Q&A with Liza Klaussman, author of Villa America


I’m so excited to be a part of the Villa America Blog Tour and today’s stop is my little ‘ol blog. Yesterday, the tour began at Curled Up with A Good Book and tomorrow it’s heading to Padfoots Library. Here’s what you’ll get when you choose to pick up this amazing book:

Villa America is a fictional imagining of the real lives of Americans Sara and Gerald Murphy who, in the heady years of 1920s France, presided over a group of expatriate writers, painters, singers and dancers–including Pablo Picasso and Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This dazzling cast of characters gathered together in the Murphy home in Cap d’Antibe, as both Sara and Gerald cast their elusive magic over all of them.

Spanning 1890s New York, the battlefields of WWI, the birth of aviation, the artistic explosion of 1920s France, the Depression and the rise of fascism, Villa America charts the beautiful and tragic course of three intertwined lives to create a vivid portrait of a gilded age that couldn’t last. (source)

I got the opportunity to send a few Q’s to Liza Klaussman and she kindly sent back her A’s.

1.) How did you come up with the first, captivating, sentence, “The sky was as blue as a robin’s egg on the afternoon they pulled Owen Chamber’s body out of the Baie des Anges.”?I wanted to have the juxtaposition of the beauty of nature with the horror of death, a nod to ow the worst things can happen on the loveliest days, and how nature really doesn’t care about us at all.2.) Like F. Scott Fitzgerald in the classic, Tender is the Night, you were inspired to explore and create a fictional world involving Sara and Gerald Murphy, why?

I think there is an x-factor surrounding the Murphys that attracts artists. Firstly, they had this kind of glamor, this talent for living and living well, that makes them quite special. There aren’t that many people who can pull off what they pulled off: they managed to make each of the friends feel like they were the most special, the most loved. They had a generosity and warmth that sort of beguiled all their friends. They were also artists themselves: Gerald a painter, and Sara a kind of artist of the home. Furthermore, They took a visceral delight in each other and in their children, which is something so attractive to be around.

Finally,  I love any story about gangs of people: I like the ensemble piece. And here was such a gang — the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds, the Hemingways, the MacLeishs, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, Bob Benchley, etc.

And finally, their story is a tragedy, a beautiful tragedy.

3.) There were so many rich and developed characters (my favourite was Gerald). Which was your favourite character to write? 

I’d have to say Scott Fitzgerald was very fun to write because of his dichotomy of childish neediness and quite introvert. So even when he’s having a tantrum, underneath is this well of sadness and self-awareness. But my favorite character is probably Owen, because his silence is such antidote to the rest of these dangerously articulate people.

4.) One can only assume that you were inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work to write Villa America, but were there other historical components that help to inspire this novel?

It was through Tender Is the Night that I discovered who the Murphys were, but I was only inspired to write about them after I read Calvin Tomkins slim biography “Living Well Is the Best Revenge” and Amanda Vaill’s comprehensive biography “Everybody Was So Young”. I think of Tender Is the Night as more of a love letter to a time ins Scott Fitzgerald’s life, while Villa America is more biographical fiction, though that’s probably splitting hairs.

Either way,  Tender Is the Night  is one of my all-time favorite novels, but, strangely, I didn’t think much about it while was writing my book. I was reading a lot of Henry James and thinking about that world, which would have shaped the world the Murphys grew up in.

I also read quite a bit on WWI, especially letters home from the front or from pilot training and so forth.  There were so many shifting sands over the Murphys lifetime — war, peace, the suffrage movement, art, music, sexuality, another war — it was really fascinating to research and to think about it.

5.) There’s a sophistication to your writing, the way you weave characters into the plot and move around history. Why did you choose to navigate your writing in this way? 

Again, I’m interested in the ensemble piece, albeit with a first string and second string of characters. For me, the B characters can provide a kind of greek chorus to the main plot, but also give the reader another perspective on the events unfolding, and I think when you’re writing in the third person, that really can help give depth to the narrative.

6.) I read your book over two days in the park with a container of hummus and pita chips. What book(s) have you been reading in the park this summer? 

