Let’s have a conversation with Aglaia (aka Mary Grace Klassen), main character in the book The Third Grace. She’s a designer at Incognito Costume Shop (rentals for parties, stage, and screen) in Denver, but she grew up in small-town Nebraska and her author (Deb Elkink) has finally allowed her to visit Paris . . .
Thank you so much for this interview, Aglaia. Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?
Thanks for inviting me here. You can call me Mary Grace, if you find it easier to pronounce than ah-glay-ah. I go by both names now. I used to hate the name my hayseed parents gave me, so the summer I was seventeen, I decided to change it—and myself!—into the personification of grace. Aglaia is the name of a Greek goddess, you know.
As to your question, I think I wasn’t portraying myself very honestly to begin with, rubbing shoulders with influential Dr. Chapman like I was some sort of diva, and ignoring my boss’s careful warnings and my childhood friend’s overtures. But in self-defense, I’d worked hard at erasing my rural past, and—what with this work trip to Paris coming up—the last thing I needed was another reminder about that long-ago affair.
Actually, the author was brutal with me. She forced me to take a look at who I really was and where I was heading. And she caused me a great deal of pain when she flooded me with non-stop memories of that long-ago summer of love and loss.
Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality? If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?
What a loaded question! Wouldn’t we all like to come across as something we’re not? My boss put it well when he said, “I spent so many years fearing I’d be discovered for the fraud I really am.” And he’s one of the most genuine people I know! It’s rather ironic that he’s in the business of disguises, isn’t it?
As for myself, I deliberately left the Nebraska farm girl far behind when I moved to Denver, and I’ve been climbing the ladder to success in the posh world of the arts ever since. So when Dr. Chapman—Lou—was up in my apartment that evening sipping wine with me, and my backward mother barged in with the smell of the barnyard and her ridiculous request, I almost choked with embarrassment. I think the author did me a service in the end, though. You see, I wasn’t facing myself. I’d been denying an aspect of my real personality that she insisted on showing me by putting me in some very uncomfortable—albeit exciting—situations.
What do you believe is your strongest trait?
Definitely my creative imagination! It’s what’s taken me to an international level in artistic accomplishment despite my lack of academic credentials. I was born into a religious environment that looked down on “vain imaginings.” My dad didn’t even like to hear my brother and me sharing our nightmares at the breakfast table, for Pete’s sake, and I had some doozies—not to mention my conscious daydreams! Of course, sewing was valued at home, and early on it became my main outlet for expression. But I harbored a rich inner fantasy life, especially once François entered the picture with his own storytelling, whispering in my ear and filling my heart with a yearning for something more.
Again, I’d have to say my creative imagination. The flip side of the coin has been that I’ve almost drowned in my reveries, my soul overflowing with emotions and saturated with a dark obsession over mythology, sensuality, and troubling thoughts about God. I mean, with all these voices going on in my soul, who’s to say which one I should listen to, anyway? That’s the question I had to ask myself throughout this novel.
If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?
I think Drew Barrymore would be able to represent the conflict between my two selves, the country girl Mary Grace and the sophisticate Aglaia. Barrymore plays glam with a sort of self-conscious naiveté, doesn’t she? There’s a humility and rootedness about her. Also I think she’d really enjoy the food she’d get to eat in the movie—foie gras and cream sauces and French cheeses and even some good old Mennonite fare that still makes my mouth water! (For all her flaws, Mom’s a fantastic cook.)
Do you have a love interest in the book?
I’ll say, though he’s lived mostly in my mind. I mentioned him already—François, the French exchange student my brother invited to the farm that summer fifteen years ago. Boy, he was a breath of fresh air! All the girls in the village were crazy about him, but he chose me over any of them. I least, I thought so . . . Anyway, that summer ended very badly and I’ve been mourning on several fronts ever since. So I was so thrilled—and anxious—for the chance to actually look him up again.
At what point in the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?
Everything was going fine with my life until my mother pushed that Bible onto me. She had the silly idea that I could hunt François down in Paris after all those years and return it to him. Ludicrous! I could have shut her up by just dumping the thing—like I’d burned my own copy back on the farm when I decided to push God out of my life.
But when a museum postcard fell out of that Bible, picturing The Three Graces that François had been so hung up about, and then when I noticed his very own handwriting penciled into the margins of that book—well, I couldn’t resist checking it out. The first two of his phrases, noted right there in Genesis, read, “In the beginning, the gods created” and “Naked and we felt no shame.” Did I blush! I grabbed that book and kept it away from prying eyes until I had time to look through every one of those margins. My suspicions turned out to be right: François had jotted down many snippets that brought to vivid recollection all the seduction of that summer, step by delicious step!
If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?
Definitely Joel, my brother. He’s dead.
I don’t want to talk about it . . .
How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?
Well, put it this way: I’m satisfied that everything was neatly tied up. I sure was surprised at the turn of events in several of my relationships, though, and can’t say that I’d have written this book the way the author did. I’ll say this in her favor: She did allow me to have a good time in Paris (she loves that city, you know), and she let me take great satisfaction in my craft of costume design (she’s done her fair share of that, as well). Also, if I’d been left to my own devices without the author’s invention, I’d never have figured out the mystery behind the Three Graces!
What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?
I’d beg her to bring back Eb—I’m talking about Mr. MacAdam, manager of Incognito Costume Shop. That man is so wise, even if he does remind me of a funny little Scottish garden gnome! And I think the author should send me on another exotic trip. I hear she’s writing up another book now with some fascinating foreign destinations!
Thank you for this interview, Aglaia—or, I should say, Mary Grace. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?
No, sorry but I’m too busy with my current successes.
(Adapted from an interview first appearing at Beyond the Books)