Three fabulous authors, Piper Huguley, Libbie Grant and Aimie K. Runyan, join me for a very special panel, celebrating the launch of Piper Huguley’s novel, By Her Own Design. It’s the incredible untold story of how Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy. NYT Bestselling author Kate Quinn says Huguley has crafted a “heroine for the ages.”
HISTORICAL HAPPY HOUR
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Historical Happy Hour: Power Panel
Aimie K. Runyan
In this episode, the conversation centers around the launch of Piper Huguley’s novel “By Her Own Design,” exploring the remarkable story of Anne Lowe, a pioneering African American fashion designer. The discussion extends to the works of Libbie Grant and Aimie K. Runyon, touching on themes of historical significance, the process of writing about real historical figures, and the challenges of balancing factual accuracy with narrative engagement. The authors share insights into their research methodologies, the creative liberties taken when portraying historical events and figures, and the importance of representation in historical fiction. They also discuss the dynamics of book titles and cover designs, offering advice to aspiring authors on perseverance in the writing process.
Here’s what we covered:
- [00:00:00] Introduction to the episode, highlighting Piper Huguley’s “By Her Own Design” and brief introductions of Libbie Grant and Aimie K. Runyon.
- [00:03:30] Discussion on the premise of “The Prophet’s Wife” by Libbie Grant.
- [00:05:05] Aimie shares the background of “The School for German Brides.”
- [00:10:08] Piper discusses the inspiration behind “By Her Own Design.”
- [00:14:40] Authors contemplate how their historical characters would react to their novels.
- [00:24:48] Exploration of the authors’ writing processes and approaches to historical research.
- [00:33:11] Strategies for integrating historical details without overwhelming the narrative.
- [00:36:51] Advice for new writers from the authors.
- [00:45:04] Current and upcoming projects of the authors, ways to stay in touch, and their openness to virtual book clubs.
[00:00:00] Jane: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. I’m really excited. I invited tonight three amazing authors. One of them who I think is going to be joining us soon had a family emergency. Authors that I, are friends, but also authors that I admire as writers so much. And they all have these new fantastic books that are going to be great for the summer and great for book clubs.
So I’m going to jump in and do brief intros of the three and Like I said, we’re waiting for Piper, but we’ll see how she can make it. The first is, this is to celebrate Piper Huguley’s novel, By Her Own Design, launches tomorrow, and it’s amazing. And she’s the, yeah, not the final cover, final covers on my website.
She’s the author of the Home to Milford College and the Migrations of the Heart series. She’s a multiple time Golden Heart finalist. She blogs about the history about her novels on her website. And she lives in Atlanta with her husband and son. Her, like I said, her latest novel releases tomorrow. Aimie K. Ryan. Yay, Aimie! She writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroes. She’s been honored as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice Selection, as a three time finalist for the Colorado Book Awards, and as a nominee for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer of the Year. Aimie is an active, is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond.
She lives in Colorado with her husband and two children and her latest amazing novel is The School for German Brides, also loved. Libbie Grant, hello Libbie, thank you for coming, has been passionate about American history since the early days of the Mormon Church. From a young age, she was raised in the Latter day Saint faith and has deep roots in Mormon culture.
She’s no longer, although she’s no longer a practicing member. Under her pen name, Olivia Hawker, she’s a Washington Post best selling author and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the Willow Literary Award for historical fiction. She lives in the San Juan Islands with her husband, Paul.
Her latest fabulous novel is The Prophet’s Wife. So welcome, ladies, and we will see if Piper can join us. Just to give you a little background on Piper’s book before I ask Libbie and Aimie to jump in it’s a, it’s really an astonishing story. It’s one of those stories that I, when I read it, I was like, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this woman.
So it’s a, based on the true story of Anne Lowe, she is a black woman, Granddaughter of slaves, and she overcame just incredible odds to become an elite fashion designer from the 20s to the 60s and actually designed Jackie Kennedy Onassis dress and then. Had to redesign it and remake it after it was ruined a week before the wedding.
And if you look up her designs, they’re exquisite. I had to go on a deep dive. And her story is just it’s just an incredible American story that’s been forgotten by history. So I’m really excited for Piper. I hope she can jump on. But if not, you all have to check out her own design and definitely pre order it before it launches tomorrow.
Now I want to jump in with Libbie. The Prophet’s Wife just came out recently, and it’s just a fascinating tale of the origins of the Mormon Church told from the perspective of Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith. Obviously you have Mormon roots, Libbie, and tell us more about the premise and what made you decide to write a book from Emma Smith’s perspective.
[00:03:30] Libbie: The premise is as you described, it just examines this marriage, this relationship between two very interesting people from American history. And as for what made me want to write about it, I don’t even, I’m not even sure. I started working on the book like nine years ago.
I worked on it for about seven years before I actually sold the manuscript. So I don’t even think I can really remember just somewhere along the way the idea popped into my head that I should write a novel about the founding of the LDS church. And then as I started working on it more, I realized it really needed to be told from Emma’s perspective because she had such an interesting view on what all was going on.
[00:04:06] Jane: So yeah, that’s what I did. Yeah. And it’s so well done and so fascinating. I’ve been watching under the banner of heaven on HBO and they have flashbacks to Emma Smith. And it, yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I’ve been watching that. Yeah,
[00:04:21] Libbie: it’s been good timing for me.
[00:04:23] Jane: Such good timing.
Exactly. It’s a beautiful book. Thank you. Aimie has also written a beautiful, heart wrenching book called The School for German Brides. This is another Let, you think there’s a lot of World War II. This is another very, I had no idea about these schools for these reichs, bride schools, that, that are, that you have two fictional protagonists, but they’re based on the experiences of young German women growing up during the war.
Tell me, I know that you discovered the story of these bride schools while you were researching another book, but just tell me about the premise, that, Across the Winding River. That’s right. Yeah. Tell me about the premise of this story because, again, it’s another one that I’m like, what is going on here?