I just finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota. Both amazing — highly, highly recommend. I also sped through Weightless by Sarah Bannan, fabulous beach read.

It’s Been 20 Years Since Clueless hit Theatres. Ugh, As If!


In 1995, I was at the impressionable age of 11 years old. I was the proud owner of baby tees, oversized plaid button up sweaters and had All 4 One’s CD on repeat on my discman. This was the same year that Amy Heckerling wrote and directed the iconic movie starring Cher Horowitz, aptly called Clueless. Heckerling set out to create a modern day version of Jane Austen’s Emma using spoiled teenagers as the characters set in beautiful and sunny Beverly Hills.  Her vision has since become one of the most quintessential films of our time.

As If! The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckling, the Cast, and the Crew was a book that popped up on my radar while listening to a podcast. The reviewer was clearly buggin’ over this book by Jen Chaney, acclaimed pop culture journalist. Her enthusiasm paired with my love of the 90’s had me immediately intrigued. Before I read the book, I decided to watch the film. I thought it was imperative that I familiarize myself with the old gang. It’s likely been about eight years since I last watched the film and I remembered every scene like it was 1995 all over again. I was instantly amused of Cher’s advanced computer programmed wardrobe and the way Cher, Josh and Mel ate dinner with their cell phones right next to their forks. There’s no doubt about it, this film was way ahead of it’s time in terms of technology.

Movie buffs love everything about the history of a film. They like to know who auditioned for roles. In this case, they’ll be interested to learn that the director always had Alicia Silverstone in mind for Cher after seeing her star in Aerosmith’s video:

But that didn’t stop Reese Witherspoon from trying out to play the role of Cher. Picture Ben Affleck in the role of Josh. Weird, right? While reading the chapter on the casting of Clueless it sounded like a gruelling and long process, but in the end it resulted in kickstarting the careers of many actors and actresses careers. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that many of the actors weren’t in their teens while filming. Stacey Dash, AKA Dionne, was twenty-seven while playing the best friend of sixteen year old Cher. There’s a part in the book where Donald Faison shares that he was at a mall and was excited to see a group of women pining over a celebrity in the mall. Straining to see who they were so excited about, he quickly realized that they were all riled up because of him. Overnight, the success of Clueless opened doors that had never been opened before for this group of actors.

The phenomenon of Clueless wasn’t just in the performances, it was in the details. Words like audi, boinkfest and monet, became words added to our dictionaries. Sure, it was 1995 and plaid was h-o-t, but costume designer Mona May took it to another level. Plaid skirts and trench coats paired with berets and knee socks changed the way people dressed. The book even went on to explore the impact it had on Coolio’s career. Don’t tell me you don’t hear ‘Rollin’ with the Homies’ and you don’t visualize Brittany Murphy’s pretty voice rocking out next to Elton. The movie went on to become a series of books and a television show starring much of the same cast, with Rachel Blanchard, taking over the lead character.

A movie of this magnitude stands the test of time, because the running themes  throughout the movie are still revenant today, and it will still be relevant tomorrow and ten years from now. Sure, I don’t have a computer based program that tells me if my outfit is a match or a miss, but I have been faced with having spats with friends over men and who doesn’t remember falling in love for the first time in high school? These feelings and messages will always be present no matter how much smaller (or larger) our phones become over time. If you’ve ever been a teenager and you attended high school, this film will always matter. Jen Chaney has written a book that will take you back to 1995 and this time, you won’t be wearing a scrunchie.

BONUS There are so many fun facts packed into this read, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few of my favourites with you:

  • While Cher is at the Valley party, a couple is making out in the pool. The actors in that scene, who didn’t know one another, but were forced to make out for four hours, went on to marry one another.
  • Paul Rudd’s former manager insisted he get the crew a parting gift when they wrapped the film. He bought every one a name plated rice necklace.
  • Alicia Silverstone (who was in almost every scene of the movie), was so tired that she could fall asleep at the drop of a dime. She’d wake up to do her line and then instantly fall back asleep.

A Chronological Account of My Day with Judy Blume

If you live in Toronto and you’re on any social media platform, it would be hard to miss that Judy Blume was in town earlier this week. There were pictures of signatures, far away images and many exclamation marks. The queen of children’s and adult literature graced Canada with her presence on Monday and Tuesday while in town to promote her new book, In the Unlikely Event.

9:05am I knew I was going to see Judy Blume. I had a ticket to her Toronto Public Library event that evening, so I was kind of prepared, but then I got to work Monday morning and opened my email. In it was an email from Judy Blume’s publicist that read, ‘A Toast to Judy Blume’ with instructions to come to our newly minted large boardroom at 10:15 to toast the talented author we all fell in love with at ten years old. I’m not going to lie, I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. After eight years of working in publishing, I’ve met many people that I admire and I get a thrill out of it, but this was Judy Blume. Judy “freaking” Blume.

10:10 I walked into our boardroom and from a distance I could see her standing in the lobby of our publishing house. Then I shook and then I cried a little. I even poured a little bit of mimosas on myself.

10:15 She walks into the room and I’m about 5 feet away from her. I am dying inside.


10:16 The toast begins where we all acknowledged the talented woman she is and how much of an impact she’s had on us as children, teens and adults all over the world. Her response was so humble and genuine, she smiled with grace and beauty as we all gushed. She sings the praises of George, her husband of thirty-five years, who is clearly more to her than just a partner, he seems to be her best friend. She’s then shown the I Heart Judy Blume buttons and she seems embarrassed but humble.

10:20 She gets behind the desk to sign books and everyone scrambles to grab a copy of In the Unlikely Event and an I Heart Judy Blume button. Two lines form, confusion ensues, we all figure it out. Luckily, I’m in the line near the beginning, you know, “lean in” and I’m going to be like the 9th person she meets. I counted.

10:24 I get up there and tell Judy Blume that I had a hard time deciding what to wear to meet her. She looks at my dress and proclaims, “oh dear, you make an excellent choice”. She then says, “I feel so silly, because I wore the same shirt as I did that’s on my book jacket”. We laugh. I tell her how much I love her and she says thank you and proceeds to sign my name and the words “Love, Judy Blume”.

10:25 I walked out of the room and make a gawking face to my pal beside me. Did that just happen?

10:30 Run around to every one around me and talk about our Judy experience.

10:45 Sit back down at my desk and “try” to answer emails.

11:53 Get a call from my Mom in London, England, because she thinks she spots Ryan Gosling at the villa their visiting, which is equally as beautiful as the Ryan Gosling doppalganger she has spotted.

12:49 She has taken a photo. It is not him.


2:00 Meet with Judy’s publicist and the other team members who will be helping to operate the Judy Blume Toronto Public Library event that evening. Determine that my role will be to leave at 4pm to go flap books and be the picture taker at the event.

4:00 Leave office to head up to Yonge and Bloor to get a bite to eat before the big event.

4:30 Head over to the TPL to see an already huge line of other die-hard Judy Blume fans.

5:00 Grab a set of post-its, a sharpie and start walking through the line asking people their names to flap the book.

5:05 Answered several questions about how others could get their hands on an I Heart Judy Blume pin.


5:30 Line is flapped, now just walking past crowd who are so, so excited!

6: 10 People start being let into the Appel Salon to take their seats. I stand by the women handing out the buttons to just see the excitement on people’s faces

6:40 Take my seat.

7:00 Judy Blume comes to the front of the room with host Rachel Giese.

7:01 Judy gets introduced and receives a standing ovation.

7:04 A conversation between Judy Blume and Rachel Giese commences and they talk about her influence, how she categorizes her books, the movie Tiger Eyes (that she made with her son), her children, the events that inspired In the Unlikely Event, George and more.


7:40 The Q&A begins. People gush. People cry.

7:45 I run to the back of the room to take my photo taking place.

8:05 Judy Blume is brought to the back of the room to sign books.

8:06 Her sharpie is in place, she raises her hands in triumph and says “okay people, let’s do this!”

8:10 People come up to meet her and I take 6-8 photos on everyone’s iPhone.

9:20 I have not dropped one camera or one phone. Huzzah.

9:45 The line is coming to an end.

