Tuesday, 22 September 2015

INTERVIEW with Jeanne Mackin, author of The Beautiful American

02_The Beautiful AmericanThe Beautiful American
by Jeanne Mackin

Publication Date: June 3, 2014
NAL/Penguin Group
Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio
352 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Add to GR Button

As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter's life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920's Paris, when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee's magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever. Will Nora's reunion with Lee give them a chance to forgive past betrayals, and break years of silence?

A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional woman.



PLEASE PASS THE BOOKS welcomes Jeanne Mackin for an interview today!

Hi Jeanne! Can I call you Jeanne?


I see that you were previously an award winning journalist. Which award had the most meaning to you?

I won a couple of awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support for Education, in Washington,D.C. and I found that honor particularly rewarding (pun) since during most of my career I’ve combined writing and teaching. They seem to go hand in hand.

I also noticed you were a research and science writer as well. When did you make the transition to novelist?

I began working as a journalist and short non-fiction writer in my early twenties, after I finished school and traveled quite a bit. I always knew I was going to write long fiction, but it requires the skill and stamina I didn’t have when I was that young, so I worked at the craft of writing shorter pieces until I was in my thirties. Then, when I was certain I knew about sentences and paragraphs and metaphors, and the other foundations good writing needs, then I began to look around for my first novel. The idea found me during a drive with my husband when we passed through a beautiful valley of the Susquehanna. There had once been a colony of French refugees there, during the French Revolution, and I fell in love with that story; it became my first novel, The Frenchwoman. It took me five years to write and was the steepest learning curve of my life.

Congrats on your creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society! When did you receive the fellowship and what did it entail?

A few years ago I was working on a different novel (sadly, still unfinished) and needed to do a lot of reading and research into early New York City history just after our revolution. I wrote a proposal, AAS gave me a fellowship, and I spent a month in Worcester, MA, doing nothing but reading and taking notes in their fabulous library and archives. It was fabulous for someone who loves libraries and research as much as I do. There were other fellows/researchers there at the same time and we all stayed in a great old house and shared facilities. I became friends with a woman lawyer from New England whose ancestor had been a serial killer. She was very sweet and gentle.

You currently have FIVE novels in print. That's amazing! Is there one in particular that holds an extra special place in your heart?

This is a cliché, I know, but books are a bit like children. They are all different, and it’s hard to pick a favorite. There’s the first one, always very special, The Frenchwoman, about Marie Antoinette, and the second one, The Queen’s War, about Eleanor of Aquitaine and the year in the twelfth century when she went to war against her husband; the third one, Dreams of Empire, takes place in Egypt when Napoleon Bonaparte was there, special to me because I’ve always been fascinated by Egypt and went there, rode a camel to the pyramids, etc. The fourth novel, The Sweet By and By, has a special place because it is about spiritualists, and my grandmother had a special interest in spiritualist. Actually, her house was supposed to be haunted, tea cups would levitate and things like that. The Beautiful American relies heavily on perfume metaphor and information and that delighted me, when it appeared on the page because I, in fact, have a very faulty sense of smell (sinus trouble) and it was great to work with a character so unlike myself in that way.

Your latest release, The Beautiful American, has the character Nora Tours traveling through France and London. Are your depictions of these cities based on your own travels?

To some extent. I have been to both cities several times so some of Nora’s impressions of those places are based on my own memories and impressions. But I was writing about those cities in the 1930’s and 1940’s, so some of the depictions are based on research as well, on discovering what they were like then, not now.

In addition to Nora Tours journey, your character Lee Miller experiences the liberation of a concentration camp. Can you talk a bit about the research involved and the emotional toll on you as an author in writing about what she must have seen and felt?

Great questions, and sensitively asked. It was difficult, as you’ve realized. Just looking at Lee’s photographs of the camps put me into a very dark place when I had to work on those sections of the novel. War tends to get romanced over time, all of those World War II movies with John Wayne and pretty nurses, that kind of thing. The reality of it is different. My father was in World War II. That was one of many reasons I wanted to write this particular book. One evening when I was a child we were watching one of those romanticized war movies and he said, “It wasn’t like that. We were just boys, doing what we were told.” He was in the South Pacific (and believe me, the South Pacific war wasn’t at all like the musical) and he didn’t see the camps, but what he saw was bad enough to mark him for life. Imagine how marked Lee must have been, after seeing those camps. Remember, her lover, Man Ray, was Jewish. He made it safely out of Europe, but Lee must have looked at those prisoners and realized one of them could have been him. She was never the same, after. I think it’s why she put her camera away soon after the war and stopped taking photographs. If there is that much evil in the world, how long can you keep looking at it?

What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

Affirmation. People can be good, they can be loving and forgiving. Life is worth fighting for, worth going on. Lee survives a terrible violence in her childhood and becomes strong, talented, a force to be reckoned with. She refuses to be a victim or just an after-thought in someone else’s life. I came away with great respect for her, although she was far from being a saint. The fictional narrator, Nora, must learn to stand up for herself, to find her own path, and finally, to forgive. It’s the only way to keep your spirit and integrity intact.

Thanks for the questions. I hope you and your readers enjoy the novel. Keep reading!


"Will transport you to expat Paris." - Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

"A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece" - Sandra Dallas, author of Fallen Women

"Leaves its essence of love, loss, regret and hope long after the novel concludes." - Erika Robuck, author of Fallen Beauty

"Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing...her vividly drawn characters...come heartbreakingly alive in their obsessions, tragedies and triumphs" - Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France

"From Poughkeepsie to Paris, from the razzmatazz of the twenties to the turmoil of World War Two and the perfume factories of Grasse, Mackin draws you into the world of expatriate artists and photographers and tells a story of love, betrayal, survival and friendship...an engaging and unforgettable novel" - Renee Rosen, author Doll Face

ABOUT THE AUTHOR03_Jeanne Mackin

Jeanne Mackin’s novel, The Beautiful American (New American Library), based on the life of photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller, received the 2014 CNY award for fiction. Her other novels include A Lady of Good Family, about gilded age personality Beatrix Farrand, The Sweet By and By, about nineteenth century spiritualist Maggie Fox, Dreams of Empire set in Napoleonic Egypt, The Queen’s War, about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and The Frenchwoman, set in revolutionary France and the Pennsylvania wilderness.

Jeanne Mackin is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Book of Love (W.W. Norton.) She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and a keynote speaker for The Dickens Fellowship. Her work in journalism won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and at Goddard College in Vermont.



Monday, September 21
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, September 22
Interview at Please Pass the Books

Wednesday, Spetember 23
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at History From a Woman's Perspective
Spotlight at What Is That Book About

Thursday, September 24
Review at History Undressed
Review & Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Friday, September 25
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
Interview at History Undressed
Spotlight at Book Nerd

Sunday, September 27
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Monday, September 28
Review at I'm Shelf-ish
Guest Post at To Read, or Not to Read

Tuesday, September 29
Review at Build a Bookshelf
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Wednesday, September 30
Review at Queen of All She Reads
Spotlight at View From the Birdhouse
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, October 1
Review at Dive Under the Cover
Interview at The Old Shelter
Guest Post at Books and Benches
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Friday, October 2
Review at A Fold in the Spine
Review & Interview at Singing Librarian Books
Spotlight & Excerpt at A Literary Vacation


To enter to win a paperback copy of The Beautiful American, please enter via the GLEAM form below.


– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on October 2nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Beautiful American


  1. thanks for hosting me. What a lovely site!

  2. What a great interview, thanks Jeanne & Jamie!