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New novel Victorine brings forgotten artist to life

Special guest interview with author Drēma Drudge

Who was Victorine Meurent?

As a writer who’s a little bit obsessed with forgotten women artists, I’m thrilled to welcome author Drēma Drudge today. Drēma’s debut novel about Impressionist painter Victorine Meurent launched this month. The book is now available from Amazon US. Read on to learn more:

AM: What’s the “elevator pitch” for your book?

DD: My novel is the story of the forgotten painter Victorine Meurent, only remembered as the model for Manet’s controversial painting, Olympia.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

DD: I was in a literature class and the professor put up an art slideshow. Manet’s Olympia was one of the slides. This model called to me, said she was not what she was being portrayed as (which was a prostitute; she was not). When my husband and I went to Paris, I was able to examine the painting more in-depth. Subsequent research revealed that she herself had become a painter, though history had forgotten that about her. I was hooked and had to learn more.

The novel also gave me the opportunity to write extensively about Manet’s paintings, about art and love. It was like being wrapped in a dream for months while I wrote it.

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era and character?

DD: I love art of all stripes, but the Impressionists are my favorite. While Manet refused to be classified with them, he painted in the midst of their rise. Many regard his paintings of Victorine as the first examples of Modernism, so he could be said to be in a class by himself at the time.

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

DD: It helped that I was able to visit Paris. Naturally, I fell in love with it. My husband and I spent several days walking it day and night, trying to capture the rhythm of it. I was thrilled to be able to indulge in writing about the city’s architecture, too, as architecture is another passion of mine.

AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

DD: To my shock, after years of research, more paintings of Victorine’s were rediscovered, albeit quietly. I found I had written scenes and/or characters that correlated with these paintings, even though I didn’t and couldn’t have known it when I wrote them. I felt then as if Victorine had been looking over my shoulder, guiding me, and seeing the paintings confirmed all I had written.

AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?)

DD: Alas, while I was able to research the artists around Victorine, there was so little to know about her. All I could find was one wonderful but scant book which was part biography, part memoir. So I let the paintings Manet made of her (at least ten in all) and the fact that she had become a painter guide the plot. (I like to imagine she guided it as well, though.)

AM: What is your usual writing routine?

DD: I’m a morning writer, but only after exercise and breakfast. I write until one or two, and then I take on life’s tediousness, such as paying bills, doing chores, and cooking. While I can read in the evening, I’m too tired to write.

I typically follow that routine four days a week, with the other days being reserved for my day job and time with the hubby.

AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research?

DD: Keep digging! Don’t give up. Follow every thread but evaluate the quality of each source. Eventually you’ll have to decide what to believe, because accounts will vary. Commit to what makes sense to you, and don’t apologize if your opinion varies with what others believe. If they can’t prove it, you’re just as “right” as they are. Don’t be afraid to reinterpret history, as long as you stick to the facts.

AM: Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? If music, what kind and why?

DD: I usually prefer writing in silence, but if I do write to music, it’s classical. Usually Mozart. I love lyrics, and if I hear them, I’m going to pay attention to them instead of my writing.

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

DD: While I adore historical fiction and I know I’ll write more of it in the future, I’m nearly finished with my second novel, Briscoe Chambers’ Southern Fried Woolf. It’s about a woman, Briscoe, who is married to a country music star who cheats on her with his idol, an older country singer from a legendary musical family.

Briscoe is also writing a thesis about Virginia Woolf, someone whose scholarship her mother has devoted her life to. I am writing this novel because I adore Virginia Woolf’s writing, and I wanted to find a fresh way to write about her.

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

DD: I’m sure I’ll seem like a typical writer when I admit I love to read. I also enjoy true crime everything – podcasts, TV shows. It’s like entering into a mystery, hoping you can figure it out before the story unravels, though at the end you have to acknowledge the true tragedy involved. But I think there’s this small part of me that always hopes I will pick up on some clue they did not, if it’s unsolved. And some of the shows are really well scripted. I love learning about writing, even while watching TV.

About the Author:

Drēma Drudge and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, live in Indiana where they record their biweekly podcast, Writing All the Things, when not traveling. Victorine was literally written in five countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. The pair has two grown children.

In addition to writing fiction, Drēma has served as a writing coach, freelance writer, and educator.

Learn more on Drēma’s Website and find her on Twitter: @dremadrudge

1 Comment

  1. Mary Anne Yarde says:

    Thank you so much for hosting Drema’s tour — what a fabulous interview!

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