May 15, 2011

After fifteen years as an archivist, I decided I wanted to turn some of the stories I’d uncovered in letters and diaries into novels.  My first novel, “Jackie by Josie”, was inspired by Teddy White’s Jackie interview.  I came up with the idea for my third novel, “Gatsby’s Girl,” after seeing the scrapbook F. Scott Fitzgerald kept about his first girlfriend who was the model for Daisy Buchanan.

In 2009 as I was casting about for the subject of my fourth novel, I realized I was frustrated by the conventional novel form.  I missed the visceral thrill of unfolding letters and flipping through old albums of my archival work. Then I had a sudden inspiration—why not create a novel that was a scrapbook?  Not a metaphorical or digital scrapbook, but a real scrapbook, made up of real stuff – letters, postcards, tickets, clippings, menus, fabric swatches, magazine covers, fashions spreads, candy wrappers, and sheet music – that I cut up with scissors and pasted together with glue.

Making a scrapbook novel turned out to be a ridiculously ambitious and multi-stepped project. First I made up a fictitious character—Frances Pratt, an 18 year-old aspiring writer, who journeys from a small New England village to Vassar, Greenwich Village, and the Left Bank of Paris in search of love and success.  Frankie’s story begins in 1920 and ends in 1928—those whiz-bang years when every aspect of American life was upended and reinvented.

The next step was to assemble Frankie’s scrapbook item by item—in all I collected over 600 pieces of original 1920’s ephemera.  Some I found in my own stash of vintage paper, the rest I tracked down and bought from dozens of antique stores and hundreds of eBay sellers.

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