This month I am thrilled to be chatting with my friend and fellow Bookish Road Trip administrator, Libby McNamee. Libby is the author of Susanna’s Midnight Ride: The Girl Who Won the Revolutionary War and the newly released Dolley Madison and the War of 1812. Join us as we chat about Libby’s writing life, research process, and plans for future writing projects! Huzzah!
Me: How often do you drink coffee? What is your favorite beverage?
Libby: I drink coffee every morning, but rarely ever finish a full cup. Although I love the aroma, taste, and ritual itself, it bothers my stomach, so I’ve got to pace myself. My favorite drink is seltzer water, any flavor, but I especially love grapefruit. At night I love an oaky (is that a word?) chardonnay.
Me: What about Dolley Madison? Would she have had coffee with us?
Libby: Oh yes, absolutely! Dolley loved socializing more than anything else in the world and believed in “politics by people.” Back during the War of 1812, America boycotted British tea for years, the second time around after the American Revolution. That is how coffee became firmly established as our national drink of choice! Huzzah!
Me: Tell us a little about your new book and how this time around feels different from your debut. Or does it?
Libby: When I wrote Susanna’s Midnight Ride, information on 16-year-old Susanna Bolling was extremely limited. However, there were tons of books on the American Revolution. With Dolley, it was the exact opposite. There was lots of information about her and fewer resources about the War of 1812. It was much easier to learn about her and put her in the context of the era in which she lived.
It feels easier in some ways because I am familiar with the process, but I find it just as anxiety-producing. Three years have passed, and things have shifted with the pandemic, so it’s been a much slower process, requiring a lot more planning and coordination. This time I am also releasing a Study Guide at the same time and including a number of blurbs at the front of the book, so that’s been a lot more to juggle.
Me: What was the research process like for this book?
Libby: It was fascinating! I never knew much about Dolley or the War of 1812, so it was quite eye-opening to learn about life in brand-new Washington City and the many challenges facing the Early Republic, only thirty years after the Battle of Yorktown.
I loved reading about Dolley and the time period, but I also had a blast visiting many historical sites–Montpelier, the James Madison Museum, the White House, the Octagon House, Fort McHenry, the Daughters of the War of 1812 Headquarters, the Navy Yard, Fort Washington, Scotchtown, Riversdale, and the Flag House Museum, among others.
Me: Why Dolley Madison? Why did you decide to write about her? What did you learn that surprised you? Is there anything you would still like to know about her?
Libby: I attended a lecture at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture on Dolley Madison given by the CEO of Montpelier, and I was hooked! Of course, I had always heard about her legendary hospitality, but I never realized her brilliance in dealing with politics at a time when women’s roles were so limited. She was so much more than just a sociable wife. In fact, President Polk coined the term “First Lady” to describe her enormous role while giving her eulogy at her funeral.
Me: What age group are your books geared toward? What do you like about writing for younger readers?
Libby: My books were originally geared to upper middle grade (4th grade through 7th grade), but I’ve found they appeal to history-loving adults just as well. I only discovered my love of history when I was in my 40s, so I write for younger readers to draw them in at an earlier age. I want to show them that history can be very exciting and suspenseful. It’s not all boring memorization of dates, places, and people’s names.
Me: Tell us a little about your earlier experiences with writing. What did you work on before Dolley and Susanna?
Libby: I’ve always loved to write! Before writing full-time, I was a practicing lawyer. I served in the US Army JAG Corps for six years, living in Seoul, Korea and Tacoma, WA, with a stint in Bosnia. Then I worked in a large firm, a small firm, and a corporation before becoming a freelance writer. I wrote a traveling-with-kids column, as well as humor and cooking columns, along with lots of feature articles.
Me: What are your favorite snacks to have when you are writing? Do you keep a regular writing schedule?
Libby: Great question! I usually drink water (preferably seltzer) or Gatorade and eat fruit. Then when I take a break, I raid the pantry! Watch out, chocolate, here I come!
Me: What is a time period or individual from history that you would like to know more about?
Libby: I would love to know more about Elizabeth Van Lew, a high-society woman from Richmond, Virginia, who operated an extensive spy ring for the Union Army, reporting directly to General Grant during the Civil War. She also helped Yankee prisoners escape the notoriously horrible conditions and even hid them in her home, losing her fortune and becoming an outcast. She will be the subject of my next book!
Me: What are your favorite genres to read?
Libby: Historical fiction is definitely my favorite genre, followed by contemporary women’s fiction and literary fiction. When I’m craving some lighter reading, I love to escape into cozy murder mysteries.
Me: How can readers learn more about you and your books?
Libby: The best way to keep in touch is through my newsletter, Libby’s Monthly Dispatch, which has historic tidbits, quotes, recipes and reading recommendations. Please sign up on my website, www.LibbyMcNamee.com. I’m also on Facebook at “Libby McNamee Author” and on Instagram @LibbyMcNameeAuthor.
Order your copy of Dolley Madison.
Purchase I Love You More Than Coffee by Melissa Face.