Today, Reader’s Entertainment welcomes Katherine Sherbrooke to the blog. She is the author of THE HIDDEN LIFE OF ASTER KELLY, and historical fiction novel set in the glamorous world of 1940s fashion runways.
First, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I’m a native of NJ but have lived in or near Boston since college (except a short stint in CA for business school). My husband and I now live south of the city. Our youngest of two sons just started college this past fall, so our nest is newly empty. Thank god for our black lab, Huckleberry—my writing support hound!
How long have you been writing and is it your full time job? If not, what is your ‘real world’ job?
I didn’t start writing in earnest until about 2010, after I had moved on from the company I’d co-founded in Boston. But writing fiction was a life-long dream, and I’ve been lucky enough to pursue it full time since then.
What does your typical writing day look like?
Robe and slippers on, dog fed, cup of coffee in hand, I slip down into my basement office and write until other responsibilities require me to get dressed and go forth into the world. I usually write for four or five hours on a good day, with a long walk thrown in to clear my head.
Tell us about your latest release?
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF ASTER KELLY is about a runway model in 1940s Hollywood who longs for a career in fashion design and seeks the mentorship of Fernando Tivoli, Beverly Hills’ latest sensation. When Aster becomes entangled with the head of Galaxy Studios, and Fernando falls in love with its newest star, Christopher Page, they must both navigate the glamour and treachery of the roles the industry expects them to play. Faced with a crisis, Aster makes a decision designed to protect them both and sets off a web of lies that changes the trajectory of their lives forever. Decades later, Aster’s daughter Lissy is poised to become a Broadway star, but when secrets from Aster’s past threaten to upend her career, mother and daughter are forced to question everything they thought they knew. This is a story about chosen family, the quest for personal authenticity, and the power of enduring love.
What inspired the idea for this book?
My mother was a runway model in Hollywood in the ‘40s! She ended up in some very famous circles but guarded that part of her life like a dangerous secret. I decided to create a fictional story to satisfy my unanswered questions.
Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?
There are a lot of artists in this book, from fashion designers to sculptors to actors and singers. I deeply relate to each of their imperfect artistic journeys regardless of medium. The character most like me is probably Aster’s daughter, Lissy. She is extremely driven, frustrated by a career path that often feels like a maze to nowhere, and she struggles to figure out what success looks like for her.
Would you and your main character be friends?
I think I would be friends with most of these characters, Aster and Fernando especially. (Lissy and I might bring out the worst in each other!)
What part of the book was the hardest to write?
There are several parts of the book when key characters have different information from each other and the reader. For the writer— the only one who knows everything—it can be a challenge to keep it all straight and, more importantly, to ensure that each character’s actions and dialogue make sense before and after the reader understands the full picture. It’s a puzzle, but I have to admit that it’s a lot of fun to figure out!
Did you model a character after someone you know?
While Aster Kelly is inspired by my mother, they are decidedly not the same person. I infused Aster with some of my mother’s characteristics and some of the same backstory but gave myself full license to make Aster her own character and to write her into what turned out to be a very different story.
If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?
I don’t have plans for a sequel at the moment, but if fans of the book are eager for more, I am not at all against the idea.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book?
There is a ring in the book that serves as an important symbol. I got the idea from a ring of my mother’s, given to her by an L.A. roommate after a break-up with Cary Grant. That ring always loomed large in my mind as proof of my mother’s secrets, and so I found a way to put it in the book.
Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write?
I have to give a shout out to Agatha Christie. It’s funny, because I don’t really read mysteries anymore, but I’m pretty sure I read everything Christie ever wrote in my formative years. Her work helped hone my sense of story logic and how to hide things in plain sight while keeping the reader fully engaged. The authors I admire now, like Lauren Groff, Sue Monk Kidd, and Thirty Umrigar (among many others) are all about language. I eagerly drink in their sentences and swim in their words, hoping against hope that I might absorb their ability to make images and emotion jump off the page.
Any writing rituals?
I try to get to my desk as soon after waking and with as little language spoken between dreamtime and writing time as possible. That’s where the coffee and slippers come in!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. She is clearly appreciated as an author—she won the Pulitzer for March, after all—but The People of the Book is my favorite. The characters, settings, historical details, emotional resonance…it all blew me away.
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
My friends sometimes laugh at me for this, but I’m quite proud of my ability to play a mean tambourine. I don’t have Lissy’s gorgeous voice, but I can keep the rhythm!
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
Wine and cheese. Everything is more civilized with a cold crisp glass of white and some yummy nibbles.
And what is your writing Kryptonite?
Hearing about a book coming out that sounds similar to a book I’m currently writing. There’s this constant worry that another author has already written the same exact story. Of course, it is never the same story, but I allow myself to get paralyzed by that fear until I have read the other book and can confidently put the anxiety aside.
What is the one question you never get asked at interviews, but wish you did?
Which character from your book do you wish was real and part of your life?
From The Hidden Life of Aster Kelly I’d definitely have to say Fernando Tivoli. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be the favorite for a lot of readers!
What a fascinating story! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
Reader’s, here’s a look at THE HIDDEN LIFE OF ASTER KELLY:::
When a runway model in 1940s Hollywood makes a split-second decision intended to protect those she loves, she triggers a cascade of secrets that threatens to upend her daughter’s life decades later.
After winning a prestigious fashion design contest in 1948, Aster Kelly flees the world of modeling in New York and arrives in Beverly Hills to claim her prize: a design apprenticeship with Fernando Tivoli. But Fernando has no such job available. He’s busily preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime—proving to Galaxy Studios that he is the perfect couturier for their A-list stars. The moment he meets Aster, though, he knows she’s the missing ingredient he needs and asks her to be his stand-in model for Lauren Bacall. Aster is dismayed to once again have her creative potential sidelined, but when Fernando promises to mentor her if he wins the contract, she agrees.
Aster and Fernando quickly become romantically entangled with Hollywood insiders—Aster with the head of Galaxy Studios, Fernando with their biggest up-and-coming star, Christopher Page—and Aster and Fernando’s friendship becomes essential as they navigate a glamorous and complicated existence where what’s real must often be hidden, and no one is quite who they seem. As Aster’s ambitions grow and she faces a crisis, and Fernando’s future is threatened by the judgmental Hollywood machine, Aster makes a decision that changes the trajectory of their lives forever.
Twenty-five years later, despite knowing little of her mother’s time in Hollywood and being raised well outside the reaches of fame, Aster’s daughter Lissy is poised to become a Broadway star. But when the musical gets off to a rocky start, Lissy makes a rash decision of her own in an attempt to save the show. And when long-buried secrets blindside them both, mother and daughter are forced to question everything they thought they knew.
The Hidden Life of Aster Kelly is a story about the bonds of chosen family, the cost of fame and the enduring strength of love that will keep you guessing until the last page.