Launch: Eileen Joyce Donovan’s A Lady Newspaperman’s Dilemma

INTERVIEW BY SUSAN HIGGINBOTHAM

Eileen Joyce Donovan’s new novel, A Lady Newspaperman’s Dilemma is published today. Her debut historical novel, Promises, won the Marie M. Irvine Award for Literary Excellence. She has another novel coming out in March 2023, The Campbell Sisters, and is currently working on her fourth historical novel. She lives in Manhattan, New York City.

How would you describe this book and its themes?

1926. A world of flappers, speakeasies, and bathtub gin. Alex, a cocky college graduate, starts her journalism career at a small Montana newspaper. On her first day, a courthouse shootout thrusts her into the lead reporter’s role, and into the path of the town’s most eligible, and handsome, cattle rancher. That spring, an ice jam on the Yellowstone River, floods the town. Only US Army bombs can save it. Alex’s reporting draws national attention and a San Francisco newspaper’s job offer. So, she’s faced with a choice. Her dream job or her dream man. Definitely A LADY NEWSPAPERMAN’S DILEMMA.

What got you started as a historical novelist?

I started my fiction writing career as a children’s lit writer, retelling old forgotten Victorian fairy tales. I had publishing contracts for three of my books, and two of them went all the way to ARCs, before the publisher ceased operations. Disheartened and disillusioned, I retreated to reading, not writing. When I realized I was reading and enjoying historical fiction much more than any other genre, I decided to tackle a subject that became my debut historical fiction book.

The title of your novel—“Lady Newspaperman’s”—is intriguing. What made you choose it?

Believe me, I went through plenty of titles before landing on this one. None of the others seemed to work in getting the feel of the story. I’m not sure exactly what triggered this one, but as soon as I wrote it down, I realized it perfectly described all Alex was grappling with, both in terms of her career and her personal life.

What drew you to write about 1920s Montana?

Well, as I mention in my Author Notes, the actual bombing of Miles City, Montana, took place in 1940. But I felt there was a glut of books on the market set in the WWII years. Although this book does not concern the war, I didn’t want to have people either dismiss it as another WWII book or read it thinking it involved at-home efforts during the war. So . . . 1920s. I also realized that placing a woman reporter in a newsroom in the 1940s was probably fairly normal since so many men had been drafted. However, a woman reporter in the 1920s was an aberration, Nellie Bly and Harriet Quimby notwithstanding.

What sources did you find helpful in bringing your story to life?

I had written the entire book in the 1940 time period when I realized I didn’t want it to get lost there, so 99% of my research was done, as least as far as the setting, the actual event, the clothing, etc. when I changed time periods, I researched the clothing, Prohibition, and the country’s atmosphere during the 1920s. Fredrick Lewis Allen’s book, Only Yesterday, was immensely helpful as a window into that period. As were all the other dozen or so I read pertaining to life in the 20s.

Did you learn anything surprising when you researched your novel?

I did. I couldn’t believe that events, which we would consider common everyday murders today, although that sounds cavalier, could draw national attention and dominate newspaper’s front pages for days and sometimes weeks. It made Alex’s reporting of the bombing, and the subsequent follow-ups, more believable.

Aside from your heroine, who was your favorite character to write about?

I guess I’d have to pick Lou, although I did love Adam too. They were both strong men grappling with a fierce independent woman. In creating Lou, I dug back in my memories and recalled the different editors I’ve dealt with during my brief stints in the newspaper and magazine publishing worlds. I both loved and feared them all. Fiercely protective of their “babies,” they railed at anyone or anything that got in the way of their vision for that edition. But they could also be the most understanding, supportive, and grateful people in the world, and created an army of writers and supporting cast members utterly devoted to them. I only hope I did them justice in Lou Gordon. Adam, on the other hand, was entirely a figment of my imagination, and maybe a mix of the Prince Charming who captures the love of every Princess in every fairy tale ever written, and the strong silent hero cowboy in all the old westerns I watched as a child. I wanted both of them to have hard shells that, when cracked, opened to very soft hearts.

Your novel is narrated in the first person. Did you ever consider another form of narration, or did you decide on first person from the very start?

Definitely, first person from the start. This is Alex’s story and I wanted her to tell it.

Who are your own favorite authors (not necessarily historical novelists)?

Oh gosh, there are so many I love I don’t think I could ever pick one. In historical fiction, I’d have to choose Mary Doria Russell, Sara Donati, and Kate Morton. As far as other genres, the list is never ending, really. Going all the way back to Chaucer, who I still read from time to time, and Shakespeare, whose plays I read often.

What is the last great book you read?

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune.

 

 

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