Continuing with my theme of summer reads, have I got a recommendation for you! Call me Zelda by Erika Robuck is a fascinating story about the fiery and treacherous relationship of literary icons F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. We often hear so much about the king and queen of the Jazz Age, yet we don’t know much about Zelda other than what Scott has written about her through his novels. Robuck (also the author of Hemingway’s Girl) lets us into Zelda’s life through her latest novel, which kept me glued to the pages.
I am so lucky to have gotten to know Erika through her books and also through the wonderful world of social media and blogging. She has done me the great honor of being my “guest” on this blog today.
1. What drew you to write about Zelda Fitzgerald?
Hemingway was the catalyst for my interest in Zelda, though he would probably grumble at the thought. While I researched my first novel, Hemingway’s Girl, I kept reading about his intense dislike of Zelda. Because Hemingway’s ideas about women were often unhealthy, I started investigating to find my own conclusions. I would have to agree to disagree with Hemingway about his opinion of Zelda. I think she was a woman of talent and fascination, and I have great affection for her.
2. In your research of Zelda, were there things you were surprised you learned?
I was surprised at the level of Zelda’s accomplishment in whatever form of artistic expression she undertook. For example, when she embarked upon serious ballet study in her later twenties, she was invited to take a lead position with an Italian dance company. She wrote a novel in six weeks. She was a prolific painter whose work was exhibited many times during her life. She had genuine talent in many areas.
3. By writing a fictionalized story (rather than a nonfiction biography), what do you hope readers will learn about Zelda?
I’m particularly interested in the period of time when Zelda struggled with mental illness and the decline of her marriage, during the years after the roaring twenties. While it is a time of tension and pain in the Fitzgeralds’ lives, it is also a time of self-discovery, courage, and small but notable triumphs. I wanted to explore Zelda’s true nature, her talent, and her heart, and I hope that readers see her as a woman apart from her husband, though inextricably bound to him, and as a gifted artist. Through my protagonist, a fictional nurse, I also want to disprove Scott’s theory that there are “no second acts in American lives.”
4. While reading your book, I began to wonder if Zelda actually had schizophrenia or if she was just a victim of unfortunate life circumstances and a difficult marriage. What do you think — do you think she was mentally ill?
Schizophrenia was a blanket diagnosis of her time that covered many manifestations of mental illness. Modern psychologists speculate that Zelda may have been bipolar or manic depressive. There is a trend now that says Zelda was simply a woman ahead of her time, and did not have mental illness. Though I wish it were true, I do not agree with this idea. The sad fact is that Zelda saw only the color red for periods of time, sometimes thought people were ants, and heard Scott speaking to her from the drainpipes. She attempted suicide on multiple occasions, and her own brother succeeded in committing suicide. Perhaps she would have been better able to function in the present day, or would have been able to express herself more freely, but I do believe she had mental illness.
5. Do you have plans to write about another famous literary character?
I do, and all literary figures lead to other figures. In this case, Scott’s Princeton friends Edmund Wilson and John Bishop guided me to the Bohemian poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay. She is the person of fascination in my new novel, Fallen Beauty, which will be published in 2014.
Thank you, Erika, for taking the time to answer a few questions about Zelda Fitzgerald, your writing, and what’s next in your literary work.
Disclosure: I received complimentary copy a copy of Call me Zelda from Penguin Group Publishers. All opinions are my own and I only endorse books that I am proud to recommend to others.