Monday, March 11, 2019

TBR: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Woman 99 is a historical thriller about a young woman whose attempts to rescue her sister from a notorious insane asylum risk her sanity, her safety and her life. Once Charlotte is inside Goldengrove Asylum, she finds that many of the women there are more inconvenient than insane, and she discovers secrets that certain very powerful people will do anything to keep.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

I really love Martha McCabe, one of the other inmates Charlotte meets in the asylum, who sort of elbowed her way into the narrative. She wasn’t even in my original synopsis, but once she showed up, she reshaped the entire story. One of the ways institutions keep people in line is to threaten and enforce consequences. Martha spits in the face of consequences. That attitude changes everything.

Charlotte herself, the book’s protagonist and narrator, gave me the most trouble. She’s been pampered and sheltered most of her life, and though her heart is in the right place with her plan to rescue her sister, her plan is a painfully na├»ve one. We know it won’t work, but she doesn’t. She has to learn and grow at the same time as she’s solving the puzzle of how to save her sister. She has to redefine her place in the world.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This is my third book with Sourcebooks (after The Magician’s Lie and Girl in Disguise) and I had both the luxury and pressure of writing Woman 99 under contract. Early on, there’s the blissful feeling of knowing that the book has a home, even while you’re writing it; but late in the game, when you’re not sure the book’s going to come together, there’s an extra level of worry about letting everyone down. But it all came together in this case. Phew!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Steer clear of any writing advice that contains the words “always” or “never.”

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How many characters, how many stories within the story, demanded to be heard. Charlotte is our way in, but there were so many other stories I wanted to tell within that framework, it really turned out to be more of an ensemble piece. The book wouldn’t hold together in the same way without Nora, without Martha, without Jubilee. I really wanted to do justice to all of them. There was a line in the Publishers Weekly review that so perfectly captured what I was trying to do, it blew me away: “Though Charlotte narrates, Macallister also gives voice to a motley crew of women who, at the mercy of male whims, hide multitudes.”

Who is your ideal reader?

I’d love people who don’t think of themselves as historical fiction readers to pick this one up. Historical fiction is never really just about the past. Although Woman 99 is set in 1888, it’s basically about a group of angry women banding together against a rigged system put together by men who are afraid of them. I think many readers will find, let’s say, contemporary resonance.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

I have been asking myself this same question! The food in the asylum, as you might imagine, is profoundly unappetizing. I would urge book clubs who want to “cook the book”, as mine enjoys doing, to focus on the delicious sweets for the Smith household San Francisco: rich egg bread braided with almond paste and currants, buttery financiers, madeleines, and brioche rolls stuffed with farmer’s cheese.





DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.