Susan here. Today we're chatting with NYT bestselling author Stephanie Dray about her novels, the Hamilton musical phenomenon, and her forthcoming book about Lafayette, America’s so-called favorite fighting Frenchman and his legacy; you'll also find a link below to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win an advanced copy of the book. And be sure to visit the blog again tomorrow for a special treat–a cover reveal of the beautiful new cover!
Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Stephanie! I've read your novel My Dear Hamilton, co-authored with Laura Kamoie, and loved it–an impressive blend of natural characters, accurate history, and a fascinating plot based on actual events. You've said that the book was inspired in part by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s incredible musical. Tell us a little more about that.
Stephanie: Thank you for having me, and I’d be delighted to talk about that! In the wake of writing about Jefferson’s daughter in America's First Daughter, Laura and I were on the hunt for another founding mother to write about. Eliza Hamilton was on our shortlist when we were in NYC for a writer’s conference and to meet with our editor. Laura decided to take in the musical when it was new on Broadway, but I couldn’t go because I had preexisting dinner plans with dear friends (sorry friends, that was a mistake! I should have canceled. LOL). Anyway, Laura was blowing up my phone with texts from the musical and by the next morning she was telling me how amazing it was and that we had to write about Eliza Hamilton, and I agreed on the cab ride over to our publishers. That’s how fast My Dear Hamilton was born. And fortunately, I did eventually go with Laura to see it on Broadway with the original cast.
Susan: And what did you think?
Stephanie: I was blown away. At first I didn’t understand what I was seeing or hearing, it was so unexpected. But by the second number I was in tears because I understood right away that I was watching a transformative work of historical fiction.
Susan: Why do you think the musical has remained so popular and is experiencing a whole new level of enthusiasm?
Stephanie: A pandemic that has us housebound and cruising for content on Disney+ definitely helps! Just kidding. I think the musical was originally popular because it was written in an optimistic era. It was an open invitation for a whole new generation to see themselves in the American story and make it their own. I think now it's seeing a resurgence in popularity because we’re caught in a historical moment where we’re forced to ask ourselves: What is the American story really? The musical is layered enough to provide a couple of different answers as well as more questions!
Susan: How do Lafayette and the women in your new novel fit into that American story?
Stephanie: The scrappy American army made up of citizen farmers couldn’t win their independence without the help of the extremely powerful and professional French military. Full stop. That’s not so hard to understand or believe. But what is amazing and confounds historians to this day, is that a nineteen-year-old Frenchman is almost wholly responsible for the French-American alliance.
That was Lafayette–a knight-errant who fought one revolution and sparked another, breaking the chains of monarchy, and transforming the world. He was an idealist who was a founding father to not one, but two nations and was ultimately abandoned by both in his darkest hour. The only person who could save him then was his wife Adrienne, his dear heart, and she risked everything. Not just for him, but for his philosophies of liberty and humanism. He was a general who could wield a sword. All Adrienne had were connections, cunning, and courage. She’s easily the bravest historical heroine I’ve ever written about and that’s really saying something. Adrienne was the starting point of my novel, but soon I discovered that she wasn’t the only woman to defend Lafayette’s legacy…
Susan: And so your book is titled The Women of Chateau Lafayette.
Stephanie: Exactly! Long after Lafayette’s death, his chateau was in disrepair, the luster of his name long gone from France. And then along came World War I and Beatrice Chanler. This was an era in which, much like our own, Americans had to decide who they really were. And if they could really stay neutral when European democracies were under attack. Beatrice almost single-handedly revived Lafayette’s legacy, waving his memory like a banner to remind Americans of their own story and their role in the world.
And this happened again, at his castle in Chavaniac, in the next generation. As if woman after woman was passing Lafayette’s torch. And I realized what an extraordinary legacy that is in itself. To have a story that extends beyond the confines of your own biography–to have a name that other people invoke when doing important work. And I wanted to be a part of that legacy too.
Susan: The new books sounds amazing! When will it be released? We're getting a peek at the new cover tomorrow, here on the Wenches blog!
Stephanie: Yes! The book will be released from Penguin Random House on March 30, 2021, and the cover reveal is set for Tuesday, July 14–Bastille Day!
You can click here to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win an ARC of the book and see the cover there tomorrow. It will also be posted here on the Wenches blog.
Please help us welcome Stephanie to the blog with your comments and questions for her — and check back tomorrow to see the new cover!