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The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott discussion with author Kelly O’Connor McNees

Edited to add: If you didn’t get your question answered or have follow-up questions, Kelly has started a thread on her own blog so she can answer those questions for you!

Hi, Readers!

Tonight I’m excited and privileged to welcome Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, to our Reading Series discussion. She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions at 6 pm PST (9 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Kelly.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Kelly and, of course, would welcome more. Here’s what we have so far.

Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti asks:

I am curious as to why Kelly weaves the thread of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass” throughout her novel from time to time?  Was there meant to be any special innuendo or reason behind that other than literary reference?

Also, was the loss that summer of  Louisa’s sister Anna’s almost fiancee fictional, or did that really happen?

Did both sisters actually leave the Alcott family at the end of that summer and go off to different places?

Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of Looking For Salvation at the Dairy Queen, asks:

I immediately fell into step with the March sisters.  And even though these women have been in our collective memories for generations now, this story felt wonderfully modern and contemporary.  When you read Little Women as a young girl, Kelly (which I’m assuming you must have done!), did you feel somehow dissatisfied with their story or did you just need more?  Specifically, when did you begin to question what life for the Alcott women must have really been like?  And is Jo’s struggle to find her place in the world one that is familiar to you?

I thought Bronson and Emerson’s exchange in the beginning of the book was beautifully done.  That one conversation shed so much light on the visionary (but far from practical man) that Bronson was and what it must have been like to have lived with him.   What do you personally think of the man and his affect on Louisa as a grown woman — I guess what I’m wondering, at the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, is if his inability to provide some of the most basic needs for his wife and daughters in some way left the albeit very independent Louisa wary of entering into a lifelong relationship with any man?  And just out of curiosity, were you affected by Geraldine Brooks’s portrayal of the March patriarch?

You will be asked this many times in the months to come, but I must know what you’re planning to treat us with next!

From Lisa at Books on the Brain:

Dear Kelly,

Congratulations on your book!  I thought it was wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed it.

In reading the Author’s Note at the back of the book, it seems as if Louisa herself helped you take the leap into becoming a full time writer and writing this novel.  Can you tell us a little about what it felt like to make that decision?

You immersed yourself in this historical figure while doing your research and during the writing process.  Now that the book is finished and you’re not reading or writing about Louisa every day, do you miss her?

Have you decided yet what you’ll work on next (and if so, can you tell us about it)?  Do you think you’ll base your next novel on a real person?

Lisa at Lit and Life asks:

While the Alcott girls in “Lost Summer” are not entirely mirror images of the March girls, they certainly hold very true to those characters.  Did your research into Alcott lead you to believe that the Alcott girls were that accurately reflected in “Little Women” or did you mold them that way to create a blend between the reality of the Alcotts and the characters that are so beloved?

Ti from Book Chatter is curious:

We all know how challenging it was for Alcott, as a woman, to make a name for herself but I’d like to know what challenges you faced in getting this novel written. For instance, did you receive any pressure to change the ending of Lost Summer?

Besides Little Women, what other novels influenced you in the writing of TLSOLMA?

Just for fun, which character did you identify with the most?

Jennifer from Literate Housewife asks:

Clearly a lot of research went into this novel.  What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Louisa May Alcott along the way?

Margot from Joyfully Retired asks:

I loved your account in the back of the book about how you came to be interested in Louisa May Alcott. How long did all of it take, from that first library book to finding a publisher to print your book?

The character of Bronson Alcott was so well-developed. How much of that is fact and how much is fiction. Were there lots of documents about Mr. Alcott?

Is there another historical figure, literary or otherwise, that you are working on for a future novel and will it be so thoroughly researched?

Come by tonight at 6 pm PST (9 pm EST) to say hi to Kelly and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

Edited to add: If you didn’t get your question answered or have follow-up questions, Kelly has started a thread on her own blog so she can answer those questions for you!

200 comments »

200 Responses to “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott discussion with author Kelly O’Connor McNees”

  1. Jennifer

    I am looking forward to it and will be here unless family life intervenes.

    [Reply]

  2. nicole langan

    A must read for me, thanks!

    [Reply]

  3. Lisa

    Can’t wait!

    [Reply]

  4. Laura

    What a fantastic group of questions! Like Lisa, I’m curious as to what Kelly’s experience has been “post-Louisa.” To devote yourself so fully to a) learning more of the real-life Louisa’s backstory and b) creating an appealing fictional world with the vibrancy of that woman’s life still reflected in its pages sounds like such a rewarding and exhausting experience! I’d love hear more about Kelly’s favorite ways to unwind from that now that the book has been published. :)

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Red wine and reading great books!

    And spending time with my beloved Mister. He is around here somewhere, I think . . .

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Sounds good to me! :)

    [Reply]

  5. zibilee

    I, too, am excited to hear how Kelly will answer some of these questions. I really look forward to hearing what she has to say! I will definitely be back for the discussion! Maybe she will even have some time to answer a question that I have been wondering about.

    [Reply]

  6. heidenkind

    Oh, I was totally confused. I thought we would be discussing the book here while McNees answered questions. Oh well.

    Anyway, I just thought of a question I would like to ask: How influential does McNees think writers like Bronson and Walt Whitman were on American politics? Does she think Little Women reflects Bronson’s idealism?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    FABULOUS question.

    The politics question is complex. Bronson and Whitman were very different sort of writers. Bronson and Emerson were closer in thinking, though Emerson was better at expressing his philosophy (ain’t saying much). He certainly influenced many political leaders with his themes of self-reliance and transcendence.

