We’re thrilled to be visiting with Erika Robuck and Sarah McCoy today. These women are easily two of the most talented and prolific authors in publishing and they have both written my (Ariel) favorite type of book: historical fiction based on real people. Their novels THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE and THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN both release today. Erika and Sarah have kindly agreed to interview one another for our ongoing “author to author” series. We hope that you’ll take a moment to settle in while Sarah McCoy chats with Erika Robuck about THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE. We’ll be back on Thursday with the second half of this interview. And in the meantime we hope that you’ll pick up a copy of each book. We couldn’t recommend them more highly.
SARAH MCCOY: In your previous novels, you’ve written from the perspective of fictional characters associated with historical figures. THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is the first novel wherein you wrote as the narrative voice of the real Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. What challenges did this present and was it difficult to balance fact and fiction?
ERIKA ROBUCK: I had planned on writing this novel in a similar vein to my others, but during the research, reading Sophia Peabody’s seven hundred page maiden journal, I felt her assert herself as the narrator. Because THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is told in the first person point of view, it took reading all of Sophia’s journals and correspondence to attempt to harness her voice. It was difficult to capture her effusive, optimistic nature in the face of her life’s many challenges, but I hope I did her justice.
Even with a family as well known as the Hawthornes, there are many holes between points on the timeline. It is one of my greatest joys as a writer using the true history to imagine and animate those places that have been left in the shadows.
SARAH: In writing THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN, I fell into the dastardly historical fiction trap of wanting to include a colossal amount of information related to my novel’s era, the Civil War. I ended up having to chop over 400 pages during revision. Your books skillfully include so much history with each captivating story. How do you decide which facts to include and which to exclude?
ERIKA: 400 pages on the chopping floor! Sarah, perhaps you can publish those as a nonfiction supplement to your novel.
I, too, had difficulty ferreting out exactly what to keep and what to extract. Because I very much wanted to separate this book from anything purely biographical, I structured it as a series of geographically based novellas, each exploring the evolution of one woman who hoped to achieve the proverbial art-life balance. It was tempting to meander down the fascinating side paths of the Hawthornes’ existence—especially because they were close to so many well-known historical figures. But keeping razor-sharp focus, I was able to slice away anything in their rich lives that did not contribute directly to my chosen themes.
SARAH: What do you want your readers to discover or take away from THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE?
ERIKA: I want my readers to see that the struggle to live balanced, full lives is timeless, that what artists give up to lead lives of domesticity often feeds their creative fires in ways they could not anticipate, and that there are light-bearers among us—who don’t always know it—but who enrich the world through their unique contributions, no matter how large or small they may seem.
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From Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl, comes a brilliant new novel about a literary couple. The unlikely marriage between Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated novelist, and Sophia Peabody, the invalid artist, was a true union of passion and intellect.…
Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.
Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature…