Biographers International Interview

Hi everyone. I know it is has been a while but a lot has been going on behind the scenes that I am hoping I will be able to tell you about soon. Also, I just got back from the Chanticleer Authors Conference and have lots to report on there as well.

But right now I wanted to share an interview that Biographers International, one of the organizations I belong to, did with me recently. It’s in the member-only newsletter but I figured it would be okay to share since it with me, not anyone else. And “new” is a relative term; I’ve been a member for a few years now.

SPOTLIGHT ON NEW MEMBERS

Nicole Evelina

What is your current project and at what stage is it?

My first biography, America’s Forgotten Suffragists: Virginia and Francis Minor, is currently in copy editing and will be published by Globe Pequot/Two Dot Press on March 1, 2023. Virginia was very important in the suffrage movement in St. Louis from the 1860s until her death in the 1890s. Her husband, Francis, was a strong male ally and used his position as a lawyer to help Virginia take the issue of women’s suffrage to the Supreme Court in 1875—the only time that ever happened. Both Minors were close friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and gained a fair amount of notoriety in their time, but have since been forgotten. This is the first biography ever written about them.

What person would you most like to write about?

I have several subjects in mind, but one I’m willing to talk about is Marie Rose Ferron, a Catholic mystic and the first stigmatist in the United States. (For non-Catholics, stigmata is when someone mystically receives the wounds of Christ in their body and suffers the crucifixion in union with Jesus.) Supernatural phenomenon like this is very controversial, but I feel like she should be declared a saint. Even if you take the stigmata and visions away, she was a woman of great virtue.

What have been your most satisfying moments as a biographer?

The moment I finally tracked down exactly where in St. Louis the Minors’ estate, Minoria, was located. It no longer exists, but using deeds, surveyor’s reports, and old maps, I was able to find the exact lot number and location and translate that to a modern address. There previously had been speculation about where it was located, but no one else had definitively identified it. While that is a small thing, it was very important in understanding their lives during the time they lived there. Unfortunately, today, that address is in a very bad neighborhood, so it isn’t safe to do more than drive by the empty lot.

What have been your most frustrating moments?

The Minors left precious few personal letters and no journals or other personal writings. We do have some public speeches, but those don’t give the insight that more intimate correspondence would have. It was very frustrating to not have these types of sources when I was trying to reconstruct their personalities and relationships.

If you weren’t a biographer, what dream profession would you be in, and why?

Well, I write historical fiction and history as well, and my day job is in marketing. If I could have another job, it would be as an historian who researches and publishes rather than teaches. But if you want something totally unrelated, I’d love to be a makeup artist. Makeup is a hobby for me (I seriously have more than 40 shades of eyeshadow), and I find it a great creative outlet. I’m not nearly as good as people you see on shows like Glow Up, but it is so much fun to play with.

What genre, besides biography, do you read for pleasure and who are some of your favorite writers?

Historical fiction and fantasy are my two favorites, but I also like gothic [fiction] and a good domestic suspense. Favorite historical fiction writers include Kate Quinn, M. J. Rose, and Susanna Kearsley. Favorite fantasy authors are Kim Harrison, Erin Morgenstern, and Seanan McGuire. Gothic: Ruth Ware, Diane Setterfield, and Carol Goodman. Domestic suspense: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (they are co-authors), Liane Moriarty, and Kerry Lonsdale.

 

Cover Reveals! Sex and the City & America’s Forgotten Suffragists

I am so excited to show you the covers of my next two books, which are also my first traditionally published books. You can pre-order both in hardback now; e-book is coming soon and paperback will be out about a year after the initial publication.

Coming November 15!

An insightful look at the cultural impact of the television phenomenon Sex and the City

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one word was on everyone’s lips: sex. Sex and the City had taken the United States, and the world, by storm. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha influenced how a generation of women think, practice, and talk about sex, allowing them to embrace their sexual desires publicly and unlocking the idea of women as sexual beings on par with men.

In Sex and the City: A Cultural History, Nicole Evelina provides a fascinating, in-depth look at the show’s characters, their relationships, and the issues the show confronted. From sexuality and feminism to friendship and motherhood, Evelina reveals how the series impacted viewers in the 1990s, as well as what still resonates today and what has glaringly not kept up with the times. The world has changed dramatically since the show originally aired, and Evelina examines how recent social movements have served to highlight the show’s lack of diversity and throw some of its storylines into a less than favorable light.

