Interview with Best-Selling Author, Kristen Harnisch

author KHKristen Harnisch is back with me today to talk with me about her book, The California Wife.  Internationally published, Kristen drew upon her extensive research and her experiences living in San Francisco and visiting the Loire Valley and Paris to create the stories for THE CALIFORNIA WIFE and her first novel, THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and three children.

Welcome back to Layered Pages, Kristen and thank you for chatting with me today about your book The California Wife. Please tell me about your story.

Thanks so much for inviting me back! The California Wife is the stand-alone sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter, and tells the story of a Franco-American winemaking family at the turn of the twentieth century. In The California Wife, the Lemieux family strives to establish an American winemaking dynasty. Sara and Philippe’s ambitions carry them from pastoral Napa to the Paris World’s Fair and into the colorful heart of early 20th-century San Francisco. Marie Chevreau, the midwife, returns just when Sara needs a friend. Marie enrolls as the first female surgical candidate at the prestigious Cooper Medical College in San Francisco. The California Wife is rich with intrigue and drama, and culminates in San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

The majority of my characters are earnest and action-oriented. This keeps the story moving at a quick pace. Back in the nineteenth century, the average life expectancy was below fifty years of age and there wasn’t a great deal of time for self-reflection. My characters know they have a short time to realize their ambitions with their God-given talents. They are hardworking—pioneers in American winemaking and medicine—but equally passionate about their relationships because they know that their time is finite.

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What are Sara’s weaknesses and strengths?

Sara is a determined character, but she can be single-minded to a fault! She has suffered through the loss of two beloved family members and has worked tirelessly to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. These struggles have contributed to her determination to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. However, Sara is young and doesn’t have the business or relationship experience that Philippe has acquired and she’s so focused on her own family and farm in Vouvray that she often fails to see the big picture. In The California Wife, Sara is challenged by circumstance to grow and mature.

What is some of the research you did for your story?

For The California Wife, I continued my research in the vineyards of Napa, touring wineries like Hess, Beringer and Bouchaine, and sampling the wines of the area. Winemakers, historians and wine experts all reviewed the manuscript to ensure that I was accurately portraying Napa vineyard life from 1897 to 1906. Old photographs of Napa City, San Francisco and articles from trade papers, like The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, offered insights into the layout of the downtown area, the damage from the earthquake and fire, the wine price wars and life in general back then. For example, in Chapter 8, the characters attend a grand party in Asti at the Italian Swiss Colony. Here, on two thousand acres of land, the Italian-Swiss immigrants cultivated all kinds of fruits and in May of 1898 invited over two hundred fellow winemakers and San Francisco notables to attend a party inside a gigantic underground wine cistern that they’d just emptied of Chianti. This actually happened, and it was so much fun to discover a full account of the event while conducting my research!

What fascinates you most about the period you write in?

Where do I begin? By 1900, after suffering through the devastation of the vines from the phylloxera louse, California vintners were determined to protect and bolster their wine industry. They made scientific innovations in grape growing and winemaking—and invented creative ways to brand their wines to compete with the Europeans. In the late 1800s, women traded in their kitchen chores for important roles in their family businesses or factories. They marched for better working conditions, fair wages, equal opportunity and the right to have individual bank accounts. Temperance advocates, who favored the prohibition of alcohol, were the early driving force behind the suffrage movement. In The California Wife, this creates trouble for Sara, who is a winemaker and women’s rights supporter. These are just a few of the economic/cultural shifts during this era that I explore in my novels!

Define your writing style.

My agent likes to describe my writing style as “literary-meets-commercial,” or “upmarket fiction.” Readers and reviewers generally describe my stories as fast-paced, rich in history and rife with conflict. Book clubs often choose my novels because they pair well with wine!

What are your goals as a writer?

As a writer, my goals are to captivate the reader and to share some memorable historical moments in a subtle, but entertaining way. It’s also very important that the reader feels like he/she is present in the scene with the characters—seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing everything as the characters do.

What are you working on next?

I’m finishing my research for the third book in the series, which will take the Lemieux family through World War I in France and Prohibition in California. I’m also writing a women’s contemporary novel about friendship and reinvention and mid-life survival, which is so much fun because it doesn’t require nearly the amount of research that I’m used to doing!

Where can readers buy your book?

Readers can buy my book at their local bookseller, at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million or anywhere! The California Wife is available in trade paperback and e-book. I also enjoy Skyping/FaceTiming with book clubs, if my schedule permits. Readers and book clubs can contact me through my Website .

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Be sure to check out my interview with Kristen about her book, The Vintner’s Daughter, here!

Interview with Kristen Harnisch!

author KHI’d like to welcome Author Kristen Harnisch today to talk with me about her book, The Vintner’s Daughter. Internationally published author Kristen Harnisch drew upon her extensive research and her experiences living in San Francisco and visiting the Loire Valley and Paris to create the stories for THE CALIFORNIA WIFE and her first novel, THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and three children.

Kristen, thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Vintner’s Daughter! I enjoyed reading your story very much! Please tell your audience a little about the story.

