In her first novel under a pen name, 2014’s Madame Picasso, historical fiction author Anne Girard brought to life the mesmerizing tale of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time, Pablo Picasso. After the pair’s chance meeting at an art exhibit, a lifelong connection is formed, but their romance is not one without obstacles. With a sharp eye for detail, Girard paints an intricate portrait of one of the most fascinating men in art history and the woman who would become his unsung muse.
Girard recently released her second work, Platinum Doll, which is set against the backdrop of the Golden Age of Hollywood and tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film. Alongside a glittering cast of Hollywood titans — Clark Gable, Clara Bow, Howard Hughes and many more — Harlow achieves her dream of seeing her name in lights, but learns along the way that fame always comes with a price.
Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton and Irving Stone.
Platinum Doll is your second novel under your Anne Girard pen name, but your 15th overall (with the others published under your actual name of Diane Haeger). What initially made you decide to use a pen name?
My previous novels had all been more deeply historical, and quite a bit further back in time. Since I was making a broad leap, jumping from Tudor England to 1900s Paris, it was thought to be a way to mark the difference and not disappoint readers of Diane Haeger novels.
How have you evolved as a writer over the years?
Great question! When I began writing in 1990, authors had far more leeway to write a book in whatever length felt right for the subject, and to include lots of details. Now, with paper costs what they are, and most readers seeking shorter more concise reads, it has been essential for me to pare down my manuscripts and to cut out extraneous details, and sometimes secondary character plotlines that I would have included originally.
How much research goes into a novel such as Madame Picasso or Platinum Doll?
As much research as humanly possible! Once I commit to a subject, and think I can bring something fresh to the telling of their story, I am obsessed with the research and with getting it right. Initially, it means reading every line of every biography on the subject in order to set a framework for the novel, and to help write a detailed outline. After that, it’s books on costumes of the period, books on dialogue/speech patterns of the period (and country), and current events books. During that time, I am also establishing contacts with experts on the subject who will hopefully—if the stars all align, and kismet happens—allow me to interview them for the book. Then I always go to the places and spend time where they lived and worked to hopefully make their stories more vivid.
How did your meeting with Lucien Clergue help to shape or change your view of Pablo Picasso?
That was absolute kismet, and he didn’t so much change my view of Picasso as reinforce what I had come to believe through my initial research. Monsieur Clergue was very generous with his time. He was able to tell me, from firsthand knowledge, about the private Picasso, a bit different, to say the least, from his much publicized public persona. He spoke to me at length of Picasso’s quiet generosity, loyalty, and great sense of humor—all elements of a largely enigmatic man which I strove to include in Madame Picasso.
What inspired you to explore the life of Jean Harlow for your most recent novel, Platinum Doll?
I love being able to share sides or elements of historical characters that are little known, and to champion their stories. It’s rewarding to allow readers to reconsider preconception they might have, or to view my characters in a different, more compassionate light. In other cases, it’s great just to introduce readers to characters they knew absolutely nothing about. In the case of Harlow, many people don’t know much about her other than the iconic platinum blonde hair and the stylized photographs history has left us of her. I loved discovering that she was well-educated, a passionate reader, smart, funny and devoted to her family. Once I discovered those things about her, I was hooked.
When you’re in search of inspiration, where do you turn?
I find it anywhere and everywhere honestly. I read constantly: fiction, biographies, non-fiction… everything. Often times, if I’m stuck, whether for a new character or for an element of the book I’m working on, I find the inspiration in one of those places, even if it has nothing to do with my story. It’s kind of like getting a wonderful little piece of advice or encouragement from a friend, one that puts you back on the right path. Love when that happens!
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
It’s a definite tie between Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen and At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. Both women write exquisitely.
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Listen to your heart, do your research, know your market, and then get those words down on paper. You can’t fix, edit, change or sell something that’s only in your creative mind. I have always loved this quote: “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right… it’s to get it written.” That is so true.
What are you working on next?
For the moment, that’s top secret, but I’m already in love with the characters and the story, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone as soon as possible!