Monday, November 12, 2012

Interview with Susan Elia MacNeal

This autumn I started Susan Elia MacNeal's wonderful Maggie Hope series about a young Brit-born, American-raised, Wellesley-educated woman who ends up involved in the war effort in 1940s London. The most recent book in the series is Princess Elizabeth's Spy (which was great fun) and I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. MacNeal.  Read on to learn more about her writing, her newest book, and what she's reading now!  Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Princess Elizabeth's Spy.

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

When I was in my 20s, twice daily I’d walk by an intersection of two narrow streets in the West Village, where Waverly Place intersects with Waverly Place. I always thought that would be a great jumping off place for magical and mystical happenings in New York City — and I wrote a bit about that. There was also a book store that would always be in different places, too, inspired by the wonderful independent bookshop Three Lives — which I could never seem to find. It made sense to me that maybe it moved around, opening up for people who really needed to find something.

Do you have any rituals for writing or routines?

I generally prefer to write in the morning, then use the afternoon for editing work, as well as emails, etc. Then, at 3 p.m., I’m on Mommy Duty to my second grader.

But I don’t have to do anything special — I try to emulate the choreographer George Balanchine who said, “My muse comes to me on union time.” I suppose my muse comes to me during school hours.

As you were writing Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

You know, there's one character — that I won't name because I don't want to spoil anyone — who surprised me. I didn’t expect to feel so much pity for him, and yet I did, even to the end. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t a horrible person — he was a traitor and murderer — but I really did care for him.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

When I’m not writing, I love to have friends over and cook. I like to go to our local farmers market and pick out all kinds of amazing stuff, then invite friends over for a big homemade dinner. Family, friends, good food, wine — that’s what it’s all about.

Read any good books lately?

Yes! I just finished Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann, which I loved — especially all of the different first-person narrators. I’ve been on a bit of a gothic kick recently, and reread Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, along with The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey. Great reads, all.

Right now, though, I’m reading a lot of non-fiction to research book #4 in the Maggie Hope Series. This novel, set in the fall and winter of 1941, will include the characters of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Of the books I’ve read so far, standouts are: Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham and Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir of Winston and Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child by Lady Mary Soames.

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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Princess Elizabeth’s Spy to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 11/23.


  1. I love it when an author surprises herself, and ends up caring for a character that she has created wickedly. It's one of the neatest things about writing, I think. I mean, aren't they all your babies, really?

    1. My feelings exactly! And the character in question was delightfully wicked and yet, I could tell MacNeal cared about the 'person' -- sounds cheesy, but there's obvious affection for all her characters which I like.

  2. I love this author and I love this series..Great interview.


  3. Yay for Rebecca! Loving the story of the bookshop, there's a lot of ideas for writing in that.

  4. Awww, that first story sounds adorable. What wonderful inspirations!

    Ooh, I love villains that you can't help liking, despite their misdeeds. They're so much more compelling than the uncharismatic ones.

    The only one of those books I've read is The Thirteenth Tale, but it's very good!

  5. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale as well, and I STILL need to make time to read Rebecca ...

    Thanks for featuring this interview for the tour!