By Leslie Lindsay
New to the Elm Creek Quilts series from bestselling author of THE QUILTER’S APPRENTICE, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER, and RESISTANCE WOMEN comes this warm story brimming with nostalgia.
On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of THE QUIILTER’S APPRENTICE, the novel that launched the Elm Creek Quilts series in 1999, comes an update on the quilters we’ve come to know and love. THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE by Jennifer Chiaverini(William Morrow, Oct 1 2019) is a heartwarming tale steeped in nostalgia, old friendships and new. And I completely have a cover crush—you, too?!
It’s a snowy day in mid-December when we awake and begin the day with Sylvia, master quilter, and recently remarried…but there’s been a blizzard and the temperatures have plunged…water pipes at the local church have burst. The wooden floor at the community hall is warped and ruined and those plans for the Christmas Boutique—an annual sale of baked goods and handcrafted items to benefit the county food bank—is thwarted. Sylvia offers to host the event at Elm Creek Manor, her ancestral estate and also the summer home to her quilting camp.
We meet a host of different characters, of which the chapters are told in alternating POVs. There’s Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, once a young wife on the World War Two home front, and her second husband, Andrew. Sarah, co-founder of Elm Creek Quilt Camp an expectant mother. Agnes, who reflects on a beloved antique quilt, and empty-nesters, Gwen and Diane, who are sometimes at odds, but also contemplate family heirlooms, unfinished projects, and more.
THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE is a lighthearted, tender exploration of friendships, and much of it is told in the past, as a series of recollections. There’s charm and wisdom here and it might feel as if you have settled in for a story with past generations. I especially loved the manor and wanted more about the house (I always do!) and found I relished in the idea of being snowed in with a cup of tea and a roaring fire.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely Jennifer Chiaverini to the author interview series:
Jennifer, welcome. Twenty years! How did the Elm Creek Quilts begin, and can you give us a few reflections as you look back on twenty years with this series?
It certainly has been an exciting and unexpected journey from THE QUILTER’S APPRENTICE two decades ago to THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE today! Beginning writers are often advised to “write what you know,” and when I was starting out, I took this advice seriously. Since I knew about quilters—their quirks, their inside jokes, their disputes and their generosity, their quarrels and their kindnesses—the lives of quilters became a natural subject for me. I also wanted to pay tribute to the quilters of ages past who had preserved and handed down their traditions through the generations.
When I first began writing about quilters, I had two audiences in mind. The first included my quilter friends, who I thought would enjoy reading about contemporary women like themselves with problems and dreams like their own, overcoming obstacles in their lives by taking strength from their own moral courage and from the support of faithful friends. I also believed quilters would appreciate a depiction of modern quilters and quilt-making free of the usual stereotypes. Yet I also intended to write for non-quilters, to give them some insight into the quilting world, so that they might better understand how passionate we quilters are about our art and why we love it so.
I am always so intrigued to know what inspired a particular title. After you wrapped up the series in 2012 with THE GIVING QUILT, what inspired you to resume the series with THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE? Was it a location, a situation, a character, or something else you wanted to explore?
Although many of the Elm Creek Quilt novels are historical fiction—my favorite genre—eventually I reached a point where the historical subjects I found most compelling and the stories I most wanted to explore simply didn’t fit within the framework of the series. So after twenty Elm Creek Quilts novels, I wrote several stand-alone historical novels, including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Resistance Women. As a few years went by, readers continued to ask for another visit with Sylvia, Sarah, and their friends, so I decided to write The Christmas Boutique as a gift for these loyal fans. The twentieth anniversary of the series seemed an especially fine occasion to continue the Elm Creek Quilters’ story.
“Devotees of the Quilts series will relish these new episodes, and new fans will delight to discover such a well-stocked back catalog. A warm portrait of women bound by craft—perfect for fireside reading.”
I love this longstanding American tradition of sort of ‘piecing together’ our stories into a collected whole. There’s friendship and community that I think bind us—and these quilts—together. Can you speak to that, please?
I absolutely agree with you. In fact, one of the things I’ve always hoped readers would take away from the Elm Creek Quilts series is a greater understanding of how quilting is a wonderful creative outlet that can draw you into a wider community of talented, welcoming quilters who support and encourage one another. Perhaps more importantly, I hoped readers would discover how quilting can bring together people from different generations, nationalities, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds into a patchwork of friendship.
I loved, loved Elm Creek Manor. Here’s a passage I noted in THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE:
“Sarah’s ingenious and unlikely suggestion [to turn] Elm Creek Manor into a retreat for quilters, a place for them to stay, to learn, to find inspiration, and to enjoy the companionship of other quilters.”
Can you give us some more details of the manor? I always want to know about houses and architecture. Is it inspired by an actual home?
I’ve described Sylvia’s ancestral estate in so many novels that sometimes it almost feels like a real place that I’ve visited in the distant past. Unfortunately—and I hesitate to admit this because I know it will disappoint many readers—Elm Creek Manor is fictional. Only the red banked barn on Sylvia’s estate has a real-life counterpart, a barn in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania that has been restored and turned into a theater-in-the-round for a local community theater company. I’ve provided a detailed floor plan of Elm Creek Manor in my illustrated guide to the series, An Elm Creek Quilts Companion.
There are a variety of characters and stories within THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE. Is there a storyline or character you feel most aligned with? A story that might have come more organically for you?
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I’ve set several novels during this festive season, including THE CHRISTMAS QUILT—another Elm Creek Quilts novel—and CHRISTMAS BELLS, a historical novel exploring how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write his famous poem of the same name (which is better known today as the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) during the tragic years of the American Civil War. I suppose it’s the holiday itself—its traditions and customs, its music and flavors—that I aligned with while writing THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE rather than a particular storyline or character.
A common thread running through all of my novels, contemporary and historical alike, is the dynamic of the family, how those we are closest to and love most can be a source of both our greatest strength and our deepest insecurity and regret. Perhaps because of the expectations we have that Christmas is a time of joy and peace—and the effort we will make to create the mythical “Perfect Christmas”—the holidays tend to bring family conflicts to the surface, forcing us to deal with them at the least opportune moment. While this can make the holiday season difficult and stressful in real life, it offers wonderfully rich potential for storytelling.
What are your plans for the winter and holiday season?
I’m going to spend the holidays at home with my family, enjoying all of our favorite traditions. My mother, brother, and sister will be joining us from sunny Southern California, so I hope the weather will cooperate by giving us a lovely picturesque Wisconsin winter landscape outside the window but sparing us the artic temperatures. Best of all, my eldest son will be home from college for semester break. It will be so wonderful to have him home again!
It makes sense that everyone asks about quilting and writing, but do you wish you got asked more often?
I honestly never thought of it like that. I’m perfectly happy with how often readers ask me about quilting and writing as it is.
What is your next project? What are you working on now?
My next novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, explores the fascinating and often fraught relationships between Mary Todd Lincoln and her sisters and half-sisters. It’s often said that the American Civil War pitted brother against brother, but in reality, in many families, all were pulled into the conflict even if they did not take up arms. Opposing loyalties often divided sisters from sisters, parents from children, and such was the case in the Todd family. Mary, of course, was married to Union President and Commander in Chief Abraham Lincoln, and some of her brothers and brothers-in-law served in his administration or in the Union Army. However, other siblings and in-laws served in the Confederate forces, and some of her sisters and half-sisters were wed to Confederate officers. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters reveals how Mary’s relationships with her sisters influenced her from childhood as she grew to be a charming, intelligent belle and future bride of the poor but brilliant ambitious Illinois lawyer who would become the nation’s sixteenth president. The novel shows how her sisters supported her (or otherwise) and benefitted from their kinship (or suffered for it) when Mary ascended to the White House as first lady, and how they comforted her or kept their distance in the terrible, sorrowful years of her widowhood after her beloved husband was murdered right before her eyes.
Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time. Wishing you all the warmth and good cheer this holiday season.
Thanks! I hope your holiday season is merry and bright!
Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow me at @leslielindsay1 on Instagram
To learn more, connect with Jennifer Chiaverini via social media, or order a copy of THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Resistance Women, and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information please visit: www.jenniferchiaverini.com or follow Jennifer on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenniferChiaveriniAuthor
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow me at @leslielindsay1 on Instagram]