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 .

Find Kristen Online:

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

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Review-Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

Time of fog and fire I

Molly Murphy Sullivan’s husband Daniel, a police captain in turn-of-the-century New York City, is in a precarious position. The new police commissioner wants him off the force altogether. So Daniel accepts an assignment from John Wilkie, head of the secret service. Molly believes her husband is in Washington, working for the president, until she spots him in San Francisco during a movie news segment. Then she receives a strange letter from him, leading her to conclude that he wants her to join him in San Francisco.

She takes her young son Liam on the cross-country train trip, but when they arrive in San Francisco, Molly is told that she’s too late, her husband’s funeral was yesterday. She’s devastated, even more so when she receives a cryptic note saying Daniel’s death was not an accident. In her grief she stays on to investigate, until she meets a strange man at a party, whom she soon starts to suspect may not be quite who he appears. Then Molly finds another body in the basement, but before she can report it, the Great Earthquake strikes San Francisco, and the servant runs off in a panic with Molly’s son. Suddenly Molly has no idea where to turn or whom to trust, and she knows there are many lives on the line, including her own.

My thoughts:

This is the first book I have read by Rhys Bowen and I have to say I am not in the least disappointed with this story. I picked this up from the sixteenth in the series and while there were some holes for me about the character’s lives and what-not, this still made a great stand alone. I do love a good mystery and adventure. I got both in this story and more.

I will begin with the atmosphere and period of the story. I loved it. I felt I was taken back to the 1900’s and the author gives a truly wonderful sense of time and place. And the historical aspects of the story were marvelously written. Just the right touch and not over-whelming.

The plot was suspenseful and really had me biting my nails at times! Can you imagine believing someone you love is in a certain location and then you come to find out they are somewhere else and their life may be in danger? Then you receive a cryptic letter from them. How cool is that?! Makes for a great premise.

Enjoyable characters, splendid backdrop of the earthquake in San Francisco, adventure, suspense in all the right places, intrigue, and entertaining dialogue! I can’t wait to read what happens next!

I am now a fan of Molly Murphy and will be picking up this series from the beginning!

I received a copy through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins