It’s a pleasure to share news of another author who has brought the amazing Nellie Bly to life in historical fiction. Tonya Mitchell’s A Feigned Madness was released earlier this month and I couldn’t wait to compare notes with her and see what what made of the incomparable Ms Bly. Here’s our Q&A:
When did you first hear of Nellie Bly and when did you know you wanted to write a novel about her?
Waaaay back in 2014, I stumbled on Nellie’s asylum story online. It was a blog I think, and it caught my attention right away because the title was about ‘badass historical women.’ Nellie was one of the women featured. The piece had only a paragraph or two describing the harrowing ordeal at the asylum she underwent for the New York World, but I was immediately intrigued. Who was this remarkable woman? Why hadn’t I ever heard of her?I then read her own account of what she experienced, Ten Days in a Mad-House. It was great reading, but as it was a reproduction of her newspaper story, it didn’t reveal anything about her background. How did she get to do this story? What kind of woman would take such a risk? Who really was Nellie Bly? I then looked for the fictionalized novel about her stay at Blackwell’s. To my astonishment, it didn’t exist (again, this was back in 2014). I decided to write the story myself. I’ve always been a fan of dark, twisty, Gothic literature, and so it seemed the right story just fell into my lap. I spent many months reading up on everything I could get my hands on about her, and took two trips, one to Pittsburgh and another to New York City, to visit her old stomping grounds. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. Nellie Bly is one of the most fascinating women I’ve ever read about, and it was a thrill to bring her to life, once again, in A Feigned Madness.
Describe her character in 10 words.…
What’s your favorite scene in A Feigned Madness?
There’s a chapter where her first installment of the asylum exposé has hit the streets to great effect. It’s the story everyone on Newspaper Row is talking about. Her second and last installment is due to run in just days—and it’s the meaty one where the story picks up when she lands by ferry on the island and goes into the asylum. So she’s in this very happy place waiting for the rest of her story to drop, but then a fellow reporter arrives and tells her Something Very Bad has happened and she heads for the World office at once. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of tension, and she’s wondering if her dreams will be dashed. I can’t really say anything more, except once you’re there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Tell me something you learned about Nellie Bly that didn’t make it into the novel.
There is so much to tell about this woman and what she accomplished in her lifetime. Her asylum exposé was really just the tip of the iceberg. Nellie was just getting started! What I kept out are the many things she would go on to do that are out of the frame of the story because they happened later.
If you could meet Nellie Bly and ask her 3 questions, what would they be?
- What about your life do you regret the most?
2. What really happened between you and __________ (he’ll be revealed in the novel, I promise!)
3. Did I do you justice?
What are you writing next?
I’m just beginning the research on a story that also takes place in the 19th century, this time in England. It’s got a lot of dark, Gothic elements including England’s body snatchers, the so-called Resurrection Men who dug up recently buried corpses and sold them to anatomy schools (I told you I liked dark and twisty!)
Tonya has a great quiz all about Nellie Bly on her website. You can find it here. Full disclosure – I did not get 20/20…. much to my chagrin!! LOL. Please do check it out, and more importantly, take a look at A Feigned Madness which you can find on Amazon in States here, in the UK here and in Canada here. Oh, and signed copies can be ordered here.