A Q&A with Author Allison Pittman for The Seamstress (Interview)

I'm sharing about this new release from Tyndale House Publishers with a Q&A.
You can also read the first chapter here. I'll be reviewing this later in the week.

The Seamstress
By Allison Pittman
Christian Historical Romance
Paperback & ebook, 480 Pages
February 5th 2019 by Tyndale House Publishers


A beautifully crafted story breathes life into the cameo character from the classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.

France, 1788
It is the best of times . . .

On a tranquil farm nestled in the French countryside, two orphaned cousins—Renée and Laurette—have been raised under the caring guardianship of young Émile Gagnon, the last of a once-prosperous family. No longer starving girls, Laurette and Renée now spend days tending Gagnon's sheep, and nights in their cozy loft, whispering secrets and dreams in this time of waning innocence and peace.

It is the worst of times . . .

Paris groans with a restlessness that can no longer be contained within its city streets. Hunger and hatred fuel her people. Violence seeps into the ornate halls of Versailles. Even Gagnon’s table in the quiet village of Mouton Blanc bears witness to the rumbles of rebellion, where Marcel Moreau embodies its voice and heart.

It is the story that has never been told.

In one night, the best and worst of fate collide. A chance encounter with a fashionable woman will bring Renée’s sewing skills to light and secure a place in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette. An act of reckless passion will throw Laurette into the arms of the increasingly militant Marcel. And Gagnon, steadfast in his faith in God and country, can only watch as those he loves march straight into the heart of the revolution.

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Author Q&A

1. The Seamstress reveals the untold story of a cameo character in Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities. What inspired you to elaborate on the life of this character in particular?

At the end of the novel A Tale of Two Cities, the character Sydney Carton has this beautiful, sweet moment with a young seamstress. (Dickens describes her as a “little seamstress.”) It’s a moment meant to show the redemption of Sydney Carton, a man who sees himself as one who has wasted his life. The seamstress herself is nameless, appearing only in the final pages of the novel. Even so, left to herself, she is a powerful, important character. But—she mentions having a cousin in the country.

That little detail used to seem like a throwaway fact. Then I became a writer, and I learned that nothing is a throwaway fact. Why mention the cousin? The seamstress is a symbol. A metaphor. She doesn’t need a cousin. I was standing in front of the students in my sophomore English class, discussing this final scene, and I had a throwaway line of my own: “I should write that story.”

2. Can you tell us about the research that went into writing this novel?

Well, I wish I could say it included a week-long visit to Paris and Versailles, but remember—the idea came to me while teaching an English class, so a research trip just wasn’t in the budget. I focused my research on four touchpoints: the Dickens novel to line up my story events with that final scene; a biography of Marie Antoinette to look for character insight beyond the cultural clichés; a fantastic book about the design, architecture, and history of the palace at Versailles; and a resource offering meticulous detail about the fashion of the time. While I, of course, read widely for details of the history of the French Revolution, I paid close attention to the details of the revolution as filtered through those sources and points of view. I always hope that the history behind my stories will come to life through my story. So I tried to take bits and pieces of the conditions that led France to this point of revolution and “assign” them to characters to carry them to life.

3. Tell us about some of the core themes explored in your book. How do you hope readers might relate these themes to their own lives and real-world experiences?

I think, after sifting through the layers of the parallel stories, the core theme comes down to two concepts: honor and grace. In the story’s first pages, Gagnon acts with honor, taking in the orphaned cousins; moreover, he is honorable the entire time they are in his care, even when they grow from little girls into young women. He guards and shields them, honoring God in every moment, even when that moment means letting them go. Renée honors her country’s queen, even when popular opinion dictates such respect is not deserved. And Laurette, in her darkest moment, honors what she knows to be good and right. Even the rebel Marcel acts in a manner that he sees as honorable, ready to fight and die for those who cannot do so for themselves.

Ultimately, it is this sense of honor that drives all of these characters—for a time—to make choices that divide them from each other. And yet, after so much hurt, betrayal, desperation, and bloodshed, grace and forgiveness wrap them back up together.

