I don’t know about where you are, but it’s FINALLY Spring here in Philadelphia. Perfect time for great new read, maybe outside in a hammock, under a beach umbrella, or on a long boat, train, or plane ride!
And wouldn’t you know? I have a suggestion! ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE by Sally Koslow is a delightful, vibrant, and heartwarming story of Sheilah Graham and her love affair with none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Sally is known for her contemporary women’s fiction and this is her first foray into historical fiction. I was lucky enough to read an early copy of this book and couldn’t put it down. It’s compelling, smart, and hooked me right away. It’s detailed but not cumbersome, and the personalities of these real life characters shine through in this fictional account of their lives.
I’m thrilled Sally is here today, just two days after publication! She is a dear friend and a fellow Tall Poppy Writer.
Please welcome Sally Koslow back to WFW!
Amy: Sally, what sparked the idea for this novel? Was it an article? A photo? A conversation? How long did this idea roll around in your head before you started writing?
Sally: I got the bug to begin ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE after reading Stewart O’Nan’s excellent biographical novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s later Hollywood years. Sheilah Graham appeared in this book as a secondary character. She intrigued me because, like the fictional Jay Gatsby, “Sheilah” had completely reinvented herself. I began to research her, and the more I dug, the better I liked her. At the time I was working on a contemporary novel, but when I told my agent about my interest in this new project, she loved it, and urged me to go for it.
Amy: Would you share with us what it was like to change genres from contemporary women’s fiction to essentially a historical love story? I’d totally still group this under the WF umbrella, would you?
Sally: Common wisdom suggests that writers should each stay in our established lane, but I’ve never totally bought into that thinking. Sometimes I find that this causes books to become formulaic and predictable. It was a challenge that I found interesting to switch from contemporary to historical, especially in writing about a real person, which presents limitations, because facts are facts, which I wanted to honor. I don’t assume that now I’ll write only biographical novels. What all my books have in common is a cunning female protagonist, or a female who becomes stronger as the book progresses. Sheilah happens to have been a real person I tried to bring to life while my other heroines were purely fictional, but it’s fair to say that every woman about whom I write lives happily under the WF umbrella. She’s a tough cookie, at least on the inside.
Amy: What was your biggest challenge, not in having this novel published, but in writing it? How did you overcome this challenge?
Sally: Even fascinating, flesh-and-blood people don’t live their life in a compelling “plot.” In writing Sheilah’s story—and Scott’s—I had to figure out what to eliminate and what to add. (Thank you, poetic license.) It was also a challenge to create authentic voices for Sheilah and Scott. Sheilah was British, so her speech needed to reflect that background and F. Scott Fitzgerald? I had to take a deep breath dive in, and do my level best to make the great man speak. And of course it was important to make sure that the book –which spans 1914 to the 1930s—didn’t contain anachronisms in details or speech.
Amy: Do you have a favorite scene in the novel? Was it a hard or easy scene to write? (I find that the ones that almost kill me are the ones that end up being my favorites.)
Sally: My favorite scene is when Scott is hired as a screenwriter for “Gone with the Wind” and is blocked in understanding Rhett Butler. Sheilah, who has a lot in common with Scarlett O’Hara, totally gets Rhett and to help Scott develop dialogue, offers to act out Scarlett in the famous staircase scene with Scott playing the role of Rhett. It was fun to write this scene, because I love that movie, and I also enjoy going for humor.
Amy: We talk a lot about writing of course, but what hooks YOU when you begin reading a book? What makes you put down a book and not continue?
Sally: I look for original, fresh writing. I admire authors who, like architects, stretch themselves to use interesting, fresh language—extra points for wit. I can’t stand lazy, predictable writing with unintentional word duplication. That makes me want to throw a book against the wall. Of course, the characters and story line have to be there, too. Characters need obstacles to overcome, and a book needs shape. I love books that because of the high bar the set for language inspire me how to try and become a better writer myself, and make me want to run to my laptop and knock out a paragraph or two.
In Another Side of Paradise (Harper, May 29, 2018), Sally Koslow brings to life F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood affair with the Gatsby-esque Sheilah Graham, a gossip columnist, scrappy self-invention and woman with deep secrets. After four contemporary novels—including the international bestseller, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx and her debut, Little Pink Slips, an insider’s view of the magazine industry (which she knows only too well)—this is Sally’s first biographical novel. She lives in Manhattan, but hopes the statute of limitations never ends on mentioning that she grew up in Fargo, North Dakota.