From the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia and Code Name Hélène comes a gripping historical mystery inspired by the life and diary of Martha Ballard, a renowned 18th-century midwife who defied the legal system and wrote herself into American history.
HISTORICAL HAPPY HOUR
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The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
In this episode Jane Healey speaks with Ariel Lawhon, a New York Times bestselling author, about her latest historical fiction novel, “The Frozen River.” Set in late 1700s Maine, the story centers on Martha Ballard, a midwife who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation in her community. The narrative draws inspiration from the real diaries of Martha Ballard, offering a blend of historical detail and imaginative fiction. Lawhon discusses her research, the challenges of fictionalizing historical figures, and the intricate balance between fact and fiction in storytelling.
Here’s what we got into:
- [00:00:00] Introduction: Overview of the episode and introduction of Ariel Lawhon.
- [00:01:13] Inspiration: Discussion on the inspiration behind “The Frozen River.”
- [00:04:08] Character Development: Insights into the fictionalization of Martha Ballard.
- [00:06:03] Research Process: Exploration of Lawhon’s research methods and findings.
- [00:09:51] Historical Context: Delving into the legal system of 1780s Maine.
- [00:11:08] Setting as a Character: The significance of Hallowell, Maine, in the novel.
- [00:13:56] Incorporating Symbolism: The role of the silver fox in the story.
- [00:19:48] Balancing Fact and Fiction: Lawhon’s approach to blending historical facts with fiction.
- [00:22:09] Writing Process: Discussion of Lawhon’s writing techniques and strategies.
- [00:28:28] Advice for Writers: Lawhon’s guidance for aspiring historical fiction authors.
- [00:30:27] Future Projects: Conversation about Lawhon’s upcoming works.
[00:00:00] Jane: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Historical Happy Hour, the podcast that explores new and exciting historical fiction authors. I’m your host, Jane Healy, and in today’s episode, we welcome Ariel Lahan. Am I pronouncing that right? Yes, you did it perfectly. Woo! Okay, good. To discuss her new novel, The Frozen River, which releases December 5th, welcome Ariel!
I’m just going to do a quick intro of you. Ariel Lohan is a critically acclaimed New York Times best selling author of historical fiction. Her novels include The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, Flight of Dreams, I Was Anastasia, Codename Helene, and The Frozen River, which is coming out, and also When We Had Wings, which was co-written with Christina McMorris, who’s been on here, and Susan Meister.
Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been library reads, One Book, One County, Indynext, Costco, Amazon Spotlight, and Book of the Month selections. She lives in the Rolling Hills outside Nashville at Tennessee. With her husband and four sons. Thank you so much. Welcome. And I feel like we have a lot of mutual friends, so it’s so nice to see you and meet you in person.
[00:01:11] Ariel: Thank you for having me. This is really, really fun. I’m glad to
[00:01:13] Jane: be here. Me too. So this novel is, I loved it. And I’m also we have, my parents have a cottage in Maine. So Maine is very close to my heart. It’s, it’s based, inspired by an extraordinary woman named Martha Ballard. who was a midwife in Maine in the 1700s, late 1700s.
And I loved, of course, I read your author’s notes. I love author’s notes. And I love the origin story of how you first learned about Martha. And can you talk about that and the overall premise? Of the novel. Of
[00:01:44] Ariel: course. So The Frozen River, as you said, is the story of a woman named Martha Ballard.
She was a midwife in the late 1700s in Maine. So the story takes place over six months from 1789 into 1790. And in this novel, Martha Ballard investigates a shocking murder that has upended her small community. And I first came across the story of Martha Ballard, I can tell you the exact date. It was August 8, 2008, and I was pregnant with our fourth son, and I was in my doctor’s office waiting for an appointment one afternoon, and he was late.
He’d gotten stuck at and at the hospital delivering a baby. So I got stranded in his waiting room and I could have rescheduled and gone home, but if I’d done that, this book would not exist. And honestly, I had three other kids at home and you know how it is. Like they had a sitter, but if I went home, I had to be a parent.
So I was like, I’m sticking it out. So I stayed and I finished the book that I’d brought with me. And then I read all the magazines in the office and there was nothing left to read. Keep in mind, this is like pre smartphone era there was nothing left to read, so I was kind of digging through the pile of scary pamphlets that they keep in the corner about all the ways you’re going to die tomorrow.
And at the bottom of this pile was a devotional called Our Daily Bread, so I kind of flip it open to that date, and there was a devotional, and the subject was Martha Ballard, and I’d never heard of her, but she was a midwife in Maine in the 1700s. And there are two astonishing things about her. The first is that she delivered over a thousand babies in the course of her career, and she never lost a mother in childbirth.
