THE MAGICIAN'S LIE longlisted for the HWA Debut Crown!

What lovely news from the UK! The Magician's Lie has been longlisted for this year's Debut Crown from the Historical Writers' Association. Only 12 novels published in the UK last year have that honor, and I'm so pleased to be included! (I've never been longlisted for anything before!)

Here's the full list.

Judges called it "A wonderful cat-and-mouse thriller set in a carnivalesque world" and said "Its thrilling opening sets the tone for a pacy and suspenseful read."

Honored and amazed. At heart we're all readers, even the judges of prize committees, and I love that this particular set of readers selected my tale of magic, secrets, deception and love for special recognition.


WomensHistoryReads interview: Kelli Estes

Thrilled to welcome Kelli Estes to the blog today for her #WomensHistoryReads Q&Q&Q&A! I recently read her lovely debut, THE GIRL WHO WROTE IN SILK, and her answers below provide a hint about her next novel, which we can expect out in 2019. Welcome, Kelli!

 Kelli Estes

Kelli Estes

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Kelli: Even though I know that history was primarily recorded by men and the women were nearly completely overlooked, I still have moments during my research when I am surprised to learn that I had believed the false history. For example, when I first learned that several hundred women disguised themselves as men to fight in the U.S. Civil War I had the thought that that they probably followed their husbands there or they were prostitutes. And then I researched further. Yes, there were women who fit these two profiles, but many – possibly even the majority – served for the same reasons as the men: they needed to earn a living wage, they felt compelled to serve their nation’s cause, they wanted to prove themselves on the battlefield, they wanted an adventure, etc. Moments like these when I uncover women in history whose stories have been changed, ignored, or were twisted into something shameful are incredibly exciting to me because I can then write a novel about them and try to set the record straight. I find it equally as challenging, however, because I don’t want to unknowingly perpetuate in my writing any of the misconceptions. I make sure to be as thorough as possible in my research.

Greer: That's fabulous. What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Kelli: I think readers would be surprised to learn that I love sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, Firefly, etc. These genres are so different from what I write, yet what I learn from them directly influences my writing in areas such as pacing, world-building, and conflict. What I really love about these genres, however, is that they can be set on some distant planet or dystopian future and yet be directly relatable to conflicts in today’s society. I love how, while watching these programs, we are learning lessons we can apply to our own lives on topics such as racism, immigration, segregation, equality and the environment. It feels kind of sneaky and I love that.

Greer: Ditto! So, what’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Kelli: My next book is still untitled (I am horrible at titles!) but it will be released spring 2019 from Sourcebooks Landmark. It is a dual timeline story about a former Army military police officer recently returned from Afghanistan who is struggling to find her way as a civilian. She finds help in an unlikely place – a diary written by a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War.

Now, a question for you: I just finished reading The Magician’s Lie (loved it!) and I want to know if you know how to perform all of the illusions described in the story? Did you work with a magician to learn these? I know a magician never tells her secrets, but maybe just this once you’ll let slip…how does she put jewelry or a coin into an audience member’s pocket without going near him?

Greer: I love that you know about the magicians' code of secrets! Since I'm not a professional magician, I could technically give some secrets away, though I do like to maintain a sense of mystery. I understand how all the illusions in the books work, though it turns out I'm a bit of a butterfingers and cannot actually perform them myself. (I tell people that making a book out of thin air is my greatest, and only, magic!) The funny thing about magic is that the mechanics of certain illusions have changed so little over the years that you can watch classic illusions like the Dove Pan being performed and explained on YouTube! To make sure that The Amazing Arden's illusions were period-appropriate, I drew on accounts of 1890s and early 1900s magic shows to devise the illusions she performs. The usual way to pull off putting something into a place where it isn't supposed to be is that the person who discovers it is part of the show and only playing along; for the version Arden does, since the person discovering the item is genuinely surprised, someone with the show (sitting near the mark, generally one seat over) has to plant the item. Not easy but not impossible -- and surprise plus misdirection equals magic!


Learn more about Kelli and her books at these links:




WomensHistoryReads interview: Joanna Kafarowski

As many of you know, my #WomensHistoryReads interview project started as a celebration of Women's History Month in March. But I found so many inspiring woman writers who find their subjects in inspiring women from history that I continued daily interviews through nearly all of April, and I'm not even done. So you can continue to look forward to occasional new installments in May. Hooray!

Next up: biographer Joanna Kafarowski on her recent book about Louise Arner Boyd, a truly extraordinary Arctic explorer.

 Joanna Kafarowski

Joanna Kafarowski

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about writing about historical women?

Joanna: I am really attracted to reading, researching and writing about historical women whose accomplishments and lives have been forgotten. It gives me a real charge to root around in dusty archives which have lain untouched for many years. There’s an additional responsibility when you are the first to write the first full biography of a person as happened with my book about Arctic explorer Louise Arner Boyd. Because you are the first one, you have to get it right. It makes it harder as well since you want to keep going with the research - you just know there is more pertinent information out there but you have to draw the line. So what is most exciting about writing about historical women makes it challenging as well! Louise Arner Boyd is such a fascinating woman and there is still so much to learn about her.

Greer:How would you describe what you write?

Joanna: So far I’ve written a biography and edited another book about environmental issues. An obvious common element is that both books are situated primarily in the North because this is a landscape that sings to me. Something about the harsh wilderness, the lack of artifice, the finality of life there is really appealing. And my works are women-inspired because these are the stories that I find most interesting myself. Realistically, I’m in my mid-fifties so only have a few books left in me to write. My biography of Louise Arner Boyd took me over ten years to research and write and while I don’t anticipate taking this long with future books, I want to spend my time- and my words- wisely. My intention is to write books that are meaningful, that present thought-provoking information about people or issues that, in my opinion, are not given enough coverage in our society, and to do the very best job I can as a person and writer of integrity to produce books that are solidly researched and well-written.

Greer: What book, movie or TV show would your readers be surprised to hear that you love?

Joanna: As a biographer, I read a lot about the extraordinary lives of other people and, of course I’m drawn to polar history and anything affecting the circumpolar north. I tend to steer clear of fluffy stuff and love discovering small gems that are often disguised as something else. The Man Who Was Magic by Paul Gallico and Momo by Michael Ende are often considered children’s books but I learn something new every time I read them. They are both sadly overlooked but their simplicity and powerful message really resonates with me. But I do love children’s literature as well and return over and over to many titles I first read many years ago.

I am often asked this question and am interested in your response. How does being a woman inform your research and writing about historical women?

Greer: Great question! I suppose one answer is that it doesn't -- great stories are great stories, and they are gifts no matter where we unearth them and who does the unearthing. But I do think that as a woman, specifically a feminist, I'm deeply interested in discovering the stories of the women who came before us and laid the groundwork for where we are now. It's important to think about how far we've come -- and how far we have yet to go. Acknowledging and spreading the stories of extraordinary women from the past helps us acknowledge the extraordinary potential we each have within us. Knowing what they did, who knows what we might do?


For more information, Joanna Kafarowski can be reached through social media:






Amazon Author Page:




WomensHistoryReads interview: Sally Koslow

The next book from today's #WomensHistoryReads interviewee won't be out for another month, but it's probably already on your radar: ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE, the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald's romance with Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. The author bringing this story to life is Sally Koslow, and I'm delighted to bring you her thoughts on this new book, her taste in TV and movies, and some current favorite authors (with a clever angle to avoid, as she puts it, "sibling rivalry.")

 Sally Koslow

Sally Koslow

Greer: Who are some of your favorite authors working today?

Sally: One of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a novelist is making author-friends all over the United States. So to avoid sibling rivalry, I’m going to pick British authors I don’t know—but would love to meet: Jane Gardam, Tessa Hadley, Penelope Lively and Edward St. Aubyn. Each one is clever in that dry, wry English way, although their talents extend far beyond wit. I will add to the list one British-American whom I have met (major fan moment) because she’s in my cousin’s book club: Helen Simonson. It’s hard to find a more charming book than Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

Greer: Well-said! What movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Sally: Since I read a lot of fiction—contemporary, biographical historical, family sagas, classics, World War II-themed—as well as memoirs and biographies, it won’t surprise anyone that I like dramatic foreign television series such as "Babylon Berlin"a police procedural set in the Weimar Republic; "Un Village Francais", exploring the German Occupation of France, and "A Place to Call Home", a soapy but addictive Australian family saga that digs into homophobia and anti-Semitism in the 1950s. Readers might be surprised, however, that I love some fairly lowbrow movies, such as The Wedding Crashers and Groundhog Day. I’ve seen both dozens of times, though not nearly as often as Something’s Gotta Give, starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. I may have watched it 50 times. I especially relate to the scene where the Diane character, a playwright, is in the zone, pounding away on her laptop, with a big smile on her face. 

GreerWhat’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Sally: Another Side of Paradise, to be published by Harper on May 29, is my first biographical historical novel, and I’m thrilled by the experience of trying to bring real people to life: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, who were in love during the late 1930s in Hollywood.I am a lifelong admirer of Fitzgerald’s work, and he you surely know, but you may not be familiar with Sheilah. She was a high-spirited Englishwoman who fell in love with lonely Scott long after his dear Zelda had fallen ill and was living in a sanitarium. Sheilah literally re-invented herself. She was smart, resourceful, brashly independent, generous, kind, loving, gorgeous and complex, much like a Fitzgerald heroine, as well as a gossip columnist who could make or break a film career. She also was a muse and champion for Fitzgerald, inspiring him to begin The Last Tycoon, and had many secrets of the you-can’t-make-this-up variety. 

The early reviews include this from Kirkus: “The story of Sheilah and Scott's instant chemistry and their on-again, off-again, but always intense liaison is told with taste and sympathy for these deeply flawed characters… Koslow's writing is vibrant and colorful, and the denizens of Scott's world are ably summed up in a few pithy swipes…A stylish reiteration of a sad, oft-told tale.”

Greer: I'm reading it now (love those advance copies) and loving it. (And congrats on that amazing Kirkus review, a rare prize indeed!)

Sally: You have an incredible name, perfect for an author. Why can’t I be Greer Macallister, not Sally—so 1st grade reader—Koslow—“Cosmo?” I’d like to know, please, how you name your characters? 

Greer: Brief note first, that you should see how many ways people keep inventing to spell "Macallister"! And naming my characters is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. After not getting to name my main character for Girl in Disguise -- Kate Warne was the historical, real-life inspiration for my own Kate Warne -- I actually really struggled with naming the main character for Woman 99, which comes out in 2019. She was Anne, she was Phoebe, nothing sounded quite right. Then I was reading a collection of first-person essays by 19th-century women who had spent time in asylums, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of "The Yellow Wallpaper." And everything fell into place. Charlotte Smith was born. And I can't wait for everyone to meet her.


instagram: @spkoslow

twitter: @sallykoslow


WomensHistoryReads interview: Terese Svoboda

As I've mentioned before, reaching out to women inspired by women from history for this Q&Q&Q&A series has been a really educational experience for me! Not only is my TBR pile toppling, I've become aware of so many more fascinating women whose stories my fellow authors are working to make more visible. A subset of these are fierce, fiery woman poets, like the Iranian poet Forugh in Jasmin Darznik's novel Song of a Captive Bird, and another is today's, Lola Ridge. Haven't heard of her? Then you need Terese Svoboda's help!

 Therese Svoboda; photo credit Joyce George

Therese Svoboda; photo credit Joyce George

Greer: Tell us about a woman from the past who has inspired your writing.

Terese: Lola Ridge, radical poet, who emigrated from New Zealand to New York, so determined to be free to pursue writing that she changed her name, nationality and age, went to work for Emma Goldman and wrote ground-breaking poetry about executions, labor, lynchings and imprisonment that lead the New York Times to describe her as “one of the most important poets in America” when she died in 1941. Social justice drove her, and interest in her drove me to write Anything That Burns You.

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Terese: Stylized, sensuous and witty, with a strong interest in social justice. “Terese Svoboda is one of few contemporary American writers who possesses a global consciousness." – Brooklyn Rail.

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Terese: Their handwriting! That's the most challenging part, once letters are unearthed. Most exciting? Using the lens of a woman on an historical event otherwise seen only by men.

Your question: If you were to reincarnate as a prominent spy in history, which one would you be?

Greer: I love this question! And so many wonderful options, as more stories are surfacing each day of the crucial role women have played, especially during times of war, in discovering information and passing it, often at great risk to themselves, into the right hands.

I'll have to go with the easy answer, though -- Kate Warne! I wrote about her for Girl in Disguise and not only would I love to arm myself with her intelligence, bravery and talent, I'd also love to actually find out what her life was like during the war years! The historical record is so blank on this point, as least in all my research so far. It's a shame that nearly everyone in America knows the name of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln but not of the woman who helped foil an earlier assassination attempt as Lincoln traveled to his inauguration -- and without whom American history could have looked very different.


Find out more about Terese and her work at

WomensHistoryReads interview: Karen Karbo

Many of the authors I've interviewed for the #WomensHistoryReads series so far have been inspired by one particular individual from history per book, or have chosen to focus their books, fiction or nonfiction, on one woman's story. On the other end of the spectrum we have writers like today's interviewee, Karen Karbo, who uses her latest book In Praise of Difficult Women to familiarize readers with 29(!) stories of amazing women from the past and present.

I love her answer below on the difficulties of researching historical women and how context is essential -- to understand these women, we need to understand the times in which they were raised. And she's got great recommendations for present-day writers to read, too. Welcome, Karen! 

 Karen Karbo

Karen Karbo

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Karen: I think it’s possible I’m the only practitioner of my genre: creative non-fiction narrative, with rich memoir filling, frosted with humor, sprinkled with self-help. 

Greer: If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Karen: Josephine Baker. Born in 1906, her life spanned the first ¾ of the 20th century. She fled the poverty and racism of the United States, and became a star in Paris in the ‘20s, virtually overnight. She wasn’t just an entertainer, doing the Charleston in her banana skirt, but also a heroine of the French Resistance and a one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of civil rights in this country. She was complicated, generous, impulsive, and brave. A very complex woman.

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Karen: We are all the daughters of the times in which we were born and raised, and it's crucial to evaluate someone’s life in that context. Women, more so than men, are at the mercy of the cultural expectations of their era. The challenge is keeping this at the forefront of your mind during the research. What I find exciting is becoming familiar enough with a woman’s life and times to appreciate how ground-breaking, progressive, and modern she was. I’m thinking about women like Georgia O’Keeffe or Katharine Hepburn, both of whom I’ve written books about. Or even Helen Gurley Brown, who appears in my latest, In Praise of Difficult Women. Have you read Sex and the Single Girl? It was published 56 years ago, and some of it is practically avant garde, even by today’s standards.

Greer: Who are some of you favorite authors working today? 

Karen: The list is long! It depends what I’m in the mood for. From a history perspective, I deeply admire the work of Jill Lepore. Her Secret History of Wonder Woman was tremendous, and I’m looking forward to her one-volume history of the United States, These Truths, out in September. I adore Stacy Schiff, especially Vera, her classic biography of Nabokov’s wife. In terms of fiction, I read so widely it must qualify as psychiatric condition. I’m a devoted reader of Junot Diaz, Elizabeth Hardwick, Lydia Davis, Lydia Yuknavitch, and Meg Wolitzer. I also loved Girl in Disguise!

My question for you: How do you conduct your research? (Including the sub-questions: How long do you research a specific era? How do you keep yourself from falling into the rabbit hole of material? Do you write first, then research? Research, then write? A little of both?)

Greer: I'm finally hitting my stride on research now that I've finished the writing and revision process on my third published novel (hitting shelves in Spring 2019, but Advance Review Copies will be out much sooner.) I was a mess on my first historical novel, since I'd never written one before, and I had no idea how to balance research with writing. That was one of the reasons The Magician's Lie took five years to get right. Girl in Disguise was much faster, where I was limited by circumstances in a way that turned out to be a real boon -- my daughter had just been born and I could barely string together a sentence, but I could read and read at all hours of the day and night, so I did most of my research on Kate Warne and her times well before I actually began to craft her story. Then I wrote and rewrote and rewrote, and after I knew which scenes were going to survive the final cut, I did another round of research for the smallest details. Names of streets in 1856 Chicago, hotels in 1861 Richmond, flowers that would've been in season when I needed them to be. That rhythm seems to work for me now: the big-picture research, then most of the writing with occasional dips into the research well -- but not too many or it slows down the writing too much -- and then more nitty-gritty research at the end to really nail down the smells, tastes, sights and sounds of the era so my readers feel truly transported.

Final cover image.jpg

Instagram @karbohemia

Twitter @karbohemia

Facebook Karen Karbo



WomensHistoryReads interview: M.J. Rose

Some writers keep up a brisker publishing schedule than others, and M.J. Rose's schedule is pretty darn brisk! We talk in this #WomensHistoryReads interview about her new book TIFFANY BLUES, which arrives this summer, but her previous release, THE LIBRARY OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, hits shelves in paperback just today. A bit about LIBRARY:

In this riveting and richly drawn novel from "one of the master storytellers of historical fiction" (New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams), a talented young artist flees New York for the South of France after one of her scandalous drawings reveals a dark secret—and triggers a terrible tragedy.

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? M.J.'s books always do. Enjoy her interview below!

 M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose

Greer: Tell us about a woman from the past who has inspired your writing.

M.J.: Georgia O'Keefe. Not a writer but a painter who has inspired me since I first saw her cloud paintings when I was a little girl. She followed a different drummer and even if it cost her dearly at different points but she remained true to her vision at a time when women artists had to struggle so very hard. She experimented, she persevered, she never stopped.

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

M.J.: TIFFANY BLUES, out this summer.  My tag line for it is Everything looked beautiful through the stained glass -- but her past. It's a novel of ambition, betrayal, and passion about a young painter whose traumatic past threatens to derail her career at a prestigious summer artists’ colony run by Louis Comfort Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. fame. There is a lot of fact in this novel and I loved doing the research.

Greer: Sounds wonderful! What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

M.J.: Trying to find the truth of the women, not how society painted them or softened them, or cast them in a unfair harsh light. I only trust first person source material but that's not always available.

And a question for you: What is the strangest or most unusual thing you believe in?

Greer: What an intriguing question! I wish I had a darkly intriguing answer. The truth is I'm almost entirely practical and pragmatic, so my beliefs probably wouldn't strike most as strange. I do have a narrow but fierce superstitious streak that comes out in two situations: walking under ladders, which I'll go to great lengths to avoid, and spilled salt, which I always pinch and throw over my left shoulder and/or on the stove. Doesn't hurt, might help, right?


Learn more about M.J. and her books at her website: M.J. Rose.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Patti Callahan Henry

Like readers, authors don't always stick to a single genre. The siren call of a particular woman from history can inspire anyone, including a New York Times bestselling author with a dozen contemporary novels already under her belt. I was delighted to hear that Patti Callahan Henry (writing as Patti Callahan in this case) will be releasing her first work of historical fiction, inspired by the life of Joy Davidman -- and even more delighted to share her Q&Q&Q&A with you!

 Patti Callahan Henry

Patti Callahan Henry

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Patti: The fiery poet, novelist and writer, Joy Davidman (C. S. Lewis’s wife) once asked, “If we should grow brave what in the world would ever become of us?” and then she set out to answer that question with her life. Although there have been many fabulous women who have inspired me all through my life, all through my writing career (most notably Anne Rivers Siddons) and all through my life journey, it was Joy Davidman who inspired me to set my pen to Historical Fiction for my thirteenth novel. I wanted to know her, to tell her story, to bring her out from the shadowlands of history where she had been relegated to the dying wife of C. S. Lewis. Born in New York City and raised by strict middle European immigrant parents, how was she ever to know or fall in love with an Oxford don in England? Her courageous transformation so inspired me that I set out to write about her journey. While I wrote about how she changed her life, I slowly began to alter the way I approached the page and a story. The research alone freed me to understand how much we owe those women who have come before us, those who had cleared the way with their courage in whatever form that might take. 

Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?

Patti: Ariel Lawhon’s I WAS ANASTASIA blew my mind and kept me enthralled with every twist. Writing historical fiction isn’t just about imagining things around a true event; it’s about capturing the time and the idiosyncrasies of the characters who live in that time. Ariel does it astoundingly well. The best books are the ones where we enter the story not fully understanding where we are going but immediately being willing to be taken to wherever that may be. This novel does just that and more. I was finishing my novel when I read this book in galley form and it made me want to dig deeper into my own narrative of Joy.

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Patti: Once a woman has become a known figure by either association with her husband or by biography or movie, it is difficult to shake the mythology surrounding that woman. Who is she really? Who is she beyond the stories and the rumors and the misunderstandings and judgements? One must dig deep below the surface stories and beyond the cliches that have been told over and over about her. The challenge is to understand as well as one can the woman’s own psyche with her original material. BUT this is also the exciting part —to slowly unearth, like a detective or an archeologist, the true bones of her life and journey beyond what has been told about her. The challenge and the excitement are intricately tied together; to fully immerse oneself in the demands of research is to also experience the thrill of discovering a “real” person who changes all of us with her courageous journey. 

And a question for you: When you are setting out to write your historical fiction, which do you dive into first — the time period or the character? Or both at the same time? 

Greer: Usually the character comes to mind first -- she's the inspiration -- but as soon as I know the time period, that's the priority of my research. I have to learn as much as I can about the setting. Not just what they wore and how they got around, though that's always fun, but everything from the prevailing societal rules of the time to whether a particular area of the country would be electrified to what was on the menu at a particular restaurant in the year I'm writing about. When I'm developing a character I can always improvise and invent along the way. But there are experts in the world who know far more than I do about any particular period I could write in, so I need to get it right for them, as well as for readers who count on me to draw an accurate and compelling world for them to get lost in.


WomensHistoryReads interview: Melissa Lenhardt

Yesterday we talked about "speculative historical fiction" as a genre in Kari Bovee's #WomensHistoryReads interview, and today's guest introduces us to another deeply cool genre: the feminist Western. I'll let her speak directly to you about what that means because I love the way she does it. Without further ado: Melissa Lenhardt!

 Melissa Lenhardt

Melissa Lenhardt

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Melissa: My historical fiction novels have been described as feminist Westerns, a label I wholeheartedly endorse and embrace. I’m proud of that title, but I imagine it could put some people off. Have I just dropped women with 21st-century sensibilities into the past and am calling it historical? No. Absolutely not. My books are feminist for one apparently radical idea: I’m representing women in Westerns the way men have been represented for 100 years:

Women are the center of the story. 

Women drive the plot. 

Women make decisions independently of men. 

Women don’t need men to validate their existence in the world. 

Women don’t need to fall in love to be happy (though they do, at times).

Somehow, I also find a way to treat the male characters with respect. Shocking! (But, honestly, it’s not that hard to respect all of your characters.)

Greer: Yes! Brilliant. What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Melissa: My next novel, HERESY, will be released on October 2, 2018. The one-line pitch to my publisher was “Thelma and Louise meet the Magnificent Seven.” The more detailed pitch was it’s the story of the last days of a gang of female outlaws who were ignored during their time and written out of history. 

I got the idea a couple of years ago when I saw the trailer for the Denzel Washington version of The Magnificent Seven. I was excited to see a diverse cast, then I wondered why they didn’t take it a step farther and include a woman, which led to “this would be awesome with all women” which of course led to me deciding, “I’ll write that.” This was also during the 25th anniversary of Thelma and Louise so I decided to also make the story about a friendship between two women from very different backgrounds whose mutual respect and love for each other are central to the story. It was a difficult book to write because I decided to tell the story through journals, oral history, lost documents, newspaper articles, and “official” histories. This book challenged me as a writer, to say the least. I’m proud of the end result, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Greer: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Melissa: "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the Nickelodeon series. I started watching it with my sons but stayed for the characters and story. Over four seasons, "A:TLA" tells a cohesive story, with a beginning, middle and end. The characters grow, change, and do things you don’t always agree with. There’s humor, platonic and romantic love, action, good versus evil, and social commentary. And, it’s always entertaining. If you’re looking for something to stream, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is an out of the box choice, but totally worth it.

Question for Greer: What is a genre you don’t write in (and think you would never, ever be able to write) that you secretly wish you could? (Mine is sci-fi/fantasy.)

Greer: I love sci-fi and fantasy too (what is it with us historical fiction authors and a passion for sci-fi?!) and could see myself possibly writing in that direction at some point in the future, though I have heaps of historical fiction ideas that await me first. So the SF ideas have to get in line. And it is such a long line.

I'm not sure I could ever write a successful romance, though I'd love to! My books always have an element of romance to them, because I love to write what I love to read, but in terms of straight-up category romance, that's a demanding genre with specific rules. I don't think its writers get the credit they're due. There's a big difference between including a love story between two characters in a novel in some other genre -- historical, contemporary, SF, literary, whatever -- and actually writing A Romance. It's like a sonnet. I'm not sure I'd have the skills to achieve something interesting, original and compelling that would meet reader expectations. Thank goodness other writers do, and we get to read them.


Melissa Lenhardt is the author the Jack McBride mystery series, as well as the Sawbones historical fiction series. Her debut mystery, STILLWATER, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and SAWBONES, her historical fiction debut, was hailed as a "thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new subgenre: the feminist Western" by Lone Star Literary Life. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband and two sons.

Twitter @MelLenhardt

Facebook – Melissa Lenhardt-Author

Instagram – MelLenhardtAuthor


WomensHistoryReads interview: Kari Bovee

Today's #WomensHistoryReads interview brings us a new genre inspired by history, "speculative historical fiction," by GIRL WITH A GUN author Kari Bovee. In addition to her books, Kari has a writing project that obviously resonates with my interests -- highlighting "empowered women in history" on her blog (see more about that below.) You'll love her questions and answer, which will whet your appetite for her upcoming book. Welcome, Kari!

 Kari Bovee

Kari Bovee

Greer: How would you describe what you write? 

Kari: I would call it “speculative historical fiction” because I like to take real life characters, like Annie Oakley in my book Girl with a Gun - An Annie Oakley Mystery, and create a new reality for them. Annie Oakley was not a detective in real life, nor did she try to solve crimes. But, in my books, she does. While I like to stick to real life historical settings, I like to have my characters, real and imagined, interact with one another. It’s fascinating to think about how history might have been altered if certain people or events came into the historical figure’s life during a particular time period. It’s sort of like changing history in a way. To me it's great fun! 

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it? 

Kari: I’ve written a prequel novella to Girl with a Gun titled Shoot Like a Girl that will be released sometime in the fall of this year. The second book in the Annie Oakley series will be out in Spring, 2019 with Spark Press.

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women? 

Kari: I have a blog that features empowered women in history (it can be accessed through my website at The most challenging thing about researching for the blog, or my books, is sometimes there is a ton of reliable information out there on the internet or in various publications, and sometimes there isn’t. I like to write about wildly famous women, but also about the not-so-wildly famous women in history. For the not-so-famous women it’s hard to find unique material. Often, the same two paragraphs have been written about them in a variety of places. For the wildly famous women in history, I like discovering little nuggets of information about them that not many people know about. It’s also exciting to me to breathe life back into the women that have made an impact in history. I like to think about what went on in their heads, how they felt about their experiences, their life, and the people they encountered? We know what these women DID in life, but do we really know how they FELT about it? Only they truly knew their own thoughts and feelings. I ask myself questions like, what scared them? What excited them? What repulsed them? What were their secret passions? etc. I try to answer those questions based upon what I’ve learned about them. It’s like a psychological experiment!

Question for you: Which one of your characters would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do? 

Greer: Fabulous question! The one that leaps to mind immediately happens to be one of my characters most inspired by a real-life historical woman: Adelaide Herrmann, known as the Queen of Magic, who I wrote into my novel The Magician's Lie. She was fiercely independent and intelligent, not to mention a truly impressive magician. Early on in my book tour, I tried to learn some stage magic and discovered I was absolutely terrible at it. But with her guidance maybe I could be better! 


For more about Kari and her books:




Instagram: kari bovee_writer

WomensHistoryReads interview: Kerri Maher

Happy Friday! Here's a great interview to start off your weekend from Kerri Maher, author of THE KENNEDY DEBUTANTE. The only bad news is that her debut won't be available until October, but that's one of the fun things about publishing -- anticipation! Read on to find out Kerri's thoughts on research and history, one of the best soap operas of all time, and the March sisters.

 Kerri Maher                                    Photo Credit: Photos by Peter Su

Kerri Maher                                    Photo Credit: Photos by Peter Su

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Kerri: I love research, and I’d forgotten just how much I loved it until I worked on The Kennedy Debutante. The whole process of reading, learning, and writing about Kick Kennedy lit up parts of my brain that hadn’t been lit up since I was in college—where I started out as a history major (I wound up as an English major with an Art History minor). For me, the most exciting thing about researching historical women is the learning process—discovering who she was on her own terms, and then starting to make notes of my own in the margins of the books and letters and diaries, in which I start to imagine her as a character in my book.  That pre-draft writing feels like getting into a car for an awesome road trip with a new friend.  

The most challenging thing, which I still find really fun, is searching for those needles in the haystack.  In the case of TKD, I got obsessed with trying to figure out which Cambridge College Billy had gone to.  I suspected it was Trinity but wasn’t sure, and the matriculation office there didn’t have a record of him, either under his family name of Cavendish or his title the Marquess of Hartington. I emailed many people to figure out the answer. It wasn’t until the university archivist helped me find him under his previous title, the Earl of Burlington, that I finally located his name on the records.  After all that work, I had to include the story of his titles in the novel—he tells Kick all about it at the Derby.

Greer:  What book, movie, or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Kerri: Growing up, I watched a soap opera called “Another World” every day with my mom. Back in the pre-streaming days of VHS players, my mother taped the show every day while she was at work and I was at school, and then we would watch it together late in the afternoon. I learned a great deal about storytelling from that soap, and was also inspired to be a writer myself by a flamboyant, feather-boa-wearing character named Felicia Gallant, who was also a romance novelist. I still have a soft spot for that show, though it’s long been off the air—I wrote a whole chapter about it and why it’s important to embrace your tastes in my memoir This Is Not A Writing Manual.

Greer: That show was the best. I was particularly obsessed with Vicky and Marley -- because what soap would be complete without good and evil twins, especially when played by Anne Heche! Next up: tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Kerri: It’s funny you ask this, because I was reminded just recently of how much Louisa May Alcott and her characters Jo and Amy inspired me to write—when my agent came up for a weekend to visit, we went to the Alcott family’s house in Concord (after a walk around Walden Pond, of course!), and it all came back to me:  I read Little Women when I was about nine years old, and I was completely absorbed in the story of the four March sisters. I identified strongly with Jo and her affinity with words, and also with Amy and her desire to live a creative, artistic life. Even then, in grade school, I felt the pull of history—and I was tantalized by the idea of Louisa May Alcott making a life for herself as a writer more than one hundred years ago.  

Kerri: Now a question for you, which is a bit of a cheat, because I’m throwing one of your questions back at you, but it’s only because it’s so good!! Do you consider yourself a historian? I don’t consider myself one because of the amount of invention that goes into my novels, but I’m super curious to know what you think about your own work. 

Greer: I have tremendous respect for historians, partly because I could never be one. I'm too addicted to making things up. Not just because it's too hard for me to stick to facts -- though it is -- because in some cases there just aren't enough facts to hang a book on. Like with Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective, who inspired Girl in Disguise. We have a handful of facts from the historical record and that's all. Those gaps in the record are killers for a biographer, but a wide-open invitation to a novelist. Kate left no letters or diaries behind when she died, so we don't have her voice. I wrote a novel to give her that voice.


For more about Kerri and her books, check out her website at

Instagram: @kerrimaherwriter

Facebook: @kerrimaherwriter

WomensHistoryReads interview: Sandra Gulland

Today's #WomensHistoryReads guest writes about women from history, as do all of the guests in this series, but her upcoming novel is new territory: historical YA. As she puts it, "The novel is very much about teen life in 1800 — especially boarding school life — but teen life in a world that has been ravaged by revolution." A perfect fit for YA and an intriguing-sounding set-up... especially when one of the book's teens is the stepdaughter of Napoleon. Read on for more from Sandra!

 Sandra Gulland

Sandra Gulland

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Sandra: I write biographical historical fiction about women. Most of my work to date has been set in French history, but that may not always be the case. For example, right now I am writing a YA novel about a girl falconer in Elizabethan England, a girl who is said, by some, to have become Master Falconer to Queen Elizabeth I. Falconry was very much a male domain, so this perked my interest. Plus, those amazing falcons!   

My research for one novel will usually lead me to my next subject. Invariably, something about a woman's life story will spark my curiosity. How could a woman become a queen's Master Falconer? How did a devoutly religious young woman such as Louise de la Vallière become the married Sun King's mistress? Was Josephine Bonaparte's amazing future really predicted? 

Will I return to French history? Likely. I have a long list of "curiosities" yet to be explored.

Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away? 

SandraThe Hate U Give, a Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas, is amazing, and all the more so because it is Thomas's debut. It is perfectly constructed, emotional and dramatic as well as funny. I listened to the Audible edition, which is outstanding. It's an important novel, casting light on the violent racial divide in the U.S., yet no character in this novel, black or white, is free of guilt. It's profoundly haunting. 

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it? 

Sandra: THE GAME OF HOPE will appear in Canada on May 1, and in the U.S. on June 23. It's a Young Adult novel — my first (but not my last) — about Josephine Bonaparte's daughter Hortense de Beauharnais, whose father was guillotined during that period of the French Revolution known as the Terror. 

The story opens four years after the Terror in The Institute, Madame Campan's wonderful boarding school for girls, most of whom have suffered the death of a parent or two during the Terror. So of course the school is haunted by the traumas these girls suffered growing up. Madame Campan, a mother-figure to the creatively-precocious Hortense, was an amazing woman — a subversive, of sorts. She believed in educating girls to become self-sufficient professionals, but portrayed her school to the public as grooming them to become good wives (the then-acceptable purpose of a girl's education). 

The novel is very much about teen life in 1800 — especially boarding school life — but teen life in a world that has been ravaged by revolution. Hortense idolized her deceased father, and is having a very hard time accepting her new stepfather Napoleon. She's talented in many ways — artistically, but also musically, and she was fortunate to have the young and handsome genius composer Jadin as a teacher and mentor. 

The Game of Hope—Tarot-like fortune-telling cards that were first used at that time—is a theme throughout. They were created by Madame Lenormand, a friend of Hortense's mother Josephine, and are still quite popular today. What does Hortense hope for? Like any girl of 16, she hopes for love. 

My question for you, Lady Greer, is: What was the most surprising thing you experienced in becoming a published author? 

Greer: In the lead-up to the publication of my first novel, I was constantly surprised by how welcoming and supportive the community of published authors could be, and I continue to be in awe of that truth even today. The number of authors I meet, both in person and online, who are generous with their time, collaborative instead of competitive, and genuinely thrilled for fellow writers' successes -- it just amazes me, over and over again. And it's a real pay-it-forward situation. So many authors have helped me out with advice, blurbs, joint events, so much more. It's the least I can do to help others out when there's something I can do to bring attention to them and their books. (And in the best cases, like with these interviews, everyone benefits, including readers -- and it's fun in the bargain!) 


An American-Canadian, Sandra Gulland was born in Miami, Florida, and lived in Rio de Janeiro, Berkeley and Chicago before immigrating to Ontario, Canada, in 1970. There, she and her husband built a log-house on one hundred acres of field and maple tree forest where they cohabited with their two toddlers (now adults), two horses, a dog, three cats, twelve chickens and two pigs. All the while she was writing. Now an internationally published author of six novels, she and her husband live half the year in Canada and half in Mexico. For more information about the author and her work, go to

WomensHistoryReads interview: Aline Ohanesian

I took a step back to tally up my #WomensHistoryReads interviews and lo and behold -- we've made it to FIFTY! Amazing! Not done yet, of course, but I wanted to pause a moment and remark on how wowed and humbled I am by the response to this project. How grateful I am that more than 50 amazing women writers have been quick to say yes, quick to give time and thought to this project, quick to recognize that calling attention to women from history (and the women who are inspired by them) isn't just an activity for 31 days a year.

And I'm thrilled to share three answers and a question from Orhan's Inheritance author Aline Ohanesian as the fiftieth (again, exclamation points seem appropriate!!) Q&Q&Q&A in this series. I love her thoughts on history and its biases, how fiction can "restore that which has been lost," and which historical figure gives the best side-eye.

 Aline Ohanesian

Aline Ohanesian

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Aline: No. I have a Masters in US History from the University of Irvine. I'm what you call ABD, All But Dissertation, in that I never filed the dissertation to earn my PhD but passed all the oral tests. Being a historian is taxing, detailed work which requires a great deal of expertise, extensive footnoting, etc. There are some parallels between historians and writers of historical fiction, but the differences are important and can't be ignored. My favorite difference is when the research is done, I get to use my imagination to recreate the people, time and events. That's my idea of great fun. 

