Friday, April 18, 2014

Interview with Elizabeth Kerri Mahon author of Scandalous Women

Lisa: What made you want to write about history's scandalous women?

Elizabeth: I’ve always been a history geek, ever since I was a child. I used to actually read my history textbooks for fun. Growing up, I was introduced to so many interesting women in history through historical fiction, Anya Seton’s Katherine, That Winthrop Woman, Jean Plaidy’s novel ‘Mine Enemy, the Queen’ about Elizabeth I’s cousin Lettice Knolly’s, that it seemed a natural fit for me to write about scandalous women. And by scandalous, I mean, women who were outside what was considered normal for the time. Today, we might not consider Amelia Earhart or Ida Wells-Barnett scandalous, but they were pioneer, pushing the boundaries of what women were seen as capable of doing. Of course, some of the women that I have written about were truly scandalous in every sense of the word!

Lisa: Do you have any favorite women from history? 

Elizabeth: That’s a tough question. There were some women who I found absolutely fascinating. For example, Emilie de Chatelet, a noblewoman who spent her life devoted to mathematics and science, along with her lover Voltaire. I knew nothing about her until I randomly picked up a book in the New York Public Library. I have great sympathy for Lady Caroline Lamb but if I have to pick a favorite, I would have to say Anne Boleyn and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have been a little obsessed with both of them since I was a child. Another favorite would have to be Boudica, the Iceni Queen who waged war against the Romans and almost succeeded in driving them out of Britain.

Lisa: Do you uncover many surprises in your research?

Elizabeth: I was surprised when I started researching Calamity Jane. Most of the myths about her and her life in the Old West are just that, myths. Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life story was a huge surprise to me. I discovered her story in a book about women in the Old West. Here was the little known story about an African-American woman who somehow managed to make a fortune in the 1870’s and 80’s in California. At the same time, she conformed outwardly to the stereotypes of the black female servant, despite her wealth.

Lisa: What is a typical writing day for you?

Elizabeth: My morning is spent posting my daily women in history tweets. And then I spent a good deal of time researching the next woman I hope to profile on the blog. I try to write at least four hours a day, typing up my notes from my research and then crafting the blog post. I’m also working on a new book proposal, so that takes up a bit of my time as well.
Other than history what are your passions? I love ballroom dancing, particularly International Latin, but also salsa and hustle. I’ve been studying dancing for several years now, and I can’t get enough. Although it’s an incredibly expensive hobby! Also travel, I have a bucket list of places that I would like to go including Australia and India.

Lisa: Who are your favorite authors?

Elizabeth: Deanna Raybourn, C.W. Gortner, Stephanie Dray, Lauren Willig, Susan Elia MacNeal, Elizabeth Chadwick, Gillian Bagwell, Christy English, Beatriz Williams, Tasha Alexander, Sharon Kay Penman, the list is endless. There are so many amazing writers right now who write historical fiction and mysteries.

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