While researching for one of my own novels, I came across a fascinating journal written by Alice Roosevelt during a lengthy trip to Asia. Now there’s an idea for a novel, I thought.
Stephanie Thornton must have had a similar experience! She’s here today talking about her upcoming novel American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Alice is an intriguing, forceful, and beautiful woman … exactly what a writer wants for their heroine.
The goal of any good book is to transport its reader into another world, be it Middle Earth, Green Gables, or down the rabbit hole. When it comes to historical fiction, a book becomes a time machine (I prefer a TARDIS) that whisks its reader into the past to watch a bloody gladiatorial fight in the Colosseum, dance a brisk galliard with King Henry VIII (just don’t marry him!), or slog through the muddy trenches of Verdun.
In American Princess, I hope to make the not-so-distant 20thcentury come alive, as seen through the keen eyes of Theodore Roosevelt’s wildchild daughter, Alice Roosevelt.
My favorite revision of any novel is when I add in all the fun little historical details that really transform an era from shades of gray into vivid Technicolor. (I wait until nearly my last revision to add most of those, once the story is set and I’m fairly certain scenes aren’t going to get slashed.) For example, many people know that Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” He said that to his writer friend Owen Wister—who actually dedicated a western novel to the president—after Alice burst in and interrupted their conversation for the umpteenth time that day. For added fun in that scene, I pulled in mention of her younger brothers pounding on stilts down the hallway outside the White House’s presidential study (the Oval Office hadn’t been built yet) and included one of the Roosevelt family dogs, a yappy little terrier named Skip.
One of my favorite distractions while writing is researching exactly what life would have been like for my characters. For turn-of-the-century America, that often meant looking up menus and digging through grainy black-and-white pictures in online archives so I could add verisimilitude to every scene. When Alice complains of her debut’s flat lemon punch or writes home about the gold filigreed fingernail sheaths she received from China’s Empress Dowager Cixi (which she later turned into a brooch), it’s because those were real things she experienced!
I was also fortunate to visit Alice’s childhood home at Sagamore Hill, to hear from National Park rangers about how the energetic family used the main hall’s fireplace as a spot to store their tennis rackets and how the children used to play hide-and-seek in the massive bathtub upstairs, which they aptly dubbed the Sarcophagus. In addition, the Library of Congress also allowed me to peruse many of Alice’s letters and diaries, plus one of Theodore Roosevelt’s famed doodle letters to his daughter. (They actually let me hold them with my bare hands!) It’s my hope that walking where Alice walked and seeing what she would have seen, plus reading her actual words has helped me capture what it was like to be her so I could pass that on to my readers.
A brief excerpt:
I ran an admiring hand over the car’s sleek twelve-horsepower wagonette body, rimmed by cherry-red wheels that begged to race. The speed gauge inside went all the way to a jaw-dropping fifty miles an hour, which promised an exciting caper from the train’s plodding pace. Plus, a news story covering my driving escapades might put to rest Father and Mother’s hysterics over those same papers reporting my five recent engagements. (Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s assertion that my suitors were as numerous as Penelope’s wooers from The Odyssey made me want to retch; I didn’t even know one of the men the papers claimed as my fiancé, and others speculated I might end up with cousin Franklin. I’d sooner have had all my fingernails pulled off and fed to me.)
Many thanks, Stephanie. I’m sure readers will be thrilled with American Princess.
American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Thornton … releasing March 2019
Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.
But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals, and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast them all.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.