Catherine Fitzpatrick, author of the book A Matter of Happenstance, stopped by to share with us a Q&A session.
Tell us about yourself.
I live in Wisconsin but I grew up in St. Louis, which means my high school is my identity. I know, I know, but that's the way it is.
So. St. Joseph's Academy. Also Creighton University and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Hear that? That clicking? Droves of St. Louisans, now fully informed, are navigating to the site’s next page.
What's your favorite book?
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. There’s very little plot and not much in the way of character development, but the vocabulary’s great. Here are some gems, playable all:
Did your newspaper career take you to memorable locations?
Many times. Near and far.
To Walnut Street in Milwaukee, where I climbed a ladder and clung to the rafters of a Habitat for Humanity house while interviewing Jimmy Carter.
To the Death Row cellblock at a maximum security prison in Texas, where I chatted through the bars with a pretty young mother who killed her two little boys for the insurance money.
To Mississippi’s Yazoo Delta, where I recorded a sweltering summer mission trip that gave a Latino teen from South Milwaukee new perspectives on poverty in America.
To a show tent in Manhattan, where I hunkered with a thousand other idiots on metal risers, watching anorexics in $4,000 dresses zip down a runway while Hurricane Floyd whip-snapped the canvas like laundry on a line.
New York Fashion Week, right? That must have been ...
... as glamorous as a gown of Swarovski crystals, and as gritty as a midnight ride on a freight elevator. Fashion Weeks are eight-day feasts marinated in champagne and obliviousness. Take, for example, Ralph and Ricky Lauren’s invitation-only garden party a while back ...
What would you never, ever do again?
Pick up a reporter’s notebook and run toward a terrorist attack (New York, 9/11). But that’s another story for another day.
And the smartest thing you ever did?
Married Dennis. Had our daughters, Claire and Meg.
Good luck with the novel. What’s it called again?
A Matter of Happenstance
About the book:
Gaslight-era St. Louis. At the dawn of a golden era, an era of grand retail emporiums, a restless dreamer on the edge of ruin inherits a fortune. George Reinhardt invests every penny and more in launching a department store so luxurious it is said to elevate shopping to art. From its opening day in 1883, Reinhardt & Krug is a great success that transforms a man who nearly lost everything into a titan of commerce, a civic leader, and an avatar of style. Affluence goes a long way toward insulating George and his descendants from tribulation, but not far enough.
A Matter of Happenstance is the story of George’s affable grandson and the caprices that knit Fritz Reinhardt, his family, and their fate to five hardscrabble characters whose lives intersect by coincidence.
By the time Fritz is old enough to roll a hoop along a sidewalk, Montreal canal-digger Paul LaChapelle has brought his pregnant wife to Hannibal, MO. Washington University graduate Leatham Smith is stabling horses in the Missouri wilderness. Irish farmer Seamus Conrad has abandoned his blighted fields and shoveled his family into a St. Louis row house. Sicilian fisherman Antonio Gibaldi has sailed an ocean in steerage and landed in Chicago. Scullery girl Gatty Bordelon has given afflictive birth to twins in a New Orleans attic. And store clerk Esmie Hobbs has hopped a mule wagon heading north out of Mississippi’s Yazoo Delta.
Thanks to Esmie, the Reinhardts’ new housekeeper, Fritz survives a childhood bout of rheumatic fever. Soon after graduating from St. Louis Academy, Fritz astounds his scholarly father by renouncing all future interest in the department store founded by his grandfather. Barely old enough to vote, Fritz establishes a brokerage house and during the bullish Roaring Twenties his brilliant, conservative strategies make him and his clients wealthy beyond measure. In the worst decision of his life, Fritz proposes to Lydia Conrad, the prettier of two daughters born to a heroic Irish-American firefighter. On his wedding night, Fritz’s heart is broken when he discovers Lydia is a shallow, cunning girl who doesn’t love him and likely never will. An honorable man, a giver by nature, he reconciles to the role of faithful husband in a one-sided marriage.
While honeymooning in England, Fritz and Lydia make an unscheduled stop at Blenheim, the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough. In midlife Fritz buys property in Huntleigh, the most exclusive of all the St. Louis suburbs, property just down the road from the old Leatham Smith Stables. He commissions a renowned architect to design a palatial home, a grand scale model of the Oxfordshire Blenheim. He inscribes lines by T.E. Lawrence on the cornerstone. And he hires Gatty’s twin sons and Hannibal waitress Sophie LaChapelle as keystones of the household staff.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, Blenheim is the center of St. Louis society, an ode to the good life skirted by swirling beds of Old Garden roses. Readers of the rotogravure section assume the Reinhardt wealth inoculates Fritz and his family against vicissitude. Hardly. The children are over-indulged and dangerously under-parented. Lydia is stumbling into cognitive decline. Fritz has invited her sister to stay, an invitation that takes a toll on everyone and everything at Blenheim.
On a blistering summer afternoon in 1956 an assassin glides unseen into Fritz’s impregnable mansion. Small as a thimble, light as a wishie, it sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in tragedy, a tragedy that proves happenstance is anything but.
Catherine is currently working on several projects:
One Last Mission - A 1,000-word essay in Nov/Dec 2009 Ships in Scale Magazine
"768 Words" - A short fiction story scheduled to publish in the April 2010 issue of The Vocabula Review
Beyond the Back Yard - A 1,000-word reminiscence under contract for the August 2010 issue of Good Old Days Magazine
Bird of Paradise - A 2,000-word essay scheduled to appear in the Outrider Press 2010 Black and White Anthology
From Hidden Away to On Display - A feature story package under contract for the October 2010 issue of Sew News Magazine