Q&A With Ellen Feldman

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Q&A With Ellen Feldman 

Sophia Lauriello the senior publicist at St. Martin’s Press was kind enough to send me an early copy of Ellen Feldman’s upcoming novel The Trouble With You coming out in 2024! Sophia also arranged for Ellen & I to do this Q&A with her. Some of Ellen’s other novels are The Living And The Lost & Paris Never Leaves You. 

Q: Ellen, for those who haven’t read the book would you like to tell the readers of the blog a little bit about The Trouble With You?

A:  The Trouble with You comes out of my own past.  By that I don’t mean it’s autobiographical, though moments in the life of Chloe, the protagonist’s daughter, are, but that in the second half of the twentieth century, women were not supposed to work.  The prejudice meant that women who did have to hold a job –  those widowed, divorced, or married to “bad providers” – were pitied and disparaged.  It also caused husbands to forbid their wives to work outside the home because it would make the husbands look as if they couldn’t take care of their families.  I wanted to explore what would happen to a woman instilled with those values since childhood who was suddenly forced by circumstances to find a job and wrestle with the trials and rewards of a life tilting against the prevailing winds. 

Q: What made you choose to have The Trouble With You take place during the McCarthy Era with the Blacklist? What lessons do you hope readers takeaway after reading this novel?

A:  The prejudice against working women was strongest in the immediate aftermath of the war.  During WWII, women were encouraged to work in factories, offices, and government agencies to help the war effort.  After the war, millions of men mustered out of the military, and the nation, fearing a recession, sent women back to the kitchen, nursery, and bedroom so men could reclaim their jobs.  As far as McCarthyism and the Blacklist, there is simply no way one can write about the postwar period, especially the entertainment world, without grappling with McCarthy and the terrible damage he wrought.  

Mainly I want readers to have a good time with the book, but I wouldn’t mind if they see the terrifying analogies between that perilous time in our recent history and today’s banning of books and stigmatizing of people. 

Q: Are the characters in The Trouble With You based on actual people who lived in this era or did you create them from your own imagination?

A:  My characters are always an amalgam of people I know and people I imagine.  No character in The Trouble with You is based on a single person in my life or past, but some traits, both admirable and less so, rear their heads in Fanny, Rose, Mimi, and others.  Charlie, however, sprang full blown from my fevered brain, and once he danced onto my laptop screen, he refused to leave, a dilemma every writer hopes for.

Q: How long does it usually take for you to research & write your historical fiction novels?

A:  The answer to that varies greatly, partly as a result of how much research I have to do, partly the consequence of how long it takes me to get to know my characters.  The Trouble with You took a little more than a year.  I had already read a great deal about the postwar period and McCarthyism.  I also felt I knew the characters.  The novel I’m working on now both requires more research and features characters I’m still getting to know. 

Q: Is it too early to discuss what your next historical fiction book will be about? If not, can you tell us a little bit about it?

A:  I’m not sure I would classify the book I’m working on now as historical fiction.  True, it begins in 1963, but it goes right up to 2022.  It’s the story of a young woman and her two close friends whose private lives are impacted by the tumultuous public events of the day in which they’re involved.  I realize that description isn’t very concrete or specific, but I’m still auditioning some characters and waiting to see what they’ll decide to do.  I have a plot, but unruly characters with ideas of their own are my favorite kind.  Witness Charlie’s refusal to exit my laptop screen.

Q: How do you choose a topic to write a historical fiction book & what do you enjoy most about writing in the genre?

A:  I don’t so much choose the topic as I am chosen, or compelled by it.  I can rarely pinpoint the moment at which I decided to write a particular book.  My novels usually grow out of issues and events, human struggles and conflicts I’ve been mulling, almost unconsciously, for some time.  As for what I enjoy most about the genre of historical fiction, I don’t really think of it as a genre.  Mores and customs change; human nature remains eternal, and that’s my consuming topic. 

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write historical fiction novels?

A:  My advice to anyone who wants to write novels, historical or other, is not to unless they can’t live without writing.  It’s a difficult, often heartbreaking endeavor, but if that’s what you want to do more than anything else, go for it!

When it comes to historical fiction, immerse yourself in the period.  Nothing is so irksome as a character who lived in a previous age but thinks and speaks like 2024.