Interview: Renee Rosen chats about Dollface, her writing, Al Capone’s niece, and more!

I’m very excited for the release of DOLLFACE, the new book by Renee Rosen, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book and more, so please welcome her to the blog!


reneerosenCongrats on the release of your new book, DOLLFACE! You have a background in copywriting, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and what made you take the plunge into writing fiction?
Hi Kristin—thanks for having me here! And yes, I’ve always known I wanted to write. In fact, I knew I wanted to be a writer before I was a reader, which is a little backwards. But in truth, I didn’t discover my love of reading until I was in my early twenties and by then I had already attempted a novel, several plays and a slew of short stories.

The only reason I became a copywriter was because someone was going to pay me to write. But even then, I always had a novel in my desk drawer and could remember getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to write before going into the office. Looking back on it, it wasn’t really a choice to plunge into fiction writing, it was just something I needed to do for myself, whether I got published or not.

DOLLFACE is quite a bit different from your first novel, EVERY CROOKED POT. Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write a novel that takes place in the Roaring 20s?
After writing a semi-autobiographical coming of age story, I wanted to do something that was completely different and separate from my own life and family. I’ve always adored the 1920s—long before BOARDWALK EMPIRE and the remake of THE GREAT GATSBY came along. Back in 2003 when I started working on this book I became fascinated by Chicago during the Roaring Twenties. I knew there was a story in there that hadn’t been told yet. I remember thinking, if I find this era so fascinating, maybe others will too.

dollfaceWhat do you love most about your main character, Vera, and why do you think readers will connect with her?
Oh, poor Vera! She really does get herself into a bit of a pickle, doesn’t she? What I really love about her though is how she grows and changes throughout the course of the novel. She has a lot of hard lessons to learn about love, family, motherhood, friendship and loyalty, but mostly she learns that she’s a lot tougher than she ever gave herself credit for.

In your research for Dollface, what was one of the most interesting things you uncovered?
Oh, there we so many things that you’d never find in books or photographs. At the top of the list would be my lunch with Al Capone’s great niece. She was fascinating in that she shared stories about her family and how she felt about people knowing she was a relative of Al Capone’s. She told me about one of her great aunts that served as a role model for a character on BOARDWALK EMPIRE. But the best part of our lunch was when she gave me a Tupperware catalogue. We had gone from talking about gangsters and flappers to storage containers. It was quite charming!

What did you enjoy the most about writing Dollface and what do you hope readers will take away from it?
I absolutely loved doing the research. I spent hours going through old newspaper clips, and meeting with people, visiting places like The Green Mill (a jazz club owned by Al Capone) and the sight of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. And when it came time to write, I just lost myself in the Roaring Twenties. It really felt like I was stepping back in time. Aside from the gore and violence, I wanted to capture all the quirkiness and fun of that time. A bookseller who’d read the novel described it as “a fun romp” and I hope others will feel that way, too.

everycrookedpotWhat are some of your favorite books or authors?
Michael Cunningham—I’d read anything he writes! The man is amazing. Same is true for Jhumpa Lahiri. I also loved RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles (read it three times) and Mona Simpson’s ANYWHERE BUT HERE changed my life.

What are you reading now?
Lots of research for the next book and in between, I’m trying to get through my TBR pile, which is toppling over my nightstand. At the top of that heap are LETTERS FROM SKYE by Jessica Brockmole and MRS. POE by Lynn Cullen.

Will you give us a bit of a teaser for your next novel, WHAT THE LADY WANTS?
This is about the department store magnate, Marshall Field who had a 30-year illicit affair with his neighbor, Delia Caton. Their properties touched and people believed that the lovers built a tunnel that connected their houses so they could meet in private. The novel opens with The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and goes through 1906 when Marshall Senior died. It not only covers their love affair but also shows the rise of Marshall Field & Company.

How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not working on your next project?
I think because writing is so solitary and isolating that when I’m not in the “book bunker” writing, you’ll find me out with the people I love. Also, there’s a group of writers, booksellers, reps, etc. who get together once a month for All-You-Can-Eat-Sushi. I know that sounds like a really bad idea, but it’s one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. It’s a fantastic little BYOB and we spend the whole day there, eating, drinking and talking about books and such. It’s sort of become our own version of the Algonquin Round Table.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
I’ll be finishing up WHAT THE LADY WANTS right after the first of the year and will begin research for my next book. I already have a few thoughts percolating inside my head on that. Beyond that, I can’t really say, but I’m excited to find out!

Keep up with Renee: Website | Twitter

About DOLLFACE:
America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

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