appearance at A Room of One's Own on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m. The resulting interview follows below.
The Daily Page: What made you decide to return to Lark and the characters from The Cape Ann?
Sullivan: When I first finished writing The Cape Ann, my husband read it and said he thought it deserved a sequel. I thought, I would like to do that. It felt like a luxury to go back and deal once again with characters that I had come to be very fond of.
Was it difficult to get back into that mindset?
I wrote Gardenias quite a few years ago. My then-publisher, Crown, and I had a disagreement over some important aspects of the book. They wanted me to remove some of the darker scenes -- and that made no sense to me at all. I think what they had hoped for was The Cape Ann only set in southern California. When it turned out to be a darker book, they were disappointed. Eventually I parted with them, because I didn't want to make that kind of change.
It was around that time that Bastard Out of Carolina was published, so maybe that still had not had an impact on the thinking of editors. But soon after that, people began to look at books about children quite differently.
You're originally from Minnesota but your bio says you did live in San Diego during World War II. Do you remember much?
We lived in San Diego for a couple of years. I was a little younger than Lark. I didn't want to be there -- I was like Lark in that regard -- I wanted to be back in Minnesota, but I have strong memories of how exciting it all was. When I was writing Gardenias, I was living in Los Angeles, so I would go down to San Diego and spend days in the library going through their old microfiche.
What challenges do you find in writing historical fiction?
I'm old enough, I remember these things -- for me it's not historical. In a sense, though, I think every book is historical. I was a history major, and the Depression was my favorite part of American history.
What do you enjoy about writing from the point of view of a young protagonist?
As profound as our feelings are as we get older, they're never as deep and sharp and lasting as our feelings are in childhood and adolescence. The things we remember with the greatest clarity -- and either sadness or happiness -- are those things from childhood.
I've always felt a great sympathy for children and adolescents because of the sharpness of their feelings in the moment, and how they often can't understand what they perceive as adult indifference to things. Maybe it's their vulnerability. That may be the magic word.
What does this story have to say to us in 2006?
I'm always afraid that people won't know about things that I've seen happen over my lifetime. One of those things is the huge, huge change in women's lives that World War II wrought -- much greater change than even the feminist movement. It affected so many women in so many different ways.
The same is true with the Depression. Every portion of history has its own drama. Young writers today, as they mature, will want to tell those who are too young to remember this period, what this was like, what the drama and the fear were like.
This is a book that many readers would pick up and not necessarily relate to feminism. What aspects of your writing do you see as specifically feminist?
All that women went through to get us the vote, before I was born, that had very little meaning for me as I was growing up. They were just names and I didn't understand what their struggle had been. So when I come across a book that relates to that, I'm always grateful to have an emotional connection.
I feel the same sense of responsibility toward readers today, with Gardenias, to show how women's lives changed during the war, when they went from not really being able to go out and get jobs outside the home to being almost forced to go out and take over men's jobs. I fear younger women losing a sense of urgency about maintaining women's rights. I fear complacency, and an unawareness about what so easily can be lost for women.
There's an invitation on the back cover of Gardenias saying you'll visit book groups. Do groups ever take you up on that?
I do go out to many book groups. In the last twenty years, I figure it to be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 book groups. I'm a morning writer, so in the evening, there is nothing to hold me down. If you've been working indoors most of the day, it's a great release to get out and talk with women. I meet great people that way and they are fabulous readers.
I think we live in an area of the country that's special in terms of readers. The Twin Cities area is one of the largest book-buying communities in the country and I know it's true where you are, too. I think the cold winters definitely play a part! People are more likely to take an armload of books home from the library. Whereas if they could play tennis year-round, it might not be quite so true.