    Whitman in some ways was holding up a mirror to what he saw as the exhilarating experiment that was America. (Oh, talking about Leaves of Grass makes me so happy!) He has a listing, descriptive kind of style, his way of capturing all the detail and diversity . . .

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Have you read Paper Towns by John Green, Kelly? That’s one of my favorite YA books and one that features Whitman so heavily I squealed with happiness. <3

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    NO! Must get this ASAP.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    You won’t be disappointed! :)

  7. Laura

    Just noticed a typo in your post, Trish. Should that be 9 pm EST instead of 6?

    [Reply]

  8. Kiki

    Well, it is 6 est, but I am in Alabama, and must pick up my children from school (they stay late for play practice!). I should have submitted my questions sooner, but busy!

    Anyway, I loved the book, enjoyed the almost Austen-esque way Kelly handled the romance between Louisa and Joseph, and I adored the thread of Transcendentalism that ran throughout the book (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Bronson Alcott, of course!). Are you influenced by Austen (one of my faves!) and were you influenced by Geraldine Brooks’ ‘March’ ?

    I noticed many readers were very disturbed with Bronson Alcott’s behavior, especially in the negative ways it affected the Alcott women. However, I think the somewhat ascetic lifestyle is admirable, and as a good Christian woman, Abba also wanted to share everything they had, even to the detriment of her family as well. I didn’t view him as bad or lazy, but someone who sticks to his values. If the Alcott girls had been a spoiled bunch, with an easy life, perhaps we never would have had Little Women. I find the challenge of being slightly impoverished to be a character building exercise for the Alcott girls! And I also believe Abba fell in love with Bronson for the very person he was. The only upsetting moment for me was when it was mentioned that Bronson believed in “free love” and considered (briefly) “breaking up the family”. I’m curious if this incident was true.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I think you’re on to something with the thought that if LMA had had a better childhood, we might not have had her writing. Adversity makes us.

    In the 1840s there really was a “free love movement”! It wasn’t so explicitly sexual as the more commonly known 1960s movement but had more to do with philosophies of the day challenging followers to give up worldly possessions and relationships so they could focus on the life of the mind.

    Bronson had a failed communal living experiment called Fruitlands, where he moved the family to a farm and they tried to subsist without animal labor. Too bad no one really knew how to farm . . .

    [Reply]

    Kiki Reply:

    Very interesting. I need to read more about their actual lives–I always love when a book leads you to more about people and places. Yours is one of those and it was great, thank you!

    [Reply]

  9. Chrisbookarama

    I found at times that Louisa could be abrasive. And sometimes mean (the scene with Anna). She definitely lacked in social graces. Was this something you came across in your research about her?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Louisa had very little patience for convention. She thought women spent entirely too much time worrying about what others think. And, you are right, she paid for this point of view by offending many!

    [Reply]

  10. Colleen (Books in the City)

    I will be on tonight and am looking forward to it!

    Kelly – you mention in the back of the book that there were many conflicting accounts of LMA’s life in the various biographies you read. How did you land of the characterization of her that you present in the novel?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Good question! Answer: I don’t know, really. I think the various accounts helped me see her from lots of different angles, and if anything that made her more real. We are all contradictory, complicated. We all say one thing and do another. And often we are not the best sources for insight on ourselves! So I tried to think about all those things.

    [Reply]

  11. zibilee

    I also wondered whether or not Louisa was so abrasive in real life. Most of the time she came off as a bit of a curmudgeon, which was something I had not been expecting going into the book. I do agree that her personality made for some interesting situations in the book, but was wondering if she was really like that in real life.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    She was prickly, moody, mercurial, passionate, funny–all of the above. What’s that quote? “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

    Later in life Louisa became deeply involved in women’s suffrage. She wanted women to have a voice. This certainly didn’t sit well with some. But it did’t seem to bother LMA one bit. You should read her journals!

    [Reply]

  12. Lisa

    I found it interesting that on page 25, you wrote that “eventually [Louisa] had come to see him in a different light, on that revealed his flaws” and throughout the book she seems very frustrated by Bronson’s unwillingness to work but also “it was her father’s love and approval she wanted more than anything else in the world.” Clearly it was the later feeling that dominated when she wrote of her father in “Little Women.” Did your research show this conflict in Louisa’s opinion of Bronson?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Absolutely, yes. Their relationship was complicated. She did want his approval and throughout her life seemed to be searching for it, begging for him to notice her. Bronson prided himself of his self-control. He held back and she probably never felt she got the reaction she was hoping for.

    Interestingly, she cared for him until he died (several years after Abba). Louisa died the very next day.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Louisa died the day after her dad died? REALLY?

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    wow – that is interesting! Somehow she doesn’t seem like the long-suffering daughter so I am surprised that she cared for Bronson until his death. But I guess the contradictions are what make her so interesting!

    [Reply]

  13. Literate Housewife

    As someone else who has grown up in Michigan (Grand Rapids), I would love to know where the author grew up.

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I was wondering too.. I grew up in Utica, just south of Detroit.

    [Reply]

    Novelwhore Reply:

    So many fellow Michiganders! I’m from Coldwater (tiny town) myself!

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Lansing, Michigan! A proud UM grad!

    [Reply]

  14. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Hi, everybody!

    First off, thanks for having me! It’s such a pleasure to be able to talk with you.

    Such great questions! I will do my best to answer them all, beginning at the beginning . . .

    [Reply]

  15. trish

    Okay! It’s 6pm here in California, so let’s get this discussion started!

    Welcome everyone! Thanks so much for reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott! I’m so excited to have all these great questions to discuss with author Kelly O’Connor McNees.

    Kelly, welcome to Hey Lady! We are so excited to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us! How are you doing this evening?

    [Reply]

  16. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    I am doing very well, thanks! So happy to be talking with you!

    [Reply]

  17. Laura

    Welcome, Kelly! Thanks so much for joining us. :)

    [Reply]

  18. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Thank YOU! Should I start at the beginning? I’ve been thinking about these questions all afternoon!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Yes! Please do! :)

    [Reply]

  19. Ti

    Hi there!! Just checking in. Thanks for visiting with us Kelly. I loved the book and fell in love with many of the characters. My questions are posted above but I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your book.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Thank you, Ti!

    [Reply]

  20. Pat

    Hi Kelly! Hi Tris and everyone else that is here

    Kelly, I enjoyed “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott” very much and I look forward to reading the answers to our questions.

    Pat

    [Reply]

  21. Kristi

    Hello Kelly! So happy to join in this evening. I enjoyed your book very much and am looking forward to learning more tonight.

    [Reply]

  22. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    I am so pleased you enjoyed the book!

    I guess I’ll dig right in with the first question . . .

    Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti asked about Leaves of Grass, Anna’s heartbreak, and whether the Alcott sisters really did leave Walpole at the end of the summer . . .

    Leaves of Grass was first published the summer of 1855, the same summer I had imagined the story taking place, which I found to be a remarkable coincidence I could not overlook. There is a reason we treasure this incredible piece of literature—it is as shocking and lively and radical as it was when it first appeared. I imagined Louisa would be deeply affected by it and that she would feel an instant connection to anyone (Joseph, namely) who also had read it. I have been telling everyone since I wrote this story that if they haven’t read LOG since school, they should revisit it. It’s absolutely thrilling.

    As for Anna . . . completely fictional. In reality Anna Alcott had no other relationships we know of besides her love and marriage to John Pratt, who gave her two sons and died young of influenza.

    Finally, both sisters did leave at the end of the summer. Anna really did work at the asylum in Syracuse, and Louisa really did go to Boston, where she soon found success with her writing.

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I wondered about Anna too, if that had really happened.

    I’ve never read Leaves of Grass but assumed it must have made quite the literary splash at the time for you to use it in the novel the way you did.

    [Reply]

  23. Lisamm

    Hi Kelly! I’m Lisa from Books on the Brain and TLC (Trish’s partner in crime!) Loved the book- and can’t wait to hear more from you!

    [Reply]

  24. Diane (bookchickdi)

    I so loved the book! Glad to be a part of the discussion, there are some great questions here.

    [Reply]

  25. zibilee

    Hi Kelly! Just checking in and wanted to tell you it’s an honor to be speaking with you. I loved the book and found your recreation of Louisa’s life fascinating!

    [Reply]

  26. Diane (bookchickdi)

    Hi Kelly, I’m from Syracuse and I found that part of the novel most interesting. I had no idea about the asylum. It definitely made me curious to discover more about it.

    [Reply]

  27. Margot

    Hi everyone! I’m just checking in too. It’s so great to “meet” you, Kelly. And, it’s great to have this conversation around my new favorite book.

    [Reply]

  28. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Trish, am I doing this the right way? :)

    Susan Gregg Gilmore asked about whether I felt something was missing from Little Women when I read it as a younger person . . .

    I always wondered about why Louisa ended the story the way she did—why Laurie and Jo did not end up together the way I thought they would and why Jo marries that boring professor. I had read Little Women many times over the years but never knew much about Louisa until I read a biography of her in 2007. As I learned about Louisa’s difficult and unconventional childhood, her determination to become independent and even famous, and the way Little Woman changed her life and American girlhood, I began to think I was on to something that might make a good novel.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Kelly, you’re a natural! You’re doing perfect. :)

    Once you’ve answered the questions in the post (which may take all hour!), if you end up wanting to reply to individual comments, each comment has a reply button under it to make it easier to follow the conversation.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Isn’t it true, Kelly (gosh, I feel like a lawyer interrogating a witness), that Louisa’s publisher asked her to marry off Jo so it would be more appealing to the public?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Yes! This is why we have Professor Bhaer (or “Bore” as I think of him).

    Louisa wanted Jo to remain a “happy spinster.” But the publisher wasn’t having it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I think a happy spinster would have been just fine, but I can see why the publisher would have wanted a quote unquote happy ending.

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    I also read and reread Little Women as a young girl myself. It wasn’t until I read this book that I knew anything about Alcott’s life. I have no idea why I was so surprised by the similarities between her family and Little Women.

    [Reply]

    Lisa Reply:

    I got a little testy with the way that Geraldine Brooks portrayed Bronson in “March.” I had no idea before that what a difficult man he was. I was glad I was past that so it didn’t effect my enjoyment of this book!

    [Reply]

  29. Pat

    Thanks Kelly! I live in Brooklyn, NY, where Walt Whitman lived for many years, so I have read and enjoyed Leaves of Grass as well as many other poems that he wrote. I was curious as to the connection to Alcott and I can appreciate that you wanted to tie Whitman’s work into your story.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Pat, you are very lucky. Have you visited his home?

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    Sadly, the house where Whitman lived in Brooklyn heights is no longer there(condos called the Walt Whitman houses are) but the old building for newspaper he wrote for The Brooklyn Eagle, still remains. Also standing is the Church of the Pilgrims where Whitman would watch Henry Ward Beecher preach.

