Friday, June 18, 2010

Interview with Deeanne Gist

I'm happy to welcome Deeanne Gist here today to promote her new book Maid to Match and tell us about a very special getaway opportunity for readers.

Dee, thanks for stopping by!

Tell us a little bit about Maid to Match.
From the day she arrives at the Biltmore, Tillie Reese is dazzled--by the riches of the Vanderbilts and by Mack Danvers, a mountain man turned footman. When Tillie is enlisted to help tame Mack's rugged behavior by tutoring him in proper servant etiquette, the resulting sparks threaten Tillie's efforts to be chosen as Edith Vanderbilt's lady's maid. After all, the one rule of the house is no romance below stairs.

But the stakes rise even higher when Mack and Tillie become entangled in a cover-up at the town orphanage. They could both lose their jobs, their aspirations ...and their hearts.

Why did you set Maid To Match at Vanderbilt’s Biltmore mansion in North Carolina?
Biltmore is such a national treasure. It was built at the height of the Gilded Age by George Vanderbilt and because it is still owned by the Vanderbilt family today, it has all its original furnishings and d├ęcor--which is very unusual for a historical home. It’s like stepping back in time when you enter it.

The other thing that makes it unique is its sheer size. It was the largest privately owned home in America when Vanderbilt built it and it still holds that illustrious title today with 250 rooms and four acres of square footage.

But what fascinated me most was the lifestyle of the Vanderbilts and the staff who worked for them. There are hundreds of novels set in England where house servants make an appearance, but we never really see that in America. So, I decided to pen a story about two servants who work at Biltmore and fall in love.

Is it really true that servants like your characters were not allowed to marry?
It is. Romance below stairs was strictly forbidden. Part of this is because of the living arrangements. The female servants lived on the top floor of the house and the men servants lived above the stable. It wasn’t practical to have married couples housing within the mansion.

The other reason was to keep the women from becoming pregnant. A pregnant house servant just wouldn’t do! As for the men, society at that time felt that a family man would be distracted with his home front responsibilities and would not give the job his all.

Did servant hierarchies really exist in households in America?
They were extremely important. In Maid To Match, the main character is up for a position as Mrs. Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid--which is the highest ranking position for a female next to housekeeper. But to be awarded that position (and to hold it), she must remain unmarried.

That becomes a problem when she’s enlisted to bring a mountain man up to snuff for a position as footman and the sparks began to fly.

Were the Vanderbilts involved at all in the lives of the servants?
George & Edith Vanderbilt were unusual in that they were very progressive about their views of the master-servant relationship. They referred to their servants as staff. They had an open-door policy. They provided electricity and indoor plumbing for their servants, as well as windows in the basement.

On Christmas Day, they invited their household staff along with those who farmed and worked out on the estate (and who had families) into their home. Mrs. Vanderbilt had a wrapped present for every single child on the estate under a big 40’ tree while Mr. Vanderbilt awarded cash bonuses to the entire staff.

What was the most fun part of researching this book?
Touring Biltmore House and learning about the lifestyles of Gilded Age society. I was so enchanted by Biltmore that I decided to invite all my readers on a getaway this September.

We are going to meet in Asheville and have a Gilded Age party where we dress up in turn-of-the-century-style clothing, play parlor games and do a book swap. A Victorian expert is going to dress me from the inside-out in full Victorian costume so my readers can see the incredible number of layers a woman donned on a day-to-day basis. As a finale, we’re going on a private tour of Biltmore mansion. For more information, readers can go to

Here are some pics of the gown I'll be wearing and the undergarments as well. This one is not from the Gilded era though, it's more 1860s:

That getaway sounds like it will be a lot of fun for readers.

Dee, what is the most important advice you could give to pre-published writers?

Learn your craft. It's kind of like being a really talented athlete. You can be the best athlete in the world, but unless you know the rules, you can’t play basketball. Same with writing. And anybody who wants to can learn the craft of writing. You can read how-to books, go to writing conferences, enter contests, join a critique group, listen to CDs, read author blogs, join writing organizations, take workshops, etc. It's a lot of work, but it's definitely doable.

I love to read your novels, but which authors do you like to read in your free time?
My favorite book of all-time is To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the peek Harper Lee gives us of that small Southern town in the early 20th century. She depicts its charm right along side its warts. I first read it in junior high and it profoundly affected my views about the obscenity of prejudice, the definition of bravery and the importance of education.

I must confess, though, that I’m a historical romance junkie. LaVyrle Spencer wrote historicals in the 80s & 90s, my favorite of which is Years. Other secular historicals I turn to over and over are Pamela Morsi’s—also written in the 80s & 90s. Trying to pick a favorite is next to impossible, but I do particularly enjoy Here Comes the Bride. The first line is: “There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must get herself a man or give up on the idea entirely.” The thirty-one-year-old spinster and business owner in this small Texas town puts together a business plan for snagging a husband, then hires her foreman to help implement it. Great stuff.

I love that opening line! You've given me some great names to look up on Amazon.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Deeanne. I'd love to have you pop in again sometime!

Want more information about Dee's getaway? Watch this:

And you can find Deeanne online at:

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