The doctor to see with all of his medical expertise and equipment and modern medicine couldn’t boast a record like that. But what was just as astounding is that for 30 years, Martha Ballard kept a diary at a time when most women could not read or write. And in this diary was recorded every birth, every death, every murder and scandal that happened in her small town over those 30 years.
And so the contents of that diary are the inspiration behind this book.
[00:04:08] Jane: Incredible. And I, I had never heard of her either. And I love when historical fiction is about a lesser known woman in history who really deserves her due, like, like Martha Ballard. And so, you know, I was, I was reading your notes at the back and, you know, you said that you really had to imagine who she was as a person, even though you had her diary.
And I know there was a, a, A biography about her and this is a quote from your author notes. I wrote Martha as she came to me and given that history has so, has recorded so little of her, I will argue that my version is at the very least plausible and explain why and how you created the fictionalized Martha.
[00:04:49] Ariel: Oh, that’s a great question. I actually, so there are two books, two books that exist about her. The first is. This one, a biography by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, you can see all my sticky notes I have highlighted it to death. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote a biography about Martha. It was published in 1992. It actually won the Pulitzer Prize for biography that year.
And then there is Martha’s diary herself. It’s basically 900 pages of very, very short journal entries. She will, it’s Honestly, less of a diary and more of a day book, if you’re familiar with what that is. My grandmother kept one, so it would be a journal, but you’d record the date, the weather, what you did.
And so there’s very little editorializing in Martha’s journal. She’s giving Just facts information. She will tell you whose baby she delivered, or who died, or who fell in the river, or what she made for dinner. But if you look a little bit deeper, you can kind of see this pattern emerge of all of this drama happening in her community.
And it is really fascinating. It’s hard to read because it’s not but it’s fascinating to see how she served her community for
[00:06:03] Jane: decades. Amazing. Yeah. And so that brings me actually to my next question too, like this is, it was clear this book is meticulously researched. And so talk to me about your research process for this story.
And you know, if, was there anything that surprised you in the course of your research?
[00:06:26] Ariel: I’ll answer both. I’ll answer the surprise first. Okay, fascinating. This novel takes place about 50 years post Puritan era. And one thing that jumped out immediately, because Martha’s a midwife, she’s delivering babies, about four in 10 first pregnancies In post Puritan New England, we’re conceived out of wedlock.
About one or two in ten are born out of wedlock. You had a lot of nine pound premature babies, as it were. But it, like, we tend to think of The Puritans is really scrubbed up, really neat, really tidy. They were not so pure. And Martha makes this joke in the book that the world must be peopled. I mean, it hasn’t changed.
And that bit, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. And in terms of the research process, I researched this one the way that I do all of my books, which is to read everything that I can get my hands on. And then, I mean, you can see here, like in the biography, I make notes of the things that are interesting to me.
I will highlight, I will underline. I’m looking, obviously, for the facts in the time frame. Like, I need to know what happened within the time frame that my story takes place. And I stick to that. But then to go deeper, I’m reading about petty rivalries. I’m reading about jealousies. I’m reading about relational conflict.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as, there’s several entries in her diary talking about How she made candles with her daughters. And so that worked its way into the book. And I think for me, I can’t speak for any other novelist, but when I focus on the details that I find fascinating, and then I work those into the overall story, it builds this texture in which the people come alive, in which the setting comes alive, and it lends this sense of authenticity.
And I always say, like, if you and I were both assigned Martha Ballard as a subject to write a novel, we would write entirely different novels, even if we were both given the same research information, because we would look at it through our individual viewpoint, and we would focus on the things that were interesting to each
[00:08:43] Jane: of us.
Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that’s true, too. I always think, like, if I find something juicy, hopefully other people will find it juicy. You know, I try to include that. And I was surprised at how many, how many couples were having sex outside of marriage. That was a very surprising aspect of the story.
[00:09:04] Ariel: it was true. They were, I mean. Biology works, I guess. Right, right. Moral
[00:09:10] Jane: of the story. Another question I had and I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising, but you know, it’s 1700 Maine. It’s an ice kind of an isolated community. I mean, I was thinking about is the Wild West. There’s really the Wild North and how, it wasn’t lawless, but it was close to lawless, like, and this is another quote from your notes that, you know the, the justice system in late 1700s in Maine barely existed. You say, take everything you know about the process and legal matters and throw them out the window. And that, that was like, oh, you know, I, I mean, like I said, it seems, should seem obvious, but I’m like, yeah, there was really very little structure around the legal system at the time.
