Interview with the Author
Lillian: Thank you so much for being here today Allegra. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Allegra: My mother is a wonderful and funny artist who has always urged me to try new things even if they do not succeed at first. My father was an Air Force pilot from the Deep South who instilled in me the ability to think of things differently and other cultural perspectives.
When I was young I became very good at competitive debate and even won a college scholarship. I loved it! I got to fully embrace the side of me that loved intellectual competition. My life was interrupted over my debate partner’s tragic death. I had to confront questions about heartbreak, abandonment, and loss that I was not equipped to answer.
So I learned both the technical side of my work (new product development) but also about how to help people become their best selves. I now help communities dealing with unbearable realities, from hospice to post-war reconciliation to changes in technology that lead the businesses they were in to be irrevocably altered. I love seeing human potential rise out of the difficulties of life.
Today I’m happily married to a wonderful man, Ted, and have two teen sons Michael, a rising junior in high school, and Alex, a rising sophomore at Rice University. We live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with our dog Oyo in a house we call Blundering Heights.
Lillian: What inspired you to become a writer?
Allegra: I find a lot of joy in writing and have been reluctant to ever call it work, though of course it is. I have published non-fiction works (primarily cases for Harvard Business School), but never a novel. However, when I set out to write The End of Innocence I realized the topic was too complex for a non-fiction work. It needed to be a novel. That was back in 1991. It took me about 21 years to complete this novel and to get it to the marketplace. I had a lot of questions I needed to find authentic answers to before I was willing to write those final chapters.
Lillian: Is there any author or book that influenced you?
Allegra: I loved reading a wide range of authors but particularly biographies of strong women: Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Heloise, to name a few. In fiction I especially liked stories about overcoming major changes: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
Lillian: Where do you get your ideas?
Allegra: I happen on something in life that grabs my heart and won’t let it go. I want to spend time exploring that era, theme, or just be with a character like the person who has come into my imagination. If I can’t sleep for a week, it’s probably novel material.
Lillian: From reading The End of Innocence, I know you draw on historical influences, but is there anything in your book based on real-life experience or is it purely imagination?
Allegra: This novel is based on a Latin plaque found at Harvard University commemorating Harvard students who died in the service of its enemies in World War I. Harvard had a policy of only commemorating its war dead that it believe fought for the right and just side. So why did this plaque exist? It turns out the matter was hugely controversial at Harvard. It seems that grace prevailed. It’s not perfect, but to me that adds to its beauty. It came out of a real struggle between the conflicting values of justice or mercy. We know those Puritans had justice as the overriding value in their DNA, so that makes the plaque even more remarkable.
Lillian: That part of the story was so moving to me, having read and felt so deeply for Wils and Helen. What was your favorite part to write?
Allegra: The letters are labors of love but I can’t go into them without revealing plot details. So, in addition to the letters I loved writing one of the early scenes in the novel, a dance set at a mansion in Concord Massachusetts. The scene is out of a John Singer Sargent painting: beautiful, rich, elegant. But the people involved were just miserable because no one could measure up to any one else’s expectations.
Lillian: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything you would change about your novel?
Allegra: I hear no novel is finished, only abandoned. I took twenty-one years to write the novel and that time has given me peace with what I have to offer.
Lillian: Is there a character or theme you’d like to go back to?
Allegra: One character that lends itself to a new story is Jackson Vaughn, a hot-headed Southerner from a rich family in the Deep South near where I grew up. When I read from the novel in my hometown several people specifically knew about him and give me knowing looks.
Lillian: I would love to hear more about Jackson 🙂 What project are you working on now?
Allegra: I’m working on a novel about the delicious but highly illegal world of raw milk cheese in the rural South. It’s a re-write of the French novel CHOCOLAT, but instead of religion versus “sinful” fun food, it pits sports, religion and law against a delectable, stinky cheese. The research has been a lot of fun. I’ve gained at least ten pounds.
Lillian: Ooo I can’t wait! What is some of the hardest criticism you’ve had to deal with since becoming a published author?
Allegra: When I was learning to write, I went to a rather smelly, sweat-filled YMCA in Austin, Texas every other week to attend the Texas Writers’ League Novels-in-Progress critique sessions. My colleagues there were great teachers about fiction but had no fancy degrees. They knew about life and fiction.
I learned only a fraction of the overall population will like my work and made peace with that. I don’t like all types of fiction and I can’t expect others to as well. So when someone really doesn’t care for my work, I honor that that is there experience. It doesn’t have to be mine. If I can find something useful in the critique I do listen for that. If not, I let it go, knowing that critique is rarely about my work but more about their preferences.
The best compliment is when I connect with a person’s heart and they tell me, “You got it. You understood what I experienced when I endured a similar situation.” That is a thrilling feeling.
