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Author Interview: JF Collen

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with JF Collen, the author of Flirtation on the Hudson (Journey of Cornelia Rose)

FQ: I cannot express enough what a treasure this story is. Clearly, your writing depicts many ‘in the moment’ passages. Did you find yourself writing the scenes as though you were the character living the scene? If so, what passage stands out most to you with such an experience?

COLLEN: Thank you! That is so gratifying to hear!

I lived this story, more than I wrote it. Sometimes I was amazed at what the characters I created wanted to do! It is hard to pick which passages are my favorites. I love to dance, and as a teenager went to many dances, including at West Point. (The cotillions evolved into ‘Hops’ which evolved into Saturday night dances.) I danced right along with Nellie, through her first gaff with the overly predatory Romeo to the shin-kicking Elmer, to the magic of dancing with Baker.

FQ: I too have a voracious appetite for history. What resonated for me while reading this book is the rich texture you surround your scenes with in that I could picture the Hudson nearly frozen in the dead of winter or the trips to West Point and the giggling debutants giddy with having their dance cards filled. Are you a native New Yorker? Hudson River Valley? If so, what is your favorite pastime in such a lovely place?

COLLEN: I am a native New Yorker! I was born in Manhattan. I love to go for walks along the Hudson River, and through the many river towns. History is everywhere—in sidewalk cracks in the city, the monuments in the river towns, and the broken oyster shells discarded in the 1700’s that are part of every bit of the five boroughs and Westchester. Every landscape, from wooded walks, where Bald Eagles can still be glimpsed, to village streets dotted with buildings from the 1850’s, inspires my imagination and hints at the many stories that unfolded in these locations.

FQ: I got a chuckle out of your bio in the last line where it is written: ‘Much to her husband’s dismay, they still live in New York.’ Where would he rather be and why?

COLLEN: He is a New Englander – far more passionate about the scenery in any of those six states than anywhere in New York!

FQ: It was interesting how you married the past with the present in many situations. There was a scene where Nellie finds herself in a pickle she may not have gotten out of with an overzealous suitor. Yet, you tastefully played the encounter out with gentle strokes of a more innocent time. Was there a vast amount of research in developing this body of work to capture the scene appropriate to the period?

COLLEN: Yes – the mentality of that time period is (thankfully) so different from today. Women were subordinate to men, which is horrible enough in its own right, but the poison of that social structure permeated society in ways far more insidious. In a ‘he said, she said’ situation, no one would believe a woman. We had few rights. Men held all the authority – and thus were more credible, in addition to garnering more respect. Woman’s voices were not silenced – they were never given voice in the first place. The only way women held sway was in the role Madam Calhoun commands, grand dame of family etiquette.

FQ: You mention only one of your parents have a sense of humor. Did this facilitate in developing the dynamics of Nellie’s parents; particularly her mother?

COLLEN: It did! I must confess I borrowed some character traits of some of the people I have encountered in my life and embodied them in the fictitious characters.

FQ: In line with the last question, are any of the characters closely related to real people you know? If so, has he or she figured it out? What was his/her reaction?

COLLEN: I confess some of Nellie’s worst traits were borrowed from my own personality! Other than that, I don’t believe any character is closely related to an actual person I know. It is so fun creating characters! I was free to combine different personality traits that intrigued me and create characters that seemed to come alive and tell me what was going to happen.

FQ: I enjoyed reading that you choose to use your storytelling for good instead of evil. This notion resonates throughout. I’m curious, however, how difficult was it to strike such a great balance in this premise throughout this story? You did a fantastic job of doing just that.

COLLEN: Thank you, I believe that is what every author hopes to achieve. There are so many stories of the people who came before us that are waiting to be told. I never enjoyed studying history in school until I took a seminar at Boston College where we did not read textbooks and study dates, but rather read literature created at the time—about the time period. I want to share this love of history with other readers. Characters throughout time have been motivated by the same needs and wants that ‘make us tick’ now. I believe the glass of life holds the same amount of water whether you dwell on the ‘half full’ part or the part that is ‘half empty.’  It is my constant goal to view people as sympathetic and in the best light possible, eliciting their best qualities, rather than focusing on the negative, both in life and in writing fiction.

FQ: Was there ever a time when the flow of your story stalled? What would you do to get back on track?

COLLEN: I am not a linear thinker. So, any time I got stuck, I would immerse myself in one of my many other jobs – lawyer, mother, grandmother, or turn to hobbies - gardener, trampoline jumper, body surfer, and open my mind to whatever ideas I received. Sometimes it would be situational – something I was part of, overheard, or read about, and I would realize this was a conflict my characters could experience. Or I would take a field trip to an historical site and picture my characters there. It was fun, figuring out how they would have arrived at that spot! I also read many good books on various aspects of the history of this time period and used this research as the backdrop for my character’s interactions.

FQ: You’ve traveled to many historical places around the world. If asked to choose one place, where would that be and why does it stand out among all the others?

COLLEN: I am not sure – there are so many wonderful places. I think it would be a seaport or somewhere with water, since the rivers and oceans were the highways of old and history was written on the seas and along the banks. I love New York City – there is so much history there I feel I could live near there the rest of my life and still not learn it all. But I could say the same for London, Paris, or Rome...

FQ: I want to thank you for your time today. I’m thrilled Flirtation on the Hudson is the first in your Journey of Cornelia Rose series. I look forward to the next, Pioneer Passage.When can we expect its release and are you able to tease us with a sneak peek?

COLLEN: Pioneer Passage will be released in the first week of December of this year. We are almost finished with our last edits.

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