Sunday, April 14, 2024

Q&A with Jane Singer



Jane Singer is the author of the new young adult historical novel Falcon, set during the Civil War. Singer's other books include The War Criminal's Son. She is also an audiobook narrator and lecturer, and she lives in Venice Beach, California.


Q: What inspired you to write Falcon, and how did you create your character Maddie Bradford?


A: The character of Maddie was inspired by challenged teens and adults my daughter Jessica and I have taught as self-defense instructors. They are unique, special, have endured bullying, ridicule, assaults, and often see themselves as less-than, viewed by the world around them as lost causes because of their differences.


In what area might they shine, these remarkable souls with stunning abilities?


I’ve long studied the murky, dangerous world of espionage in the Civil War and the brave spies who were different kinds of soldiers —men, women, and teens—in the fight for the Union.


In a war fought behind the battlefields in secret, who were they, really, and what made these heroes and heroines willing to face execution at the hands of the enemy should they be captured?


What was their journey? Were they born with unique abilities? Who were they before they stepped on the war stage? Lovers of danger? Addicted to risk? Patriots? Or were they running from themselves?


I created Maddie Bradford, a teenage girl, once a brain-damaged shut-in living in a provincial village suffering from strange spells (one might call them seizures today) that happened after her accident when she fell from a tree and smashed her head on a rock. Maddie Bradford, a girl who never believed she would be anything other than a freakish outsider was more than uncomfortable in her own skin.


As she “toppled toward sixteen,” and followed her soldier-father to the war front, her remarkable abilities that once frightened and stunned her—acute hearing, a photographic memory, powers of perception— make her an invaluable asset to Lincoln’s head of secret service, Allan Pinkerton, and his master spy Timothy Webster.

And after being trained to shoot and fight as she goes rogue on a mission to try to save her beloved handler and face a Confederate assassin who is out to kill her and who is, remarkably, her likeness. In her words, describing her fearlessness, “I didn’t give a damn about what happened to me.”


Maddie’s journey of self-discovery and reinvention is timeless. Her ongoing struggle with gender identity will I hope, resonate with a segment of young people today.


Q: As someone who’s written other books about the Civil War, how did you research this book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: What I did not know is that Allan Pinkerton’s 16-year-old son William was a trusted spy, tasked by his father to run agents across enemy lines, prowl the streets of Washington, D. C., and report what he’d seen.


And Pinkerton valued women. In fact, he appointed Kate Warn as the head of his detective bureau, the first woman in history. So, Maddie Bradford was my teen at war.


In her previous incarnation as “Dragonfly,” we see her journey in detail, but Falcon is a stand-alone novel that the reader can experience without reading my earlier work.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I wrestled with the ending. Twenty drafts and many changes later I had my story.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope readers are moved by a young woman facing her demons, facing her would-be assassin, and making hard choices in a war that haunts and simmers to this day.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My wonderful colleague, journalist Jay Solomon, and I are writing a book about Judah P. Benjamin, the former Confederate secretary of state, and spy chief.


Our years of research convinced us that Benjamin helmed not only the plots to kidnap President Lincoln, authorize the attempt to burn New York City, approve a bio-terror attack, a chemical weapon project, and was directly involved in planning the assassination.


His escape to London from the rubble of the ruined Confederacy and the manhunt for him two years after the Civil War ended was for us, a breathtaking discovery.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The Civil War with all its dips, stutters, trials, and discoveries, is my life’s work. I said to another colleague, Diana Kirkwood, as she began to study that time with me, “Welcome to forever.”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jane Singer.

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