Monday, November 2, 2015

"Twain’s End"

Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and as an April 2010 Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. Her novel, Reign of Madness, about Juana the Mad, daughter of the Spanish Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, was chosen as a 2011 Best of the South selection by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and was a 2012 Townsend Prize finalist. Her 2013 novel, Mrs. Poe, examines the fall of Edgar Allan Poe through the eyes of poet Francis Osgood.

Cullen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Twain's End, and reported the following:
Phew! I think Twain’s End might have passed the Page 69 Test. I wrote the book to answer my own curiosity about why Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, had such a nasty break-up with his secretary, Isabel Lyon, in 1909, the year before he died. In order to know what went wrong between the pair, I had to deeply know them before they met as well as during their intense relationship. This applied to every aspect of their lives, from their families to their friends to their homes. As does every page in the book, the happenings on page 69 further the reader’s understanding of what might have led to their crisis.

Page 69 might seem like a simple scene, but actually it’s the result of much research and travel. As the scene opens, we find Isabel Lyon with Mark Twain’s daughter, Jean, at his rented home overlooking the Hudson. Isabel had recently been hired as secretary to Mark Twain’s wife, but had yet to meet the bed-bound Livy Clemens. Isabel was finding herself in the awkward position of being charmed by her employer’s husband while trying to stay in the good graces of Twain’s disconcertingly odd grown daughters. As Isabel noticed about Jean Clemens on page 69, “as sturdy as she looked, there was something vulnerable about her, something broken, like the stray dogs and cats she was continually nursing back to health.”

To write this scene I had to know how the Clemens’s home outside New York City (now in the Bronx) looked. I consulted pictures of the house from the period during which Twain lived in it.

I visited the actual setting, something that I do for every scene that I write. I find that it’s the best way to help the reader feel as if she or he is there.

On-site research is always an education. In the case of Wave Hill, with its commanding view of the Hudson and the New Jersey Palisades, it was also a treat.

I had to know how my characters look, as well. Fortunately, there were plenty of photos to consult. On page 69, I describe Jean as having a “strong chin and Greek-goddess nose, healthy good looks.” I pulled that description from this photo.

[photo right: Jean Clemens, Twain’s youngest daughter, and an animal advocate.]

The scene was viewed from the perspective of Isabel Lyon, a woman I came to admire. In this photo-based portrait by renowned painter Susan Boone Durkee, you can see the intelligence, strength, and perhaps weariness, in Isabel Lyon’s eyes. Her boss was the most famous man in the world at the time. Was he her lover? The answer to what I believe came between the pair lies in the pages of Twain’s End.

Every picture tells a story. Twain’s End reveals a world.
Learn more about the book and author at Lynn Cullen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mrs. Poe.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Poe.

--Marshal Zeringue