WomensHistoryReads interview: Sally Koslow

The next book from today's #WomensHistoryReads interviewee won't be out for another month, but it's probably already on your radar: ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE, the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald's romance with Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. The author bringing this story to life is Sally Koslow, and I'm delighted to bring you her thoughts on this new book, her taste in TV and movies, and some current favorite authors (with a clever angle to avoid, as she puts it, "sibling rivalry.")

 Sally Koslow

Sally Koslow

Greer: Who are some of your favorite authors working today?

Sally: One of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a novelist is making author-friends all over the United States. So to avoid sibling rivalry, I’m going to pick British authors I don’t know—but would love to meet: Jane Gardam, Tessa Hadley, Penelope Lively and Edward St. Aubyn. Each one is clever in that dry, wry English way, although their talents extend far beyond wit. I will add to the list one British-American whom I have met (major fan moment) because she’s in my cousin’s book club: Helen Simonson. It’s hard to find a more charming book than Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

Greer: Well-said! What movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Sally: Since I read a lot of fiction—contemporary, biographical historical, family sagas, classics, World War II-themed—as well as memoirs and biographies, it won’t surprise anyone that I like dramatic foreign television series such as "Babylon Berlin"a police procedural set in the Weimar Republic; "Un Village Francais", exploring the German Occupation of France, and "A Place to Call Home", a soapy but addictive Australian family saga that digs into homophobia and anti-Semitism in the 1950s. Readers might be surprised, however, that I love some fairly lowbrow movies, such as The Wedding Crashers and Groundhog Day. I’ve seen both dozens of times, though not nearly as often as Something’s Gotta Give, starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. I may have watched it 50 times. I especially relate to the scene where the Diane character, a playwright, is in the zone, pounding away on her laptop, with a big smile on her face. 

GreerWhat’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Sally: Another Side of Paradise, to be published by Harper on May 29, is my first biographical historical novel, and I’m thrilled by the experience of trying to bring real people to life: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, who were in love during the late 1930s in Hollywood.I am a lifelong admirer of Fitzgerald’s work, and he you surely know, but you may not be familiar with Sheilah. She was a high-spirited Englishwoman who fell in love with lonely Scott long after his dear Zelda had fallen ill and was living in a sanitarium. Sheilah literally re-invented herself. She was smart, resourceful, brashly independent, generous, kind, loving, gorgeous and complex, much like a Fitzgerald heroine, as well as a gossip columnist who could make or break a film career. She also was a muse and champion for Fitzgerald, inspiring him to begin The Last Tycoon, and had many secrets of the you-can’t-make-this-up variety. 

The early reviews include this from Kirkus: “The story of Sheilah and Scott's instant chemistry and their on-again, off-again, but always intense liaison is told with taste and sympathy for these deeply flawed characters… Koslow's writing is vibrant and colorful, and the denizens of Scott's world are ably summed up in a few pithy swipes…A stylish reiteration of a sad, oft-told tale.”

Greer: I'm reading it now (love those advance copies) and loving it. (And congrats on that amazing Kirkus review, a rare prize indeed!)

Sally: You have an incredible name, perfect for an author. Why can’t I be Greer Macallister, not Sally—so 1st grade reader—Koslow—“Cosmo?” I’d like to know, please, how you name your characters? 

Greer: Brief note first, that you should see how many ways people keep inventing to spell "Macallister"! And naming my characters is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. After not getting to name my main character for Girl in Disguise -- Kate Warne was the historical, real-life inspiration for my own Kate Warne -- I actually really struggled with naming the main character for Woman 99, which comes out in 2019. She was Anne, she was Phoebe, nothing sounded quite right. Then I was reading a collection of first-person essays by 19th-century women who had spent time in asylums, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of "The Yellow Wallpaper." And everything fell into place. Charlotte Smith was born. And I can't wait for everyone to meet her.

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