WomensHistoryReads interview: Meghan Masterson

The #WomensHistoryReads interview project continues! And today's guest is THE WARDROBE MISTRESS author Meghan Masterson, who interviewed me for her blog earlier this month. Now it's her turn to be interviewed with a guest spot here today.

 Meghan Masterson

Meghan Masterson

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

Meghan: Marie Antoinette inspired me to write THE WARDROBE MISTRESS. There’s something alluring about the contrast of her luxurious life, and the doomed tragedy of her death, but as I got deeper into my research, I saw that she was probably reviled more than she deserved. Most of the social and economic problems leading up to the French Revolution had been building for years, long before her time on the throne, and Marie Antoinette, as a foreign queen (she was born in Austria, and came to France when she married the dauphin) made a convenient scapegoat. She’s blamed for things like naively remarking ‘let them eat cake’ in response to the shortage of bread (she never said this), when she regularly donated to the poor and took measures like downgrading the palace grain ration so there would be more for the rest of the people. 

I knew I wanted to write about her, and my protagonist became one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women, poised to see the truth about the queen, but also the struggle going on in Paris. Having her work in the wardrobe also let me explore the surprisingly intricate world of French Revolutionary fashion, too. 

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

Meghan: THE NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon. I loved the blend of suspense, supernatural, and shifting timelines in the multiple points of view. I immediately added the rest of her books to my reading list and have been happily working my way through.  

Greer: Play matchmaker: what unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it? 

Meghan: Ooh, this is a fun one. I would love to read a book about Wang Zhenyi, a woman scientist and astronomer from 18th Century China. Not only did she research and write about scientific topics like the eclipses and equinoxes, she also wrote poetry – and of course challenged the limitations of women’s roles at the times. Since Weina Dai Randel so wonderfully portrayed Empress Wu as a strong, nuanced, and sympathetic character, I’d choose her to write this story.

Greer: Great match! (And fans of Weina: stay tuned for her interview later in the month.)

Meghan: Have you hidden any secrets or clues in your books that only a few people will find? 

Greer: Not exactly, but I do like to include things only a few people will get the meaning of. A lot of the towns and cities that Arden's magic show visits in THE MAGICIAN'S LIE are named because I know someone who lives there or I have some other connection to the city. And in my upcoming third book, WOMAN NINETY-NINE, several of the characters' names are taken from an Elvis Costello song that was part of my inspiration for writing a novel in that particular setting. They're definitely not clues to the mystery, but fun little Easter eggs, in a way.


Read more by and about Meghan at her website.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Pamela D. Toler

Thrilled to bring Pamela D. Toler to the blog today for a nonfiction-focused #WomensHistoryReads interview! Pamela has written oodles of fascinating works on the women of history, but the best-known is probably the one that viewers of PBS' "Mercy Street" saw advertised at the end of every episode: HEROINES OF MERCY STREET, a companion book to the TV series that delved into some of the facts and real-life historical figures behind the fiction. Welcome, Pamela!

 Pamela D. Toler

Pamela D. Toler

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

Pamela: As a child, I read every biography I could find about smart and/or tough women who ignored  (or kicked their way through) society's boundaries and accomplished things no one thought they could accomplish.  Lucky for me, our school's revolving library owned a whole series of them. Each week a new one arrived and I snatched it before anyone else could get it, eager to read about Clara Barton, Madame Curie, or Julia Ward Howell.  Those books were an inspiration and I remember them with great affection, though I couldn't give you the name of a single title or author.

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Pamela: Absolutely!  And I have the papers to prove it.

Greer: I think you may be the first PhD I've interviewed for this series! What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching women?

Pamela: Right now I'm writing a global history of women warriors (due out early in 2019). One of the most challenging and enraging things about the research is the consistent ways in which women are dismissed across time.  When scholars say maybe this particular woman didn't exist, it's easy to accept.  But when you see many examples of scholars writing about different times and places who give similar reasons why women in their own particular field may not have existed, you start to question every example.  And grind your teeth a lot.

Greer: [sound of teeth grinding] 

Pamela: And here's one for you:  Is there a period of history that grabs your imagination more than others?  And why?

Greer: My imagination is a fickle thing that jumps at anything sparkly, so not necessarily. But there has to be more than that initial "Ooh!" spark to make me really focus in on a story and commit to researching, crafting, revising, publishing and promoting a full-length novel. For that reason, so far I've been writing in a fairly narrow band of history: the United States between 1850 and 1905. I meant to avoid writing about war, as I feel that's really well-covered territory in historical fiction, except that I already failed at that with my second book, GIRL IN DISGUISE. The problem was that the real-life Kate Warne, first female detective, also worked as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. When history hands you facts like that, you can't just skip that part. I mean, one can, in theory, but I didn't.


WomensHistoryReads interview: Jillian Cantor

When I started this project, I thought I'd interview one writer a day for the month of March to celebrate Women's History Month. But as I've reached out to and heard back from fellow authors inspired by the women of history, it turns out that there are far too many great stories out there to limit the fun to only 31 days! I won't say how long the series will go on, but I can say not to expect complete radio silence starting on April 1. (Also, if I haven't interviewed one of your favorites yet, you can always drop me a line with a suggestion.)

Today's #womenshistoryreads interviewee, Jillian Cantor, has written novels inspired by a wide variety of real-life women of the past, from inspiring (Anne Frank's sister Margot) to notorious (Ethel Rosenberg). Read on to see who inspired her latest novel, THE LOST LETTER, now out in hardcover and e-book and coming soon in paperback.



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

Jillian: Most exciting to me is learning about women who are like me – mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends – but whose lives were shaped by different times, places, and circumstances than my own. I’m always fascinated by understanding the ways people lived and how everyday life might have been so different in another time period, but also how relationships and emotions and feelings are so similar in every time and place. 

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

Jillian: My grandmother! My relationship with her inspired THE LOST LETTER (and I dedicated the book to her and my grandfather). She passed away a few years ago, but before she did she progressively lost her short-term memory due to Alzheimer’s. I used to talk to her every single Sunday, starting from when I was very little, and going even up until the very end of her life when she lived in a memory care facility. Even at the end, she always knew who I was, but her mind was in a different place, and she would tell me these fascinating stories about things that had just “happened to her that day,” but in reality had taken place 40 or 50 years earlier. It made me think a lot about who she was before she was a grandmother, or a mother, or a wife. What was she like as a woman, when she had this whole other life? This was the inspiration for the relationship my main character has with her father in THE LOST LETTER.

Greer: What a wonderful way to honor her. What’s your next book about and when will we see it? 

Jillian: My next book is another historical novel. It takes place half in Germany in the years before WWII, during Hitler’s rise to power, and half in post-war Europe in the 10 years following the war. It’s a love story, but it’s also about survival, passion, music, and memory. It’ll be out in about a year from now.

Greer: Can't wait!

JillianMy question for you: What’s your favorite woman character you’ve ever written and why?

Greer: Ooh, what a great question! I have to say Adelaide Herrmann from THE MAGICIAN'S LIE. I based quite a lot of the character's personality on the real-life Adelaide -- just as my novel describes, she started her career in magic as her husband Alexander Herrmann's assistant, and after his sudden death, took his place to perform the deadliest illusion in magic -- the Bullet Catch -- on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in January of 1897. So she took over his show and became a headliner, a businesswoman, a real boss, at a time when that was unprecedented. They say that to write fiction you have to get inside the heads of your characters, and her head was a place I really enjoyed spending time. I keep thinking I may not be done with her yet.