The Vintner’s Daughter is the story of Sara Thibault, a winemaker’s daughter, and her struggle to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. In 1895, through a series of tragic events, Sara is forced to flee her French village of Vouvray for America, on a journey that will take her across the Atlantic, to the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and out west to the rolling hills and sprawling vineyards of Napa, California. In Napa, Sara is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker, but must face the one man who could either restore her family’s vineyard to her—or prosecute her for her crime.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

In The Vintner’s Daughter, I often use setting to reflect the emotional state of my characters. For example, Sara is deeply attached to Saint Martin, her family’s estate in Vouvray. The vineyard, winery and ancestral home are where she played with her older sister and worked alongside her beloved father. Here she created some of her best childhood memories, learning how to cultivate and press grapes, craft wine and work to secure the best price for each vintage. She felt useful and cherished. When she’s forced to seek refuge at a cloistered convent in Manhattan, its dark stone hallways, austere lifestyle and strict schedules of this temporary home magnify Sara’s inner turmoil. She yearns to break free—and she eventually does.

What draws you in the most about winemaking and how you weaved this into your story?

I wrote The Vintner’s Daughter because I wanted to learn more about the art and science of making wine. Sixteen years ago, in October of 2000, I received the inspiration for the story while standing on the edge of a vineyard in Vouvray, France. The pristine rows of chenin blanc grapevines, the limestone caves, the whitewashed winery on my far left, and the abandoned watchman’s house on my right all captured my imagination. “This,” I thought to myself, “would be the perfect setting for a novel.”

Questions leapt to mind as I toured the Loire Valley cellars. Why have these families chosen to make wine for centuries? How do they choose the grapes they grow, how do they create fine wine, and what challenges do they encounter? The winemakers themselves answered some of my questions, but once I returned home, I also wanted to learn more about the history of the wine trade in California, where I had recently lived. I delved into French and California wine history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers such as The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, consulted a master winemaker, reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society and toured several family-owned Napa vineyards on foot and on bike. I was fascinated by what I discovered.

Every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses. I remain inspired and humbled by their efforts.

In The Vintner’s Daughter, I weave my knowledge of winemaking into Sara’s story and with my descriptions, I try to bring the reader into every scene—to taste, touch, see, smell and hear the beauty of the vineyards and the winemaking process as the characters do.

The Vintners Daughter by Kristen Harnisch II

What are Philippe Lemieux’s strengths and weaknesses?

Philippe is the product of a loving mother and an abusive, controlling father who favored his older brother, Bastien. After their mother died, Philippe left France to make his own way as a winemaker in America, settling as far away as possible from his father and brother—in Napa. He is an astute and trustworthy businessman and has made quick friends (and a few enemies) among his fellow winemakers. He’s had his share of indiscretions, but perhaps his biggest faults are that he’s too quick to judge and sometimes overly protective of those closest to him.

One of the themes in your story was about the Suffragette movement, can you tell us a little about that and why you chose to include that in your story?

The late 1800s were such an exciting time in American history because the women’s rights movement was gaining momentum. Our culture was experiencing a dramatic shift. Women were coming out of the kitchens and taking active roles in their family’s businesses or farms, or working in the city factories. In the last decade of the 1800s, although there was a vocal minority of women who pushed for the right to vote, most women were more concerned about their right to safe working conditions, to earn a fair wage and to open an individual bank account. They marched in their cities and towns to show their support and influence and after several decades, the legislature started to listen.

I chose to include details about the suffrage movement because, before conducting my research, I didn’t realize that the majority of suffragettes were also members of Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which supported a prohibition of alcohol. Sara, a winemaker, finds herself caught between her desire to fight for women’s rights and her commitment to protect the production and sale of wine. This conflict creates quite a dilemma for Sara in the story’s sequel, The California Wife.

What are your personal motivations in storytelling?

I was a banker for nine years before I decided to stay home and raise my children. That’s when I started to dream about writing a novel. In 2000, when I was inspired to write Sara’s story, I didn’t know how to write fiction! I took online writing classes and re-wrote the story ten times over fourteen years. It was one of the most time-consuming but rewarding leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. My motivations were simple: to challenge myself intellectually and to escape the laundry!

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

When I sit down to write a novel, I’m both excited and plagued with self-doubt. The only way to overcome this is to silence the voices in my head that continually ask, “What if it’s not as good as your last novel?” or “What if the critics hate it?” I focus on the story and making it the best I possibly can—and then I release it into the world. Beyond that, I have little control over how it’s received. This is the creative process!

What is your writing process?

When I write historical fiction, I start by researching the topics I’d like to cover, and many times I’ll uncover interesting real-life events that help me to construct the plot and conflict of the novel. Then I’ll make a haphazard attempt to outline the plot, which I’ll use as a guideline, but I prefer to dive in and start writing. I write in three-hour blocks, in the morning and/or late evening when the kids have gone to bed, and I usually don’t write scenes in order. Instead, I write about what excites me on that particular day—an argument between the characters, an earthquake, a shooting, a tender moment between characters—whatever I feel emotionally prepared to tackle. Coffee, afternoon tea and the occasional glass of wine in the evening all help the flow of creativity!

Where can reader buy your book? At your local bookseller, at Amazon.com, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or anywhere! The Vintner’s Daughter is available in paperback, e-book and audio book!

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