There is a scene in the novel when all of the principal characters are gathered around a table, sharing a very meager meal. They differ in politics, in age, in ideology, and in experience. Still, there is kindness, civility, and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of each other. We all have to do better, to want a better world for each other, even if it means not having everything exactly as we’d like it to be. We need to be willing to give, to listen, to share, and—yes—to speak, when our words can be measured and delivered with care.

4. Why is it important to explore these topics in our current culture?

Dickens famously opens his novel with the paradox: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” He concludes that series of paradoxical statements by saying (forgive the paraphrase) that the events of his story take place in a time just like the present age. To me, no matter when you read that novel, you are reading in the present age. When taken in superlative generalities, the tumultuous time of the French Revolution was no different than what and where and when we are living today.

The characters in the story are living in a time of upheaval: political, economic, religious, cultural—all fronts. Their world is changing, and the system under which they’ve been living is failing. It’s a time of unchecked violence, weak leadership, and a cultural trend toward secularism. So . . . I can see it. Can you?

5. How is the perspective of your novel unique? How does it hark back to the classic novel?

This novel brought me to a completely new writing place. I’ve written novels where every character on the page is one created from my imagination. Then, in Loving Luther, I used that imagination to craft a story about people who were once real, living, breathing people. And I’ve given cameo appearances to historical figures—Brigham Young, Lottie Moon, Aimee Semple McPherson. But this! To take a fictional character, lift her up from one story and bring her to life in another—not a retelling or a reimagining, but a completely new tale—that was new to me! I tried my best to craft a novel that fans of Dickens would appreciate. The final scene is a direct homage to Dickens’s scene, with some of his very lines interspersed. I am also unashamedly sentimental in parts, free with the emotive dialogue of my characters. Those who are noble are undoubtedly so, and those who are scoundrels are unashamed in their dealings.

6. What is the value of fiction and storytelling in today’s society?

Fiction gives us a chance to explore. I don’t mean just learning about cities and history, but a chance to explore mindsets and points of view. In The Seamstress readers get to see not only the unfolding of a revolution, but the desperation and poverty that led to that violence and destruction. Fiction allows us to empathize with the kinds of people we might never meet in real life. I think sometimes we feel safer letting a fictional character into our heart because it’s a safe way to explore new emotions. We can make predictions and lose nothing if we’re wrong. People like to think of fiction as an escape, but I prefer to see it—and create it—as an immersion.

7. What role does faith play in this story?

Both Laurette and Renée were raised with an ever-present sense of religion in a staunchly Catholic village. Neither girl, however, in her simple, pastoral life, ever sought anything deeper than ritualistic practice—Laurette, not even that. Their prayers are memorized and recited, with a concept of God as a looming, far-off presence. Though their paths are markedly different, each has to come to a place where she needs to trust in the forgiveness of Christ in order to forgive her own choices. Faith is what allows us to live with ourselves.

8. Which scene in The Seamstress did you most enjoy writing?

Oh, my . . . Even though it is tragic and violent, I think it has to be the scene of the women storming the palace at Versailles. For one thing, as a not-so-secret feminist, it’s somewhat satisfying to see women taking action. There’s something so powerful about the idea of women made bold for the sake of their children—to see them add weapons to their voices and confront subjugation with threat. I could never advocate that in today’s climate, but in the context of history, it is such a powerful moment. That scene is also a perfectly crafted chapter in the Dickens novel, with the sinister Madame Defarge at the helm. And finally, though I won’t go into detail exactly how, it brings the cousins Laurette and Renée within consciousness of each other, and as a writer, those little moments are so much fun to craft!

9. As you were crafting the characters featured in The Seamstress, which one did you personally relate to the most? Which character surprised you the most?

I related to Laurette the most because she is basically just a total mess. She’s impulsive and petulant and wracked with self-doubt. She is forgiven much.

10. What are some future projects you’re working on?

As of this moment, all future projects are still in an early stage—too early for specifics. I will say that I am NOT finished with Dickens. I’m looking at other fictional characters who need to leap into my pages as well as historical figures who might show up in a story yet untold.

About the Author

Allison Pittman is the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed novels and a three-time Christy finalist—twice for her Sister Wife series and once for All for a Story from her take on the Roaring Twenties. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, blissfully sharing an empty nest with her husband, Mike. Connect with her on Facebook (Allison Pittman Author), Twitter (@allisonkpittman) or her website, allisonkpittman.com.


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