I can’t believe it.
[00:05:05] Aimie: Yeah, so were real places where, because, to give a background of the history in the 1920s after World War I, there was a horrible infant mortality rate in Germany and so they created Mutterschule. And those had great success rate to helping women, raise their children to survive infancy, which, you know, even those that, there’s eugenics behind it.
Sure. But, it’s a good goal, regardless. We want babies to survive. So they figured, hey, we have these women, we’re a society that’s moving toward. Women getting emancipated and going to work and doing all these things we don’t like. Let’s have these schools that get women out of these office jobs and, they take them six weeks so they can get away from the struggles of office life and relax and reconnect with.
Their proper duty, which was Kinder Kirche, which is children kitchen church, and that’s what they wanted them to focus on. And with a heavy dose of Nazi indoctrination. So it was like home ec on steroids. With a lot of propaganda and brainwashing involved and I read about them while I was researching Nazi wedding traditions because I knew there had to be some strange ones for across the wine and river and I read that this was a real place.
And the most nefarious of which was on front of into items, which is near Berlin. And it’s literally a villa across the street from where the final solution, which was to execute all the Jewish people in concentration camps and under Jewish influence was decided on in January of 1942. So you have these women who were being trained.
To cook and clean and raise children and do all these sorts of things that we view as wholesome and nurturing and good, right across the street from where these men were making these heinous decisions. I’m like, that’s a book, that’s a book, and I need to write it,
[00:06:59] Jane: unbelievable. Yeah, again, it was one of those, I’m like, I can’t believe I had never heard of it before.
[00:07:05] Aimie: Yeah, and
[00:07:05] Libbie: that was definitely beautiful. I got to blurb it in, oh, sorry. I got to blurb the school for German brides and it was, it’s fantastic and I’m still mad about something that happens in it, which I won’t say because I don’t want it to be a spoiler, but still once in a while I’ll just think of it and be like, oh,
[00:07:21] Piper: so
[00:07:23] Aimie: well, I think if you read it a book like that, you’re not mad, you’re not paying attention.
And it was meant to be uncomfortable and harsh and, and it was written during, the height of our lockdown. It was a harsh book to write. And I had, I took all that angst about everything that was happening and tried to cram it into the book.
[00:07:41] Jane: It worked. Totally. So tell me, I want to talk about, people are always interested in the research involved in stories and how, historical fiction, obviously, research is a jumping off point. What is your research process? Do you start do you do a bunch up front and then start writing?
Are you doing it as you go? Is it a little bit of both? Libbie, if you want to start, I’d love to hear.
[00:08:05] Libbie: I tend to do enough reading about the setting especially the political and social sort of landscape that my character is going to be moving through. I researched that really intensively to start with.
And then once I can really clearly see my character like doing their thing in, in that world, then I actually stop researching because as we all know. It’s pretty easy to just get sucked into it and you never ever stop and you never get the book written. So I have this moment where if I can see everything playing out in my head and I understand how my character responds to all this stuff I’m reading about, then I know it’s time to stop researching and start writing.
And then as I’m writing, if I need to pick up little details here and there, I can You know, hit pause and Google it really quick and make sure it’s accurate. And then go back to the writing. But yeah, I don’t do an excessive amount of research up front. I feel like I do just enough.
[00:08:55] Aimie: Yeah. Yeah. I tried to do the same thing. I will read a couple of really good secondary sources or like for girls on the line, I had a diary from two of the women who served as hello girls. So my dad would read all that. And so I read that and I read. A wonderful secondary piece called the Hello Girls by Elizabeth Cobb is a kind of the definitive book and I figured after reading that book and taking some notes and reading those two diaries.
Everything else I needed to fill in was like detail work, and I try because momentum, especially being a busy mother, etc momentum is my friend. And so I just try to keep going and then take notes like research this and then move on. And then go back and like draft to. To fill in any of the blanks.
[00:09:44] Jane: Yes.
Yeah. And I did the same. I feel like a bit, we’re talking about historical research. Welcome Piper out. I’m going to introduce you again in just a sec. I like to have a baseline and then oh, you’re unmuted now. Awesome. And and then dive in or otherwise I’ll be researching for years.
Piper, welcome. I’m so glad you made it. Yay.
[00:10:03] Piper: I do it at a proper clip and everything. Oh, yes.
[00:10:08] Jane: Excellent. Alright. Cheers, because your launch day is tomorrow. Thank you. And I’m glad you were able to make it, and we talked at the beginning about By Her Own Design, but I would just love to hear from your perspective the history of AMLO, why you decided to write this novel at this time in your life and and just more about this fascinating woman in history.
[00:10:29] Piper: Thank you, Jane. And it’s good to see you guys here on Zoom. I wrote this book because publishing wanted it.
[00:10:37] Jane: Absolutely. Yeah.
[00:10:40] Piper: When they’re asking for it, hey, somebody’s got to step to the plate. Yeah my editor is, those of you all know that I’m pretty active on Twitter.
She likes to tweet out her Was it MSWL?
[00:10:54] Jane: Oh, manuscripts. Manuscripts. I like that. Manuscript wish list.
[00:10:57] Piper: I don’t know if she’s officially registered in that thing or not. But she does like to tweet her requests. And that one day she happened to tweet a retweet. With somebody tweeted about and low and I’ve always known in the back of my mind, as a sort of a not necessarily black history factoid because I think the black history factoids are stuff that people generally know but I knew that this was a case but I never investigated it.
So then I looked into it. And when I looked into it, I was like, Oh my gosh, that’s a story because as you guys know well when you look at a subject. It’s not necessarily so that their life would make for great. There’s some other ones that I’ve looked at and it’s I don’t see it. For somebody else to do, in terms of that, but that wasn’t the case for Anne Lowe. So yeah, once she saw it, I wrote the prologue. It was the very first thing. That I wrote because it occurred to me immediately in my nerdy mind that I knew that the day that she had died was the day after Charles and Diana had gotten engaged.