Lillian: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
Allegra: If you are blessed to have someone who is knowledgeable about writing and is willing to coach you, listen to them. Growth is never easy but when you’re done growing you keep the growth and don’t have to keep any of the tough moments in your heart.
Lillian: Great advice! Is there anything you would like to share with your fans?
I promise the next novel will not take 21 years to come into being!
Lillian: Now for the hard questions….Favorite color?
Allegra: Don’t make me choose between blue and purple!
Lillian: Favorite movie?
Allegra: The Razor’s Edge with Bill Murray from 1984. Beautiful, lovely, elegant and challenging.
Lillian: Favorite TV show?
Allegra: Downton Abbey
Lillian: Favorite place to write?
Allegra: Near a loved one.
Lillian: If you had to choose just one book, what would it be and why?
Allegra: That’s too hard! What about one category? I love inspiration texts.
Lillian: Now last question and possibly the most important….What brand of cereal best describes you and why?
Allegra: Cap’n Crunch. It was tasty, sustained its punch, and had a mascot with an interesting backstory who had clearly mellowed with age.
Lillian: Thank you again for being here! If you are interested in reading Allegra Jordan’s new novel The End of Innocence, it’s available for preorder now and releases tomorrow 😀
My Review for The End of Innocence
I received this book via Publishers. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on 2014-08-26
Length: 320 pages
Reviewing eARC from Publishers
On the eve of WWI, two students fall in love in Harvard's hallowed halls and must face a world at war from opposing sides
Helen Windship Brooks is struggling to find herself at the world-renowned Harvard-Radcliffe University when brooding German poet Wils bursts into her life. As they fall deeply in love on the brink of WWI, anti-German sentiments mount and Wils' future at Harvard-and in America-is in increasing danger. When Wils is called to fight for the Kaiser, Helen must decide if she is ready to fight her own battle for what she loves most.
From Harvard's hallowed halls to Belgium's war-ravaged battlefields, The End of Innocence is a powerful new vision of finding love and hope in a violent, broken world.
The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan is the heart-wrenching story of Wils Brandl and Helen Brooks, two star-crossed students of Harvard during the beginnings of WWI. This story tore at my heart unlike anything I’ve read before. Wils, in his last year at Harvard, is a German student and is summoned home by his mother to fight for the kaiser. Unwilling and hoping the war will pass, he stays, but only to see his childhood friend die and German racism and hatred on the rise with his fellow classmates. Helen is seventeen and starting college for the first time. Bright-eyed and following only what she knows, she instantly dislikes the bitter Wils when they first meet at a dance. Forced together during an advanced course, Helen and Wils begin an unlikely friendship that eventually leads to much more.
I instantly fell in love with Wils. He is a bright, young man with his whole future ahead of him. The bitterness he feels at the beginning of the story doesn’t last and he becomes this selfless character that puts others before himself. He’s caring and kind, a true gentleman. Then there’s Helen. At first, I really disliked her (and that’s putting it mildly). She’s from the upper-class, in other words very rich and it shows. She’s spoiled, selfish, and blames her mother (who is like the black sheep of the family) for all her social problems. Then Helen meets Wils, who drunk and mourning his friend, puts her in her place. I totally cheered for Wils on this account. Yes he was a bit callous, but Helen was just so unlikeable at that point. Reading the progression of the characters, you get a feel for how much Helen matures and I really loved this!
Though Helen and Wils are the main characters, there are some great secondary characters. Riley is Wils’s cousin and the smooth talker. He brings levity to the otherwise seriousness of the novel and also a great competitor for Helen’s affections. Dr. Copeland is the professor of the class that Wils and Helen share, and he reminds me a lot of my own literature professor! Very dry personality, but truly cares for his students.
All gone, he thought. Builders, farmers, teachers, students. Is this how we end? Jumbled parts in a mass grave, swept under a clean white carpet?
The plot deals with the war in Europe but also with the prejudice occurring at Harvard to its German students, and of course a bit of romance with the relationship between Helen and Wils. The war has just begun and the book takes you through the first Christmas and the events after the war. The author does a wonderful job of describing the horrible scenes of the war and one of the most popular references from WWI (the Christmas truce that began with the singing of Silent Night 😥 ). I have to admit that I sobbed during parts and laughed during others. Jordan really captures the essence of the time period.
Overall, I felt this novel was by far one of the best I’ve read this year. And hands down, the best historical fiction I’ve ever read! The author drew me in with her characters, their emotions and relationships, and I just couldn’t set it down. If you enjoy historical fiction, romance, or just a really good book I highly recommend you check this one out. You will not be disappointed!
Enter below for your chance to win an ebook copy of Allegra Jordan’s debut novel The End of Innocence. Open to US residents only. Giveaway starts 8/25 at 9am EST and ends 8/31 at 11:59pm.