Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jennifer Chiaverini

Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Jennifer Chiaverini | @jchiaverini

We’ve got a copy of Jennifer’s latest novel, THE SPYMISTRESS, up for grabs today. Enter by using the form below.

Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini

Miss Elizabeth Van Lew—a spinster of independent means, a Richmond native, and a proud Virginian—was an unlikely heroine of the Civil War, and yet she was celebrated by Northern generals as “a true Union woman as true as steel ” for risking everything to care for Union prisoners of war and to smuggle crucial Confederate military secrets to the North.

I first discovered the remarkable heroine of my most recent novel, The Spymistress, years ago while researching another Civil War tale. One of my characters, a regimental surgeon in the Union army, was captured at Gettysburg, and when I investigated where he likely would have been taken, all paths led to Richmond’s infamous Libby Prison. Nearly every account I read of that notorious place mentioned Elizabeth Van Lew and the astonishing, audacious risks she took on behalf of the Union captives there. She made such an impression on me that I immediately wrote her into a chapter of that earlier novel, but even as I did, I was convinced that she was so unexpectedly daring, courageous, and clever that she deserved an entire book of her own.

To uncover the truth about Elizabeth Van Lew, I relied upon memoirs and diaries written by Richmond civilians and Union prisoners of war, as well as newspaper reports and official documents from the National Archives. My first and best resource, however, was Elizabeth’s “Occasional Journal, ” an intermittent diary and scrapbook she kept of her wartime experiences. It was really more of a collection of loose papers than a complete, polished memoir, but I was fortunate that any account existed at all, as it was incredibly dangerous for a spy to keep detailed records of her illicit activities. During the war, Elizabeth would hide most of her journal, but she kept certain incriminating pages by her bedside so she could hastily burn them if the house was raided in the night.

After the war, Elizabeth declined an offer to publish a memoir, believing with good reason that doing so would further provoke the anger of her Richmond neighbors, many of whom still resented her for her wartime support of the Union even decades after peace was declared. Instead she hid the manuscript away for many years, revealing its location only upon her deathbed in September 1900. When the box was brought to her from its hiding place, she examined the manuscript and exclaimed, “Why, there is nearly twice as much more. What has become of it? ”

The missing pages, if they truly existed, have never been found, but what remains provides a fascinating if incomplete glimpse into Elizabeth Van Lew’s remarkable wartime adventures—and offered me the inspiration for The Spymistress, a tribute to a Civil War heroine whose name should not be forgotten.

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The SpymistressBorn to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers, Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.

Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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58 Responses to Tell Me Something True: A Visit With Jennifer Chiaverini

  1. Denise K. B. October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I would love to be able to give a copy to a book club member who loves biographies and memoirs.

  2. Amy October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love a historical piece about woman. One of our faves to pass around and share!

  3. Janet R October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds really fascinating! This will be a great read!

  4. Gwyn October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love this author!! I am so excited to read another book by her, thanks for the heads up.

  5. Laura Kay October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I haven’t read much fiction during the Civil War and learning a little history and great fiction sounds perfect!

  6. Ann Bresnan October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds like a great story!

  7. karenk October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    thanks for the chance to read this beautiful story ;)

  8. Christi Craig October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love how research plays out in the writing process, all the surprises we can uncover. Sounds like such a cool book!

  9. Ruth Radcliffe October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love Jennifer’s books – this sounds like another winner and I would love a chance to win this!

  10. Suzanne J. October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this book to come out! I love Jennifer Chiaverini’s books!

  11. Janet K October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    What an incredible woman! I would love to read more about her.

  12. cathy October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Would love to win this nook.

  13. Ruth O October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds fascinating, will add it to my TBR list! thanks for highlighting this book.

  14. Jayne D. October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds like a wonderful and interesting
    story. I would love to read it.
    Thanks

  15. Melissa Crytzer Fry October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Oh, wow! This sounds fabulous–especially as I’ve been knee-deep in research about the Civil War, myself! This is going on my Santa wish list RIGHT now!

  16. Carole Sullivan October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I have always had a special interest in CIVIL WAR activities, goings on, people etc..Jenn digs deeper and draws you into the women’s very lives..looking forward to reading the newest addition..

  17. Pamela Fapp October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Following MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER, THE SPYMISTRESS presents yet another perspective on the Civil War. Jennifer’s research is amazing, her character development outstanding and her storytelling ability sublime, as usual. Can’t wait for MRS. LINCOLN’S RIVAL.

  18. Jen October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love this author. Preordered this book months ago and am half way thru book. would love to win a second copy to give to my mom.

