Interview: Elizabeth Mahon

I’m a sucker for history geeks, so when I spotted Elizabeth Mahon I knew I just had to interview her. Not only does she write about history, she focuses on women, which is another quality I really like. Elizabeth’s book originated with her blog, which I know some of you are interested in doing yourselves, so be sure to check out her site.

Enjoy this interview.

I love that you call yourself an “unabashed history geek.” Is there a time period you’re drawn to more than others?

I’m torn between the Victorian era, particularly the Gilded Age in America and what is known as the Belle Époque in Europe and the 1920’s. Both eras were ones of great technological advances, great wealth as well as great poverty. I love the contrast between the buttoned up middle class mores of the Victorian era and the seamy underbelly. It was the age of Jack the Ripper, and the Robber Barons, and the great Victorian social novelists particularly from women writers such as the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. In America, you had the enactment of the Jim Crow laws and segregation and the fight for women’s suffrage. The 1920’s are known as the crazy years, hemlines rose, women had the vote, yet it was also the rise of the mafia and prohibition. Just think of the art, the clothes, and the silent movies. And again great literature and women who were daring and bold like Amelia Earhart, Dorothy Parker, Aimee Semple McPherson and Bessie Smith. Although I am also partial to the Tudor and Restoration periods in English history, I have to say that I’m a sucker for the modern conveniences like trains, cars, and flush toilets!

Tell us about your book, Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women. Do you have a favorite passage from the book?

Scandalous Women evolved out of the blog of the same name that I have been writing since September of 2007. I read a lot of non-fiction as well as historical fiction and I was fascinated by all these stories that I was reading about women who were slightly or more than slightly scandalous in their day. The idea occurred to me that it might be fun to share these stories with other people. The blog started small, I think the first women I wrote about were Lucrezia Borgia and Lady Frances Somerset, but the blog began to grow through word of mouth, and now I average about 40,000 hits a month, which I think is pretty good for a history blog! Since the blog started I’ve been fortunate enough to have people email suggesting women, and wonderful guest bloggers.

I don’t have a favorite passage per se in the book but I do have favorite women, Anne Boleyn is a particular favorite, Jane Digby who was very modern in her thinking about love and marriage, Mary Wollstonecraft and Zelda Fitzgerald are two of my other favorites. Ooh, and Frida Kahlo. Her paintings have haunted me ever since I saw an exhibition on her work at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The biggest thing for me has always been to put down the research books and then write the chapter or the post. I could spend hours, days researching these women’s lives.

Please share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

Right now my goal is to finish and sell my next book. I have several ideas for more non-fiction books about women but I also hope to go back to writing fiction again, which is where I started. I have at least five manuscripts gathering dust under my bed at this moment. I adore mysteries, so I hope to write a historical mystery series either set in the Victorian era or the 1920’s. But I also have ideas for several YA novels, as well as some women’s fiction. It’s just finding the time to get to write them all.

Most exciting moment in your writing career thus far?

It’s a toss-up between being the RT Book Review Non-fiction Pick of the Month, that was pretty exciting or the moment when I first held my book in my hands. That hands down was probably the most exciting moment. 

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

Ooh, that’s a toughie. There are so many interesting books that I’ve read in a lifetime of reading but one of the most recent that I’ve read was Francine Prose’s book about Anne Frank’s diary and the afterlife of the book.

Book you’re currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Simon Baatz’s book For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago about the Leopold and Loeb case in 1920’s Chicago. It’s been on my TBR pile for awhile, and I finally dusted it off to read.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to dance, and I’ve been studying ballroom dancing for the past few years along with hustle and salsa. I take class at least three or four nights a week.

Where can we learn more about you?

My blog

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