Author Brings F. Scott Fitzgerald to Life in Fictional Account

Posted: October 4, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Fitzgerald lovers and Gatsby-philes were on hand Monday at the Fall for the Book Festival to hear author Caroline Preston explain how she was literally handed the premise for her third novel.

Preston had already written two novels, “Jackie By Josie” and “Lucy Crocker 2.0,” when she headed off to the Ragdale artists’ colony in Lake Forest, Chicago, in 2001 to work on her third book. She had a hundred pages of a new novel that she wasn’t very happy with and was at a loss as to what to do with it.

At Ragdale she discovered a coffee-table book published by Lake Forest College about the history of the area. One passage about a home highlighted in the book spoke of Ginevra King, the daughter of a Chicago stockbroker who was supposedly the model for Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work, “The Great Gatsby.”

Intrigued and unwilling to work on the novel at hand, Preston called the archivist at the college to get more information. She got his voicemail and left a message telling him what she was interested in despite the fact he could not call her back — Ragdale didn’t permit phones in the studios that might distract the artists from their work.

The archivist would later show up at her studio with several sources on Ginevra King — literally handing her the basis for her latest book, titled “Gatsby’s Girl.”

In “Gatsby’s Girl,” Preston provides an often humorous fictional account of the romance between a 19-year-old Fitzgerald and the 16-year-old Midwest heiress who would come to haunt his fiction. Though the romance was short-lived and mostly took place during correspondence (Fitzgerald was a sophomore at Princeton at the time), Preston takes the pair through the course of Fitzgerald’s life to their last meeting a few years before he dies.

Preston, who has a library background, spoke with excitement about finally getting access to Ginevra King’s letters in 2003 when they were donated to Princeton’s library. The obsessive Fitzgerald had her letters typed up and bound in a volume after the relationship’s demise. King had not kept any of his letters.

“You’ve invited all these ‘people’ into your life by writing about them, and they do seem to come alive for you [as a writer,]” she said. “It is fascinating to do that. When you look so in-depth into someone’s life with this kind of research, you either come to loathe them or admire them more.” Preston admits she is still a very big fan of Fitzgerald’s.

Audience members were curious about where the history and fiction diverge. Preston said that, in real life, King never read any of Fitzgerald’s work, unlike the character in her book. “She wasn’t interested,” said Preston. “And she should’ve been.”

Note: Fitzgerald scholar and Mason English professor Roger Lathbury was on hand for the reading with one of his classes and the two had the opportunity to compare notes on the author. Earlier in the day, Preston also spoke to one of the English classes that is reading “The Great Gatsby.”

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