My guest today is Allison Pataki, the author of The Traitor’s Wife, today featured review. The book does an amazing job retelling a story that we all think we’re familiar with from a completely new perspective. I would recommend The Traitor’s Wife to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Before we hear from Allison telling us a bit about herself and how she came up with the idea for the story, check out this gorgeous book trailer for The Traitor’s Wife.
Marlene: Welcome Allison! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Allison: Sure thing! I am an author in the process of publishing my first novel, The Traitor’s Wife. It is a historical fiction because, well, the only thing I love as much as reading and writing is studying history. That’s the work side of things.
On the other side of things, well, I am a wife to my college sweetheart. I am a daughter and a sister, the third kid in a family of four. I am a mother to a sweet little mutt that my husband and I adopted. I am a friend, a volunteer, an in-law, an upstate New Yorker living in Chicago. I love to cook, travel, do yoga, and, of course, read and write!
Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?
Allison: I would definitely say I am a planner – though the descriptor of “pantser” sounds way more fun. I’ve never heard that one before!
A typical day of writing begins pretty early. My dog and I begin the day by taking a walk along the river. This is a great time to think, shake off any sleepiness (the cold weather helps with that!), and get focused on whatever project in which I am currently involved.
After breakfast (and coffee!) I sit down to write. I generally work from home, so I have the liberty of dictating the background noise and, for me, that is always music. I will make a playlist or a Pandora station that seems to complement whatever topic about which I’m writing.
If time and life allow, I can sit there and work all day. Obviously I take breaks for lunch, another walk with the dog, etc. But, usually, I work up until dinner.
Often times, at some point, I will need to take a break to read up on something or do a little more research or digging. But, a really great day, in my book (pun intended) is one that I can devote entirely to writing. It doesn’t always work out like that, obviously!
Marlene: Why did you choose historical fiction as your genre?
Allison: It is without a doubt my favorite genre to read. To be honest, I never really thought about writing any other type of book. It is just what inspires me.
In college, I loved studying English and literature, but I also loved studying history. I decided to major in English and then take as many history classes as possible.
A genre that combines the two, as both a reader and a writer, is a win-win.
Marlene: Is the research part of the fun, or is it something that you have to get through in order to get to the fun parts?
Allison: It’s absolutely part of the fun! I usually begin the research with little more than an idea. The person by whom I’ve been inspired, or the time period. As I uncover and digest the facts, pieces of the story or ideas for a character begin to take shape in my head. The research is undoubtedly what facilitates the development of the novel.
And research is not something that is “gotten through.” It’s ongoing. I am going back and reading and re-reading the research as I’m writing. Even now, when The Traitor’s Wife is just weeks away from publication, I’m still learning about the Revolutionary War time period and the people involved. If only I could keep adding details and throwing in these fun facts!
Marlene: The Benedict Arnold story is one that we all think we know. What drew you to re-tell a story that everyone feels like they are already familiar with?
Allison: Benedict Arnold’s story is what most people know. But not Peggy Arnold’s story. In fact, I would venture to guess that many people don’t even know Benedict Arnold had a wife, let alone one as powerful, intriguing and interesting as Peggy. That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story with Peggy as the subject.
As I researched for The Traitor’s Wife, I kept asking myself: “how come I’ve never heard this before?” I hope readers will feel the same way.
Marlene: Although the title of the book is The Traitor’s Wife, the point-of-view character is the traitor’s wife’s maid. What led you to choose the below-stairs perspective to tell the story?
Allison: At first, I thought about writing The Traitor’s Wife from the perspective of Peggy Shippen Arnold. She is, as you pointed out, the traitor’s wife, and the novel’s inspiration.
But as I researched the history, I realized that I really wanted to tell this story through the eyes of an observer. I wanted a narrator, a fictional character, who would meet Peggy Shippen Arnold and get to know her as the reader is doing so. A narrator who could watch the events unfolding, but at a little bit of a distance.
The novel would have been entirely different had I written it from Peggy’s perspective – both for the reader, and also for me, as the writer. I think introducing Clara’s perspective allowed it to be a more well-rounded story.
Writing from Clara’s perspective allowed me to interject feelings like hope, optimism, insecurity, and idealism into the novel. All of the feelings that one might have felt as he/she witnessed a new nation’s fight for independence.
Marlene: You are from a political family. How did your background help you in understanding the motivations of the characters?
Allison: I can’t say that it was too applicable in this case, simply because it is two entirely different times. The political landscape back then was not really like what it is today. George Washington didn’t even want our nation to have political parties.
What I did think about, however, was how Arnold’s personality, ego, and insecurities made him very ill suited for the public role he assumed. And, as a result, why he became such a bitter man.
If you are going to be a leader, you are going to be a target, and you must accept that. In politics – then and now – one must be able to work with others, to allow insults to roll off the chest, and to put one’s own personal woes to the side to work for the greater good. Arnold seemed to struggle with that.
Benedict Arnold was a skilled general and heroic patriot, yes, but he was not skilled in negotiating human relationships. That got him into trouble. He made enemies both in the army and in the Continental Congress.
Marlene: What is your favorite scene from the book and why did you pick that scene?
Allison: Probably the opening scene, when George Washington’s rider approaches the Arnold house. Washington is on his way! Further down the Hudson River, the treason is being uncovered, and yet, Peggy and Benedict Arnold are convinced that they have succeeded in their plot.
That is, until the second rider approaches. From this messenger, the Arnolds learn that their plan has been unearthed. And yet, Washington is still on his way! Chaos ensues.
I like that the novel begins with immediate tension and disaster. The rest of the novel then goes back and works up until this very moment, this fateful and disastrous morning.
Marlene: Title of a book that you’ve faked reading:
Allison: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I always just thought – because I had seen the musical, the movie, and listened to the CD over a hundred times – that I had as good as read the book. I knew the plot, right?
Wrong! This past year I decided to go back and actually read it, all 1,000+ pages of reading it. And boy is it a masterpiece. Totally worth the long slog.
Marlene: Title of a book that you’ve bought for the cover:
Allison: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. All of her covers have a similar look, and I think they are beautiful and whimsical and intriguing. I saw The Forgotten Garden in airport bookstores for months and always picked it up to admire the cover.
I’m glad I did so, because I loved it, and am now a huge fan of hers!
Marlene: Book that you most want to read again for the first time:
Allison: Gone With the Wind.
I haven’t read it in years. Scarlett O’Hara is perhaps my favorite female character in literature.
Marlene: As a debut author yourself, what words of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Allison: Be forgiving. The first stuff you write is not going to be great. It might not even be good. Mine certainly wasn’t. But keep at it. Seek the input and advice of people you trust, and people who want to support you and help you grow as a writer.
If you feel impassioned to write and you have a story that you are consumed by, then write it. Write it, and edit it, and rewrite it, and edit it some more. Stick with it.
Marlene: What projects do you have planned for the future?
Allison: More historical fiction. I thought, while writing The Traitor’s Wife, that I would never love another book I worked on as much, ever again. But I was surprised. I found another topic that, to me, is equally fascinating and fun.
Marlene: Morning person or night owl?
Allison: Morning person. I mentioned coffee above, right? 🙂
Allison and Kismet Book Tours are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky commenter on this tour. This giveaway is open to anyone living in a place where Amazon ships. Wow!
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