[00:12:06] Jane: Oh, I read that in your notes. Yeah.
[00:12:08] Piper: So I was like, yeah, I knew that. And I was like, oh I have no idea if she was conscious or whatever, but what if that was the thing, that just seemed to give me a good place to start in terms of thinking about someone who had. Done one of the most photographed wedding dresses in history, and that’s true.
And managed to have regrets about it, in some way, looking back at the experience. That’s how
[00:12:34] Jane: I got started. Amazing. Amazing. And I was, with all three of your books, I did a deep dive. And that’s, I think that’s the best, it’s such a, it’s a great story when you start deep diving into the research afterwards.
And I encourage everyone. To look at the designs that Anne Lowe’s designs, because they’re just, they’re so whimsical and stunning and different she just had her own flair, and that’s another reason that I’m like, I can’t believe I’d never heard of this woman before, and so I think it’s just So wonderful that this story’s coming out tomorrow.
It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be huge.
[00:13:08] Aimie: It’s
[00:13:08] Libbie: so good. I love this book so much. I blurbed this one too, and I’m usually a pretty slow reader, but I read this one in three or four hours, seven days. I couldn’t stop .
[00:13:18] Aimie: This was really good. This is one, yeah, this is one I blew through in two days and I’m like, this is amazing.
Yeah. So good. It’s gripping. It’s so gripping. So gripping. Yeah. Yeah yeah, I remember there’s a quote that that somebody said. They were asking what do you think about Einstein’s theory of relativity to some famous scientist? And his response was, what concerns me more is that there’s some brilliant scientist who’s working in a factory somewhere in the middle of nowhere, who will never, whose genius will never be given to the world.
And that so much could have been her. Yeah. She was such a prodigy. It’s not that she was just a good designer. She was a prodigy and so wonderful what she did. It’s an example of genius and how fortunate it is for humankind that she didn’t get Lost in the shuffle because it could have happened so easily.
The deck was so stacked against her from the time She was born. Yeah, it wasn’t just you know, a usual tale of woe at all.
[00:14:20] Jane: So no Yes
So I have a question this one’s for Piper and Libbie Do you have you wondered if one if you one of your historical characters came back to life and read your novel? What would they think of their, of your portrait of them?
[00:14:40] Libbie: You go first,
[00:14:40] Piper: Piper. Are you sure? I might have a little insight to that because since I’ve written the novel the family has come forward.
Oh, wow. Yeah. What? Yes, I got a little message on my Instagram one night. And it was their representative. Oh, wow. Who wanted me, who wanted to talk to me. And so I connected with her. And she represents Anla’s great granddaughter that is Audrey’s daughter. And she’s oh, we’re not out here to get you or anything like that.
I just wanted to, say congratulations. And she’s been helping me brainstorm some ways to get in. Because the reason why they have representation, I think, is because they’ve noticed over the past two years, That there’s been an increase in terms of some of the articles and everything.
Oh, yeah. The zeitgeist of Anne Lowe. And her name’s Linda. Linda had maybe not the sense of really who to contact, but she knew she needed somebody and reached out to Sharon. This is the woman from her agency that they represent her. And to begin to think about what, Might be done in terms of getting an Lowe’s name and her accomplishments across to the world.
As has been told, Linda’s very pleased in terms of this, it’s like this whole aspect in terms of if somebody’s going to do it, who but me, somebody like me could do. Absolutely. And and it’s a threat kind of thing because there is the self published biography that’s out that’s on Amazon.
It did give me a nudge in terms of doing it because when she first published that in 2016, one of the things she said was that she wanted to write a historical fiction about Ant Lo but didn’t feel that she could talk about the life of a Black woman because she was a Southern white woman. Oh, okay.
And I was like, oh, yeah, that’s true. What does this mean?
[00:16:45] Jane: So has the family read the book or?
[00:16:48] Piper: She knows about it. Okay. She’s aware of it. She’s aware of it. And the cool thing is, let’s say, is wanting to keep those channels open because they showed me pictures of Arthur. Oh, wow.
Holding Audrey. Amazing. There are letters and things. Audrey herself only died in 2017. Oh wow. Oh wow. And so Margaret Powell, the textile scholar that I dedicated the book to, a young Black woman who was working on both the bi the comprehensive scholarly biography of Anne Lowe, as well as the the exhibit.
That’ll be in Delaware next year. She died when she was 38 years old of breast cancer. Oh, geez. And that’s why I dedicated the book to her. It’s like a lot of her thesis gave me, leads, etc. Yeah. In terms of what she done. But Margaret and Audrey had recorded a number of interviews with one another.
And I don’t want access to that. I’m not about to shame the family. No, not at all. Very supportive, excellent. That’s my insight. Libbie, you’ve got plenty of time. Oh,
[00:18:01] Jane: it’s coming back. There it is. There you go. It happens like once a webinar. And my husband’s just breathe. It’s going to be all right.
Sorry. Hey! We’re getting ready
[00:18:16] Piper: for another question. Oh
[00:18:18] Libbie: okay. Let’s see. What would Emma Hale Smith think of my book? I don’t know. It’s so hard. One of the challenging things about writing from her perspective is that she didn’t really leave very much behind that indicated her real thoughts and feelings about anything. Very few items, very few letters, or like journal entries, or anything like that.
I mostly had to go off of what other people said she said in their own journals and whatnot. Which is, an unreliable source. Who knows if people were just making up rumors or saying, propagating a narrative that supported their religious experience, but wasn’t. necessarily authentic to her real feelings.
So I don’t know. She’s Emma is an enigma. In fact, her biography, the biography about her is called Mormon Enigma. Cause there’s just,
[00:19:04] Piper: there’s so little to help.
[00:19:08] Libbie: I was hoping that could be my superhero name.
It’s just there’s so little that can be discerned about her real feelings about things I had to infer a lot and who knows if I was on the mark or just like
[00:19:22] Jane: way off. Interesting. Yeah. That’s an
[00:19:25] Piper: interesting point because there’s some aspects of Anne’s stuff, but that I was on the mark about and then what happened to her second husband.
That was a whole different thing, because the family of course is descended from her first husband so they have particular feelings about the second husband. Jerk a mo, kind of dude,
[00:19:47] Libbie: after reading your novel, I have particular feelings about this
[00:19:50] Piper: one,
[00:19:51] Jane: oh, yeah.
[00:19:52] Piper: But also, I don’t know if you guys saw this or not, and I’m, intend to make it more of a highlight of my promo tomorrow, is that the Mike Douglas interview that I referred to in the novel was discovered, and it was right where I thought it was going to be.
I like to say it’s in Philadelphia someplace. Somebody goes . So it’s been discovered and they put it on YouTube. Oh, no way. Yeah. And it’s Anne Lo herself.
[00:20:24] Jane: Oh, that’s amazing.
[00:20:25] Piper: In this 20 minute interview on the Old Enough to Murder Mike Douglas show, but I do, cause it was like on at the babysitter’s house when I had to go there after school.
And I always wanted her to put on some cartoons and said, that dude is boring.
But then meanwhile, I’m like trying to find this, 20 minute interview from 1964 with her talking and it has a fashion show in it, so they have to describe the color to you, black and white. But some of the things that she had said in terms of that, I made it better than what it actually was in two instances of racism that she faced.
And, It probably was for the better that what I wrote was better than what she had actually endured in terms of the book, because I think there’s a lot in the book already. Yeah. That if I had written those two incidents exactly as they happened, it might have been real downer because one of the things that my editor insisted upon was that there’d be an ending, kind of folk or whatever.
So I always knew where that was going to end for her. In terms of that, but yeah, really fascinating lady. It’s fun spot. She would put me in the mind, my grandmother who my family originates in Alabama from two counties away. They’re in Eastern Alabama. Hugely Alabama. Like I said, there’s two counties over from Clayton where she was born and all of that.
So yeah, I just, I knew. Exactly, because people ask a question about writing historical fiction, of course, in terms of the research, and Libbie and Aimie, Jan, you’ve been to H& S before, right? Yes, yeah, we were just talking about it, yeah. Yeah, there was research, Black women are not sitting down creating primary and secondary resources.
That’s the thing, too much, too busy living. No. Yeah. That’s what I said to me, Oh, I wish she had left behind a diary. She didn’t want to do anything else but make those dresses. That’s the whole point of the novel. She, to the point where she was, willing to take less money for doing so because she loved it.
Which is something else she talks about on the Mike Douglas show. Yeah, they don’t have enough time for that. So you have to think about the research in alternate ways and creative ways, which comes to in terms of the dresses, in terms of what does that tell you? How much craft is she putting into them?
Why is she doing it? What does she have to say about it? That’s all the kind of stuff that you have to go on when you’re dealing with a person from a marginalized, like you’re saying, let me, Emma’s not. Sitting around writing down, what it is that she thought because she’s taught from the beginning that what she thinks and feels of it is not any importance to anyone.
[00:23:25] Aimie: Probably be baffles like you know we asked the question, what would your character think, and would probably you wouldn’t be so shocked that somebody written a book about it because she knew she was awesome
[00:23:34] Piper: exactly. Yeah. Yeah. It’s totally women were not considered of any importance.
Even like in anything that anyone does, to have to continuously fight against, that societal standard that says what you think and feel is not of any importance. Like you said, for Anne to have to continuously to have persisted in terms of what it was that she was doing, it’s really quite, it’s really quite remarkable.
And if anybody could just sit down and be like I’ll just go back somewhere and have a bunch of babies.
[00:24:06] Jane: That actually brings me to one of my other questions. You were talking about, like, all of you talked a little bit about having to fill in the blanks. Of course, I’m a nerd, so I read all of your author’s notes again today.
I read them when I first read the book. I read them
[00:24:17] Piper: again. And I love it. I love it.
[00:24:22] Jane: I love the sources. I was watching the YouTube video about Anne Lo today. Yeah the thing is we have, it’s, This is not, this is not a fact based, it’s a fact based story, but it’s fiction.
At the end of the day, it’s a story. It’s a narrative arc, and you have to fill in the blanks. And it’s, how do you do that? And where do you give yourself permission to do that? And where do you draw the line? Like, how do you find that balance? Whoever wants to take it first, just You know,
[00:24:48] Aimie: for me, because I write almost exclusively fictional characters, it makes it easier because my goal is to take a situation like Russian female fighter pilots or the bride schools or the telephone operators in world war one or.
the immigrants from France to Canada in the 70s, 60s, 90s. And I take a scenario and I try to just convey the reality of what these women were going through with, this character who is meant to be an amalgamation of the feminine experience or characters who are an amalgamation. Because, if I were to tell for like my debut novel, Promise to the Crown, I didn’t want to tell the story of one woman’s experience crossing from France to Canada.
I wanted to tell several, and so I had three main heroines, but they’re all kind of representative. They’re archetypes of the types of women who left behind everything, and for German brides, Hannah, who is the one that, actually attends the actual bride school, is, she’s the quintessential archetypal ideal German bride.
who is the counterpoint to Tilda, who’s a Jewish German bride, who has a very different experience. Yeah, and so that’s what I try to do, is I, I, I try to be faithful to actual events and situations, but I give myself fictional characters to give myself the artistic license to be able to show the event and the history.
With my own and cameos from real people here and there. But usually it’s 100 percent fictional characters.
[00:26:21] Jane: Got it. Yeah, I get that. And now, and you both wrote real characters in history. So how is that different for you in terms of your experience writing?
[00:26:31] Libbie: I try really hard to stick to.
Actual events because I do work with real people from history so often. I should say at least when I work with a known figure from history, I try really hard to stick to real historical events. If it’s just like my own family members or something, then whatever, I’ll make up whatever I need to.
[00:26:48] Piper: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:26:48] Libbie: But but yeah especially in the case of the prophet’s wife also, because I was dealing with. A religion, like people take that very seriously. Some people do. It means a lot to certain people, including, some of my family members and stuff. So I tried really hard to stick to actual events as much as possible and then construct an interesting narrative around what really happened.
It’s challenging though. Like it’s really hard. I had to tweak a couple things here and there. Like I gave Emma this sort of extramarital love interest. Because it suited the story, but there’s no actual historical, basis for that. Sometimes you gotta throw in a little bit of fun stuff, just a little
[00:27:26] Piper: bit of spice.
I I know, at least for me. The facts are like these tent poles, and then I’m like, the fiction is what connects them. And at least in terms of Anne Lowe’s childhood, I felt as if given my grandmother, my great grandmother, had it’s my great grandmother who’s actually her contemporary that hearing those family stories about what their childhoods were like as I had grown up, was something that helped.
As well as my study of Zora Neale Hurston, who’s also a contemporary of hers. Who was born in Alabama herself before they moved to Florida. So that her childhood that she does write more extensively about as a young girl also. Gave me some idea in terms of how to fictionalize that part of her story.
But in terms of fiction, you also have to think about, or at least I do what the 21st century reader is going to be able to take in. Oh, good point. Anne Lowe had many more shops than what I had. She was always going in and out of the shop because of the financial situation. And I could not possibly have included all of those shops and all of those relationships.
So in terms of that was a question of stripping and compositing in order to make that narrative a little more straightforward, a little cleaner. They said for an audience that I didn’t want to get lost, in terms of, yeah. If you continue to persist to have that shop.
[00:29:04] Jane: Yeah.
Stuff like that. Yeah. I want to talk too about process because I find a lot of people ask on these webinars about the writing process and I actually, Libbie, I have your book here because it’s one of my faves for process. In writing, as we all know, there’s answers versus plotters. Libbie’s even written a book about it that I highly recommend.
So What’s your process? Are you a plotter? Are you a pantser? Are you somewhere in between? I’d love to hear. Who, me? Anyone. Anyone’s your thing. I think I know what yours
[00:29:39] Piper: is.
[00:29:42] Libbie: I mostly plot stuff out, but not always. And The Prophet’s Wife was one where I did not follow the take off your pants outline. I just went where the history directed with that one.
Oh, wow. So
[00:29:52] Jane: yeah. Oh, okay.
[00:29:55] Piper: I can advance a little bit. Like even to say in terms of writing by our own design, I’d say that. Prologue, which is the first thing I wrote, was just like me pantsing, just thinking about who she was and what she might have been thinking about before she died, then I plot, so
[00:30:11] Jane: I see.
[00:30:15] Aimie: I, yeah, I’m I think of it as like a mapper and an explorer. People who like to have the guide, the guideposts as they go, and the people who like to explore with, I am. Ideally in my mind a pure plotter and I never really am like that’s not the reality of it. I’d love to be that type of person I like having a vision of the book, and I feel like around the third of the quarter point mark, I really feel more comfortable.
If I know the have a big vision for the book. And but then I’m starting a contemporary women’s fiction project and it’s all pantsing. It is I have no idea what’s going on in the next chapter. And I had just, I’m at the halfway mark and just had this wonderful aha moment. It’s I get what this book is about now.
I knew what some of the big themes were, but I got more of a direction, which was exciting. And that’s really fun. But I definitely like to have the structure of the book in my head. But I never am stubborn about it. I like to leave myself room for organic discovery, especially with characters.
Like Clara in The School for German Brides is the bridge character between the two narratives Tilla and Hannah. And she happened completely out of the blue. And like she just came up, oh, she’s Hannah’s classmate at school. And then I knew that Tilda was going to be giving sewing lessons.
I’m like, it’s still the
[00:31:37] Piper: same girl. This is
[00:31:39] Aimie: getting interesting. Yeah, exactly. It’s great because it’s it’s one of those discoveries. And it’s funny how sometimes they happen really late. She was like pretty early, but it’s like, how could I have done this without it? What was I thinking? Yeah, it’s like almost like I did it on purpose and it’s nice when that happens.
[00:32:02] Jane: Excellent. So I have a couple more questions and then if anyone in the audience has questions you can put them in the chat or you can put them in the Q& A and I can field questions from the audience after my last couple questions. This is another one. About, about the history I, in my first novel I like cringe because I look back on it and I feel like I did a lot of info dumps about and I didn’t know how to balance like, the story, because it’s always about the story, with all this really, Interesting stuff about pottery that I thought was interesting but really didn’t move the story
[00:32:35] Piper: along.
It wasn’t though, I liked it. No, Piper. And I’m
[00:32:40] Jane: like, ah, it’s lush when I
[00:32:42] Piper: think about it. I’m like, this is awesome. Take that away.
[00:32:46] Jane: I’m curious, like, how do you like, we’re all like, history nerds, we all love the details. But how do you strike that chord, right? Do you learn over time? I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better at it now, but, like, how do you strike the chord between adding enough historical detail so you immerse the reader, but not too much that the reader’s oh, I’m going to close the book.
Do you have any tips on that?
[00:33:11] Aimie: I think of it like garlic. When I’m cooking, I
[00:33:15] Jane: use a
[00:33:17] Aimie: lot of food metaphors. I apologize, but it’s like garlic. You love to get a little bit. If you’re, you don’t want to eat it, get a whole clove when you’re eating, right? You like to have a little bit. And so I like to sprinkle it in like I would garlic because otherwise it’s overpowering.
And I, I try to do it definitely, but it’s the same with so many other things. Like Physical descriptions, we get so tired of the laundry list of, oh, he was a middling height and had brown hair that was given to curl and, and that sort of thing. We want to avoid the laundry list when we’re, we got to think of creative ways to describe it.