  19. Paula October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love learning about the civil war. This book sounds great – thanks for a chance to win!

  20. Connie Hendryx October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    What a great book! Thanks for offering this chance to win!

  21. Bloomin'ChickJo October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love Jennifer’s novels, especially those she has set during the Civil War. Thanks for chance to win this one!

  22. Nancy Reynolds October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Your book sounds absolutely fantastic. I would LOVE to win a copy. Thank you for the chance. And I wish you every luck with this newest book … and all that you do.

  23. Beth October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love hearing about the research behind the novel! Thanks for the chance to win!

    Beth

  24. JeanB October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I have been a fan of Jennifer’s books since the beginning of Elm Creek Quilters. Her historical novels are so well researched and beautifully written – I loved the Union Quilters and look forward to reading the Spymistress !

  25. Katie @ Doing Dewey October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I’ve seen this book on a couple of blogs and been excited about it every time. It sounds so interesting!

  26. Patti B October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I just love your books. Would love to win a copy of the Spymistress. Your Civil War historial books are great. Just loved Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

  27. Polly Schneider October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds so amazing. I have never heard of this lady. I would love to win a copy.

  28. Susan C. October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Historical fiction, especially, Southern Lit, is my very favorite genre. Thank for for this awesome opp to win.

  29. Debbie Scourtes October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Jennifer is an awesome author. Love her books. Had a chance to meet her when Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and she knows her history. I would love to win this book.

  30. Jonnie L Staggs October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Your books are inspiring! I have been inspired to quilt and others are inspired to do research on a variety of subjects, i.e.; genealogy, civil war, underground railroad and so much more. I recommend your books to everyone that asks, “What are you reading?”

  31. Judie McDonald October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds like a fascinating story.

  32. Kathy October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This historical novel would be a wonderful way to delve into the heroes and heroines of the Civil War. It in remarkable that Elizabeth Van Lew intervened for her country to turn the tide of the war. I’ve read other books written by you and they are always excellent.

  33. Susan G. October 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks Jennifer and She Reads! Another great read! :)

  34. Kim October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Can’t wait to read this book!!

  35. Maryellen October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Jennifer’s books are wonderful. I am so glad Elizabeth got her own story!

  36. Kandra October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This looks so interesting. Jennifer is a new author to me, so I am eager to read this!

  37. Paula Caurro October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This novel is on my to read list. I read her last novel about Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker and it was good.

  38. Laura Carroll October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love Civil War fiction – this sounds captivating!

  39. Ann Ellison October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Would love to win a copy of the book. Sounds like a great read.

  40. Katherine Jones October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    A deathbed reveal, plus missing pages, never found. Gotta love it!

  41. Teresa October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This was already on my to read list as I saw this book at Barnes and Noble the other day and thought it sounded really intriguing. I’d love to win a copy!!

  42. Pat Richter October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love all of Jennifers books. I can’t wait to read this one.
    Pat

  43. Jennifer Huelsebusch October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Spymistress sounds fantastic!!

  44. Annee October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds very interesting! would love to win!

  45. LRF October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This books sounds like such an interesting read. After reading it, I would definitely share the book with my sisters. one in particular I know would enjoy this story. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!

  46. LRF October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This book sounds like such an interesting read. After reading it, I would definitely share the book with my sisters. one in particular I know would enjoy this story. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!

  47. Lana October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Love civil war stories especially if they take place in Virginia!

  48. Becky October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds like a book I would love to read!

  49. Becky October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Definitely piqued my interest- will be adding it to my must read list!

  50. Melanie Backus October 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This book sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to read it.

  51. Clara Chandler October 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I always look forward to Jennifer Chiaverini’s novels. And The Spymistress will be no different. I’m currently reading Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and the historical aspects makes it an enjoyable, grand tale.

  52. Cindy Woolard October 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I love stories set during the Civil War period. I would love to win a copy of THE SPYMISTRESS. Thank you for the opportunity. :)

    :D Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  53. Annette October 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Love your books and can’t wait to read this one

  54. Carin Wijnand Scherp October 15, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Great work you’re doing thanks for sharing :)

  55. Sunnymay October 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Women as spies leaves one wondering how they got away with it, besides it being unexpected. I discovered that Julia Childs was a spy along with her expert cooking ability.

  56. Marie October 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love well-researched historical fiction. It doesn’t get much more exciting than when you throw a spy in the mix!

  57. Kandra October 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    looks so interesting! sign me up!

  58. Lisamarie October 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love Historical Fiction… I’ve not read anything in this time period. Sounds like a great story.

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