I have long been interested in America’s Gilded Age, so when I came across Joy Callaway’s debut novel, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society, I was intrigued by the blurb on the front cover. The blurb describes the novel as “an engrossing Gilded Age tale of a determined young woman’s pursuit of her art.” I picked the book up and read the short author bio on the back cover, and that is how I discovered that Joy is from Charlotte.
I have since learned that Joy is the author of three historical novels, all of which feature strong women characters who chart their own course even when it means going against some of the prevailing expectations that women often faced in the past. The Fifth Avenue Artists Society, which came out in 2016, is set in New York City in the late nineteenth century. Ginny, the central character, is an ambitious young woman who is determined to make her mark as a famous novelist. This character is partially based on one of Joy’s ancestors. Joy’s second novel, Secret Sisters, was published in 2017. Set in the early 1880s, the story deals with four women college students who set out to establish a women’s fraternity. Although it is a work of fiction, Secret Sisters is based on the founding of America’s first sororities. Joy’s latest historical novel, The Grand Design, just came out this summer. Much of the story takes place in The Greenbrier, the famous resort in West Virginia. The central character has much in common with Dorothy Draper, the pioneering interior designer who renovated The Greenbrier after it was used as a make-shift hospital during World War II. For more information about Joy and her novels, please click on the following link: https://www.joycallaway.com/
I recently contacted Joy and asked her for more information about The Grand Design. Here is what she sent to me:
The idea for The Grand Design was very organically born out of my love for The Greenbrier, the bright designs of Dorothy Draper, and for West Virginia. My family has been in West Virginia for eight generations (though I grew up in Charlotte) and we’ve gathered for family reunions at The Greenbrier each year for most of my life. I have always loved history, so I would go to the history lectures done by Greenbrier historian, Dr. Bob Conte, during each visit. When I started my writing career, I knew I wanted to write a novel set there, but I wasn’t quite sure which part of The Greenbrier’s history I wanted to focus on. During one of our family reunions, I ended up having a conversation with my grandfathers about the legacies of Dorothy Draper and The Greenbrier and that they couldn’t exist without the other. That was a sort of light-bulb moment for me, and I decided I’d like to explore these two fascinating main characters and how they’d shaped each other over the years.
Researching Dorothy Draper and The Greenbrier was a blast. I, of course, leaned on the expert knowledge of Dr. Conte for all things Greenbrier and dug into Mr. Carleton Varney’s books about Dorothy Draper. I also explored extensive newspaper archives and magazine articles and letters—really anything I could get my hands on to grasp the spirit of Dorothy and The Greenbrier. Though I write fiction, it is always my absolute goal to make sure I get as close to the soul of my main characters as I can in my work and to honor them that way—along with, of course, staying as close to the actual fact pattern of their lives as I can manage.
In all of Joy’s historical novels, spirited female characters defy the odds and make things happen, but they are still believable in part because they are based on real people. Joy knows how to tell a compelling story, but she also knows how to do historical research. Her historical novels ring true because she gets her details right. I am convinced that Joy has a long career ahead of her, but with the success of the three novels that she has published to date, she has already established herself as one of Storied Charlotte’s leading authors of historical fiction.