While Sex and the City had problematic issues, it also changed the world’s perception of single women, emphasized the power of female friendship, built brands, and influenced fashion. This book looks at it all, from the pilot episode to the spinoff movies, prequel, and reboot that together have built an enduring legacy for a new generation of women.

Pre-order hardback here:

amazon-logo-icon    

This book is part of Rowman & Littlefield’s Cultural History of Television series:

 

Coming March 1, 2023!

Missouri’s Virginia Minor forever changed the direction of Women’s Rights–not Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Carrie Chapman Catt, or any of the other so-called “marquee names” of the suffrage movement–when she and her husband, Francis, argued Minor v Happersett in 1875. Despite the negative ruling, this landmark case brought the right to vote for women to the U.S. Supreme Court for the first and only time in the seventy-two year fight for women’s suffrage in the United States.

America’s Forgotten Suffragists: Virginia and Francis Minor is the first biography of these activists who had a profound impact on the suffrage movement but have largely been forgotten by history. Virginia and Francis were unique for their time in being jointly dedicated to the cause of female enfranchisement. Unlike the brief profiles available now, this book will paint a full picture of their lives, depicting their youth, married life, and their highly-lauded civilian work during the Civil War. Their early suffrage work and famous Supreme Court case will be covered in depth, along with an exploration of how it actually helped the suffrage movement by giving it a unifying direction, despite the court delivering a negative verdict. This biography will also cover Virginia and Francis’ continued fight for women’s suffrage after the case, including Virginia’s tax revolts, writings, and campaigning for the franchise in Nebraska.

Preorder hardback here:

 

More information on the Minors and additional insights that didn’t make it into the book are available at the Virginia and Francis Minor Memorial Institute.

New Project Reveal: Biography of Suffragist Virginia Minor

Virginia Minor

I’ve been kind of cagey about the biography I’m working on (not Rose Ferron, which is on the back burner at the moment, this is another one), but I’m getting close to finishing my research and submitting to agents, so I’m now comfortable with talking about it. I am working on a dual biography of husband-wife suffragist team, Virginia and Francis Minor. I happen to have a guest post today about Virginia over on author Suzanne Adair’s website, if you want to see a summary of her life.

I first heard about Virginia when I was researching Victoria Woodhull for my book Madame Presidentess. Virginia was a contemporary of Victoria’s. While we can’t prove that they knew one another, it is likely. Virginia was a big deal in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and she is the one who originated the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, and idea Victoria used when she spoke before Congress. Even if Victoria didn’t personally know Virginia, she almost certainly had heard of her.

You know me and stories of forgotten women. There was something about Virginia that I was immediately attracted to. I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on what. But I knew I had to tell her story. This one didn’t strike me as right for historical fiction, though. I did some digging and found that no one has ever written a biography of her. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

The book started out just being about Virginia, but then I realized that her relationship with Francis was integral to her work and highly unusual. They lived a life of purposeful equality, beginning in the 1840s, way before that was common practice, so I knew I had to include him as well. They also both lived in my hometown of St. Louis for over 40 years, which is really helping with the research. We have some great archives here with very valuable information. Neither Francis or Virginia is well-known, and so not much about them still exists, but it is possible to find it if you look hard enough. I love the thrill of the chase in research, so I am having a ball. This June I will be visiting archives in Virginia, where they were both born, so hopefully that will shed light on their childhoods, which is really the missing piece at the moment.

I can’t wait to tell you more about them as the project progresses and to hopefully soon have a contract on the book.

P.S. – So far, I have not been able to track down a photo of Francis, which is why there isn’t one in this post. I have, however, held documents written in his own hand. It was so cool!

Top 5 Biographies of Victoria Woodhull

If you’re looking to learn more about the fascinating first female Presidential candidate in United States history (1872), there are a surprising number of biographies of Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) – especially given that she’s not generally taught in school history textbooks.

The ones written near or within her lifetime – Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch by Theodore Tilton and The Terrible Siren by Emanie Sachs – are considered unreliable by modern historians for a number of reasons, so you’re better off consulting a modern biography. I’ve read most of them and here are my top 5 picks (images link to the Amazon page for the book):

Other Powers1) Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull
By Barbara Goldsmith

This is my favorite biography because it is so rich in detail, especially in regards to Victoria as a spiritualist and medium, an area many other biographies skim over, dismiss as ludicrous, or choose to omit entirely. But to understand Victoria as a person, you have to understand her belief in the spirit world and how it drove/guided her decisions. Regardless of what you believe now, Victoria and many of her peers took Spiritualism very seriously and it was an important part of their world view.

This book is also rich in other history, especially in regard to the major players of 19th century American suffrage and politics. It covers Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catharine, Isabella and Harriett (Stowe) Beecher, Anna Dickinson and many others in detail.  I had to skip over much of that to focus on the areas concerning Victoria, but this is a book I will definitely someday give a second read so I can absorb the rest of the history.

Be forewarned that this is a large, complex book, so unless you have some knowledge of the period, it may not be the best place to start. It was one of my later sources in my research for that reason. But it is certainly worth your time.

The Woman who Ran for President2) The Woman Who Ran for President
By Lois Beachy Underhill

This is the place I recommend people new to Victoria’s life start out. It’s a well-written, easy to read, and concise biography. Honestly, it’s my go-to for fact checking because I find it to be the most reliable and easy to navigate.

There are a few things I don’t agree with the author on, such as her assertion that Victoria had an affair with Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (I don’t think that likely), and her relatively rosy portrayal of Victoria’s childhood (which is at odds with many other sources, both modern and contemporary to Victoria). But to each their own. I’m a fiction writer and she’s a biographer, so I trust she has her sources and her reasons. Still, it’s a wonderfully detailed overview that no one interested in Victoria should pass up.

If you search for this title on Amazon, it appears under two authors, Lois Beachy Underhill and Gloria Steinem. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are separate books with the same title, as I was, even though they show two different covers. Steinem wrote the introduction for the book Underhill wrote. Because of this confusion, I have an extra copy that I’m willing to give away for free. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments, leave your email address, and I’ll contact you about mailing (US only, please). First come, first served.

Scarlet Sisters3) The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age
By Myra MacPherson

This is the most fun (and by that I am in no way lessening the scholarship) biography that I read. One of the most recent contributions to the Victoria cannon, it’s written in a more novel-like format that sucks you into life as Victoria would have known it. It also provides detail that other biographies lack.

Also, as the title implies, this book gives more attention to Tennie than any other to date. This is important not only because Tennie has an important story in her own right that deserves to be told, but because knowing her better illuminates Victoria and the relationship between the sisters. Because they were close and often lived and worked together, this relationship is paramount to understanding why Victoria did the things she did.

I’ve been in touch with the author several times to ask questions and verify facts, and I have to say that she is very accessible and kind, which is always a plus. I’m actually hoping to have her as a guest on this blog in the future.

 

Nortorius Victoria4) Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored
By Mary Gabriel

If you want to hear Victoria’s voice and read newspaper accounts about her, this is the source to use. Gabriel liberally quotes from Victoria’s speeches, writings and letters, as well as contemporary newspaper articles to provide color and depth unparalleled in other sources.

As someone attempting to bring Victoria to life, I found this book invaluable, both in terms of understanding her personality, but also in understanding how the political and social/cultural world around her reacted to her sometimes outrageous words and actions.

Sexual Revolution5) Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution: Political Theater and the Popular Press in Nineteenth-Century America
By Amanda Frisken

Less biography and more discourse on how the press treated women and the idea of sex in 19th century America, this is a valuable source for anyone wishing to get to know Victoria, especially in context of her often volatile relationship with the press.

One of the most interesting parts for me was to learn how she was treated in the so-called “sporting press” of gentleman’s papers. These papers, frequently read by young men, often satirized women in cartoons, depictions we would today find high offensive, but which were par for the course for the time. The images alone, many of which cannot be found online, are worth the cost of the book, but more important is the context in which Frisken places them, showing the sexist attitudes that prevailed at the time in a way most other books don’t.

There is also a section that is more biographical, so please don’t think she left that out. I just found the other parts more interesting.

Of course, these are just my personal opinions. You may have a different experience. There are a number of other good biographies and books referencing Victoria, so this is by no means a complete list. Check out my research page for more. I’m currently reading the latest, Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage by Cindy Peyser Safronoff. I’m not far enough into it yet to render an opinion, but will be one of my sources for my fictional account.

Victoria’s daughter, Zulu/Zula also attempted to write a biography of her mother, but was never successful. Bits of her writing can be found with Victoria’s letters in the Boston public library’s archives. I did not have a chance to see that information before writing the book, but I’m hoping to get to see it when I visit Boston next June.

 

And of course, the best way to get to know someone is through their own writings. There are many collections of Victoria’s books and speeches available online, as well as in book form. You can even find digitized versions of her newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, online.

What are some of your favorite biographies of famous people? Have you ever read a book about Victoria or seen reference to her? If so, where? Do you have questions about any of these books?