Passion for old New York, ancestry, and untold stories
Diana Forbes a 9th generation American, with ancestors on both sides of the Civil War who lives and writes in Manhattan joins Enterprise Radio. Diana Forbes is the author of Mistress Suffragette and other New York Gilded Age historical fiction stories.
This episode of Enterprise Radio is working in association with the Author Channel.
- You wrote the book, Mistress Suffragette (Penmore Press, March 2017) about a woman who becomes accidentally drafted in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1890s. What was your inspiration for the novel?
- In your novel, a villain named Edgar Daggers preys on Penelope. To what extent were you trying to get across a modern sensibility with your heroine? Do you see shades of the Me Too Movement in the novel you wrote?
- How did you research your novel?
- Your novel has won 12 awards to date. Did you have early readers? How did you get feedback on your work before publication.
- What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
Diana Forbes’ debut, Mistress Suffragette (Penmore Press, 2017), was inspired by Diana’s passion for old New York, ancestry, and untold stories. Here she explains how New York is not merely a setting for her, but a character.
Readers always tell me that “New York is a character” in my novel, Mistress Suffragette. When I walk through the streets today, I imagine how it was back in the nineteenth century. The smell of horses sweltering on a humid summer day. The splinters of sawdust jettisoned in the air from the constant construction. I can almost hear the pigs running through the gutters. (These animals substituted for city services since pigs are remarkably clean.)
I retrace my protagonist’s footsteps whenever possible, and I have her walk a lot in my novel. As a stranger, she acutely feels the cold shoulder the city casts on outsiders. Missing for my heroine are many of the social introductions that would make old New York accord her more respect. For her, New York offers up steaming sidewalks and screaming barkers. She sees the seamy underbelly of the city stripped of any gilded lining.
She moves to New York because she has to, in order to achieve her career aspirations, and stays in spite of the city’s haughty snobbishness, not because of it.
She has difficulty acclimating to its congestion, strange rhythms, myriad neighborhoods, and lack of trees. Looking out at the walls of linens drying in the courtyard makes her miss her childhood home; and yet once she’s situated in New York she can never return home. Not really.
To her, New York is too brash and too expensive. At best, the bond she forges with the city verges on love-hate. My heroine also has the chance to experience how cruel New York can be during a hurricane, shattering glass and ravaging lives.
But, like a character, New York has layers. She is complex, ever evolving, and a bit secretive about her past. She has stories to tell if one will only stay long enough to listen. And over time, it is impossible for any resident, my heroine included, not to occasionally be caught off-guard by the city’s grandeur or at least charmed by its quirky residents.
“As a writer, I am an archaeologist, and it is my task to dig out New York’s past and reveal it in a way that is true to her identity”.
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