Yeah, there was.
[00:09:51] Ariel: Like, we, we think of the legal system with 200 and however many years, in hindsight, we have it all there. We have due process, we have innocent until proven guilty, we have all of these things that we take for granted. But at the time this story takes place, the Constitution had barely been written.
It was the first five articles. The Bill of Rights had been Written, but it was not ratified. There was a very bare bones legal system. The Supreme Court, for instance, met for the first time during when this story takes place, and there were only five judges on the court. So they were operating with the most bare, sparse legal system, which, if you’re talking about a story like this one, where justice really Plays a big role.
There was so much room to work within that because None of the stuff that we take for granted existed or I should say very little of it
[00:10:49] Jane: Yeah, and that was interesting you realize like the country was so young in 1789 like yeah, maybe country Yeah, yeah amazing. I want to talk about I feel like certain books that Setting is almost like another character, and I felt like the town of Hallowell.
Is it Hallowell? Am I pronouncing that right, Mae? I
[00:11:08] Ariel: said Hallowell the whole time I was writing it, and then when I was talking to the audio book producer, it turns out it’s Hallowell, and I had no idea. Hallowell.
[00:11:16] Jane: Okay. All right. Well, and I had to look it up on a map, because I hadn’t heard of it, of it before, and it’s halfway between like Portland and Bangor.
Yes, think of it as present day
[00:11:25] Ariel: Augusta.
[00:11:26] Jane: Okay. All right. And so this, yeah, I think this. It’s really, you really paint a picture of this stark, rugged life in 1700s winter. And how did you create such an immersive setting?
[00:11:42] Ariel: Oh, thank you. It was, I knew the parameters that I wanted the story to take place.
This is not a spoiler. The opening scene in the book is a body floating downstream and then the river freezing solid, which I didn’t know rivers could do that. I didn’t know rivers could do that until I read this one. I come from the Southwest. I mean, my river was the Rio Grande. It is never frozen, probably even on its banks.
But the Kennebec River in Hallowell is enormous. It is wide, it is long, and quite often in winter will completely freeze solid so that people can walk across it. And in Martha’s day, there were no bridges across this river at all. There was only the ice in winter, when you could walk across, or canoes and ferries.
When it was running, so that one detail fascinated me and obviously is the inspiration for the title itself, the frozen river, and I knew I wanted it to begin when the river froze. And then I wanted it to end later in the spring when the river opened, which meant we are stuck in this town over one very long, hard winter, which is kind of tricky to write, but also kind of fun to write because so much of what would normally happen in a river town is not happening.
The rivers. Frozen, there is no trade coming up and down, people are kind of locked in for the winter and when you’re writing a murder mystery, that gives it this really kind of fun, claustrophobic vibe, I think.
[00:13:22] Jane: Yes, yeah. And very kind of dark and yeah, it was, it was great. And there’s a couple elements that you also incorporated I that I think contributed to like the mysterious aura of the, of the setting and the, and one of them is is the silver fox.
Yes. So how did you, so this theil, there’s a silver fox on Martha Ballard’s property that she ends up naming Tempest ’cause she sees it multiple times. It’s kind of symbolic and kind of a protector of her in a way. And how did you end up incorporating that? That was such an interesting detail. So
[00:13:56] Ariel: I made her a silver fox simply because they’re rare.
They’re not often found in nature, but the reason this fox worked its way into the story in the first place is about the time I started writing, really working in the book. It was summer and my husband had I’ve been doing this huge project in our house, which means we had been evicted from our bedroom and we were sleeping upstairs in one of the kids bedrooms, and they’d been kicked into the bonus room, like our whole house was in disarray, and one night we wake up to this sound that I can only describe as We Your most dearly beloved being slaughtered in their sleep like we bolt out of bed There is screaming and snarling and we have no idea what’s happening We need this mad dash through the house Making sure the kids are alive only to find a fox in this case It was a red fox barking in our backyard, and I don’t know if it was mating season I don’t know if it was birthing season.
I don’t know what she was doing out there It was terrifying at first and then really eerie and almost kind of beautiful. And for the rest of that summer, I mean, even still today, we will see this Fox in our neighborhood and she’ll go running by. And I’m like, Oh, it’s Tempest. There she is. Yeah. And I’ve always loved foxes.
I thought they were beautiful, but I had no idea what they sounded like. And if you’re curious, I can, you can go to YouTube and you can pull that up and you kind of go, Whoa.
[00:15:23] Jane: Yeah, we have one in our neighborhood and it, we’ve heard the sound in the summertime when the windows are open and stuff, and it is scary.
