American Princess by Stephanie Thornton

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.

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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.

Source: Alice in Asia – the 1905 Taft Mission to Asia

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.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Transported in time and place – with author Susie Murphy

When I saw Susie Murphy’s cover for her novel A Class Apart, I had to invite her to talk about my favourite topic – transporting readers in time and place. She graciously agreed. Over to you, Susie.

My intention with A Class Apart is to transport readers back to the 19thcentury, to the year 1828, and the location of Ireland, specifically a grand manor estate in Co Carlow. I want them to become immersed in an era when the divide between the upper and lower classes was insurmountable, when the minority Protestant Ascendancy ruled the majority Roman Catholic population, and when the spark of uprising could be so easily lit.

Before I talk about my efforts to accomplish that, I should first confess to the gigantic error I made in the very beginning: I initially wrote the novel without any historical research at all…! *winces at the memory* I was only sixteen years old when I started writing it (in 2002, exactly half my life ago), and at that stage I was very much a pantser – caught up in the raw magic of writing, I simply made everything up as I went along. It didn’t even occur to me to check the details. At the time, I was writing for me and no one else.

Many years passed as real life got in the way, but by the end of 2010 I knew I wanted to do my level best to become a published author. So I revisited my book, made plans for a whole series, developed my writing across several drafts, and – in 2016 and thus very belatedly – got stuck into the research. The value of doing proper research before writing the story was very much a lesson I learned the hard way. I ended up changing huge parts of my book because there were so many incorrect things in it. I had to fix wrong usage of noble titles (just because a man is rich does not mean he’s a lord), clear up complex points about inheritance (tricky to navigate – certain parts of the law could have ruined the premise of my book entirely), create new characters because I was missing essential people (such as the butler, a rather crucial individual in a 19thcentury manor house), and remove anachronistic terminology (I couldn’t use the phrase ‘her voice cut like barbed wire’, given that barbed wire wasn’t invented until the 1860s). The surgery I performed on my book during this time was well overdue and comprehensive.

What emerged from my research was a great deal of clarification. While I had always known the book was set in Ireland, in my early drafts I had been very vague about when the story took place. No need to be too specific, silly teenaged me had thought. Of course, with constantly changing fashions, modes of transportation, politics, and so much more, this wasn’t feasible without making the book completely bare of any defining details – and hence losing the tools to transport readers in the first place.

I knew it was around the 1800s. Recalling my study of history at school and exploring the political background of that century, I settled on the year 1828. The longstanding conflict in Ireland that stemmed from English rule on Irish soil would be the backdrop for the story, and 1828 was just thirty years after the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, so the memory of that uprising would still be strong in the people’s minds. (It also served to align the timeline with important political and social events occurring later in the century that would affect the following five books in my A Matter of Class series, whose plots I continued to develop while refining the first book.)

In addition, the vast social divide which existed at the time was well suited to act as an impediment to the budding romantic attachment between my two main characters, Bridget Muldowney and Cormac McGovern. Bridget is an heiress and upper class; Cormac is a stable hand and lower class. She is Anglo-Irish and of the Church of Ireland religion; he is Irish and Roman Catholic. While they grew up as childhood friends, everything about their situation as adults is designed to keep them apart. The growing unrest in the Irish countryside could only add to the complicated nature of their relationship.

As for location, almost the entire novel takes place in the environs of Oakleigh Manor, Bridget’s ancestral home. Oakleigh is a fictional place so, to know how it truly feels to walk around such a house, I visited Palmerstown House in Co Kildare. While it is from a slightly later time period, the majesty of the place is the same. It was a pleasure and a privilege to wander its halls and rooms, get a sense of how both the family and servants lived in it, and convey a similar impression in my depiction of Oakleigh.

Lower class dwellings also feature in my book, in particular Cormac’s family cottage. Visiting Bunratty Castle & Folk Park in Co Clare gave me a wonderful insight into the various aspects of an Irish village and its humble buildings. However, the best connection I could make to that – and I would not have called it research at the time – was staying at my grandparents’ old Irish cottage when I was a child. Everything about it, from the whitewashed walls to the smell of the turf fire, gave me all the details I needed to recreate it in my book.

Though I came at my research the long way round, I’m glad to say I finally got there in the end! In writing A Class Apart, I have endeavoured to transport readers to a time and place of significant upheaval in Ireland’s history and to show it from the perspectives of both sides of the class divide.

Thanks, Susie. Anyone familiar with Downton Abbey will recognize those servant bells!

A Class Apart by Susie Murphy

It’s 1828, and Ireland is in turmoil as Irish tenants protest against their upper-class English landlords.

Nineteen-year-old Bridget Muldowney is thrilled to return to the estate in Carlow she’ll inherit when she comes of age. But since she left for Dublin seven years earlier, the tomboy has become a refined young lady, engaged to be married to a dashing English gentleman.

Cormac McGovern, now a stable hand on the estate, has missed his childhood friend. He and Bridget had once been thick as thieves, running wild around the countryside together.

When Bridget and Cormac meet again their friendship begins to rekindle, but it’s different now that they are adults. Bridget’s overbearing mother, determined to enforce the employer-servant boundaries, conspires with Bridget’s fiancé to keep the pair apart.

With the odds stacked against them, can Bridget and Cormac’s childhood attachment blossom into something more?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

An antique car takes you unexpected places

While writing Lies Told in Silence, I created a scene with my characters arriving by train in a small village in northern France and conceived the idea that someone would drive them from the station to their destination. The time is 1914. War between France and Germany is a distinct possibility. The women of the Noisette family, including Helene, the main character, as well as the youngest son are leaving Paris in case the German army invades.

A car, I thought. I need some sort of vehicle to suit the era – a French one would be ideal. I searched various websites, clicking here and there on photos that caught my imagination. Suddenly, there it was: a red Tonneau with just the right blend of style and uniqueness. Not only was it quirky but it fit my notion of the woman who originally owned it – a fiercely independent woman who’d never married but had had many relationships, particularly with one or two of the impressionist painters of the time. And here’s how that vehicle made its entrance in Chapter 6.

On a hot June day, humid air pregnant with rain, their train drew into Beaufort. The screech of metal brakes, hiss of steam and loud cry of a lone conductor marked their entrance. No grand hallway bustling with porters and echoing with footsteps greeted them. No marble arches, no vendors selling croissants, no shoeshine men, no newsboys yelling the latest headlines. In fact, no one at all except a dishevelled driver waiting next to an automobile, the likes of which Helene had never seen.

“How will the six of us fit into that?” Helene’s mother said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“I’m sure we’ll manage.” Helene’s father approached the driver. “Gaston?”

“Oui, Monsieur.” The man chuckled. “I’m sure I look much older than the last time you saw me. Madame Lalonde asked me to meet the train.”

Papa had inherited the Beaufort property when his maiden aunt died six years earlier, and Madame Lalonde, who oversaw Tante Camille’s house, had prepared it for their arrival. But who was this man? Whiskered, angular, bow-legged, an Adam’s apple that bobbed every time he spoke, the man looked nothing like the drivers they used in Paris. Helene knew it was rude to stare, so she shifted her gaze to the pile of suitcases and boxes they had brought with them and began to count.

 “If Monsieur will agree, I think it best for me to take passengers first and return for your baggage.”

“Hmmm. You’re right. We haven’t a hope of fitting everything in. What sort of automobile is this?”

“Tonneau, Monsieur. Built in 1903. Your aunt was very proud of it. God bless her soul.”

Papa walked all around the vehicle. The Tonneau was red, the colour of ripe cherries. And it had no roof. Instead, it looked like a fancy horse-drawn carriage without the horse. On the driver’s side, a large bulbous horn sat ready to clear the way with a purposeful squeeze, and the polished wooden handle of a steering stick protruded where the driver would sit. Brass-encased lanterns were mounted near the front wheels, and large wicker baskets were strapped to either side. Crude metal springs, positioned above the rear wheels, promised passengers a modicum of comfort.

“Was it always red?”

“Always, Monsieur.” Gaston held out his hand first to Helene’s grandmother and then to her mother, assisting them into the backseat. Helene scrambled in after the two women while her father and Jean sat next to Gaston. “We had best go before it rains,” he said.

“Thank heavens,” Helene’s mother muttered through pursed lips.

The Tonneau makes several appearances in the novel. Here’s another view of it from the front.

When I see photos like this, I’m transported back to an era where women carry parasols and wear long flowing dresses; where men have top hats and fancy walking sticks; where dinners are formal events and society imposes strict rules of behaviour on every class of people.

If you’ve read Lies Told in Silence, please consider posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Photo source: www.special-classics.com

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.