Ellen Horan wrote “31 Bond Street” (review & giveaway) and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. I was very interested in the amazing research she did for the book. As it turned out she wrote an essay about it (link in her answer).
Q. It seems you did a lot of research about 1850s NYC, anything specific you can share about how you went about it?
A. There is an essay called “The Story Behind the Book” that can be found in the PS Section at the back of the paperback and on my website, www.31BondStreet.com. I won’t repeat that all here, but in it I talk about how I discovered a newspaper print and followed up at the New York Public Library, reading all the newspapers on microfilm. Besides researching for facts about the strange murder case, I used the newspapers as a source for the rich vocabulary about contemporary life in 1857. I would keep a document file on different topics, on food, clothing, ships, court terms, and household items. I also read the trial transcripts. The District Attorney actually said: “can it be possible that one of the fair sex, upon whom God has placed his seal of purity, should become a midnight assassin and embrace hate, revenge and jealousy?” I used parts of his speech straight from the transcript—it was just too good, I couldn’t make that up.
Q. What struck me is the sensationalist media back then is not very different from the sensationalist media today. Do you think things got better, worst or stayed the same when it comes to the media deciding the outcome of court cases?
A. At the time, New York was a small city, relative to today. Everyone in the potential jury pool, (ie: New York voting males), would have been reading all about this trial for months, and would have been tainted by what they read. Much of it was conjecture, and in some cases was factual, but reports about leads that turned out to be false. Henry Clinton, the defense lawyer, wrote his own book about the case. It was part of his strategy to try to shape public opinion in Emma Cunningham’s favor prior to the trial. I consulted a current district attorney in New York who said that Clinton’s strategies were quite forward for the time. One would hope to find a savvy defense lawyer when charged with murder in those days, for the sentence was hanging.
Q. This is your first book, how did you find the experience of writing and publishing?
A. I took some good advice, which was if you are working on fiction as a first time author, completely finish the manuscript, fully edited, before submitting to agents. So I worked on it for a long time, crafting the first drafts, and then went over it many times with outside readers and skilled editors prior to submission. It’s hard to know when you are 100% ‘finished’ but holding out until after you’ve enlisted some enlightened readers can help you to feel pretty secure. It is easy to get impatient and jump the gun, and then you give an agent or publisher a reason to pass over your manuscript, when they see that it needs work. So I am glad that I took that advice, and feel quite fortunate to have found my agent and publisher, who were willing to take it on.
Q. Any positive/negative experiences in book promotions? What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. Book promotion is a strange beast in the internet age. It’s changing rapidly, even since my hardback came out a year ago. Book publishers are trying different things, and now that traditional print media is vanishing, new outlets are more fragmented, and appearing all time on the internet. Basically, I think that social media is very exciting and it gives a writer direct access to readers that wasn’t possible before. But it also presents a new challenge because that interaction is always in the ‘present.’ It used to be a book was marketed for a week or two and then the writer became invisible to write the next one. Now, we are no longer invisible. The screen of my laptop is where I tour my book on skype and radio, hear from readers, interact with my publisher, agent, family and friends, and it is also the same place that I am writing my next book. The real challenge is learning to compartmentalize and turn the different spaces on and off. And you should see the desktop of my computer — what a mess!
Shameless plug disguised as a wise ass question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wise Gal Answer: Hah! Good question to throw at me! Had this been a five years ago, I would not have encountered book bloggers—it is a big positive of social media, and I am frankly so incredibly impressed by the quality and caliber of book sites that are diligently kept up by reader/reviewers, people who have outside professions and families as well. I was looking over your site, Zohar, and I was thinking that it was like being in a wonderful independent bookstore, where you find a variety of intelligent and enlightening suggestions. I was in The Three Lives bookstore today, an independent in Greenwich Village, and saw my book (phew!), but was distracted and amazed at the wealth of offerings and choices. Looking at your site makes me wish I could curl up tonight with a stack of books, but alas, I have that messy desktop and a manuscript to complete!
Thanks Ellen for the insightful and very interesting answers.
Zohar – Man of la Book