WomensHistoryReads interview: Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is a presence and a force. When I first met her two years ago at a Historical Novel Society conference, she was dressed much as she is in the author photo below — she stands out in a crowd, and even in that crowd, which is saying something. I’m so pleased to have her on the blog for a Q&Q&Q&A and I know you’ll appreciate her thoughtful answers below on Spiritualism, ghosts, Quakers, feeling “called” to a specific period in history, and more.

Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber

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

Leanna: The 19th century Spiritualist movement was directly entwined with women’s rights as it gave women a space to become public figures, speakers and ‘authorities’ in a way that had been denied them.  Of course, many Spiritualists were frauds taking advantage of a population still facing very high mortality rates and the aftermath of the civil war, but the movement inspired the psychically or empathically inclined to create space that made room for the modern grief counselor, and in a place like Lily Dale, New York, the Spiritualist capital of the world, a woman could live an entirely autonomous life. 

 My novels all deal with ghosts and the supernatural, so Spiritualism is woven right in, in a way that’s entirely realistic to 19th century moods, interests and obsessions. In paranormally augmented spaces, my women of a wide range of class, race, creed, orientation and identity are given opportunity and agency to be authorities, translators, guides, power figures, directors, teammates and directors that the common constraints of society disallowed.

I’m particularly inspired by Quaker leaders who were on the front lines of abolition, equality, co-equal education and the peace movement. In my Strangely Beautiful saga, the bulk of the action takes place at a fictionalized Quaker academy and in my latest novel with Tor Books, MISS VIOLET AND THE GREAT WAR, I discuss the Quaker viewpoint as being the driver of Contentious Objection in wartime and my women leaders in the school help protect that as yet unestablished right.  Quaker women were at the forefront of women’s education and often were the first to women graduate from myriad institutions, able to serve as leaders due to the support of their family structures and congregations. Quakers historically being entwined with Spiritualism is another way in which I can create spaces in my fiction for women to have had their say, taken on mantles of expertise and authority in diverse spaces, and for it to be entirely historically accurate. 

As a licensed New York City tour guide for over twelve years, there’s so much to soak up and to be inspired by.  The end of the 19th century saw women entering many new and different workforces, especially in New York, be they managers and designers in the decorative arts, or telephone operators or new Police Matrons in the police force, a wider range of options for a woman’s professional life was only growing. 

It is in this environment of women entering new fields that I present Eve Whitby, star of my new Gaslamp Fantasy series with Kensington Books, THE SPECTRAL CITY. Eve is a medium and Spiritualist who works with ghosts and fellow Sensitives on behalf of the NYPD in 1899 Manhattan. (Think the show “Medium” meets The Alienist). Eve and her colleagues don’t always have an easy time of it and encounter institutional bias but they keep their heads up, filled with purpose, driven to do good work while cultivating an excellent team of allies, talented friends and helpful ghosts. My characters are inspired by the women who lived boldly and who were there proudly, carving out places for the next generations, in the (literal) spirit of camaraderie and diligence.

Greer: I love how you combine the real-life historical context with fictional adventures! It’s one of the best things we can do with historical fiction. On that note, how would you describe what you write?

Leanna: The relatively new *technical* term for what I write is Gaslamp Fantasy, a term adjacent to Steampunk. In Steampunk, a steam-powered era setting is blended with the new technologies and ‘gadgetry’ associated with the Science Fiction genre, and problems are solved with tech. In Gaslamp Fantasy, the same ‘gaslit’ setting helps set the tone and scene, but in these tales, magic, the paranormal and other tropes seen in the Fantasy genre are in play and problems are solved more with mysticism than machines. Broadly speaking, I’m a Gothic, Victorian, Historical Fantasy author. Publishers tend to shy away from using the term Gothic but I think it’s the most fitting word of all to describe my work, as it’s defined the core of my interests, style and voice since my debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (now reissued by Tor as Strangely Beautiful, containing volumes I and II) came out in 2009.   

I’m interested in reclaiming historic Gothic tropes in order to give my women and other marginalized identities agency rather than making them victims, symbols or plot devices. 

I also enjoy challenging the traditional idea of what a ‘ghost story’ means. Ghosts are a thrilling, dynamic aspect of my world-building, are vibrant characters, and they bring mysticism and an ethereal otherworldliness to my love of history.

My books have been described as intensely atmospheric and deeply character-driven. That’s the highest compliment I could think of, as setting and character are the engines of my process and inspiration.

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

A SANCTUARY OF SPIRITS will be here in early November from Kensington Books! It is the sequel in my Spectral City saga and it continues the adventures of Eve Whitby, a talented, bold, driven young medium who leads The Ghost Precinct, a group of female psychics and their favorite friendly ghosts, as they solve weird, uncanny crime and settle old ghostly scores in 1899 New York City. She teams up with a dashing detective, Jacob Horowitz, and their growing, endearing affection for one another has become one of the most delightful aspects of writing this series. 

Please follow me on social media for updates, tidbits, deal alerts and more! I’ve a mailing list at http://leannareneehieber.com, I’m most active on Twitter at http://twitter.com/leannarenee(I’m far less active on FB: http://facebook.com/lrhieber) and you can also get news and deal alerts by following my BookBub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/leanna-renee-hieber I’ll be doing a cover reveal of A SANCTUARY OF SPIRITS later this spring! 

Cheers, blessings and Happy Haunting! 

And my question for you, Greer:

I feel deeply, spiritually called, in a past-life sense, to the late 19th century, in all its complications and complexities. What times “call” to you? And in what ways do eras call to you most evocatively? Music? Architecture? Fashion?

Greer: What a wonderful question! I often say I started writing historical fiction by accident, but now it truly feels like I’ve found where I belong. When I had the idea for The Magician’s Lie I only knew I wanted to set it in the golden age of stage magic… before even knowing when that was. But ever since, the ideas just keep piling up, and all of them seem to fall in the Victorian/Gilded Age zone, roughly between 1850 and 1905. As you said above, it’s a time when women were striking out and making a mark in new ways, and my protagonists are women with agency and fire. I can use history as a blueprint, as with the real-life Kate Warne in Girl in Disguise, or just a jumping-off point, which is how Nellie Bly fits into Woman 99. I love those kernels of inspiration. Those are what keep calling me back to that late 19th-century period, and I hope they just keep calling.

