Happy Sunday, friends! First of all, I need to apologize−I’ve been away from my blog (and newsletter, if you read those too) for a couple months now, which means I’ve missed my Sunday Dishes with you. The end of school crush plus a handful of life’s curve balls have pulled me away from my routines lately. The interview I have for you today, featuring author Joy Callaway, was supposed to post at the end of May, but for some reason, technology failed me and it didn’t post when it should have. I’m here to correct that though!
This is such a fun interview, largely because Joy is such a fun person with an infectious spark of energy! Her latest novel, The Grand Design, features famed designer Dorothy Draper and her struggles to surpass the bounds of society and the rules in place for women. All Joy’s books showcase women working to rise above their prescribed positions, and this story has the added benefit of being set at the beautiful Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. If you want to know more about Joy, you can find her at her website or on Instagram.
»» Give us a quick overview of the books you’ve written.
JC: THE GRAND DESIGN – Set at The Greenbrier Resort in 1908 and 1946, the book centers on Dorothy Draper, about how the resort and a love she found there as a young Gilded Age debutante influenced her bold shift from illustrious New York socialite to world-renowned decorator.
SECRET SISTERS – Based on the start of the country’s first sororities, the book follows Beth, a medical school student at fictional Whitsitt College and her friends as they band together to defy the odds and accomplish their dreams.
What many don’t know is that sorority women pioneered the way for so many of us in nearly every profession! Back in the 1880s, only 2% of women went to college – for one, it was expensive, for two, the medical truths of the day stated that if you thought too hard the blood would shift from your ovaries to your brain, dry you up, and you’d never have children. So, it was necessary for the few women on campus to support each other and that’s how sororities started.
THE FIFTH AVENUE ARTISTS SOCIETY – Set in the Gilded Age Bronx, this book centers on Ginny, a writer, and her four artistic siblings (concert pianist, artist, milliner, teacher) who get inducted into The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (a glitzy Parisian-like salon). This story is based on the real life account of my great-great grandmother and her family.
»» What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received on your work, either as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback?
JC: I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re looking for, but the best method of criticism was for sure the edit letter from our shared editor, Kimberly Carlton. Not only does she give great advice, but she also asks a lot of questions. Those questions really helped me deepen The Grand Design!
»» Funniest thing that’s happened during a book signing or book tour?
JC: I ALWAYS talk about the Costco signings I did with The Fifth Avenue Artists Society. They were hilarious. In the course of an hour, one person told me their detailed story about how they knew mermaids were real and had “seen them with their own eyes” and another person pitched me (as if I was a publisher) a memoir about being taken up into a UFO.
Other than Costco, my signings have been pretty normal. There was one signing where a guy tried to barter with me and trade me some fountain pens for a copy of my book, but otherwise typical fun book events!
»» Did you always know you wanted to be an author? Or was there a specific idea or event that spurred your desire?
JC: When I was little, I used to write magazines about historical topics that interested me (clearly, I was very cool! haha) and sell them door-to-door in my neighborhood. I was always reading a story or writing a story. But when I got older, I stopped writing fiction and stepped into the public relations world. Looking back, I think I truly forgot that writing books was a career option. The one thing that never stopped, however, was reading. I read all the time. One summer I read an extraordinary amount of books and suddenly realized that I might want to try to write one. That first book was two books too long and included about all of the publishing no-nos you can think of, but after that first try, I was hooked.
»» Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
JC: I always start a book with a few months of research. Then, at some point, I’ll get out a legal pad and bullet point the whole plot. When I finally get into drafting, I’ll write every weekday, so it’s usually very routine.
»» Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
JC: TONS. I get a lot of my ideas from my family history–I think it really helps the characters come to life for me. My next book, out in 2023, is actually based on my great-great-grandma and her family who ran the largest plant nursery in the Northeast during the Gilded Age. They sourced to such notables as Olmsted and Vaux and imported plants from all over the world. Her brother was the chief horticulturist for Henry Flagler for The Breakers and the Ponce de Leon.
I’d love to write a story about my great-grandfather who was born on a shantyboat on the Kanawha River in West Virginia and who went on to graduate from Cornell and Johns Hopkins and then return to West Virginia as a coal mining doctor to serve his community when he could’ve gone about anywhere else.
I’d love to write a story set here in Charlotte, NC during WWI. They had a huge army training camp here that is mostly forgotten about.
»» Assuming all writers are also avid readers, what’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book to read? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
JC: The most memorable place for my family is likely the time we rented a boat to go island hopping to remote/uninhabited islands in the Bahamas when I was in high school. Everyone was in awe over the beauty of each island and having fun swimming and exploring. I was on the boat reading Gone With the Wind. I finished it the next day and intentionally didn’t start another book the remainder of the trip so I could hang out with the family.
»» What books are on your bedside table right now? (Or in your bag, your car, or wherever you keep your current reads.)
JC: Some books I just finished! The Liz Taylor Ring by Brenda Janowitz and Something Good by Vanessa Miller. ADORED them both!
»» What are your pet peeves as a reader?
JC: These aren’t exactly pet peeves, but definitely no-gos for me–anything scary, horribly sad, or violent. I’m a wimp and all of that lingers around with me! Also, written accents–unless you’re Diana Gabaldon (I can read your accents all day, Diana!).
»» Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
JC: Paper! I’m old school in so so many ways (you know about my flip phone, Lauren!).
»» Favorite ice cream flavor?
JC: I have celiac disease and it cross reacts with dairy, so no ice cream for me (SO SAD), but back when I could have it, my favorite was a peanut butter oreo milkshake from Cookout.
»» Coffee or tea? Or something else?
JC: No offense to tea, but coffee coffee coffee! Haha.
»» If you can, tell us what you’re working on now.
JC: All The Pretty Places is based on the true story of my great-great grandmother, Sadie Fremd. The book is set following the Panic of 1893 in Rye, New York, primarily at the family’s Rye Nurseries—the largest nursery business in the Northeast who sourced to such notables as Olmsted and Vaux—about how the crisis and her ardent love of horticulture caused her to realize that natural beauty was a balm only truly afforded the Gilded Age elite and how striving to become the first businesswoman in her town might help correct that.
Thank you so much, Joy! What a fun interview–thanks for sharing your stories with us! And thank you for reading. Happy Sunday to you, and wherever you are, I hope you’re staying cool. (It’s HOT here in Alabama.)