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Author(s) event: Kelly O'Connor McNees AND Louisa May Alcott!

Our local bookshop has been running a great series of author events!  I’m still recovering from my disappointment at missing Chris Bohjalian on April 11, but last week I attended a reading and Q&A with Holly LeCraw and The Swimming Pool, and this week Kelly O’Connor McNees visited to discuss her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.

Imagine our surprise, when, shortly after Kelly was introduced, Louisa May Alcott herself walked around the corner looking for her father, Bronson Alcott.  Louisa explained that her father had left the house to meet Mr. Emerson, and that she had come to fetch him home for dinner.

Kelly introduced herself and showed her the cover of her novel; Louisa was surprised, but flattered, to be the subject of the book, and said that she, too, enjoyed writing fiction.  Louisa commented that Kelly (and most of the women in the audience) were wearing ‘pantelettes’ rather than skirts, calling us something along the lines of ‘fashion forward’ or ‘fashion rebels.’  I wish I had been taking notes; I was so taken aback to see the unexpected guest that I was lucky I thought to take some photos!

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Louisa May Alcott was portrayed by Jan Turnquist, the executive director of the Orchard House.  She frequently performs as Alcott in living history lessons at the historic site, at schools, and libraries.  Her appearance at the Concord Bookshop, and her brief conversation with the author, really set the stage for the event.

Kelly spoke a bit about the inspiration for her novel, finding that time in the summer of 1855 when the Alcott family move to Walpole, NH and left few records of what happened during that time.  A short-term move out of the country gave Kelly the time and opportunity to write, and the rest, as they say, is history … or herstory.

She read aloud from near the beginning of the novel (if you have a copy, beginning at the section break on page 16, ending with “And the oath was sealed.” on page 19).  The Alcotts have just arrived in Walpole, and Louisa and her sister Anna are walking to town to orient themselves and to introduce themselves to the shopkeepers.  Along the way, Louisa thinks about her plan to return to Boston as quickly as possible, in order to fulfill her heart’s desire to write.  This section touches on the situation that brought them to Walpole, their continued dependence on the charity of others, and Louisa’s strong will.

After the reading, Kelly accepted questions from the audience; I’ve paraphrased some of what she shared:

  • She didn’t visit Walpole, NH until after her book was completed.  The house the Alcott family lived in is still there, but has been converted to an apartment building.  She’s glad she didn’t have today’s image to dim her imagination.
  • Aside from the journals and letters of the Alcotts and their contemporaries, she has read the fiction of Louisa May Alcott.  Two books that helped her create such a vivid picture of their life in Walpole are Our Own Snug Fireside and an illustrated book of Walpole (“now and then”).
  • She toured Orchard House for the first time on the day of the bookshop event, saying it was “wonderful” and bigger than she expected.  The sense of personal history in the house is incredible (I agree!).
  • When asked about the publishing process, Kelly spoke briefly on connecting with an agent and publisher.  She indicated that she was very fortunate the novel didn’t require a lot of cuts and revisions, and that she worked with her editor to add a few sections. 
  • Kelly came up with the title, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, and it remained.  From stories I’ve heard from other authors, I think she’s probably in the minority with not having a title change.
  • Yes, she’s working on another novel.  This will be set earlier, in the late 1700s on Mackinac Island in Michigan. 
  • But, enough about that … if you haven’t yet read The Lost Summer, get on it (that’s Dawn talking, not Kelly!)

Kelly signed books and posed for pictures; I picked up a hardcover for myself, and one for a friend who wasn’t able to attend.  The Concord Bookshop has signed copies; stop in if you’re local, or call and order one.

27 comments to Author(s) event: Kelly O’Connor McNees AND Louisa May Alcott!

  • Sounds like a delightful day!

    I hope she is able to travel to the midwest. I would love to hear her in person.

  • Oh – I wish I had known!! I would have come! I have to get that book and read it. Love the pics of her and Jan. :)

  • Oh wow!!! I love Mackinac Island! I’ve been there several times, and I’m in love with northern Michigan in general. My parents spent part of their honeymoon there. I hope I don’t have to wait years for the book!!!

    How cool that LMA herself came for a visit.

  • So fun! One of these days I’ll drive up and go with you to one of these. I hope!

  • Oh wow, how cute! What a treat for all the visitors. Great pics.

  • This has been on my wish list since I first heard about it. What a fun reading!

  • What a fun event! Kelly is great, isn’t she?

  • I love that they invited Louisa to the event! But my little antennae perked up when I saw she was writing about Mackinac Island! I’ve been obsessed with it since the first time I saw Somewhere in Time!

