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Addison Armstrong: On Finding Truth in Historical Fiction

Author Addison Armstrong discusses how her historical fiction debut, The Light of Luna Park, was inspired by a letter from the past.

Addison Armstrong is a graduate of Vanderbilt University with degrees in Elementary Education and Language and Literacy Studies. She is currently living in Nashville, Tennessee working with students and obtaining her Master's degree in Reading Education.

Addison Armstrong: On Finding Truth in Historical Fiction

In this post, Addison discusses how a letter from the past inspired her historical fiction debut, The Light of Luna Park, how she’s grown to love the proofreading process, and more!

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Name: Addison Armstrong
Literary agent: Melissa Danaczko, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency
Book title: The Light of Luna Park
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (PRH)
Expected release date: August 10, 2021
Genre/category: Historical fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: In 1926, nursing student Althea Anderson smuggles a premature baby out of Bellevue hospital to Coney Island, where a showman and his freak show may be able to save the infant’s life. Twenty-five years later, special education teacher Stella Wright struggles to save her marriage, support the students in her special education class, and uncover her late mother’s secrets.

Addison Armstrong: On Finding Truth in Historical Fiction

The Light of Luna Park by Addison Armstrong

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What prompted you to write this book?

I stumbled upon an article about Dr. Couney’s incubator wards and just couldn’t help it! The idea of paying to ogle at premature babies in incubators was so shockingly bizarre that I knew I had to turn it into a story. I mean, the setting was perfect: freak shows and hot dogs and roller coasters alongside state-of-the-art medical incubators. But the ethical questions posed by the whole situation fascinated me, too, because Dr. Couney was not really a doctor at all. He was a showman and a conman, and yet he saved thousands of infants’ lives.

I echoed Dr. Couney’s duplicity with that of my protagonist, nurse Althea Anderson, who smuggles a baby girl out of Bellevue Hospital so that Couney can save her life. Like Couney, Althea lies. Like Couney, she does it for the right reasons.

My second timeline was largely inspired by my own experiences working in inclusive education with kids with and without special needs. Stella’s fictional students are near and dear to my heart.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Idea to publication was about two and a half years. I spent a semester writing the book in my junior year of college, signed with my agent fall of my senior year, and signed with Putnam a few months later. That was early 2020 with publication slated for August 2021. The idea for The Light of Luna Park didn’t change much in all that time, though the title did. Fortunately.

Addison Armstrong: On Finding Truth in Historical Fiction

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

This tends to be every debut author’s answer, but I had no idea how slow publishing is. I signed with my publisher a full year and half before publication and turned in the final draft of The Light of Luna Park a year before the same.

One happy surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed editing. Growing up, I could barely even stand to proofread my own papers after writing them, and I tended to see revisions as criticisms. But I trust my incredible editor Tara Singh Carlson enough to follow her guidance, and it’s actually been surprisingly exciting to dive back into my own work and discover ways to make it stronger.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Does being surprised that I finished it count?

In all seriousness, I think the discovery that I actually like the revision applies here too. I didn’t initially see editing as part of my writing process, and now it’s one of my most critical steps.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I want readers to understand that every human is deserving of unconditional love as well as how powerful that love can be. In my book, we see this primarily through the mother-daughter relationship as well as between a teacher and her students and between a husband and wife. Some of the characters in The Light of Luna Park are ones who were abandoned by society due to sex or disability, but they are no less worthy of love. I hope my characters make this abundantly clear.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Keep something to work on that isn’t under contract. It can be something with the potential to become a published book or something as cringeworthy as your angsty teenage poetry. Either way, it will help remind you that writing is still a passion, not just a job. 

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