Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Q&A with Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is the author of the new novel Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions, the third in a series about Constance Kopp, an early 20th century deputy sheriff. Stewart's other books include Girl Waits with Gun and Lady Cop Makes Trouble. She lives in Eureka, California, where she and her husband own Eureka Books, a bookstore.

Q: The cases in your new Kopp Sisters book focus on the Mann Act. Why did you choose to focus on those cases this time?

A: Like the other books in the series, I’m telling the true story of Constance Kopp and her sisters. I chose to focus on these cases because these were the actual cases that Constance was working on. Now, the bit of fiction I did employ is that I shifted the timeframe slightly so that both cases would fit within the timeline of a single novel.

The Mann Act, which was named after the congressman who wrote it, was passed in 1910 and is still in effect, although it’s been greatly changed. Originally the law made it a crime to transport across state lines “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”

Today the law is used for a worthy purpose—to stop sex trafficking—but in those days, it was often used to prosecute any man and woman who were not married to each other and might have been getting together for some “immoral” reason.

These laws were often unjustly applied against young women for doing what today we would call “going on a date.” Constance did, in real life, try to put a stop to these charges and to advocate for women who were arrested and thrown into her jail over Mann Act offenses.

Q: World War I also factors into this novel, as one of your characters tries to go to France to help the war effort. How much research did you do on the type of training someone would need to volunteer in France, and did you learn anything that surprised you?

A: Fortunately, quite a bit has been written about the run-up to our involvement in World War I. It was in the newspapers every day during that time, and there were plenty of training manuals, military documents, congressional debate transcripts, and other such sources that are now scanned and easily accessible.

We also had great reporting from France, both from journalists and from novelists. Both Edith Wharton and Mary Roberts Rinehart, two novelists I love, were in France reporting on their experiences.

Q: You've noted that you decided to switch to a third-person narration in this book. Did you enjoy that more than writing in the first person?

A: I don’t know that I enjoyed it more or less than the first person, but it served this particular story well, and I do enjoy variety. I wouldn’t want to write a series if it had to be a set of cookie-cutter novels that are nearly identical in terms of voice, setting, plot, characters, and so on. I want a fresh challenge every time.

This time, I wanted to get into the heads of two of the young women locked up in the Hackensack jail, and to see what happened before they were arrested. The best way to do that was to tell the story in third person, so we could follow them around.

I also had the realization that if I wrote in the third person, then the reader could see people telling lies to Constance, or keeping secrets from her, and that was very intriguing to me.

Q: In this novel, what was the balance between real history and your own imagination when it came to Constance Kopp's cases?

A: The events in Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions are almost entirely true to life. What I changed, as I mentioned before, was the timeframe. I wanted to fit two or three events together within this one novel, but in real life they occurred months apart. This allowed some characters to (fictionally) meet one another, which wouldn’t have happened in real life.

Fleurette (the youngest Kopp sister) gets a much bigger story line this time, and that’s entirely fiction, although it’s based on real people and real events. 

The end of Fleurette’s story line is also entirely real--it pertains to a vaudeville performer Constance tangled with. I basically took the real story about the vaudeville actress and invented an entire backstory to explain what happened before--and I stuck Fleurette in the middle of it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The next book in the series, of course! It’s on target to come out next September.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m on tour! Check my Events page for the latest, and stay tuned on Facebook, where I often give away free books! I also love to do Skype chats with book clubs, and you can find out more about that here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Amy Stewart.

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