Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Second Winner in JACK 1939 Contest!

Thanks to all of you who left comments about Travels With Jack: The Kennedy Library.  The winner of this week's free advance copy of the book is juno.  Please hit the Contact button on the Home page of www.francinemathews.com, and send me your address!  I'll send you the book!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Travels With Jack: The Kennedy Library

Writing fiction about real people is a tricky business.  I've been doing it for years, now--whether the subject is Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Allen Dulles or Queen Victoria--and I've developed a rule of thumb.  If you're going to embroider the past, know the facts first.  In the case of JACK 1939, that sent me to the Kennedy Library.

Properly speaking, it's the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which sits at the edge of Columbia Point, overlooking Boston Harbor.  When I stopped by recently, the wind off the water was like a gale, whipping my hair straight back from my head, as though the whole place were a ship putting out to sea. The obvious spaces of the massive building belong to the museum, where there's a theater and exhibit halls, a lunch place and a gift shop.  Victura, Jack's Wianno Senior yacht, is on display.  But the archives--the documentary and visual holdings that pinpoint an entire life--are several floors above.  You have to ask to enter the research elevator, and it helps to have emailed first for an appointment, but pretty much anyone can consult the reference librarians.  You leave your personal belongings in a locker, choose a desk, and fill out a form listing the files you'd like to read.  A helpful staff member brings you boxes of documents.  And in the silence and the enormous view of water beyond the wall of steel and glass that overlooks the harbor, you begin to read.

It can feel almost indecent, this kind of access.  There are letters scrawled in a childish hand, full of adventures and humor and boarding school loneliness.  There are records of illness in a mother's careful copperplate.  There are academic files--grades and lists of recommended reading, the comments of Harvard advisors--and a cache of love letters that detail a hectic few months following Pearl Harbor.  There are also, of course, all the detailed memoranda of a presidency--but I wasn't looking for that.  I was looking for the boy Jack once was.  And he was there, in the archives.

I don't pretend to write biography and I'm certainly not rewriting history.  But I take comfort and inspiration from facts.  It helps to know from Jack's various passports that his eyes were sometimes called green, and sometimes hazel; that he was a messy roommate and a wild driver.  I can imagine that guy.  I can walk with him into nightmare, and believe he'll get us both back.

If you can, get to Columbia Point.  Preferably on a windy day.  The past is something you can touch.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Contest Winner, JACK 1939

I'm sitting in a hotel in Georgetown with my son, Sam, who just picked the winner of this week's free copy of JACK 1939 at random, from among those who left comments on my blog...Eli Harlan!  Eli, please send your address info, and any instructions about how you'd like the book signed, to francine@francinemathews.com. I'll zap off a copy of the book.  And thanks for stopping by the blog.

Check back tomorrow evening for a new blog post, and a new chance to win this week's free copy!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Giving Away JACK!

Author Copies of JACK 1939 just arrived...which means the CONTEST may begin!

A copy per week is up for grabs throughout the month prior to July 5th publication date.  Last week's copy goes to Carol Bauer, as a reward for her extraordinary patience, as noted here only yesterday.  If you'd like to snag THIS week's free book, visit my blog, read the post from April listed below right, entitled Travels With Jack: Hyannis Port, and LEAVE A COMMENT.  I'll pick a name at random on Saturday, June 16th, and mail you a personalized copy of JACK.  Easy, right?

Check back next week for a new challenge!

Happy posting--and reading.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jack Juggling Oranges, Germany, 1937

On Monday, in New York, I was fortunate enough to join some great thriller writers on a panel hosted by Library Journal.  I talked about the photograph that triggered my interest in a young Jack Kennedy--and so many people asked me later where they could find that shot, I thought I'd post it here.  The actual photograph was taken by Lem Billings, one of Jack's oldest friends from his days at Choate and Princeton; it's among the Visual Holdings of the Kennedy Library, which naturally has rights to it.  I found this copy on Tumblr, and I'm assuming it's okay to post it here.

Notice how young he looks--how happy and carefree--just a kid bumming around Europe.  He'd have been twenty.  JACK 1939 takes place two years later--but it's pretty much the same guy.