Greer: Agreed. If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Aline: I dropped out of my PhD program in history partly because I really wanted to write fiction but also because the way history has been traditionally recorded was really frustrating to me. Thankfully, the gender, class and race biases of our history books are definitely being challenged by a new crop of historians. If I had my way, I would change all the history books to include hundreds more women. Putting one woman back into any historical narrative just isn't enough.

At The Getty Museum here in Los Angeles, there's a bust from 1859 of a woman named Mary Seacole, a Jamaican woman whose medical services to British troops on the front lines of the Crimean War made her a household name. That's not how women of color are usually portrayed in history. Let's bring Mary Seacole back, is what I'm saying. Let's bring all the voices traditionally drowned out or erased. That's the kind of history that gets me excited. It's the kind of history that inspires me to write fiction. To use fiction to restore that which has been lost. To those who call this revisionist, I say that every written account of a historical time is revisionist, even when it's written right there in the battle field. What traditional historians chose to include and exclude was itself a form of revision. (As a side note, Mary Seacole gives the best 'side eye' of any historical figure. Every statue, likeness, painting of her features this side eye. Now that's a woman whose story I'd like to know,)

 Bust of Mary Seacole, Henry Weeks, 1859

Bust of Mary Seacole, Henry Weeks, 1859

Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?

Aline: The last book that blew me away was Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It's a fascinating exploration of a long marriage from the perspective of both the husband and wife. It's a masterpiece both in terms of structure and on a sentence by sentence level. I know I'll return to it again every few years, just to remind myself what can be done with the English language.

My question for you, Greer: Girl in Disguise takes place in Chicago in the late 1850's. Do you ever get so enthralled with a time and place that you're tempted to set another novel there? Is it hard to move on from the novel's world and its characters? 

Greer: I feel like I fall completely under the spell of every era I write in, so yes! I always have real trouble moving on. Maybe that means I'll return to those times and places one day. For example, I have a whole outline for a novel about Adelaide Herrmann, the real-life Queen of Magic who appeared in The Magician's Lie. But for now, I keep getting entranced by other people, other places, other times. There is just so much history out there for us to draw on, so much inspiration. I'll never get to write all the books that are percolating in my head, but I'm sure as hell going to write as many of them as I possibly can.


For more from Aline:

Twitter: @AlineOhanesian  


(And of course, tune in tomorrow for #51!)

WomensHistoryReads interview: Lynda Cohen Loigman

I talk a lot about how great it is to connect with other authors over social media, how the online community makes it so easy to be alone physically but never alone virtually. And that is all true. However -- and it's a big however -- there's really nothing like meeting other authors in person and spending time with them. I got to meet Lynda Cohen Loigman when we were both part of one of the Twin Cities' amazing Lit Lovers events, orchestrated by the even more amazing Pamela Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Bay Books. And Lynda and I instantly clicked, cementing fellow-author  camaraderie and friendship over a mere few hours of good food, wine, and book talk. Are author friends online great? Yes. Is it even greater when in-person author friends become online author friends and vice versa? You betcha. A full year later, we were both delighted to discover that our next books were announced on the same day in Publishers Marketplace. And since both of those books are publishing next spring, we may just find ourselves meeting in person on the road again. Hope so!

 Lynda Cohen Loigman; photo credit: Randy Matusow

Lynda Cohen Loigman; photo credit: Randy Matusow

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Lynda: For me, inspiration has always come from the women in my family. It has been more than ten years since my mom passed away, but whenever she and her two younger sisters got together, they loved to tell stories about their childhood in the 1950s. Like the families in my first novel, they grew up in a two-family house in Brooklyn, New York. They lived on the top floor, while my grandmother’s brother, his wife and their three daughters lived on the bottom. 

When I was young, I couldn’t imagine anything more fascinating than the life my mother and her sisters led in Brooklyn. They told me tales about their trips to the doll hospital in Manhattan, they spoke in hushed tones about the time my mother lost her younger sister on the subway, and they burst into laughter every time they repeated the story about my mother’s first date – when she wore a girdle and a slim black pencil skirt to the neighborhood tennis court.

Those stories, and so many more, were the food of my childhood. They are so rich with details and so full of emotion that I find myself returning to them whenever I sit down to write. It’s always my hope to create characters for my readers who feel like people they have known from their own families. The intimacy and the warmth I felt listening to my aunts’ stories is something I strive to duplicate.

 Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?

Lynda: In December, I read J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions, a gorgeous novel about two sisters who leave Ireland for Boston in the late 1950s. Although I am always partial to family sagas, this one is special. The characters Courtney Sullivan creates are so intricate and layered, and the relationship between the sisters – with secrets, grudges, love, and regret – is more real than anything I’ve read in a very long time. One of the best gifts an author can give to readers is a feeling of inclusion and immersion in the world she creates. I truly felt that as I was reading this book.

Greer: What’s your next book and when will we see it?

Lynda: My next book is about two estranged sisters who are raised in Brooklyn and relocate to Springfield, Massachusetts at the start of World War II. The initial inspiration for the story came, once again, from my mother’s family, who moved from Brooklyn to Springfield in the late 1950s. But the sisters in the novel come to Springfield much earlier, and both live and work at the historic Springfield Armory. As part of my research, I visited the Armory and listened to the oral histories of former female employees. I learned that what I had envisioned as nothing more than a giant weapons factory was actually a bucolic campus filled with elegant homes and manicured gardens. When the story opens, the sisters have been estranged for five years. Their reunion is not an easy one, and after long-buried secrets are revealed, it is unclear whether their bond will be strong enough to survive. The novel tells the story of subtle and complicated family relationships, but it also highlights the fascinating careers of the women’s ordnance workers who worked as “soldiers of production” for our country. The title is The Wartime Sisters, and it will be published in January of 2019.

Greer: I can't wait! 

Lynda: My question for you is this: Your first two novels (and your third, which sounds amazing, so kudos!) fall firmly into the category of historical fiction. Do you every see yourself veering into a different genre, or is there something about either your interests or your writing process that makes you want to continue writing these stories? Every time I try to write, I end up somewhere in the past. Writing a story with a contemporary setting feels impossible to me. What about you?

Greer: It's funny. I wrote contemporary for years and years before finally getting published with The Magician's Lie, and it felt hard at the time, but now that I'm exclusively writing historical, contemporary seems so easy from a logistical standpoint! To be able to give someone any haircut I want, any clothes I want, to be able to walk down a street and just put those things into a book -- what a luxury. That's my first impulse, anyway. But the truth is that most of the ideas that come to me now are historical. Research turns up so many more inspirations than I could ever possibly write. It's possible to write a present-set story that has stakes as high as a historical novel, but somehow, the stakes feel higher to me in the past. When I read books that have one contemporary thread and one thread set in the past, the past thread almost always feels more urgent, more meaningful. So I just write mine without the contemporary thread. I jump around in time, but the time is always past, not present.

Two Family House_COVER.jpg

To connect with Lynda on social media or learn more about her books, check out the links below.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Jasmin Darznik

Not only has this series introduced me to writers who were new to me, it's also really expanded my knowledge of inspiring women in history. Today's interview is a prime example of that. As someone who writes mostly about 19th century America, I love having my horizons expanded into other times and places -- and when I came across the New York Times rave for Jasmin Darznik's SONG OF A CAPTIVE BIRD, I was instantly curious to hear more about its subject, the groundbreaking Iranian poet Forugh (while chagrined that I hadn't heard of her before). A snippet from that review: "A complex and beautiful rendering of that vanished country and its scattered people; a reminder of the power and purpose of art; and an ode to female creativity under a patriarchy that repeatedly tries to snuff it out." 

I'm so pleased that Jasmin agreed to be interviewed for #WomensHistoryReads and share more about the meaning Forugh has for her, woman writers she admires, and the frustrating erasure of women from the historical record. Thanks, Jasmin!

