Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Melanie Benjamin

From a Q & A with  Melanie Benjamin about her new novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb:

Tell us about how you first discovered Vinnie.

A: I first heard about her—or rather, read about her—in the pages of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. She had a brief scene with Harry Houdini, a major character in the book. She was feisty, even in that!

Fast forward and I'm halfway through my next book for Random House, when I realize that I can't finish it. It just wasn't interesting to me, and of course—how can an author then expect the reader to be interested? But I knew that before I told my wonderful editor that I couldn't finish it, I needed to have a couple of preliminary chapters of something else. So I did what I always do—I spent long hours reading histories, timelines, Googling, anything that might spur my interest. This consists of looking through a lot of lists, too. I knew the era in which I wanted to write, and I also knew that this time I wanted to write an American story (since Alice was set in England). On one of these lists, the name "Lavinia Warren Stratton—AKA Mrs. Tom Thumb"—came up, and I remembered that scene in Ragtime. So I did a quick Google search of her name, and was immediately entranced by her story.

As a child (and even now), are you a fan of the circus?

A: Not really as a child, but yes, now I enjoy the pageantry. I am really interested in the performers, though—I always find myself wondering how they chose this life, and why, and what it's really like.

What did you find most provocative about Vinnie's life as you researched the novel? What surprised you the most? What still resonates with you? Tell us a little about the research you did on Vinnie: where and what were your primary sources?

A: The primary sources were...[read on]
Learn about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

--Marshal Zeringue