Monday, July 5, 2010

Nostalgic Fiction

by D'Ann Mateer

When the subject of Genre week came up in discussion, it didn’t immediately stir anything within me. After all, I am the queen of no genre in that I can usually find a book I like in almost any genre! But then I thought of my friend Carla Stewart.

Carla’s debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, released a couple of weeks ago. It is one of those novels that falls in the general fiction category because there isn’t quite a genre for it. Not historical. Not contemporary. Chasing Lilacs takes place in 1958, a time that evokes a sense of nostalgia for so many people.

D’Ann: So, Carla, explain to us this unique place of nostalgia in a novel.

Carla: Nostalgic fiction takes a reader on a journey where the memory is engaged through sensory detail and provides a “getaway” from today’s hectic pace. Webster’s defines nostalgia as: 1) the state of being homesick; 2) a wistful or sentimental yearning for a return to the past.

Just as a child says, “Mommy, tell me the story of when I was a baby,” adults also enjoy an occasional trip back to the age of innocence and the simplicity of childhood. Whether we have wonderful memories or tragic ones, it was still a time when we felt deeper and more passionately about everything. It is the time when we were literally taking the first steps to becoming who we are today.

A writer I met recently said it like this. “Life was good, but never easy.” Yes, there were challenges. Adolescence was just as traumatic then as it is today. Who doesn’t remember the acne? Fitting in with the “in” crowd? Your first driving lesson? Or your first car? What it felt like to get a first kiss? I suspect there’s a bit in all of us that is homesick for the “good old days.”

Baby boomers are my primary target audience, and with more than 45 million “boomer” households in the US, that’s a sizable audience. It has turned out, though, that from what my early readers say, a lot of younger people are reading Chasing Lilacs and like finding out about a different era. I liken it to the way I enjoy learning about the flapper days of the 1920s—it was an interesting time and as long as the story is entertaining, maybe the audience is broader than we imagine.

D’Ann: So did you set out to write a book that might be characterized as “nostalgia” fiction?

Carla: I’m not sure the term nostalgic fiction exists as a stand-alone genre since the stories can be mysteries, romances, or coming-of-age. I’m often drawn to non-genre stories, and nostalgic fiction fits snugly into that. My initial goal as a writer was to write stories like those I loved to read—To Kill a Mockingbird, Peace Like a River, Mrs. Mike, The Shell Seekers, The Secret Life of Bees. It’s more about the story than the genre, but there is something delightful about stepping back into another era and reliving it in the pages of a book.

The concept of nostalgia, though, is sort of hard to pitch to an agent or editor, so it’s also a GREAT idea if you can define your nostalgic story as one with romantic elements or as a coming-of-age tale or one with issues that would appeal to readers of women’s fiction. Every story, even non-genre or nostalgic ones, needs an attention-grabbing hook and a focus.

D’Ann: So tell us about Chasing Lilacs.

Carla: It’s the coming of age story of a young girl’s search for her mother’s love. Elvis is on the radio. Summer is in the air. Life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.
As her life careens out of control, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious boy from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there’s the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.

D’Ann: I can testify that it is a wonderful read—and I learned a lot about life in a time I didn’t experience myself but didn’t learn in history class, either! Will your next book continue in this same style?

Carla: Definitely. My next novel, Broken Wings, has a strong nostalgic thread woven into a contemporary story. What I liked about doing that was to show the parallel between the two eras and have the stories mirror each other with the events that were going on in the characters’ lives. It doesn’t have the same “good old days” feel that Chasing Lilacs does, but there’s a richness to the jazz age that I loved writing about.

D’Ann: Thanks, Carla, for sharing a bit about books that don’t always fall into a category and, thus, might get overlooked!

Carla: I’ve enjoyed being here and am always excited when I can connect with readers. You can find me here:

Chasing Lilacs is currently available at your favorite online bookseller or on the shelves of many bookstores!

So to those of you visiting with us today: what book have you enjoyed that doesn’t really fit a genre by definition? Do you usually stick to specific genres or venture into books that don’t have a “label”?


  1. What an excellent interview! Chasing Lilacs is sure to be a wonderful read. Since I planned to order books today, I'll put it on my list!

    God bless you both, D'Ann and Carla. Have a wonderful start to your week!

  2. Thanks for coming, Carla. I wasn't very familiar with the term "Nostalgic Fiction" but as I read the description I immediately thought of The Secret Life of Bees, which I also love. Now that I know what it is, I need to look into it more.

    I really enjoy stories about the hippies, Vietnam, and the Civil Rights movement. Like D'Ann said, a time we didn't live in, but didn't learn much about in history class either.

