Q&A With Allison Pataki

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Q&A With Allison Pataki 

Today I get to do my next Q&A with New York Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Allison Pataki. Allison is the author of The Traitors Wife, The Accidental Empress, Sisi: Empress On Her Own, Where The Light Falls, The Queen’s Fortune, The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post, and Finding Margaret Fuller. Allison has also written two children’s books Nelly Takes New York and Poppy Takes Paris. Allison’s memoir is Beauty in the Broken Places. Before becoming an author, Allison was a journalist & producer and has written for The New York Times, ABC News, The Huffington Post, USA Today, Fox News, & other outlets. Allison has also appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Good Day New York, Good Day Chicago, MSNBC’s Morning Joe & Fox & Friends. Pretty impressive, I think! 


Q: Allison, I read on your website that while you enjoyed being a journalist as time went on you loved writing stories more. Was the transition from being a journalist to being an author an easy one?

A: I would say it was a worthwhile transition. It was not easy, but it was the right move for me, and so it felt like the natural next step in my career as a writer. Writing in journalism—particularly for Live Breaking News, as I was doing—is a very different experience than writing long fictional novels. In news, much of the emphasis was on hitting the deadline, making it new and fresh and exciting so that the consumer would stay glued to the television. In writing longer fiction novels, everything about the process moves at a different pace. I will research for months, then draft for months, then edit for months. THE MAGNIFICENT LIVES OF MARJORIE POST took me six years to write. So, the pacing and the process are entirely different. I love writing fiction. For me, it feels as though I get to play make-believe, and I can call it work!

Q: What is the research process like when writing historical fiction?

A: I love everything about the research process. With each novel the process unfolds in a different and unique way, and much of that is dependent on the setting and the subject matter. The research inevitably must come as the first step, before the writing, as that process of discovery and investigation is going to provide the raw material with which I may then begin to imagine my narrative.

I write biographical historical fiction, so the bones of the novel come from the raw historical facts of the life of my leading lady protagonist. I begin my research by going to the locales of her story. I want to soak up everything I can about the world that was once inhabited by my main character. I want to walk down the lanes and through the rooms in which she lived. I want to learn as much as I can about her context so that she can truly come to life in my mind, and I can imagine the textures and feelings and experiences of her world. So for Empress Sisi, that meant traveling to Vienna and Budapest, and elsewhere. For Desiree that meant Paris. For Marjorie that meant her homes in Washington D.C. and Palm Beach and New York. For Margaret Fuller that was primarily a journey to Concord, Mass., and New York.

Q: Would you say that your journalism skills helped in some way when researching and writing historical fiction?

A: Absolutely. I think it’s that innate inquisitiveness and curiosity that came to bear in both my work as a journalist and now as a writer of fiction. I want to know other people’s stories, and that’s been the case regardless of the medium in which I’m writing. I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for learning the stories of the world and the people around me. So now I do what I can to learn all that I can about these historical figures who feature in my biographical historical fiction, and then I try to imagine what that felt like, and then I put it down on the page for what I hope will be an entertaining and enriching experience for the reader. 

One of the things I love most about historical fiction as a genre—both as a reader and a writer—is that we get to enter into these fascinating moments. We get to enter the bedrooms and staterooms, we get to sit down to dinner with these historical figures. History and drama come to life, and we can be there as eyewitnesses! That feels journalistic, in its own way.

Q: Which books were the most fun to research and write? 

A: I love them all in totally different ways. Researching for Desiree meant I had to go to Paris—what a hardship for the craft, right? 

But in all seriousness, my most recent novel, FINDING MARGARET FULLER, was a total joy to research. Concord, Massachusetts in the age of the Transcendentalists, how fascinating! I was immersing myself into a time and place where Ralph Waldo Emerson was living with a young Henry David Thoreau in the same house, with Nathaniel Hawthorne just up the lane in one direction and Louisa May Alcott the neighbor in the other direction – does it get any better than that? I loved walking those village lanes and imagining Margaret there, as this powerful and brilliant leading lady whose name has been largely forgotten in comparison to her friends and peers. 

Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to become a journalist and historical fiction author?

A: Write! Begin. Sit down and put the pen to the paper and write. Keep at it. It won’t be perfect, your first draft. It won’t be perfect on your tenth draft. But it’s in the act of writing and creating and doing that you find your voice – and that’s how your story emerges.

Q: Are you currently writing your next historical fiction novel? If so can you reveal any details or is it too early to say just yet?

A: I am so happy to be releasing my latest novel, FINDING MARGARET FULLER, my tenth book and a project that was truly a labor of love for three years. I can’t wait to connect with readers over the life of Margaret Fuller.

After this book is released into the world, I have my next historical fiction planned and I know who my leading lady will be. She’s another fascinating American woman whose name should be a household name, and yet, it isn’t. I love pulling these forgotten women from the sidelines of history and putting them center stage as the stars of their own stories. We go to the 20th century this time and I am totally obsessed. I can’t wait to share more very soon! Readers should check out my website or connect with me on social media @allisonpataki to be the first to get my updates.

Q: What was it like appearing on television especially The Today Show, Good Morning America? Who did you get to meet on all those famous news stations? 

A: It’s a writer’s dream to have the opportunity to speak about one’s work on such a storied and wide-reaching platform. It was such a privilege and such an exciting experience. I am so thankful to Jenna Bush, Kathy Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and so many others in the television world who do so much to support books and writers. They are rock stars to me; it was such a rush to meet them. And I love the newsroom and Live TV setting. Even though I no longer work there daily, it still feels like a place where I love to be.

One time I was in the Green Room with The Backstreet Boys. My Middle School self was slightly freaking out. Another time I got to meet Natalie Portman, that was very cool – I love her. And Steve Carell! Who is as hilarious in person as you would expect.

Q: You’ve written historical fiction, children’s books & a memoir. If you were to write in another genre that wasn’t historical fiction, which genres would you explore and why?

A: I would love to write a Young Adult project! In fact, I have one that I’ve been working on for years. As my kids get older, this book is growing up with them. I’d love to publish it while they can still read it – or want to read it. I love YA and Middle Grade fiction so much. That’s my dream, for sure.

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to your work? It would be great if Hollywood had original content again. 

A: Couldn’t agree more! I am working hard to adapt several of my novels for the screen as we speak. The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post in particular feels like it was made for the screen. Post’s life was a fascinating and whirlwind tour of American history through the Twentieth Century, centered around this strong trailblazing leading lady – like an American version of The Crown. That’s something I’m working very hard on, to make that happen.