3 May 2018

Historical Fiction Blog Tour with Mary Sharratt, Author of Ecstasy


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US


In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Mary Sharratt as part of her international blog tour:

Tell us about your latest book.

ECSTASY is drawn from the dramatic life of composer, muse, and life artist, Alma Schindler Mahler (1879 – 1964). Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. 

Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Alma Mahler c. 1902.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with. Once I sat down and did the research, an entirely new picture of Alma emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale clichĂ©. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. 

She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

I hope my readers will be as moved by Alma’s story as I am. I think the time has truly come for a more nuanced and feminist appraisal of Alma’s life and work, and I hope ECSTASY challenges some of the commonly held misperceptions about her.

Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to stop composing as a condition of their marriage. Deeply in love and in awe of his genius, she reluctantly agreed, even though this broke her heart. In this regard, her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of love? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of domesticity?

What Alma’s story reveals is how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers. Fortunately Alma does eventually triumph and take back her power.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I start in the mornings and write as long into the afternoon as I can. At a certain point my brain just clouds over and signals that it’s time to step away from the computer and do something physically active. Then I go to the nearby boarding stable to take care of my beautiful mare, Booshka. Shoveling horse manure everyday helps me keep our modern politics in perspective.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write every day and never give up. Keep a journal to develop your own unique voice that is different from any other writer’s voice or style. Read and admire your favorite authors, but don’t copy them. Do let them inspire you. Get support from other writers—join a truly supportive feedback group if you can. It has to be a support, not a fight club, obviously. Avoid hanging out with any group that belittles you or puts you down as a person in the name of “honest criticism.” 

And also support other writers. Read their books and attend their events. Get to know them, because when your book comes out, they can reach out to help you—maybe by writing a blurb or helping you place an essay or get reviewed. The writing world is so tightly knit and interwoven. You can’t afford to make enemies or burn bridges. Help build that supportive network that will in turn support you.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Nothing beats getting national press or having a major bookseller endorse you. ECSTASY is an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a Chicago Review of Books Book of the Month, and a New York Post Must Read. However, I could never have received any of this without my house publicist. You need a really good publicist to make these inroads.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Before I did the research for this book, I had no clue that the person who reinvented the New York Philharmonic for the Twentieth Century and became its president was a woman—Mary Seney Sheldon. Nor had I ever heard of ethnomusicologist, composer, and Native American rights activist, Natalie Curtis. Or sculptor Ilse Conrat who won international prizes and exhibited her work in the Vienna Secession Museum alongside the work of Klimt. 

I only came across these women by reading Alma’s diaries and her memoir. Ilse Conrat was her girlhood friend. The great injustice is that these high-achieving women were effectively written out of history. Alma, however, is remembered because she was so enmeshed in the lives of famous men. This is one of the most bitter ironies of women’s history—which women are remembered and which are forgotten.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scene in ECSTASY where Alma makes the heartbreaking choice to give up her own music to marry Gustav Mahler and become his muse.

What are you planning to write next?

Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelations is the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.

Mary Sharratt
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About the Author


MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules. Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady's Mask. For more information, please visit Mary Sharratt's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 10 Review at Broken Teepee Wednesday, April 11 Feature at Passages to the Past Thursday, April 12 Review at Bookfever Review at Unabridged Chick Friday, April 13 Interview at Unabridged Chick Review at View From the Birdhouse Saturday, April 14 Review at Clarissa Reads it All Monday, April 16 Review at Cup of Sensibility Tuesday, April 17 Review at Based on a True Story Wednesday, April 18 Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Thursday, April 19 Review at History From a Woman's Perspective Friday, April 20 Review at Linda's Book Obsession Sunday, April 22 Review at Carole Rae's Random Ramblings Monday, April 23 Review at A Bookaholic Swede Tuesday, April 24 Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Wednesday, April 25 Review at A Literary Vacation Thursday, April 26 Guest Post at A Bookish Affair Friday, April 27 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews Monday, April 30 Review at Caryn, the Book Whisperer Tuesday, May 1 Review at A Bookish Affair Thursday, May 3 Interview at The Writing Desk Monday, May 7 Review at What Cathy Read Next Wednesday, May 9 Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views Thursday, May 10 Review at Writing the Renaissance Friday, May 11 Interview at Writing the Renaissance Monday, May 14 Interview at Let Them Read Books Wednesday, May 16 Review at Jorie Loves a Story Thursday, May 17 Review at Nicole Evelina Friday, May 18 Interview at Nicole Evelina


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a paperback copy of Ecstasy! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below. Giveaway Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Giveaway is open to US residents only. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. Ecstasy

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