The impetus for The Masterpiece, Davis’ new book, evolved from a behind-the-scenes tour she took through Grand Central Terminal in New York and information she garnered on John Singer Sargent, who helped create an art school on the top floor of the terminal’s east wing in the 1920s. She also researched Helen Dryden, the first female faculty member at the school. "The juxtaposition of a school of art in a transportation hub surprised me, and that’s when I knew I had to set my novel there,’’ Davis said. As for Dryden, between her breaking into the male-dominated field of industrial design and her success as an artist (more than 90 covers for Vogue magazine in the 1910s and 1920s), Davis knew she had discovered a woman to base a protagonist on: "I wanted to give this remarkable woman and artist her due.’’ Davis, who holds a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School, began her career as an actor but soon realized a passion for the printed word and, eventually, historical fiction. She is also the author of The Dollhouse, based on the Barbizon Hotel in the 1950s and the young women who resided there.
What’s on your nightstand?
Right now I’m reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, which came out last year. I finally had the opportunity to dive into it and am so glad I did. What an opening scene. She had me hooked from the very start. I recently finished an advance copy of The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White. It’s three intertwining stories set on the Lusitania, and a magnificent tale. Next up is Mary B by Katherine J. Chen, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Mary Bennet’s point of view. Poor Mary only has 12 lines of dialogue in the original novel, but in Chen’s novel she takes center stage. Clearly, I’m a historical fiction fanatic, so anyone who also loves traveling back in time would be ideal (to read this book).
Piper Castillo, Times staff writere_SFrB