So if you give these cool little nitpick, little details and you do it in one sentence or one phrase fragments and sprinkle it throughout a chapter rather than a paragraph of exposition, because we’re none of us, Victor Hugo, we don’t get to that. Our editors were all with Tessa. She will not let us go on a hundred page rant about Waterloo in the middle of Les Misérables.
She just won’t let it happen. So you try to to think of it in smaller chunks and to weave it in small amounts. I think that’s
[00:34:19] Jane: the best way to do it. Excellent. I like the garlic analogy too. Excellent. I love
[00:34:26] Piper: garlic. Me too.
[00:34:29] Jane: I go overboard with garlic. I
[00:34:31] Aimie: like it finely minced.
[00:34:33] Piper: Yes. I think it, Matt, it’s a decision about whether or not You’re in third person or first person and with first person, you always have to be aware of this stuff in terms of what the character is going to say that is legitimate and authentic and whatnot, which I think helps to curb potential info dump.
Yeah. So it’s a question of how to, how might you make something like a scene active that the person would be in. That, I don’t want to go cliche, but show it rather than tell it. I know somebody had remarked about the grocery store scene, in terms of how when she had to go to the grocery store, or general store, what that would be like at that time period.
And to have that acted out so that people could see just the kind of situation that AMLO was coming from. in terms of that. So that’s how I try to think of it. I think Aimie, honestly, probably has a harder job in terms of being third person.
[00:35:41] Aimie: Yeah, I like, I write in first person as well.
I think I, it, my writing just lends itself to it. I’d write a novella in third person. It felt like I was learning how to write all over again.
[00:35:53] Libbie: I agree with everything Piper and Aimie said on the subject. I would just add that I think A lot of it does come from experience both as a writer and as a reader I think the more you read, and the more you practice your own writing you’ll just develop a feel for it eventually where you can start to feel that maybe you’re going a little overboard maybe this doesn’t need to be here or conversely like maybe this is a good spot to sprinkle in a little bit of garlic right
[00:36:16] Piper: there.
[00:36:17] Jane: Yeah, I know I was. I’m sorry, go ahead. No, I, that’s exactly right. I talked, I was talking at a conference the other day and I likened it to like an ear for music, like you start to feel like you’re stronger with that, over time. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. On that note this is another writing question.
What is your best advice for new writers? For people who are trying to write their first manuscript or just finished their first manuscript? What is your best advice?
[00:36:51] Libbie: I think when you’re still pretty new to it, like in your first like one to three books or or before you have your books published, or if you’re self publishing before you have your books out there into the world I think you just need to not worry about the market.
Just write what you really feel drawn to write because it takes a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work and a lot of juggling new skills to complete a book. And if you’re also worried that it’s not going to be marketable, you’re just, you’re going to get freaked out and never finish it. And you have to have that.
Something driving you to keep going when it gets tough, because it does get tough. 20 percent of the way through every single book I write, except for one, I hate
[00:37:27] Piper: the book. Why am I doing this? This is
[00:37:31] Libbie: the best book I’ve ever written.
[00:37:32] Piper: I want to throw it out the
[00:37:33] Aimie: window. Every book. Oh my god, this is
[00:37:35] Piper: direct.
[00:37:40] Aimie: Yeah. Yeah. You hit a wall.
[00:37:43] Libbie: Yeah. And you have to have something that will push you through that. So you have to really care about the story and not be like this will sell.
[00:37:50] Piper: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:37:52] Aimie: Yeah, I think, I think that, your first manuscript or as you’re, before you’ve made, you’ve entered into the industry, like you’ve crossed the threshold to where your agency or you have a book deal or you’re self publishing, whatever.
I think it’s important to also give yourself a lot of grace because it’s a hard thing, but I think it’s important to to think about your writing process. Objectively and think about, if you are the type of person who can get up at 5 a. m, get a thousand words in and tootle off to your day job and be great.
That’s great. Do that. Those are your golden hours. But if you get up at 5 a. m and stare at a screen for an hour and a half and get nothing done, Then that is not a good use of your time. But, again, if you get up and total off to work and you get home and all you want to do is watch Netflix and eat pizza, then you need to get up earlier and get your words in and, get them in during your lunch hour or whatever, because especially early on in the process, most of us are juggling an awful lot and people who are writing full time.
have extra stuff going on. I don’t know of a single writer that I know personally who isn’t, juggling You know other, and if they are writing completely full-time, it is because they’ve got a hus a spouse with health insurance, this, that and the other thing. It’s just the reality of it.
And if you go with the expectation that you are not going to be uber wealthy, but you have a chance of, actually having some success, I think it’s a healthier mindset to go in with, but learn how you work and be, juggle your life around to make, to fit your writing and make it a priority.
Nobody’s going to come around and give you a little badge like a sheriff’s badge that says writer. And say you’ve got permission to write a book. I felt that it took me 10 years to write Promise to the Crown. Because I felt like, why am I spending my time doing this? At least if I’m sitting playing video games with my then husband, I’m spending time with him that’s a value, but me sitting here writing a book, it’s like intellectual, it’s just fluff, what am I doing?
And and it’s a stupid mindset, it really is, because if you want to write a book, you have to have the, I think the other, I guess the biggest piece of advice is start what you, or finish what you start. Yeah. Finish projects. Yes, there are times when you know, when you realize this is absolutely going nowhere, if it’s better for you to can it, sure, but know that we all hit a wall with every project and that, it’s, you’ve got to push through it and that’s part of the job and it’s a hard part of the job, but you have
[00:40:22] Jane: to do it.
Absolutely. Excellent. Yeah. Finish what you start. Totally
[00:40:27] Piper: agree. I guess I’d like to build on what Aimie and Libbie said. I think sometimes what people see is that they see all of the great debut projects that are announced and it’s the only book the person’s ever written and they got a six or seven figure deal of it and that’s not typical.
And like you said it took you 10 years to write your first novel but then that you cut down on that because I think part of that is you realize is that the more that you do it The more you’re able to push through that wall. And so I think what I’ve seen, too, is that people who have an excessive connection to that first thing, like that’s going to be the only book.
