Mystery Author Carol McCleary's latest historical mystery The Illusion of Murder won RT's April Seal of Excellence. The editors were captivated by the way that McCleary brought historical figure Nellie Bly to life, capturing the female reporter's race around the world as seen through a cleverly annotated diary. Today we chat with McCleary about why she brought Nelly Bly to life and which other famous females of history she believes deserve their own novels and why. And don't miss your chance to win a copy of The Illusion of Murder at the end of this post!
Why I chose Nellie Bly as my main protagonist:
I love a mystery . . . especially when it involves real people who rose above ordinary lives to “make history.” And I’ve always been attracted to people of the past.
As a young child I would sit for hours and listen to my Grandmother McCleary, my Grandfather Lachowich and my Great Aunt Edna, tell me stories of their childhood, the lives of people they knew, and living in the 19th century.
One day a friend introduced me to Nellie Bly, a woman who reminded me of my Grandmother—independent, determined, believing that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and never taking no for an answer and of all the things I love the most . . . the past.
Nellie Bly was as investigative reporter extraordinaire. She had the plucky courage and raw daring that epitomized the Victorian era. When Mr. Pulitzer, the owner of the World in New York, refused her a job and said that a woman was not capable of being a “detective reporter,” and that it was “no job for a lady,” Nellie got herself committed to the notorious women’s insane asylum on Blackwell's Island and did a story that set the city on its head.
Around a year later when she announced to Mr. Pulitzer that she wanted to try and beat Jules Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg in the novel, Around the World in 80 Days, he told her, “no, only a man could do it,” she said “fine, send a man and I will go for another newspaper and beat your man.”
Pulitzer realized Nellie would and finally agreed to let her go.
This young lady, who was only in her mid twenties, set out alone with just a valise and one change of clothes to go around the world during a time when there were no cars, TV, radio, computers, ATM machines, iphones, airplanes…so many things we take for granted, and she did it in 72 days!
Here is an incredible lady whose voice had been set aside. To me she needed to be rediscovered and brought back to life. Hopefully, I have been successful.
- Carol McClearly
Carol McCleary's Five Other Influential Women Who Deserve Their Own Fiction Tales:
1) Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was a dynamic woman who played a major role in the plots and intrigues leading up to and through World War II, from the spy and propaganda infested atmosphere of Nazis in Washington before the war to the best kept secret in world history: the development and unleashing of the world’s first weapon of mass destruction. She worked behind the scenes in real life to stop Hitler and his crazed Nazis. I can imagine her leaving the White House in disguise to direct a small team of secret agents who answer only to her.
During Nellie Bly’s own era of exposing corruption and fight for the rights of women and the underdog, two other women were making history as muckrackers. Both were named “Ida.”
2) Ida Wells (1862-1931), an African-American woman, was active not only in women’s rights and suffrage, but stood up to the KKK and lynch mobs, battling them with her mighty pen and buying a gun after her friends were lynched and she was told she was next. Seventy-one years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a bus, Ida Wells refused to give up her seat for a white train passenger. She was pulled out of the seat by the conductor and two other men and dragged to another car. She went on to successfully sue the railroad company and write blazing articles about the treatment of women and minorities. She founded the predecessor to the NAACP.
3) Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) took on the Standard Oil Company in 1904, when it was a gigantic corporate octopus that had smashed its way to dominance through bullying and strong arm tactics. The New York Times has rated her book about the company as number 5 in the top 100 works of 20th Century journalism. Unlike Nellie Bly, who was a stunt reporter who operated off of pure daring and gut feelings about people and the world (Nellie dropped out of high school because her mother lacked the money to keep her in school), Ida Tarbell was highly educated, taught school and did post graduate work in Paris.
4) Mary Shelly (1797-1851) is, of course, famed as the author of Frankenstein, her marriage to the poet, and for her many love affairs. I see Mary in the role of a paranormal investigator, somewhat in the vein of modern urban fantasies, but set in her own time. She was 21 when Frankenstein was published in 1818. I suspect she actually encountered a real Frankenstein and went on to take on vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night.
5) Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) is perhaps too modern for the lead character for a “historical” novel, but as the grand lady of the Golden Age of Hollywood, she would be a perfect fit. What an era she lived, loved and was so immensely successful in! What a lucky (and talented!) woman, to have co-starred with Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and her great love, Spencer Tracy. It would be pretty easy for a writer to come up with some hot sex and juicy murders with so much exciting fodder.
To read more about the historical figure who started it all for author Carol McCleary, Nellie Bly, you can pick up your own copy of The Illusion of Murder in stores now!
GIVEAWAY ALERT: Three lucky readers will each win a copy of this new historical mystery. To enter tell us which famous woman of the past you would love to see as the heroine of a mystery novel. Or email your comment here with your US mailing address and the subject line "Carol McCleary's The Illusion of Murder Giveaway". The winners will be announced on May 19!
BLOG UPDATE 5/26/2011: And the winners are ... Hannah O., Kat S. and Mary Anne Landers!