Susan Holloway Scott
Interview by Ava Soloff
1: All your other historical fiction books are about royalty. Why did you decide to write about Eliza?
A: I really like 18th century America, but it’s not a popular period for historical fiction in the publishing world. There’s been a perception for several years (since the Bicentennial ended!) that readers just weren’t interested in it. I've wanted to write this book for forever, and I first pitched the idea for a book about Eliza about eight years ago, but there was no interest. Then, when the musical came out and everything Hamilton-related became insanely popular, my editor contacted my agent and asked if I still had the proposal, and I finally got to write Eliza's story."
2: How long did it take you to write “I, Eliza Hamilton”, and what information was needed?
A: "I wrote this book really fast because they wanted to get it out fast. I wrote it in a little over a year. When writing historical fiction, you need to bring the past to life. You need the little details, and because I was very familiar with 18th century America, I didn't need to do as much research for the everyday facts, like clothing, food, and transportation. I did, however, need to learn much more about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. I tried to use as many primary sources as I could, especially the original letters from Alexander and Eliza, and I visited most of the surviving places and sites that they would have known. Fortunately, I had the help of many wonderful archivists and historians who made my research much easier.
3: What was the most difficult scene/ event you had to write about and why was it so difficult?
A: "The Reynolds Pamphlet (a pamphlet that Hamilton himself wrote and published to explain his affair with Mariah Reynolds) because we have no idea today of how Eliza responded to learning about his infidelity. There are no surviving letters, journals, or diaries that document her reaction. All I could do was go by what other people at the time were writing. Although she didn’t leave Alexander, she must have been incredibly hurt - and angry - the moment those papers were spread to the public."
4: Did “Hamilton: An American Musical” inspire you at all while writing this?
A: "Surprisingly, no. I kept my distance from it while I was writing, because I didn't want to be influenced by Mr. Miranda's interpretation of Alexander and Eliza. I listened to the music because I couldn’t help that, and it was very cool to have a book as a soundtrack. But as soon as I turned the book in, I bought tickets, and yes, it's amazing.
5: What's the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
A: "In most traditional history books - especially biographies of Alexander - Eliza is very much in the background. Some historians say she didn’t do much and was very quiet. So, for me, trying to find the real Eliza and to find out that she wasn't shy and that she spoke up. I don't think Hamilton would have accomplished nearly as much without her. I really think she helped him a lot, both as the sounding board for many of his most important papers and in life in general."
6: What opportunities have you had since writing this book?
A: "I, ELIZA is my fifty-fourth book, I have never had a book that has taken off like this one. This is a special book. Of course, I realize that it’s the musical that has made many readers pick it up. Usually, when you write a book, I do promotion on social media and book signings for a month, and then I start working on my next book. The interest in this book just keeps going, and now I’m forced to turn down opportunities to go places and speak because I must write. I will, however, be speaking about Eliza Hamilton, her clothes, and clothing worn by 18th century American women in an event at the Museum of the American Revolution in February. It’s part of the museum’s new “Hamilton Was Here” exhibition, opening in October through March 2019. A seamstress trained in historical dressmaking will be recreating two gowns that Eliza might have worn, and they’ll be shown complete with all the 18th century accessories. Should be fun!
7: What are the challenges you have with writing historical fiction?
A: "One of the biggest challenges comes with writing about historical figures – like Eliza – who have left few surviving letters, and there are big gaps in what they said or thought. As a fiction writer, I enjoy filling in those gaps, and see them as an opportunity to describe how the characters may have felt or how specific incidents affected their lives. Unlike a historian who can needs proof of everything they write, I can use my imagination to create the character’s world.
8: Why did you decide to start a blog?
A: "I have two blogs,
one with my friend and fellow-author Loretta Chase (www.twonerdyhistorygirls.com),
and the one on my website (http://susanhollowayscott.com/blog).
My blog with Loretta is about nine years old. Back then, blogging was still new, and our editors wanted us to blog to be closer to our readers. Loretta and I decided not to write one more blog about writing, but about the historical facts that we’d discovered in our research, things we found especially interesting. We were kind of shocked to see how many other people found them interesting, too, and we receive about 200,000-page views each month.
9: How did your degree in art history influence your writing?
A: "I’m a visual person. I like to look at things. Art history incorporates many aspects, including architecture, fashion, and material culture in general. It all helps me imagine the past, and how and where my characters lived. I also almost always sneak a scene into every book that features a character sitting for her or his portrait with a (usually) famous artist because I can't help myself.
10: What are some tips you have for aspiring authors?
A good tip is to look for the details. Remember that the character is telling the story and try to imagine everything through their eyes. You need to incorporate your research in an interesting way, especially when writing in first person as I do. Put yourself in their shoes.
This interview was published in Issue 14.
Submitted by our members as well as teens across the world.