In addition to having a lot of authors to interview at the moment (a wonderful position to be in, on the whole!), I also have several pairings of authors whose books are being released on the same day. In some cases, because commercial publishers tend to focus their publicity campaigns on the weeks surrounding a release, that means one author gets a podcast interview and the other doesn’t. With smaller independent publishers, it means one has a podcast interview close to the release and the other waits a few months. As someone who knows next to nothing about marketing, this seems to me not such a bad thing: why not remind readers that a book exists?
In any event, this week’s post offers a brief Q&A with Jacqueline Friedland, whose Trouble the Water appeared on May 8. I’ll be talking with her about the novel at more length in late summer/early fall. Meanwhile, Ellen Notbohm’s The River by Starlight, which also appeared on May 8, is the subject of my May podcast, which should go live any day. Don’t forget to check New Books in Historical Fiction nd this blog at regular intervals to find out more about these and the other amazing writers who give me the chance to interview them about their books.
And now, a big thank you to Jacqueline Friedland for answering my questions!
Like several authors I’ve interviewed—including my fellow Five Directions Press member Claudia H. Long—you began your professional life as a lawyer. What led you to start writing novels instead?
While there were some aspects of law I did actually enjoy, like analyzing complex texts and drafting persuasive writing, I always felt like something was missing, like I was a puzzle piece being jammed into the wrong jigsaw puzzle. I had been afraid to pursue writing straight out of college, as it felt like a true gamble, but my desire to write fiction nagged and nagged at me until I ultimately gave in.
And why this novel in particular?
I have always loved historical fiction for its ability to teach and entertain simultaneously. Trouble the Water focuses on the American South twenty years prior to the Civil War. This era is so full of juxtapositions—cruelty and heroism; opulence and deprivation; tragedy and hope. There are still so many untold stories from the time period, so many emotional components to explore, and I wanted to add my voice and my characters to the conversation.
What can you tell us about your heroine, Abigail Milton, in a paragraph or two, that will set the stage for her story?
Abigail Milton is a British young woman on the cusp of adulthood. Her middle-class family has fallen into insurmountable debt, and they have been forced to spend the past several years in a tenement village near the factories in Wigan, England. Abby works long hours in the local cotton mill alongside her younger sister, but her meager earnings do little to increase the family coffers. When Abby begins having emotional outbursts of increasing proportions, her parents decide to send her to the United States, where she will be able to live off the charity of a family friend in Charleston.
Abby arrives in Charleston intent on saving herself from the secret horrors she endured in Wigan. When she moves into an enormous estate owned by the reclusive Douglas Elling, Abby’s main objective is to build a life of independence for herself. As she begins to settle in and grow more comfortable in Charleston, however, she finds herself inadvertently dropping her guard and discovering new reasons to hope for happiness.
The man who takes her in, Douglas Elling, has quirks and secrets of his own. What do we need to know about him?
Douglas Elling is a twenty-seven-year-old shipping tycoon who has suffered great tragedy in his life. He traveled to America from England after university and fell so deeply in love with an American girl that he stayed in the States to marry her. Shortly after marriage, he inherited his father-in-law’s booming import/export business and he also freed the family’s slaves. His clear lack of bigotry arouses suspicion throughout Charleston, as people wonder whether perhaps Douglas is doing more to fight slavery. As rumors spread that he is a secret abolitionist, bandits set fire to his home, most likely to send a message. Unfortunately, his wife and daughter are killed in the blaze, and Douglas is never the same.
Abigail, by the time we meet her, has not only endured a rapid decline in her fortune but must also cope with a change of country when her impoverished family sends her to the US South to live with a wealthy friend of theirs. How does she handle this disruption in her life?
By the time Abigail arrives in Charleston, disruption is the only constant in her life. She is adamant, however, that she will no longer be a passive victim to her own circumstances. She has decided to build herself a new life, one where she is the master of her own destiny. She devises a plan to become a teacher or a governess and to remain forever unwed so that she will be able to live independently and determine her life’s path. As she walks deeper into her new world in Charleston, though, she begins to reconsider many of her deeply held beliefs.
What are you working on now?
I am putting the finishing touches on my second novel and doggedly attempting to brainstorm ideas for my third.
Jacqueline Friedland, once a practicing lawyer, earned her Masters of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 2016. When not writing, she is an avid reader of all things fiction. Trouble the Water is her first novel. You can find out more about her and her book at www.jacquelinefriedland.com.
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