This week I’m welcoming historical novelist Elise Hooper to the blog! Elise’s new novel, Learning to See, about iconic photographer Dorothea Lange, just released yesterday. Her debut novel, The Other Alcott, tells the extraordinary story of May Alcott, the famous Louisa May Alcott’s sister who was a talented artist in her own right. I couldn’t put The Other Alcott down, and I’m so excited to read Learning to See! Welcome, Elise!
Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?
I don’t. Now before you start thinking that I’m crazy, let me explain: I need it quiet so I can hear the voices in my head while my characters talk. Okay, that sounds pretty crazy, but it’s how I work.
What are your all-time favorite TV shows?
I’ve been a “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” full-on fan of Friday Night Lights since it first aired and recently rewatched all five seasons with my girls. I’ve also been known to binge watch Six Feet Under, Parenthood, The Wire, The Americans, Downton Abbey, The Office, Game of Thrones and I never tire of Leslie Knope’s antics on Parks & Rec.
What TV shows are you loving lately?
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown.
Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?
Hmmm, good question. This is incredibly dorky, but I love PBS’s American Masters and each time I watch one, I’m inspired to research and write about someone new. As a side note, the show on Dorothea Lange is terrific. I didn’t see it until after I was working on my novel about her, and now I’ve watched that documentary about five hundred times.
I also need to give a shout to The Wire for this question. Wow, talk about a story with complex characters, suspense, and fascinating moral questions. I still mourn for Omar Little, one of the most interesting bad guys of all time.
What are your all-time favorite movies?
Franck Eggelhoffer from Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride is a character I love to imitate, much to the dismay of my children. I also love all of the Indiana Jones movies, think Erin Brockovich was totally badass, and enjoy quoting lines from Election and Legally Blond.
What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?
Hamilton, The Sound of Music, Chicago, The Wedding Singer, Dear Evan Hansen
Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?
I don’t even know where to start with this one! I would cast a wide net over the kinds of art that I enjoy, but I will say that the show that blew me away recently was when Kehinde Wiley’s work came to the Seattle Art Museum. I love everything about him. His process, ideology, and aesthetic, all of it.
Also, seeing the Women Artists in Paris: 1850 – 1900 exhibit last spring at the Speed Museum in Louisville was very exciting because it brought together so many women artists whose work I’d studied extensively while writing The Other Alcott. The show’s organizers went all out and put together an amazing collection of pioneering artists.
Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?
All the time. Both The Other Alcott and Learning to See are about artists so I always study the work of my subjects and their circle. Sometimes images inspire scenes too. Many of the scenes in Learning to See are inspired by Dorothea Lange’s photos.
You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?
Wow, I love this question. So many options! Italy is one of my favorite destinations. The food, the art, the landscape, history, and people—it’s all wonderful. Plus, I could live on gelato, especially those side-by-side scoop cones. I’d eat a lot of those.
Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?
Modern Love is a go-to podcast for me. Its episodes are usually the perfect amount of time for me to drive to the courts where I play tennis so I sometimes arrive at matches all teary which can be a little awkward, but it’s okay, I pack Kleenex. I’m also really into Last Seen right now. It’s a podcast about the infamous unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and I’ve always found that topic to be fascinating.
What was the last book you read?
I’m currently listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming and am completely obsessed. I’ve been surprised at how intimate and relatable it feels. I’m midway through reading Jennifer Robson’s The Gown and savoring everything about it.
When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?
I turn away from all media and try to get outdoors and exercise. I’m an avid tennis player and love to run, swim, and hike. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would surf more because I love the ocean.
What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?
I’ve been sewing and knitting for as long as I can remember, but I’m mostly knitting these days because I can work on projects while I listen to audiobooks.
What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?
I wish that I could sing and play the guitar. Sometimes I like to imagine myself as Sheryl Crow.
Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?
I’m writing a novel about three pioneering American women track stars who end up coming together to race in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My Olympic history trivia is totally on point right now and I’m learning a ton. These three women—Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, and Louise Stokes—have amazing stories and I can’t wait to share them with you. Fast Girls will be out sometime in the summer of 2020, right around when the Tokyo Olympics are underway.
Elise also provided me with some of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, which are below!
Toward Los Angeles, California
Gas station. Kern County, California
Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi
Picture of Dorothea Lange
Although a New Englander by birth, Elise lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle and teaches literature and history.