Q&A with Kitty Zeldis
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Q & A With Kitty Zeldis
Hello everyone! For fans of historical fiction like I am, I am doing a Q&A with author Kitty Zeldis. Kitty’s novel The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, comes out on December 6th 2022 and it is available to pre-order now. The novel takes place in the 1920s New York and the characters are three very different women. Beatrice wants to open a dress shop. Beatrice’s teenage ward Alice feels left out when Beatrice befriends Catherine who is newly married longing for a baby she can’t have. Alice becomes so envious though that she runs away to Manhattan. Each woman will have to confront painful secrets of the past in order to achieve a happier future. The cover is gorgeous and the story sounds equally as good.
Q: What made you want to write about this specific topic?
A: This novel is made of two separate strands. The first has to do with my grandmother, a bitter, difficult woman whom I did not like and did not feel close to at all. She’d had a terrible and traumatic life, and it scarred her deeply. So I was very surprised that when she died— she lived to be 95; I was an adult when this happened—I was overcome with grief and regret. I began thinking about her early life in Russia and the things that shaped her and I wanted to write about it, as a way of giving her the understanding and compassion that I was unable to give her while she was alive. I used her backstory for Beatrice Carr, one of the protagonists and it was a profound experience for me, a kind of redemption even. The other strand came from my love for New Orleans, a city I was introduced to by my husband. From 1898 to 1917, prostitution was legal in NOLA, at least in a designated area known as The District. I read about the infamous blue books, which were essentially guides to all the brothels and the women who worked in them. And it was in reading about them that I learned that there had been Jewish prostitutes—that was news to me! I found myself wondering why and how these women had found their way into prostitution and being a novelist rather than a historian, I began to imagine my way into such a character and she started coming alive in my mind—a young Russian woman driven out of her homeland because of anti-Semitism who lands in New Orleans and becomes first a prostitute and then a madame, presiding over a large and opulent brothel. This is how I wove those two strands together though I must say for the record that my grandmother never set foot in New Orleans, much less went into that line of work!
Q: Have you always wanted to be a historical fiction writer?
A: When I was a child, I gravitated toward books written in decades or centuries in the past, like Anne of Green Gables, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and A Little Princess. But I never thought about writing a novel set in the past until I had the idea for Not Our Kind. That novel tells the story of Eleanor Moskowitz and Patricia Bellamy, the first Jewish and the other decidedly not. They were not destined to meet; Eleanor is the daughter of an immigrant mother who makes and sells hats in a shop on Second Avenue in New York City while Patricia is a Park Avenue matron who moves in very different circles. And yet they do meet, and have an enormous influence on each other’s lives. Since much of the story deals with anti-Semitism and the ways in which people who veer from the mainstream are “othered,” I knew that I wanted to step back in time and set the novel in the 1940’s, an era when these issues were sharpened and more clearly delineated. Once I did, I discovered how much I liked writing about the past and wanted to keep doing it.
Q: If you can spoil what topics would you like to write about in the future in the realm of historical fiction?
A: Without saying too much, I do have an idea for a novel which would be set, at least partially, in 18th century Amsterdam, and would involve a painter. It’s hard though—the further back in time you go, the less familiar you are with the period and more research you have to do.
Q: What were your favorite novels you read so far this year?
A: I read and loved The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s very sly and witty and I could not put it down. I’ve read several other novels too but nothing that I liked as much.
Q: What would be your advice to anyone wanting to become a writer? Especially those who want to write in your field of historical fiction?
A: The first thing is to keep writing! This sounds obvious but it is not. Even if you can just write a page a day, that’s more important than waiting until you have great stretches of time to allot to it. You need to keep your hand in, and to keep your writer muscles supple. I also think it’s great to take a writing course. Taking a course or workshop allows you to meet other aspiring writers, get good feedback for your work, and be held accountable. There are so many options for this, both virtual and in-person. As for writing historical fiction, pick a period you have some familiarity with, at least to start. Having that kind of knowledge will definitely make your job easier.
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to “The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights?” I could see this being the next The Guilded Age TV show or movie, even if I haven’t read your book yet—haha!
From your lips to you-know-whose ears! I would adore that, as most writers would. It’s a chance to reach a much wider audience and of course the financial rewards could be significant, if not life changing! I play a game (and I know other writers do this as well) of imagining which actors would assume the roles. For The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, I can see Anne Hathaway or Cate Blanchett in the role of Bea; either one would do a beautiful job.