Get More Victoria Woodhull in The Tangled Lights and Silent Nights Holiday Anthology

Surprise! I’ve got a short story (the first one I’ve ever successfully completed) in an anthology, which is a dream come true for this writer.

Here’s all the official info:

Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology

Publication Date: November 4

Wonder
This holiday season, twenty talented, award-winning, and bestselling authors have crafted never before released Yuletide-themed tales about their most beloved characters.

Magic
From murder to magic, love to loss, the past and the future, this multi-genre collection of poems and stories has something for everyone.

Charity
In the spirit of giving, the authors have generously opted to donate all profits to The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project, whose passion is to shatter the stigma and spread awareness to three taboo topics that underscore society today: Suicide, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence.

Nicole Evelina’s story:

A Vanderbilt Christmas 
A companion story to the award-winning novel Madame Presidentess.

In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

Pre-order now
Some pre-order links are still going live, and paperback is yet to come, but you can pre-order the ebook here: https://www.books2read.com/tangledlights/.

Don’t forget – All proceeds go to charity!

Want a sneak peak? Since the story is so short, all I can give you is the first few paragraphs…

December 1868

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be spending Christmas Eve at the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the country, I would have booked them a room at Blackwell’s Island with the other lunatics. Me? The guttersnipe daughter of a confidence man and a religious zealot whose favorite hobby was blackmailing people? Even with my gift of clairvoyance, it would have been too much to believe.

But then again, much had changed over the last year. When my sister Tennie and I moved to New York at the direction of my spirit guide, Demosthenes, we had no idea the good fortune that awaited us. Our Pa, no doubt sensing a way to make a quick buck, had arranged an introduction to Commodore Vanderbilt in the hopes he would employ us as mediums and magnetic healers. But the tycoon did him one better. After I successfully channeled the spirit of his long-dead mother and gave an accurate prediction of the stock market, he took us in as his assistants. Although, this may have had more to do with my sister’s beauty than our skill.

No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.

No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.

My husband, James, Tennie, and I, on the other hand, were seated along one side of a massive dining table that could easily seat twenty and was laden with china, crystal, and silver. The other chairs were occupied by a handful of the Commodore’s close friends and business associates – including his rival Mr. Fisk – plus several generations of his family. Around us, wreaths of evergreen and holly decorated the damask covered walls and pine boughs dripped from an elegant gold chandelier, while wreaths of orange, bay, and cinnamon perfumed the air.

Across the table, the eldest Vanderbilt son, William, shot daggers at me and Tennie. Clearly his disposition toward us hadn’t warmed any with time, nor had he grown in trust of us.

“Tell me, what will be your parlor trick tonight?” He picked at one of the starched white lace napkins. “Will you channel the angel who announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds, or perhaps even the baby Jesus himself?”

“If you are so certain you know, perhaps you should place a bet on it,” I shot back, referencing William’s secret vice of gambling.

—–

You can also check out the Pinterest board I created while writing it.

Celebrate Women’s Equality Day with These Interesting Projects in Women’s History

As August 2020 and the centennial of women’s right vote in the United States grows closer, we’re starting to see some really creative projects highlighting the brave, groundbreaking women of American history. Unfortunately, none of them include Victoria Woodhull yet (trust me, I’m contacting each one as I learn of them), but they do include many of her contemporaries. Here are three projects I’m keeping an eye on:

Rebel Women – A project to get more statues of amazing women of American history built in New York City and throughout the country. The author of the article I linked to is asking for nominations for women from your home town. I’ve already nominated Victoria for New York City and Virginia Minor for St. Louis. Please, feel free to nominate your own or second one of mine by emailing dearmaya@nytimes.com.

Embrazen Wines – This is by far the most clever of the three projects. A winemaker has created three special vintages with labels that highlight the accomplishments of three women in American history: Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly and Celia Cruz. A special app called Living Wine Labels allows you to scan the bottle and hear Beginning August 26 (National Women’s Equality Day, which many groups are lobbying to make a Federal holiday), you can nominate women of history or today to be added to the next group of wines. If you nominate a contemporary woman, she could win a $25,000 grant. You bet I will be making them aware of Victoria when the Trailblazer campaign opens on August 26.

