I’m excited to bring you another post in my author’s interview series. Joining us today is Felicia Grossman, author of American historical romance novels Appetites & Vices and Dalliances & Devotion. Felicia is a Delaware native. She now lives in the Midwest with her family and two dogs. When not writing romance, she enjoys eclairs, cannoli, and Sondheim musicals. Sounds like a girl after my own heart!
I spend a significant amount of time hurling myself down the notorious rabbit hole in search of reading material specific to my genre. There is a plethora of historical fiction that speaks to the horrifying events of the Holocaust. These narratives are closely followed by tales of the Inquisition and, of course, biblical stories. On the other side of the historical fiction/romance coin, we usually find ourselves in an English setting, though sometimes we get to go to “the continent.” Imagine my surprise when I discovered Felicia Grossman’s work! Here we have an author that introduces Jewish protagonists in the context of early American history. I have to learn more about her. Join me, won’t you?
Host: Welcome to my blog, Felicia. I’m delighted to get to know you. Tell us a little about your work.
Guest: I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me. In 2019, I released a historical romance miniseries with Carina Press called The Truitts. The two books in that series are Appetites & Vices, which takes place in 1841 and Dalliances & Devotion which follows the next generation of the family in 1871. I also had a contemporary romance short story called The Sweet Spot in the Love All Year anthology this past September.
Host: Sweet spot, indeed! My favorite eras tend to be the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian periods. Tell me why you were motivated to set your stories in this time frame?
Guest: The historical romances I write are primarily set in the middle of the nineteenth century. I think I keep going back to that era because, due to emerging technology, a great deal of changes occurred all over the world. Travel became easier, both by land and water, as well as communication with the advent of the telegraph. There are a lot of parallels between that era and the era we’re in now. Additionally, the theory and philosophy written during that time period, especially in central Europe is extremely interesting and exciting to me.
Host: This time was certainly an important period for Jews, particularly in the field of philosophy. The Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Haskalah, was in full swing then, though there doesn’t seem to be enough focus on the subject—much to my chagrin. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre?
Guest: Because Jews have mainly been a diaspora people for the last few eons, and thus have generally lived as a minority subject to a majority culture’s rule, our history is over looked. For example, saying something like “American,” or “western,” or “non-western,” history doesn’t necessarily include or capture our experience. Jews have lived in all those locations but had a completely different experience than the dominant class/culture/nationality. Thus, you could set a book 19th century historical novel in the Russian Empire or the Austrian or even the Ottoman, and while I had ancestors who lived in all those places during that time period, unless your characters were Jewish, the depiction of life would not be the same as what my ancestors experienced. It wouldn’t be our story. So I think, to get those stories, you need to need that more specific focus, if that makes sense?
Host: Yes! That completely makes sense to me and I applaud you for your efforts. I have long said we need to shine the light on our ancestors lives and celebrate their achievements, as well as their obstacles. I champion Jewish protagonists in lighter narratives, because I feel we do a disservice to our community by only speaking of the tragic and horrifying events of our past. Do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?
Guest: This is my favorite question because no one has ever asked me this but I truly think this book is why I write—or at least the feeling it gave me is what I want to create for other people. So the book is Out of Many Waters by Jacqueline Dembar Greene. It’s an MG novel I read in second grade, a few years after it came out. It’s about a Jewish girl who was taken aware from her parents by the church during the Portuguese Inquisition and she ends up on the ship that will bring the first group of Jews to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1655. It was the first time I saw myself in history before the late 19th century. I was always a history person but I always sort of knew that the stories were never about me or anyone I could have been that wasn’t either centered on the Holocaust or a very small recent experience. I wanted roots deeper than 1881 and I got it.
Host: It is amazing, isn’t it, how a book can have such an impact on our young lives. An extraordinary amount of time is spent researching for interesting facts and those small, important details that make our novels so affecting. Were you moved by any of your own discoveries? Was anything particularly surprising or touching, in a way you may never have expected?
Guest: For especially Appetites & Vices, I relied pretty heavily on Rebecca Gratz’s letters for both daily life references as well as what sort of Judaism my Jewish characters practiced. What initially surprised me was how similar Gratz’s observance level is to my own as well as her relationship to with emerging formal Jewish institutions in Philadelphia despite the fact she lived in the late 18th and 19th centuries. I would probably argue that Judaism for me now is much more similar to hers and my characters than it is to my own ancestors during that period who didn’t live in the U.S. It’s something I should have realized, both because a great deal of the current American institutions as well as the movement of Judaism I belong to were created by and for that initial small group of Jews from western Europe. And when the bulk of the American Jewish population came as refugees from the former Pale of Settlement between 1881 and 1924, assimilation into the existing Jewish culture was heavily pushed. I’d argue that it wasn’t until after the Holocaust that concerted, concentrated resistance to that sort of assimilation and the preservation of certain spiritual based Jewish movements from Eastern Europe took hold in the U.S. in a significant way. Thus, it make sense that my family would adopt the customs brought from those early generations and make them ours as well.
Host: I remember reading a quote—it’s on one of my Pinterest boards—that says: ‘You will always leave something behind: Your influence’. Rebecca Gratz is one of the many people who highly influenced American Jewry; though sadly, many in our community are not familiar with her work. There are so many men and women who have had a tremendous impact on our lives today. Needless to say, they would serve as great building blocks when creating characters for our story lines. Do you have a favorite character? One who particularly resonates with you?
Guest: While I’d say there’s always a part of me in all my POV characters, Ursula Nunes in Appetites & Vices was based on and written for early teenage me. All the frustration, all the loneliness, and yes, all the, for lack of a better word, bullying, were based on my own younger life. Her personality, her strengths, her likes and dislikes are also very much based on little me. The biggest difference is her hair and eye color. I wrote her and her HEA and arc for the girl I used to be and all the girls like us, who I think, deserve to see themselves win.
Host: Have you visited any of the locations you have written about?
Guest: I’m from Wilmington, Delaware and set both Truitt books as well as The Sweet Spot, in the Wilmington area and yes, I’ve literally been everywhere I’ve described. The Truitt house is supposed to be Winterthur (even though Winterthur was built later) and the Nunes house is a specific house on Old Kennett Pike. The Levy house is based on a combination of houses in South Philadelphia near 4th and Delancey. Bedford Springs, the spa David and Amalia visit in Dalliances & Devotion, existed then and existed now (it’s owned by Omni). All the places in Pittsburgh and Gettysburg are also based on real places I’ve visited. That was what actually made those books so easy (and fun) to write, the setting was home.
Host: I completely understand. My experiences and familiarity with Buenos Aires and the other provinces in Argentina helped immeasurably when I wrote my first few books. The writing is richer, I would think, when the author is connected to the settings and events in the story line. Can you recall a favorite scene or setting from your work?
Guest: My absolute favorite scene I ever wrote was the carriage ride (on what is now Route 52) at the end of Appetites & Vices, with Ursula, her father, and her Uncle Bernard, where we learn that not only were they trying to marry her off to half of Jewish upper class Europe (I have an entire head cannon of actual specific people they had in mind, which gets mentioned a little in Dalliances & Devotion), but that, to protect her reputation, Uncle Bernard had used some fun quirks in Jewish law (which got threaded in earlier) regarding marriage (I took a Rabbi Michael Broyde course in graduate school and that particular area of Jewish law is his expertise).
Host: I am a little in awe of your academic background! Sometimes I have to pinch myself (figuratively speaking, of course!) when I have the opportunity to interact with educators, historians and published authors of renown fame. As I am relatively new to this craft, I often wonder how others got their start. How long have you been writing? When did you first consider yourself and author?
Guest: I’ve always been writing. I actually wrote my first full length manuscript my first year of college (it was WF/suspense). However, I didn’t decide to look into doing anything besides saving things on a disk and putting it in a drawer until the beginning of 2016, when my youngest started sleeping through the night. I’m not sure I considered myself an author until I opened that box from Harlequin with the physical, promotional samples of Appetites & Vices that I could actually hold in my hands because it all didn’t seem real until that moment.
Host: Ah! I know that feeling well! There’s nothing like holding that freshly printed book in your hands and knowing that it’s the culmination of your blood, sweat and tears! Let me ask you another question along those lines. Are you a “panster” – flying by the seat of your pants and writing come what may, or a “plotter”- starting out with a plot, and an outline and numerous spreadsheets?
Guest: I would say I’m a combination. I start with a pretty lose synopsis with a few tent poles but things often change while I’m writing. I love tropes and structure. While I totally get that people can find them limiting, I find them comforting. They’re like a guide that makes the entire task seem more manageable. So even when I play and twist them, I still have touchstones so I don’t get too lost.
Host: So tell us, are you working on something now? Perhaps something Downton-esque? Hint, hint…
Guest: I’m always writing and hoping to have some fun good news to share soon.
Host: I have no doubt that you will! Felicia, is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off?
Guest: Thank you so much for interviewing me. I had so much fun! If you want more information about me or my books you can find me at: