Books that Rave: Exclusive Interview with Author Diana Forbes.
by Michael Beas
A young woman without prospects at a ball in Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island is a target for a certain kind of “suitor.” At the Memorial Day Ball during the Panic of 1893, impoverished but feisty Penelope Stanton draws the unwanted advances of a villainous millionaire banker who preys on distressed women—the incorrigible Edgar Daggers. Over a series of encounters, he promises Penelope the financial security she craves, but at what cost? Skilled in the art of flirtation, Edgar is not without his charms, and Penelope is attracted to him against her better judgment. Initially, as Penelope grows into her own in the burgeoning early Women’s Suffrage Movement, Edgar exerts pressure, promising to use his power and access to help her advance. But can he be trusted, or are his words part of an elaborate mind game played between him and his wife? During a glittering age where a woman’s reputation is her most valuable possession, Penelope must decide whether to compromise her principles for love, lust, and the allure of an easier life.
Why is the subject of the Suffragette movement so powerful to you? And talk to us about the movement itself that most of readers should know about the history surrounding the movement that would empower us today.
Thank you for asking me this important question. The more I researched the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the more I realized that the story of it needed to be told. There were things I learned about it that I had never learned in college—and I majored in Political Science. For one thing, there were many different factions in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which I explore in my debut novel, Mistress Suffragette. The Movement also lasted for seventy years.
Tell us a little about how Mistress Suffragette. How did I the book come into existence, the cover, the research, what advice do you have for other aspiring authors should take from your personal story?
I had a story I wanted to tell. In terms of research, I spent two years reading books that took place during the time period—both fiction and non-fiction. I read books that were written back then and other books about the time period. Once I settled on the exact dates my novel would cover, I visited all the locations in my novel to give the writing an authentic feel. I also looked for ephemera—menus, etcetera, to add texture and a real feel. I live and write in Manhattan where there are fabulous writing classes. I took two writing classes a week to gather feedback on my story and improve it. I was also in several different writing groups who gave me critiques on various chapters. It was a five-year journey.
My advice for other writers: First, realize it’s not a race. A story has to find itself, and it helps to be patient with it. Second, get feedback. It’s invaluable. You can do it by asking Beta readers to review your drafts. Or you can take classes the way I did. Or you can find other writers and start a writing group. Or any combination, thereof. Lastly, I would like to pass on a piece of wisdom I heard in one of my writing classes: “believe in your process.” That is, pick a strategy and stick with it.
Hilary Clinton has really been setting a trend for women’s paint suits. If you could design your ideal paints suit what would it be like?
Well, I am not a fashion designer, but I think I would have the jacket and the pants notbe in the identical shade. I would never want my pants suit to look like an airline attendant outfit. I would want the comfort of pants without complete uniformity.
You live and write in probably one of the most fun and lively cities in the world, give us the dish on the most epic and memorable party you have ever thrown?
In my parties, I aim for elegance. I threw a party at a hotel that was probably built around 1920. The walls were literally gilded. I enjoy good food, fantastic conversation, and dancing—as long as it’s not the quadrille!
Do you feel that changes in music trends had a role to play in whole grand movement?
I would say no. My novel takes place in 1893, which was really only one year after recorded discs began to be available to the public. My character does listen to an early disc on her father’s gramophone, but the music did not move her to become a suffragette.
As this magazine is all about things that Rave. What are three things that Rave about your novel that most people can expect when picking up a copy for their summer reading.
On the cusp of the 100thanniversary of women gaining the right to vote, my debut novel, Mistress Suffragette(Penmore Press, 2017) looks at one woman’s journey. She grew up, expecting to follow a traditional life. But that life was whisked away from her and she needed to create another life. My novel is very well researched, but it’s also a story. Last: my novel has a lot of humor in it. It’s breezy and light—perfect for summer reading.