Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

Bestselling and award-winning author Stephanie Dray shares how she selects the historical figures that she features in her novels and how she came to see the whole of her character's legacies.
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Stephanie Dray is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, & USA Today bestselling author of historical women's fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages. She lives in Maryland with her husband, cats, and history books.

Find her online at www.stephaniedray.com, Instagram @stephanie.dray, and Facebook.com/stephaniedrayauthor.

Stephanie Dray

Stephanie Dray

In this post, Dray shares how she selects the historical figures that she features in her novels, how she came to see the whole of her character's legacies, and more!

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Name: Stephanie Dray
Literary agent: Kevan Lyon
Title: The Women of Chateau Lafayette
Publisher: Berkely
Release date: March 30, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy.
Previous titles by the author: My Dear Hamilton, America’s First Daughter, Daughters of the Nile, Song of the Nile, Lily of the Nile, Ribbons of Scarlet, A Year of Ravens, and A Day of Fire

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray

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What prompted you to write this book? 

After writing novels about Patsy Jefferson in America’s First Daughter, and Betsy Schuyler in My Dear Hamilton, I couldn’t wait to introduce readers to America’s French Founding Mother, Adrienne Lafayette, wife of America’s “favorite fighting Frenchman.”

(Writing in the Shadows: On Writing Better Historical Fiction)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

This book has been a long time in coming; more than seven years, all told. As I said, I set out to tell the story of Adrienne Lafayette, but I soon made the moving discovery that Lafayette’s birthplace had served as a sanctuary for hidden Jewish children during the Holocaust. I had to know how on earth that happened. What I learned is that the castle had been purchased and renovated by an American woman during the First World War to serve as an orphanage and medical facility for displaced and refugee children. That woman was Beatrice Chanler, an American starlet, sculptress, and socialite with a secret, who became a decorated war heroine.

It was then that I realized the real story was about how Lafayette’s legacy endured generation after generation, and how his castle served as a beacon of hope in three of history’s darkest hours.

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

This is my first hardcover, and not being super familiar with the process has been a learning experience. I am probably driving my poor publisher crazy with questions.

(How to Write Historical Fiction: 7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity)

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

The biggest surprise in writing this book came during a research trip to the New-York Historical Society, during which I was looking at Beatrice Chanler’s papers and found a cache of love letters. I realized that I’d likely tripped over a 100-year-old secret love affair. Fun thing to tell the family!

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

I really hope readers will be inspired by the women in this novel—who lived through unprecedented times. I hope readers will see how ordinary people can make a big impact.

Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

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

Don’t be afraid to throw everything out and start again; the priority is the story, not the words. So if you find a new and better way of telling that story, embrace it, even if it means more work!

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