  • This is just totally awesome! What a neat way to liven up her appearance! McNees is a remarkably warm person, and I envy you that you got to meet her. I would have loved to have been there!

  • Ti

    I loved TLSOLMA and I appreciate that the author seems so accessible to bloggers and fans in general. When I fall in love with an author’s work, it just cements my love of the author herself when she values the opinions of her readers.

  • Sounds like so much fun! I’m a little jealous!

  • What fun! I love that LMA herself stopped by–I’ll bet it really did take you by surprise!

  • Oh my gosh, what a fun author event! I can’t believe Louisa May Alcott showed up too – I bet she heard you were going to be there!

  • That sounds so fun – you’re lucky to live so near Louisa’s home! I just posted my review of The Lost Summer… today, and I really enjoyed it.

  • How fun!!! I really need to try and go to a book event some day. I’ve never been to one yet.

  • Kay

    What a great event! It must have been so much fun. I wish that we had more things like that I could attend here in Austin. Thanks so much for sharing it with us! I loved Kelly’s book.

  • [...] everyone! Kelly is off in New England signing books, reading to crowds, and being caught off-guard by the heroine of her novel. I thought I’d take this opportunity to step in and update the blog for [...]

  • Molly – Keep an eye on this page: http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/events

    Beth – I wish I had thought to make sure you knew about it :( If I had been on the left side I would have got both their faces in the pics (didn’t want to be obnoxious and ask them to pose)

    Beth F – I haven’t been to Mackinac Island, but have read quite a bit about it; another book to look forward to.

    Care – yes, where were you Sunday!? :)

    Chris – it was a nice surprise (I’m assuming Kelly knew …)

    Mary – the book is really good; it’s an imagining that is true to the Alcotts and the way they lived.

    Jen – yes, we chatted a little bit after the reading. She’s reading at another MA bookstore, and up in southern NH.

    Sandy – another movie I haven’t seen (yes, apparently I live under a rock!)

    zibilee – I’m glad I was able to go; yes, she’s very warm and enthusiastic. Very respectful of Bronson Alcott’s unorthodox ways, too. She commented that if he were more mainstream, Louisa may not have written the way she did …

    Ti – yes, and as I wrote to Zibilee above, she also shows great respect for the works and ways of the Alcott family.

    Julie – no, no jealousy allowed. You’ll have plenty of author time next month :)

    Lisa – I don’t know if the author and “LMA” rehearsed what they’d talk about, but it was fun to eavesdrop on the conversation.

    Kathy – LOL! You always make my day with your upbeat comments :)

    Florinda – did you have an interview, too? I’ll pop over to read it.

    Jenners – I find out about a lot of them thru the local bookstore newsletters (local, as in within 25 miles or so)

    Kay – I really liked the book, too! I’d love to drive up to Walpole and see the town this summer.

  • You got to meet Kelly AND Louisa May Alcott – amazing! This sounds like such a unique book reading, thanks for sharing the experience and pictures.

  • How wonderful! I wish I could have been there to see the event. I really enjoyed the book. Thanks for posting pictures so I could enjoy it vicariously!

  • novelwhore – I’m glad we weren’t expecting LMA; the surprise made it that much more enjoyable.

    nomadReader – A video of the exchange would have been great – LMA used vocab of her day, and I couldn’t remember her exact quotes when I wrote this up (but I came close, I think)

  • How fun! I loved The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. I was a little disappointed that central Florida wasn’t on the list of upcoming sites on the link that you posted! Glad that you had such a great time.

  • What a fun time this must have been. I need to get to this book soon.

  • You were so lucky to be able to meet both Kelly and Louisa. I’m glad you took pictures and shared the event with us. I loved Lost Summer so much that I want to read more Alcott. If it made you want to read more Alcott, I’m hosting a All Things Alcott Challenge. I’d love to have you join in.

    All Things Alcott Challenge

  • What, Louisa didn’t stick around for a picture with you? That would’ve been quite the blogging coup. ;-)

    What a fun idea for an author reading, especially since it was a surprise to the audience.

  • I loved The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott – what a great opportunity to meet the author at your local bookstore!

  • Kristi – maybe the author will extend her book tour to your area :)

    diane – it is a wonderful (and respectful) blend of fact and fiction.

    Margot – thanks for letting us know about your LMA challenge! I’ll have to think of what I’ll put on my list.

    softdrink – a blogger coup! Hee-hee!

    Colleen – Will she be coming to NY? You are in a hot-bed of literary activity.

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