Paris-born, internationally acclaimed artist LILIANNE MILGROM lives in the greater Washington, DC, area. She exhibits her artwork around the world and is the recipient of multiple awards. Her articles and essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Daily Art Magazine, Bonjour Paris and Ceramics Now magazine. In 2011, she became the first authorized copyist of Gustave Courbet’s controversial painting L’Origine du Monde, which hangs in the Orsay Museum in Paris. Milgrom spent close to a decade researching and writing L’Origine. L’Origine is her first novel.
So let’s get into the questions!
First, tell us about your book!
‘L’Origine’ traces the extraordinary, clandestine odyssey of an iconic 19th century painting that shook up my world and continues to scandalize all who set eyes upon it. My book brings a fresh, feminine perspective to Gustave Courbet’s infamous portrait of a woman’s genitals entitled L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) – a painting that was commissioned by an Ottoman pasha and then passed secretly from collector to collector over centuries and continents. Today it draws millions of visitors to Paris’ Orsay Museum every year. But L’Origine is more than a riveting romp through history – it also reflects society’s historically complex attitude towards female nudity.
How did you come up with this idea? What inspired you?
In 2011 I was in Paris on an extended artist residency and when I saw this shocking painting, it was love at first sight. I wrangled permission to become its first copyist at the museum. It was totally out of my comfort zone but it was the experience of a lifetime. After my 6-week stint at the museum I began to dig further into the painting’s history and I just knew I had to tell its story.
Tell us a little bit about your main character(s). Were you inspired by anyone particular when writing them?
Actually, the books’ protagonist is the painting itself, but I’d say I was inspired and awed by the artist himself, Gustave Courbet. He was the quintessential ‘enfant terrible’ – volatile, passionate, provocative, sexy. But he was terribly arrogant and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and – without giving too much away – his enemies got the better of him in the end.
What about your setting? What inspired you to choose where the story took place?
Well, I am Paris-born and the story begins in Paris. Who doesn’t love Paris? But its a very cosmopolitan setting that reaches to Constantinople, Vienna, Budapest and even Brooklyn!
Obviously, stories change from their initial inception. How has your story changed while working on it?
Good question and so true. I struggled at the beginning thinking I wanted to write historical nonfiction. But then I felt too limited when it came to the gaps in the painting’s provenance. Once I decided to write fact-based fiction, it really took off.
What is your writing process like?
I used a ton of index cards because my book spans a century and a half. I would shuffle them around and edit like crazy to pull out only the most juicy and interesting bits. I also had a white board with a time line that I kept referring to. I did not have an outline, but I did know I was going to break it up into three parts. I write with the idea of each chapter being able to stand on its own, so after finishing a chapter, I would then know where the next chapter was going.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?
Writing! With research a close second. And the marketing of the book a definite last!
What was the most difficult part in writing your book? How did you overcome it?
Hmm….writing a book is a difficult process with lots of challenges. My personal challenges presented themselves all along the way – I questioned whether others would be interested in my story, I questioned the tone, the POV, the structure. But aside from these typical writing challenges, I was at times overwhelmed by historical facts and forced myself to pick and choose carefully.
Now let’s talk personal inspiration: did anyone or anything inspire you to be a writer?
I’d have to say that the painting itself was my inspiration for writing the book, but other authors inspired my love of writing.
Finally, do you have any words of inspiration or tips to new authors?
So cliche, but never give up. I had Barbara Abercrombie’s book ‘A year of Writing Dangerously’ by my bedside. It was inspiring when I felt an an impasse.
Thank you for joining us today! If you’re interested in Lilianne Milgrom check out the links below!
Until next time,