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Author Interview: Joy Jordan-Lake Under a Gilded Moon

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Author Interview - Joy Jordan-Lake UNDER A GILDED MOON

From the bestselling author of A Tangled Mercy comes an enthralling novel of secrets, a tumultuous war of ideas, and murder as classes collide in the shadow of Biltmore House. Biltmore House, a palatial mansion being built by the Vanderbilts, American “royalty,” is in its final stages of construction in North Carolina. The country’s grandest example of privilege, it symbolizes the aspirations of its owner and the dreams of a girl, just as driven, who lives in its shadow. Kerry MacGregor’s future is derailed when, after two years in college in New York City, family obligations call her home to the beautiful Appalachians. She is determined to distance herself from the opulence she sees rising in the Blue Ridge Mountains, however close its reach. Her family’s land is among the last pieces required to complete the Biltmore Estate. But something more powerful than an ambitious Vanderbilt heir could change Kerry’s fate as, one by one, more outsiders descend on the changing landscape—a fugitive from Sicily, a reporter chasing a groundbreaking story, a debutante tainted by scandal, and a conservationist prepared to put anyone at risk to stoke the resentment of the locals. As Kerry finds herself caught in a war between wealth and poverty, innocence and corruption, she must navigate not only her own pride and desperation to survive but also the temptations of fortune and the men who control it."

Read More About Under a Gilded Moon


Author I draw inspiration from: Louise Penny, Charles Dickens, Kristin Hannah, Leif Enger, Toni Morrison, Jacqueline Winspear--and so, so many more. In fact, pretty much every author I read. If I commit to a book, I end up learning something--or LOTS of somethings--from the author. I like to read all over the place in terms of genre and time period, which is broadening, but it can mean my head feels a bit like it's exploding some days. Favorite place to read a book: At the beach, in the mountains by the fire, on my screened porch. I love reading with people around me BUT they have to be people who are also ensconced in a book so they don't try and chat too much at the wrong times. (My whole extended family has mostly become excellent at this, bless them.) The ideal in my mind is hours of reading with the waves at my toes with one or more family members beside me, or a dear friend, followed by LATER discussing what we were reading over a margarita or shrimp. Or both. And key lime pie. Or chocolate. Always chocolate.

Book character I’d like to be stuck in an elevator with: Jo March! But because of the best-friends-with-a-character question below, I'll add Jay Gatsby (THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald) here. I have LOTS of questions for him. And he's so darn despicable in so many ways. And yet, I re-read his story every few years. And can't help myself for feeling compassion for and fascination with him, poor fixated man. The moment I knew I wanted to become an author: In 4th grade as a shy, often-sick-at-home kid. The moment was when I wrote a poem about a buck standing alone in the snow on a hilltop and the teacher read it aloud in class. I was both horrified to be singled out and a tiny bit hopeful that meant she might like it--but terrified to be so exposed. As she read, I couldn't believe that, quiet and shy as I was back then, I seem to have connected somehow with the other kids in class in ways I wasn't as good at on the playground or in the lunchroom. The story of the poem had drawn them in to a world I'd only seen in my head and managed to sketch out in words on a notebook page--and no one was more shocked than I was. It was the moment I wanted to become a writer, and the same year, I think, that I discovered the Brontë sisters in my small-town church library (of all places) and realized that women had been quietly, defiantly, making a profession of writing, however hard it might be, for a very long time.

Hardback, paperback, ebook or audiobook: All the above. Lake Union/Amazon Publishing will have all available by Dec. 1.

The last book I read: THE MASTERPIECE by Fiona Davis in physical form and on audio, currently listening to STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING by Ibrahim X. Kendi. I'm often reading and listening to things in very different genres, which can be a bit of a whiplash, but good for one's mind and heart, I hope. To stay open and aware and learning and listening. Pen & paper or computer: Computer mostly, but when I am feeling like I'm just pounding out words just because I have a good, stern work ethic--but sometimes there's very little inspiration or pizzazz or heart involved in the words I'm pounding out--I'll stop and shift to pen and paper. Something different happens in the process. And sometimes something powerful, as if scribbling on the page releases another part of my brain. I think there've been articles written on this. But whatever the psychological reason, it's a very real shift in creativity.

Book character I think I’d be best friends with: Jo March (LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott). She helped me through some very awkward years growing up, so I'd insist on treating her to lunch often. As a kid, she reminded me that it was okay not to fit into other people's expectations. And it was okay to have your long, thick, unruly hair be your best feature, and also okay to have a very bad hair day, or several. Especially for a bad hair day for a good cause. She also gave me the courage to think I could be a writer, no matter how nutty that sounded in a world where bills had to be paid on a regular basis. If I weren’t an author, I’d be a: A veterinarian. I should've said English professor, since that's what my educational training prepared me to be, but I'll go with the truth of what popped into my head. I'm still not quite sure how I didn't end up living on a lovely, thriving horse farm as I'd intended as a kid when I had a farm's worth of animals in my suburban backyard (to my poor parents' bafflement) and was saving up money for my own horse. Maybe I never went that route because I love to travel so much, which always fit well with university teaching (which I used to do) and writing, but not well at all with a barn full of horses (my lacking the Downton Abbey's worth of stablehands). At any rate, I get my large animal fix by including horses in my books, and my current work-in-progress that I hope becomes a series (set in a fiction coastal town in Maine) has a secondary character who is a vet, so that's been a blast getting to research things like red bag births and to watch videos on delivering a breach-birth calf. Sounds really odd as I type this, but, truly, that is one of the most fun things about being a writer: being able to step in and out of those lives you ended up not living yourself.

