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!
Jillian: My 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.