Leaving Coy’s Hill is inspired by the life of Lucy Stone. What drew you to her story?
While at work on a different novel, I decided to name three characters in the story after little known women in history and set about finding historical figures that fit the bill. I don’t remember what I googled exactly, but up on my screen popped the name Lucy Stone.
Given her outsize role in advocating for women’s rights in the 1800s and the litany of firsts in her life (like first MA woman to earn a college degree), I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of her before. The more I learned about the hardships she endured in her quest for equality and the surprising reason she was written out of history, the more I wanted to know. Reading about her became an obsession, and the foundation for the novel I eventually realized I needed to write.
Can you tell us about the decision to write Lucy’s story as a novel? What are the benefits and challenges of telling a real story as a work of fiction?
While the facts of Lucy’s life provide the scaffolding for Leaving Coy’s Hill, the book is squarely fiction. I wanted the freedom to imagine what it might have felt like to be her—how she summoned the courage to speak to violent crowds at a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to speak in public at all, her struggle as she considered marriage while working every day to educate women about its legal perils, and whether or not she eventually forgave those who betrayed her. Writing her story as fiction also allowed me to take certain liberties—creating fictional characters to stand in for multiple real people, or telescoping time in service to the story—while maintaining all the amazing truths that made her life so extraordinary.
You’ve said this story is highly relevant to our world today. How so?
While parts of Lucy’s story are unique to nineteenth century America, her struggles are timeless. Can a mother dedicate herself to a career and nurture her children fully? And what of the guilt that comes of half success in both endeavors? Is a marriage of equals possible? What part have white women played in the fight for racial justice—for better and for worse? And does one have to compromise principle to create change in an intensely divided political climate? As an abolitionist and women’s rights pioneer fighting for the future of the reconstructed Republic, Lucy Stone’s quest to live her life on her own terms is as relevant as ever.
You were a successful entrepreneur before turning to writing. What led you to pursue a business first, then come back to writing? Were there no writing-related jobs you wanted initially?
My first real job was at Inc. Magazine. I interned on the editorial side and was then offered a job on the business side. Just being in that atmosphere gave me the entrepreneurial bug. I became enamored with the entrepreneurs the magazine featured and began to appreciate what a huge impact they were having on the business landscape, not just in terms of products and various markets, but how they were breaking “corporate rules” to make life better for employees. I’m a rule-breaker at heart and decided I wanted to do that, too.
Is it safe to say that you like growing things, be they companies or books or conversations? What’s next?
More books! I’m pretty addicted to writing, so I’m hopeful that it always remains a central part of what I do. But my overarching goal in life is to play a role in building empathy in the world through the sharing of stories, in whatever form they take. While I hope I continue to have interesting stories to tell that touch people’s lives, there are so many marginalized voices out there with important stories, and I’d like to play a role in bringing those to the fore. My work at GrubStreet (www.grubstreet.org) is all about that. There may be additional avenues for that work that come to light down the road. I’m always open to new adventures.
Who inspires you?
Outside of being a voracious reader, I get a lot of creative inspiration from long-form screen drama, whether that is movies or TV series. There was maybe a year’s time when I was writing my first novel, for example, when I re-watched the entire series of “The West Wing” whenever I took a break to exercise. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is amazing to me. I love his characters and the intensity of emotion he manages to convey while handling very complicated topics. On the flip-side of that long form, I also find song lyrics to be very inspiring. I think of it as poetry set to mood music, and as a novelist, I am always amazed by how much can be conveyed in very few words. Masters of that craft like Bob Dylan, Robert Hunter, Janis Ian, and Joni Mitchell come to mind. Life inspiration comes every time I hear about a girl or woman who stands up for herself against the odds, or any woman who dilutes hatred in society by taking the risk of demonstrating the power of love and compassion. The world needs much more of that.