Favorite decade in fashion history: The era of this particular book, UNDER A GILDED MOON, has been my favorite so far, the 1890s. SUCH gorgeous dresses for the upper crust. And interesting tensions as women were beginning to want more freedom of movement to ride bicycles (a new rage at the time) and play tennis and hike. I'm just beginning to research the 1950s for my work-in-progress (the one set in coastal Maine), so feel free to suggest websites and books! I do love googling for fashion from a historical era. And, again, the 50s strike me as fascinating in its tensions: right after the deprivations of the war and after women have experienced being in male-dominated professions but before the huge upheavals of the '60s. So looking forward to learning more!

Place I’d most like to travel: I've been grateful to see a good bit of Europe, including backpacking on about a dollar a day when my husband and I were both in graduate school--so no five-star resorts in the Alps!--and then later with my three kids (even the four-year-old pulling her own little suitcase:). Though I would always jump at the chance to go back to Europe, I guess I'd have to say visiting a place I'd never been before like Kenya or New Zealand or Thailand. My youngest child is adopted from China, and I'm wanting to go back when I can really relax and soak in the culture and surroundings, as opposed to just being so entranced by a sweet baby girl and focused on the lovely business of the adoption.

My signature drink: Ah. I do love a good margarita, frozen, never on the rocks, with salt on the rim always. And extra lime, if it's not too much trouble. Especially in a warm climate. With the rattle of palm fronds and the splash of the ocean in the background. With dear friends across the table. Oh my.

Favorite artist: Claude Monet. Not a very original answer, I'm afraid, but there it is: the truth. His paintings allow me to drift into them somehow, and they light my own imagination. For portraits, I'm a fan of John Singer Sargent, which contributed to my enjoyment researching Biltmore Estate for UNDER A GILDED MOON, since he painted a number of the portraits hanging there. I also love an abstract expressionist who isn't a household name, Becca Wildsmith (you can find her work on Instagram). She's a personal friend, but also becoming steadily better known and admired. Her abstract seascapes in vibrant greens and blues and golds are the inspiration for the gallery/bookstore that the protagonist for my current WIP owns in the coastal Maine village. So much interesting light and color and wind and emotion in the work.

Number one on my bucket list: Great question. So many things come to mind, and I've never been good at putting things in order of priorities since it shifts regularly. I'm way too much like the Golden Retrievers I've had as pets for years (squirrel!). So here are several that come to mind: hiking the Camino de Santiago; visiting the gorgeous mountains and rivers in western Hunan province, China; becoming a person in better physical condition in middle age, at least in terms of endurance, than I was at eighteen. (Fortunately, I wasn't in fabulous physical condition at eighteen, so while the goal is a little delusional, it's not as completely, stupidly, impossibly unattainable as it might've been); read all of Charles Dickens. Ask me again in ten minutes and I could give you an entirely different list.

Anything else you'd like to add: So happy to be interviewed by and connect with you, Ashley!

Author Bio: Although I was born in Washington, D.C., I grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee outside Chattanooga. Much to my sweet mother's bafflement, I always preferred dogs, horses and the woods to dolls and playhouses. A shy kid who was sick a lot, I learned to love reading and creating my own stories--and avoiding wearing shoes at all costs. And though I've loved getting to live all over the country as an adult, including in New England, I still avoid footwear whenever possible. After earning a masters from a theological seminary and a doctorate in English lit., I taught classes at a number of universities, but longed to write full time. Two biological and one adopted child later, in addition to millions of diapers changed and gazillions of freshman composition papers graded, I finally get to do that--and I never forget to be grateful. My recent books include the bestselling novel A TANGLED MERCY, a dual timeline story set in Charleston, South Carolina, and the forthcoming UNDER A GILDED MOON, a historical mystery set at the Biltmore Estate in the tumultuous 1890s. My six earlier books include BLUE HOLE BACK HOME, winner of the 2009 Christy Award for Best First Novel and the Common Book selection for several universities, as well as nonfiction and a children’s picture book, A CRAZY-MUCH LOVE. In all my writing, I tend to be drawn to little-known historical events, to humor as well as tragedy, and to social issues and those big existential questions: the human capacity for brutality and bigotry, for example, as well as for remarkable courage and forgiveness. My husband (who also moonlights as my trusted Head Research Assistant) and I have three young adult kids and live just south of Nashville, where a ferocious 10-pound Maltipoo totally rules the house. Website

Interview: Hasty Book List with Ashley Hasty


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