBnB, SalesForce and the other tech giants that had set up shop. I wanted to paint a picture of San Francisco’s wild and storied past—a time when there were opium dens and brothels dotting the streets of the Financial District instead of Starbucks.
I’ve always been fascinated by Victorian architecture, and the photojournalism of Jacob Riis. I’m drawn to the gritty, dark underbelly of cities, and to the urban immigrant experience. Diving into the past, I chose the year 1876. My character Hannelore would be a young German immigrant in search of a better life.
My father immigrated to America from Switzerland in the 1960s. He loved the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which reminded him of home. As a young man new to California, he panned for gold in the Feather River, seeking adventure. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in business at UC Berkeley, where he met my mother. Thanks to my parents, I grew up in the beautiful Bay Area, across the water from San Francisco.
I wanted to honor my father, and my great-grandparents on my mother’s side, who immigrated to America from Poland. Hanna’s story is the story of America: hardworking families coming to the United States to create a brighter future for their children.
Unfortunately, Hanna doesn’t have an easy time in 1876 San Francisco. She struggles to put food on the table for her siblings, while trying to avoid her abusive father. Then her best friend Margaret, an Irish immigrant, disappears. With the help of wealthy Lucas Havensworth, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision that will echo through generations.
Weaving Sarah and Hanna’s stories together, my heart’s desire came true. Writing The Dressmaker’s Dowry was fun and exciting. And I published it!