And if that doesn’t sell, then, the hell with the rest or whatever. And you can’t be like that about it. Just let it go and move on to the next thing. In terms of that. And when people are like that, Yeah, I know not published, they’re still out there, the book works not out there. Yeah, because yeah, I guess this one book.
Yeah, and if
[00:41:31] Aimie: you finish your book and it doesn’t sell, trunk it and move on to
[00:41:35] Piper: the next one. Yeah, and
[00:41:36] Aimie: I’ve seen it. It’s sad. You write a book that’s beautiful and your friends all love it. They say it’s beautiful, even writer friends. Sometimes you’ve got to trunk it and move on and it sucks. It
[00:41:48] Piper: does.
It really sucks. That’s important to know. One time I finished, I put the end. And then I just went on to the next book and I was like, okay, this is cool. What’d you do? It does sound like
[00:42:01] Libbie: you have to drunk something, but here’s the thing. If it’s just not the right market right now for that book and you can’t sell it because no one’s interested right now, in two or three years they might be and you can be the first person, like if someone is oh novels about Finnish statesmen are really hot right now.
You can be like, I have one.
[00:42:17] Piper: Bam! Yeah,
[00:42:20] Aimie: that’s true. And I’ve got a story, guys. I’ve got a little story. Yeah, so I after Across a Winding River, I started playing with, it was a tumultuous time for lots of reasons, but I was playing with oh Deb and Abby, I want to write, I talked to my editor at Lake Union, and I said, Chris, what’s going on?
I want to talk to you about ideas. And he said, First, and I had the plot for German Brides is going to be what I pitched. And he’s no World War I or World War II before I even opened my mouth. And I had three World War II pitches ready to go out. And I’m like, okay, great. I’m ready. I’m ready to move on.
The bubbles burst. Huzzah. And I pitched him a he said, I want you to do Gilded Age or Roaring Twenties. I pitched him a Gilded Age book. He’s yeah, Downton Abbey’s really not selling. And it’s Downton Abbey isn’t. Gilded age, but cool.
Take it wide. And I start working on actually it was the PR the pitch for a bakery in Paris, which is my work in progress. And so I’m working on I start sending out the, the, my gilded age book. And limited and they’re like, yeah, maybe not right now. I’m like, oh, okay. So I shelved that and I start working on the parish bakery book.
And, but one of the editors said, Hey, what else is Aimie working on? We love her voice and everything. And they said, we want something, really high action world war two. And I pitched them the idea that had been in my back pocket for like union German brides. And they said, we want that tomorrow. And they took it in four weeks and then the next project they took was Paris Bakery and the Gilded Age book is now a novella.
So all of those ideas found homes, all of that. Even if it’s the book of your heart, like my Paris Bakery book, love that book, but it had to wait for me to write German Brides and it was fine.
[00:44:09] Jane: Yeah. Yeah. No, this is all such excellent advice. And I, to put, to add to Piper’s point about you see all these success stories and the six figures and the book and you’re like, but I always say I think about it as like an iceberg and you’ll be seeing like the tip above the water with a writer and a writer success, but underneath is like rejections and tears and bitterness.
And it’s just. It’s really hard and people don’t see all, like the 10 years, like it took me 10 years for my first novel. Like people don’t see the blood, sweat and tears underneath the surface. So this is all such good advice and actually Aimie, this leaves me, this is my last kind of multi part question for you guys and then I’ll jump into some great questions from the audience.
What are you working on now? How can people best stay in touch with you and do you do virtual book clubs? If you could all three answer. So Aimie, you started talking about the Paris Bakery, so why don’t we start with you? Yes, I just
[00:45:04] Aimie: turned in my manuscript. It’s called The Bakery in Paris. It’s a dual timeline with the Paris Commune and the Siege of Paris in 1870, 1871.
Think kind of Les Mis, but a little later. And post war so like reconstruction of Paris after the war. So it’s like Les Mis meet Chocolat. And I just turned it in waiting for edits and I love writing that book. I’m also working on contemporary women’s fiction. That’s still to be titled about Provence is coming out later next year.
Very exciting. Get ahold of me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s if you search for Aimie K. Runyon, I should show up as at bookish Aimie on Instagram. The Aimie K. Runyon on Instagram is broken. And I love doing virtual book clubs anytime you want. If you go to my website, www. Aimiekronian. com, there’s a form you can fill out and I will gladly join you.
[00:45:58] Jane: Excellent. All right. And so Libbie, how about you? And then we’ll round out since this is officially to launch Piper. Piper, you can go last.
[00:46:07] Libbie: Speaking of books that had to be trunked because the time was not right. I’ve been working on a novel about Van Gogh and my agent took it out and tried to tempt all the publishers with it.
And they were all like, nah. So she was like, what do you want to do? And I said, you know what? I’ve got 40, 000 words written. I’m just going to trunk it for now. And then we’ll just wait till the market shifts and then I’ll bring it back out. I was working on a novel about Van Gogh. I just stopped, and I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I have a couple of ideas, so I’m going to play around with them a little bit.
[00:46:34] Piper: like that one idea you were talking about, though. I hope you’re doing that. Yeah, I
[00:46:38] Jane: did too.
[00:46:39] Piper: Yeah. There’s that one
[00:46:41] Libbie: that, I am working on one that it sounds like Lake Union’s going to buy, but we don’t have a contract yet that’s about two women in the 1930s who are, become train hobos.
[00:46:51] Piper: Love it.
[00:46:53] Jane: that one.
[00:46:55] Piper: Awesome. That’s what I’m
[00:46:57] Libbie: talking about. My next year’s Olivia Hawker book, but the contract’s not officially signed yet. But as for works in progress, I don’t know. Where can people, yes, I do virtual book clubs. Just email me and ask hawkerbooks. com or Libbiegrant. com. They’re both my website.