Find out more about Jillian and her books at jilliancantor.com

WomensHistoryReads interview: Alyssa Palombo

Historical novelist Alyssa Palombo has two wonderful novels out in the world, and I'm thrilled to say that her next one, coming this fall, is even better. As I mentioned in a previous interview, I love being asked to blurb (I can't always say yes, but I try) and I especially love it when the book I'm reading for blurb consideration is so good I forget I have any purpose in reading and just enjoy. That's what happened with Alyssa's THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL, so romantic and eerie and compelling, which you are going to love when it comes out this fall.


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

Alyssa: I just finished AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS by Kat Howard, and I am completely obsessed with it. It's a brilliantly crafted fantasy novel about a secret world of wealthy, powerful magicians going about their business in secret in modern-day New York City, and a magical competition to determine who has control over this Unseen World. The writing and worldbuilding are both lovely, but what I loved most is the strong feminist narrative in the novel. Women band together to help one another, to remake the world for the better, and to punish the men who prey on them. It's an extraordinary book and an engaging story -- I couldn't put it down!

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

Alyssa: Madame C.J. Walker. I remember learning about all the white male business tycoons while I was in school -- Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, etc. -- but why aren't we taught about the country's first black woman millionaire, indeed, one of the first American woman millionaires of any race? Her story, about how she rose from a very difficult early life to become an extremely successful entrepreneur, is truly what that American dream is all about. I didn't learn about her until I was an adult, but I think hers is a name every American should know. (Also, would LOVE to read a biographical historical novel about her!)

Greer: Excellent choice! (And ditto! I haven't read it yet, but Tananarive Due wrote one.) So, I kind of know the answer to this, but readers will want to know too: what’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Alyssa: My next novel is called The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel and will be out on October 2nd, 2018 from St. Martin's Griffin. It's a retelling of Washington Irving's classic short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" from Katrina's point of view. I love that story, of course, but the sexist way that Katrina is described always got under my skin. I decided to give her a voice and let her tell her own story, and boy, did she have a story to tell!

Greer: Did she ever! I believe my blurb says something about "will haunt you in all the best ways."

Alyssa: My question for you: Who is a woman from history whom you feel has been unfairly vilified?

Greer: I love this question and the one who springs immediately to mind is Alexander Pushkin's wife Natalia Goncharova, although I didn't know much about her until I read Jennifer Laam's THE LOST SEASON OF LOVE AND SNOW, which tells the flip side of her story. Apparently she's been widely vilified throughout history for causing the duel that killed her husband, but Jennifer's book beautifully lays out the impossible situation Natalia was in -- the expectations of women at the time, the catch-22 that came from being cursed either for accepting or rejecting the advances of men of high rank who weren't one's husband. 

My broader answer is that so many women in history have been blamed, cursed, dismissed, or vilified for their actions that I feel we owe it to them to explore their stories. I mean, all the way back to Eve, it's been the woman's fault when something bad happens. From Eve to Anne Boleyn to Mata Hari to Yoko Ono. I gladly delve into any book, fiction or nonfiction, that tells a woman's story in all its complexity.


For more on Alyssa and her books, visit alyssapalombo.com

WomensHistoryReads interview: Sophie Perinot

You're in for a treat with today's #womenshistoryreads interview -- it's a deep dive with novelist Sophie Perinot, who has a fascinating way of connecting the past with the present and the issues that still concern us today, up to and including #metoo. Welcome, Sophie!

 Sophie Perinot

Sophie Perinot

Greer: How would you describe what you write? 

Sophie: I am so glad you asked ;) I write stories set against the past, but exploring issues and feelings so essentially human that they transcend any particular era.

Why do I pick the past as my setting? Two reasons: first and foremost I am an incurable history geek. I was actually the first member of my college graduating class to declare a history major, and I come from a family absolutely full of people who consider visiting historical locations to be the making of every dream vacation (I only go to the beach every other year because my husband is a beach vacation guy).

Beyond my personal addiction to history, I believe that books set in the past can allow readers to confront very difficult issues by providing “safe distance.” The most important issues, emotional and moral, that people struggle with in their very 21st century lives are not new and, though this might surprise people, they are not, at their core, different than the issues people struggled with 500 or even 800 years ago. These emotionally freighted issues are also often the hardest to approach in “real-time.” But “the past is another country” (sorry—don’t have a handy citation for that quote). I think setting complex “big issue” situations in the past can allow people to more comfortably approach them.

For example, even with 2017 wrapping up as a year of #metoo, there continues to be a strong thread of “victim blaming” when women are sexually harassed or assaulted. Quite often young women in particular blame themselves for what has happened to them to a point where they do not report incidents. In my novel, Médicis Daughter, my main character falls into that trap, and across more than 400 years the injustice of her experience is a heartbreaking slap in the face. I expect that portion of the novel to generate recognition and deep thought in readers, perhaps causing them to confront patterns in their own lives and in our modern society.

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Sophie: No. Let me start by saying that I have a background in history, having graduated with a BA in that subject. And I have a sister who is a tenured professor of history. She is the historian in this family, and has published a number of historical non-fiction books. I write historical fiction which is absolutely NOT the same thing. Let me explain . . .

My work is not driven by the overt goal of educating readers on a particular period, or presenting an overview of a historical issue. Instead, my writing is driven by considerations of plot and theme—by the desire to tell a universal story that is set in the past but transcends it. For example in my novel, The Sister Queens, the driving theme was the relationship between my sisters, Marguerite Queen of France and Eleanor Queen of England. There was a lot of important 13th century history that did not get discussed in my book—for example the English Baron’s rebellion in England—that would have been included if I had a different focus or a different set of main characters.

Historical novelists have some freedoms that historians don’tWe get to move things. For example, in my 16th century novel, Médicis Daughter, I relocated the signing of Marguerite de Valois’ marriage contract to Catherine de Médicis private study at the Chateau of Blois because I wanted the imagery of the paneling—very distinctive gold paneling covering secret cubbies—in that room. And, unlike historians, historical novelists even get to make things up. Academic Historians speculate, of course, because they can’t know everything even about the best-documented events of the past, but they do not make up events or people and insert them into history. In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable for novelists to create fictional happenings and characters. Characters are the most common. For example, in A Day of Fire the group of authors I worked with used historical figures—Admiral Pliny, the aedile Cuspius Pansa—about whom historians do have solid facts. But our cast of characters also included the fictionalized and the entirely fictitious. In creating fictionalized characters, some of our inspiration from the graffiti that peppered Pompeii. The hero of my story, Sabinus, was inspired by historical graffiti. Someone of that name ran for aedile shortly before destruction of the city. From his name and that fact I built a character.

So, to come full circle, my work isn’t driven by history, or entirely limited by it.  BUT if I write first rate historical fiction—and I’d like to think I do—then in telling my story I want to be true to historical facts as we know them.  How do I achieve that? 

I don’t wing it. In writing my historical fiction I use the same sorts of resources that a historian might use—scholarly journal articles, primary sources (for example in Médicis Daughter I used the memoirs of Marguerite de Valois as well as other primary sources like a political pamphlet published contemporaneously with events in the story), and secondary sources (biographies, prior histories).

And when I make a change from history or when I am faced with a choice of competing facts/dates I use my author’s note to let readers know that I have made a deviation, inference or choice.

Greer: A good author's note is essential! I agree. Last question: unlike many historical novelists who stick with a time period or region, you seem to wander -- you’ve been everywhere from ancient Rome to 16th century France. Do you plan to keep roaming?

Sophie: I am absolutely going to hop around like a bunny. I feel privileged as a writer—I feel that we are given extra lives. We get to live in different skins, travel to different places, and bring those experiences alive for readers. I don’t want to limit those travels either geographically or temporally. I am limited in my so-called real-life, in a way that my author alter-ego doesn’t have to be.