    [Reply]

  30. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Susan also asked about whether I could relate to Jo’s struggle to find her place in the world. In a word, yes!

    Jo’s struggle to find her place in the world is familiar to me, as it is to thousands of women who’ve wanted to be Jo’s best friend over the years. Jo is odd. She doesn’t fit. She doesn’t care about the things other girls her age are supposed to care about. That certainly resonated with me. What’s that quote? “Some people say life is the thing, but I prefer reading”? That’s how I felt for most of my tortured teenage-hood (and beyond)…

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I was blown away by how famous LMA became in her day (not just later..), how girls would show up on her doorstep, looking for a version of Jo, and disappointed by finding a middle aged woman. I loved how she told some of them that she was the maid.. ha! Did that really happen?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Yes! Poor Louisa!

    [Reply]

    Susan Gregg Gilmore Reply:

    but what i love about this book is that a whole generation of young women are going to be able to relate to these women — again really admire the way you have made this a wonderfully contemporary story

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Thank you so much, Susan. I think the questions Louisa wrestles with–how to maintain her independence but make real, authentic connection with another person–is absolutely relevant today. Women have more choice now, but just as much struggle, I think.

    [Reply]

  31. Jennifer

    Sorry I am late to the party, I am juggling three teens schedules. anyway, Welcome Kelly! Thank you for taking time out to answer questions.

    [Reply]

  32. Colleen (Books in the City)

    I was struck by how radical the beliefs held by many characters were for their time – especially those of LMA’s father and even LMA’s own staunch independence seemed radical for the 1800’s. It is interesting how their positions aligned with other intellectuals such as Walt Whitman

    [Reply]

  33. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Question about how Bronson’s philosophy and choices may have influenced Louisa:

    It’s impossible to imagine that Bronson’s philosophy and choices didn’t have an effect on Louisa. Our parents are our first model of an adult relationship, for better or worse. At the risk of oversimplifying what is a very complex relationship, I do think that Louisa’s choice to remain unmarried was in part influenced by the kind of husband Bronson was and the kind of suffering Abba did because of it.

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    I absolutely agree that Louisa’s choice to remain single was directly related to Abba and Bronson’s marriage. Louisa loved her father, but she saw how his action (or inaction) harmed his family.

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    Kelly didn’t Transcendentalists , as Bronson was, also philosophically believe in “free love” and that they looked at conventional marriage as restraining to personal freedom? Since Louisa seemed to have great affection for her father and in fact she cared for him almost until the day he died, perhaps she shared his philosophy?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Perhaps. Yes, you are right that some believed in independence from these traditional bonds. The Transcendentalist were a motley crew–their beliefs varied from one to the next and seemed to change over time.

    [Reply]

  34. Susan Gregg Gilmore

    Thanks Kelly for answering my question — but I can follow-up with a simple one == do you have sisters??

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I do not. I have one wonderful younger brother. I think part of why I loved LW was the exotic depiction of four sisters! I loved wondering about what that would be like.

    [Reply]

  35. Lisamm

    This book made me want to re-read Little Women. My daughters have seen the movie and now my younger one doesn’t think she needs to read the book (the older one read it a couple yrs ago). I am going to insist.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I agree that it wanted to make me re-read Little Women, especially now that I have so much more insight into the author!

    [Reply]

    Ti Reply:

    And I only read half of Little Women Lisa!! I really feel that I need to go back and read it in its entirety.

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Really?? I read the entire series! Jo’s Boys, Little Men, etc. Can’t remember all the names, and I read Little Women at least 5 times.. but it’s probably been 30 years since I’ve read it!

    [Reply]

    Kristi Reply:

    I want to re-read it too, Lisa. I think that it’s a must for girls to read and I can’t wait for my little one to be a bit older to enjoy it.

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    I bought a copy of Little Women for my flower girl. I think it’s such a wonderful must read for girls. I’ll make my girls read it, too.

    [Reply]

    Mister Reply:

    I bought an old copy for Kelly (the author) for our anniversary :)

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    That’s so sweet!! She has a very nice ‘Mister’!

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I do!

    Pat --Mille Fiori Favoriti Reply:

    Awww …that is so sweet!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    Agreed, it has ben quite awhile since I read Little Women, yet when reading and then reviewing the book I think I was making comparisons, although trying not to.

    [Reply]

    Margot Reply:

    Lisa,
    Good for you on insisting your daughters read the book. In my opinion, Little Women is part of our literary heritage, but it’s also a written heritage of how much we as women have achieved.

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    I downloaded “Little Women” on my Kindle months ago and now I’m glad I did. I started reading it as soon as I finished Kelly’s book.

    [Reply]

    Lisa Reply:

    Oh yes, Lisa, they have to read “Little Women!”

    [Reply]

  36. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    “And just out of curiosity, were you affected by Geraldine Brooks’s portrayal of the March patriarch?”

    I purposely did not read Ms. Brooks’s magnificent book until after I finished writing mine. Too intimidating. And because of this, my Bronson turned out very differently than her Mr. March. She was much more sympathetic to him that I am, but her rendering is graceful and fascinating. We are so lucky to have Geraldine Brooks on this planet.

    [Reply]

  37. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Some have asked about the next book. I am in an intense revising stage (in other words, it is a hot mess at the moment). Here’s what I CAN say…

    Another historical novel, this one set in 1835, in Buffalo, New York and on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. There’s a nun, a fur trader’s widow, and a young wife escaping a violent marriage on a steamship. Oh, and there is a greenhouse like something out of a dream. And dogsledding. Trust me—it’s great!

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    Hi Kelly! Is there a reason both books are historical fiction? Are you a history buff or do you really love all that research :)

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I really do love all that research. And I have been wanting to write about Michigan for a long time, so I’ve been saving up characters and places.

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    Yes, Michigan! I’m so excited to read fiction set on Mackinac Island – with a nun even!

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    MICHIGAN!! MACKINAC ISLAND!! Dude, that’s my childhood! I will be first in line to buy that book!

    [Reply]

    Ti Reply:

    OMG…that sounds so good.

    [Reply]

    zibilee Reply:

    Oh my, that does sound very interesting! Any idea when a curious reader can expect to see it in the bookshop?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    We’ll have to ask my editor about that one! :)

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    Sounds like this one will appeal to fans of Robert Goolrick’s “A Reliable Wife”. I can’t wait!

    [Reply]

    Susan Gregg Gilmore Reply:

    dogsledding and a nun – you’ve got me hooked!

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    Buffalo Ny – I am currently living in Rochester and grew up in Michigan – Mackinaw Island holds great memories for my family and I. Can’t wait for the book to come out!

    [Reply]

    heidenkind Reply:

    I visit Mackinac Island when I was in high school–loved it! The living history museum they have there is so much fun.

    [Reply]

  38. Jilleen

    HI everyone – this is my first book chat. Hello Kelly. I wanted to let you know that I absolutely LOVED the book. I also noticed you were in Lansing last weekend. That is where I from and live in Rochester NY (1 hour from Sryacuse (Hi Diane bookchickdi).

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    Hi Jilleen, I’m in Manhattan now. Kelly was in Lansing last week- where?

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    A Rally of Writers on Saturday and Schueler Books on Sunday. Are you from Michigan too?

    [Reply]

  39. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    From Lisa at Books on the Brain, about how Louisa helped me take the leap to try writing a novel:

    I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was very young, but I never really thought of it as a realistic or “grown-up” job. So I did other things for a while. But I kept coming back to it in my mind. A few years ago, my husband’s job took us to Ontario. I could no longer teach seventh grade as I had been doing where we lived previously, so I took a job as a nanny. My husband was the one who reminded me of the unwritten novel he believed was knocking around in my brain and said, “Why don’t you write it—this is the perfect time.” I wasn’t sure at first. I had no confidence whatsoever. But as I read about Louisa and began thinking about writing the novel about her, I felt a kinship with her longing to see her writing dream realized. It gave me that little boost I needed to keep going.

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    How wonderful. It was meant to be!

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    Good for you for following through, Kelly! That is encourging for everyone who loves to write Was finding a publisher hard?

    [Reply]

  40. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    “You immersed yourself in this historical figure while doing your research and during the writing process. Now that the book is finished and you’re not reading or writing about Louisa every day, do you miss her?”

    I do miss her! I reread her journals sometimes, or reread my favorite stories, when I need a Louisa fix!

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Like a long lost friend!!

    [Reply]

  41. Lisamm

    I wonder how many other careers she inspired.. that’s really cool.

    [Reply]

  42. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Lisa at Lit and Life asks:
    “While the Alcott girls in “Lost Summer” are not entirely mirror images of the March girls, they certainly hold very true to those characters. Did your research into Alcott lead you to believe that the Alcott girls were that accurately reflected in “Little Women” or did you mold them that way to create a blend between the reality of the Alcotts and the characters that are so beloved?”

    Louisa modeled the March sisters on her own sisters and encouraged the comparison between herself and Jo. Many of the events that took place in the story of Little Women really did happen to Louisa and her sisters. So, yes, Little Women is as autobiographical as it seems in my story. That said, many of the more difficult aspects of Louisa’s childhood did not make it into LW. LW was a more polished and sunnier version of the Alcott reality.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Do you think Louisa enjoyed writing Little Women, or do you think she might have felt she was selling out?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I think she didn’t think it was very interesting compared to what she really wanted to write about (stories deemed too sensational) but she was motivated to try and make money for the family. She had a “give the people what they want” kind of attitude, although she grew weary of that eventually, I think.

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    What difficulties are you referring to?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Poverty, constant moving around, and what seems like real depression on her mother’s part.

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    I definitely got that while I was reading – your version (and apparently the reality) of her childhood seemed darker than what I remembered from Little Women!

    [Reply]

  43. Kiki

    I agree with you Kelly on your comparison of Brooks’ portrayal as being more “sympathetic” to Bronson Alcott (as March), but I still felt he was not unsympathetic in your novel. We are all quick to judge, but he lived his life honestly, it seems to me, even if he was somewhat oblivious to the hardships he caused his dear family!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I agree that Bronson wasn’t completely unsympathetic in “Lost Summer”. While I felt he was clueless, I didn’t feel like he was malicious or psychotic, just self-absorbed. Not ideal for a dad, but I’ve seen worse!

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    Okay, maybe I’m just a (fill in the blank yourself), but I didn’t find Bronson very sympathetic at all. He was so caught up in his own head that he barely registered his family’s presence, let alone their suffering for his ideology. People like him should not be married. He did his family a disservice. It’s hard for me to respect him for walking the walk when it cost those he should have been caring for dearly.

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    I agree with Literate Housewife. Bronson lived true to himself by allowing his wife and daughters to support him. He was selfish.

