Nobody could accuse us of being stuck in the past here at Downie Towers. Well… not in the very distant past, anyway. Today we’re venturing into the daringly modern times of the eighteenth century, where events turn out to have some even more up-to-date parallels. I’m delighted to welcome Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, authors of the bestselling America’s First Daughter, to talk about their latest book, My Dear Hamilton.
Me: Can I get an embarrassing confession out of the way at the start? Having failed to pay attention in history lessons, when I first heard the title I thought you must be writing about Emma, lover of Lord Nelson. Of course I feel silly now. News of the hit musical has reached us even down here in the depths of the West Country. But in case any other Britons are wondering – “My Dear Hamilton” is the story of another woman altogether. Can you tell us a bit about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and why she deserves to be better known?
Stephanie and/or Laura (see how seamlessly they blend together?): Ah, it makes sense that British readers might want to forget our Hamilton, because he was an American Founding Father–probably known as a traitor to your king, if King George stooped to notice him. Alexander Hamilton wasn’t just a pamphleteer and scrappy American soldier, but also the economic architect of America’s modern financial system. And he didn’t do it alone. He had at his side a remarkably intrepid, loyal, and strong wife–Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, one of America’s most important and longest-living Founding Mothers.
Me: Thank you! What is it about Eliza’s story that you think will resonate with modern readers?
Stephanie and Laura: Our modern political world is ugly–and due to the nature of social media, we’re all constantly exposed to rumor, gossip, and various villainies. Eliza’s vulnerability was supercharged. As the wife of a firebrand who clashed with more or less every other Founding Father, Eliza found herself the victim of newspaper attacks and public opprobrium when her husband confessed adultery. In addition, the Hamiltons believed they were caught up in a tangible and immediate fight for the integrity and preservation of the American union, and we were surprised at how many times their fears and struggles seemed to mirror things going on in the modern political arena.
Me: Given my ignorance about Alexander Hamilton, let alone Eliza, should I read up on the history before I open the novel?
Stephanie and Laura: No advanced reading required! We’ll fill you in and fully introduce you to Eliza’s American revolutionary world–including Alexander. But we always encourage readers to learn more after they’re done and provide resources for them to get a head start.
Me (cunningly hoping to pick up a few tips): I’m guessing there was a LOT of research – how do you decide what goes into the book and what ends up on the cutting-room floor?
Stephanie and Laura: That’s the hardest part of the job. Especially with someone like Hamilton who wrote so much and did so much, and Eliza, who accomplished so much in her own right and lived so very long. In the end, we focused on those things that most shaped or were shaped by Eliza’s own lived experience. We wanted to center her, not her husband, and that often helped us determine what stayed and what had to go.
Me (now I’ve picked their brains about that, moving on to something else that fascinates me as a writer…): How does a writing partnership work? Do you write alternate chapters? Work together? Do you always agree, or do you move forward by arguing?
Stephanie and Laura: We have complementary writing strengths and we’re well aware of them, so we tend to dole out sections to each other based on what we each do best. But we also write to a deadline, so when one of us falls behind, the other takes up the slack and if one of us can’t make a scene work, the other one comes to the rescue. We swap chapters constantly, and edit freely. We debate and disagree sometimes, but we don’t really argue because we always start from the premise that the other person has a point. If we do come to an impasse, we talk it out and inevitably come up with a third solution that is better than either of us originally envisioned. That’s one of the most magical things about our partnership!
Me: How about “Hamilton” the musical – what do you both think of it?
Stephanie and Laura: We’re huge fans and think Lin-Manuel Miranda made some absolutely genius storytelling choices!
Me: Many thanks to you both for taking the time in a busy launch week to stop by and chat. In the time-honoured way I’d like to end by asking: what are you both working on now?
Stephanie and Laura: We’re working on a project on women of the French Revolution together, and Stephanie is embarking on her next solo project featuring the Marquis de Lafayette!
Me: Excellent – we can look forward to learning some more history the easy way! Meanwhile I’d like to wish My Dear Hamilton every success. I’m off to read the copy I bought here.