I completely understand those historical writers who want to go deep into a single era and become experts in a cast of characters. But I am generally drawn to a story by an “ah ha” moment—by an event that inspires, or by the discovery of someone I feel history has maligned or neglected—and those events are too serendipitous to stick to one setting or era. 

For example, I discovered the sisters at the center of my novel, The Sister Queens, in a footnote while research Notre Dame for another purpose. The idea that these two women had become Queens of two of the most powerful kingdoms in their era and yet had since been largely forgotten in the telling of history rankled me. Theirs was a story of influence, adventure and sisterhood that I just had to tell. 

More recently, a marvelous baroque song—a daring tarantella about death—got me wondering who might have written it and why, and the quest to find that person or invent him took me to the 17th century Papal Court of the Barberini, and led to a manuscript I just turned over to my agent. Similarly, something that always puzzled me about the Great Fire of London inspired me to begin writing my first dual timeline novel—yes I am actually working on something partially set in 21st century London. In another twist, this WIP has a thriller aspect, with not one but two investigations going on more than 350 years apart.

Sophie: My question for you: Which of your two main characters—Pinkerton detective Kate Warne, or illusionist the Amazing Arden is the most (or least) like you and in what way(s)?

Greer: Great question! I'm afraid that in my everyday existence -- as you put it so aptly in your own answer, my "so-called real life" -- I'm far more boring than either. They're both bold and fierce, ready to take on anyone who thinks they can't succeed. But I'm probably more like Arden, in that I grew up in a small town with a certain set of expectations and limits that I eventually outgrew, taking on bigger challenges in the wider world. I redefined myself and who I was, who I am. Arden has trauma that drives her from home, whereas for me it was insatiable curiosity, but there are some similarities in our journeys.

final front cover.jpg

Sophie Perinot is an award-winning author of female-centered historical fiction. Her novel, The Sister Queens delves into the compelling bond between sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, 13th century queens of France and England. While her novel Médicis Daughter takes readers to the intrigue-riven French court, to consider issues of conscience and independence within the complicated mother/daughter relationship between princess Marguerite de Valois and the dangerous, powerful Queen Catherine de Médicis. Sophie was one of six historical novelists in the ground-breaking historical novel-in-six-parts, A Day of Fire: Stories of Pompeii, telling the story of the final days of that doomed city through the eyes of a cast of characters each written by an individual author but moving through multiple writer’s stories.  

To learn more about Sophie and her work, visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Today on #womenshistoryreads I'd like to introduce you to Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, who you may already know as the author of SCANDALOUS WOMEN, or as a vibrant, lively presence at the Historical Novel Society Conference (which is where I know her from.) My jaw dropped about five times while reading her informative and eye-opening interview answers -- scandalous indeed! You're in for a delightful read.

 Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

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

Elizabeth: Josephine Baker is one of my favorite women in history. Not only was she a singer, dancer, and actress but also a civil rights activist and a spy during World War II for the French resistance.  Not to mention that she was incredibly glamorous, as well as hard-working. There is a reason that she’s a legend. Growing up poor in St. Louis, married twice before she was even out of her teens, made her way to New York to Broadway and then to become the toast of Paris? The stories of her walking her pet cheetah down the Champs-Elysees, and her triumphant return to the stage in the 1970’s.

When I wrote Scandalous Women, I spent way too much time reading biographies and watching the few movies that she made. I just wanted to know more and more. I’m still trying to learn more about her work during World War II. I’ve been trying to find a copy of the memoir written by Jacques Abtey, who worked with her during that time. If I do find a copy, I’m going to have to break out my rusty French! Even "Gossip Girl" was fascinated with Josephine Baker. There’s a whole episode where Tyra Banks plays an actress who plays Josephine Baker in a movie about the French resistance but her part is cut out before the movie premieres in favor of Hilary Duff’s character.  I remember watching that episode and thinking that it was absurd, everyone knows that Josephine Baker is one of the most fascinating women in history.

Greer: Agreed! Next question: Do you consider yourself a historian?  

Elizabeth: I am definitely not a historian; I’m would say that I’m more of a story-teller.  I majored in English and Drama in college, but I have always loved history, ever since I was a child. I’m most definitely a history geek. My favorite books as a child were the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; I read those over and over. Later I moved onto to Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr. Even when I was acting, most of the plays that I performed were historical, Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov, and Schnitzler. I think I did one contemporary play in 15 years of acting. I started Scandalous Women because I was reading about so many fascinating women in history and I wanted to share their stories with readers. Ten years ago, there weren’t many blogs or books out. Now, of course, there is an explosion of interest in women’s lives and history. To this day, my friends and I talk about women in history such as Anne Boleyn, The Brontë sisters, and Mary Wollstonecraft as if we actually knew them. They are so real to us.

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

Elizabeth: One of the biggest challenges is when there is either too much research or too little.  I wrote a book proposal for a non-fiction book about Juliet d’Aubigny, better known as Mademoiselle Maupin.  Fascinating woman, she was a 17th century cross-dressing, bisexual swordswoman and opera singer. But there is so much that we don’t know about her, in particular how many of the stories about her are true.

There was one story that was particularly outrageous. Apparently she entered a convent as a postulant in order to pursue a young woman that she had fallen in love with. One night after an elderly nun died, Juliet stole the body, placed it in the girl’s cell and set fire to the convent, and escaped with her lover. They were on the run for three months and Juliet was sentenced to death in absentia by the parliament in Provence as a man, because the judges refused to believe that a woman could abduct another,  let alone from a convent. She apparently fought duels with men and won. There are so many stories or myths about her but they were all hard to corroborate. I found it really difficult to write the proposal. In hindsight, I should have pitched the book as more of an investigative piece: does this woman really exist? 

For Scandalous Women, I had the opposite problem, too much research. I must have read more than seventy books, and I could have read another seventy. The research was just so fascinating, but at a certain point I had to stop and write the book! Otherwise, it would never have been finished.

Greer: Play matchmaker: what unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it?

Elizabeth: One of the most interesting women that I wrote about in Scandalous Women was Jane Digby.  She was an English aristocrat born just before the Regency period in England and died during the late Victorian era. She had four husbands (she divorced three of them) and many lovers, including King Ludwig I of Bavaria (she’s featured in his Hall of Beauties) as well as his son King Otto of Greece. Her last husband was an Arab Sheikh who was twenty years her junior! Finally, she’d found the happiness that she was looking for. They were married for almost thirty years before she died. Men just couldn’t help falling in love with her, and if you look at her portraits, you can see why. She is the classic English beauty, blonde hair, big blue eyes, and porcelain skin. I’m amazed that no one has written either a book or done a miniseries about her life. As to who should write it, I would have to say Leslie Carroll would be the perfect author. She’s already written about Eliza Hamilton and Mary Robinson, Jane Digby would be right up her alley.

Elizabeth: And my question for you: Have you watched the TV series about The Pinkertons? If so what did you think of the portrayal of Kate Warne?

Greer: I didn't have the right channel to watch it when it was on TV, but the timing turned out to be fortuitous -- it came to Netflix shortly after I'd turned in GIRL IN DISGUISE. Of course I was curious about overlap between their Kate and my Kate, but as it turns out, there isn't any, time-wise or plot-wise. Their story begins in 1865, just after mine ends. Of course both my book and the TV series had the same scant facts from history to draw on, so we made some of the same decisions about the personality Kate must have had: bold, fiery, and constantly battling the pervasive sexism of the day. I never saw any sources that would indicate she was solving cases in Kansas City with William Pinkerton in 1865, as she does in the show, but I'm happy for anything that gets Kate's name out there, frankly!


Want more about Elizabeth and her knowledge of scandalous women? Here you go:




WomensHistoryReads interview: Michelle Gable

If you haven't read Michelle Gable's bestselling novels, now is a great time to start! As she describes in today's #womenshistoryreads interview, her work is inspired by history, using facts as a jumping-off point to spin compelling narratives that will keep your attention until the last page and beyond. (And if you've spent any time in a bookstore in the past few years, you'll probably recognize the iconic blue script that sets her books apart -- it's beautiful.)

And the woman who inspired her next book sounds particularly fascinating. Read on for more...

 Michelle Gable (photo credit: Joanna DeGeneres)

Michelle Gable (photo credit: Joanna DeGeneres)

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Michelle: This is a great question, and one I’m asked all the time. It usually happens in some random setting, like on the tennis court. My partner will announce, “hey, she’s a writer!” Then the inevitable: “what do you write?” “Novels” is not a satisfying answer, I’ve learned.

Generally, I describe my books as a combination of historical and contemporary fiction, or historical fiction with a contemporary thread. All of my books are based on real people or events, so I hope my writing results in a lot of googling.

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

Michelle: My next novel is called The Summer I Met Jack and it comes out on May 29th. Yes, it is that Jack…Jack Kennedy. The main character was a woman he was engaged to briefly in 1951. Alicia Corning Clark—one of her many names—was a Jewish Polish refugee and Papa Kennedy forbid the marriage. She was a firecracker and led a fascinating life in her own right, as an artist, a B-movie actress, and paramour to a number of leading men and even a leading lady or two (hello, Katharine Hepburn!)  

Greer: Sounds fantastic! Can't wait. Last question: what book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Michelle: Well, I’m going to go with a podcast because I’m obsessed with them. Most people are shocked when I tell them how much I love the True Crime/Comedy podcast My Favorite Murder

Greer: I'll have to check it out!

Michelle: And your question: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to uncover or confirm a historical detail? This can either be straight up insane or crazy as in the time/energy/stress/money far outweighed whatever information you gleaned. 

Greer: It took me a while to think of an answer for this question, so I think maybe I haven't been crazy enough! But I did seek out a private magic library in Manhattan while I was researching THE MAGICIAN'S LIE -- I'd heard rumors about it, and seen a few mentions here and there on the internet, so I went waaaaaay down a rabbit hole hunting for more information. Finally I figured out where it was located, and even better, an e-mail address for it. I wrote a very nice letter begging for access to their materials, and I had all these visions of paging through dusty old playbills and artifacts. I was so excited when they wrote back! And then they told me that pretty much the whole collection was digitized and I could have access to it through the website if I just paid a monthly fee. Somehow, that sucked the glamour right out of the whole business. (I ended up not really using anything I found there, either.)


THE SUMMER I MET JACK comes out May 29. Is Michelle's book tour bringing her to your neck of the woods? Find out that and more with these links:



@MGableWriter on Twitter and Instagram


For a change of pace, tomorrow's #WomensHistoryReads interview will take us into the world of nonfiction. Tune in, won't you?

WomensHistoryReads interview: Meg Waite Clayton

Today I'm thrilled to welcome to the blog Meg Waite Clayton, who wows critics and readers alike with her insightful, entrancing books. Not only a New York Times bestselling author, she was also honored by the Langham Prize committee for THE RACE FOR PARIS (which I adored.) Read more about Meg below!

 Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton

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

Meg: As a group, the enormously talented and courageous women war journalists and photojournalists, including Lee Carson, Helen Kirkpatrick, Iris Carpenter, Ruth Cowan, Lee Miller, Dot Avery, Virginia Irwin, Margaret Bourke-White, and Martha Gellhorn, have inspired me. My first novel, The Language of Light, about a woman who aspires to be a photojournalist, has roots in Margaret Bourke-White's autobiography. And all my work has in some sense flown from that first novel.

My latest, The Race for Paris, draws directly from the experiences of all these World War II correspondents, who defied military regulations and gender barriers to cover the “race for Paris,” vying to be among the first to report from the liberated city in the summer of 1944. They did so by stowing away in bathrooms of Channel-crossing boats, going AWOL, hopping fences meant to contain them, struggling to get their photographs and stories out, and risking their lives. Despite being confronted with red tape and derision, denied access to jeeps and to the information and accommodations provided to their male colleagues at press camps, pursued by military police intent on returning them to the States, and even arrested and stripped of credentials, they proved that women could report from the front lines, and opened the way for generations of women to do things previously forbidden us.

Greer: And the way that you weave those truths with fiction makes for a fantastic story. How would you describe what you write?

Meg: My novels take place in different time periods, but they share a common thread in that they are--or at least are meant to be--inspirational stories about women finding the strength to overcome societal barriers unique to women. But I hope they are first and foremost not "message" but story. I like a great read that leaves me both laughing and crying, and that's what I try to write.

Greer: Yes. I've definitely done both while reading your novels! What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?

Meg: Both challenging and exciting is the fact that there are so many amazing women in history who are not yet known, or known well enough. Exciting because that is so much story possibility. Challenging because there are only so many hours in a lifetime, and I want to write them all! 

Greer: Ditto!

Meg: And for you: I'd love to know about a woman (or group of women) from the past who've inspired you. That is such a great question!

Greer: With a near-infinite number of answers, right? I'm always running across new names, but only one has inspired me enough to center an entire novel around -- Kate Warne, 19th-century detective and total bad-ass. If I were a biographer, it would have been intensely frustrating to discover that the information about her in the historical record is basically skeletal. But since I'm a historical novelist, I felt like the gaps in her story were the perfect invitation. I've said since the beginning that part of the reason I wrote the book was so more people would know her name, but only lately have I been able to articulate why her lack of name recognition bothers me so much: why do we all know the name of the man who assassinated Lincoln in 1865, but not the woman who saved his life by foiling an earlier assassination attempt in 1861? How different our country's history could have been. Get this woman into the history books!

Read more about Meg, her books, and her advice for writers at the links below:

Twitter: @megwclayton

And as always, tune in for another #womenshistoryreads review tomorrow!

the GIRL IN DISGUISE virtual tour: signed copies and Skype!

I absolutely love going on book tour, but unfortunately, I can't do that this spring for the paperback launch of GIRL IN DISGUISE. I know, bummer, right? (Last year's for the hardcover was SO fun.) But here are a few ways I'm trying to be everywhere at once without leaving home:

  • I'm Skyping in to bookstores and bookclubs on request. Want me to Skype to yours? Send me a note through the Contact page on my site. (Two weeks notice would really be great.)
  • If you want your copy of GIRL IN DISGUISE signed, here's all you have to do. Buy it at your local bookstore in March, take a picture, and tag both me (@theladygreer) and the bookstore when you post it on your favorite social media channel (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, pretty much anything -- except Snapchat because I don't understand how it works because I am An Old.)

Percolating some other stuff too -- including some festivals and bookstore events local to DC -- and will keep you posted. Have you subscribed to my newsletter?

In the meantime, see you on social! 

WomensHistoryReads interview: Renee Rosen

Today's #WomensHistoryReads guest is Renee Rosen. She's an author of many talents, particularly skilled at bringing Chicago history to life in books like DOLLFACE (1920s), WHAT THE LADY WANTS (1890s), WHITE COLLAR GIRL (1950s), and WINDY CITY BLUES (1960s). Her next project is a departure from that pattern -- which she talks about in her interview below. Welcome, Renee!


 Renee Rosen (credit: Charles Osgood Photography)

Renee Rosen (credit: Charles Osgood Photography)

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

Renee: I know some authors hand off the research aspect of their work to an intern or assistant but I can’t imagine not doing the research myself.  That's something I truly love about my job. The most exciting part is the element of discovery. You just never know what you’ll stumble upon and some seemingly insignificant detail could end up greatly impacting your story. 

I love discovering courageous women, especially the lesser known women, and find myself deeply humbled after learning about their struggles and the difficulties they overcame. Though we still have many of our own obstacles today, it’s easy to take for granted the sacrifices they made in order for us to lead the lives we do. I get absolutely lost in another time and place. Getting the details right, down to the clothing and social mores right is especially challenging. 

My last few books have been set in the '40s, '50s and '60s and many readers were alive and well during those time periods and they know it well. If you don’t get your details right, you’ll lose them right there on the page. I think that’s why I especially love hearing from readers who say I took them back in time and reminded them of their childhoods. 

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Renee: I would say that first and foremost, I write historical fiction, usually (but not always) centered around strong female characters—both real and fictional. I tend to do a blended type of writing where I weave my fictional characters into stories based on real events and real people. It’s always gratifying when readers tell me they googled my fictional characters because they thought they were real. Making that aspect seamless is a real challenge. It’s really important that they don't feel plugged in. And because I tend to mix fiction with non-fiction, I always include an extensive author’s note at the end of each book, explaining where I took creative license so readers can separate facts from fiction. 

Greer: Always a good plan. What’s your next book about and when will we see it?  

Renee: My upcoming book, PARK AVENUE SUMMER, is a historical novel coming from Penguin Random House /Berkley in May 2019.

I’m super excited about this novel for many reasons. Here’s a brief description:
New York City in 1965 is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss who leaves her small Midwestern town and lands the job of a lifetime working for the first female Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Helen Gurley Brown.

Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller Sex and the Single Girland confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their way into the wrong hands. When someone asks Alice to help sabotage her boss, she is more determined than ever to help Helen succeed. While pressure mounts at the magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she’s quickly learning that in Helen Gurley Brown’s world, a woman can demand to have it all.

Greer: What a fascinating premise!

Renee: And now a question for you. Can you describe your writing process? For example, are you an outliner, do you write longhand first, do you conduct all your research up front or do it hand-in-hand with your writing? 

Greer: I could describe my writing process in one word: sloppy. I make a mess, but I do it quickly, and then I spend months and months cleaning it up. I do usually start from a synopsis -- GIRL IN DISGUISE and my next book WOMAN NINETY-NINE were both sold on a synopsis and sample pages. I have a plan, and then as I write it, I change the plan. I write only on the computer because my fingers can't keep up with my brain in longhand, but at a certain point in the process -- usually once I have that first messy-but-complete-ish draft -- I have to print it out and mark it up. Then the multicolor Post-Its come out. There's something tactile about that stage.

Research goes in a few waves, and I try to do the most substantial work before I even start writing. So for example, with GIRL IN DISGUISE I read everything there was to read on Kate Warne. I watched movies and read books about the time period. I read up on Allan Pinkerton and the cases his agents were working at the time I was writing about. Then I began. But for Chicago street names, for example -- that kind of detail work -- I waited until I knew which scenes were actually going to make it into the final draft. Then I found a map from 1856 and went to town, so to speak.


For more on Renee and her books, visit her website at reneerosen.com.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Erika Robuck

Today I'm thrilled to welcome to the blog Erika Robuck, author of rich, enthralling historical fiction (FALLEN BEAUTY is my favorite) and all-around good person to know. As I've mentioned on previous interviews, one of the best things about getting to know other authors is watching their careers and readerships grow over the years, and I've been cheering Erika on, as she's been cheering me on, ever since the early days of HEMINGWAY'S GIRL. Welcome, Erika! 

 Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck

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

Erika: There are so many books that stay with me, but the most recent that will not leave me is THE CHILD FINDER, by Rene Denfeld. It gripped me from the first page and would not give up its hold—even now. The story is about a private investigator hired to find a missing girl. The detective’s own past becomes entangled with the cases she works, and it builds to a terrifying, emotionally-charged climax. What makes THE CHILD FINDER stand above a typical mystery/suspense novel is the gorgeous writing and the deeply layered characters. Even the antagonists are complex, and it takes a writer of enormous empathy and understanding to be able humanize the inhuman and the fictional so completely. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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

Erika: I’d make sure every history textbook had a section on Mother Theresa of Calcutta—a woman who left every material comfort in her life to minister to the unwanted in society—the poor, the sick, and the dying. She faced opposition from without and within her own society and faith, but continued on in service to others, helping those who “lived like animals to die like angels.” What is most inspiring about Mother (now Saint) Theresa was that she experienced a “dark night of the soul” as soon as she entered into her deep vocation to the poor, which did not lift for the rest of her life. She was lonely, opposed, and full of self doubt, but in the name of her devotion to faith in God and in love, never stopped on the path she felt was laid for her. 

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

Erika: I find favorite author/book questions delightful and terrifying. There are so many—how to list them all? I’ll have to name the first who come to mind, whose books I buy without needing description because I know I will love them. A. S. Byatt, Kate Morton, Priya Parmar, Jojo Moyes, Toni Morrison, Tatiana de Rosnay, and Paula McLain. 

Erika: My question for you:  It might have been F. Scott Fitzgerald who said all writers have one story to tell. In spite of different time periods and places, what is the recurring story you find yourself confronting with each book, and why is it so important that you tell it? 

Greer: I think all of my books so far have followed a woman who discovers her inner strength when she's tested by extraordinary circumstances. Some of them start out fierce, like Kate Warne, and some only find their fierceness once they're in the thick of the action, like the protagonist of WOMAN NINETY-NINE, who most readers won't meet until next year. But I think it's an important theme. Most of us are stronger than we know. And these are historical women, faced with the constraints of the times they lived in. If the women of the past could accomplish so much in those times, what could we, women of the present, accomplish today?

WomensHistoryReads interview: Susan Meissner

Today's #WomensHistoryReads interview is a charmer -- just like Susan Meissner herself, author of more than a dozen novels, including SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE and A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN. Her most recent is AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN, about a Philadelphia family reborn through love and loss during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Be sure to check out her website for tour events to see if she's coming to a city near you on tour in March or April.

 Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

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

Susan: I just finished I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon and my first response when I read the last page was, “Wow!” The last imperial Russian tsar, Nicholas Romanov, was executed along with his wife and five children during the Bolshevik revolution in 1918, but mystery surrounded one of the daughters, when in 1920, a woman who later went by the name Anna Anderson claimed to be Anastasia Romanov. Anderson attempted to kill herself by jumping off a Berlin bridge two years after the executions. She carried no identification papers and refused to give authorities her name. When she finally did speak, she said she was Grand Duchess Anastasia, the only surviving member of the Russian royal family. This same woman spent her lifetime claiming she had survived the brutal execution of the rest of her family. Lawhon has constructed a cleverly engaging look at both Anastasia Romanov of history and the woman who claimed until her dying day to be the sole surviving daughter of the last tsar of Russia. It is a non-linear tale, in that part of the story moves forward and part moves backward, but I loved how the story played out that way. It was a very unique architecture that was probably not easy to pull off, but Lawhon is a master storyteller and she totally made it work.

Greer: I am SO excited for that book! And Ariel will be a guest here the day it publishes, March 27. Next question: If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

During the writing of one of my older books, WHITE PICKET FENCES, I came across the life and times of Irena Sendler, a brave Polish social worker who helped smuggle more than two thousand Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She was arrested on October 20, 1943, and sent to the notorious Piawiak prison. Here she was tortured when she would not give up the names of the other people in her smuggling network. Despite the cruelty of her questioners, she remained resolute and gave up no names. Irena was sentenced to death, but the German executioner who was to have killed her was bribed so that friends could help her escape. Posters were put up all over the city with the news that she’d been executed. She hid during the remaining years of the war. Irena was the only one who knew where the children who had been smuggled out were located. When the war was over in 1945, she dug up the jars that contained the slips of paper detailing the whereabouts of the 2500 children whose lives she had saved and began the job of trying to find a living relative.  She was so very brave, and few high schoolers know her name.

Greer: That's amazing -- both what she did and that it's not better-known. What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

My next book was just released in February, so it’s just a month old and I’m so glad that it is out in the wild. AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN is a novel set primarily in Philadelphia during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which claimed an astonishing 50 million people worldwide. But it’s not just a book about an all-but-forgotten event, it’s also a story about what gives our lives beauty and meaning. It’s because we’re mortal that life is so precious, and the time we are given – however long or short – is always made more wonderful because of who we’ve loved along the way, and who has loved us. The point-of-view characters telling the story are an undertaker’s wife and the couple’s children – three daughters whose ages bring unique perspectives to what is happening all around them as well as around the world. Library Journal gave AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN a starred review and Romantic Times named it a Top Pick in their January issue and said it was “heart-wrenching, well written and unforgettable.” It has been likened to two favorite books I’ve read in my own book club, Barbara Kingsolver’s THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, by M. L. Stedman.

Greer: A wonderful book. (And catnip to fellow THE POISONWOOD BIBLE superfans.)

Susan: My question for you: You have been granted a lovely dinner with three literary greats – dead or alive. Who do you pick and what is on the menu?

Greer: I love it when fellow authors' questions give me superpowers! Let's go with some dead and some alive, to assemble a powerhouse salon of Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, and Agatha Christie. On one hand I think a classic afternoon tea spread with scones and Darjeeling would be most appropriate, but since it's my fantasy, I'm going with my favorite party food: Spanish tapas like marinated Manchego, garlic shrimp and chorizo coins, washed down with gallons of Rioja. Let's see what tipsy Jane would spill -- maybe her wine, maybe some secrets. 


Learn more about Susan and her books here:


Twitter: @SusanMeissner

Facebook: susan.meissner

Instagram: @soozmeissner


Tomorrow's #womenshistoryreads interviewee is Erika Robuck -- be sure to stop by again!

WomensHistoryReads interview: Heather Webb

Not only do I have a fabulous #WomensHistoryReads interview from a talented writer to publish today, I don't even need to write an introduction! Heather Webb's impressive bio speaks for itself:

Heather Webb is the international bestselling author of women’s historical novels Becoming JosephineRodin’s LoverLast Christmas in Paris, and The Phantom’s Apprentice, which have been featured in the New York TimesWall Street JournalEntertainment Weekly and moreas well as received national starred reviews. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick, and in 2017, Last Christmas in Paris became a Globe and Mail bestseller. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, and teaches craft courses at a local college. When not writing, you may find her collecting cookbooks or looking for excuses to travel. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.

 Heather Webb

Heather Webb

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian? 

Heather: I wouldn't call myself a historian, necessarily, as they spend years of dedicated academic study followed by intensive research in one area and era, typically, and truly become specialists. I would certainly say I'm a history-lover, and have always been one. My dad inspired that love in me with his old Hollywood films, "Little House on the Prairie," and endless westerns, and our dozens of trips to war or history museums all over the country and many in Europe as well. 

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

Heather: I find an awful lot of it exciting--the inexplicable and strange details that seem too weird to be real; the trail-blazing women who fought through so much to achieve their dreams, or even just to survive in a man's world; striking on a person or event in which a woman has done something so spectacular that it seems impossible she has been overlooked in the annals of history; spending time in a courageous woman's head. I adore getting lost in the research and in my characters' hearts and minds. What I find challenging? Publishing is a business, in the end, so the powers that be don't always believe a particular woman's story will resonate with enough readers to make it worth their while to purchase the book and put it on shelves. This is challenging to a writer who enjoys mining for nuanced stories and people. 

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

Heather: I learn of new favorite authors every single year as there are always so many glorious new books to read. My current favorites are Paula McLain, John Green, Jessie Burton, Jo Baker, and Jennifer Donnelly. I also adore Sena Jeter Naslund, Tom Robbins, and Elizabeth Gilbert. 

Greer: Lots of great names there!

Heather: My question for you:  How did you discover your love for historical fiction?

Greer: Totally by accident! I'd always been a historical fiction reader, because I read just about everything, but I didn't write historical fiction until I had an out-of-the-blue realization: I'd always seen images of male magicians cutting women in half, but never anything about a female magician cutting a man in half. And I wanted to write a book about a woman who would. But it would have been a very different book with a contemporary setting, and I wanted it to take place in the golden age of magic, so my fictional illusionist could make front-page headlines. So I wrote THE MAGICIAN'S LIE, which is set primarily in 1905. And for several years after that, every idea I had was a historical fiction idea, and right now those are the stories that move me enough to dedicate hours, weeks, years to writing them down.

Final cover large.jpg

In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…

Christine faces an impossible choice: be a star at the Paris opera as Papa always wanted, or follow her dream—to become a master of illusions. First, she must steal the secrets of the enigmatic master who haunts her, survive a world of treachery and murder, and embrace the uncertain promise of love. To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all. 

Here's where you can find out more about Heather and her books:

Website:  www.HeatherWebb.net

Twitter:  @msheatherwebb

FB: https://www.facebook.com/msheatherwebb/ (Heather Webb, Author)

Instagram: @msheatherwebb

(And as always, stay tuned for another #WomensHistoryReads interview tomorrow! We've got a lot more March to go...)

GIRL IN DISGUISE interview on Meghan Masterson's blog

Yes, I've been doing a lot of interviews lately where I'm the interviewer, but here's one where I'm the interviewee! Many thanks to historical fiction author Meghan Masterson, whose debut THE WARDROBE MISTRESS delves into the world of Marie Antoinette, for hosting me on her blog.

Click here to read more about GIRL IN DISGUISE, the three words I'd pick to describe Kate Warne, and the weirdest place I like to write. (It's pretty weird.)

WomensHistoryReads interview: Kate Quinn

Two very exciting things today! One, GIRL IN DISGUISE is now out in paperback -- now you can get it in hardcover, paperback, e-book or audio. Yay! Two, I'm thrilled to welcome to the blog Kate Quinn, NYT bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK, one of my favorite reads of the past year. If you haven't read this book yet, you must, and Reese Witherspoon agrees with me. What more recommendation do you need?

Welcome, Kate!

 Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn

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

Kate: AFFINITY by Sarah Waters--a well-to-do Victorian girl pays mission of mercy calls to a women's prison, and finds herself drawn by an enigmatic young spirit medium. A budding love affair between two complicated women, a sharply-drawn portrait of the Victorian justice system, and a creepy Gothic mystery all tied into one! 

Greer: Ooh, that sounds fantastic. And you know how much I loved THE ALICE NETWORK, so I'm really looking forward to what comes next from you. What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Kate: My next book is untitled so far, tentatively scheduled for February 2019. A team of Nazi hunters in post-war Vienna is tracking down a Nazi murderess gone to ground in America, even as a budding teenage photographer in 1946 Boston begins to have serious doubts about her father's demure German fiancee. And intertwined with those two storylines is Nina, a Russian female bomber pilot who flew against Hitler's eastern front in the all-female regiment known as the Night Witches...

Greer: Can't wait. For your last question, play matchmaker: what unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it?

Kate: I'd love to read a book about Leonora d'Este: the second wife of Renaissance lord and composer Gesualdo, a musical genius who famously murdered his first wife...and was maybe murdered in turn by Leonora! What kind of woman was she, to have lived with such a dangerous man and come out alive? That's nerves of steel for you. And I'd have Elizabeth Loupas write it; I adore her work. Though in her novel "The Second Duchess" she tackles the similar domestic situation of Duke Alfonso and the first wife he possibly murdered, so E.L. probably wouldn't want to do such a similar re-tread!

Greer: I'd read it for sure. So intriguing.

Kate: And as for a question for you, if you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Greer: Most readers of GIRL IN DISGUISE can probably guess the answer I'll give -- definitely Kate Warne, first female Pinkerton detective. She broke new ground by walking into Allan Pinkerton's office in 1856 and applying for a job as a detective at a time when women rarely worked outside the home at all -- the ad hadn't specified that only men could apply because it was so unthinkable. Then she was so good at it, they hired more women and put her in charge of the Bureau of Female Detectives. Plus, the role she played in foiling an 1861 assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln should be better known. What does it say that we all know the name of the man who killed President Lincoln but not the woman who saved him from being killed before he even got to his inauguration? I wrote GIRL IN DISGUISE to try to get her name out there in one small way; I'd love to see it everywhere.



Find out more about Kate and her books at www.katequinnauthor.com.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Sarah McCoy

Today I'm delighted to add to the #WomensHistoryReads series with this interview with Sarah McCoy: New York Times bestselling author, deft weaver of past and present plotlines, walking ray of sunshine. I've been fortunate enough to cross paths with Sarah many times over the years, online and off, and I'm particularly excited about her next project -- about which more below. Without further ado:

 Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy

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

Sarah: Sarah Brown, the unmarried daughter of abolitionist John Brown. She was a highly-educated woman, an artist, a teacher, honorary mother to an orphanage of children, and a quiet powerhouse in the abolitionist movement’s Underground Railroad. Yet, history records virtually nothing about her. Her enigmatic existence inspired me to write The Mapmaker’s Children. I felt compelled to flush out her story and tell it forward to future generations of women.

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

Sarah: "Star Trek." Yes, that’s right, I’m a closet Trekkie and science-fiction fan. I grew up watching the old 1966 series with my dad. The adventures of Captain Kirk, Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, and Dr. “Bones” McCoy were my TV bread and butter. It was also one of the few shows I remember seeing with women taking charge of the helm and carrying phasers while embracing their femininity. I thought it brilliant. To this day, my heart races when I hear the opening theme song. It promises an exciting story where “no man has gone before.” That message has been instilled in me. All grown up, I'm still looking for stories that delve into distinctly female topics where no man has gone before.

Greer: Right there with you! What’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Sarah: My next book is titled Marilla of Green Gables. It’s the story of Marilla Cuthbert, the beloved, adoptive mother of Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. There’s a resurgence of Anne captivation these days, and I love to see it. I, too, am an earnest Anne fan. It was the first book I remember my mom reading to me. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Green Gables formed my earliest imaginings, and I never quite left the farm. The 1985 television series blew my mind. I was eternally devoted to Megan Follows’ Anne and Colleen Dewhurst’s Marilla. Even begging for a puffed-sleeve dress at Christmas and having a Green Gables birthday tea party.

As a younger reader, I felt every bit a kindred to Anne. Now older, I’ve grown into a particular fondness for Marilla. I see myself in her and have always been fascinated by her mysterious past. How did she end up a spinster at Green Gables? What happened between her and John Blythe? I thought it high time we got answers. So I set myself to the challenge: rereading the first handful of Anne books in the series that include Marilla; learning the history of the Canadian Maritimes prior to Anne’s arrival; researching Lucy Maud Montgomery’s childhood, family, and life; traveling to Prince Edward Island to walk in her world, in Anne and Marilla’s world, too.

The novel releases from William Morrow/HarperCollins on October 23, 2018, and I can honestly say that out of all the books I’ve written, this is my favorite. It was more than just writing. It was a calling and a responsibility to do right by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s legacy and Marilla’s story at long last.

Thanks for having me on this fun series in honor of Women’s History Month, my dear Greer!

Greer: Aw. Thanks for participating!

Sarah: And my question for you -- Girl in Disguise was such an intriguing look at a nearly forgotten historical figure, Kate Warne. What historical figure do we think we know publicly, but you believe has an enigmatic story yet untold? 

Greer: I've been doing some reading lately on Marie Curie, and I feel like there's a general perception of her as brilliant but kind of one-dimensional -- devoted only to science, working herself literally to death in pursuit of scientific discovery, part of the dry, historic past. And her scientific achievements were incredible. But she was also a living, breathing woman, and a few years after she lost the love of her life in a freak accident, she became embroiled in a sex scandal so outrageous she once returned from a conference to find a torch-wielding mob waiting outside her house. I want to dig into that story.

Tune in tomorrow for the next in the #WomensHistoryReads series of interviews!


SARAH McCOY is the New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables (forthcoming from William Morrow); The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilly, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Instagram at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, Goodreads, or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.


GIRL IN DISGUISE and THE MAGICIAN'S LIE both on deep discount!

With only days (TWO!) to go until GIRL IN DISGUISE comes out in paperback, my publisher's celebrating by offering both THE MAGICIAN'S LIE and GIRL IN DISGUISE for way, way lower than the usual e-book sticker price. So scoop 'em up before the switch gets flipped back to full price again!

(That said, if you want to wait and buy GIRL IN DISGUISE in paperback from your local indie bookstore, I'm offering a little extra something with that, so your patience will be rewarded.)




WomensHistoryReads interview: Allison Pataki

Today I'm thrilled to share this interview with Allison Pataki, author of The Traitor's Wife, The Accidental Empress, and other favorites. Publishing in the age of digital and social media clearly provides more possibilities for connection between authors and readers than have ever happened before. This goes double, luckily, for connections between authors. I'm so lucky to get to interact with authors over the years even when we haven't had the chance to meet in person, and applaud them as their careers grow with every new book. Allison's books visit a variety of different places and periods but always introduce us to compelling characters, intriguing places, and high-stakes plots against the backdrop of history.

 Allison Pataki

Allison Pataki

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

Allison: There are so many—history is filled with the best raw material! But I have to go with Empress Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, known affectionately to her people (and history) simply as “Sisi.” I was so beguiled and charmed by this female historical figure that I devoted not one, but two novels to her.

Sisi, the captivating wife of Emperor Franz-Joseph, was Europe’s last great Empress, as it was her family that declared war and began World War I. But before all of that, Sisi was plucked from obscurity at the age of 15 and thrust onto the throne in the golden era of the Habsburg Court.  She was known as the “most beautiful woman in the world,” but it was her wit and intelligence and charisma that made her a legend in her own time. She is often compared to Princess Diana, as she captured the hearts and imagination of the public, even while clashing with the imperial family into which she married and bristling in the crushing role into which she unwittingly waltzed.

And yet, somehow, Sisi has become a footnote in modern history, particularly for Americans. It is so interesting to me how many women—women who accomplished huge things—have slipped through the cracks of history with their stories going largely untold.

To read about Sisi is to be transported to the beautiful and romantic world of the imperial Habsburg Court, filled with Walt Disney-esque castles and grand ballrooms and violin waltzes. It is to travel to Vienna during the time of Klimt’s art, Strauss’s music, and Freud’s scientific breakthroughs.

And yet, Sisi’s story is not your typical fairytale. Hers is a tale of drama, complexity, love triangles and intimate struggles that play out on an imperial stage with international consequences. I mentioned before that history provides the best raw material, and that is certainly the case with Sisi.

Greer: What’s your most recent book about and why did you decide to write it?

Allison: My most recent novel, WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS, was published this July and it is an historical fiction set during the French Revolution. Talk about a period roiling with drama!

The book plunges readers, at the beginning, into the turbulent days known as the “Reign of Terror.” Three years after the storming of the Bastille, Paris is enlivened with the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The monarchy of King Louis and Marie Antoinette has been dismantled—with the help of a new invention by Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin—and a new nation, for the people, is rising up in its place.

Our story follows a quartet of historically-inspired protagonists—André Valiere, Jean-Luc St. Clair, Sophie de Vincennes and Marie St. Clair. They are all fictional characters, though their stories and struggles were inspired by real events.

From the cafés to the courtrooms, from the alleyways of Paris to the battlefields of Napoleon’s conquests in Egypt—and featuring cameos from legendary figures such as Maximilien Robespierre, Louis XVI and Alexandre Dumas—WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS was an epic journey for me, as the writer. And I hope for readers, too!

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

Allison: It’s no surprise that "The Crown", "Versailles", "Poldark" and "Downton Abbey" are some of my favorite television series, right? But I also have some guilty pleasures… I probably should not admit this, but sometimes at the end of a long day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than to curl up on the couch and dive into some really questionable reality television. I have definitely found myself mesmerized and perplexed by "The Bachelor"; how do these contestants form such intense connections so quickly? Also, some of the Real Housewives franchises are fascinating to me. The New York one is close to home and yet it feels like an entirely different world, so it can be fun to watch the drama play out from the relative safety of my own couch.

Allison: Greer, you have been granted supernatural abilities on the time / space continuum. Congratulations! Which five figures from history will you invite to sit down and break bread with at your dinner party?

Greer: This question is so difficult! I spend so much time reading about history that my brain is definitely overpopulated with possibilities. But here are the first five who come to mind:

  1. Kate Warne, of course. First female Pinkerton detective, Union spy, without whom Abraham Lincoln might not have made it to his inauguration alive. I wrote a novel about her (GIRL IN DISGUISE) based on the skeletal information in the historical records -- I'd love to hear directly from her what her life was really like.
  2. Nellie Bly. Groundbreaking "girl reporter" who not only went undercover in an insane asylum in 1887 but then followed it up by racing around the world to see if it could be done in fewer than 80 days. In the 1880s. By herself. With one dress and the 19th-century equivalent of a gym bag. The guts of that woman!
  3. Anne Bonny. Notorious lady pirate. I mean, talk about the challenges of succeeding in a male-dominated industry. 
  4. Katharine Wright Haskell. Did you know the Wright Brothers had a sister? I'm dying to read more about her, and since you've given me the power to go straight to the source, I definitely want to hear the tales she had to tell.
  5. Michelle Obama. Just because I really want to hang out with Michelle Obama. Seems like a good enough reason.

Find out more about Allison and her books at the links below:




Insta: @allisonpataki

WomensHistoryReads interview: Laurel Davis Huber

One of the fun challenges of a major month-long project like these #WomensHistoryReads interviews is figuring out what order to post them in. So many great authors! So many great answers! But when I found out yesterday that Laurel Davis Huber's THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER was awarded the 2017 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, I knew it was time to move her interview to the front of the line and share. Congratulations, Laurel!


 Laurel Davis Huber

Laurel Davis Huber

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

Laurel: It was my sixth birthday, January 28, 1957. My mother and I were in the kitchen making a birthday cake when the doorbell rang. It was Mrs. Chaplin, my first grade teacher, who stood at the door. She had a gift in her hands. (You might think, Whoa, teacher’s pet! And you might be partly right, but the truth was simply that the Chaplins were neighbors and friends of my parents.) Anyway, the gift was an alphabet book, Beginning With A. There were short poems inside, each named for a child. A is for Alexander, J is for Josephine, O is for Oliver, etc. But it was the drawings that were truly entrancing: each child surrounded by a different, gorgeous frame of diamonds and bows and the most exquisite geometric designs. I loved the book, and I held on to it.

More than half a century later, when I was having trouble making headway with a novel (can you imagine?), I procrastinated by reaching for my beloved Beginning With A. For the first time, I paid attention to the name of the author/illustrator—Pamela Bianco. Just to procrastinate further, I Googled her name. Quickly I discovered she had been a world-famous child prodigy artist. Fascinated, I kept Googling. One thing led to another, and I found out her mother was Margery Williams, author of the children’s classic, The Velveteen Rabbit. I was hooked. And thus one novel was set aside and a new one began—The Velveteen Daughter. So as it turned out, the woman who inspired my writing was my first-grade teacher. Which does make things come full circle, doesn’t it?

Greer: A lovely circle! Next up: what’s the last book that blew you away?

Laurel: Interesting, the phrase “blew me away.” While a vivid metaphor, it also makes me realize how while The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish most certainly did blow me away, it also did quite the opposite—it ensnared me, pulling me into its depths. I was so happily mired in this beautiful story that I did not want it to end. The novel, an intricately wrought literary thriller, begins with the discovery of 17th century papers found hidden under a London staircase. The story concerns Ester, a young Jewish woman living in Amsterdam in the late 1600’s who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi. The fact that, as a woman, she is even literate, let alone proficient in Greek and Latin, is a wonder. Her heart yearns for knowledge, for the chance to converse with the great (male) philosophers of her time, especially the exiled Spinoza. Ester’s literacy—and her lack of a dowry—makes marriage a difficult proposition. Her tribulations, and the fierce intellectual burning that fuels her quest for the freedom to think, to express herself, combined with a compelling and emotional plot, make for an exceptional read. Toward the end of her life, Ester wants her diary to be burned. These are her words:

"Let the pages burn, for such be the fate of the soul, that all our striving be dust, and none in the bright living world ever know truly what once lived and died in another heart.”  

Until now, my favorite literary thriller was Possession by A. S. Byatt. I still love that novel, but The Weight of Ink has toppled it from its throne.

Greer: Your description is mouth-watering -- now I'm dying to read The Weight of Ink. What unsung woman from history would you most like to read a book about, and who should write it?

Laurel: My “unsung woman from the past” would actually be four women – the women who shaped Benedict Arnold. (What can I say - Arnold is one of my obsessions.) We tend to forget that until he wasn’t, Arnold was a brave patriot, a beloved leader of his troops, and an honorable man. Arnold grew up without a male role model at home. He was deeply ashamed of his father, the town drunk. But he had great love and respect for his mother, and these feelings continued with the other women who helped to shape his life: his sister (who ran his household when he was widowed with children), and his two wives. His second wife, Peggy Shippen, just nineteen when she married Arnold, was both beautiful and highly intelligent. It is very likely that she was a large factor in Arnold’s decision to turn traitor. The story of Arnold’s women is a very colorful one. I’m afraid I’d have to choose myself to write it – it’s the book I set aside in answer #1!

Greer: And is that your next book? When will we see more from you?

Laurel: Actually, my next book is a stark departure from historical fiction. It is contemporary, with elements of magical realism. While the story revolves around a woman, her family, and a dog (the dog being extremely important), the cast of characters also includes Queen Victoria, Odysseus, Cleopatra, and Little Bo Peep.

Enough said, I think!

I am aiming for an early 2019 publication date, but who knows.

Greer: Can't wait to see how that cast of characters comes together.

Laurel: And your question: Do you ever think about writing outside your genre? I am, naturally, a huge fan of stories about great unknown women from the past, but are there other kinds of stories that gnaw at your brain? 

Greer: The writer's mind is a vast, unconquerable landscape. For years and years I wrote nothing but contemporary, and ended up accidentally writing historical fiction when I got the idea for THE MAGICIAN'S LIE. Then for several years after that, every single idea that came to me was a historical fiction idea, most with that strong element of uncovering women's stories from the past, as you mentioned. But now a new (but also old?) gnawing has begun. Other, non-historical ideas are popping up. I don't know when I'll have the time or energy to pursue them, but I'm definitely keeping track.



Find out more about Laurel Davis Huber and her prize-winning book The Velveteen Daughter at her website, laureldavishuber.com.