For its 17th book, Spokane is Reading selected “Girl Waits With Gun,” a title inspired by a real-life newspaper headline about the real-life Kopp sisters.
Amy Stewart’s fictionalized account of the adventures of Constance, Norma and Fleurette Kopp, published in 2015 by Houghton-Mifflin, was dubbed a “fine, historically astute novel” by the New York Times. The Kopps’ story inspired a memorable episode of the Comedy Central series “Drunk History,” and Stewart’s book is being developed by Amazon into a drama series.
The book marked the first novel from the Portland-based author, whose previous books – “The Drunken Botanist,” “Flower Confidential,” “Wicked Bugs,” “Wicked Plants” – have delved into the natural world and the threats therein.
Stewart will be in Spokane on Thursday to give two talks for Spokane is Reading. Stewart spoke with Spokesman-Review columnist Rachel Toor via email about the transition from nonfiction to fiction, about diving into history and about bringing these remarkable characters back to life.
The sisters received kidnapping threats, shots were fired at their house and they were generally tormented for almost a year. I never did figure out if this Henry Kaufman was the same one who was arrested for gin smuggling, but I kept digging into the story of the Kopp sisters.
Once I compiled a short stack of newspaper clippings, I thought, “Well, surely somebody has written a book about the Kopp sisters. At least a little local history book, or a children’s book, or something.” I was amazed to find out that nothing had been written about them at all. There was no book, no Wikipedia page – nothing. They’d been completely forgotten about. I reconstructed their life stories from scratch.
But in the case of fiction, what’s so great is that I get to write in someone else’s voice. My nonfiction books are all written in Amy Stewart’s voice, but these books are in the first person from Constance’s perspective. So I get to think about how a woman born in 1877 would have said something.
I also did a lot of research on Ancestry.com – I basically built the family’s entire family tree – and a few other family members were also working on the same tree. I’ve been able to sit down with people who either remembered one of the sisters from their childhood or who had family stories to share. There’s nothing better than coming face-to-face with people who have firsthand knowledge of my characters. How many novelists get to do that?
But most important is that now libraries are bringing my readers to me! I do a lot of Skype chats with library book clubs around the country. It’s great to get to talk to readers without ever leaving my office.
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