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.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- Anne Bonny. Notorious lady pirate. I mean, talk about the challenges of succeeding in a male-dominated industry.
- 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.
- Michelle Obama. Just because I really want to hang out with Michelle Obama. Seems like a good enough reason.