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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Welcome Anna Maclean!

Welcome to my blog!  Today's guest is Anna Maclean.  Anna is the author of several novels:  The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press).   She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including  American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications)  and co-editor of  The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton),  and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines.  She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C.  She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe.  She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie,  in upstate New York.


Book Link:,,9781101506141,00.html?Louisa_and_the_Missing_Heiress_Anna_Maclean

Anna, thank you so much for including us in your blog tour.  If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future? Why?

 Absolutely!  I would love to, say, sit in on a twelfth century Court of Love in the south of France, and debate how long  a knight must be willing wait before receiving a kiss.  Or view a ceremony at Versailles when Marie Antoinette wore linen instead of silk (scandal!) and dressed her hair so high they had to take out the roof of her carriage.  Or participate in one of the nineteenth century American ‘amusements’ when people first dabbled in hypnotism and gathered in large crowds to view P.T. Barnum’s oddities from all over the world.  More seriously, I would like to sit at Gandhi’s feet and listen to him speak or spend an afternoon with Siddhartha.

If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would you choose?

 What a fun question. First. Benjamin Franklin.  I know history makes him sound a little stodgy, all that founding father stuff, but if you read his writings and his biographies you get the sense that this working-class philosopher really knew how to party.  He had great wit.  I’d invite Eleanor of  Aquitaine to sit opposite him and they could debate which was the wittier sex – male or female.   I’d invite Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde – they were great fans of each other and Walt could dazzle us with his gorgeous language and Oscar could  make us roll with laughter at his caustic jokes.  And finally,  I’d invite a fictional character, Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being  Earnest  and she could roll her eyes at us, protest at our manners, and show us how to use a fish fork.

Hey, there's nothing stodgy about Franklin.  You're right about the partying.What is one book everyone should read?

Just one?  I’d have to go with the collected plays of Shakespeare.  They have every plot, every character, every emotion and outcome possible.  If you read them out loud, you fall in love with language all over again.

Good choice.  What inspired you to want to become a writer?

The fantasy of it, the way it allows me to live different lives and be many people.  Every time I research  a new place and time it’s like acquiring a new lifetime.  Stories are my lifeblood.  Whenever I meet a new person I want to say “Telll me your story!”  That could get pretty rude, so I invent stories.  For me, the world is made of language, even more so than images or pictures, and my imagination requires that the world constantly be made again in new stories with telling language.

 Well said!  Tell us about your work.

My most recent mystery, Louisa and the Crystal Gazer, has just been re—released by NAL; the previous two, Louisa and the Missing Heiress and Louisa and the Country Bachelor, are also available.  The mysteries feature Louisa May Alcott (yes, the author of  Little Women!) as an amateur detective, solving crimes in mid-nineteenth century New England.  Louisa was a great character to work with, to spend time with.  She was intelligent and independent and also very loving, very loyal to her family.  She knew hard times and financial worries and had a heartbreak or two, I’m sure. 

For the mysteries, I created plots and settings that might actually have occurred – dramas the real Louisa might have heard of, or been familiar with:  daughters eloping with the ‘wrong’ man,  husbands disappearing on various battlefields, working girls abused and abandoned by the upper classes.  The murders in the mysteries – and all three are murder mysteries –- personalize the history and culture of mid-nineteenth century America.  And Louisa gets to have a bit of fun, as well, during the investigations.  She has a sense of humor.

 I’ve been writing and publishing historical fiction for some years now, beginning with a story set in the French Revolution ( The Frenchwoman) moving back in time to medieval France (The Queen’s War) then jumping forward again into the Napoleonic era, when Napoleon went to Egypt (Dreams of Empire.)   I wrote a novel about nineteenth century American spiritualism and the famous Fox sisters (The Sweet By and By) and am working on an Elizabethan novel.

So cool!  Alcott was my favorite author when I was a kid.  Would you share your links with us?

We'd love to read an excerpt

Thanks so much for hosting me!  Hope you enjoy the excerpt from Louisa and the Crystal Gazer.

Thank you for coming.  Readers, I've ready the excerpt and it's great.

Gentle Reader,

               In December of 1855 I found myself in Boston, temporarily separated from my beloved family in Walpole, New Hampshire, and facing a Christmas, that most wonderful of seasons, without the comfort of my loved ones.

               But drudge a living I must, for I was not yet the rich and famous author I later became.  My stories, when they sold, earned little, and so I had sought employment and received an offer from Reverend Ezra Gannett, who wished me to complete an order or a dozen winter shirts for him, all to be finely seamed, buttonholed,  and finished with pleats and embroidery.

               I was an unenthused seamstress at best, but his payment would allow me to purchase Christmas presents for my family, so I accepted his offer.

               My dear friend Sylvia Shattuck was also in residence in Boston…Sylvia, however, was in a strange frame of mind, one that set into motion a course of events that would involve us in murder, faithless lovers, and sad deeds of a dark past.  Beware of boredom, gentle reader. It can lead down dangerous paths.

               “I miss Father,”  she sighed one  morning as we took our walk along the harbor.  It was a misty, cold day, and the harbor waves were tipped with frosty white.

               “Unfortunately, you father passed away when you were a child,” I answered gently “You barely knew that long-enduring man, so how do you now claim to miss him?”

               I t was unlike Sylvia to yearn for any family member, dead or alive, and I had a vague presentiment that she was to introduce yet another faddish custom into my life.  Sylvia lived in vogues, and had just relinquished Confucianism, which had brought the enlightenment she sought.  No use to explain to her that philosophers spent years at that task; Sylvia tended to give three months and then move on.

               “My point exactly,”  my companion responded, turning upon me bright eyes filled with a passionate melancholy. “I feel the need for a masculine presence in my life, and would like to converse with my father. I will, with the assistance of Mrs. Agatha Percy. Please come with me to one of sittings!”

               Ship rigging creaked in the wind and bells chimed the start of a new watch, and I pondered Sylvia’s statement.

               Mrs. Agatha D. Percy was the newest fad in Boston, one of the recently risen members of that questionable group of individuals known as ‘spiritists’ or  mediums. One must feel a heavy burden of ennui to wish to spend time at that dubious amusement, I thought.

               “Oh, it will be such fun, Louisa! All of  Boston goes!” Sylvia persisted.

               “Then it must be quite crowded,” I rejoined, walking at a faster pace to try to dissuade Sylvia from this topic…”I am unconvinced that ‘fun’ is the correct word to describe an hour of sitting in the dark, pretending to speak with the dead.”

               “Spirits,” corrected   Sylvia. “The dead don’t l like to be called dead. Such a harsh word.”

               Neither of us was yet aware of exactly how harsh that séance would become.

Readers, Anna is giving away a gift basket to one randomly drawn commenter, so follow her tour and comment often.  For the tour schedule go to


  1. A wonderful interview thank you & I did love the excerpt.


  2. I particularly loved the reasons you wanted the five people at a dinner party. What fun that would have been. I am really anxious to read some of your Louisa and.... stories. I loved her stories when young, and still do.

  3. Anna is unable to post (she doesn't have a blogger ID), but asked me to send this:

    Thanks, Elaine, for hosting me!

    And hello to marybelle and MomJane. Who would you party with?

  4. Please invite me to your dinner, too! I love Ben. I think his Autobiography is a must read for every American. And one of my personal favorite works, that I re-read every couple of years, is Leaves of Grass. And Oscar's biting wit is dazzling. That would be some lively, entertaining dinner. Throw in Dorothy Parker and the party may never end!

    catherinelee100 at gmail dot com