Novelist to speak to Friends of the Library

By Page Gifford

Keswick novelist Liza Nash Taylor will speak to the Friends of the Library on Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. about her historical novels Etiquette for Runaways and All Good Faith. Both set in jazz age/Depression eras, Nash Taylor infuses her stories with some of her views and experiences.

Like any novelist, Nash Taylor cites three major focal points to jump-start a story, including characters, setting, and a time period. She set her first novel Etiquette for Runaways, at the old 1825 farmhouse where she lives in Keswick. Next, she chose a time period.

“I thought about what might have been an interesting era to live in Keswick, and Prohibition came to mind. There was a good bit of moonshining going on in this area, and that provided opportunities for the plot,” she said.

Her second book, In All Good Faith, is a semi-sequel, and it follows some of the same characters’ lives seven years later, in 1932. Her stories take place during “the depths of the Great Depression and the period is rich with stories of survival.” The centerpiece of her stories is the strength and fortitude of her female protagonists. Nash Taylor believes that because of the limits women faced during that period they had to have grit to prosper and survive.

“One challenge of writing historical female characters is to abide by what women of a particular era were permitted or encouraged to do, both legally and by society. For instance, in the early 1930s, a woman couldn’t get a bank loan without her husband co-signing. During the Great Depression, the United States Postal Service and railroads let go of female employees in order to give those jobs to men who supported families.”

She derives most of her research on the Depression era from a book about  Albemarle County titled Albemarle, Jefferson’s County,1727–1976, by John Hammond Moore.

 “It provided some good local color and some fantastic character names. I spend a lot of time on the internet, of course. Old magazines and newspapers of the era are always interesting. I try to tie in actual events to my plots, and some real people.”

Her attraction to historical fiction surfaced as a reader who enjoyed learning about the day-to-day lives of people in other eras.

“A well-researched historical novel can transport us to another time. As a writer, I enjoy the research process and putting a plot together around actual history.” Nowadays, historical fiction has become a solid and popular genre and if history is done well, not only can it transport the reader back in time, but the reader learns interesting things about that time, the culture, and politics. 

Naturally, Nash Taylor said if she was transported back in time the 1920s-30s would be her choice.

“I’d love to spend a day shadowing one of my characters, to see what takes up their time and energy. For instance, in the 1920s and ‘30s, women were expected to wear hats, gloves, and stockings when they went out. Getting dressed then was more complicated than just pulling on yoga pants and a t-shirt.” We never think about it but the smallest things, like getting dressed, took far longer than it does nowadays.

Many writers approach characters in a variety of ways, modeling them after people they know.

“Some characters are a composite; with traits of people I know. My character Elsie (in the first novel) is based on my maternal grandmother, who was a flapper and bon vivant. She attended Mary Baldwin College (now a university) from 1914 to 1917. She could play ragtime piano and have a party jumping in no time. My mother inspired the main character in the manuscript I’m drafting now.”

Many writers would agree that plotting and character analysis are part of the joy of writing and the twists and turns along the way always are a surprise.

“I love puzzling out a plot, and sequencing, which is what I call deciding who knows what, when. I also love it when my characters surprise me,” she said.

She adds that the most challenging part of the writing process has been getting her books published.

“The process of finding a literary agent and then selling a manuscript to a traditional publisher is a grind. And having two books published during the pandemic was certainly a challenge. The marketing and promotion took a lot more time than I expected.” Her view is shared by many writers when it comes to the final product.

This hasn’t stopped her from working on her next book, another historical novel set in Paris in 1954. The story follows a young American woman who becomes a model and the muse of the fashion designer Jacques Fath, who was a major competitor to Christian Dior in post-WWII couture. Anyone who appreciates the haute couture of the 1950s knows the rivalry between fashion giants Fath, Dior, and Balmain. Their designs were legendary.

Her interest in fashion comes from personal experience. A native Virginian and a graduate of Mary Baldwin College in 1981, she spent a summer in Nantucket and then headed to New York where she got her graduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She worked on the design team at Ralph Lauren, knitting, searching for fabulous fabrics, drawing, and doing research at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Her pursuit of writing came later in life, after raising a family, she settled into quiet farm life with her husband and dogs. Though she has children nearby and a grandchild, she doesn’t lament the empty-nest syndrome but embraces it, finding opportunity in her newfound solitude.

“Empty nesting, in my opinion, must be approached with attitude and is not to be underestimated. So far, it’s been introvert heaven.”

For more information, visit her website at

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