I imagine that the hardest type of fiction to write must be historical fiction. The author is challenged to know so many details about the time and place–details that the author cannot have experienced firsthand.
Ellen Gable did her homework while writing her most recent novel, A Subtle Grace, and it shows. The book is set in late-nineteenth-century Philadelphia, and her attention to detail in showing the reader the time and place meant that I was able to pinpoint the main characters’ neighborhood as the location of modern-day LaSalle University.
(I’ve lived a few miles from Philly for over 22 years; my son attends LaSalle and my daughter will be going there next year. When I read books about the Philly area, I’ve usually got a map nearby so I can see the locations being described. I’m a geek like that.)
A Subtle Grace is the second book in the O’Donovan Family series, following In Name Only. You don’t have to read In Name Only to pick up the story, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from doing that!
Ellen Gable is at her best when she’s writing suspense, and this novel features plenty of it. She graciously agreed to an interview, and I used the opportunity to ask her a few things I was wondering about after I read the book.
Did you have a sequel in mind when you wrote In Name Only, or did the idea for this one come later?
I didn’t have a sequel in mind until I was near the end of writing In Name Only. At that point, I felt there was more of the O’Donovans’ story to tell. I decided that ‘grown up’ Kathleen would be the main female protagonist in the next book, and that I would include Will as a secondary protagonist. I knew at the end of In Name Only that Will would have a vocation to the priesthood, but I had no idea (until I started researching) that it would be so difficult for him.
As much as I wanted to write the sequel, though, I just couldn’t get things going until about a year and a half ago. For three years, I had tried to write a very basic draft of A Subtle Grace, but eventually deleted the entire manuscript and started fresh. At that point, I couldn’t type fast enough to get the story written.
2. Will there be another novel in the series?
Yes, there will be another novel in this “O’Donovan Family” series. I’ve already outlined basically what is going to happen. Without giving too much away, it will likely feature Patrick (who was the babe in arms at the end of In Name Only and who is 14 when A Subtle Grace begins) as the main male protagonist.
That being said, I need to feel inspired to write a 420 page, 130,000 word novel! So I don’t know when it will be written, but I’m hoping within a few years. Until then, I’ll be working on a Christmas novella, Julia’s Gifts, that I hope will be published in mid-2015.
3. Do you prefer writing contemporary fiction or historical fiction?
I enjoy writing both. Contemporary fiction is easier to write because I don’t have to worry so much about language. There is no need to research the sorts of foods the characters are eating or what the characters are wearing or what is in their local newspaper.
Historical fiction is more interesting to me because of the research. However, research can be tedious and time-consuming. If I did have a preference, I would say historical because I like to transport readers (and myself) back to a simpler time.
4. What made you set your historical novels in Philly? This is the third one, if you include Emily’s Hope that is ½ historical novel, ½ contemporary.
I grew up in the Philadelphia area and I’ve been fascinated with Philly history since my father took me to see the Liberty Bell when I was about five years old. Since then, I’ve gained an interesting library of books on Philadelphia history. Emily’s Hope was based on true events…my great-grandmother, grandparents and parents were all born in Philadelphia so it was natural to keep the setting there. When I decided to write my first historical novel (In Name Only), I figured I might as well put my knowledge and research skills to use and start with something I know.
As an avid reader, I love having the chance to have a conversation with an author about her books! Thanks, Ellen, for the privilege of this interview.
I hope that by this time you’re convinced that you want to read this book! Here’s how to get the print and Kindle editions, plus a link to Ellen Gable’s Amazon author page where you’ll find information about all her books!
I read In Name Only way back when; here’s my review.
The Fine Print: I received an advance-reader electronic copy of this novel for the purposes of this review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone and I was not given any compensation for my review.