They both have my contact info and you can find me on Instagram at Libbie Hawker. And it’s, I don’t talk about books a lot there. It’s mostly just pictures of my garden. So I hope you like flowers.
[00:47:24] Piper: Excellent.
[00:47:25] Aimie: Who doesn’t? Mine’s like lots of hiking pictures.
[00:47:29] Jane: Mine’s of my dog.
Alright Piper, launch day tomorrow. Tell us everything.
[00:47:39] Piper: Alright I Okay, yeah I’m working on my next book, which is due in September 1st, which will be tomorrow. Hopefully for next fall, called American Daughters, which is about the deep friendship between the daughter of Booker T. Washington and the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
But we will know about the dinner, the very famous dinner in 1901 that Booker and Theodore had when Theodore was newly president after McKinley was assassinated, he invites Booker T. Washington to come into dinner, and it was a big uproar because he was the first Black man to have dinner at the White House because their two daughters, their two rebellious teenage daughters, who have a lot in common, manage to become friends over this first half of the 20th century.
So that’s what American Daughters is about. I am at Piper Hughley on Twitter H U G U L E Y. My website where you could contact me to most certainly have virtual book clubs and professors. I’m deeply into that kind of thing, which is piperhughley. com. Facebook at Piper G. Hughley and I’m learning Instagram, which is why I’m still talking about my books, Piper underscore Hughley.
[00:48:57] Jane: Excellent. Excellent. Yay. Okay. So we have some questions. I don’t like to keep people too much longer. This is so awesome. There’s so many nice comments in the comments, by the way, ladies, I hope you get to see those. So this one from Robin Goldstein Piper referenced an upcoming analog exhibit in Delaware next spring.
That will be the winter her museum and near Wilmington. Has she been contacted to help curate the exhibit? And will you be giving any lectures there?
[00:49:24] Piper: I don’t think that I’ll be giving a lecture. I’m not going to be curating, though. Elizabeth Way, who is another fashion scholar, is co curating that. It’s going to be next fall in 2023.
Yeah, I’m hoping you’ll have me at some point.
[00:49:39] Jane: Excellent. Let’s see. Oh, Christine Mott is she, Christine, I don’t think you’ve missed a webinar. You’re amazing. And her question is, I’m always fascinated to know if your book title changed from your original title and also if you have input into your covers.
[00:49:52] Piper: I have no title forever. I’m sorry to be, I don’t have a title. They had to title it. And it took nine times for the cover. Oh, wow.
[00:50:03] Jane: It is perfect. Yeah. Love it. The cover
[00:50:06] Aimie: is amazing. I’m sorry. I don’t my arc is the plain blue, I couldn’t show up.
The original title for the school for German brides, which is a decent title, even though it’s a little bit misleading since most of the book is not the bride school. It’s metaphor. It’s a metaphor. The original title was A Ring of Iron, which I really liked. But they, the School for German Brides definitely is intriguing and people, it got people invested.
The cover I definitely had some involvement in and, basically this was one of this, the, this concept was one of two that we started with, and then we just made tweaks to this one after we went with this one. The other one looked a little bit too Bletchley Park. But I really liked it, but it did look a little bit Bletchy Park I thought this one didn’t have the creep factor I wanted, but I did have some some inputs.
[00:50:57] Jane: Yeah, I love it too.
[00:50:59] Aimie: How are you?
[00:51:00] Libbie: I agreed under duress to change the title to The Prophet’s Wife, and I did that because I wanted to keep some things in the book that my editor also was pushing to remove, so I was like I’m gonna give on this. So I can keep the stuff I want to keep in the book. But I do I make sure I actually make sure it’s in my contracts that I have input on my covers.
It’s getting, it’s becoming more and more common that authors have input on their covers, which is great. But just as that added layer of security, make sure that’s in my contracts. Cause it is very important to a book
[00:51:28] Jane: success.
[00:51:29] Aimie: It really is. My first two covers I based for my first cover. I, and I went to my mailbox and there was 50 printed cover flats and Of this cover and they said with a note from my editor saying on a post it note saying surprise
Yeah, and they’ve recovered the Kindle version of it, and it’s better, but it looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting, and it’s, it doesn’t convey what’s happening in the book, and that’s what a cover really needs to do, and so I really think it is important that authors do get input. As, and it’s also important that authors aren’t too diva ish about it, but that they, because designers, I’m not a designer, but I certainly know what my story is about, so it’s good that everybody has a dialogue.
[00:52:19] Jane: Yeah, totally agree. Oh, Aimie, this is an interesting question from Judy Bruce, wondering if you’ve heard of Debra Cadbury’s book, The School That Escaped the Nazis. It was featured in the Wall Street Journal today, so to check that out. No, I will have to check that out, yes. Yeah. I think, let me see if there, I missed anything.
Just a lot of really superb, can’t wait to read all your books. I don’t have a question, but boy am I loving this whole discussion. I can’t write, I can’t write, this is Debbie McBride, I can’t write worth beans, but ideas, have ideas, but writing expression is simply not my forte. I’m like, you could give it a try, Debbie.
And yeah, just so many great, and very important. They are very important. I shout out to Marsha and Marsha Dussing and Mandy Eisenbaum. Mandy says that I’m simply awed by all of you. This has been another great webinar. Thank you so much. Mandy always shows up too. Thank you. And I think that’s a great note to end on.
Thank you so much, ladies. This was amazing. And it will be recorded for people who missed tonight, so I’ll send it out and it’ll be on a podcast version as well. But happy launch eve. Piper, thank you. Cheers.
[00:53:29] Piper: Thank you. Thank you so much for waiting for me. I appreciate it. Oh
[00:53:33] Jane: yeah, we did it. Yeah.
[00:53:35] Aimie: Glad you got here.
[00:53:36] Jane: Yeah, so glad. So glad everyone have a great night.
[00:53:40] Piper: Alright, take care.
HISTORICAL HAPPY HOUR
Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.