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Check out my interview at The Rumpus!

When you’re a writer, there are certain places you dream of seeing your name. On the cover of a book, of course, as the author. On the cover of someone else’s book, for some of us, when we write blurbs (“A tour-de-force of excellence that makes life worth living!”) At the top of the New York Times bestseller list. As the subject of a review in the New York Times (yeah, it comes up a lot) or the Washington Post. And there are online places, too, that we love as readers and hope to one day see our bylines as writers. (You should have seen me the day I got a pitch accepted at The Millions!)

So I was utterly thrilled to see both my name and my not-exactly-smiling face (my author photo is a bit Mona Lisa) on this recently published interview at The Rumpus. And for an extra level of thrill — Erica Wright’s questions were so excellent and thoughtful, I think they really upped my game for equally thoughtful answers.

Anyway, all this is a very long way of saying: read this interview; I think you’ll love it. I did.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Julia Kelly

Hello from the road! Or at least the train tracks. It’s my most whirlwind segment of the Woman 99 book tour, so I’m writing this from a 6am train and hoping desperately the Amtrak wi-fi can hold up its end of the bargain.

Today’s guest is Julia Kelly, author of The Light Over London, and like many of the authors I interview for this series, she has an amazing story of women of the past to share with the world. Have you heard of the Gunner Girls? I hadn’t! For more, here’s Julia…

Julia Kelly

Julia Kelly


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

Julia: My favorite thing about writing is introducing readers to incredible women they may never have heard of before. For The Light Over London, I wanted to tell the stories of the Gunner Girls, a group of British women who worked in mixed gender anti-aircraft gun batteries in World War II. They did everything on the guns except for pull the trigger. (Firing a gun was considered to be active combat, which Parliament said only men could engage in.) The Gunner Girls were incredibly brave women who made a serious contribution to fighting in Britain and on the Continent.


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

Julia: I am dying to read a modern biography of Nancy Wake, the infamous World War II spy. She was brash and bold, earning her nickname the “White Mouse” for all the times she slipped through the Gestapo’s fingers as they tried to hunt her down. I actually wrote about Wake for my Lightseekers series, which is all about incredible women during World War II. Who knows, maybe I’ll write the book myself!

Greer: Nancy Wake’s name has been cropping up more and more lately — can’t wait to find out more about her! Ariel Lawhon has a novel about her in the works, I believe. Last question: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?

Julia: I love a good murder mystery, whether I’m reading or watching TV. I always love books on the grittier end of the spectrum like Val McDermid or Peter May—both great Scottish authors. For TV shows, I’m happiest watching programs like Endeavour, Grantchester, and Luther.

And a question for you: What was the book that first got you interested in history?

Greer: Great question! I’m afraid I don’t have a brilliant answer. But I do distinctly remember being fascinated and thrilled by my European history course in college, not just because of the facts — I love facts — but the words! The names! I walked around muttering “Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen” under my breath for at least a month.

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WomensHistoryReads interview: Jen Deaderick

After wearing myself out publishing an interview a day for last year’s #WomensHistoryReads series, which ended up continuing for a full month after Women’s History Month was over, this year I cut way back. Only for March, I said. And only for novelists.

Well, I’ll be breaking both of those rules, as it turns out. But hey, women throughout history have had to break rules to get things done, right? Right.

I couldn’t resist inviting historian Jen Deaderick to the blog to talk about her new book SHE THE PEOPLE, an illustrated history so necessary, Hillary Clinton herself took to Instagram to offer congrats. (Personally, my heart beat faster when I saw the comment, and it’s not even my book!)

A little peek behind the curtain: I offer my interviewees about 10 questions and they choose 3, and it’s always fascinating to see what gets chosen. Of most interest, of course, are the answers! On to Jen’s.

Jen Deaderick; drawn by Rita Sapunor

Jen Deaderick; drawn by Rita Sapunor

(The illustrated headshot is genius, isn’t it? Click here for more of Rita Sapunor’s work.)

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Jen: This is the first question that jumped out at me from the list. It’s been a bigger question for me than I would have expected. A few months ago, I was having lunch with Jaclyn Friedman (who wrote the amazing Unscrewed), and she was giving me a hard time for not calling myself a historian. She was incredulous that I was writing a book on history, and yet wouldn’t give myself the title.

Maybe it’s living in such an academic town that makes me so reluctant. It seems like the title “historian” is something you earn with a degree. I did briefly pursue a masters degree in Public History at Northeastern, but I couldn’t afford it. I realized I could do the projects I wanted to do without spending thousands of dollars that I didn’t have. Still, I’m grateful for the semester I had there. I took a theory and methodology class, and that’s been helpful in my work. My fellow students were also great, and I was thrilled to meet them and have amazing conversations with them once a week. It was a terrific break from hanging out with a toddler, which was my main occupation then, and teaching intro to computers classes, which was my other occupation.

Now that I have a book that is officially classified as a history book, I’m revisiting the word. I suppose I can call myself a historian now, but I have to ease into it.

Greer: I’ll call you a historian, if that helps! (I added it to the introduction as soon as I saw this.) Next question: What’s the last book that blew you away?

Jen: The Library Book by Susan Orlean. She goes so deep in it, while also telling the history in such a compelling way. Her writing always makes me feel like I am walking along next to her as she takes me through the narrative. I love her confidence in describing the fire as if she witnessed it herself. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

It was particularly compelling to read it while I was waiting for my own book to be published. It’s powerful to think of something I created contributing to the conversation she describes.

Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it?/Tell us about a woman from the past who has inspired your writing.

Jen: I’m smooshing these questions together because they’re connected for me.

Back when I was in my twenties, I was hanging out with my Grandma, who was born in 1908, and very cockily said that when I got married, of COURSE I would marry someone who did half the housework. She replied, “that’s what we thought.” It blew my mind.

My grandmother was no radical feminist. She would get very upset if she was called Mrs. Rosalind Deaderick in formal correspondence instead of Mrs. Alfred V. Deaderick. She counseled me not to wear sneakers too often, to keep my feet from “spreading.” She never wore pants. Still, the feminist wave that led up to the passage of the 19th amendment, and the changes in gender roles that followed, had impacted her. She’d grown up in the Bronx, which gave her a proximity to the massive changes happening.

That exchange, and other chats with her, made me realize how complicated the history of women’s rights was, and helped inspire me to eventually write this book.

Grandma was also the person who got me interested in genealogy and how it connected us personally with history and the passage of time in general. I very clearly remember another day with her,  later in my 20s, when we sat and looked through photo albums together. She told me stories about these family members that were long gone, and as she did, I realized I was going though some of the same experiences they had, and was asking some of the same questions about my life. It gave me a perspective that I hadn’t had before, and made me clearly realize that all of the past had only happened through a series of choices made within a context over which we often had very little control. No one knows how anything will turn out, we just keep going, and that’s always been true.

My grandfather was from a prominent Southern family, and my Yankee grandma had needed to learn their history to get in good with his kin. At some point in my late teens or early twenties, I was given the family history that had been passed down since my distant cousin, Anna Mary Moon, had written it around 1933. It’s really racist, and speaks very casually about the slaves my ancestors owned, and the Native Americans they killed.

My mother was given a copy when she married my Dad, and has never recovered from the horror she felt while reading it. As an actual descendant, I’ve had to really wrestle with what this family history means to me. In my next book, I want to talk about that history, and the long tradition of women passing along family history, often building glorious myths about their male ancestors along the way. In SHE THE PEOPLE, I talk about the central role of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in passing along the Lost Cause myth, and I want to expand on that, and weave in my own family history along the way. I see the book as a response to Anna Mary Moon’s.

Greer: Sounds fantastic. Can’t wait.

Jen: My question for you: Regarding the role so many women have played in helping to create male myths, both through genealogy and published scholarly works, is there a greater obligation on female historians to tell women’s stories? Additionally, how do our experiences as women impact the ways in which we tell men’s stories, if they do?

Greer: Ooh, that is a BIG question. I will try to appropriately size my answer.

I think we should write what moves us. The appetite of the historian, or the historical novelist, to dig deep and write hard on a story that she’s passionate about — that strikes me as the most important thing, right off. That said, I’m sure there are people out there writing all sorts of horribly racist, misogynistic, offensive stories — including these faux-glorious male myths — who would defend those stories with plenty of passion. (They would also probably argue that they’re “just telling the truth,” as if “truth” and “something someone wrote down once” were synonymous.) There will always be women who want to tell men’s stories and men who want to tell women’s stories, and I’m not one to draw a hard line and say that can’t be done beautifully.

But there is no getting around the fact that men’s history tends to be overdocumented and overexplored, and women’s history tends to be underdocumented and underexplored. So in that way, yes, I think responsible historians should lean toward women’s stories and the stories of underrepresented groups of any gender. We don’t need more George Washington on America’s collective bookshelf. Find and tell the stories we don’t know by heart. I want the names Kate Warne, Irena Sendler and Ida B. Wells to be as familiar as John Wilkes Booth, Oskar Schindler and W.E.B. DuBois. And it’s not as if introducing these lesser-known names replaces the better-known ones: there is so much capacity to make history bigger. Add Sophie Scholl alongside Anne Frank, Claudette Colvin alongside Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Bisland alongside Nellie Bly. That’s what I want to see.

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WOMAN 99 on Liz & Lisa's Best Books of the Month list!

All these lists might be starting to go to my head! I love Liz & Lisa, so it’s wonderful to see WOMAN 99 in such great company in their Best Books of the Month: March Edition. Thanks, ladies!

And you have the chance to win every book on the list from Liz & Lisa — just check out the instructions here. Contest closes on Monday, March 25th at 5pm PST.

St. Patrick’s Day might be in the rear view mirror, but someone’s luck definitely hasn’t run out!

WomensHistoryReads interview: Kip Wilson

I’ve interviewed historians, novelists, biographers, and many other types of writers for my WomensHistoryReads series, but today’s Q&Q&Q&A is a first for me: interviewing a “verse novelist!” Kip Wilson’s White Rose is a debut YA novel-in-verse about Sophie Scholl, a young student who fought the rise of the Nazis with passionate political activism and, unfortunately, paid a high price. Early reviews have been excellent and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. White Rose is slated for release on April 2, 2019.

Kip Wilson

Kip Wilson

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Kip: Content-wise, I tend to be drawn to tragic stories that feature courageous young women, which is a pretty accurate description of Sophie Scholl and WHITE ROSE. In general, I’m fascinated by the first half of the twentieth century, an era still rife with such stories yearning to be told. Most all of my projects take place during this time.

Beyond this, as a verse novelist, my writing is necessarily sparse. I need to be able to distill what might be a page or even pages of prose into key phrases, emotions, and images. This might not seem like a good fit for historical fiction—often known for lengthy description and detailed settings—but I’ve found that verse allows me to go deeper into the protagonist’s head and emotions. The brevity of poetry lends itself really well to tragic situations, and the whitespace helps balance the heaviness of the words on the page, giving the reader room to breathe.

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

Kip: I recently read FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith and it was amazing in every way (starting with the gorgeous cover). FLYGIRL tells the story of Ida Mae Jones, a white-passing WASP during World War II. When we look at some of the difficulties women faced throughout history, we have to remember how much more difficult all of these things were for women of color, and this novel does an excellent job of placing the reader in that exact situation, highlighting the triumphs along with those difficulties. The story is based on what real WASP went through during training and beyond, along with the racism POC faced both in the military and civilian life. Ida Mae and the other characters are so rich and nuanced—I’d follow them anywhere.

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

Kip: I would love to read a novel about Freddie Oversteegen, her sister Truus, and their friend Hannie Schaft, Dutch resistance fighters during World War II who seduced and killed Nazi soldiers. I think bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp would do a fantastic job researching and writing their story. 

And a question for you: we hear about certain women from history again and again while others have all but faded into the archives. How do you find the ones you think aren’t overdone but might garner enough interest from readers? For instance, how did you come across Kate Warne and decide that GIRL IN DISGUISE had the makings of a compelling story?

Greer: I love this question! I hope that one day there are so many books about Kate Warne that when a new one comes out, people groan and say, “Oh, not another one!” But we’re a long way from that, aren’t we? Kate’s an interesting case because there’s just so little in the historical record about her. Which is a common problem with researching women in history. But even with World War II history — arguably the most popular era for historical fiction in our time — there are women who have inspired a handful of tales, like the Russian night bombing squadron known as the Night Witches, and some whose names are still rarely heard, like Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. And records really can’t be an excuse there. I literally just learned last week that Christian Dior’s sister Catherine Dior was a spy for Polish intelligence and was imprisoned in a concentration camp before being freed and testifying against her Nazi captors. Now isn’t that a story we should know? I think nearly any story can be compelling if told expertly, but there are definitely some that are easier to tell than others. I’m just glad that we’re writing in a time where people are open to historical fiction as a way of learning more about the past. I think it’s an amazingly powerful tool.

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WomensHistoryReads interview: Jennifer Robson

Some books just make you say Ooh! when you hear about them. Maybe they seem particularly original, or cover a subject you’re particularly interested in, or delve deeper into a story you’ve always wanted to know more about. In my case, the Ooh! when I heard about Jennifer Robson’s The Gown had to do with my background — when I was growing up, my mom had her own business designing and sewing wedding gowns, so when I heard Robson had written about the women behind the gorgeous embroidery on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress, I was dying to know more. And thousands of readers seem to agree, putting The Gown on the bestseller lists at The Globe and Mail. (If you’re saying Ooh! about this book too, if you hurry, you might even be able to get in on this Goodreads giveaway!)

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson

Greer: How would you describe what you write?

Jennifer: If you’d asked me this a few years ago, I’d have said historical fiction, straight up. But I’ve been thinking about my approach to historical fiction recently, and now I’d say my work falls into the realm of the “plausible meeting the possible”: I find blank spaces in recorded history and then create characters who fill those gaps in a realistic and convincing way. My characters – often living in the shadow of well-known historical figures – are products of my imagination, but the world in which they live and the events that affect their lives are drawn entirely from the historical record.

Greer: I love that! Next question: do you consider yourself a historian?

Jennifer: I do, to the point that I find it hard at times to remember that I’m also a writer. I grew up in a house that revolved around history – my father is an academic who taught the history of the world wars for almost fifty years – and I went to graduate school with the intention of becoming a history professor as well. By the time I obtained my doctorate in 1997, however, the job market had pretty much dried up for specialists in British social history. I turned to editing instead, and spent a decade doing that before I listened to the “tug on the sleeve of my heart,” as Anne Lamott terms it, and started work on my first novel. But I still approach everything I do with the mindset of a historian.

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

Jennifer: The challenge, as I’m sure you’ve also found, is the absence of women from so much of our recorded history. Women’s voices are missing in so many of the sources we consult, and at times I’ve been tempted to start screaming when I hit yet another dead end in my research. (Of course, such moments only occur in the stuffiest and most solemn libraries!) But those absences can also be exciting, in that they provoke me to dig deeper and think more creatively.

When I was researching The Gown, for example, I expected to find some evidence of contemporary interest in the women who made Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, but no one, among the thousands of journalists who flocked to Britain in 1947 to cover the wedding, interviewed or even discussed the work done by the actual women who made the gown. And that void in the historical record propelled me to take a different approach to my research. If I couldn’t learn from the women who made the gown then, I could learn from women doing similar work today, and so I went to England to learn from the master embroiderers at Hand & Lock. Not only did I gain incredibly valuable insights into the approaches and techniques used by skilled embroiderers, but I also was put in touch with Betty Foster, the last surviving seamstress who worked on the gown, and her insights transformed my understanding of the lives of my characters. But I never would have found Betty if I hadn’t run into those brick walls early in my research.

And my question for you: Is there a great canonical classic that you keep meaning to read but haven’t yet opened? (For me it’s Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, which my father loves to the point of obsession; I worry I’ll hate it, so my copy is still gathering dust.)

Greer: There are rather a lot of gaps in my literary education, so there are probably a boatload of classics I should read, but here’s the one I actually feel bad about: I’ve never read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I’m sure I will love it. It comes up constantly. But between everything I read for research, for blurbs, for keeping current in my field, not to mention all of those pesky non-reading tasks (writing, children, etc.) in my life… it just hasn’t made it to the top of the list. Maybe I need to make that a goal for 2020!

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For more about Jennifer and her books, visit http://www.jennifer-robson.com.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Paula Butterfield

It’s no secret that women in the arts have long struggled to achieve the recognition of their male peers, and the Impressionists are no exception. The average museum’s Impressionist exhibit might include only one or two female painters of the period, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see a Morisot in among the Monets and Manets. Paula Butterfield’s La Luministe, about Berthe Morisot, was just released, making this the perfect time to interview her for this series. Welcome, Paula!

Paula Butterfield

Paula Butterfield


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

Paula: Today Frida Kahlo is a well-known Mexican artist who is the inspiration for everything from merchandise to memes. But when I first encountered Frida in an art history class at the Universidad de la Americas, in Mexico, I had never heard of her. 

During my sophomore year of college, I lost both of my parents. Although pursuing an education was engrained in me, I was in too much pain to face a gloomy Pacific Northwest winter that year, which is how I found myself at school in Mexico. Right away, I was homesick, with no home to go to. When I’d trudge to the campus post office, the postal worker would bring out a pile of B letters to wade through. There were few for me but another B student, the daughter of a celebrity, seemed to receive reams of mail every day with her father’s name stamped on the envelope. I was livid with envy. Why did SHE get to have a doting father, one who no doubt sent her frequent large sums of money? 

Then one day that celebrity’s daughter stood up to give an oral report, Frida’s story. I listened to the litany of Frida’s physical trials—childhood polio and being impaled by the handrail in a street car accident which led to subsequent miscarriages, spinal surgeries, and ultimately the amputation of her leg. And then there was the emotional turmoil of being Diego Rivera’s wife. His fame eclipsed hers, and he was incessantly unfaithful.

My God, this woman knew pain! And yet her paintings were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Self-portraits in which she adorned herself as a work of art. Backgrounds filled with animals from her menagerie, pre-Columbian artifacts, and lush foliage. Vivid colors made each painting look joyful and life-affirming. One was even titled Viva la Vada—live life. 

As an art-history major in days of yore, I’d only been introduced to only two women—Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe. Examination of their work was so cursory that it didn’t occur to me that either artist might have something to say to me. But Frida Kahlo did. She might as well have been standing in that classroom, shouting, “Yes, there’s pain! Use it to create something that celebrates life.”

My favorite form of creativity as a child had always been writing stories or plays. But it wasn’t until Frida encouraged me that I began concentrating on writing. It’s been a long road, but my debut novel, La Luministe, released on March 15. (P.S. I learned my lesson about pre-judging people, even ones who are wealthy and fame-adjacent.) 

Greer: What is most challenging or exciting about researching historical women?

Paula: When I started teaching courses about women in the arts during the last days of Second Wave Feminism, there were no textbooks available. But I must give a shout-out to Karen Peterson and J.J. Wilson, who wrote Women Artists: Recognition & Reappraisal, surely the first survey of women in Western Art. Before I discovered that book, I had to collate one of those compilations of articles and essays that students love so well. That was the challenge.

The exciting part about researching women artists during those years was that Nancy Drew-style scholars were making new discoveries. Cleaning a painting attributed to Franz Hals revealed Judith Leyster’s signature! Music by Clara Schumann was discovered in an attic! I stayed up all night when the catalogue for Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party came out. Reading the mini-biographies of 1,000 women of achievement made my heart race.

Today, women artists are having a moment. This year, we can see work by 20thc. women artists in Vienna (Sothebys, through May 19), Sixty Years of Work by Female Artists (Tate, London, opens in April), the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters (National Portrait Gallery, London, open in October), Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola (Prado, Madrid, also opens in October), and tipping over into 2020, a Joan Mitchell retrospective (San Francisco, SFMoMA, January, 2020.) And we can wallow in recent historical fiction about Judith Leyster, Sofonisba Anguissola, Lee Miller, and Dorothea Lange. And La Luministe, of course!

Greer: What can you tell us about your next book? 

Paula: I’m always reluctant to talk too much about my WIP. I’m of the school which holds that talking about a new book dilutes its strength. I need to keep all of my ideas percolating away in the back of my brain until they boil over onto the page. All I want to say is that my next book is about two rival American women artists. The idea of how there is only room for one outstanding woman in any given field, turning colleagues into competitors, is a construct that has no place in our world anymore. It never did.

And my question for you: What books did you read in your youth that might have led you to write about women detectives? The aforementioned Nancy Drew series? Or possibly From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? Or maybe my favorite, Harriet the Spy?

Greer: I did read most of those (ah, Harriet) but the girl-detective series that will always be closest to my heart was Trixie Belden. My local library had every single book in the series except one — they’d been sent a book with the wrong cover and never gotten around to replacing it, but I checked it regularly, just in case. And it’s great to see real women detectives of the past — Constance Kopp in Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun and subsequent novels, Kate Warne in my novel Girl in Disguise — inspiring more of today’s fiction. As you mentioned, historical fiction about women artists is bringing their stories back into the spotlight. I’m thrilled by this trend toward biographical fiction inspired by women of the past — artists, detectives, spies, scientists, warriors, everyone — because so many of these are stories we should have been celebrating all along.

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Find out more about Paula and La Luministe at twitter.com/@pbutterwriter or paula-butterfield.com.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Lauren Willig

I was already excited to read Lauren Willig’s next book, The Summer Country, and after this interview, I’m even more excited! Lauren has a wealth of knowledge on history (“Back then, I was a professional historian.  Now I think of myself as a practical historian”), wonderful insights on why the historical record can be unkind to women, and a great sense of humor — you won’t want to miss her comparison of a certain British monarch to Winnie the Pooh. Let’s dive in!

 

Lauren Willig Photo Credit: Amanda Suanne

Lauren Willig Photo Credit: Amanda Suanne

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

Lauren: For nearly a decade now, I’ve been obsessing over a story I heard on a plantation tour in the Caribbean, about a fire, and a lost child (the “Portuguese ward” of the owner, who, of course, was really neither Portuguese nor his ward, but his child by an enslaved woman), and a mother who’s never mentioned in the story but really ought to be at the heart of it.  I talked about it so much that my agent finally said, “Just shut up and write it already.”  So I did. 

Coming to you in June 2019, The Summer Country is a big, sweeping historical epic set in colonial Barbados, spanning from a rising of enslaved people in 1816 to a cholera epidemic in 1854.  I call it my M.M. Kaye meets The Thorn Birds book.  (Extra points to anyone who can guess which M.M. Kaye book.)  

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Lauren: I was just re-reading Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night—one of my favorite books of all time—and there’s a line that always goes straight to my heart: “Once I was a scholar.”  

There was a time, many a year ago, when I had my own little carrel in Widener Library; when I wrote conference papers with titles that were at least two lines long and always had a colon in the middle; and I could tell you with some certainty exactly where Charles I had been on any given day. (And whether he’d been stuck in a window, and if so, for how long.  No, seriously.  The misfortunate monarch went full on Winnie the Pooh, only it was a castle window, he was trying to escape Parliamentarian custody, and there were no honey pots involved.)  

Back then, I was a professional historian.  Now I think of myself as a practical historian.  I used to worry about things like the causes of the English Civil Wars. And whether one should properly refer to the conflict as the English Civil War or the English Civil Wars.  Now?  I worry about what it felt like to live through it.  What was it like in London when there was no coal coming in from Newcastle because confused armies were marauding back and forth?  (Sometimes accidentally fighting their own side, but that’s a whole other story.)  I worry about the details of daily life, about the materials of the clothes people wore—and whether those clothes itched.  I worry about the books they read, the songs they sang, the foods they ate, the words they used.  The meta questions still interest me, of course.  But what I really aim to do now is recreate the experience of someone living through a given time, not debating about it after with all the value of hindsight and an index.  

I’ve also broadened my scope dramatically.  Back then, one of my favorite scholarly catchphrases was “That’s not my field.” Now I get to roam where I’d like. I’ve written books set in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars, in Jazz Age Kenya, in Victorian London, and, most recently, in the colonial Caribbean.  

Although I’ve been thinking a lot about my scholarly roots recently, and I think it may be time for me to finally tackle the English Civil War once again….  Except this time, with dialogue! (And far fewer footnotes.)

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

Lauren: Have you noticed that when people talk about women, they tend to put them into certain very basic buckets?  It’s the old maiden-mother-crone problem—or the Madonna/whore problem, if you prefer. Women in history tend to be portrayed as either vamps or doormats.  Gossip gets repeated as fact.  If you’re an author researching a historical woman, it can be maddening slogging through the misinformation to get to the core of the character.

For a case in point (otherwise known as the opportunity to rant about something that’s been annoying me this week), I’ve just been reading up on Lucy Percy Hay, Countess of Carlisle. If you believe that old gossip the Duc de Rouchefoucauld, she’s the woman who stole the diamond tags Anne of Austria gave to the Duke of Buckingham—and if you think that sounds like a familiar story, it’s because Dumas used it, replacing the Countess of Carlisle with Milady de Winter.  Her historical reputation is dodgy, to say the least.  She’s portrayed as sexually rapacious, as vain, and venal, and scheming, a spy who spies for the sake of making trouble, a woman who uses men for her own gain.  Hmmm. Have we heard that sort of story about an ambitious woman before?  Recent attempts to rehabilitate her, though, are just as problematic.  One version I read claimed that her husband pimped her out to the Duke of Buckingham (disclaimer: slightly different phrasing may have been used).  There are a couple of problems with that.  One is that the affair began while her husband was out of the country.  The other is that, in trying to clear her of the taint of sexual vixen, it turns her into a victim, a woman acted upon rather than acting.  (And, really, let’s be honest, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was a bit of something back then.  You can’t blame Lucy for going there.  She was a teenager.  Which of us didn’t fall for a handsome face as a teenager?)  

For the women whose lives are well-documented, we have to fight through prejudice, misinformation, or mind-numbing hagiography, in which the woman’s life is so white-washed and limned in virtue that you might as well have little birds tweeting on her shoulders like a Disney heroine.  And then you get the other end of the spectrum.  The women whose lives haven’t been recorded at all.  You go to the archives and come away with… nothing.  An emptiness where they ought to have been. My most recent book, The Summer Country, is set in colonial Barbados. One of my two heroines is an enslaved woman on a sugar plantation in the early nineteenth century. (She’s that missing mother I was talking about above.) In her book, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, Marisa J. Fuentes writes feelingly about how you put reconstruct a life from the gaps in the archive.  Because we have so painfully little.  A woman called Nanny Grigg, one of the (real) instigators of the 1816 rising of enslaved people, is one of the side characters in The Summer Country.  Here’s what we know about Nanny Grigg: she worked at Harrow Plantation.  She was valued at £130.  And that’s it.  We have some testimony from her own mouth (to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, given the circumstances), but otherwise that’s the sum total of our information.  On the plus side, of the two per cent of the enslaved population on Barbados that was literate, the majority of that two per cent were female.  So we do have some primary sources directly penned by women in my heroine’s situation, letters where the voices ring through after all this time.  

And that is what’s so exciting about researching and writing historical women.  When you manage to dig beneath the verbiage surrounding someone too well known and get a glimpse of the real woman beneath, or when you manage to put the scrap here and scrap here together to reconstruct the world of someone whose life wasn’t recorded (or was only recorded as a financial entry in a ledger book).  When you can find the real women despite it all—and bring them back to life on the page—that’s the best.

 

And now that I’ve babbled on, it’s back over to you, Greer!  What’s the first historical fiction novel you remember reading?  And did you know then that this was what you wanted to do?


Greer: It’s funny how our paths to historical fiction can be so different, even though we’ve ended up in the same place! In my early teens I roared through my local library’s complete collection of the Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross, completely transported to a world where 1830s pioneers braved the numerous dangers of America’s Western frontier, racing to Oregon to start new lives there — or die trying. Considering how much I loved that series, it’s kind of surprising how long it took me to come around to historical fiction as my genre! I actually ended up writing my first historical novel somewhat by accident. Most of my book ideas had been contemporary, but when I got the idea for The Magician’s Lie—we always hear about male stage magicians cutting women in half, but why not a woman cutting a man in half?—I realized I wanted to set it in the golden age of magic. So first I had to figure out when that was, and then find enough details to build out that world. It was a struggle to re-learn writing in that genre — all that research! — but now I love it. And with every book I get deeper into finding those details and using them to build worlds of the past for readers to enter. Historical fiction has such power. If I’m doing my job right, the reader can climb all the way into the world and get lost inside.


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loving those WOMAN 99 reader reviews!

My goodness, the last 10 days have FLOWN. How is it possible that Woman 99 only came out last week? Last week! The warm reception has been so wonderful to see. Pictures of the book on Instagram, reader reviews all over the place, in-person discussion at events — I’m so glad to have readers’ support and enthusiasm, since that’s what it’s all about.

And those reader reviews have been pouring in! There are already 200 ratings and 130 reviews on Goodreads, not to mention 40 reviews on Amazon. (Yes, I read them all, even the negative ones — and I appreciate them all, even the negative ones! Though obviously I enjoy reading the positive ones a lot more.)

Book bloggers have been reading and reviewing on their own blogs too, and here are highlights from a few I really loved (click on the blog name for the full review!):

“Woman 99 is powerful, upsetting, and incredibly descriptive, showing us through Charlotte’s struggles the restricted roles available to women, the way certain women could be so easily discarded by society, and the shocking lack of value a woman was deemed to have if she dared step outside society’s norms.” — Bookshelf Fantasies

“WOMAN 99 is historical fiction, women’s fiction, mystery, and thriller all rolled into one.  If you enjoy those genres, some nasty characters, and strong female characters, you will want to read this book.” — Silver’s Reviews

“Beautifully crafted with rich historical detail, flawless and fleshed out characters as well as an engaging storyline, WOMAN 99 by Greer Macallister is an unforgettable treat to read and savor.” - Fresh Fiction

And now back to more WomensHistoryReads — we’ve got half of March still to go!

WomensHistoryReads interview: Pam Jenoff

NYT bestseller Pam Jenoff is one of those triple-threat authors: author, mom, and professional in a non-writing field (in this case, law.) And she carries it all off with panache. The first of her books I read was The Diplomat’s Wife, more than a decade ago, and her upward trajectory since then has been wonderful to watch. I’m so glad to have her participate in this Q&Q&Q&A.

Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff

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

Pam: My new book, The Lost Girls of Paris, was inspired by the women who served in Britain’s Special Operations Executive during World War II.  These very brave women came from all walks of life to serve and were dropped behind enemy lines to engage in sabotage and subversion and work as couriers and radio operators.  They went knowing their life expectancy once deployed might only be a few weeks. Many were captured and some never came home.  The scope and magnitude of their heroism is breathtaking.

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Pam: I have a master’s degree in history from Cambridge so in some sense I am a trained historian, but when I write I am not principally wearing that hat.  I am a novelist and whenever someone says “based on true history” I cross it out and say “inspired by actual events” because while I endeavor to remain true to the past, I take great liberties with fiction and never want to stake too large a claim on past truth – that belongs to the people who lived it.

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

Pam: I love writing about a female character, who through normal events would have lived in a very set path, but due to war or other catastrophe finds herself thrown off that path.  She often finds herself in circumstances she never could have imagined, with no skills or experience to handle them.  I like to see how she is tested and challenged, and how she changes and grows in response.

Greer: Beautifully put.

Pam: Question for you:  How did you do the research for Woman 99?

Greer: More so than for my previous books, I think, I had to research in a bunch of directions at once. My primary historical inspiration was Nellie Bly and her stint in Blackwell’s Asylum for “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” but that was really just the starting point. I read a number of first-hand narratives from women who were institutionalized during the time period I was writing about, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, known to most as author of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I feel like first-hand narratives, whenever you can get them, are the fastest route to the heart of a story. Partway through the final editing process I got to visit San Francisco, which definitely helped me fine-tune some of my descriptions. I don’t always find travel helpful since the locations described have generally changed so much since the period I’m writing about, but in this case, it really helped. Then there was the usual research, online and in books — what were people wearing? eating and drinking? what was in the news at the time? — to select the details that were really going to make the time come alive.

 

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For more, visit pamjenoff.com .

WomensHistoryReads interview: Ellen Marie Wiseman

One of my favorite things about doing the WomensHistoryReads series is the opportunity to connect personally for the first time with writers whose work I admire. Every connection starts somewhere — and so often, with a book!

When I first decided to write a historical novel set in an insane asylum, I of course checked out books that shared that setting, and one of the most well-read and beloved of those is Ellen Marie Wiseman’s What She Left Behind. I was riveted by its twists and turns. Several years later, this series gave me the chance to reach out to Ellen for a Q&Q&Q&A, and I’m sure you’ll love reading her thoughts here as much as I did.

Ellen Marie Wiseman

Ellen Marie Wiseman

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

Ellen: My mother and grandmother were the inspiration behind my first novel, THE PLUM TREE, which was the book that got me into this crazy author gig. The seeds for my debut were planted in my childhood, during numerous trips to visit my family in Germany. My mother came to America alone by ship when she was twenty to marry an American soldier she met while working at the PX outside her village, so I grew up listening to her stories about living in poverty in Germany during WWII.

I can’t describe what it felt like to go inside the root-cellar turned bomb-shelter where my mother hid as a child, along with her mother and siblings and as many other villagers as they could fit inside, everyone sitting on benches and mattresses, terrified and hungry, sometimes for days and nights on end. I was awed by my mother’s tales about food shortages and ration lines, the time she had to jump in a ditch with my grandmother to avoid being strafed by Allied planes, and how she and her brothers developed earaches from the constant wail of the air raid siren. My grandmother hid her illegal short-band radio so she could listen to foreign broadcasts instead of the Nazi controlled radio — a crime punishable by death. She also risked her life under the cover of night to put food out on the streets for the Jewish prisoners being marched by her house on their way to work at the air base, even though she could barely feed her own children. My grandfather was drafted, captured on the Russian front, and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. He eventually escaped and made his way back home, but my grandmother didn’t know if he was dead or alive for two years until he showed up on her doorstep one day. While he was gone, she mended military uniforms to survive. 

Those stories percolated in my head for years, until one day I realized I needed to write about what it was like for the average German family during WWII while still being sensitive to what the Nazis did to the Jewish people. I also wanted to give a voice to the wives and mothers who were trying to keep their children alive on the German home front while the men were off fighting. 

Greer: How would you describe what you write? 

Ellen: I write about women dealing with tough issues—WWII, the Holocaust, insane asylums, child labor, animal abuse, how we treat those considered “different”—while trying to show another perspective by using historical events we often didn’t learn about in school, at the same time offering hope that humans have the opportunity to grow and change, and the strength to survive almost anything. 

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

Ellen: My next book is set in the slums of Philadelphia during the Spanish Flu of 1918, the worst pandemic the world has ever known. The story follows a young immigrant whose mother dies during the epidemic, leaving her to care for her twin baby brothers until her father returns from the war. Eventually she’s forced to search the quarantined city for food and leaves her brothers sleeping in a bedroom cubby, with bottles, blankets, and promises to return as soon as possible. But when she comes back, they’re gone. 

The manuscript is currently in my editor’s hands, so I’m not sure of the title (although I have one in mind) or the release date. Hopefully it will be out by the end of the year!

Greer: Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to read it.

Ellen: A question for you: While writing my second book, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, which is set at Willard State Lunatic Asylum, I found the research into the early treatment of mental patients shocking, yet fascinating. What I want to know is, what was the most surprising thing you learned during your research for WOMAN 99? (which I’m really looking forward to by the way!) 

Greer: Thanks! I’m sure my research experience was similar to yours in many ways. Some of the treatment of those institutionalized for mental illness was just appalling, and the doctors, each well-intentioned or utter quacks, attempted all sorts of “cures” that we now know fly in the face of science. Water cures, rest cures, benches, pulling teeth — they’d just throw whatever they could at the problem. If anything, I found myself surprised when I came across treatments that do now make sense given what we know. Some asylums offered fresh air in a beautiful setting, light work, regular exercise, and removal from the everyday environment. Which sounds like the kind of yoga retreat modern people would pay a lot of money for! So one really has to look at particular institutions and not paint them all with the same brush. I invented Goldengrove Asylum so I could combine strengths and weaknesses of different institutions to tell the story I wanted to tell.

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NY Journal of Books review of WOMAN 99 is in!

I love reading reviews of my books. Yes, it’s a lot more fun when the reviews are positive, but I also read the negative ones, and sometimes I even find something to like and appreciate about them. They can be very amusing. But do I enjoy positive ones more? Sure do!

So I really enjoyed this one from the New York Journal of Books. ““Macallister’s exploration of both the public and the personal takes this novel to a higher level.” (Need to add that to my Praise page!)

And it’s always gratifying when a reviewer picks up exactly what I’m putting down. This is exactly the kind of conclusion I hoped readers would draw from these pages, and so well-expressed: “As with the best historical novels, Woman 99 resonates with our current social upheavals. It illuminates how far we, as a society, have come and how far we have yet to go.

Read the full review here.

More Best Books Honors for WOMAN 99!

Oh, this has been so fun. Adding to my Honors page, like adding to my Praise page, makes my day.

So in addition to the She Reads and Smart Bitches honors I already blogged about, three more to mention:

  1. Best New Books of March, Chicago Review of Books

  2. Best New Books of the week, Avalon Public Library

  3. March’s Biggest Books on the Professional Book Nerds podcast

As you can imagine, it’s been quite a week! Can’t wait to see what next week will bring. (For one thing, I know it’ll bring more WomensHistoryReads interviews…)

WOMAN 99 is in the world!

SO MUCH CRAZINESS!

Launch day for Woman 99 was so crazy I didn’t get a chance to update the blog or even switch things over on my site to say that the book was OUT instead of COMING SOON. But it’s out now! Available wherever books are sold. (Which I think always makes it sound like I don’t KNOW where books are sold, but it just means you should be able to find it in bookstores or online.)

And another list! Avalon Library named Woman 99 one of their best new books of the week.

More to come soon, when I get a spare moment! Just back from a fantastic event in conversation with Kate Quinn, whose The Huntress is every bit as mind-blowing as The Alice Network. Kate also happens to be one of the most generous, hardworking, and kind-spirited writers I know. So her success is really just wonderful to see. Catch her on tour if you can — she’s a great speaker — and definitely get your own copy of The Huntress to devour.

Celebrating Women's History Month

As you can tell from my #WomensHistoryReads series and pieces like this one on BookBub that are timed to Women’s History Month, I think the month is worth celebrating. But when Pamela D. Toler, author of Women Warriors: An Unexpected History — which you should definitely pick up — interviewed me and included a question about the month itself, I took the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my thoughts, assumptions and hopes for what Women’s History Month means.

Part of my answer: “It’s no excuse not to call attention to great books by and/or about women the rest of the year, but it’s an excellent occasion to dig deeper and shout louder.”

You can read the complete answer, and the rest of the interview, at History in the Margins.

WomensHistoryReads interview: Jenna Blum

As we roll forward with Women’s History Month — and of course WomensHistoryReads — I’m thrilled to welcome Jenna Blum to the blog for today’s Q&Q&Q&A. If you’ve encountered Jenna online or in life, you know she’s warm, smart and charming, so I was thrilled when she agreed to answer some questions for this series. And her question stumped me for days! Without further ado…

Jenna Blum

Jenna Blum

Greer: How would you describe what you write? 

Jenna: Literary fiction, by which I mean the characters drive the story as opposed to a genre-driven plot. As a reader and writer—and person!—I’m interested in people and why they do what they do, particularly when they have to make difficult decisions and when they make awful ones, as we all do, because of their circumstances or psyches, trauma or love. And then: What happens as a result?

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

Jenna: My next novel is a prequel-sequel to my latest novel, The Lost Family—but it will also be a standalone (so although of course I highly recommend you read The Lost Family, if you don’t, you’ll still be able to enjoy Book 4!). It’s about a German-Jewish Auschwitz survivor named Peter Rashkin who has emigrated to the States and had a great career as a restaurateur/ chef in New York; in his 70s, a catalyst from his long-buried past returns to Peter’s life, forcing him to go back to Germany, where he hasn’t set foot since 1945–and where he discovers that nothing about his past there as a young man is what it seems. 

Greer: I love this prequel-sequel idea! Last question for you: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love? 

Stephen King’s novel The Stand—and his early short stories from Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. People think of King primarily as a horror writer, but I love his writing for its portraiture of individual and group psychology in extreme circumstances—and the man can make a story MOVE.

Jenna: If you could choose one Book Boyfriend, who would it be and why? (Question inspired by Andrea Peskind Katz of Great Thoughts, Great Readers and PopSugar’s Brenda Janowitz, who fight over my chef protagonist from The Lost Family, Peter Raskin!) 

Greer: I have been thinking about this question for weeks! So many to choose from! Of course the first potential boyfriend candidates that come to mind are from my own books — a girl could do much worse than Henry from Woman 99 or Clyde from The Magician’s Lie (OK, he has his flaws, but he’s ambitious, dreamy, and good with numbers! And he, too, loves books.) But I think I’d better cast a wider net for the sake of fairness. Ah, got it. I just finished reading Crazy Rich Asians and definitely put Nick Young in the upper echelons of the swoon-worthy category. He’s not perfect, but he’s tender, thoughtful, loyal, and smoking hot — plus there’s that whole sinfully-rich thing. Yes, I think Nick sounds like a good way to go.

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For more, check out www.jennablum.com.


What She Reads During National Women's History Month

The first day of Women’s History Month was kind of like Christmas around here! (And not just because it snowed, ha.) Too much good news yesterday to fit in a single day. So I’m spreading it out. The month lasts all month long, after all.

She Reads put together a list of “What she reads during National Women’s History Month” — and I was thrilled to see Woman 99 included alongside current favorites like Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris and Stephanie Thornton’s upcoming American Princess as well as classics like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Pretty great company we keep!

Check out the whole list on She Reads here.

Recommending Women's History Month reads at BookBub!

Oh, this was so much fun. I put together a list of 13 new releases for readers who want to spend Women’s History Month reading historical novels about fascinating women of the past. These books cover everything from 17th-century Dutch master painters to Korean diving collectives to groundbreaking documentary photographers — all of whom happen to be women.

Check out all 13 novels here.