Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Interview with Amy Stewart, author of Girl Waits With Gun

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Amy Stewart to Flashlight Commentary to discuss Girl Waits With Gun.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Amy. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Girl Waits With Gun.
Girl Waits with Gun is a novel based on a true story. In 1914, a factory owner named Henry Kaufman ran his car into a buggy being driven by three sisters: Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp. They got into a dispute over the damages, and the conflict escalated until the sisters were getting kidnapping threats and having shots fired at their house. The oldest sister, Constance, helped the sheriff convict the guy, and the event really changed the lives of all three sisters and set them on a remarkable new path.

Where did this story begin? How did you discover Constance Kopp?
I ran across a newspaper clipping about the case in the New York Times. Now, this happens to writers all the time: you're doing research, looking for one thing, and you stumble across another thing by accident and think, "Oh, that's interesting." I did a little more looking around, found a few more stories about them, and realized that I'd stumbled into a fascinating and totally forgotten story.

What makes Constance different from most women?
When this story began, Constance was thirty-five, unmarried, still living at home, and really had no prospects for the future. But she was bold and sure of herself, and she was also physically quite strong: Constance was six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. She could stand up for herself, but she'd never really been tested before.

Constance’s sisters, Norma and Fleurette, don’t run with the crowd either. Can you tell us a little about them as well?
Fleurette was the youngest--she was sixteen when this started. She was a very talented seamstress who made all her own clothes and dressed very fashionably. She liked to sing and dance, and had ideas about getting into the theater. The kidnapping threats were aimed at her--the young, petite, pretty one.

Norma was closer in age to Constance. She was thirty-one, also unmarried, and very hard-nosed, obstinate, opinionated, and plain-spoken. Although this didn't happen in real life, in my telling of this story, Norma kept carrier pigeons and was very interested in the idea of using birds to send messages.

Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about Henry Kaufman?
Kaufman owned a silk dyeing factory in Paterson, NJ. At that time, Paterson was a real factory down, very much dominated by the silk industry. I don't know a great deal about what he was like in real life, but my version of Henry Kaufman is a spoiled kid who's grown into a drunk and irresponsible adult who runs with a pretty tough crowd. 

What sort of research went into Girl Waits With Gun? What sources did find most valuable?
I spent a couple of years on the research. I've collected hundreds of newspaper clippings, both from digitized newspapers online and microfilm in library basements. I pulled court records, wills, birth certificates, death certificates, land deeds--all of that. I used Ancestry.com extensively to find them in census records, city directories, immigration records, and the like. And, thanks to Ancestry, I tracked down a few relatives who had stories to share about their amazing aunts. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
There's a scene near the end--I won't give too much away--but's a very powerful moment for a fictional character named Lucy Blake, a factory worker in Kaufman's factory. That scene actually made me cry. It really took me by surprise.   

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
Well, it was a challenge to take this enormous pile of research and figure out how to shape it into a story. I used to think that nonfiction writers had a harder time with story, because we are constrained by our fidelity to the truth. But now I realize that novelists face an even bigger challenge--too many options! The story can really go in any direction, and that can get overwhelming.  I spend a lot of time sitting very still and trying to imagine Constance talking in her own voice. I want very much to be true to her, and I have to sort of summon her up.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
There are some characters I had to get rid of!  I killed off their mother a few years early (Sorry, Mrs. Kopp) because I thought that three women under one roof would be enough. I actually had a better handle on Mrs. Kopp dead than alive.  

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Girl Waits With Gun and if so, what did you alter?
Yes, and I was careful to explain it all in the afterword. I put in that fictional character, Lucy Blake, to give Constance a way into Henry Kaufman's world. And I invented Norma's interest in messenger pigeons. I also made slight adjustments to the ages of some minor characters, such as their brother's kids. There's a lawyer, John Ward, who was actually in their lives in later years, and I put him in this story as Henry Kaufman's lawyer even though he wasn't in real life.

Constance and Fleurette
If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Oh, it would definitely be Constance! The story is told from her point of view, and it really is her story. I'm very attached to her--I feel as close to her as I might to, say, my own great-grandmother, who would have been about her age and who I also never met.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Girl Waits With Gun, who would you hire?
I have thought about it!  One person who comes to mind for Constance is Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones. She's got the stature. I'm less certain about Norma and Fleurette. I feel like a young version of Kathy Bates could play Norma very well, I just don't know who that would be. And a very young Jennifer Jason Leigh could have played Fleurette--Fleurette was only a little over five feet tall, and I think Leigh is five three and also very pretty but also sort of dramatic and daring.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Oh yes. There is more coming from the Kopp sisters! They had a very interesting life, and I'm not through with them. Stay tuned. 

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"A sheer delight to read and based on actual events, this debut historical mystery packs the unexpected, the unconventional, and a serendipitous humor into every chapter. Details from the historical record are accurately portrayed by villains and good guys alike, and readers will cross their fingers for the further adventures of Constance and Sheriff Heath. For fans of the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, and the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Laurie R. King."— Booklist, starred

"Hardened criminals are no match for pistol-packing spinster Constance Kopp and her redoubtable sisters in this hilarious and exciting period drama by bestseller Stewart (The Drunken Botanist). This is an elegant tale of suspense, mystery, and wry humor...A surprising Kopp family secret, a kidnapped baby, and other twists consistently ratchet up the stakes throughout, resulting in an exhilarating yarn."— Publishers Weekly, starred

"In her engaging first novel, Stewart (The Drunken Botanist) draws from the true story of the Kopp sisters (Constance became one of the country’s first female deputy sheriffs) and creates a welcome addition to the genre of the unconventional female sleuth. Colorful, well-drawn characters come to life on the page, and historical details are woven tightly into the narrative. The satisfying conclusion sets up an opening for future Constance Kopp novels. VERDICT: Historical fiction fans and followers of Rhys Bowen’s 'Molly Murphy' mysteries and Victoria Thompson’s 'Gaslight Mystery' series will delight in the eccentric and feisty Kopp women."— Library Journal, starred

"A period thriller that rivals any other historical-based suspense novel. Stewart weaves an amazingly delightful tale, one I was hard pressed to put down. This novel should be listed for debut novel awards."— Suspense Magazine

"How could you not fall in love with a book about one of the first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters--especially when it’s written by the enthralling Amy Stewart? Full of long-held secrets, kicked-up dust, simmering danger, and oh yes, that gun — this gritty romp illuminates one of history’s strongest women with a hold-your-breath panache."— Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You

“Girl Waits With Gun makes excellent use of history to put a fresh spin on classic cop-and-crook types. Amy Stewart's true-life protagonist is a ‘rough and tumble’ version of the early 20th century's New Woman.  She is witty, sharply-drawn, and suffers no fools!”— Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

“Yowza! Amy Stewart’s debut boasts pomaded gangsters, pistol-packin’ dames, kidnappings, shots in the dark, and everything from Girls Gone Wrong to carrier pigeons finding their way home. You might want to stay up all night reading, you might want to lie down on your fainting couch with a cool cloth on your forehead. Either way, you’ll have the time of your life.” — Robert Goolrick, New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife

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Amy Stewart lives in northern California, where she and her husband own an antiquarian bookstore called Eureka Books. She writes books by typing very quickly and loudly on a jet black keyboard that has no letters printed on the keys, proving (to herself, because no one else particularly cares) that she is an excellent touch typist.

When she's not writing books, reading them, or shelving them, she might be painting. You can see examples of her paintings here and here.

You can also find her all over the country speaking to audiences at bookstores, botanical gardens, garden clubs, and college and museum lecture series. To find out if she's coming to your town, visit the Events page of her website.

Four of Amy's books have been New York Times bestsellers, and she has enjoyed contributing to the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Good Morning America, and CBS Sunday Morning.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) granted her a Creative Writing Fellowship, and she's the winner of the American Horticultural Society's Book Award.

Website ❧  Twitter ❧  Facebook ❧  Google+ ❧  Pinterest ❧  Goodreads ❧  Blog

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Format: Print, Audio & eBook
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Released by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-13: 978-0544409910
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
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1 comment:

Colleen Turner said...

This is a fascinating interview, thank you! These sisters sound so unique and brave! I'll be reading this one soon and am even more excited now to learn more about them.