From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling debut novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.
How did you first discover Constance Kopp, and what inspired you to write a novel about her?
I was researching a gin smuggler named Henry Kaufman for my last book, The Drunken Botanist. I thought I should do a little more investigation to see if Henry Kaufman went on to do anything else interesting. I found an article in the New York Times from 1915 about a man named Henry Kaufman who ran his car into a horse-drawn carriage driven by these three sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp. They got into a conflict over payment for the damages, and it escalated from there. The sisters received kidnapping threats, shots were fired at their house, and they were generally tormented for almost a year. I never did figure out if this Henry Kaufman was the same man as the gin smuggler I'd started the day looking for, however!
In what ways do the Kopp sisters illustrate the changing roles for women during this time period?
Well, 1914 was a very interesting time. Women didn't yet have the vote, we had very limited educational opportunities, and most jobs were not open to us. It was unusual for women to be living on their own for any reason at all. And of course, for Constance and her sisters to stand up to their attackers, and to take them on publicly--that was practically unheard of, which is why it was such big news when it happened!
You've previously found tremendous success with nonfiction like The Drunken Botanist. Was it difficult to make the switch to fiction?
I really enjoyed it. I've been wanting to write fiction for a long time, so it was an easy decision to make. This novel involved a lot of research, so that part of the process was very familiar to me. And even with my nonfiction, I'm always thinking about storytelling and character development. The big difference is that I wasn't writing in my own voice, as Amy Stewart. I was writing in Constance's voice.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Actually, I think that getting Constance's voice right was a big challenge. I wanted the book to sound more spoken than written, and for the language to be very fitting to the period. It was an odd moment for language--we were just coming out of the Victorian era, which was a bit baroque and formal, and moving into the modern era, where we might have spoken in a more clipped, straightforward way. Also, Constance grew up speaking German and French as well as English, and there are certain lines that are deliberately a bit awkward, the way someone might say them who had more than one language in their head at all times.
What are you working on now?
The next book about the Kopp sisters! They had remarkable lives and I know a lot about what happened next. I'm hoping to write several more books about them, and I'll be able to stick pretty close to real-life events for a while. It will be out next September.
About the Author:
Amy Stewart is the author of seven books. Her latest, Girl Waits With Gun, is a novel based on a true story. She has also written six nonfiction books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers: The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She lives in Eureka, California, with her husband Scott Brown, who is a rare book dealer. They own a bookstore called Eureka Books. The store is housed in a classic nineteenth-century Victorian building that Amy very much hopes is haunted.
Stewart has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers and magazines, and has appeared frequently on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and–just once–on TLC’s Cake Boss. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society’s Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award.
For more information visit Amy Stewart’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
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