S.R. Mallery has always had a passion for history and love for Romeo and Juliet-type of romances where people from different walks of life fall in love. Her book, Genteel Secrets, is a beautiful combination of both, where a Confederate spy falls in love with a Pinkerton detective during the American Civil War. As our Author of the Day, Mallery talks about her research into female spy rings during the war, class differences and gives us a peek into her writing process.
Please give a short introduction to what Genteel Secrets is about
What do a well-bred Southern Belle and a Northern working class Pinkerton detective have in common? Espionage . . . and romance. At the start of the U.S. Civil War, while young men begin dying on American battlefields and slavery is headed toward its end, behind the scenes, female undercover work and Pinkerton intelligence are alive and well. But in the end, can this unlikely Romeo and Juliet couple’s love survive, or will they be just another casualty of war?
Here are the links for GENTEEL SECRETS:
What inspired you to write a love story about a well-bred spy and a Pinkerton detective?
First off, I have always loved the Romeo and Juliet concept of two people from opposite sides of a hostile fence falling in love with one another. To me, by following their hearts and ignoring each one’s toxic background, their special bond is not only touching, it is often courageous as well
I knew going in, I would be writing about a Confederate female spy, that was a given. Just learning about those women who performed espionage from BOTH sides of the American Civil War was like watching several great movies! Then I suddenly thought, wait a minute. What could be better than to have my character fall in love with a man immersed in a polar opposite framework––a northern Pinkerton detective? Using that premise, it would be more than just a simple love story. It could become the slow unfolding of a cat-and-mouse game.
Why 1861? What is it about the era that fascinates you?
Having already done some reading about the famous––or infamous, depending on whose side you were on in 1861––Rose O’Neal Greenhow, I decided to place my main character, Hannah Mayfield, right smack dab in the middle of this woman’s powerful female spy ring.
Although the widow Rose had lived in Washington for years, she refused to move or give up her southern leanings after Lincoln was elected in 1860. In fact, she thrived on them. She managed to set up a full-blown forty plus female spy network, along with a ‘super list’ of high-end, sometimes U.S. government-involved male accomplices. Because she operated mostly during the early 1860s, that is why my novella is limited to that particular time period.
How much research did Genteel Secrets require from you and what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
As I mentioned, not only was the female spy rings going strong fascinating to me, but the way the country was so divided politically and philosophically. During the lead up to the American Revolution, neighbors often were afraid to let political leanings be known—whether it be Tory or upstart American. But the precursor to the US Civil War was stated much more openly, even if family members were defiantly on different sides of the country’s coin.
As for my research, I sorted through my library of U.S. Civil War books and online articles, notating anything that would pertain to my characters or plot. I also rounded out my research by downloading vocabulary lists that included phrases of the time, as well as listen to my compiled music CD’s from iTunes; anything that would inspire me. As for a list of what I was privy to, here is a page from my blog, which includes images, books, movies, etc. of the time period.
What is it about Romance set against the backdrop of war that makes it so interesting to read?
Good question. Perhaps because with romance, particularly if it’s a healthy one, there is a clear matching of souls, ignited by a spark. War is not only devastating, it’s obtuse, dark, and messy, even if originally going in, there was a noble purpose. A romance turned sour or unhealthy can be painful, but the aftermath of war has far deeper long-lasting reaches. So, by placing the two together, you basically have the Yin and Yang of life.
The beginning of each chapter contains a quote. Why did you add them?
Actually, I did that before with my first book, UNEXPECTED GIFTS. I feel it helps encapsulate the characters and plot and hopefully, gives the reader a tidbit of what’s to come. By using that same gimmick in GENTEEL SECRETS, hopefully it also gave a flavor of the time and/or a few older poets.
Your book also focuses on class differences back in 1861. Why?
Class distinction is an age-old condition that has always interested me. I feel it can also be a barometer of various time periods. The French Revolution happened as a result of the huge chasm between the desperate, starving people and the nobility. Britain’s rigid class system ignited the allure and popularly of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In my book, the fact that all southerners maintained the beliefs of the ‘Southern Aristocracy,’ in spite of the fact that they themselves couldn’t afford to even own one slave, showed an obstinacy that I used as a foil for my liberal, independent thinking, southern female protagonist, Hannah.
What are some of your all time favorite Romances?
Being a real movie/TV series fan, I’ll name some of those, instead of books, if you don’t mind. “Pride and Prejudice,” “North & South,” “Working Girl,” “Pretty Woman,” “Notting Hill,” “It Happened One Night,” “The Apartment,” and “West Side Story,” to name just a few. After I selected this list for you, I stared down at the names, and I had a realization. Each of these stories had a common element—people from different tracks of life, falling in love. No wonder I wrote GENTEEL SECRETS!!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
LOL. I don’t know about secret skills, but here is my resume from Amazon...
S.R. Mallery, Gold Medalist winner of the 2016 READER'S FAVORITE Book Awards for Anthologies, has been labeled nothing short of 'eclectic'. She has been a singer, a calligrapher, a quilt designer, and an ESL teacher. As a writer, History is her focus and is woven into her stories with a delicate thread. When people talk about the news of the day, or listen to music, Sarah's imagination likens the story to a similar kind of news in the past and is conjuring up scenes between characters she has yet to meet.
You made a historical romance book into a page-turner – how did you pull this off? How do you keep your readers hooked throughout?
First of all, much thanks for the lovely compliment! I suppose being such an avid movie and TV series watcher, along with growing up with a Golden Age of Television screenplay writer father, I have always appreciated not only great characters, but plots that MOVE. I can be thoroughly impressed by beautiful language in different books, but if there is little movement, I tend to lose interest. So, when I flesh out my books, I do like to include descriptions of course, for flavoring and ambiance, but if I spend too long on them, a little voice in my head always pops up to say, “keep it flowing, don’t get bogged down.”
Does your book have an underlying message? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
My intended message is a simple one, and I feel it is as important today as it’s always been: People are people, no matter their skin color, religious beliefs, or political preferences. Hence the attraction of the two main characters in GENTEEL SECRETS and the importance of my Hannah’s deep friendship with one of her family’s slaves, Noah.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Best time of day for writing? Pen or laptop? Do you plot your stories before you start writing?
As for conceiving a book/story idea, it’s a bit like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I can come up with an idea at the oddest times––driving (ssh! Don’t tell the traffic cops), watching a movie, reading an historical article, talking to someone, hearing a news blurb––and soon, it begins to fester. Or, I can read about a time period where one little fact sticks out like a sore thumb and catapults me into an entire story.
Then, being basically a planner, I feel the most comfortable coming up with a beginning and end as soon as possible. Once I do that, I actually can feel my body relax. Although that doesn’t always happen, until it does, my mind is on high alert looking for those two scenarios.
As for outlining, I’ll start with a vague outline. Then, as I obtain more details (scene ideas, actual page numbers from the research books I have highlighted, character motivations/development, and plots), I will furiously scribble about these things on bits of paper and stuff those notes in separate envelopes. Read-Scribble-Stuff, I call the process. And then, much like turning many blocks into a quilt, I start mapping out the chapters one by one, and taping down the bits of paper into a notebook to remind myself which way I am going. I take that process chapter by chapter, but never get too far ahead of myself. Do I always stick to my outline? Absolutely not! But the structure helps me think more clearly.
Then I usually write my scenes, one at a time, usually in long hand first (like I am doing now), often sitting on the bed/couch/desk with my cat “Junebug” near me. I’ll then go to the computer and type that scene up, making small edits along the way. I print it out and edit. And edit, and well…edit.
What are you working on right now?
Since I am primarily an historical fiction author, a lot of research goes into each book. Currently, I am starting to do research for my next manuscript–-a murder mystery/romance that will take place during the 1920s Silent Screen period of Old Hollywood. My fictional characters will bump up against stars, such as Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino, Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, the brilliant make-up artist Lon Chaney, and the ‘Hollywood Glam,’ parties, just name a very few. Zowie! Talk about fun research!
Where can our readers discover more of your work?
Here are my LINKS:
Pinterest: (I have some good history boards that are getting a lot of attention—history, vintage clothing, older films) http://www.pinterest.com/sarahmallery1/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/S.-R.-Mallery/e/B00CIUW3W8/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1