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Picturing a World

Veteran

In Manet's potent Rue Mosnier, the flags are hung out to celebrate France's repayment of war reparations to Germany. The one-legged man who hobbles down the empty street has paid a different price for the Franco-Prussian War. The painting moved me, and I translated it obliquely into the scene where Edward shares a glass of brandy with a veteran. Later, he finds it impossible to put into words why the chance meeting mattered to him, but it did. Likewise, I find it impossible to put into words why the scene matters to me, but it does. I lived in fear that a reader or editor would call for it to be cut. Thank goodness, it went uncontested. Read More 
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Mauveine

Who knew that a purple pigment led to the development of aspirin? Simon Garfield’s fascinating book, Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, tells the story of William Henry Perkin’s discovery of the first synthetic carbon-based dye. The ability to mass produce paints, textile dyes, and drugs with stable chemical properties revolutionized industries, including fashion.

As I investigated the 1870s, I was struck again and again by how much in the modern world stems from the mid 19thC—artificial lighting, department stores, photography, railroads. And thematically, nothing could have suited my purposes better than the intersection of chemistry, color, and pharmaceuticals. Dyes and pharmaceuticals give Theodore an argument for persuading Edward to go to Europe; the chemistry involved quickens Edward's mind; and color gives him a connection to Jeanette's world. Read More 
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O Tannenbaum

On Christmas Eve in Cincinnati, the German Murers would have decorated a table-top tree like the one in this illustration from an 1866 collection, Christmas Poems and Pictures. In 1866, the year after the American Civil War ended, Edward was in no shape to enjoy family festivities; but by the time he spends the holiday in Freiburg-im-Breisgau in the winter of 1878, his German cousins’ celebrations bring childhood memories back to life for him.

May your holidays be filled with joy, good books under the tree, and the makings of happy memories for years to come! Read More 
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Steep hill in Cincinnati

I’ve been to Poughkeepsie, I’ve been to New York, I’ve been Paris—but never to Cincinnati. Old maps, photos, and drawings in 19th C guide books helped me visualize Edward’s city up to a point. What made me feel the place in my muscles were some drawings of hillsides and public stairs in a 1968 book called Cincinnati Scenes by Caroline Williams. This was crucial for imagining Edward’s climb to Theodore’s house on Mount Auburn after the mugger’s attack. A photograph of the steps from Dorchester Street to Sycamore Hill gives you an idea of how steep those hills really are. (And don't you love how the man at the bottom of the stairs echoes the man on the bridge on the cover?) Read More 
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Edward

Can you imagine how astonishing it was to come across this profound, brooding portrait? Here was Edward! Other images told me a lot about what places looked like, how people comported themselves, what they wore. This one enabled me to probe deeper into how my own character felt—what he knew, what he regretted, what he found himself unable to resolve, understand, or forget.
In the latter part of the novel, Jeanette’s teacher, Carolus-Duran, remarks that Edward is a type that interests him. When I wrote that, I had in mind this painting by him, which some people believe to be a self-portrait. Read More 
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