... Juliet Waldron
1. Tell me about your book The Master Passion and where you got your inspiration for it?
First, thanks, Sonnet, for the opportunity to appear on your blog! It was different—in a good way—to have a selection of questions from which to choose.
The Master Passion~Love & Liberty, is the first part of a two-part series about Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Betsy Schuyler. It was completed well over a decade ago. Hamilton came into my life early—I’m close to 72 now—and we “became friends” when I was ten. My mother loved history and encouraged me to read novels and biographies of famous people at a tender age. One day, we were visiting a favourite place, a musty, dark used book store. While Mom greeted the owner, I started looking at the historical novels, some from Edwardian times. Pulling one out at random, I opened it and there was the famous Trumbull painting of Hamilton, gazing out, past me. He appeared young, triumphant, simply overflowing with energy. My mother saw what I was looking at, and explained that this was the same man who appears on the $10 bill. This amazed me, because I knew about Founding Fathers—George Washington in particular, for we share a birthday.
Weren’t these guys all old and dignified? This one, to the contrary, had the look of a hero. And so, I learned, he was, one of those creative geniuses America was fortunate to have on hand when our nation was formed. Well, I read the book, a novel written in 1902 by a then famous lady novelist, and became a fan who went on to read proper biographies on the subject. Mother, who had an adventurous streak, took us—on a shoestring in the 1950’s--to visit Nevis in the West Indies where Hamilton was born. I was always falling in love with historical characters during childhood, and the weird prediliction never really went away. There have been other famous “dead white men” from other eras (Mozart, Richard III) in my life, but Hamilton has been around the longest.
2. What do you think is the biggest challenge of writing a new book?
In the first place, I have to get a bee in my bonnet about someone, as my inspiration is character driven. As I write historical novels, based upon people who were once among the living, I like to have a kind of template, in the form of a life story, to work with. Famous men are the hook, you might say, upon which I hang my ideas, although I usually end up writing my books through a woman’s eyes, often the significant other. That’s where the research comes in, because period influences not only technology—food, housing, clothes, medicine—but also mind-set. For instance, a person of “medieval” times is 250-500 years distant from someone living during the Age of Enlightenment. You must acquire at least a sense of how people thought—their world view--in order to create characters plausibly resident in that particular long-ago world.
3. Are the titles of your books important?
Yes, and I agonize over them. I sometimes feel they are the hardest part of writing a book. How do you sum it all up in a word—or three? Often, I do the obvious: the name of the main character, such as “Genesee,” whose mixed race heroine was born in the Genesee Valley of New York in an Iroquois village, or “Roan Rose” a girl whose over-whelming red freckles gave her an obvious nick-name. “Nightingale” is a common 18th Century term for an opera singer, and in that story, it is the heroine’s occupation. “My Mozart” is the first person narrative of a young fan, whose obsession pushes her to the edge of madness. “The Master Passion” is actually a quote from the didactic 18th Century poet, Alexander Pope, whose works were as familiar to educated people in those days as Shakespeare or the Bible.
4. Are there any occupational hazards of bring a novelist?
Yes, several. First, too much time hunched over books taking notes or in front of a computer--bad for the eyes and, cumulatively, bad for the back. Not to mention the fact that a writer can be a resounding bore. I know I have given everyone around me an entire series of highly opinionated history lessons they may not have been particularly eager to hear. When I wrote the Mozart books, I almost drove my husband over the brink with the composer’s greatest hits.
5. What is your favourite character from your book, The Master Passion, and why?
Dearly as I loved Alexander Hamilton, I grew, over time, far closer to his wife. As always, ‘anonymous was a woman’, so I had to discover her character inferentially. Betsy Schuyler Hamilton was truly an amazing woman, one of great strength of character as well as the kind who loved her husband to the grave and beyond. She lived another fifty years after Hamilton was killed in that famous duel with Aaron Burr. In her eighties, she travelled by flatboat and coach all the way to Indiana—still wild country—to see one of her less-domesticated boys, who was then the boss of a frontier mining town. Although she was left with few resources after her husband died, she was known for her generosity to the poor who came to her door, and for her charity work on behalf of widows and orphans, both in NYC and in Washington, D.C.
6. If a two year old hands you a toy phone, do you answer it?
Yes, most certainly! That’s the imagination inherent in all of us just beginning to express itself, the beginning of imaginary friends. As my own life has been full of these—in my case, phantoms from the past—I’m ready to get down on the floor beside them and talk to whoever they say is on the end of the line.
7. Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
Both my parents were big readers and both encouraged me in so many ways. Both of them brought small libraries of their own childhood books. They not only shared these with me, but talked with me about what I thought after I’d read them. My Grandfather Liddle was a professor of English and he and his wife too, bought me books and read to me. As my love of history developed, the family encouraged that, too. I grew up in a world filled with crammed bookcases, and I was allowed to lie behind the couch—if that was my pleasure—and read.
8. Where would your dream vacation be?
I’d love spend some time in the West Indies again. I went to high school in Barbados, but I’ve never been back to see what it’s like now—although it’s probably so built up I’d not recognize it. I’d also like to go to Nevis again, to walk on those brown sand beaches and watch the clouds gather round the sleeping peak of the volcano in the afternoon.
9. What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever warn?
I had a terrific pair of genuine leather chaps—they’d been Mom’s—and combined with a black shirt and the cowboy hat, boots and six-guns that all lucky kids in the 1950’s had—I added a skeleton mask and then called myself the “Ghost Rider,” which was a popular song my parents often played. I don’t know if anyone else really got it, but I felt spectacularly spooky.
10. If you could dis-invent one thing what would it be?
Maybe not the cell phone so much, but some of the apps people are now constantly distracted by which are part of today’s package. I know a cell phone is useful, but once people began to drive while talking on them, and then, as internet connections were made, to spend so much time staring into them, they’ve become a positive danger. As a cyclist—and I’ve biked the roads for 50 years—I’m always wondering if the car hurtling along behind me has a texting driver at the wheel. Then, in coffee shops or while walking in parks or wherever, I’ll see mothers talking, texting or playing games, while their children, isolated in carriages or walking beside them, are ignored. This lack of real contact between people isn’t going to be a good thing in the long run.
THE MASTER PASSION is the story of the marriage of our brilliant first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. It begins with a whirlwind Revolutionary War courtship at Washington’s headquarters. Conflict, however, is built into this marriage.
“...And hence one Master Passion in the breast
Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up all the rest..."
Betsy's passion is Alexander. Hamilton adores his wife and children, but sometimes he loves America more.
Juliet Waldron has lived in many US states, in the UK and the West Indies. She earned a B. A. in English, but has worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Thirty years ago, after her sons left home, she dropped out of 9-5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time travel experience for her readers. She’s a grandmother, a cat person, and a dedicated student of history and archeology.