 Jasmin Darznik

Jasmin Darznik

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Jasmin: When my family fled Iran in the late 1970s, my mother smuggled out a book of poems by the Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad. Forugh, as she’s known in Iran, influenced me enormously. Iran has a rich tradition of poetry, but most all the poets who are remembered and celebrated have been men. Forugh, though, was writing poems that dove deep into questions of what it meant to be a woman in her culture—not presenting this culture in an anthropological way, but engaging you with it through the truth of her life. In my twenties the poems I returned to most often were her love poems. I’d devoured Plath and Rich in college, but I wanted to hear a particular voice—a woman and an Iranian—in whom I could see myself reflected. Forugh wrote about desire, about pain, about courage; reading her was a revelation. The very existence of Forugh’s poems challenged the stereotype, so prevalent then, and prevalent still, that Iranian women were silent victims of fate. In those poems I found proof of everything America was telling me Iranian women were not and that Iran was telling Iranian women they shouldn’t be. Bold, lustful, angry, difficult. Those poems saved me. They still do.

Greer: Who are some of your favorite authors working today?

Jasmin: I love all of Sarah Waters’ novels, many of which are set in Victorian period and all of which feature women protagonists. The attention to historical detail is just spectacular—before turning to fiction Waters earned a doctorate in Victorian literature, and her novels are saturated with the sights, sounds, scents, and feeling of that era. She’s also writing about women in a way that feels both fun and cunning. In nonfiction, two writers I deeply admire for their bravery as well as the beauty of their prose are Roxane Gay and Rebecca Solnit. I will read anything they write. 

Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Jasmin: It’s enormously frustrating, not to mention infuriating, to continually encounter vast gaps in the historical record about women, and it’s not just that their stories are neglected, but that there is often a deliberate and sustained effort to erase them from history. In Forugh’s case, that erasure was achieved through her family and partner’s silences about her life, as well as decades of government censorship of her work. However, it’s precisely these gaps that energize and inform my writing. If there’d been a more ample archive available to me, I doubt I’d have written a novel about her. I would likely have had fewer questions about her life, and I would also have felt less of a sense of urgency about bringing her story to light.

My question for you, Greer: Imagine you could put two women from different historical eras in conversation. Who would you pick and what would you ask to get the conversation flowing?

Greer: That is such an awesome question and the possibilities are dizzying. While all my historical fiction is set squarely in the past, without a contemporary storyline, I don't think I can avoid choosing today as one of the two historical eras to connect with this hypothetical question. Not a day goes by that I don't think about what a terrifying and important time we seem to be living in. I have an urge to connect someone from an equally turbulent time in the past with the moment we're in right now. So I guess I'd choose Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, one of many women who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union in the Civil War. It must have been an unthinkable, shocking act to undertake -- but it must have been important to her to take that leap, given how her country, her community, her world was being torn apart. I'd put her in conversation with Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who has stepped up into the national spotlight and contributed so much passion and fire to the conversation around America's problem with gun violence.

I think I'd ask both of them how they find or found the strength to do what they'd never imagined themselves doing, and how the rest of us can stoke that fire. What does it take to truly make a difference? We all have a stunning amount of potential slumbering within us -- how do we bring it out, channel it, spin it into gold?


For more about Jasmin and her books:

(And of course, tune in tomorrow for the next interview!)

WomensHistoryReads interview: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Given that she's lived in both America and England, it's not surprising that Sarah-Jane Stratford drew from both countries for her novel RADIO GIRLS, which it places an American-raised secretary in the context of very British history: the early days of the BBC. We talked about Barbara Kingsolver, Hilda Matheson, and the Hollywood blacklist -- enjoy!

 Sarah-Jane Stratford

Sarah-Jane Stratford

Greer: What's the most recent thing you read that blew you away?

Sarah-Jane: A short story, ‘Homeland,’ by Barbara Kingsolver. I love her work, I don’t know why I haven’t read these stories before, but anyway it was one of those stories that I read and then went right back and read again. I haven’t done that since I read Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet. What I found in this story, and it’s a mark of all of Barbara Kingsolver’s work, is that the world is so precise. It’s a tiny town in Tennessee, 1955, a time and place most of us don’t know, and she makes us know it intimately and feel a part of it, so that we’re inside those people’s lives. I wanted the story to go on and on, and yet it is perfect just as it is. 

Greer: If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Sarah-Jane: I’m going to make a case for one of the real-life characters in my novel Radio Girls: Hilda Matheson. She was the first Director of Talks for the BBC when radio was brand-new in 1926, and she was the one who inherently understood that radio could have a tremendous reach and influence, and be a force for democratization in bringing ideas and stories to people who might not otherwise hear them. She was adamant that radio must be easily accessible and creators must be free to air a wide range of programs. Under her aegis, radio went from being a fad to a phenomenon, with a huge variety of subjects discussed and debated, and books reviewed and read from. Librarians wrote the BBC to say subscriptions were soaring, and local poetry reading groups forming, even in towns where most people had at best a grade-school education. Hilda also understood that such a powerful voice could be dangerous, used to propagate untruths, and that there had to be standards and safeguards. Sadly, she was summarily forced to resign as politics turned more conservative in the 1930s, and the BBC did the exact opposite of what she had suggested –- becoming less political just at a time when people desperately needed more facts. She went on to write the first book on broadcasting, which was used as a textbook for the industry well into the 1970s. She created the blueprint for what would become NPR and I feel that a lot of her philosophy applies to the Internet as well. She’s definitely someone more people should know about. I love this quote of hers regarding broadcasting, which can be used as an argument for net neutrality:

“If we have the sense to give [broadcasting] freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation from vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.” 

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Sarah-Jane: A lot of people know about the 1950s blacklisting of people in Hollywood -- mostly writers -- who were accused of being communist subversives. What’s less known is that a number of women writers were also accused and lost their livelihoods. I was inspired to create fictional versions of two women in particular, who went into exile in Britain so that they could continue to work and avoid being watched by the FBI – or worse, being subpoenaed and forced to testify about their politics. A real-life woman, Hannah Weinstein, created a television show called "The Adventures of Robin Hood," which was hugely popular in the 1950s. Some viewers recognized that the show’s plots tended to highlight the mistreatment of disadvantaged people at the hands of the wealthy and powerful. Very few knew that the entire writing staff was comprised of blacklisted writers, using pseudonyms so that the show could continue being broadcast in the US. My fictional writer becomes a member of the Robin Hood staff, and attempts to make a new life abroad, where all the exiles wonder if they’ll ever be able to live freely in America again – or even if they’re really free of the FBI abroad. I’m deep in revisions now, looking towards publication in spring of 2019. 

My question for you: There have been a lot of quality literary adaptations lately. Is there one in particular you’ve seen that you thought was exceptional, and can you talk about what made it so good? Also, any news on a possible adaptation of Girl in Disguise

Greer: I hate to admit that I'm old enough to have been waiting 20 years for something, and yet, it's totally true. That's how long I've wanted to see Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace done right and in 2017 that finally happened on Netflix. It's an extraordinarily faithful adaptation and totally worth the wait. (I went on about it in-depth for The Chicago Review of Books.) As for Girl in Disguise rights -- hope springs eternal. I have an excellent film agent at CAA and from time to time I hear whispers of possibility. If anything comes to fruition, I will most definitely share with the world!