    [Reply]

    Kiki Reply:

    Well, without Bronson’s odd behavior, I highly doubt we’d have a Louisa at all, so thank goodness his crazy self was there, right? I just felt everyone was being so hard on him, and if anything, though clueless, he was, like Trish points out, not malicious, or purposely mean. Just self centered. But he gave it honest! he wasn’t trying to be someone he is not, and I still must point out, Abba did marry him, probably knowing the kindof person he was, and perhaps that was part of his initial charm, although we wouldn’t put up with that these days. However, it would be pretty scandalous for Abba to leave with four children to raise!

    Oh yes, I’ve definitely seen worse!

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    There truly are worse things. That is for certain. That doesn’t deter from his flaws, though. We do have the work of Louisa May Alcott as a result. We can be thankful for that. I just wish he hadn’t been so selfish.

    [Reply]

    heidenkind Reply:

    I didn’t mind Bronson so much. Yes, he was very irresponsible, but I admired his idealism, and I think we need people who are never willing to compromise. The way he dragged his children along with him, unthinkingly, was troubling, though.

    [Reply]

    Lisa Reply:

    I agree, Kiki. I actually didn’t find him very sympathetic at all in “March.” He was, at least, more of a presence in the girls’ lives in this book, for better or worse.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Great thread on Bronson!

    [Reply]

  44. Kiki

    And hello–lovely book!

    [Reply]

  45. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    (Tee-hee…the blog just told me I was posting comments too fast and to “slow down”!)

    Ti from Book Chatter is curious:
    “We all know how challenging it was for Alcott, as a woman, to make a name for herself but I’d like to know what challenges you faced in getting this novel written. For instance, did you receive any pressure to change the ending of Lost Summer?”

    I was very fortunate to find a wonderful agent and editor who both were passionate about the story as I imagined it. I didn’t have to make the kind of difficult decision you mention. The ending of this book really couldn’t have been changed anyway (much as I might have liked to see Louisa find happiness with Joseph). The facts of her real life set the course for where the story had to end up.

    The most challenging thing about writing this book, for me, was conquering self-doubt. I knew I loved the story, but I wasn’t at all sure other people would feel the same way. That’s why I am SO PLEASED to be talking to all of you!

    [Reply]

    Kristi Reply:

    So glad to hear that you were not pressured to change the ending and that it could be published the way that you imagined it!

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I, for one, am thrilled you overcame the self-doubt. I loved the nostalgic feel of reading this book and going back to LW in my mind, back to that sweet innocent place in my own personal reading history.

    [Reply]

    zibilee Reply:

    I am also glad that you didn’t have to doctor the ending. It felt as if it just carried so much weight just as you had written it.

    [Reply]

    Kiki Reply:

    Definitely felt the Austen thing, and the Bronte vibe!

    [Reply]

  46. Lisamm

    Just wanted to remind people to refresh their browsers.. I waited a while and it took me forever to go back and read all the new comments!! You commenting fools!! LOL

    [Reply]

  47. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    “Besides Little Women, what other novels influenced you in the writing of TLSOLMA?”

    I thought about Jane Austen’s mastery of the romantic miscommunication when I was thinking about how to deal with Louisa, Joseph, and Nora’s . . . entanglement.

    I read the novels Louisa loved in order to try to understand her better—Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

    And in general I try to read good fiction I admire in the hopes of it someday rubbing off on me a tiny bit: Paulette Jiles, Willa Cather, Ethan Canin, Marilynne Robinson, Laurie Colwin. And poets too: Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke, Galway Kinnell . . .

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets!

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    I got a very Austen- like feeling while reading TLSOLMA, you handled that well. Although I loved the Alcott family, I felt the story really come alive with the romance of Joseph and Louisa.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Oh, Mary Oliver is wonderful! Definitely my favorite contemporary nature poet. :)

    [Reply]

    Novelwhore Reply:

    The father in Austen’s P&P was so unlikeable too – am I putting our modern day family values on the fatherly role? Both Bronson and the P&P father were rather distant and uninvolved with their daughters it seems…

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    See, that’s so funny because I always think of Mr. Bennett as Jane Austen herself. He is so funny! Through him, it always seemed to me she is saying all the things she can’t say outright.

    [Reply]

  48. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    “Just for fun, which character did you identify with the most?”

    Besides Louisa herself, with whom I most identify, I felt deep compassion for Abba. She gave up so much for the good of her husband and daughters, and I imagined that she had thought, initially, that this sacrifice would be rewarded down the line. But it wasn’t. And that was heartbreaking for her.

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    I thought the scene where Lizzie gets lost (and when she wants to go to the Circus) was so poignant – Abba needed Lizzie as much as all the sisters seemed to need Abba to keep the household running

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I loved that scene too and also felt that Abba needed Lizzie and almost was holding her back because of it.

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    Books in the City – I really like your view on Abba/Lizzie and the other sisters. Thanks for sharing. Really good piont(s).

    [Reply]

  49. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Jennifer from Literate Housewife asks:
    “Clearly a lot of research went into this novel. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Louisa May Alcott along the way?”

    She didn’t want to write Little Women. She wanted to write “blood-and-thunder tales” with violence and intrigue and thrill. But the editors told her these stories were too sensational. So she went right on writing them, and they were published under pseudonyms or not published at all until a hundred years after she died.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    “Blood-and-thunder tales”?? I think that nugget of information gives a lot of insight! She really was a tomboy through and through. Love that about her!

    [Reply]

    Literate Housewife Reply:

    It really is crazy that Little Women almost wasn’t. What a loss that would have been. I’ll definitely have to check out some of the stories she wanted to write.

