Tuesday, July 31, 2018

#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with Suzy Henderson, author of The Beauty Shop

War Era Historical
Biographic Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media
Official Website

War changes everyone, inside and out. The remarkable true story of the Guinea Pig Club.

England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.

Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.

John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.

Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.

Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.

Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader Suzy. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about The Beauty Shop.
Hello. It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for inviting me along today to talk about my new book, The Beauty Shop. Based on a true story, via three interlocking experiences of WW2, the novel explores the nature of good looks, social acceptance and the true meaning of skin deep.

Where did you find this story?
I was lost in the archives, researching Bomber and Fighter Command when I came across the story of Fighter pilot Geoffrey Page who was shot down during the Battle of Britain. He suffered severe burns and later became one of the founder members of the Guinea Pig Club. Straight away I was hooked, and after discovering the work of plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, I knew I had to tell the story.

Your characterization of Dr. Archibald McIndoe is easily my favorite. Can you tell us a bit about his background and his work? 
Archie, as he was often called, was born and raised in New Zealand. He was a high achiever even as a boy, and a very determined, intelligent spirit. After training to become a doctor, he gained a scholarship at the Mayo Clinic in America and trained to become a gastric surgeon, operating on one of the brothers of the gangster, Al Capone on one occasion. He didn’t know that at the time, of course. A chance encounter coupled with Archie’s restless spirit would bring him to London in 1931 with his wife and small daughter. He soon joined his cousin, Harold Gillies, a plastic surgeon who had operated on many WW1 veterans, rebuilding their shattered faces. Gillies taught Archie the tools of the trade, and it soon became apparent that Archie had a natural talent for plastic surgery. Archie’s life experiences informed his practice at the beginning of the war when the first casualties began to arrive. He was determined that the young airmen before him were not ‘finished’ as they so often thought. He was determined to do whatever it took for them to live full lives, and to be accepted back into society. It was his brilliance, his humanity that captured my mind right from the start.

Ward III is a unique place. What do you hope readers take from your descriptions of McIndoe’s patients, their wounds, and their treatment?
Disfigurement and disablement as a result of burns injuries still occurs today. I hope that readers will see that people with such injuries are still the same inside – ‘beauty is more than skin-deep.’ I hope readers will gain an appreciation of what the WW2 veterans endured for us – not many know the story of the Guinea Pig Club, and so I wished to shine the light on this small and yet significant piece of history. With regards to the treatment, it was often experimental, which to me, illustrates the brilliance of McIndoe, and his indomitable pioneering spirit and work which formed the foundations of modern-day plastic surgery.

I found your dogfight scenes are flawlessly written. How did you even begin to write such vivid aerial warfare? 
I’m so pleased you asked me about the action scenes. First of all, I read many books, fiction and non-fiction, which was heaven because I’m so obsessed with military aviation. I wrote the bombing mission scenes as an outline at first, rather like a sketch before studying USAAF and the Luftwaffe. Next came the films. I love Memphis Belle and just being able to see those aircraft flying in formation gave me a lot of inspiration. I also spent many hours watching old archived films of various bomber squadrons from the war. Possibly the best film I watched was Twelve O’Clock High (1949). Later releases such as Red Tails and the new official trailer for the long-awaited Mighty Eighth was also fantastic – seriously, this is going to be amazing to watch. I find I’m a very visual learner and so I feel I gained more from watching as opposed to reading and I think this is reflected in the scenes which are action-packed and have a lot of imagery to carry them through.

Alex is a supporting character, but he suffers war injuries that even McIndoe can’t treat. Why did you feel it important to illustrate battle fatigue, PTSD, and depression?
Anyone who suffers a trauma is at risk from PTSD. Back in WW1 servicemen were often labelled as showing “lack of moral fibre” and called cowards. By WW2, it wasn’t much better, but it was at least recognised by psychiatrists as a real illness. That said, there was a distinct lack of expertise in how to treat it, and it was not something that was universally accepted by the military. Many of the burned airmen suffered depression and struggled to cope with their disfigurements, and in some cases, their loss of identity. A small number committed suicide. Can you imagine being handsome one day and having your entire face burned away the next? You’ll never look the same again, and even your family may not recognise you. Not only might you suffer from the battles you’ve endured and from the action that caused your injuries, but now you’re facing a different fight altogether. It’s a highly emotive topic, and while I did not go into specific detail, I felt it important to acknowledge the condition, and for people to be aware of this. It is as relevant today as it was back then.

As a historic novelist, your stories obviously take place in eras that are very different from today. Was it easy for you to sort of step back in time to write about the war era?
Another fantastic question. As I’m so obsessed with the WW2 period and read a lot of associated fiction and non-fiction, I did find it relatively easy in a sense. It’s weird to say this, but it was a little like coming home. Of course, I still had to rely on the research to ensure the historical facts were accurate. The most difficult issue I had was trying to depict the real character, Archibald McIndoe – he took a lot of time to develop.

What sort of research went into The Beauty Shop and what resources did find most valuable?
The research was all-consuming. Firstly, it was the usual factual research that is relevant to any historical period – dress, food, transport, etc. Secondly, I had to study the medical treatment available during WW2, more specifically, the treatment for burns. There was also a lot of research to do to flesh out Archibald McIndoe. My resources included biographies, historical accounts, old newsreels, radio broadcasts, films, newspapers and veteran’s personal accounts. I was also very fortunate in being able to speak with a few people who worked with and knew McIndoe, and also one of the guinea pigs, a veteran from WW2.

Do you have a favorite scene in The Beauty Shop? 
Deciding on a favourite scene is tough as I have several. I love Mac’s final bombing mission, but I think I’ll go with chapter three, the dance at Bassingbourn where Mac finally gets to meet Stella. It’s so romantic.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author and why was it difficult to write?
It was chapter two, the first bombing mission. From a creative perspective, it was very difficult to get the detail precise, historically accurate and to bring everything together in that scene. Once I’d completed it, that made later bombing scenes more straightforward to write. Considering I’ve not had an opportunity to get inside a B-17, I managed to get a feel for the aircraft and an appreciation of what the men endured during those dark times by other means – thank you, internet!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time writing about?
I’d have liked to have spent more time writing about the Guinea Pig Club, but as a writer, you have to balance everything in the story, and so it was that several scenes were cut. This would also have enabled me to focus more upon PTSD and on McIndoe.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust for the sake of the story. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Beauty Shop and if so, what did you alter? 
Dare I say I took small liberties. My male protagonist, Mac, is treated by Archie in the story, but in reality, I doubt this would have happened. USAAF took care of their own casualties. However, the Guinea Pig Club did have American fighter pilots – men who joined the RAF to fight the war before the US became involved. So, in a sense, I justified using Mac because he represented the American ‘guinea pigs.’ The reason he’s there is simple – he came through perfectly formed, a full character with a back story and more importantly, a face and a persona, whereas the first candidate, a British Bomber Command pilot, did not – blame it on the author’s whacky imagination. What can I say – sometimes the muse guides you in a different direction.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you invite out and why?
It would have to be Archie, but I’m very tempted by Richard Hillary and Mac (sighs). No, it would be Archie, absolutely. He was an amazing man, and after everything I discovered about him, I’m still on a quest to uncover more.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Beauty Shop, who would you hire?
That’s a tough question, but after a lot of thought, I decided that Colin Firth would be great as Archie, although I have Tom Hanks in reserve – I wonder what everyone else thinks? After several auditions, I offered Saorise Ronan the role of Stella and Henry Cavill the role of Mac. Alex proved difficult, but I thought perhaps James McAvoy would do the role justice. I’d love to know the readers’ thoughts on this one. I have a feeling I’d be a useless casting director!

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
My next book is almost written and then it’s back to the edits and re-writes, but I’m hoping to be able to release it by July 2017. It’s set during WW2 and focusses on a real woman who joined SOE (Special Operations Executive). In the words of Churchill, “Set Europe ablaze.” SOE has been written about over and over, but I have someone in the book with a determined voice, and this is her story, and it’s quite remarkable and tragic. This is her perspective, her war, and I’m merely the guide.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with Libbie Hawker, author of Mercer Girls

Literary Fiction

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media
Official Website

It’s 1864 in downtrodden Lowell, Massachusetts. The Civil War has taken its toll on the town—leaving the economy in ruin and its women in dire straits. That is, until Asa Mercer arrives on a peculiar, but providential, errand: he seeks high-minded women who can exert an elevating influence in Seattle, where there are ten men for every woman. Mail-order brides, yes, but of a certain caliber.

Schoolmarmish Josephine, tough-as-nails Dovey, and pious perfectionist Sophronia see their chance to exchange their bleak prospects for new lives. But the very troubles that sent them running from Lowell follow them to the muddy streets of Seattle, and the friendships forged on the cross-country trek are tested at every turn.

Just when the journey seems to lead only to ruin, an encounter with a famous suffragist could be their salvation. But to survive both an untamed new landscape and their pasts, they’ll need all their strength—and one another.

Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader Libbie. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about Mercer Girls.Thanks for having me!
Mercer Girls is my 2016 novel from Lake Union Publishing. It’s set in the mid- to late 19th century, during the final years of the Civil War and just after. But it’s not about the Civil War; it’s about the early days of the city of Seattle. Seattle has a wild and crazy history, full of all kinds of memorable characters and unusual events. It’s really a hoot to learn about, and I had a great time writing the book.

My novel focuses the women who left their east-coast homes and traveled all the way out to Seattle in search of new prospects. At the time, Seattle was more logging camp than city, and it was home to astonishing amounts of vice (liquor, gambling, and… * ahem * ladies of the night.) Even with all those ladies of the night, there were still about ten men for every woman. Some of the city’s founders put their heads together and decided that the best way to take their new town from “den of iniquity” to “respectable” was to encourage all those men to marry and settle down. But with very few women—and most of them not what the 19th century considered good marriage prospects—that was a tall order. So one of the founders, Asa Mercer, traveled all the way to Massachusetts and convinced several respectable women from good families to come to Seattle to help tame the frontier.

It wasn’t a bad idea, but many of those women had plans of their own, and in some cases, those plans did not include marriage.

At risk of sounding impertinent, where did you find this story? Did it strike like lightning out nowhere or was it an idea that grew over time?
My husband Paul and I used to live in Seattle, and at the time, he was hoping to start a career as a historical archivist for the city. He fell in love with Seattle’s strange, rowdy history long ago and he knows just about everything about it. So Paul planted the seed in my head—for this book about early Seattle, and a few more. But the book didn’t come to fruition until the spring of 2015.

I was having lunch with my editor at Lake Union, Jodi Warshaw, and she was lamenting that she hadn’t found exactly the type of book she was hoping for just then. She really wanted a historical novel about a groups of adventuresome women who swoop into a memorable setting and really just make the whole place their own, with plenty of humor and uplifting themes… the kind of book that just makes you feel good when you’ve finished it. I immediately thought of the real-life Mercer Girls and pitched the idea on the spot. The rest is history! I’m happy to say that Mercer Girls went on to become a finalist for the 2017 WILLA Award for Historical Fiction.

Josephine, Dovey, and Sophronia are dramatically different personalities. Why did you feel compelled to throw three such different women into the same story?
The Mercer Girls were real women, although I created Josephine, Dovey, and Sophronia as fictional characters. The ladies who attached themselves to Asa Mercer’s expeditions (he actually pulled off his cross-country mail-order-bride scheme twice!) all had varied reasons for doing so, and individual goals and interests. Seattle was also a unique place at the time. It was a booming city on the very edge of the continent, one of the last frontiers in North America. Being so far away from the old, established cities of the east coast, it offered chances for intrepid women to step far beyond the standard roles available to most American women at the time. So I wanted to create characters who reflected the realities of womanhood at that time and in that place. One character is very tight-laced and “proper,” which of course was a common experience for many women back then. Another is contending with some pretty serious oppression and trying to remake an acceptable life for herself as an independent person, which was quite difficult for women to do back then. And the third is highly ambitious, but ambitious women had very few opportunities in the 19th century, even in a place like early Seattle. I wanted to show the struggles each kind of woman would have faced so the reader could gain a broader understanding of what specific struggles women faced then, whether they were prim and proper, or gunning for their own interests, or hiding dangerous secrets.

What resources proved the most useful in researching the real Mercer Girls and their
Definitely the work of Peri Muhich, a historian who specializes in Asa Mercer’s two expeditions and the women who helped settle Seattle. Peri had so much excellent information, which she had painstakingly gathered over many years, and she was kind enough to share it all with me. She was just amazing; I owe so much to her for all her help! She allowed me to check out old journals, newspaper articles, and photos she had rounded up and transcribed or preserved. It was a fascinating collection!

The Women’s Rights movement comes to the forefront in the latter chapters of the narrative. Why did you choose to pair it with the story of the Mercer Girls? 
In short, because it really happened that way! Washington Territory was the third portion of the United States to grant women the vote. (Wyoming and Utah Territories were the first.) The Suffragists understood what great opportunity for their cause lay in the far western territories. Way out west, life was far more difficult than in the older, established cities of the east and Midwest. The men of the Territories really had to rely on women to get things done, and tended to see them as more tough, capable, and sensible. Men in the States were very attached to an image of womanhood that was all about softness and meekness; they tended to view women as needing constant protection and guidance, as would a child. The Suffragists saw that men in the West would be more likely to listen to their assertions that women were equal partners in society and therefore deserved equal access to and control over their government.

Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway both made frequent visits to Seattle—and other parts of Washington Territory—to campaign for the vote. Anthony became great friends with several of the real Mercer girls and assisted them in securing the vote.

Of course, after the women of Washington Territory won the vote in 1883, it was promptly revoked again in 1888. The reason: women voted to outlaw vice—and unfortunately, by that time, vice was the whole of Seattle’s economy. Outlawing gambling, hard liquor, and sex work immediately crashed the young city’s fragile economy. The men, who were still in the majority, revoked suffrage in Washington, and it wasn’t restored again until women gained the right to vote federally in 1920.

Do you have a favorite scene in Mercer Girls? 
I really like the scene where Dovey goes out collecting taxes. She’s a fun character. One of the real Mercer girls really did become a tax collector, too!

Authors are often forced to make sacrifices when composing their stories and I always wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Is there a character, scene, or concept you wish you could have spent more time on while writing Mercer Girls?I would have enjoyed going into greater detail about Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway. They were both such fascinating women, and so important to the national suffrage movement. And the way they networked with Seattle’s women was really fascinating and smart. But something had to be sacrificed!

If you could sit down and talk with a member or members of the cast of Mercer Girls, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you invite and why?
Believe it or not, I’d like to talk to Sophronia, the rigid, tight-laced character. I think I’d like to pick at her edges a little bit and see if I could get her to loosen up. I’ve always suspected that freer spirit was hiding under all her layers of propriety. Sophronia does make an appearance in the sequel to Mercer Girls—Madam, published this year—and she’s older and wiser. She has definitely changed her stance on many important subjects by 1888, when Madam begins.

If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play your characters in a big screen adaptation of Mercer Girls, who would you cast?
Oh my gosh! I’ve never thought about this before. Hmmm…

I think Mara Wilson would be my Dovey, when she was about 18 or so, but with her hair curled. Mara has the right kind of snappy attitude for that role.

Cate Blanchett in her early 20s definitely reminds me of Sophronia. That imperious, icy beauty and the pale blonde hair! Can Cate do a Massachusetts accent, do you think?

And I think Meryl Streep in her mid-30s would be perfect as Jo. She definitely has the range to pull off Jo’s complexities and to convey her sense of keeping secrets.

What do you hope readers take from their experience of this story?
I hope they gain some understanding of how broad and strategic was the fight for women’s suffrage. And how it was such an important topic, and so influential in all women’s lives, that it managed to reach all the way to the far edges of the frontier. Most of all, though, I hope they have fun with it! Ultimately, Mercer Girls is a cheerful, feel-good book about female friendship and the ways women can overcome their differences to develop a sisterhood. I think that’s something we all can appreciate!

Monday, July 9, 2018

#AuthorInterview: C.W. Gortner on The Romanov Empress

Biographic Fiction
War Era Historical

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Social Media
Official Website

Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader Christopher. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about The Romanov Empress.
The Romanov Empress tells the story of Maria Feodorovna, mother of Tsar Nicholas II. Known in her family as Minnie and born as Princess Dagmar of Denmark, she wed into the Romanov dynasty and became tsarina, then Dowager Empress when her son took the throne. Minnie bore extraordinary witness to the final years of the Romanovs, living through the last three reigns, including her husband’s and son’s. She’s less well known today than the ill-fated Nicholas II and his family, yet her life was full of drama, tragedy, and tumult. Most of the Romanovs had very little idea about, or much care for, how dire things were in their country, but of all of them, Minnie was probably the most aware; she was one of the few in a position of privilege who sought to improve the plight of the poor and advocate for change. She was a complex and fallible woman; I loved writing about her.

At risk of sounding impertinent, where did you find this story? Did it strike like lightning out nowhere or was it an idea that grew over time?
It actually came about by accident. I’d always wanted to write about the Romanovs and had originally decided on another character. Not surprisingly, given that character’s real-life personality, the writing wasn’t going well, but every time Minnie appeared (at the time, she was a secondary character) my writing came to life. I finally realized I should be writing about her, instead. To inhabit a character, I must hear her voice. I heard Minnie’s rather than the character I’d chosen, which turned out to be a fortunate discovery. Her point of view is rarely depicted, allowing me to portray a more encompassing view of events. Minnie experienced firsthand the years of discord and agitation against Imperial rule that led to the 1917 Revolution. She also had family and friends outside of Russia and brought a broader sense of the world to the novel.

Maria’s rivalries with both Maria Pavlovna (her sister-in-law) and Alexandra Feodorovna (her daughter-in-law) are intrinsic components of the narrative. Why did you hone in on these particular relationships?
Because relationships in conflict often create history. History doesn’t occur in a vacuum; people make history happen. Minnie and Maria Pavlovna’s “frenemy” relationship was one of the most interesting to me; both foreign brides who wed into the Romanov family, and of opposing nationalities, they had such different approaches to life. Yet they became friends of sorts, because they recognized that both were indomitable. As for Alexandra, Minnie’s daughter-in-law, I realize she’s venerated by many; the execution of the Imperial family was one of the most defining, terrible events of the early 20th century. But in life, Alexandra was quite difficult. She had a distorted sense of the world and her place in it; she wasn’t equipped emotionally to cope with the demands of her rank—and Minnie knew it. There’s plenty of evidence that the Dowager Empress and the tsarina were antithetical, so it was important to highlight this because it drove an unsurpassable wedge between the tsar and his mother, on whom Nicholas had relied almost exclusively for advice. Alexandra was one of the key players in the downfall of the Imperial house, not intentionally, but through her inability to recognize the catastrophe brewing around her, some of it caused by her own actions.

Maria Feodorovna is not as well-known to modern readers as her son and his family. What do you hope readers take from their experience of this fictional account of her life?
First of all, I hope readers enjoy reading about her. I’m a novelist, so my primary goal is to entertain. But I also love history, so I hope readers will learn something about the circumstances that led to the demise of the Romanovs, as well as the personalities involved. We tend to think of the Russian Revolution as an isolated, abrupt upheaval; in truth, it was the inevitable culmination of centuries of blind privilege and unwillingness to change. Minnie wasn’t an exception, in that she upheld the notion of the tsar’s divine right to rule, but she also had a vital perspective that went unheeded. Her efforts to prevent the chaos are underappreciated, in my opinion. And through her eyes, we see a very different portrait of the Romanovs than is usually portrayed. I wanted to go beyond the popular mythology. While some of my conclusions may be controversial, they’re supported by factual evidence.

The Romanov family was very fond of their pets and you managed to include many authentic cameos throughout the narrative. I was delighted to discover such attention to detail and wanted to ask why you felt this theme so important.
Well, I too love animals and always try to include them in my books when the historical evidence supports it. And the Romanovs were well known for their love of animals, despite their hunting practices. They had many beloved pets, like Minnie’s spaniel, Beauty, and later, Alexei’s spaniel, Joy. Minnie founded the first chapter of the Russian Humane Society; she was an ardent supporter of compassion toward animals. I felt this trait among the Romanovs gave them humanity and also complexity; they’ve been accused, rightfully so, of being insensitive to the millions of people suffering in Russia under their rule yet they had this very human love and care for their companion animals.

Do you have a favorite scene in The Romanov Empress?
One of my favorites is the scene between Minnie and Alexandra, when Minnie visits the family after Alexei has been ill, and mother and daughter-in-law sit down for tea in an atmosphere of tension. Minnie has just met Rasputin in passing and spent time with her granddaughter Anastasia, who was often said to most resemble the Dowager Empress in character; Minnie is angry at Alexandra’s unfathomable attitude, but in that scene, we witness the quiet, unending suffering that the tsarina endures because of her son’s illness and the grief Minnie also carries over the loss of two of her children. In that moment, these women who cannot see eye-to-eye should bond over their shared sorrow, but they fail to find common ground. The scene really defines their relationship.

Authors are often forced to make sacrifices when composing their stories and I always wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Is there a character, scene, or concept you wish you could have spent more time on while writing The Romanov Empress?
So many. I always say, real life is full of infinite details, while a novel is finite. You only have so many words to tell your story. I would have liked to delve further into ancillary characters, particularly Grand Duke Sergei, whose torment over his homosexuality fueled his astringent personality. Sergei really captured me as a novelist. We don’t often consider how a gay Imperial grand duke had to hide who he was and how that would have warped his personality. Sergei and Ella’s marriage would have been so interesting to explore; she truly loved him even though he treated her callously, probably because he resented that he’d had to marry. He was known to carry on clandestine relationships with men throughout their marriage, yet he could never be honest about it.

If you could sit down and talk with a member or members of the cast of The Romanov Empress, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you invite and why?  
Minnie, without a doubt. And Marie Pavlovna, or Miechen, as she was known. To have them in the same room and be able to ask them about their feelings about the family, the events that led to the downfall . . . it would be incredible. I also think meeting Prince Felix Yusopov would be fascinating. What a life he led.

If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play your characters in a big screen adaptation of The Romanov Empress, who would you cast?
Gosh, I never think about it. Isn’t that weird? I know a lot of writers do. Hmm . . . For Minnie, it would have to be an actress with range, as she goes from being a very young woman to a much older one in the course of the book. Someone like Rachel Weisz would be ideal for Minnie. Petite and dark, and strong-willed. For Sasha, her husband, we need a powerful presence: Joel Edgerton, perhaps? For Nicholas II, an actor like Jude Law or Jake Gyllenhall, you need a lean man who can brood and carry a beard! Alexandra would be difficult to cast, but I think Rosamund Pike could capture her. Fun to think about, but also tough, as I see these characters so distinctly in my mind.

What next for you? Do you have another project in the wings?
I’m writing a novel about Sarah Bernhardt, the French theater actress who created a sensation in Belle Epoque Paris and the world at large. My new book will tell the story of her rise to fame, her youth as the neglected daughter of a Jewish courtesan, her struggles to become an actress, and how her bohemian lifestyle and extravagant love affairs mythologized her as the world’s first international celebrity. Publication is scheduled for 2020.

Thank you for inviting me. Readers can always visit me at: www.cwgortner.com


“A sweeping saga that takes us from the opulence and glamour of tsarist Russia to the violent, tragic last days of the Romanovs. Brave and inspiring, Maria Feodorovna confronts assassinations, the Rasputin affair, and the Russian revolution. C. W. Gortner breaks new ground here, skillfully painting an intimate, compelling portrait of this fascinating empress and her family.”—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling co-author of America’s First Daughter

“The Romanov Empress has all the glitter and mystery of a FabergĂ© egg. The waning days of a doomed dynasty are recounted by the vivacious but tough Danish princess who would become one of Russia’s most revered tsarinas, only to see her line end in war and revolution. Gortner pens a beautiful tribute to a lost world, weaving a tale as sumptuous as a Russian sable.”—Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network

“From her unique vantage point, Maria Feodorovna transports readers through decades of the most turbulent and dramatic events of modern history, from the last glorious days of the Russian tsars to the violent triumph of the Bolsheviks. This absorbing and poignant novel will leave everyone who reads it with a new fascination about the last days of the Romanovs.”—Priya Parmar, author of Vanessa and Her Sister

“A vivid, engaging tale of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, the mother of Russia’s last tsar, her loves and her heartbreaks, bringing the troubled final decades of the Russian empire to life.”—Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace