Today we’re featuring a special guest post by Jill Morrow, author of Newport, on sale now! Following in the steps of Beatriz Williams and Amor Towles, this richly atmospheric, spellbinding novel transports readers to the dazzling, glamorous world of Newport during the Roaring Twenties and to a mansion filled with secrets as a debonair lawyer must separate truth from deception.
Spring 1921. The Great War is over, Prohibition is in full swing, the Depression still years away, and Newport, Rhode Island's glittering “summer cottages” are inhabited by the gloriously rich families who built them.
Attorney Adrian De la Noye is no stranger to Newport, having sheltered there during his misspent youth. Though he’d prefer to forget the place, he returns to revise the will of a well-heeled client. Bennett Chapman's offspring have the usual concerns about their father's much-younger fiancée. But when they learn of the old widower’s firm belief that his first late wife, who “communicates” via séance, has chosen the beautiful Catherine Walsh for him, they’re shocked. And for Adrian, encountering Catherine in the last place he saw her decades ago proves to be a far greater surprise.
Still, De la Noye is here to handle a will, and he fully intends to do so—just as soon as he unearths every last secret, otherworldly or not, about the Chapmans, Catherine Walsh . . . and his own very fraught history.
A skillful alchemy of social satire, dark humor, and finely drawn characters, Newport vividly brings to life the glitzy era of the 1920s.
Read on to learn more about how Jill chose the setting for her novel:
I’m writing this post from Newport, R.I., which seems very fitting to me. Now that my novel, Newport, has been released, this city and I will always have a connection. I like that. Each day, we all build blocks of our own personal history, and Newport has become permanently entwined with mine.
Location matters a great deal when writing historical fiction. In some instances there is no choice. Certain historical events happened in certain places, and there’s no changing that. But in my case, I had characters whose stories had flexibility in terms of setting. I wanted to choose a locale that would add the most color and texture, and Newport had it all. There were the mansions, of course, those opulent, jaw-dropping works of wonder that brought whole new meaning to the term “summer cottages.” Setting a novel in Newport provided an instant vision of wealth and privilege, plus I got the beauty of the ocean and the drama of the Cliff Walk and rocks along the shore. I couldn’t ask for more!
Choosing the right era mattered as well. I needed a time that would not only evoke images in readers’ minds, but would present a credible backdrop for the events which unfold in the book. In addition to Newport’s patina of fortune and entitlement (after all, the novel does involve rich people behaving badly), there is a subplot of séances and spiritualism. There are particular eras where this subplot makes the most sense, and 1921 fit that bill. Spiritualism enjoyed a great resurgence following the First World War and influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. Many people longed to contact those they’d lost so suddenly, and the popularity of séances reflected that. The 1920s also brought the glamour and allure of a shifting world. Nothing was quite as it had been before. From social stratification to morality, change was in the air, and that allowed my characters to take liberties that may not have been available to them in other eras.
In addition to enhancing the plot, the time and place needed to fit the characters as well. We are all reflective of the time in which we live, after all, and class and gender matter in Newport. There were differences between the “haves” and “have nots.” There were options available to men that were not available to women. The time period needed to support those elements of the story.
Once I chose Newport’s setting and era, the characters came alive. It was as if they’d just been waiting for the right canvas on which to paint their life stories … which makes me wonder if the choice of time and location was ever really mine at all.
I’m leaving Newport today, and I’ll miss it. Fortunately, I can crack open my copy of Newport whenever I’d like and revisit the history and beauty of a place that will forever be a part of me.