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Greer Macallister Talks "Bad Ass Women of History"
10 questions with the author of December selection, 'The Magician's Lie'
Book of the Month
Whoopi had her questions and so did we. We asked The Magician's Lie author, Greer Macallister, about writing, book comparisons, Hollywood actresses, and more.
What was your reaction when you found out your debut novel was selected by Guest Judge Whoopi Goldberg as her Book of the Month?
Blown away! I might have danced around the room a bit. Hearing it was chosen was great, but to hear who it was chosen by — someone whose career I've been following for years and years now, since the Comic Relief specials of the 1980s — was just unbelievable.
Whoopi asked you a question about your inspiration for the character The Amazing Arden. Was Arden based on any particular magicians you researched?
Arden herself wasn't inspired by any real-life figures, but one magician who turned up in my research absolutely had to go in the book — Adelaide Herrmann. She was her husband's assistant until he died suddenly, and then she took over his act and delivered on the bookings he'd promised: starting with the Bullet Catch, the deadliest illusion in professional magic. When I read about that, I knew it had to be included in the book, and it becomes the event that changes the direction of Arden's life.
Do you have a favorite magician's illusion after conducting your research?
The Herrmanns did an illusion called "The Slave Girl's Dream," a variation on levitation, one of the most common illusions. A woman appears to be hovering parallel to the ground. Seems simple, right? But the reason I find it so impressive is that it's physically very challenging. There's a giant steel truss under the woman's garments, with an adjustable metal pole running up to the armpit. So her whole body is held up by that pole, and it must be very painful. But for the illusion to work, she has to look like she's not putting forth any effort at all.
Your book has been compared to Water for Elephants. Do you agree with that comparison? Why or why not?
I absolutely adore Water for Elephants, so I like it! It's also a lot to live up to. Comparisons can be useful for readers, and if you say, 'Oh, this is like Water for Elephants, if you like historical fiction following a traveling show, and there's a love story in it,' that can be helpful. But one book is never exactly like another, so there's always a little danger in any comparison.
If your novel were turned into a film, are there any actresses you would want to portray Arden?
Such a hard question! I'd be so excited to see this on the screen, I can't even tell you. When I was writing the book, I had Mia Wasikowska in mind, but I did an online book club chat a few months back where one reader suggested Jessica Chastain, and now that's who I picture. I think she'd be incredible.
Can you tell us about the writing process for historical fiction? What kind of research did you need to conduct about that time period (the turn of the 20th century)?
I'd never written historical fiction before, so I really was making up the process as I went along. The research was so engrossing at first it was really getting in the way of the writing. So I had to designate separate blocks of time, as writing time or researching time. I had romantic notions that I'd be poring over dusty old materials in the library, and while I did some of that, mostly my research was internet-based. Finding the details isn't the hard part — it's deciding what to use. If I described what people were wearing and eating and how they got around in every single scene, there wouldn't be much room for the rest of the story. It's really about balance.
Do you have plans to write more historical fiction novels?
I do! Every idea I've had since finishing TML falls into the "bad ass women of history" category, which I find exciting and inspiring. So next up is a book about Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective, who was hired by Allan Pinkerton himself in 1856 in Chicago. It's called GIRL IN DISGUISE and I believe Sourcebooks is planning a release date in early 2017.
What's the most interesting question you received from a reader on your book tour?
On a Skype book club just last week, one reader had a question about what had happened to a character who features heavily in the early part of the book, but disappears thereafter. But it wasn't just her question, which was what had happened to the character — she had sort of a whole alt-history of what she thought might have happened to her and why, and I was really amazed and impressed by that.
Are there any questions you want to be asked but haven't been?
No one asks whether it's really safe to have a tiger hanging out on your porch, as happens in one memorable scene, but I'm OK with that. I think it means they believe that this tiger would do what this tiger does, in context.
Are you currently working on anything else?
Writing GIRL IN DISGUISE is my main focus right now, and I've got some ideas percolating for another book beyond that … all in good time.
What books are you reading now?
I just finished an advance copy of Ariel Lawhon's amazing FLIGHT OF DREAMS, about the Hindenburg disaster — I think it comes out in February. So good. Now I'm reading THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY, which is so charming, by Gabrielle Zevin. Next up is Mary Kubica's thriller PRETTY BABY — I loved THE GOOD GIRL so I suspect this one will also hit the spot.
Greer will be answering member questions on the Discussions section from January 20th – January 22nd. If you haven't read The Magician's Lie, be sure to add it to your box for January to participate in the conversation.