I’d like to welcome back to Layered Pages, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Eva Flynn. She worked as an editor and non-fiction writer for twenty years before turning to fiction. When Eva Flynn discovered the incredible true story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President, the first female stockbroker, the first woman to testify in front of Congress, and the first American to publish the Communist Manifesto, she knew her mission was to give Victoria a voice that history had denied her. While Eva did not know the research would take her to the very beginning of the American struggle for equality, she did know that she had stumbled upon one of history’s greatest unsung heroines. Winner of the 2016 IPPY Gold Medal, The Renegade Queen has been called “energetic…a page turner” by the Historical Novel Society and the U.S. Review of Books has written that the novel is “fascinating from beginning to end.”
Eva enjoys hearing from readers, and you may reach her at email@example.com.
How did you discover indieBRAG?
Thanks for having me Stephanie. It’s great to be here. Actually, I discovered indieBRAG on your blog. You were kind enough to do a spotlight on The Renegade Queen when it first came out and I saw the picture of the BRAG medallion on your page and looked into it, and now we’ve come full circle!
Please tell you audience about your book, The Renegade Queen.
The Renegade Queen follows the extraordinary life of Victoria Woodhull from her childhood in the 1840s to when she was forced to live abroad in the late 1870s. Although she grew up in a poor and dysfunctional household and was even sold into marriage, she managed to influence the course of social and political events. She was the first female stockbroker, the first woman to testify in front of Congress, one of the first women to run a newspaper, and the first woman to run for President. She ran for President in 1872, approximately fifty years before women could even vote. Victoria had powerful friends and enemies. For example, her “frenemy” was Susan B. Anthony and they were close before they had a powerful rivalry. She was friends with robber baron Commodore Vanderbilt and U.S. Representative Benjamin Butler. And she made enemies of Henry Ward Beecher and Anthony Comstock, who are akin to the religious right of our age. Her best friend was her sister Tennessee who in later years’ eclipses Victoria as a woman’s activist. Her second husband, James Blood, was very supportive of her efforts. The book is meticulously researched and all the events are true. One reviewer said that the story is “implausible” and I would agree except that it is all true.
One of the themes in your story deals with abuse in several forms. What are the emotions you experienced while writing about them?
Thank you for asking that question. It was difficult to portray those situations, but I felt that I needed to be honest about Victoria and her life. She talked publicly about how her father “made her a woman before her time” and she talked publicly about her first husband’s treatment of her. Life was so difficult for women during this time period, and I do not think any of us who have comfortable lives, in part due to their sacrifices, can truly appreciate how little respect women were treated with in society. For example, in researching the amount of rape and incest in this country at that time, the numbers were sickening. During the 1870s and 1880s, two-thirds of the rape cases had victims between 11 and 18. There were more than 500 published reports of incest in New York between 1817 and 1899. And it is still a widespread problem with The Atlantic recently reporting that one in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused, and most of those cases are by family members. I remember writing those scenes with tears streaming down my face, but I knew that I must include them not only to be honest but to show that Victoria’s journey is all the more remarkable due to her being a survivor.
What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?
Most of my characters are intense for it is a stressful time to be an American, and I think many of us can relate to some of those feelings today. The U.S. Civil War which claimed 600,000 men is over but the South is in tatters. No one knows how to handle the political rights of the newly freed slaves, the immigrants, or the women and all of these groups are becoming political and asking for their rights. The economy is a mess with a few wealthy men owning the majority of the assets and money while the majority are struggling; this is when Karl Marx and communism first comes on the scene in America. Victoria Woodhull has a little bit of ADHD in that she wants to right every wrong, and combat all these problems at once and feels that she was chosen by God to do so. Susan B. Anthony is more pragmatic and want to accomplish reform by moving slowly. And then other characters, such as Tennessee, see the problems but are just trying to enjoy the moment and have a bit happier outlook on life.
Tell me a little about, Tennessee and how the situations in her life have molded her into the person she becomes.
Tennessee is Victoria’s younger sister and she was named after the state Tennessee because her father mistakenly believed James K. Polk, the President from Tennessee, was a relation. Victoria and Tennessee’s father, Reuben “Buck” Clafin was a con artist in addition to being abusive. He was a postal carrier and he stole people’s mail and kept any money, items sent through the post. He operated Homer’s only grist mill which the town needed to make bread, and he burned it down to try to collect on the insurance money. When he discovered the “Fox Sisters”, young girls who were spiritual mediums were making a fortune by communicating to the dead, he refashioned his family into healers and mediums. Not only did he sexually abuse his daughters, but he also forced them into a state of “delirium” by forcing them to drink alcohol and opium. He thought they could better communicate with the dead that way. Victoria was the medium, communicating with the dead and Tennessee was a healer. They went from town to town selling their services and they made quite a bit of money as young girls, but their father kept the money. Then after Victoria was sold into marriage, Buck opened a center that claimed to cure cancer. Some of the patients died or became disfigured, and Buck blamed Tennessee and she was charged with manslaughter and then went on the run. Tennessee was also married briefly at this time, but her husband left her when he surmised she was being paid for sex. Tennessee did say in a court case that James and Victoria “saved her from a wretched life” and she also often spoke out in defense of prostitution. So Tennessee was abused by her father on a number of levels, and she spent her life trying to find love and she was sexually promiscuous as a result. I found several sources, not only newspapers, but also testimonies from court cases that reference her promiscuity. She wanted to marry super wealthy Commodore Vanderbilt who was more than forty years her senior, but that plan did not work out. After she broke up with Vanderbilt, she maintained her carefree attitude towards sex. In her later life, she found love with a wealthy English businessman which I will cover in my sequel. And it was at this time that Tennessee matured in terms of her political ideology and eclipsed her sister as an activist. She wrote books, gave speeches, and often travelled to America to demand the right for women to vote.
Is James Blood a fictional character?
Colonel James Blood is real and was a Civil War hero. When Victoria meets him, she pulls out an article about the Battle of Vicksburg and his bravery from The Harper’s Weekly and it is right next to an article about Lyman Beecher. That newspaper exists and you can read it here. When I found this paper I was astonished because none of the biographies I had read of Victoria mentioned the details of Colonel Blood’s bravery or this article. Everything in the novel about James Blood is true except for the conversations they had, no one can know their precise conversations I’m afraid. He remained in politics after he and Victoria divorced, and then he went to Africa to find gold.
Who is Susan B. Anthony?
Susan B. Anthony is what I would call one of our “founding mothers.” She was a reformer that fought on many platforms for women. It was Anthony who in 1848 first publicly raised the issue of equal pay for equal work. She was a school teacher at the time and one of her male colleagues disclosed that he was being paid three times what she was. She addressed the school board and there was an hour long debate before people could even agree that women had the right to talk. While she was working on behalf of women, the Civil War broke out and she became a great abolitionist and was instrumental in not only abolition but also in the Underground Railroad. Then at the end of the Civil War, she alienated African American leaders when she argued that women should have the right to vote before African Americans and she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both made what we would now see as racist remarks. This event caused a schism in the woman’s movement with Anthony and Stanton on one side, demanding women have the vote and Henry Ward Beecher and his supporters on the other side, saying that the African Americans should get it first and that women should not “dirty” themselves with politics. Anthony then travelled from state to state to campaign for women to get the right to vote, finding success in Wyoming and Utah, but defeat elsewhere such as in Kansas. With the backing of rich entrepreneur George Francis Train, she started the newspaper The Revolution which was the first American newspaper run by a woman and the first to focus on women’s issues. She and Victoria Woodhull became allies and then had several disagreements over the course of the movement which caused another schism in the woman’s movement. In 1872, when Victoria Woodhull was running for President, Anthony broke the law to vote against her and vote for incumbent Ulysses. S. Grant. Anthony was released from jail, against her wishes as she wanted to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but was fined. She refused to pay the fine. She spent the rest of her years working tirelessly for women. The Anthony Amendment, which was the original name of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, was introduced by an Anthony supporter and debated annually in Congress for forty years before it passed. By the time it passed, Anthony was dead, so she never was able to witness the fruits of her labor.
How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?
All of the characters in The Renegade Queen are real and most of them had published volumes of information in terms of speeches, memoirs, letters, and political arguments. For example, Benjamin Butler not only wrote a 1200-page memoir, but we also have several volumes of his correspondence readily available. This information along with the newspaper articles made him fairly easy to flesh out. James Blood gave interviews and was politically active so I had his words as well as impressions about him published in old newspapers to access. I even read several accounts of minor characters such as William Howe, Victoria’s attorney, to ensure all the details were correct. I was fortunate to have such an abundance of historic primary resources to help me with the characters. My only struggle was with Susan B. Anthony as I am personally more sympathetic to Anthony than Victoria Woodhull was, but the story was from Victoria’s viewpoint as it is first person so I had to take on her attitudes towards the characters.
What do you like most about writing stories that take place in the past?
As you can probably tell from my answers, I find great inspiration in the sacrifices our ancestors made on behalf of women and all Americans. It makes one wonder how many people today would go to jail, spend all their money, and face ridicule to launch a fight that would not be over during their lifetime? Susan B. Anthony, for example, risked everything not only for women but also risked her safety for slaves when she supported abolition. I am humbled by the battles they fought daily so that we could have a better life. And while many historians call this period of American Reconstruction a failure as reforms were not fully realized until after the death of the reformers, I find something beautiful in the grand failures. Sometimes change is a relay race and you have to carry the baton as far as you can and hand it off to the next generation, and that perseverance throughout the generations is astonishing.
Describe the social revolution in your eyes.
The period after the Civil War in this country was chaos. The country was still divided, many families were grieving the dead, the President was assassinated, and immigrants and African Americans are flooding the large cities in the north. Women who have had to “keep the home fires burning” are realizing that they are capable in surviving without men and they want their rights. The women do not understand how they can give body and soul in support of their men during War and then still be denied their rights when the War is over. The social revolution was all of these groups demanding their rights and asking for a new world order to be established, overturning the age of American patriarchy. While it was not a quick process, and we still have battles, this was the beginning of American minorities finding their voice, being vocal through newspapers and protests, and organizing into groups to put pressure on the majority.
Who design your book cover?
I’m so glad you asked this. Alan Clements designed my cover. I’ve known Alan for about eighteen years now, and he is a super talented graphic artist. He just started his own freelance business, Spin Cycle Creative and would love new clients. His email
Where can reader buy your book?
It should be anywhere books are sold for I have an e-book version and a paperback version.
Thank you for chatting with me today, Eva! It was a pleasure.
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Eva Flynn who is the author of, The Renegade Queen, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Renegade Queen, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money
Stephanie M. Hopkins -indieBRAG Interview Team Leader