Like, the sound is very scary. So, yeah.
[00:15:34] Ariel: So that combined with The following morning a baby that I care very much about was born. And so for some reason, those two things in my mind, this very eerie fox and this newborn baby kind of became joined together. I think of them in unison a lot. Everybody’s still fine.
Baby’s fine. Fox is fine. Everybody’s good. But you know how it is when you’re writing like things that you could never. Think on your own. Oh, I’m going to put this into a story. They just find you and they kind of work their way in so much of fiction. I have found. Is dependent on my state of being as I’m writing it, had I read this book 10 years ago, wouldn’t look like this.
If I wrote it five years from now, it wouldn’t look like it. Every novel is a reflection in many ways of my life during the years that I
[00:16:29] Jane: write it. Totally agree. And I think too, sometimes like things end up in your subconscious, you know, like, you know, that Make their way into the book that you’re like, how did that and then you’re like, Oh, you know, because that’s, that was going on at the time, or I read this, or I heard this song or whatever it is.
[00:16:46] Ariel: instance, when I first stumbled across this idea, I had young children. I was pregnant and I had my oldest was five. But now I have two college kids and two high school kids. And when you read the story, you see how much of the story is driven by Martha as a mature woman. With older children, and she wouldn’t be the character she is in this book if her kids were a little bitty.
She’s, she’s just a different person. Motherhood does that to us. It changes us as much as it changes our kids.
[00:17:18] Jane: Absolutely. There’s another character in the book that was really interesting to me That contributed to the overall story and mystery, and it was the African American woman known simply as doctor who kind of travels the country as a healer.
And so how did she end up in as part of the as part of the story? So it’s fascinating.
[00:17:41] Ariel: I could probably even find the diary entry here if it’s I’m going to have to look for it. I don’t know if I can find it. I was reading Martha’s diary and I stumbled across, where is she this diary entry where she says that there was this black woman doctor that had come through town.
And she then goes on to say how one of her neighbors came to her house and borrowed a horse to go see this. Doctor. Keep in mind, Martha was a healer. She was a medical professional. Typically, people came to her, but her neighbor borrowed her horse and went to see somebody else, which made me think, A, either this woman had superior medical skills or the patient had a secret to keep.
Both or either could be true, but I was so fascinated by the idea of an itinerant Black woman with the profession of doctor who would come through town. And so I wanted to find her name. And it’s not recorded anywhere, which is actually odd, because during the years that Martha wrote her diary, there were 12 free Black families living in Maine.
So Maine was a district of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery. So, there were three black people living in her town. She knew their names. She recorded their names. She delivered their babies. She traded with them. They were on really great terms. But in this one instance, she did not record the woman’s name, which made me wonder, perhaps she didn’t know the woman’s name.
And so, that was the inspiration behind Doctor, who is one of my favorite characters in the book.
[00:19:19] Jane: Such an interesting character. Totally agree. Yeah. So the next few questions are questions that I ask all authors and it’s more about process. And then please remember if you have questions for Ariel, put them in the chat or in the Q and A and I will field them and ask her after I ask these questions.
How do you strike a balance between fact and fiction in your storytelling? And are there any strict rules that you adhere to as a writer in that way?
[00:19:48] Ariel: Very good question. So far, I have written about real people or real events, and I have always been of the opinion that it is not my job to change history.
I’m not writing alternate history, I’m not writing speculative fiction, so I stick with the events as they are known on the historical record, and then I try to find my story within the gaps, the things that we do not know. That’s where I will flesh things out. Mm hmm. This? And I’ve done that with all of my books.
This one is probably the closest I’ve come to blurring those lines because there’s so little that we know about Martha. An example here is in, so it’s absolutely a murder mystery, but the story, one of the subplots is it’s also a rape trial. These two things are going on hand in hand. And in the real trial, there were three men accused.
I wrote one of them out of the story completely because That’s just too many. It’s too much. It’s too hard. Mm hmm. One of them disappears from Martha’s diary completely shortly around the time these events take place. No explanation given. He could have disappeared. He could have died. Whoever, who knows.
So I chose to make him the body that is floating downstream. So immediately we know. That the dead man, A, deserves to die, but B is tangled up in this other really complicated trial that’s happening. So, That would be an instance where, kind of for the first time, I took established history and I weeded through it and used it to suit the story that I was telling.
And in this case, I felt more free to do so simply because so few people know who Martha Ballard is. And I’m not writing about someone who is taught in the history books. She should be, but she’s not. Right, right. And then there is, there’s just so little information about her. So I. Built more of a story around this one than any of my
[00:21:47] Jane: others.
Interesting. And so the next question, so this book, you know, it’s a mystery at its heart and it’s so well plotted in my opinion, and well-paced and I, so my question is are, are you a plotter or a pants? Like do you plot things out or do you write by the seat of your pants? ’cause it seems, I, my guess would be a plotter, but I don’t know.
[00:22:09] Ariel: absolutely. I, I have friends that are pantsers and I’m convinced they have more fun than I do. Like, they just sit down and it’s, what is happening? And they’re always surprised by the story. There’s no way, there’s no way I could write a book like that. And I think it’s because I had four babies in five years, so in my early days of writing, I would have minutes a day sometimes, I would write during nap time, I would write in the evenings, around the weekends, and I had to know what was coming next, and I had to know how it related to everything I’d written so far, because I didn’t want to delete words, because deleting a thousand words could My entire writing for the week.
So I got really good at creating these really, really detailed plots that were basically page by page what was going to happen in the story. And I continue to do that today. Not to say that I’m never surprised by my stories or that they will hook a left sometimes when I think they’re going to go right.
So there’s still room for the surprise, but at least I always know what I’m going to write that day. And I feel the momentum of moving forward.
[00:23:16] Jane: Okay, that’s what I that’s what I guessed. Yeah. And yeah, it’s what about you? I’m very much a plotter. I definitely need to have a road road map. And like you said, doesn’t not to say that sometimes I don’t have to pivot, but like, I like to have kind of a detailed plan, you know, so that every day when I sit down, I’m like, I kind of know where I’m going, or, you know, yeah, so I’m with you.
Do you use Scrivener, by the way, the word? I do use Scrivener. I do too.
[00:23:42] Ariel: Yes. Do you? My favorite thing in Scrivener is do you use the emojis in your, on the side where you can compile everything and you have each of your chapters? My favorite thing is adding, like you can add a check mark, you can add a smiley face.
Oh, I will go in and I kind of organize it all by character by here, and I have. Sort of the visual thing there. And it’s so fun to add that little check every time a scene is done.
[00:24:06] Jane: Yeah, I do a little like color like so I turn it a different color when it’s done. It’s so satisfying. Yeah. And then you can see how far you’ve come.
I Yeah, that is I mean, I probably use like 10 percent of what Scrivener does, but I do. Yeah, I don’t even
[00:24:23] Ariel: understand what it does. Like I started using it for the targets function when it will say like, you have to write this many words a day to hit your deadline. And I barely use what it does, but I do all of my drafting and Scrivener.
And then when it comes time to send it to my editor, finally, I’ll move it to
[00:24:41] Jane: word. Yeah, that’s my process too. Exactly. Yeah. What, so who would play Martha and her beloved husband, Ephraim in a movie?
[00:24:50] Ariel: Okay. That is so funny. You’re the second interview I’ve done today and they asked me that and I’m usually absolutely terrible at it.
This one I was talking to earlier today. She said that she and her book club read it and they were all like, Oh, Jane Seymour. I’m like, I don’t think Jane Seymour is right. And I would not be able to answer this question if not for the fact that I was watching wheel of time with my youngest son last week and Rosamund Pike plays the main character.
And I saw her and I was like, Oh. She says so much with her face. Yes. I love her. I feel like Martha is, she’s a woman of few words and she’s really strong. She’s not like my last main character who was boisterous and larger than life. Martha is the type of person that when she speaks, people listen and she does speak often.
I was like, Rosamund Pike would do a really good job. I agree. For her husband Ephraim, I have no idea. I couldn’t tell you. That’s a tough one too. In my mind, he looks like my dad. So I made them look like my parents in my mind. Martha looks like my mom, Efrem looks like my dad. So that’s kind of where they’re frozen for
[00:25:57] Jane: me.
Oh, so funny. What is your favorite part of the whole writing process, and what is the part that you dread?
[00:26:05] Ariel: Yeah, my favorite part is being done. I love having written. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this or not, but I find first drafts so hard. I have to gut my way through, and here’s my thing, I’m convinced, it goes back to the plotting and the pantsing thing.
You don’t get a finished book without suffering. If you are a plotter, you do all of your suffering on the front end. You are combing through the history, and you’re putting this plot together, and you’re pulling your hair out, trying to make a story before there’s words on the page. Mm hmm. You’re a pantser, I think you have way more fun in the actual writing process, but then you get to the end and you’re like, Oh, God, what is this?
And the revision process tends to kill my friends that are panzers. So I don’t think you get out without suffering. I think you just have to pick which end of the story you want it on. You
[00:27:01] Jane: know, I mean, that’s, oh yeah, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Oh, no, no.
[00:27:05] Ariel: It’s yeah, it’s just the first draft.
I find the first draft, like, Tweezing words out of my spine and like
[00:27:10] Jane: blood from a stone. I always say And I think that’s absolutely true I think because I actually really love the revision process So much fun. Yeah, I really love
[00:27:21] Ariel: taking my husband calls it polishing a turd. I can polish it really well.
It’s yeah or even like I’ll write something my the mantra that I give myself when I’m working on a book is do a favor for your future self meaning Ariel of tomorrow is going to sit down and open the document and revise what I wrote yesterday. It’s how I start every writing session. I will just make yesterday’s work better, but if there is no work, there’s nothing to make better.
So by the time I get to the end of the finished draft, it’s actually, it’s been revised, it’s been edited. I’ve gone over it hundreds or thousands of times at that point, but the new words are always hard. So I have to. Do a favor for my future self. And that favor is, I don’t know, a thousand words that I can fix tomorrow.
[00:28:09] Jane: Yeah, that is a great mantra. Yeah, really, really good. So you’ve published several novels and have proven staying power in the industry, which is not easy. And I think it’s getting harder all the time. And I know we have aspiring authors in the audience. What’s the best advice you can give them about writing and about getting published?
[00:28:28] Ariel: It’s the best advice I was ever given myself, which is finish the book. Mm. There’s no career without the finished book. There is no book tour without the finished book. There is no published book without the finished book. And it is the hardest part of the process. But I was talking to a friend the other day who’s in this process.
I’m like, I promise you, when you get to the end, when you have typed the final sentence, You’ve taught your brain that you can do this. You can complete the project, and knowing that you can do it is half the battle, because the next time you sit down to do it, you’ll know that you did it. I mean, to this day, I am about to start my seventh, I guess, and I look at these books and I go, Oh, I’ve done it.
I can do like, I can do this. I have done it. There’s the proof that I can do this, but you have to teach yourself yourself. And at the beginning, that is the hardest part in terms of staying power. I don’t know how much of that is skill and how much of that is luck, but the one thing that I have done that I would recommend, because I think it has.
And one of the things that’s really been beneficial for me is that every time I sit down to write a new book, I’m deciding between this idea or that idea, you know how it is like you got to find ideas. I look through them. And the number one question that I asked myself is, which one of these ideas scares me most, because if I don’t feel a little bit afraid.
I will not bring my A game to the table. I need the book, I need the premise that is going to stretch me, that is going to force me to grow as a writer, whether it’s research, whether it’s technical skill, whether it’s a larger story with more stakes, and I can always tell which one is the right one by the fear.
I’m like, Oh God, I don’t know if I’m good. I don’t know if I’m good enough to write that one. And that’s usually the indicator that that’s the
[00:30:27] Jane: one I need to write. That’s the one. Excellent. Excellent advice. Are you comfortable talking about what you’re working on now or not yet?
[00:30:35] Ariel: Absolutely. I am. I will turn it in in late spring, early summer.
It tentatively is titled the pirate queen and it is about grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Ireland. So this one will take place in the 1500s. And it’s. It’s an astonishing story of a female chieftain in Ireland who took on Queen Elizabeth the first and prevailed. She was, I mean, she was a privateer, she was a pirate, but she was also a landowner and a chieftain and a mother and a wife.
And her story is remarkable, far more well known than Martha Ballard, thankfully, at least we did not forget about Grace. So I’m deep, deep, deep in that. My husband. Oh, very cool. Bye. Bye. Yeah, I got to go on my first ever research trip in September. My husband and I went with some friends to Ireland.
[00:31:28] Jane: Oh, nice.
Yeah. I, I remember you announced it on, I think it was on Instagram and I was like, that is such a cool premise. I love that. Yeah, it would be
[00:31:39] Ariel: interesting. I mean, my first four novels and then the one I co wrote with Susan and Christina all took place in the early 20th century. So between, I don’t know, 1917 and 1945 with the frozen river, I took a big leap back into revolutionary era.
United States. And now I’m going to like medieval Ireland. So that is in terms of the thing that scared me. That’s scary to take a huge leap like that in time. And then of course, different country, different culture, different accents, different ways of looking at the world. Yeah. I’ll be terrified until it’s done.
[00:32:22] Jane: Always. I, like you said, though, I think you have to be a little scared. Yeah, to, to keep, to keep pushing. How is, what’s the best way for readers to stay in touch with you?
[00:32:32] Ariel: My website, ariellawhan. com. Or you can go to ariellawhan. substack. com. That is my newsletter. I’m actually this year teaching, or, I don’t know if I’m teaching.
I’m doing a series on writing. Every single thing that I know about writing, I am sharing that on my sub stack. So that’s been really fun to be able to kind of unpack step by step by step, how I write a novel. But either of those things, Oh, and Instagram. Ariel that law hon on Instagram.
[00:33:03] Jane: All right. Well, now, thank you.
I am ready to take some questions here. If anyone else has questions, there’s a few here. Oh, and this is actually when I usually ask do you zoom with book clubs? Yes,
[00:33:15] Ariel: as often as I can. You can email me. I believe my emails on my website or just message me on Instagram, too. That’s fine. And then I will set it up if I can, if
[00:33:25] Jane: I’m able.
And there’s some lovely comments, by the way. Melanie Schultz says, Hello from Connecticut. I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and I loved it. Great research. Harley, highly recommend. Yay! Yeah. And who else? And such a gorgeous cover. Do you have input into the cover design? That’s a question. I’m so glad
[00:33:45] Ariel: you asked.
Okay. So you know how this goes typically, right? We, we get no say. I told my kids when they were little, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. And this time, however, you were not going to believe this. But I actually chose this cover. I found it. I chose it. It is 100 percent me. And the reason that happened is the art team had sent me covers and we couldn’t quite land on the right thing.
It was just, I’m really bad at communicating what I want. Like, I, I don’t know what I want, I guess is the problem. I can write an entire book, but I couldn’t tell you what should be on the cover. And so they send out the questionnaire. What do you want? I’m like, I don’t know, snow. And it needs to be cold, probably a river.
And so they were sending me all of the things that I was asking for. And I was like, Oh, that’s not it. And then in January, I got a really bad head cold, like the kind that just. Put you on your couch and you’re done for the day and I went on this website that is used often in the industry for covers and I was just scrolling things, just scrolling for images, trying to find something that would help me communicate better what I want.
And this image was on there and I thought, Oh, that’s really pretty. And of course they had to do, I mean, her, originally her jacket was shorter and they had to make it look like my book. But I sent about five images that day to my agent and to the creative team. And they were like, that one, the one where she’s walking in the snow.
So for the first time ever, I can actually say I did it. I picked it.
[00:35:18] Jane: Oh, well done. Yeah, no, it’s beautiful. I love it. I love how the red pops on the white. Yeah, so good.
[00:35:24] Ariel: Yeah. And it’s so Christmassy, like the the finished copy in the back, it’s all Christmassy and it’s got the spine there and
[00:35:34] Jane: Excellent.
Beautiful. I love it. And you know, I should also mention again, this comes out December 5th and pre orders are always like a great for authors. So just keep that in mind. It’s two weeks from today it comes out. So everyone, you know, note that I know. Nope. I know you’re in that, that period, right? Like you just want it out
[00:35:53] Ariel: there.
Well, yes, but also time doesn’t work because I’m pretty sure yesterday it was six weeks until publication. I don’t know what happened.
[00:36:04] Jane: Sharon asks, I still can’t believe how you got this idea for this book. Hello Sharon. There’s some lovely people listeners who are on like every single one and Shannon, Sharon is one of them.
Has anything like that ever happened to you with any of your other books? Like the way you came up with this idea?
[00:36:19] Ariel: Every single time. I go about my life, and I mind my own business, and these stories, these ideas come from me. My first novel is called The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress, and it is about a New York State Supreme Court judge who went missing in 1930.
And, I was reading the news one day. And there’s this headline and it says, Has the mystery of Judge Crater been solved? And I was like, I don’t know who that is, but click. Yeah. And fell down this rabbit hole and read a story of his wife, who every year for 39 years on the anniversary of his death, went to this bar in Greenwich Village.
And she would toast her missing husband and I was like, Oh, there’s a story. That’s great. And then my second one same thing. It’s called flight of dreams. It takes place on the last ill fated flight of the Hindenburg. And on the 70th anniversary, I opened my newspaper and there’s that famous picture of the Hindenburg in flames.
And it’s what is it? His nose is in there and his butt is on the ground and there’s just fire everywhere. I looked at that picture and there are all these little specks. And the specks were people and they were jumping from the airship. And until that moment, I had no idea that people survived. I just assumed everyone died.
So, and it happened the same with my third novel. And again, with my fourth, I am living my life. And then this story idea will find me. And I always know it’s a good one when the little hairs stand up on the back of my neck. And I go, Oh, that could be a novel. Totally, totally. And then I regret it a thousand times over writing a novel, I’m like, Oh, why you?
[00:37:57] Jane: idea? Until you hit the end, and then it’s
[00:38:00] Ariel: like, I’m a genius, and this was great.
[00:38:02] Jane: Right, right. One last question. What are you reading right
[00:38:06] Ariel: now? I? Oh God, what am I reading? It’s over there. Oh, I I’m reading Holly by Stephen King.
[00:38:14] Jane: Oh, I love Stephen King. And I love Holly as a character. Like, I, I, I, you know, she was in The Outsider.
She’s been in a couple of his books. Is this one
[00:38:23] Ariel: good? It is great so far. I’ve just started. It is really, really good. I’ve not read any of the other novels that she was in, but I have, I read him a ton when I was younger, and then I was a young girl on my own, and I was like, you are too scary for me.
So I took a long break from Stephen King, but I came back a few years ago with 11 22 63. So actually, tomorrow is the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, which is what that book is about, and I loved it. And then last year I read Billy Summers, and then I read Fairytale. So I’m kind of on a Stephen King kick.
[00:38:56] Jane: Oh, I read fairytale too. And my daughter is 17. She’s a big Stephen King fan, so she’s read the stand like three times and that’s what kind of got me back into Mm-Hmm. reading him again, you know, and she read the new
[00:39:08] Ariel: version where he added like 300 pages to the original. No,
[00:39:12] Jane: I don’t think we did. I don’t think she, she may have.
I didn’t. I have
[00:39:16] Ariel: it right there. So there was the original version and then he got to redo it and he got to put in all the stuff they made him cut the
[00:39:21] Jane: first time. I’m telling you that is one of my all time favorite books still. It was like, I remember reading it when I was like 22 and I still to this day love that book.
I read it when I was
[00:39:31] Ariel: 12 for the first time. I don’t even understand who let me do that.
[00:39:35] Jane: Yeah, my daughter, I let her read it at like 13 and then I reread it and I was like, oh my god, this was a little much for you. It’s kind of like,
[00:39:44] Ariel: remember the movies when we were kids and it was like, oh this is great and you should show your kid and you’re like, oh my god.
Yeah. Like you gotta mute and skip and like, I finally realized I didn’t know they were trashy because I watched them on TV and they were all edited for TV so I legitimately had no idea. How much was in
[00:40:05] Jane: who knew I wanted to share to I’m reading the heaven and earth grocery store by James Fry. Have you read it?
No, but I heard it’s good. It’s really, really good. Yeah, I just yeah, I love it. I’m like, halfway through. It’s it’s really, really well, well done. So I recommend that one too. Oh, there’s one more question. Have you visited this town in Maine, or respond or corresponded with any locals there who know you? This story.
I can’t fascinating. I can’t wait to read this. Thank you, Mary. Thank you.
[00:40:32] Ariel: I did not so I wrote this book over the three years of coven and I was stuck at home like everybody else, which is really funny ironic. If you were to ever read Martha’s diary, which you probably won’t because it’s actually pretty dry, but thousands of times.
In her diary, she ends an entry and she will say, I have been at home. And so I’m reading, I’m like, me too, Martha. And I did not actually correspond with anyone in Maine. I, I’m weird about that. I try to hold these things close to the vest. I don’t want. anything else to color my view of the story. And people can be proprietary sometimes, and so I always tend to protect myself in the writing process.
I do a ton of research But very little when it comes to, like, reaching out to direct descendants, that kind of thing. But I, in January, will do an online event with the Maine State Library, which has all of Martha’s papers. So that will be a really, really fun, sort of full circle to be able to come back now that the book is done.
It’s completely my, I mean, it’s my version of her story. Yeah. And talk to the experts there and kind of compare notes a little bit.
[00:41:53] Jane: Oh, I’ll have to look that up because my mom I think would also really enjoy that. We love Maine and yeah, so I’ll have to look that one up. That sounds great. Ariel, this has been a delight.
Thank you so much for being part of this. I really you know, I, I’d love to have you on again for the next one. And I Yeah. And so everyone, you know how to get in touch. Remember, it comes out to, it’s not out yet. December 5th is the release date. Happy launch, pre launch week. Thank you for listening to historical happy hour.
Don’t remember, remember to leave reviews on the podcast or subscribe to the YouTube. I always have to say that my husband is in marketing. He has to remind me. And and I will see you next month for Jill Paul is coming on. So, yeah. Thank you, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, Ariel.
So thank you again. You as well.
[00:42:41] Ariel: All of my kids are home today, as
[00:42:43] Jane: of today, so. Yay! Oh, that’s the best. Have fun. Enjoy. Take care, everyone. Have a good night. You too.
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.