A Q&A with Jennifer Chiaverini

Get a read on the Madison author of the ‘New York Times’ best-selling Elm Creek Quilt novels

Why are you a writer?
Because it’s fun and I have a knack for it.

What’s your writing process?
Whenever I write historical fiction, I begin my research at the Wisconsin Historical Society library in Madison. It’s a wonderful resource, an archive of marvelous depth and scope tended by knowledgeable staff. After that, I'll create a timeline of historic events as well as a list of chapters and what ought to happen in each one. When I write the first draft of a novel, I usually begin by reviewing what I wrote the previous day, revising the wording or correcting small errors where needed. Then I pick up where I left off and continue the story, striving to write two thousand words a day. When the first draft is done, I set it aside for a day or two before beginning the revising process.

When did you first feel successful?
I’ve been fortunate to experience different types of success through the years, but I first felt successful as a professional writer when I realized that, against all odds, I was able to make a living doing what I love.

What can’t you live without?
It’s the most obvious answer, but also the most true—my family.

How do you unwind? 
When the weather cooperates, I like to go for long runs through the Pheasant Branch Conservancy. When it doesn’t—and this answer will not surprise you—nothing beats curling up with a cup of tea and an excellent book.

On what do you scrimp and on what do you splurge?
I scrimp on my office wardrobe—I write at home, so I favor comfort over fashion—and I splurge on vacations and computers.

Whom do you admire most?
My personal heroes are people who face adversity with moral courage and dignity, whose hunger for justice and compassion for others lead them to stand up for what is right even at great risk to themselves.

What’s your best trait?
I have no idea, so I asked my husband. He said, “You have so many, it’s impossible to pick just one.” And that, gentle reader, is the secret to our enduring marriage.

What’s your dream vacation?
Exploring someplace unfamiliar and marvelous with my family, whether that means hiking through Yellowstone or touring the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

What has been the key to your success?
A supportive family, a wonderful collaboration with my editor and the rest of the team at Dutton and Plume, and lots of hard work.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Chiaverini’s first stand-alone novel, came out in January; find details at elmcreek.net.

Katie Vaughn is managing editor of Madison Magazine. 

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