9:50 Everyone is gone, but the publishing crew, the library staff and Judy Blume and her husband. We know she’s tired and that she has a busy day tomorrow, but her husband insists on taking a photo on their camera. That’s right people, Judy Blume has a photo of me on her camera. This fact alone, weirdly gives me so much joy. Sam, our lovely publicity intern manages to get her phone in this mix and we get this incredible picture of us with Judy Blume.


9:51 Judy Blume raves about how amazing the night was and how much fun she had meeting her Canadian fans. She tells us about the day she has planned tomorrow. Up early for Canada AM and The Social and then it’s home for a vacation and then off to the UK in a week.

9:54 We thank her for everything and say goodbye.

9:55 I force Sam to stop what she’s doing and email me the picture on her phone.

9:58 Jump in cab and head home.

10:30 Go to sleep thinking that this is a day I’ll never forget.


Something to look forward to…

As a child I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so. And then I realized, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology. How did we get so damn old, I say to my joints, my iron-colored hair. Now I am older than my love, my departed friends. Perhaps I will live so long, that the New York Public Library will be obliged to hand over the walking stick of Virginia Woolf. I would cherish it for her, and the stones in her pocket. But I would also keep on living, refusing to surrender my pen. 

– From M Train (on sale October 2015)


Periscope: An App for Authors??

When you work in social media, you have to be prepared for changes every time you open an app or type in a url. Think of every time you’ve opened up Facebook and Zuckerberg has adapted the format… again. You mutter to yourself or you use Facebook to post your feelings, as so many of us have done in the past. Many of the new apps that have been developed in the past year haven’t been my cup of tea. I’ve downloaded SnapChat twice and both times, got completely overwhelmed with it’s complicated functionality. And I’ve yet to master Vine. The idea of being funny in only six seconds feels incredibly difficult. I need at least 10 seconds to get my punch line out.

All that being said, I took a different approach when I started hearing rumblings about Periscope – an app that allows you to view live video streaming. I was immediately intrigued. With this app, you can experience concerts, gorgeous views, car rides with celebrities (I won’t tell you how long I watched Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen) and more. You also have the ability to share your world with everyone by hitting the ‘start broadcasting’ button and letting everyone LIVE into your surroundings. Viewers who have the Periscope app open are able to write questions that pop up, visible to the broadcaster and all viewers and it makes it easy for them to answer. For example, I just opened the app and watched:

  • The Braves playing baseball
  • A plane ride over Vancouver
  • A tour of the Robot Expo at #DARADRC

The likelihood of me ever going to a Robot Expo before I started writing this was slim to none. But if I’ve ever in a conversation about robots, I can at least speak with some (very little) knowledge about them now that I’ve taken an insider look at what their expos look like. This app provides so much accessibility to “connect” that we decided to use it out when Twitter famous James Rebanks, author of, ThShepherd’s Life came to town last week. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you definitely should be: @herdyshepherd1

IMG_0980It wasn’t hard. We handed him our phone, opened the app, hit ‘start broadcast’ and waited for a few minutes while people joined. The great thing about the chat is that the second you start broadcasting, there is a tweet sent to your Twitter account saying that you’re over on Periscope waiting to chat live with everyone. It didn’t take long for people to start to roll in with questions about agriculture, sheep, family and more. For fifteen minutes (I think anymore would be too long), James Rebanks live chatted with people from all over the world. Granted there were some questions that came in that were a bit obscurer; boxers or briefs (answer: boxer briefs). He handled them like a pro and ignored the ones that he felt weren’t relevant or added anything to the conversation.

Some might say that it’s an app that is much too “social”, in some cases, I’d agree. No one should Periscope something that makes them feel their privacy is being violated, but I do think it’s got amazing opportunities to share those rare occurrences that don’t happen every day. Like ‘Periscoping’ some of the Judy Blume’s event when she comes to Toronto at the end of this month or sharing a stream of video of the new office we all just moved into last week. I think there’s some real fun to be had on this app if used responsibly. I can’t wait until the day, and it will come, when we start seeing authors embracing this app and letting us into their worlds, if only for 10 or so minutes.

What do you think of the app Periscope? Is it too much or interesting to you? Share with me in the comments below.