    I'm not a hardcore genre girl. I like historical, romance, even sci-fi and fantasy. But the books I end up preferring all have a strong literary feel. Based on Carla's influences, I'm guessing I would really enjoy her writing. Right now I'm reading an Ann Tatlock novel which is sort of a mix of nostalgia and modern day.

    I don't ever choose suspense, mystery, or thriller without a reason--like I personally know the author.

  3. Good morning, Gwen. Glad you enjoyed the interview. Not only did I enjoy Carla's book, she is one of my favorite people, too! She is such an encouragement not only as a writer but as a mom who has raised wonderful children and loves her daughters-in-law and grandkids, too!

    Dina, I'm glad I'm not the only girl who isn't hardcore genre! But like you, I don't do suspense unless I know the author. However I do love historical mysteries!

  4. Great job, D'Ann. I've heard really wonderful things about Chasing Lilacs and I'm glad we got to feature it here. My most recent read in this genre was The Help. Fantastic book. I've got an idea for a 1950's mystery series. Wrote one on my personal blog. Here here to the new genre of Nostalgic fiction!

  5. Thanks, D'Ann for thinking of me during "genre" week. I sometimes think I'm just fickle because I love reading in so many different arenas. I love a well-written romance and have read hundreds of mysteries over the years. But when I sat down to write, I found that I just wanted to write stories of life and friendship and redemption without the confines of genre. I must confess it's harder to break into publishing that way, but for me, it's been worth the wait.

    Gwen, I hope that you enjoy Chasing Lilacs. I had to smile - I just ordered more books last night. What was I thinking??? I already have more than I'll ever read, but I also had several that came with high recommendation and really want to read those, too.

    And yes, Dina, I love books from the sixties, too. What scares me is that what I think of as nostalgic may be historical to a lot of people today. Yikes!

    Thanks, ladies. I'll be in and out today. Hope you're having a swell day!

  6. Hi Lisa! The Help is definitely on my all-time favorite list. I love when I can read a great story and gain new insights into the people of an era. You should definitely write a nostalgic mystery series. I've read every Perry Mason book written and also loved the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald (although that may have been more seventies). God bless.

  7. Great discussion, ladies! I loved the reminder that "Live was good, but never easy." So very true! And I have to agree, Carla's book is wonderful, and such a charming and heartrending visit to an earlier era.

  8. Thanks for sharing with us today, Carla! I've got to get my hands on this book; it sounds wonderful.

    I'd love to see more books set in the 50s-60s, a period which seems to be "no-man's land" for some publishers.

    I enjoy reading many genres -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But when it comes to writing, well, that's a different story. I'd be hard pressed to write a contemporary, mystery, or suspense unless God handed one to me on a platter.

    Thanks D'Ann and Carla for today's post!

  9. Hi Myra! Thanks for the good word. I wish I'd coined the phrase - Life was good, but never easy. It was Curt Isles that said it, though, and he writes wonderful deep south nostalgia.

    Susanne, I'd be honored if you read Chasing Lilacs. You're right. The fifties and sixties are not the "hottest" era for books, but I think more people are starting to write them. And Summerside has a couple of new lines that fit the nostalgia genre - romantic suspense and sweet love stories based on songs. I think they're from the period between WWI and Viet Nam. I don't write for them, but really hope that these catch on.

    Thanks, ladies! I smiled at what you said, Susanne, about God giving you a story. He does ignite our hearts, and I believe He is faithful to pave the way for the stories her gives us. Keep on pressing on!

  10. Ack - the end of the last comment should read . . . the stories HE gives us.

  11. Carla, your bookcover is so utterly eye-catching! Thank you for sharing about nostalgia fiction. Enlightening.

  12. Thanks, Gina! Credit goes to the ever-so-talented art guys at FaithWords.

  13. Welcome, Carla. I think nostalgia fiction has a wonderful sound to it. I like it so much better than the word, vintage which sounds - well - old. Nostalgia sounds like comfort food. :)

    I have a of respect for you for writing what's in your heart even if it doesn't fall into a traditional genre. Good for you!

    I'll keep an eye out for your book. Thanks for visiting with us today.


  14. Thanks, Anita Mae, for the welcome! and blessings to all of you for having me on Inkwell Inspirations. I'm feeling a little nostalgic today for throwing a blanket on the grass and watching the clouds roll by while a Popsicle drips down my arm. Ah! The good old days.

  15. Thanks, Carla--and everyone--for stopping by today! A long holiday weekend is the perfect time to talk about "the good old days," isn't it?

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