Jennie Fields: Mining Family Stories for Historical Fiction

Author Jennie Fields shares the inspiration behind her new novel, Atomic Love, and her advice for other writers.

A combination spy thriller, romance novel, and exploration of the moral questions faced by the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Atomic Love by Jennie Fields is a fast-paced story of post-World War II Chicago. It's also an August 2020 Book of the Month pick. Jennie was kind enough to answer a few questions about the writing process for us to celebrate the release of the book.

Jennie Fields_author photo_(c)Anthony Scarlati

Name (byline): Jennie Fields

Literary agent (if one): Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary

Book title: Atomic Love

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons/ Penguin Random House

Expected release date: August 18, 2020

Genre/category: Historical Fiction

Elevator pitch for the book (1-2 sentence pitch):

In 1950 Chicago, a former Manhattan Project physicist is asked to spy on her ex-lover because the FBI thinks he’s selling atomic secrets to the Russians.

Previous titles (if any) by the author:

Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, The Middle Ages, The Age of Desire

What prompted you to write this book?

I’d say three things went into the writing of the book:

1.) My mother was a biochemist during WWII doing cancer research, and gave up her career when she married. She loved science and regretted that decision all her life. I always wanted to write about a female scientist at a time when that was rare.

2.) Her cousin worked on the Manhattan Project and the story of the first nuclear reaction taking place under the stands at the University of Chicago—right in the middle of a crowded city—has always intrigued me.

3.) I longed to write about people who are emotionally and physically scarred and how a personal bond, especially love can help heal. After the horrors of the war, the 1950s were meant to be a time of healing, but because of the atomic bomb, those years were also a time of a fear.

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

The book took five years, starting with six months of research. And I researched all along as well. I tend to write in layers, so for me it was more a matter of the story and its themes coming more into focus with each draft. Also, I’m not a writer who outlines. I see where my characters take me. It’s always a surprise. My editor did suggest a juicy plot twist for the end which I thought was a wonderful, unexpected addition.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? (Explain.)

I was astonished, especially after five books, at the enthusiasm during this book’s sale. The rights to Atomic Love have been sold to eight countries. That’s been a treat! And I’ve been so lucky with my editors. Tara Singh Carlson, who was the editor of Where the Crawdads Sing has been such a joy to work with. The pandemic, now that’s something I never could have predicted.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? (Explain.)

I guess the biggest surprise was that one of my main characters, Charlie Szydlo, the FBI agent, came to me whole cloth. One day, I just knew everything I needed to know about him, that he was 6’7”, that he grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, was horrifically wounded in the war, and had a strong moral compass. That PTSD from the war kept him emotionally closed off and deeply lonely. It was as though he were speaking to me, telling me his entire life story. One of those magical gifts of serendipity that writers live for.

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

I hope that readers relate to my main character, Rosalind and her struggles to be accepted into the scientific world as a woman. Sadly, seventy years later, not much has changed. Women still fight for their place in all fields. In the US, we haven’t even passed an equal rights amendment for equal pay. I would have thought by now that women would have shifted the paradigm.

Jennie Fields quote

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

Never write with a focus on publishing or hoping to make money. Write because you love it. Write because you have something you have to say. Focus on the journey, never the destination. The real joy is in the work. There will be days when it comes easily. Other days when it’s poisonously slow. But write, rewrite, put your heart and soul into it and appreciate the wins. Getting out there with your work is scary stuff. The reviews come in and they won’t all be positive. They may well break your heart. Things won’t go as planned. But if you did all you could to make it your best, you can face the world with satisfaction, and that’s a powerful shield.


Order your copy of Atomic Love today.

IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million | Amazon

[WD uses affiliate links.]

Learn to write your own historical fiction book with this Writer's Digest University online course.

Learn to write your own historical fiction book with this Writer's Digest University online course.

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

Writers of historical fiction must always ride the line between factual and fictitious. Here, author Terry Roberts discusses how to navigate that line.

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

What Is Creative Nonfiction in Writing?

In this post, we look at what creative nonfiction (also known as the narrative nonfiction) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing and more.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Four WDU Courses, a Competition Deadline Reminder, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce four WDU courses, a Competition deadline reminder, and more!

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she discusses the next big fiction trend, and whether or not all books are the same.

From Script

A Change in Entertainment Business Currency and Disrupting Storytelling with Historical Significance (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by, learn about how crypto currency is making a wave in the entertainment business, what percentages really mean in film financing, the pros and cons of writing partnerships, an exclusive interview with three-time NAACP Image Awards nominee, co-creator and former showrunner of CBS’ 'S.W.A.T.' Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is putting off submissions.

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

Have you ever considered outlining after finishing your first draft? Kris Spisak walks you through the process.

Poetic Forms

The Skinny: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the skinny, a form created by Truth Thomas.

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

A book review is more than sharing an opinion—it's a conversation between readers. Sam Risak shares the benefits of writing books reviews, as well as best practices for getting started.