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    how interesting that she made that compromise in order to get published but it is very consistent with her personality that she would still write the stories but under a pseudonym

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    It IS consistent! No man was going to tell her what to do if it didn’t gel with what she wanted.

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Do you happen to know the pseudonyms? How fascinating it would be to read one of those stories, knowing it was LMA who wrote it!

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    Yet isn’t it ironic that Little Women was her most famous work?

    [Reply]

    Ti Reply:

    Wow!! That blows my mind. I just can’t see her writing “blood and thunder” tales.

    [Reply]

    Jenny Reply:

    I’m a little late but I’m here now! That part really surprised me too! Imagine if she never wrote it.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Oh, yes, you can read them all now published under LMAs own name. Let me grab some links…

    Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of LMA

    http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Mask-Thrillers-Louisa-Alcott/dp/0688151329/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271297512&sr=8-6

    A Long Fatal Love Chase

    http://www.amazon.com/Long-Fatal-Love-Chase/dp/0517199548/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271297547&sr=8-18

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    I’m going to put some more on my website.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    It’s great to find out about these books that LMA wrote!

  50. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Margot from Joyfully Retired asks:
    “I loved your account in the back of the book about how you came to be interested in Louisa May Alcott. How long did all of it take, from that first library book to finding a publisher to print your book?”

    About three years, give or take. I think the story was in my mind much longer than that, looking for something to hang on to.

    [Reply]

  51. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    Another from Margot:

    “The character of Bronson Alcott was so well-developed. How much of that is fact and how much is fiction. Were there lots of documents about Mr. Alcott?”

    There are lots of documents written about and by Bronson. He was a dedicated diarist, so we have plenty of material to help us imagine his thoughts and motivations. Basically everything in the book about him is true, though, of course, I’ve speculated on the exact details of conversations between Bronson and his wife and daughters. It’s true that he couldn’t earn a living. It’s true that he went away for many months on a conversation tour (his name for philosophical lectures) and came home with only one dollar. The scene that recalls his lesson about conscience and self-control with Anna and Louisa, where he leaves them alone in his study with an apple, really happened. He really was close friends with Emerson. He really was a dedicated abolitionist, a transcendentalist, and vegetarian. No kidding about the root vegetables being inhumane because they disturbed the worms. All true!

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    I wonder if he really insisted the girls keep diaries, then read them aloud. I wonder how honest children would be if they knew their private thoughts were going to be judged in the parlor, LOL.

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    He did do this, though, since they expected it, they knew to write only the things they’d want him to hear. Bronson had some very interesting ideas about child-rearing. He really believed that a child was born a blank slate and could be molded by the parent.

    I’m worrying now that I haven’t done justice, though, to his truly enlightened ideas about children, though, too.

    He didn’t believe in physical punishment, which was absolutely widespread at this time. As a teacher, if a child misbehaved, he would make the child hit HIM over the knuckles with a ruler. This way, the child would have to feel the guilt of causing another person pain. Isn’t that nuts? But it’s better than hitting the kid, I suppose.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I think Bronson is just utterly fascinating. It *is* guilt inducing to have someone else punished for something you’ve done!

    [Reply]

    Kristi Reply:

    Amazing! Sometimes the truth really is more exciting that fiction.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    He is a great example that truth is better than fiction. I have to say, though, that I was incredibly jealous that LMA was able to grow up around Emerson and Thoreau. Loved them ever since I was introduced to them.

    [Reply]

  52. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    “Is there another historical figure, literary or otherwise, that you are working on for a future novel and will it be so thoroughly researched?”

    The novel I’m working on now has several characters inspired by historical figures but none so well known as Louisa May Alcott. As for research, yes! I love the research. In fact, there are some sources so compelling that I cannot allow myself to read them until I finish the current project, lest I be tempted away to something new. There is a book sitting on my desk right now called Hearts West, about mail-order brides on the frontier, that I have had for months and don’t dare open. It’s like sitting next to a giant hot fudge sundae and trying to ignore it. But there’s a novel in there and if I start reading it I’m going to be in big trouble.

    [Reply]

    zibilee Reply:

    I would definitely read that novel!

    [Reply]

    Pat Reply:

    How intriguing! I love historical fiction ..keep writing, Kelly! :-)

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Oh, that would be so tempting..

    [Reply]

    Margot Reply:

    Yes, yes, yes. I love the frontier, the time period and the whole romantic idea of mail order brides. I can wait a while but I’ll look forward to this one.

    [Reply]

    Lisa Reply:

    My mom read “Hearts West” and really found it fascinating. I even talked her into doing a guest review since she kept talking about it!

    [Reply]

  53. Diane (bookchickdi)

    I have two college-age sons, but lots of nieces. Every year for Christmas I give them books, and this year they will all be getting LW and TLSOLMA. One of my nieces in 14years old and wants to be a writer, she will love these.

    [Reply]

    Jenny Reply:

    Diane, that’s a great idea!

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Oh, I love the idea of giving the books together. I’ll have to re-read the scene with LMA & JS in the field to see if it’s PG enough for my 12 year old.

    [Reply]

    Colleen (Books in the City) Reply:

    what a wonderful Aunt you are! My niece is a bit young for it now (she is two) but I look forward to sharing LW with her!

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    Who is LW – I think I missed something.

    [Reply]

    Diane (bookchickdi) Reply:

    LW is LIttle Women

    [Reply]

    Lisamm Reply:

    Little Women

    [Reply]

    Jilleen Reply:

    I can’t believe that I couldn’t figure that out. Of course LW is Little Women. I must be half asleep.

