By Leslie Lindsay
In her New York Times bestselling debut, A PARIS APARTMENT, Michelle Gable fictionalized the true story of a French courtesan and the discovery of her sealed-for-seventy-years Parisian apartment, filled to the rafters of stunning pieces of artwork and furniture; a true treasure trove of untold stories.
And now, she turns her gaze to Nantucket, blending her love for old and new, fact and fiction, and weaving past narratives with present-day stories. It’s the ultimate melding of storytelling.
In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, Gable uses the faded pages of an alligator-skin guest book to transport readers to the late 1930s-1940s when the country was on ‘war watch.’ And then there’s Cliff House, a 99-year old summer home perched on the cliffs of Sconset, Nantucket. Due to erosion, be that familial or geographical, things are eroding.
So pack your bags, toss in your flip-flops and join me on the grand old porch that is Cliff House.
Leslie Lindsay: Michelle, it’s lovely to have you back. I recall the last time we chatted, you mentioned you were working on a new book set in Nantucket. Of course, I was enamored. What drove you to this location?
Michelle Gable:Thank you for having me back on the blog! I’ve always had an obsession with New England, in particular New England beaches, which is kind of strange for a California girl! But I like the history, and the changing seasons, and how a town’s population shifts between the months. The dynamics are entirely different in San Diego.
I wasn’t looking to set a book in Nantucket per se, but I stumbled across this article in Vanity Fair and knew it was the perfect fit! I decided to set the story on Nantucket, featuring a home facing a fate similar to that of Bluff House. It took me a bit to figure out the structure of the novel, and its characters, but I knew immediately it’d feature a guest book and that I’d call it THE BOOK OF SUMMER. I also knew the last line, and that shaped the rest.
The best part of writing this book was having an excuse to stay on Nantucket in the name of research. Last summer, my family and I rented a house on Baxter Road, where my characters have their home. We stayed on the non-cliff side, of course.
L.L.: And so it’s a real thing, these houses in Sconset crumbling off cliffs. Can you talk about that? What, if anything is being done to save these summer homes?
Michelle Gable: In my novel, the matriarch of the family, Cissy, is desperate to save her home and goes through all manner of time and funds to get her way. She thinks she can use her money and influence to “fight city hall” and force the installation of a number of controversial erosion control measures. The proposed solutions and drawbacks in the novel all mirror what occurred (and continues to occur) in real life. Nantucket did initiate the geotube installation/beach replenishment program a few years ago. Some say it’s prevented further erosion, while others disagree. There’s no obvious or clear-cut answer, that’s for sure, and in a way both sides are right.
L.L.: I love houses. Their stories are often fascinating, the secrets they hold, but also the design and architecture. It seems like they may also be a fascination of yours, too. I’m thinking of THE PARIS APARTMENT, the manse in I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS (which is actually in England). What are some of your favorite houses and their locations? They don’t have to be literary.
Michelle Gable: It’s funny because I never realized this until someone pointed it out at one of my book signings! Yes, homes have featured prominently in all three of my novels. I’ve never really followed astrology, but I am a Cancer, and that sign is known for being a homebody. So maybe there’s something to it! The central character in my fourth book is a displaced person and therefore someone without a home. This was before I realized my apparent fixation on “home as character.” I suppose “lack of home” fits in that bucket too.
In terms of favorite homes, the first one that comes to mind is my parents’, which they’ve lived in for almost forty years. It’s located in Del Mar, California, about ten minutes from where I live now. I have so many happy memories of their house (and yard) from my childhood, and my daughters’ childhoods too. They’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and even as tweens/teens still love to go see Gam-Gam and Gramps.
Also, I love my own house. We live in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, which is a funky beach town in northern San Diego County. We had the home custom built nearly ten years ago and—couldn’t you guess—it looks like it belongs in New England, not Southern California. I can tell people “I live in that white house with the brick and the picket fence” and they know exactly which house is mine because it’s very East Coast! I love it because we picked every aspect of it and because it’s ours.
And I love the shingled homes on Nantucket, especially the charming, rose-covered Sconset cottages. I took pictures of several of my favorites and put them on my Pinterest page.
L.L.: THE BOOK OF SUMMER alternates between POVs and time periods. How did you decide to structure the story this way? Was there a particular story or timeline that you felt a particular affinity toward?
Michelle Gable: I like to write with alternating POVs and time periods because that’s the format of book I most enjoy reading. Multiple perspectives are fun to play with, to imagine how the same scenario might be viewed differently depending on circumstance.
All three of my books have alternated between the past and the present (or semi-present—I’ll See You in Paris was set in 2001), and in my first two, I’d say I most enjoyed writing the historical storylines. In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, I really can’t decide. I liked the friendships (reluctant and otherwise) in the historical storyline, and the romance in the modern day.
Another commonality in my books is that they were all inspired by a true story. But, unlike the first two, The Book of Summer’s real-life thread is in the modern timeline.
L.L.: I read somewhere that if books were kids and you had to pick your favorite, THE BOOK OF SUMMER would be it. Yet so many authors struggle with their second and third books…perhaps not you? Can you shed some light on this?
Michelle Gable: It’s funny, with my first book, my editorial letter was twelve pages long, for my second it was 2-3 pages, and for THE BOOK OF SUMMER it was a one-sentence email!
Once I started writing it, the book came easily, and it was pure joy the entire way through. No frustration. No second-guessing. When I was done editing I missed the characters and that’s never happened before! That said, it was harder to begin because I was grappling with too many storylines, which is a common problem of mine! Early on, I sent about forty pages to my agent with a note pleading for “help!” She asked: “whose story is this?” With that simple questions, all of my problems were solved.
Until recently, I never understood why it was so easy after that initial hurdle. But now I think I know! It has the fewest “real” people in it. Though I write fiction, when there are real people and events I try to make the story and their descriptions plausible. With the book I’m writing now, I’ve read over seventy biographies just to get thing right! Bess, Ruby, Hattie, and Cissy from THE BOOK OF SUMMER are all entirely from my imagination.
L.L.: I have to admit, I fell a bit in love with Evan Mayhew. It’s that old love, first love thing…perhaps we all have a sort of soft spot for that person in our lives. Did you have a favorite character?
Michelle Gable: I’m so glad that you felt that way about Evan! I did too, as I wrote him. He played a much bigger role than I expected. I’d envisioned the modern day storyline being only about Cissy and Bess, but then he showed up and I realized he needed to stay.
I don’t think I have a favorite character. My first thought was feisty, modern-day Cissy, but then again Bess takes up a huge place in my heart. Ruby is so much fun and I love, love, love Hattie. I want to write an entire book about her, though I don’t currently have plans to do so.
L.L.: In terms of themes, I see Cliff House as a bygone era. But things are shifting. The kids, busy with work and their own families, don’t come home much anymore. Marriages are wobbly. There’s definitely a connection between the delicate ground the house sits on and the family dynamics. Was this intentional on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?
Michelle Gable: That evolved organically as most connections in my books tend to do! I don’t typically set out to create specific metaphors or parallels. But something usually clicks while I’m writing and I think ‘a-ha!’ This is a perfect contrast!
L.L.: What’s on your ‘bucket list’ for summer? Any good reads you can recommend?
Michelle Gable: My “bucket list” would include owning a home on Nantucket, but that’s really more of a pipe dream than something that could actually happen! That said, there are places I’d like to travel this and future summers. High on the list of places I’ve never been but hope to see one day: Spain, Portugal, African safari.
As for books, fabulous recent releases include The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg, The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward (one of my favorite writers!), and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I loved A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, which is a recent read for me, but wasn’t released recently. I track my favorite reads on Pinterest too.
L.L.: What should I have asked but may have forgotten?
Michelle Gable: Well, you could ask me what I’m working on now…but I’m not ready to talk about it yet!
L.L.: Michelle, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for popping over.
Michelle Gable: Thanks so much for having me!
For more information, to connect with Michelle Gable via social media, or to snag your own copy of THE BOOK OF SUMMER (available May 9 from St. Martin’s Press), please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment and I’ll See You in Paris, Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. After a twenty-year career in finance, she now writes full time. Michelle lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hang-outs:
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[Author and cover images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Images of Baxter Road/Nantucket retrieved from linked Vanity Fair article, Rose-covered Sconset home retrieved from , image of Del Mar, CA retrieved from Wikipedia. Books and birds retrieved from, all on 5.3.17]