My first introduction to The Writing Desk (2017), by Rachel Hauck, was reading The Fifth Avenue Story Society (2020). (See my November 15 post.) Certain characters and situations overlap. Since I enjoyed The Fifth Avenue Story Society so much, I knew The Writing Desk, published three years earlier, would be my next reading venture.
It was good timing. I had just finished a sad, heavy novel and needed something that wouldn’t weigh me down. Though this novel runs the gamut of emotions with sticky situations and thwarted goals, it was a perfect blend of tension, hope, and humor.
I love a split-time novel and the seemingly disparate threads that eventually weave together. These two timelines were connected by a writing desk.
One of the protagonists, Tenley Roth, struggles with writer’s block after launching a runaway bestseller. As I read, author Harper Lee often came to mind. After the raving success of To Kill A Mockingbird, including a Pulitzer Prize and a film starring Gregory Peck, people were left waiting for a second book for decades.
It’s sad indeed when one’s first success comes so swiftly that fear of matching it paralyzes. This happens to Tenley, morphing into her imposter syndrome.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Dress comes a new captivating novel of secrets, romance, and two women bound together across time by a shared dream.
Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?
With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.
A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.
Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.
Either timeline in this split-time novel would be interesting on its own but there’s a richness in seeing how they tie together.
In present day New York City, Tenley Roth wins the Gordon Phipps Roth Foundation writer’s award for her debut novel. Her publisher expects another finished manuscript by the end of July. Can Tenley match her previous success?
That would be enough stress. But Gordon Phipps Roth, a literary icon, was her great-great-grandfather. The pressure’s on.
Add the complication of her ill, estranged mother asking for help during chemo treatments. In Florida. While Tenley’s boyfriend Holt takes off to Europe for work.
In Florida, Tenley believes she has the perfect writing desk to aid her lack of inspiration and help break through some serious writer’s block. But the desk has been sold and Jonas Sullivan arrives to take it. He’s a furniture designer and renovation expert. The desk needs restoring.
Plenty of comic relief sparks between Tenley and Jonas, starting with their nicknames for each other: New York and Cocoa Beach. Though Jonas has his own struggles, he offers Tenley much grace and kindness.
Meanwhile . . . actually, over a hundred years earlier, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of Gilded Age wealth. Her parents have her life planned out, including her future spouse. But she wants to write, not marry. She’d prefer to marry for love, not position, and longs to publish a novel under her own name. She writes while secretly tucked away at her writing desk.
Birdie is reunited with Elijah Percy when he visits the USA from England to meet his bride, a union arranged by his mother and needed for his family’s financial wellbeing. Birdy had fallen for Elijah years earlier. But family duty trumps all, and Birdie is expected to marry someone else in order to join two moneyed New York City families.
Both Tenley Roth and Birdie Shehorn have to fight off society’s expectations if they want to follow their dreams.
Though the story enticed me, sometimes I wanted to slap Tenley, sit her down at her laptop, and tell her to get over her writer’s block already. Some of her quirkiness made me wonder why Jonas stuck around. But overall, both Birdie’s and Tenley’s stories kept my curiosity piqued as the tale unfolded in unexpected, satisfying ways.
Join me for some Q & A with Rachel Hauck.
Questions about The Writing Desk
What was your inspiration for writing The Writing Desk? What’s your personal connection to the story or setting?
Rachel: The Writing Desk was not the original title. I can’t remember what I started with, but my publisher changed it. I usually keep my titles, but they came up with a better one.
I wanted to write about the Gilded Age because I was a big fan of Downton Abbey. As I started researching America’s “elite” I became fascinated with that part of history. For the contemporary portion, I wanted to write about writing. So Tenley became an author.
How did you create your heroines Tenley and Birdie and their particular situations?
Rachel: I have a process for developing characters. I use The Story Equation. I get an idea of who or what they could be, then I start working the process which develops the inner journey of the characters. Birdie was inspired a lot by the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt who became the Duchess of Marlborough. Tenley was just a girl trying to figure out life.
What would Tenley and Birdie have to say about you?
Rachel: Wow, good question. Birdie would say, “Thank you for telling my story. For telling the truth. For letting the world know I was a great writer.” Tenley would say, “Really, a robe and floppy slippers, and not washing my hair for days on end? Really?” She was fun to write.
What unusual things did you have to do or research to make this story authentic?
Rachel: Nothing unusual. I read a lot, research. Think things through. When you’re writing in different timelines, you have to work to make events, dialog, even views on life real to the age.
I recently watched a show set in the ‘40s and the women complained of wearing skirts to play a sport. From a 2022 perspective, where so many women live in yoga pants, that makes sense. But in the 1940s, women would’ve been used to skirts. They wouldn’t have known anything else, even for a sport. Yes, they wanted to play ball, but they also wanted to be pretty and feminine. Pants were still very much a man’s outfit. I had a great aunt who lived into the ‘90s who never wore pants in her life.
I do a lot of thinking and pondering, inquiring, as I write.
What are the main challenges of writing a split-time novel? How do you overcome them? Do you begin by planning the historical timeline or the contemporary one?
Rachel: The biggest challenge is connecting the timelines. Usually the question is how does the past impact the present. With The Writing Desk, the present impacted, or fixed, the past. While each character’s journey is different, the themes or problems are often the same.
With The Wedding Dress, the historical heroine, Emily, was being coerced into marrying a man her family preferred and wearing a gown designed by the women they preferred. But she wanted a different gown and a different man.
Charlotte, the contemporary heroine, owned a wedding dress shop. She had a man she loved but couldn’t bring herself to choose her own gown. A piece of her story was missing. It was my job to bring her to truth one scene at a time.
The contemporary and historical scenes have to play off each other. For example, in The Writing Desk, I opened with Tenley struggling to write her next book while Birdie discovers her book is missing. What happened to it?
In the end, the stories must come together, and each timeline has a satisfying ending.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. It highlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
On a different note, if you enjoy small town Southern fiction or stories about family secrets, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, 2022 I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden. Additionally, in August, All That Is Hidden became the winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
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Rachel Hauck Bio
New York Times, USA Today & Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Rachel Hauck writes from sunny central Florida. A RITA finalist and winner of Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year, and Career Achievement Award, she writes vivid characters dealing with real life issues.
Her book, Once Upon A Prince, was made into an original Hallmark movie. Her novel, The Wedding Dress, has been optioned for film by Brain Power Studio.
She loves to hear from readers. She also loves to encourage new writers and sits on the Executive Board of American Christian Fiction Writers.
A graduate of Ohio State University with a BA in Journalism, Rachel is an avid OSU football fan. She hopes to one day stand on the sidelines in the Shoe with Ryan Day.
Visit her website to find out more and click on the icons to follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Join her NEWSLETTER for exclusive monthly content.
Join me next time for a visit with author Michelle Griep.
Meanwhile, have you read The Writing Desk or other books by Rachel Hauck? Do you enjoy split-time fiction? Answer in the comments below.