    [Reply]

  54. trish

    FYI, Kelly is replying to questions that were posed in the comments section, so go back up to see what she’s saying!

    [Reply]

  55. zibilee

    I think LW is one of my daughter’s favorite books, and I think she would really get a lot out of TLSOLMA as well. Going to have to put that one in her stack.

    [Reply]

  56. Margot

    Kelly,

    I think your book would make a great movie. Has anyone approached you yet?

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Not yet! Why–you know anybody? :)

    [Reply]

  57. Lisamm

    Shoot, I have to run.. will come back later to catch up on whatever I missed. Kelly, you’re amazing. Thank you for writing this book and for discussing it with us. You deserve all the praise and affection you’re sure to receive!!

    [Reply]

    Kelly O'Connor McNees Reply:

    Thanks, Lisamm! Hope we get a chance to talk again soon!

    [Reply]

  58. Lisamm

    Whoops, thanks to Trish too, and to the publisher for putting this together!! You guys are great!

    [Reply]

  59. Diane (bookchickdi)

    Thanks for this wonderful book, Kelly and re-introducing us all to a fascinating writer in Louisa. Best of luck with the book and hope to see in NYC on a book tour soon!

    [Reply]

    Pat --Mille Fiori Favoriti Reply:

    I’d love to meet you in a NYC book tour, Kelly! I’ll keep checking your websites for upcoming dates.

    [Reply]

  60. Colleen (Books in the City)

    Yes Kelly – you brought me back to a childhood favorite – I thoroughly enjoyed your book. It was very well done!

    [Reply]

  61. Colleen (Books in the City)

    and thanks for answering all the questions -it has been great learning more about LMA and about you!

    Trish – thanks for organizing and hosting this!

    [Reply]

  62. Ti

    Wow..the hour went by quickly. Thanks to Trish and Kelly for an enjoyable chat. I can’t wait to read your next book Kelly. It sounds wonderful.

    [Reply]

  63. trish

    I love that the hour’s over and Kelly’s continuing to hang around. You’re awesome, Kelly, and I have no doubt Lost Summer will be very successful!

    [Reply]

  64. zibilee

    Kelly, thanks so much for hanging around to get to all of our questions and for chatting with us tonight. I am excited about your upcoming books and think that if they are half as entertaining as the first, I will be a very happy reader!

    [Reply]

  65. Laura

    Many, many thanks to Kelly, Trish, and those at Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam for making this discussion possible! I’m totally going to have to re-read Little Women and seek out some LMA bios now. Fascinating stuff!

    [Reply]

  66. Margot

    Thanks Kelly for answering our questions. I hope you can see we are very enthusiastic about your book. I definitely look forward to all future writings you will so graciously give us.

    Thanks also to Trish, Lisa and TLC.

    [Reply]

  67. Jilleen

    Thank you so much Kelly, Trish and AE Books. This was so much fun! My first book chat was great. Best of luck Kelly and looking forward to your next book!

    [Reply]

  68. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    What fun!

    Thanks so much to everyone for the GREAT questions. Please visit me at my blog (http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/blog) or on Twitter (@komcnees). Hope to see you at some of the events I have coming up this spring and summer.

    Keep in touch and happy reading!

    [Reply]

  69. Kelly O'Connor McNees

    One more thing!

    If there are any questions I missed, or if there was something you wanted to ask and didn’t have the chance, I’m going to start a thread at my blog.

    http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/blog

    Post your questions there in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them!

    [Reply]

  70. Did I miss a question?

    [...] time was short over at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? If I missed a question or you still have one you didn’t get the chance to ask, post it in the [...]

  71. Pat --Mille Fiori Favoriti

    Thanks Kelly, Trish and AE Books! I really enjoyed this book chat and learning more about Kelly and TLSOLMA. Best of luck Kelly! I look forward to reading updates on your website and your future books.

    Thanks Trish! This was fun!

    [Reply]

  72. heidenkind

    Thank you, Kelly and Trish! Sorry I was late–I thought it was 9 pacific. :P Anyway, I loved this book, so that you so much for the opportunity to read it and discuss it with you, Kelly.

    [Reply]

    Mister Reply:

    If you have questions or want to ask about anything, Kelly has opened up a pristine new “Questions” post on her blog:

    http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/1057

    [Reply]

  73. Elizabeth

    I have been reading so much about this book, and have it on my list. I also enter every giveaway I can find. Now I want to read it even more after reading the questions and Kelly’s answers!!

    [Reply]

  74. nomadreader

    When my husband picked me up from class last night and said he wanted to take me to dinner, I couldn’t refuse. I’m sorry to miss the “live” chat, but I had so much fun reading all of the questions and answers! I loved this book, and it’s so nice to share that love with so many other readers!

    [Reply]

  75. Marmee

    [...] love with the obligation to take care of the family. Wednesday night’s discussion over at Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin’?–which generated over 180 comments!–included a lot of questions about [...]

  76. Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, on tour April 2010 | TLC Book Tours

    [...] Wednesday, April 14th: Reading Series on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? [...]

  77. #267 ~ The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott : literatehousewife.com

    [...] this year, Trish from Hey Lady Whatcha Readin’? held an online book club for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees. I [...]

  78. Place Matters, A Guest Post from Kelly O’Connor McNees : literatehousewife.com

    [...] an ARC of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott as part of an online book club held by Trish from Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin’?.  I jumped at the chance to take part because I loved Little Women while I was growing up and the [...]

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