I'm so thrilled to publish this interview with Marie Benedict, author of THE OTHER EINSTEIN and CARNEGIE'S MAID, as a preview of my month of #WomensHistoryReads interviews. Marie and I are both published by Sourcebooks and love to explore untold stories -- especially about women who struggled in the past with the issues women still struggle with today. So here's my interview with Marie!
Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.
Marie: While there are countless historical women who motivate me and shape my understanding of the past, those who have inspired me most are my own ancestors, particularly those described in tales by my great-grandmothers and great-aunts. They told me about my strong-willed immigrant ancestors who arrived in this country with nothing but their will to succeed and pushed my family to make the ascent from uneducated immigrants to Ivy League professionals — step by step, of course. Those women influenced the character who would become Clara Kelly in CARNEGIE’S MAID, the story of a bright, but uneducated Irish immigrant who becomes Margaret Carnegie’s lady’s maid and goes on to influence Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless businessman to the world’s first philanthropist and creator of the free libraries. And I feel them pushing me along every single day.
Greer: How would you describe what you write?
Marie: I endeavor to excavate from the past stories about remarkable women, whose contributions are relatively unknown and whose tales have both historic and modern significance — in an effort to ensure that the negative preconceptions our society might still hold about women’s abilities are changed.
Greer: What’s the last book that blew you away?
Marie: There are so many books that regularly blow me away! If pressed on the best, very recent reads (I read several books every week), I would have to list:
1. Ya’a Gyaasi’s Homegoing
2. Lily King’s Euphoria
3. Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (a re-read, but recent)
Greer: If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?
Marie: This might be a cheat, but honestly, I could never, ever pick just one. I’d want to insert into each segment of the traditional, high school history curriculum at least one woman (loads more, if I had my way!)— so students can understand that women have played an integral part in each era and that their contributions reverberate to this day.
Greer: What’s your next book about and when will we see it?
Marie: My next book after CARNEGIE’S MAID is a novel entitled THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM, which releases next January. Set in 1930s Austria, it is a story of a young Jewish women who marries the country’s richest man, a munitions manufacturer who ends up supplying weaponry to Mussolini and Hitler in deals struck over their dinner table. When my character learns not only the Third Reich’s military strategy but the horrific plans for the Jewish people, she escapes to London, where she’s swept up in a wave of Jewish actors, writers and directors heading for Hollywood. Very quickly she becomes an actress, but she suffers from intense survivor’s guilt as the plans she overheard begin to manifest — and the only person she saved is herself. As her means of recompense, she utilizes the secret military information she learned at her ex-husband’s dinner table to develop an incredibly effective weaponry system which she delivers to the Navy for its use in the war. But because she’s a beautiful woman, they reject her invention — a communication system we use everyday in our cell phones — and relegate her to selling war bonds. It is the story of Hedy Lamarr.
Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?
Marie: If a historian is defined as someone who’s a student of history, absolutely! Since I was a child, I’ve been enamored of dipping into the past, and as I got older, I even fancied that I might become a professor or an archaeologist, in constant study of historical times. But, after a long detour as lawyer, I am incredibly fortunate to spend my days in the company of historical women who led important lives, exploring and learning about the world which they inhabited. What could be better?!
Greer: Who are some of your favorite authors working today?
Marie: Well, I love a fabulous author by the name of Greer Macallister! [Ed. note: Aw, shucks!] Aside from her, there are so many writers creating important stories about women, both historical and modern day, that I couldn’t begin to list them all — I’d be afraid that I left a critical contributor out! On another note, I’ve recently discovered (late to the party, I know!) Louise Penny, who I’m thoroughly enjoying.
Greer: What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching historical women?
Marie: Well, I always wanted a time machine as a kid (still do), and the closest I’ll ever come is the rabbit hole of historical research that I do with my novels — so that’s definitely the most exciting part of the process. The most challenging aspect of researching these historical women is making certain that I don’t examine their world and lives and choices with a modern day lens. I have to remind myself to view them with a lens forged in their own times.
Greer: What book, movie or TV show would your readers probably be surprised to find out you love?
Marie: While I adore historical programs, of course — most recently, Alias Grace, and "The Crown" — I’m also an ardent fan of fantasy, suspense, and a sprinkle of science fiction. Currently, I am loving "Stranger Things", "Game of Thrones", "An Honorable Woman", and "Top of the Lake."