March 14 Blog

Welcome to Buttonwood's Blog

Hi everyone! This is a new feature for us and something of an experiment, but we wanted to engage with our customers on a new level. We're hoping to use our blog to give some store updates, behind the scenes snippets, and recap some of our events for those who could not attend. 


Speaking of Event Recaps...

Last night was one of our Supper with the Authors: We had Christopher Castellani and Whitney Scharer as our author guests. The two of them not only published historical fiction pieces within the same month, but have been friends for twenty years. Whitney and Chris told us about working in the same office early in their careers at GrubStreet before diving into the impetus for their books and some details about their research processes. For those of you who have not made it to one of our Suppers, we hold them right here at Buttonwood after hours. Beginning around 4pm in the afternoon, we start hauling our bookcases around and transform our store into a little cafe with tables for attendees to sit and chat. This evening we had an intimate crowd with some regular attendees and some new faces.  

Chris's book, Leading Men, tells of Frank Merlo, Tennessee Williams' longtime lover, and the relationship between the two men. The focus on the supportive partner in an artistic relationship allows for a unique approach to the arts and ideas about genius. Chris continued, saying that he sees the relationship between the two men, Merlo and Williams, as its own kind of character, really adding depth to the how that functions in his novel. 

Whitney's book, The Age of Light, is a fictionalized story of the photographer Lee Miller. Miller, whose close relationship with Man Ray--she was both his lover and his model--influenced her own career. Filled with steamy darkroom scenes, The Age of Light, goes into the process of photography as an artist would approach it and the technical details never bog down the story. Whitney told us of how Miller packed away all her art--negatives and prints--after WWII and hid it away in her attic so that not even her son knew of her career until the end of her life. 

Both Whitney and Chris spoke about the structure of their novels; they each used a three part narrative style, interweaving past and present. Whitney framed the story with Lee in the sixties, with the meat of her novel taking place during Miller's Paris years, which she interrupted with snapshots of her time as a war correspondent. Chris begins with Merlo on his deathbed, waiting for Williams to come visit him, and mixes in a modern day story with an actress friend of theirs and the glamorous party-filled days of 1953.Whitney and Chris in conversation

Whitney told us she had been thinking and working on her book since about 2007 when she was inspired by a Peabody Essex Museum exhibit on Miller and Ray. Chris said his idea for a book about Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo had been percolating since about 1997 when he found a purported 'tell-all' biography that introduced him to some of the more dramatic parts of Williams' life. Both authors had done extensive research as they prepared for their novels. In response to an audience question, they spoke about how in some ways, when writing their fiction based on real people they needed to write for two audiences: the readers who were already fans of Williams or Miller, and the readers who knew nothing about their subject matter. Their characterization had to be engaging to both sets of readers without having someone feel that they were not being authentic to the historic person. 

The conversation was lively, the food delicious, and the evening a delight. I hope for anyone who has been considering coming to one of our suppers and has not yet had the time, this gives you a little taste of what they're like. 

L to R, Events Coordinator Totsie, Whitney Scharer, Store Owner Kathy, our Penguin Sales Rep Karl, Chris Castellani, our Hachette Sales Rep Katrina, and Book Manager Gwendolyn