Q&A: Susan May Warren (Duchess)
Best-selling Susan May Warren brings what she considers to be her most ambitious series yet to a dramatic close in her latest release, Duchess (Summerside Press). The Daughters of Fortune series is an epic generational series following the family of New York newspaper magnate August Price from the Gilded Age to the end of World War II. Each generation of Price women must navigate love and ambition in a world of wealth, power and social expectation.
In this final installment, Duchess, readers pick up the story of Rosie Worth, who has achieved her dream of becoming a starlet and is now known as Roxy Price. The golden age of Hollywood is in the business of creating stars, and Roxy has found everything she’s wanted in the glamor of the silver screen. With adoring fans and a studio-mogul husband, she’s finally silenced the voices — and grief — of the past. Her future shines bright, that is until the fated Black Friday when it all comes crashing down.
Q: Each story in the Daughters of
Fortune series carries with it a parable or moral lesson, more subtle to some
readers than others. What is the message you hope your audience will take away
I really feel for Rosie in this story. By now, she’s had her heart broken by her father, lost her true love, given up so much of herself, and she comes into this story hoping that finally, she’ll find a future. She believes if her audience loves her that will fill up all her broken, hollow places. But it isn’t until she is able to take her eyes off herself that discovers true happiness. I believe so many people are thirsty for love, for the hope that God shows them, and that He will fix their broken hearts. He will, and Duchess is the proof of this truth, through Rosie’s life.
Q: In what ways does the series
come full circle by the end of Duchess?
Oh, I can’t give away any spoilers! But I love this story because the things lost or broken in books one and two are revisited—and in many ways healed. Most of all, Rosie and the rest of the Daughters of Fortune discover God had a plan in it all, from the beginning. I based this story on Jacob and Esau, and then Joseph and Benjamin, and very much on, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” This truth is played out in the final chapters of Duchess.
Q: This is a little bit of a
spoiler, but do any of the Price women find the real love and true happiness
they have been searching out?
Yes. Of course. It’s a Susan May Warren novel! But it might be a different kind of happiness than they imagined.
Q: In Duchess, the
characters live through events such as Black Friday and the aftermath of the
Night of Broken Glass. Could you share a little bit of the history behind both
of these dates and how they impacted your characters?
Black Friday is briefly touched on in the beginning of the first section of the novel — it shaped the fates of so many wealthy people who believed their worth was found in their wealth. When they lost it, they lost their identity. Rosie is affected by this, and she has to discover who she is, also, after this terrible event. It’s part of her journey — stripping away of who she believes she is to discover something more.
The Night of the Broken Glass was the official beginning of the Nazi pogroms to destroy the Jewish population. Many people believe it was planned long before it happened, and the Nazis were simply waiting for a suitable moment to enact it. As it was, it started with the assassination of a German diplomat in Switzerland by a Jewish man (some say he was framed), and it rippled throughout Europe in an attack on all Jews. Through Austria and Germany, Jews were ousted from their homes and places of business, made to watch helplessly on as they were destroyed. Those who resisted were beaten, and the worst was their fellow man stood by and watched, or participated. Those who tried to help were also beaten and arrested.
I built this moment in as an opportunity for Rosie to look beyond herself—and really invest in the lives of others. It’s a watershed moment for her that is used in the final part of her journey. I hope she pays attention!
Q: What are some of the most
interesting things you learned about 1930s Hollywood while writing Duchess?
Where do I start? The most fascinating piece was the making of movie stars and how they were groomed by the studios. The studio had a machine, and they put actors and actresses through it in a grueling transformation — including the kind that made Jean Harlowe’s blonde hair fall out! Also, it was news to me that actors and actresses were signed onto a studio via a term contract — and paid per week, not per movie. If they decided to quit, their pay was held back until they agreed to come back to work. And they could be loaned out to other studios.
So, let’s say Jean Harlow (the first bombshell) signed a contract with Warner Brothers for $1000/week. She could be loaned out to MGM for $3000/week and never see a dime of this. This is why United Artists was formed by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith — so they could control their own destinies. The studio controlled everything, including who they dated, their publicity schedule and what they wore. Their lives were not their own. Not that they suffered. Movie stars, even more than now, were considered American royalty.
Q: Which do you enjoy writing more,
historical or contemporary novels?
Oh, I love them both, but historicals require more research — and I love research! I love to dive into the period and learn all I can about every aspect of it. So, the writing is more fascinating with a historical.
Q: What kind of “crazy things” do
you do while you are writing a historical novel?
I wear period clothing (especially shoes). I play period music. I watch movies and read books set in the era, and attempt to read books set in the era. For example, I read Emily Post’s etiquette book for Heiress and read the tabloids of the times for Duchess.
Q: You encourage authors always to
visit — in person or virtually — the locations where the book takes place. Are
there any places you’ve been unable to get to that you would like to visit one
day? Do you have any trips planned?
I was able to visit Hollywood for my research for Duchess—and of course New York and Montana for Heiress. I wasn’t able to fit in a trip to Paris for Baroness. However, I’m taking that trip in April, and I can’t wait to see the places I researched and dreamed about! I think I’ll bring the book with me!