I don’t normally post pictures of myself on the blog but I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Nancy Horan today for a book signing, presentation and luncheon for her new historical fiction novel Under the Wide and Starry Sky at The University Club of Chicago. I am excited to declare that it is one of my favorite books that I have read. Not just this year but overall. Is it because I love Robert Louis Stevenson? Historical Fiction? All things Scottish? Adventure? Tumultuous love stories? Maybe all of the above.
I also had the privilege of reading an advance reader’s copy and you can read my review here. It was written seven years after her debut novel Loving Frank, which I read for a book club and was mesmerized and blown away by Horan’s ability to bring to life and weave a story around a local treasure, Frank Lloyd Wright.
She does it again in Under the Wide and Starry Sky. I tried to jot down as fast as possible some of the profound and interesting comments she made.
She happened upon this story when she visited this old adobe house (now a museum) where Robert Louis Stevenson stayed during his visit to Monterey in 1879 to be near Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, whom he eventually married. She found that their relationship had a story and “she loves stories”. Horan said that some critics are finding a theme within her work being “the woman behind the successful man”, which makes her “itchy”. Instead she feels that the main characters “all have big personalities and these successful men have met their match in the women they pursue”. Horan’s process is “putting pieces together and making her own conclusions” based on artifacts, letters and supporting books. She “works from the outside and then empathizes with a story where history books don’t get at”. What also stood out from the information she gathered was how much grit Fanny had. She was an adventurous woman and an artist in her own way. The combination of her strength and Louis’ cheery disposition (although being extremely ill much of his life) made for a beautiful and memorable story. He lit up a room with his wit and storytelling and Fanny was the rock and sounding board for his some of his masterpieces. If you love historical fiction, you must pick up this book!
It took her five years to write this novel after taking a few years off between projects. My favorite quote of the day was when she said, “I love falling into a little vat of history and getting pickled”. You can learn more about Nancy Horan at her website http://nancyhoran.com/