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Amy Stewart turns to fiction with Girl Waits With Gun


Author and bookseller Amy Stewart

I’ve been reading Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. Released this week, it’s Amy’s first novel and marks her entry into fiction after a series of entertaining non-fiction hits including The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs and Flower Confidential.

Amy is no ordinary author as she is truly committed to books and the literary world. I’m not talking about signing a few books for her fans. I’m talking about the fact that she co-owns a bookstore in Northern California and knows about the trials and tribulations of being a bricks and mortar bookseller. She sees two distinct ends of the book business.

Girls Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy and her husband Scott Brown earlier this summer in Eureka, California, where they live and run Eureka Books. With two months to go until the release of Girls Waits With Gun, she was very excited about the novel’s prospects and there was a book tour already in the works.

Girls Waits With Gun is a piece of historical fiction based upon real events and actual people. It tells the story of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first deputy sheriffs. Set in 1914 in small town New Jersey, the novel develops around a collision between a car, driven by a reckless silk factory owner, and a horse-drawn buggy, containing Constance and her sisters.

The aftermath involves threats and violence, and Constance defending her family while also assisting the local sheriff in the investigation. Gradually, she becomes more and more involved, and several stories unfold at once. In the background, Amy’s story touches on workplace conditions and social unrest, and how women were expected to behave in 1914.

Enjoy our interview with Amy.

AbeBooks: After so much non-fiction, why turn to fiction and write a novel?

Amy Stewart: “I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and, like many writers, I have a few failed novels in the drawer. Girl Waits with Gun comes from a true story, but it very much lends itself to fiction. I loved the idea of these three sisters who were–in real life–very different from each other but also sort of stuck to one another. And although the crime was a very serious one, their story also had the feeling of a caper about it. It felt like an adventure.  As soon as I had a short stack of newspaper clippings, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a novel I’d like to read. I suppose I’ll have to write it.'”

AbeBooks: Was it a challenge to write fiction?

Amy Stewart:“It was a real joy. I actually approach my non-fiction the way novelists do, which is to say that I think a lot about the voice, even for books like The Drunken Botanist written in the third person.  Even if it’s something very subtle that readers don’t consciously pick up on, I’m very aware of who the narrator is in those books. The narrator is still present as a character.

“Also, even with nonfiction, I do all my research first so that when I sit down to write, I can focus on the story. So much of it felt really familiar. I do appreciate,with historical fiction, being somewhat constrained by the truth. I can see how too many choices could get overwhelming.”

AbeBooks: Describe how you discovered the real Constance Kopp?

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart: I was still writing The Drunken Botanist, and I was looking into the story of a gin smuggler named Henry Kaufman. I thought I’d better see what else this Henry Kaufman had done, and one of the first articles I turned up in the New York Times’ archive was about this silk factory owner named Henry Kaufman who ran his car into a buggy being driven by the Kopp sisters. I never did figure out if it was the same Henry Kaufman, but that was the beginning of their story.

AbeBooks: Is Girl Waits With Gun a story of good versus evil or a story of strong women?

Amy Stewart: “Yeah, I see it mostly as a story of these three women making their way in the world. You know, most of us can’t really point to very many moments in our own lives that actually changed everything for us. It’s the hook on which every great movie and book is based, but it doesn’t really happen that much in everyday life. But here are three women who really were set on an entirely new course because of this one crime against them. I’m much more interested in their journey–that’s what inspired me the most.

AbeBooks: If you had a dinner party and could invite anyone, which strong-willed women from history would you invite?

Amy Stewart: “It takes my breath away to imagine having dinner with Constance!  Can I just invite the Kopp sisters?  Really, that’s such a heart-stoppingly shocking notion that I can hardly bear to think about it.

“I’d love to talk to Margaret Sanger and Jane Jacobs, two women who cared deeply about social reform, and also Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was in Paterson, New Jersey, right before my story began and helped organize the famous Paterson silk strikes. It sounds like a very serious and sincere group, but I bet they knew how to kick back and have fun.”

AbeBooks: What appealed to you about this era (1914) of American life?

Amy Stewart: “Well, it’s the very beginning of the modern age. Women didn’t yet have the vote, but we were agitating for it. Our world was only just becoming motorized and electrified, but there were still gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages and weird medical tonics and all the artifacts of the nineteenth century. It’s such an unstable and unpredictable moment in time, right before the war, before the modern era began in earnest.  It’s antiquated and strange but also just recent enough that we can almost touch it.”

AbeBooks: Your husband is a bookseller (like you) – does he also proof-read your writing?

Amy Stewart: “Yes, and he always finds something! He’s particularly good at looking out for anachronisms. He’s saved me from some embarrassing mistakes, none of which I’m willing to confess to.”

Eureka Books co-owned by Amy Stewart

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