Interview with Kathy Leonard Czepiel, author of A Violet Season

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publish Date: July 10, 2012

Format: Trade Paperback

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Simon & Schuster / Kindle / Nook / iBookstore

Synopsis: A mother’s choices in a time of crisis threaten the one person she means to protect—her only daughter—and force her to make the boldest move of her life.

The violet industry is booming in 1898, and a Hudson Valley farm owned by the Fletcher family is turning a generous profit for its two oldest brothers. But Ida Fletcher, married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her daughter, Alice, has left school to work.

As they risk losing their share of the farm, the two women make increasingly great sacrifices for their family’s survival, sacrifices that will set them against one another in a lifelong struggle for honesty and forgiveness.

Vivid and compelling, A Violet Season is the story of an unforgettable mother-daughter journey in a time when women were just waking to their own power and independence.

Kathy Leonard Czepiel's Bio: Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and teaches writing at Quinnipiac University. Her short fiction has been published in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, Calyx, Confrontation, and The Pinch. A native of New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley, she now lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.


 Q. How did you come up with the idea for A Violet Season?

When I returned to my hometown after college to work for the local newspaper, I learned that the area where I grew up had once been known as “the violet capital of the world.” I couldn’t believe I had spent my whole life there and never known this. Almost all traces of the industry had disappeared. The seed for the novel was my desire to learn more about the violet-growing history of my hometown.

Q. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I think one of the wonderful things about any book is that every reader will take from it something different. Maybe it will be a message, maybe a new way of thinking about something. I do think the novel ended up being, in part, about women’s work and how difficult it was. Sometimes we have a romantic view of the past that neglects to recognize how hard everyone worked, day in and day out, just to get by. I also thought when I started that I might be writing a novel about forgiveness. Then, for a long time, I thought that theme had been dropped. In the end, I think the novel did end up being about forgiveness after all, just not in the way I had expected.

Q. How much of the book is realistic?

I researched the book carefully, so all of the details--of violet farming, of turn-of-the-century New York City, of the Spanish-American War, and so on--are rendered as accurately as possible. The only factual change I made was that in the novel the violet industry closes down completely in the 1930s, whereas in reality it was in a long decline until the late 1970s, when the last violet farm closed. There is one farmer in the area who grows anemones now but still maintains a small bed of violets.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?

Not at all. I’m really pleased with the book. As I work on my second novel, I’m sure I will do some things differently, but it’s a different book. The one thing I’ve already changed about my writing process is that I was able to write an extensive outline the second time out, which has made the first draft go much more smoothly. I don’t think I could have done that the first time. There was a steep learning curve.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Not knowing whether anyone but a couple of friends would ever read it. Some of my short stories had been published, so that gave me the confidence to move forward. But I sometimes got discouraged about the novel. I just had to have faith in my own work. And to some extent, I had to write for myself, for my own pleasure, and not worry or care about whether anyone else would ever read it.

Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Patience, which does not come naturally to me! And persistence. I wrote this book over the course of four summers, but during the school year I couldn’t work on it much because I teach. Then I spent a fifth year pitching it to agents. Then it took a year and a half to work its way through the publication process. There were so many points at which I could have just given up the project and didn’t. I learned that being patient and persistent was worth the effort!

Q. Did you have a musical playlist you listened to when writing your book? If so, what kind of music?

I generally don’t like to work with music playing. It interrupts my concentration. But if there are other sounds distracting me, I’ll put in my earphones and listen to something without lyrics. I like Enya, the Anonymous Four (who sing mostly in Latin, which I can’t understand), and a solo improvisational album by the cellist David Darling, to name a few.

Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I can’t remember ever not writing. Even before I knew how to write, I would tell my mother stories, and she would copy them down in little handmade booklets. Then I would draw pictures to go with them. Both my parents are big readers, and my dad also loves to write, so reading and writing are in my DNA.

Q. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I don’t have a single favorite, but one of my favorites in historical fiction is Andrea Barrett. I love her collection Servants of the Map. Her stories often include lots of rich scientific detail. When you read her work, you feel you are in the hands of someone who knows much more than she is telling you, someone with a great deal of expertise. She creates an entire world out of the past, and as a reader, you believe every moment of it.

Q. Tell us your latest news.

I’m working on my second novel, which is set in 1929 and post-World War Two. It was inspired in part by my grandparents’ house, which I loved visiting as a kid. In the next few months, I’ll be learning more about how houses were built before there were nail guns.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I wish for you a sunny day, a hammock, a cool drink, and a few uninterrupted hours to read to your heart’s content!


  1. Star, thanks so much for the interview. I learned so much from reading Kathy's post.


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