WomensHistoryReads interview: Alyssa Palombo

Historical novelist Alyssa Palombo has two wonderful novels out in the world, and I'm thrilled to say that her next one, coming this fall, is even better. As I mentioned in a previous interview, I love being asked to blurb (I can't always say yes, but I try) and I especially love it when the book I'm reading for blurb consideration is so good I forget I have any purpose in reading and just enjoy. That's what happened with Alyssa's THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL, so romantic and eerie and compelling, which you are going to love when it comes out this fall.


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

Alyssa: I just finished AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS by Kat Howard, and I am completely obsessed with it. It's a brilliantly crafted fantasy novel about a secret world of wealthy, powerful magicians going about their business in secret in modern-day New York City, and a magical competition to determine who has control over this Unseen World. The writing and worldbuilding are both lovely, but what I loved most is the strong feminist narrative in the novel. Women band together to help one another, to remake the world for the better, and to punish the men who prey on them. It's an extraordinary book and an engaging story -- I couldn't put it down!

Greer: If you could pick one woman from history to put in every high school history textbook, who would it be?

Alyssa: Madame C.J. Walker. I remember learning about all the white male business tycoons while I was in school -- Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, etc. -- but why aren't we taught about the country's first black woman millionaire, indeed, one of the first American woman millionaires of any race? Her story, about how she rose from a very difficult early life to become an extremely successful entrepreneur, is truly what that American dream is all about. I didn't learn about her until I was an adult, but I think hers is a name every American should know. (Also, would LOVE to read a biographical historical novel about her!)

Greer: Excellent choice! (And ditto! I haven't read it yet, but Tananarive Due wrote one.) So, I kind of know the answer to this, but readers will want to know too: what’s your next book about and when will we see it?

Alyssa: My next novel is called The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel and will be out on October 2nd, 2018 from St. Martin's Griffin. It's a retelling of Washington Irving's classic short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" from Katrina's point of view. I love that story, of course, but the sexist way that Katrina is described always got under my skin. I decided to give her a voice and let her tell her own story, and boy, did she have a story to tell!

Greer: Did she ever! I believe my blurb says something about "will haunt you in all the best ways."

Alyssa: My question for you: Who is a woman from history whom you feel has been unfairly vilified?

Greer: I love this question and the one who springs immediately to mind is Alexander Pushkin's wife Natalia Goncharova, although I didn't know much about her until I read Jennifer Laam's THE LOST SEASON OF LOVE AND SNOW, which tells the flip side of her story. Apparently she's been widely vilified throughout history for causing the duel that killed her husband, but Jennifer's book beautifully lays out the impossible situation Natalia was in -- the expectations of women at the time, the catch-22 that came from being cursed either for accepting or rejecting the advances of men of high rank who weren't one's husband. 

My broader answer is that so many women in history have been blamed, cursed, dismissed, or vilified for their actions that I feel we owe it to them to explore their stories. I mean, all the way back to Eve, it's been the woman's fault when something bad happens. From Eve to Anne Boleyn to Mata Hari to Yoko Ono. I gladly delve into any book, fiction or nonfiction, that tells a woman's story in all its complexity.


For more on Alyssa and her books, visit alyssapalombo.com