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Today we travel to Indiana in the Midwest of the United States to chat with Drēma Drudge about how corn, cows, hummingbirds, writing outdoors, a sombrero wearing penguin, journal writing, and the Indiana Dunes are a part of Drēma’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Drēma Drudge, author of the newly released novel, Victorine, about Victorine Meurent, the artist Édouard Manet’s favorite model who, history has forgotten, was also an artist. My musician and writer husband, Barry, and I live in Indiana in the United States. That’s in the Midwest, for those who aren’t familiar with it, the land of corn, cows, and us. We host a podcast, Writing All the Things.
In which genre do you write?
I write literary fiction, though my debut novel is also historical fiction.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
Maybe a hummingbird, because I love to flit from idea to idea. My curiosity knows no bounds. Hummingbirds are beautiful, glistening, and yet if you don’t watch carefully, they are there and gone. Maybe as a person I’m a bit that way – I want to talk, but I also want to be off writing my next book. And, too, I probably flap my wings just as fast trying to stay airborne with my newest idea until I realize what it is I’m trying to say!
What does your ideal writing space look like?
On days when it’s warm enough, I go to our local café and write outdoors on their lovely porch all afternoon. Not only do I get visited by the café’s patrons, but by squirrels, birds, and a whole host of nature’s lovelies like butterflies and beautiful, fat bumble bees while being surrounded by the season’s flowers.
If you could have a coffee date with a famous person from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d love to have coffee with Victorine Meurent, the main character of my novel. Since she was a real person, I’d ask her if I even came close to getting her story right – she’s someone who, because she was a woman and from a poor family in the mid-19th century in Paris, we don’t know lots about. Mostly what we know of her comes from the paintings others – men – did of her.
I’d ask why she went to art school, and how long she had wanted to. Was there one particular thing that drove her to it?
Until the past few years, it was believed that only one of her own paintings had survived. Now we know of four, most importantly, her self-portrait. What a triumph, getting to see how a woman who was painted dozens of times by men saw herself.
Her work was shown in the prestigious Paris Salon six times, and all history typically remembers her for is being a model. I would like to ask her how she feels about that, and if I’ve done enough to bring her back to life.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve experienced to help create a scene or plot?
While my husband and I were in Paris, we stood in front of Manet’s painting of Victorine as Olympia, and I felt like there was more she wanted to say, but I couldn’t hear what. There was something strange with the model’s nose. I started crying, and then a tour group came by and the guide spoke about the painting. She said the one thing that explained what I was feeling: she claimed Victorine had dated a boxer who had messed up her nose, and it sent me off on this journey to write about Victorine. (Interestingly enough, I never found proof about that story, but it set me to researching her, so it did what it was intended to do, I suppose.)
Do you journal write? Has this helped with your published writings?
I journal often. Not every day, but every few days, at least. It helps me to empty my mind of the tedious and everyday and prepares me for creating. I wish I wrote erudite, meaningful journal entries, but I don’t. My journals would be worthless to anyone but me.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
I think the penguin would take me by the hand and tell me it’s time for an amazing adventure. He’d say “Let’s go,” and we would waddle down the street, stopping to say hello to everyone. At the end, what I’d discover is that everything I’m writing about is alive, too, is out there, in one way or another, and my penguin friend was sent to invite me to enjoy the real world, which, too often, writing can cause one to forget.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I adore the Indiana Dunes. Going there is like visiting the ocean, though it’s really on Lake Michigan. I can relax there in a way I can’t anywhere else. My mind gets to recover there, something it doesn’t often do, because it races all the time, seeking writing material. But at the beach I sit (or collect shells and stones, or climb the dunes) and I may read or I may not. I may just sprawl on my towel and forget about everything, or I may have a deep, philosophical conversation with my husband about literature, about life. Or maybe we buy chocolate-covered bananas and flip through magazines. It’s pure paradise to me.
Tell us about your most recent book.
My debut novel, Victorine, features Victorine Meurent, a forgotten, accomplished painter who posed nude for Edouard Manet’s most famous, controversial paintings such as Olympia and The Picnic in Paris, paintings heralded as the beginning of modern art. History has forgotten (until now) her paintings, despite the fact that she showed her work at the prestigious Paris Salon multiple times, even one year when her mentor, Manet’s, work was refused.
Her persistent desire in the novel is not to be a model anymore but to be a painter herself, despite being taken advantage of by those in the art world, something which causes her to turn, for a time, to every vice in the Paris underworld, leading her even into the catacombs.
In order to live authentically, she eventually finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy, and further tested when she inches towards art school while financial setbacks push her away from it. The same can be said when it comes to her and love, which becomes substituted, eventually, by art.
The best place for people to learn more about my writing, about art history and news, is through my mailing list. Sign up on my website at: www.dremadrudge.com. When you do, I’ll send you a free historical fiction story.
Thank you for being a part of MTA, Drēma. It was wonderful to learn more about you and how Victorine came to be. The Indiana Dunes sound beautiful and wonderful. I think I’m going to add that to my bucket list! All the best to you! – Camilla
Victorine is a compelling rendering of the life of a model working for Edouard Manet in the 1860s, who longed to be a painter in her own right. In this book, you will feel paint flow onto the canvases of Manet, Monet, Degas, Morisot, Stevens, Meurent, and others. You will imagine life on the streets of Paris in all its beauty, harshness, and fragility. And you will see a relationship between painter and model unfold with remarkable clarity and sensitivity. Victorine Meurent s body is the vehicle for Manet s artistic vision, while her robust courage, irreverence and honesty, and her longing for her own agency, shapes the painter s vision. The intimate collaboration between two artists creates life-changing revelations on both sides this dance of color and light complicated, sensuous, and intense. –Eleanor Morse, author of White Dog Fell from the Sky
The model for great impressionist artist, Manet, the sassy, sexy, smart and artistic Victorine is as vivid as his best paintings. Yearning to paint herself, she questions Manet and his artist friends closely annoyingly about what they paint and how they paint it, treating the reader to a sequence of fascinating exchanges about art, its creation and demands. In a gallery of episodes, narrated in the gaudy, evocative voice of the protagonist, author Drema Drudge renders Victorine Meurent from flesh to soul. Applying bold strokes of language, Drudge animates the story of a life lived at high intensity sparkling, inventive, imaginative, ambitious a totally original life. You can t help but love them both. –Julie Brickman, author of Two Deserts and What Birds Can Only Whisper