Where Are the Women? – This Kickstarter campaign aims to create sculptures of 20 notable women of U.S. history. Even though Victoria is not among them, her friends Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone are. I have backed it and I have also recommended Victoria to them. Please help them reach their goal. It’s so important that we spread the word about women’s history and all those whose accomplishments have not received the attention they deserve.

Why am I telling you about these? Well, besides oversight of not including Victoria, I’m still working on a proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the U.S., which I’d love to have published near the centennial. Cross your fingers!

Madame Presidentess is an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist

Hi everyone! Just a quick note to share the good news that Madame Presidentess is a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. It didn’t end up winning, but it is on the list with my friend Neal Katz’s book Outrageous, which is also about Victoria, which is an honor. As I told him, two books about Victoria on one prize list should be enough to change the cosmos, at least a little!

According to an email from the contest organizers, they had over 1,500 entries and those who finaled were in the top 10% of entrants.

 

 

On Likeable and Unlikeable Female Characters

Victoria Woodhull drawn as Mrs. Satan in Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast, 1872 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Occasionally I come across a review of Madame Presidentess that characterizes Victoria Woodhull as an “unlikeable” character. Usually, I shrug and think “whatever,” because you certainly can’t please everyone, and I know, even if the reader didn’t get it, that Victoria is the way she is because the historical woman was that way. I can’t change her without failing in my duty as a biographical historical fiction writer.

However, as I was listening to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist on audio, one of her points made me stop and think a bit harder. She mentioned, that due to some inexplicable literary construct, our characters can’t be human or they risk being termed “unlikable,” especially if they are female. She also points out that unlikeable male characters are called “anti-heroes,” while unlikable female characters are, well, just unlikable. (There are some female anti-heroes, like Miriam Black in Chuck Wendig’s series of the same name. But on the whole, her point stands.)

As Roxane puts it, these unlikable women “are merely expressing a wider cultural malaise with all thing unpleasant, all things that dare to breach the norm of social respectability.” This is certainly true of Victoria, who is at turns brash, self-centered, self-serving, outspoken and sometimes mean. Or in other words, she was human, and dared to not follow the social construct of what it means to be a “good” or “proper” woman.

At some point, we’ve all been fed a line that characters need to be perfect or at least, what I call “stage perfect,” that Truman-show-esque scrubbed clean near-perfection that we’ve come to associate with the heroes of stage, film and fiction. You know, the typical “good” character. I get that many are idealized versions of ourselves, but when you write biographical historical fiction like I do, you are dealing with real people who make mistakes and do things that are sometimes hard to understand. People just like me and you. So just as you both like and hate your friends and relatives, you are going to like and hate them, too.

One great point Roxane makes is that we use the term “likability” as though we read books to make friends with the characters. Which, you know, when you think about it, really is beyond the bounds of what characters are supposed to do. If the story is well-written, they “should serve a greater purpose in the narrative” than that, which is sometimes why the characters we love to hate are so great. Personally, as I writer, I find the characters with more flaws are more fun to write, i.e Mia in Been Searching for You, and Morgan in my Guinevere series. Granted, you could call both of them the antagonists of their respective books, but they are also the heroines of their own stories, which is perhaps why I want to give them their own books. They deserve the chance to tell why they are the way they are and show who they are in all their unlikeability, unfiltered through the gaze of Annabeth and Guinevere, the POV characters of those other books.

But I don’t think unlikeability is such a bad thing. It’s totally different from a character being poorly developed or drawn. A well-developed unlikable character makes you feel, pisses you off, makes you frustrated, etc. And if done well, she still keeps you reading, even if just to find out what that crazy woman will do next or why she just did what she did.

Victoria may be my first “unlikable” character, but she certainly won’t be my last. I refuse to cover up the flaws and foibles of my historical characters to make some readers happy. To do so would be disrespectful to the memories of the actual women, and disingenuous to all women. After all, if all we see in literature is “likable” women, how will we ever begin to accept our flawed selves, much less accept one another? And how boring would those stories be? I say bring on the unlikable characters – let them challenge us, our views of femininity and of what is socially acceptable. It’s the only way we will ever change.

Who are some of your favorite “unlikable” characters in fiction?

Madame Presidentess is Now Available in Audio

 

I’m so excited to share that Madame Presidentess is finally available as an audio book!

It is narrated by the amazingly talented Melissa Frank.

Here are the buy links:

 

iTunes takes longer to load things, so I’m not sure when it will be available there. I’ll add it as soon as I find out.

Updates: Awards, New Booksellers and More!

1) I found out last night that both Been Searching for You (long contemporary) and Camelot’s Queen (mainstream with romantic elements) finaled in the Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Contest! That’s an RWA contest hosted by the Ancient City Romance Writers chapter.

2) A few days ago, Madame Presidentess was named an Honorable Mention in the Reader’s Favorite book awards in the fiction – historical personage category. It may not be a win, but it is still and honor (no pun intended), and it puts me in the company of Anna Belfrage, who blurbed both of the Guinevere books. She also received an Honorable Mention and a second book of hers was a finalist. That is the kind of company I want to keep!

3) I am hard at work on beta reader edits to The Once and Future Queen. I’m hoping for a late October release, but it may end up being early November. I will let you know for sure once my editor and proofreader have seen the book.

4) If you’re in St. Louis/St. Charles, Missouri, be sure to stop at Main Street Books. They are now selling all of my books!

I should have news on Madame Presidentess audio soon, so stay tuned for that…

Double Winner at the Midwest Book Awards + Discovering Diamonds Reviews

Midwest Book Awards
I found out over the weekend that Daughter of Destiny won the fantasy category (Camelot’s Queen was also up for that award; I had 2 of 3 finalist slots) and Been Searching for You won the romance category at the Midwest Book Awards!

The winners were covered in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which is my first mention in my hometown paper. (I didn’t enter the IPPY Awards that are also mention in the article. Those awards are of questionable value for their price.)

Discovering Diamonds Reviews
Plus, Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen and Madame Presidentess have all been honored with the Discovering Diamonds badge for outstanding indie historical fiction.

If you read nothing else, check out the review for Madame Presidentess. I wish everyone was as as enthusiastic about the book as this reviewer! Here are the links to the other reviews:

Other Big News
Daughter of Destiny reached #49 in the historical fantasy category on Amazon over the weekend, which is HUGE! It stayed there are all weekend and is still in the low 50s. Thank you to everyone who has bought it and spread the word among your friends, family and acquaintances. We will get to #1 yet, together!

And I know about two more awards, but I can’t announce them because they aren’t public yet.

 

Publisher’s Weekly Gives Madame Presidentess a Positive Review!

An “intriguing…dramatic story of struggle”

Short version of the review-y parts:

“Evelina’s intriguing account of Victoria Woodhull—spiritualist, suffragette, stockbroker, and politician—deftly extols the many “firsts” of this 19th-century feminist trailblazer…Evelina moves assuredly through the many layers of Victoria’s colorful life; such potent issues as family torment, marital abuse, and female subjugation all are linked in this dramatic story of struggle.”  

The rest of the review is mainly a summary of what the book is about.

This is a HUGE deal for an indie author like me because it’s very hard for us to get the major publishing publications – of which Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus are the most widely respected – to review indie books. I’m proud to say this review was not paid for in any way.

Haven’t bought Madame Presidentess yet? It’s available in print and ebook from all major retailers and the audio book is currently in production. More news on that as it happens!

Victoria Woodull’s 1872 Election Day as Seen on Facebook

“Lock her up!” is a common refrain in this election, with opponents of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket, loudly calling for her to spend election day in jail. Ironic then, that the first woman to ever run for President in the U.S., Victoria Woodhull, did just that in 1872.

Days before the November 4, 1872, election, she and her sister, Tennie, published a scandalous issue of their newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, in which Victoria accused Rev. Henry Ward Beecher of having an extramarital affair with one of his parishioners, and Tennie recalled the debauchery of a public party years before. Due to a quote Tennie used (which also appears in the book of Deuteronomy), the sisters were changed by Anthony Comstock, America’s self-appointed moral crusader, of sending obscene material through the mail and arrested.

I present to you my imaginings of what Victoria, Tennie and the other women of the suffrage movement might have posted on Facebook on and around Election Day.

victorias-election-day-as-played-out-on-fb