Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress gets her due in Loving Frank, Nancy Horan's debut novel.
A globe-trotting love story involving Frank Lloyd Wright is a pretty big order to fill in a first novel.
There's a lot to this story. It's a love story, but the context of it is remarkable. First of all, you've got these characters—this bigger than life architect who is renowned for his arrogance and regarded by a lot of people as America's greatest architect. You've got an illicit love affair. And Mamah Cheney was herself a pretty interesting woman for her time. I bit off something very big to chew. As my husband says, I'm good at chewing. And I think that a part of the pleasure in doing this book was gnawing on it until I could understand it.
Your novel is mostly Mamah's story, but there's also a semester's worth of feminism, art and architectural history.
I lived among Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, but I didn't understand what I was looking at. I hope that by explaining his work through Mamah's eyes, it becomes comprehensible to people. Why do American architects consider him to be one of the country's most important architects, if not the most important? I needed to explain that. That had to be part of the attraction for Mamah.
So much of the material is part of the historic record. Did you feel that limited you when writing?
It took a while to write, and it was both tremendously satisfying and wildly frustrating on the way. I wrote the book twice and was continually turning up new research that would work its way into the text. It was an amazing process. When I found Mamah's letters, for instance, I discovered where she was staying in Berlin. I looked in an old tourist guide and was able to see what street she was living on, and two blocks away was a cafe where all the famous artists hung out. And so the whole artistic scene and the hope for a new world that existed then wove its way into the story.
You recently moved to the Pacific Northwest. How's the change in scenery affecting you?
I had a friend who was here for a writing conference, and she said, “Boy, you could get a lot of work done here.” I think she was saying, “It's raining like hell.” I think it's going to be a good place to work. The sun is shining now, and there are whales going by. Life is pretty sweet.