WomensHistoryReads interview: Kerri Maher

Happy Friday! Here's a great interview to start off your weekend from Kerri Maher, author of THE KENNEDY DEBUTANTE. The only bad news is that her debut won't be available until October, but that's one of the fun things about publishing -- anticipation! Read on to find out Kerri's thoughts on research and history, one of the best soap operas of all time, and the March sisters.

 Kerri Maher                                    Photo Credit: Photos by Peter Su

Kerri Maher                                    Photo Credit: Photos by Peter Su

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

Kerri: I love research, and I’d forgotten just how much I loved it until I worked on The Kennedy Debutante. The whole process of reading, learning, and writing about Kick Kennedy lit up parts of my brain that hadn’t been lit up since I was in college—where I started out as a history major (I wound up as an English major with an Art History minor). For me, the most exciting thing about researching historical women is the learning process—discovering who she was on her own terms, and then starting to make notes of my own in the margins of the books and letters and diaries, in which I start to imagine her as a character in my book.  That pre-draft writing feels like getting into a car for an awesome road trip with a new friend.  

The most challenging thing, which I still find really fun, is searching for those needles in the haystack.  In the case of TKD, I got obsessed with trying to figure out which Cambridge College Billy had gone to.  I suspected it was Trinity but wasn’t sure, and the matriculation office there didn’t have a record of him, either under his family name of Cavendish or his title the Marquess of Hartington. I emailed many people to figure out the answer. It wasn’t until the university archivist helped me find him under his previous title, the Earl of Burlington, that I finally located his name on the records.  After all that work, I had to include the story of his titles in the novel—he tells Kick all about it at the Derby.

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

Kerri: Growing up, I watched a soap opera called “Another World” every day with my mom. Back in the pre-streaming days of VHS players, my mother taped the show every day while she was at work and I was at school, and then we would watch it together late in the afternoon. I learned a great deal about storytelling from that soap, and was also inspired to be a writer myself by a flamboyant, feather-boa-wearing character named Felicia Gallant, who was also a romance novelist. I still have a soft spot for that show, though it’s long been off the air—I wrote a whole chapter about it and why it’s important to embrace your tastes in my memoir This Is Not A Writing Manual.

Greer: That show was the best. I was particularly obsessed with Vicky and Marley -- because what soap would be complete without good and evil twins, especially when played by Anne Heche! Next up: tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Kerri: It’s funny you ask this, because I was reminded just recently of how much Louisa May Alcott and her characters Jo and Amy inspired me to write—when my agent came up for a weekend to visit, we went to the Alcott family’s house in Concord (after a walk around Walden Pond, of course!), and it all came back to me:  I read Little Women when I was about nine years old, and I was completely absorbed in the story of the four March sisters. I identified strongly with Jo and her affinity with words, and also with Amy and her desire to live a creative, artistic life. Even then, in grade school, I felt the pull of history—and I was tantalized by the idea of Louisa May Alcott making a life for herself as a writer more than one hundred years ago.  

Kerri: Now a question for you, which is a bit of a cheat, because I’m throwing one of your questions back at you, but it’s only because it’s so good!! Do you consider yourself a historian? I don’t consider myself one because of the amount of invention that goes into my novels, but I’m super curious to know what you think about your own work. 

Greer: I have tremendous respect for historians, partly because I could never be one. I'm too addicted to making things up. Not just because it's too hard for me to stick to facts -- though it is -- because in some cases there just aren't enough facts to hang a book on. Like with Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective, who inspired Girl in Disguise. We have a handful of facts from the historical record and that's all. Those gaps in the record are killers for a biographer, but a wide-open invitation to a novelist. Kate left no letters or diaries behind when she died, so we don't have her voice. I wrote a novel to give her that voice.

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For more about Kerri and her books, check out her website at www.kerrimaher.com

Instagram: @kerrimaherwriter

Facebook: @kerrimaherwriter