For more about Sarah-Jane and her books: 

WomensHistoryReads interview: Elizabeth Loupas

So here's one of the reasons this #WomensHistoryReads series has gone on long past the end of Women's History Month. Through their answers, authors that I know keep introducing me to authors that are new to me! So it is with Elizabeth Loupas, mentioned by Kate Quinn in an earlier Q&Q&Q&A. I reached out to Elizabeth for an interview and was thrilled when she said yes. This way you and I both get to know her better at the same time. Thanks, Elizabeth!

 Elizabeth Loupas

Elizabeth Loupas

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Elizabeth: I was originally inspired to write historical fiction by two sisters, Barbara and Joanna of Austria, daughters of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, and granddaughters of Juana of Castile, called “Juana la Loca.” State marriages were arranged for them both—Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, for Barbara, and Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, for Joanna.

How did they feel, setting off on their bridal journeys, never having seen their new cities and knowing they would never go home again? The two dukes had come to Innsbruck to sign the marriage contracts, so at least the sisters weren’t off to marry men they’d never met, but it wasn’t as if they’d had any choice in the matter. What crazy courage it must have taken to be an imperial archduchess in the sixteenth century.

History records so little about them. Barbara was apparently happy in her marriage but sadly childless. (Through no fault of her own, but that’s another story.) Joanna, in Italy called Giovanna, was miserable but bore eight children, despite her truly horrifying scoliosis. Her tomb was opened and her spine examined as part of the anthropological and paleopathological Medici Project, and looking at the photographs, I can’t imagine how she managed to have one baby, let alone eight.

Giving Barbara and Joanna voices in novels—voices and thoughts and emotions and lives, real lives, however fictionalized—was humbling and endlessly fascinating.

Greer: Wonderful. What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Elizabeth: My next book is historical magical realism centered on Mary Talbot, the daughter of the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary is the quintessential “footnote to history” woman, remembered only because she was the unwilling young wife married off to Henry Percy, to separate him from Anne Boleyn.

The astonishing thing, though, about the historical Mary Talbot, is that in the summer of 1532, in the midst of the political and religious firestorm that was Henry VIII’s “Great Matter,” she dared to speak out publicly and ask to have her own marriage annulled. Her grounds? That her husband, now the Earl of Northumberland, had flung at her in the course of a clearly incendiary quarrel that she was not his wife at all, because as a young man he had made a legally-binding contract of marriage with Anne Boleyn.

Mary had been miserably unhappy in her arranged marriage, and her husband’s assertion was clearly the last straw. She put the Earl’s claim down in writing, in a letter to her father, who was not just her father but the Lord Steward of the King’s household. The letter itself is lost—how I would love to see it!—but clearly it existed, from the havoc it created. Northumberland was hauled off to London and, in a panic, swore on the blessed sacrament that no pre-contract with Anne Boleyn had ever existed. I think he was lying, blessed sacrament or no blessed sacrament. But the king wanted Anne Boleyn to be unmarried. Mary’s evidence was disregarded and the whole business was hushed up with brutal Tudor efficiency.

After writing that amazing and courageous letter, Mary Talbot essentially disappears from history, although she lived on for another forty years. So of course she is a wonderful inspiration for historical fiction.

As to when anyone will see the book, well, it’s early days yet, and I’m still writing.

Greer: I know that stage well. But your subject sounds utterly fascinating, and we'll be excited to see it whenever it's ready. Last question: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Elizabeth: Surprising only because it’s a little obscure—I love the lushly-produced Russian-language television miniseries Sophia, which is available with (sometimes unintentionally funny) English subtitles on Amazon Prime. It tells the gorgeously-imagined story of Zoe Palaiologos, the last Byzantine princess, who was re-baptized Sophia when she was married to the Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow. Ultimately she was the grandmother of Ivan IV (“The Terrible”), the first Russian Tsar.

Zoe/Sophia was at the center of religious and dynastic conflict throughout her life, and was the first Grand Princess of Moscow who refused to be confined to women's quarters, but greeted foreign representatives from Europe in the same way as queens in Western Europe. One of the most interesting bits of trivia from this show: golden coins used as properties were minted from casts of original ducats.

And my question for Greer: What scene or historical thread or fact have you been forced to delete from a manuscript, and yet can’t forget? What do you intend to do with it?

Greer: When I initially put together the proposal for Girl in Disguise, the story of the first female detective, Kate Warne, it was about one-third longer, extending past the end of the Civil War with another subplot and ending with her death in 1868. My brilliant agent looked at the proposal and said, "That's about one-third too much book." Foolishly, I said, "No, this is really what I want to do! I'm going to write it that way!" And lo and behold, after several months of writing and seeing how things shaped up, I realized it would definitely be too much book. I ended up finding a natural conclusion right about at the mark she'd originally indicated. So I didn't get to write the last three years of Kate's life. Maybe sometime I'll return to it. I've gotten plenty of reader requests for the continuing adventures of Kate...

The Red Lily Crown Cover.jpg

WomensHistoryReads interview: Christina Baker Kline

Of course, Christina Baker Kline needs no introduction. But here's one anyway. I am constantly surprised and delighted by how many authors I've met in the past few years -- even incredibly successful bestsellers with ever-increasing demands on their time -- have been welcoming, generous and supportive from the very first moment I met them. That was definitely the case with Christina.

When I had the chance to do a joint event with her last year I leapt at it, even though making it work involved highly questionable decision-making on my part, including a post-event 10pm departure from Minneapolis to fly to St. Louis (or was it Kansas City?), only for the purpose of catching a verrrrry early plane the next morning to Dallas so I could make it to Lafayette, Louisiana by noon for a speaking engagement. That was how much I wanted to be on the same bill as Christina. Against all odds, it worked perfectly. Still one of my favorite book tour memories. So I'm forgoing the usual author photo of the interviewee for a candid shot of us just before our event in Wisconsin. 

 Christina Baker Kline (left) and Greer Macallister

Christina Baker Kline (left) and Greer Macallister

As I said, she's generous and supportive, and she even answered more than the requisite three questions for our Q&Q&Q&A! I couldn't edit them down to three, knowing her readers would want to know it all, especially the one about her next book (which sounds amazing, of course.) So here we go!

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Christina: Novels about the inner lives of people facing unanticipated challenges that force them to dig deep to find out who they really are.

Greer: What's the last book that blew you away?

Christina: My Absolute Darling is a big, unruly novel that people either love or hate. I loved it for its vivid writing, emotional intensity, and unique take on the world.

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Christina: My father is a historian and an academic, and until recently I thought our writing had nothing in common. Lately, though, I realize that I’ve been greatly influenced by him in form and content. We both write longhand, research extensively, read widely within our subject areas, and take notes in a similar way. 

Greer: What's your next book about?

Christina: My next novel is about the hidden history of the convict women who transformed Australia. It takes place in mid-19th century Tasmania.

Greer: That sounds spectacular. What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Christina: The opportunity to explore untold stories.

And my question for you: In some ways, I believe, novelists are always writing about themselves: what haunts them, what they care about. How does this relate to you and Girl in Disguise?

Greer: I agree -- in some ways, I absolutely am! I find myself returning over and over to questions of identity, of women who reinvent themselves. What-ifs fascinate me. What if, during the golden age of magic, a woman illusionist cut men in half as her trademark illusion? What would the reaction to that be? That's where The Magician's Lie came from. There isn't enough information in the historical record for us to know much about what Kate Warne, the first female detective, did in the pursuit of justice -- let alone what she thought and felt -- but what if we did? What might her story look like? That's why I wrote Girl in Disguise. Disguises, deceit, swapping identities, people doing bad things for good reasons, these ideas endlessly fascinate me, and I doubt I'll ever get to the bottom of that well.


More about Christina and her books at: