Gina Mulligan - Inspired by the Suffragists of the Late 1800s
Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist and the author of two historical novels; REMEMBER THE LADIES and FROM ACROSS THE ROOM, and the non-fiction DEAR FRIEND; Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a national charity that collects handwritten letters for women with breast cancer. Since the formation in 2011, the charity has sent out over 130,000 letters across the country. Gina has been featured on The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, Today.com, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Woman’s Day Magazine. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Remember the Ladies.
Please give us a short introduction to what Remember the Ladies is about.
Set in 1887, REMEMBER THE LADIES is about Amelia Cooke, a female lobbyist in a time before women can vote. She’s hired by the National Women’s Suffrage Association to lobby the all-male Congress to help pass the proposed 16th Amendment granting voting rights for women. Challenged by her ex-lover, the powerful Senator Stillman, Amelia must set aside her own biases and preconceptions to ask herself what truly gives women a voice in the world. As the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage is today, August 26, 2020, the book’s theme and and question it poses is as relevant today as it was in 1887.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I was inspired by the amazing women of the late 1800s. Suffragists in the Gilded Age are overlooked even though they carried the torch during a lull in the movement. Because they weren’t around during the glamourous times, they don’t get much attention. Yet, without their tenacity, the movement could have died. I wanted to shed light on their dedication with a story of a female lobbyist, because there really were women who lobbied before they could vote. Why don’t we learn about these women in our history books? I also used the title to hopefully create a bit of inspiration. REMEMBER THE LADIES is a nod to all of the women who fought for our freedoms, names we’ll never know. I want women to remember our foremothers and go forth to become the next generation of women to remember.
Tell us more about Amelia Cooke. What makes her tick?
Amelia is orphaned at age four and raised by strict matrons at an orphanage. She’s a tough cookie, highly intelligent, guarded, and stubborn. She also has a deep desire to help people and is outspoken about injustice. These qualities aren’t “right” for a woman in the 1800s so she’s often alone and lonely. When she discovers her passion for lobbying, she’s able to compartmentalize her life and focus on work. Work becomes her identity, and she’s very successful in a man’s world. This gives her a sense of control. Then she’s hired to lobby for the women’s vote and is forced to examine her role as a woman, to think about her ideals, her values, and what really gives her power.
Why did you pick 1887 as the backdrop for your story?
The proposed 16th Amendment in the story is true. There was an amendment for suffrage before the 19th. This was in 1887.
How much research did this book require from you? What was the most interesting aspect of this story?
Lots! There are so many details I had to get correct, especially about how government works. I love doing research, which always strikes me as odd since I didn’t love history in school. What I find most interesting are the little details. For example, in the 1880s men demeaned female lobbyists by calling them “spider lobbyists,” and the term “unfriend” dates back to the 1700s. It means the same as today, just without the Internet.
This was your debut novel. What has the experience been like so far?
It’s been a roller coaster. It took some courage to put my work out for others to critique - overall, the book’s done well and I’m so pleased. I’m especially excited to share the book on the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage! I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s great timing and a fun way for women to learn a little about the history.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
Sam Ward was the most difficult because he’s a real person. He was called the King of the Lobby and started what we think of as how lobbyists work today. I wanted to be sure his character was truthful and reflected the real man. He was a good guy. Everything you read in REMEMBER THE LADIES about his family, friends, and personality is accurate.
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
Definitely, that politics hasn’t changed at all! The Gilded Age is great fodder for authors because there’s so much corruption and greed. Some readers have commented that the politics in the book are too modern, which makes me laugh. Nothing in this book is modern. It’s just that human nature hasn’t changed and neither has how we govern. Though I’ve created a story, characters, and some events, the actions in the book are all based on real history.
Do you have a favorite line from the book, and can you explain what that line means to you?
Not really a line but I love the whole scene in the middle of the book where Amelia has dinner by “accident” with her ex-lover, Senator Stillman. First, there’s Stillman’s point-of-view and how he’s manipulating the conversation. Then I go back and show Amelia’s point of view and how she was in charge the whole time. It was so much fun to write. I think I’ve always wanted to have a dinner like that with an ex-boyfriend.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I work from an outline but give myself leeway to make changes.
Do you have any interesting writing habits, what's your average writing day like?
I’m probably a bit odd in that I can write for hours without stopping. It’s terrible for my circulation because I forget to stand up. I write three days a week and don’t schedule anything else on those days; no doctors or other appointments. Those are work days just like my other job. My other job is running a charity called Girls Love Mail. We collect hand-written letters of encouragement for women with breast cancer.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my third novel about a woman who discovers human trafficking in the early 1900s. It’s a darker storyline but so powerful and unfortunately modern, that I can’t turn away.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
They can go to my website at www.GinaMulligan.com. I have a FREE SHORT STORY they can download. It’s called The Gadabout, and it’s a funny one.