Alex and Eliza has taken the world by storm. Whether the play by Lin-Manuel Miranda or the novel by Melissa De La Cruz people are craving for more information about the Founding Father Alexander
Hamilton and his wife Eliza Schuyler. The novel, Alex and Eliza, emphasizes the romance more than the historical, as the author brings to life the love story of these two Revolutionary figures.
The plot spans the years from when they first met in 1777 to their marriage in 1780. Because there is not much information about Eliza, the author had to take liberties to construct a story that was somewhat accurate, weaving
together fact and fiction.
Hamilton is seen as a smitten dashing knight who sweeps the princess, Eliza, off her feet. But it is also a Prince and the Pauper story since
Hamilton was an orphan who did not have a name or financial means. The bright, ambitious, but penniless Hamilton is drawn to practical Eliza, falling deeply in love. His prestige comes from being the aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
Eliza is seen as a strong-willed, sharp-tongued, sarcastic, and intelligent woman. She wants to marry for love, not prestige and wealth, but will not go against her parent’s wishes.
A book quote shows how powerless women were during those times, “It is a cliff, a drop into some unfathomably deep and foggy abyss… a shipwreck.” Yet, in the end, love wins out, and her parents accept Hamilton as a suitable husband.
Readers will get a glimpse of the time period: how they dress, eat, and live are described in great detail. For example, a scene in the book has Eliza helping to
inoculate Washington’s troops with a smallpox vaccine. Fiction, Eliza did not have a hand in it, while, the truth is that the soldiers were inoculated. Another factual scene has a description of Eliza’s dress, with “skirt, underskirt,
petticoat, slip, and ankle-length, form-fitting pantaloons.”
Overall, this book is charming and interesting. These two characters have a voice and a personality that
are engaging. Hopefully, it will draw people to find out more about the early history of this great nation.
Below is the Q/A for the first book in the series. A Q/A
for the second book will be out next week.
Elise Cooper: Why did you decide to write this story?
Melissa De La Cruz: I took my family to see the Hamilton play about two years ago. It overwhelmed me and it helped me feel I too belonged to the American story. My daughter, nine years old at the
time, became obsessed with Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. She was drawing all of these pictures of Eliza, and writing all of these things. I was so excited she wanted to find out more about her so I researched to find answers to my daughter’s questions.
I got caught up in the love story, but the inspiration came from wanting to impress my child.
EC: How did you want to convey
MC: It seemed like a perfect American fairy tale. Elizabeth (Eliza) was the princess coming from one of the most prestigious and richest New York
families. Then there was Alexander Hamilton, a handsome, brilliant, brave, and charming war hero who had no name and no money. I thought about how someone like him could marry someone like her.
EC: Do you think the relationship was more formal than you describe?
MC: Alex is a creation
based on an historical figure. I consider him someone I made up from the real person. These are characters. They may be historical figures, but they are also characters of my imagination. I think that Alexander Hamilton never went by the name ‘Alex.’
There is no way Eliza would call him ‘Alex’, and more likely called him Mr. Hamilton till the day he died. I do put in the book that in public she referred to him as ‘Mr. Hamilton.’ They were very formal.
EC: Do you think he married her for social climbing?
MC: I don’t
think it hurt that she had a name and money. But I do think he was attracted to her for who she was. I believe you cannot separate people from their background. If she was from a poor family would she even be at those balls he was at, or
if he wasn’t George Washington’s aide would she have even met him. I think people fall into their own social circle.
Were the letters real?
MC: The only letters that were authentic are the quotes in the beginning of this book and book two. I weaved the letters into the story for
effect, but they are not his actual words.
EC: Did you base your depiction of Eliza on anyone?
MC: I wanted the Pride and Prejudice sort of style, so that’s why I called it Alex & Eliza. She is portrayed as an Elizabeth Bennet type character,
the sensible one. She was definitely a homage to Lizzie Bennett.
EC: This story goes into the culture of the time?
MC: I am fascinated with the time period including the architecture, dress, and what they ate. What I wanted to do is find the facts and then incorporate them into scenes of the books. I myself
tried to understand who they were, how they lived, and how they partied. I enjoyed finding the details that helps to bring this story to life. For example, the balls would not end until the early morning hours and then they would shortly have to
get up to go riding.
EC: How did you do the research?
I read a lot of biographies about women during Revolutionary times. I hired two research assistants, one of whom was an American history professor. One of the experts was more informed about the Revolution and politics, while the other was more knowledgeable
about domestic matters, such as how they dressed and lived. They would put together dossiers of the characters, like here’s the letters, here’s the archives, here’s the source material. I could pick and choose, and I had an idea in my head
of what I wanted the story to be, so we had to fit in what was happening in history at the time. We had Phillip Schuyler court martialed, so I said, ‘What if Alexander Hamilton was the one who brought that news to the family and that caused them to hate
EC: Was it true that John Andre, someone who turned out to be a British spy, was one of Eliza’s suitors?
MC: She had a huge crush on him. I wanted to make him a rival suitor for her hand, but the history experts told me, ‘no way, they are an American family.’ They
said that a Schuyler would never marry a Redcoat, and I should not write this piece of the plot. I asked, ‘then who?’ They recommended Henry Livingston who was from one of the wealthiest New York families.
EC: This book shows how women during those times had to acquiesce to their parent’s choices for a husband?
MC: Books set in the 19th Century show how women have limited choices. It makes for great conflict and drama. Marrying was like a career for women as their social life, wealth, and prestige depended on who
they would marry. I hope if the parents loved their children they would want to pick someone who would make their daughters happy. I put in this anecdote in the story to show how Eliza and Hamilton married for love. It is actually based on
history, and I’ve noticed people say, ‘Oh, this is so unreal. That would never happen.’ It is in the archives, it’s in the letters. One night Alex had a night walking with Eliza and he went back to the fort, and he couldn’t remember
the password to get in because he was so love struck. I love that detail. We think of this brilliant man who is a Founding Father, but do not realize at one point he was a twenty-year-old soldier in love.
EC: Book two, Love & War just came out. What is it about?
MC: The newlyweds adjusting to life
as a married couple. It takes us through the first couple months of their marriage which is really fun. Alex, still General George Washington’s right-hand man, neglects to consult Eliza when he puts in for a battlefield command. Then after the
war he starts up his law practice. I wanted to show how she was alone a lot and the marriage had some ups and downs.
Dead Girl Running by Christina Dodd is a sprint read, a fast-paced page-turner. Those who liked her Virtue Falls novels will love this first book
of a new series. It does not have the paranormal element or much romance, but the mystery is action-packed.
The novella is an introduction to the book, explaining Kellen’s time in Afghanistan, how she sustained the injury for a medical discharge, and how she recovered. In addition, the novella storyline introduces
readers to the Monument Men that searched for artifacts taken by the Nazis. Kellen works with General Lawrence Slater in trying to find some famous paintings hidden in a German cave.
This leads into the book plot and explains some of Kellen’s backstory.
In the novel, there are
two mysteries the main character, Kellen, is trying to solve: what happened during an earlier year of her life, after she was shot in the head, losing her memory for that period of time, and in current time, trying to discover who killed a woman found buried
without her hands. Hired as an assistant manager of a remote vacation resort, Yearning Sands, she uses her former military skills to find the culprits. The intenseness of the backstory is very well developed through Kellen’s
nightmares and flashbacks.
This “who done it” has a list that can go on forever. Kellen
is unsure whom to trust. This includes Nils Brooks who impersonates a mild-mannered author with black-rimmed glasses that turns out to be a well-toned combat ready government official working for the MFAA. This appears to be a shout out to Superman considering it is the 80th Anniversary where he was first introduced in an action comic book.
Smugglers, murder, and loss of memory are intertwined to make this a gripping story.
Elise Cooper: You bravely tackle the issue of abuse?
Christina Dodd: Way back when I went to an RWA meeting I heard two public defender lawyers speak about abused women. What they said never left my mind. I knew at some
point I was going to write something on this issue. Because I wanted my main character, Kellen, strong, I knew I had to tell this part of the story in flashbacks.
EC: You speak of how they become brainwashed and slowly lose control?
CD: Battered women are brainwashed. One of the things the lawyers said was the on average these women leave nine times before they are ever going to leave forever. The first time they leave all the friends and family enthusiastically helps them out, but then they end up going back to their husband. By the ninth-time people are reluctant to help them anymore.
EC: The main heroine has an alias?
CD: She was Cecilia, an abused wife who felt helpless, was belittled, and broken. She took her cousin’s identity and became Kellen, who, after joining the military, became
someone strong, determined, and brave. The year of unconsciousness had her go from Cecilia who needed someone to protect her to Kellen, a self-sufficient person. In future books this character will have to come to
grips with the split personality.
State is a character?
CD: I want to get to a point where I own the Washington coast and every little town is mine with murders going
on all the time. There are a lot of eccentric people who live here so I have a lot to go on. I wanted to make them tourist towns because it will be plausible for all these
murders with people constantly wandering in and out. What makes it more suspenseful is that everything here is affected by the weather, with extreme change from light to dark, during the winter months with cold,
windblown, and stormy foggy days/nights. The weather is not an, ‘in passing conversation piece,’ but is actually an issue. The geography also plays into the plot with the Pacific Ocean, the mountains,
and the desert. I have lived in many states including Texas, California, and Idaho. For me, this is the most expressive state.
EC: Why have Kellen enlist in the Army?
CD: I put her in the military to get her overseas, to disappear completely. Once there she changed how she thought, what she thought, and found a sense of fellowship.
She overcame her permissiveness and became more talented. I purposely wrote how she hired her fellow soldiers to show how they are very capable, disciplined, with a great skill set. I know about this because
my father and husband are vets.
EC: There is not much romance in this book?
CD: True. There is more romance in the second book. This is a four-book series and I feel it is actually
one long book broken up into four parts. At this point in my career I do not want to force anything. After being published for twenty years I am still happy with what I
EC: Please discuss the MFAA?
CD: It was an organization that was actually part of the Army during WWII. They were going around trying to
save European art. I believe they were de-commissioned in 1946. I just brought them back through the character Nils Brooks. The
terrorists are really looting and selling artifacts on the black market to fund their causes. Maybe the government will get an idea from this story.
EC: What do you think is the theme?
People are not who they seem to be. I think everyone wears a mask. They only show one side or a completely different side. I think authors have two sides, one where
we sit by ourselves and talk to imaginary characters, and the other when we go to book signings. I flip the personality because I am a terrified public speaker.
EC: What about your short stories?
each book I will be writing a novella. The first short story introduces Kellen as a military person. She developed the ability to catalog people while serving. Readers will find out how she feels about her peers and why they are loyal to one another with such camaraderie.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next books?
The title will be, What Doesn’t Kill Me, with the first line, ‘what doesn’t kill me had better start running.’ It will be out next February. She starts out in Oregon and will
have an adventure traveling to different places. The third book will have her back at the resort, Yearning Sands. I know readers will be asking so I want to let them know
the Virtue Falls series is off to the side for a while. I do have a book plotted out and ready to go, but since I changed publishers I will have to see how it will work.
Skyjack (Thea Paris Book 2)
April 10th, 2017
Skyjack will elevate author K. J. Howe to a level close to Tom Clancy. She follows up her riveting debut novel, The Freedom
Broker, with another gripping thriller featuring kidnap and ransom expert Thea Paris.
Her assignment is to escort two orphaned African brothers, Jabari, 12, and Ayan, 9, to their new adoptive
parents in London. The children had been forced into soldiering after seeing their mom and dad murdered by Boko Haram. Now they will finally have a chance at a better life, a real childhood, and education. In route, the chartered plane carrying Thea, the boys,
and 12 other passengers is hijacked and lands in the Libyan Desert. Her long-time nemesis, Prospero Salvatore, the head of the Sicilian Mafia, forces her to intercept a truck full of Syrian refugees who are headed towards Budapest and supposedly exchange
them for the plane hostages, including the boys.
As the story progresses it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem to be considering those involved are a part of an organization who intends
to reduce the world’s population by releasing a virus killing those of Middle-Eastern origin. They will stop at nothing including brutal attacks and killings of innocents.
Elise Cooper: Did you base the characteristics of Thea on anybody?
K. J. Howe: I used the skill set of those I have the deepest respect for, people
who dedicate their life to service. Because I know those in Special Forces these experts helped me with getting scenarios correct. I asked them for advice before I write an action scene. I hope I write Thea to be as well trained and disciplined
as those in the military. I would be honored if people can come and say hi to me on my book tour.
EC: The intensity
of the plot involves a flight?
Howe: Since I am an avid flyer, although not a pilot, I started to think about the new security measures on planes including reinforced cockpit
doors. I wanted to create a real buzz in the air so I thought how passengers surrender control to the pilot every time they step on a plane. Everyone must trust that the pilots have our best interests at heart, but what if they do not. Think
of the German pilot that plowed the plane intentionally into a mountain or the Egyptian pilot that intentionally crashed the plane. I thought how different it is than getting into an Uber or bus where if something happens there is the possibility someone
can take over.
EC: Family plays an important role in the story?
Every single book will have part of the theme, family. In my first book it was Thea, her brother, and father. In this book, it is about Johann and Gernot Dietrich, a father/son. Thea also is in the mother role with the two young boys.
My goal is to explore how the dynamic effects and touches the peoples’ lives.
EC: You wrote, “For Rambo’s
daddy, David Morrell: Inspiration, mentor, friend.” Please explain.
Howe: Yes, this was part of the dedication. When getting my Masters in Creative Writing
David was a guest lecturer. It was a special moment to me because I thought about writing fiction after reading his spy novel. We had a great talk and I was able to show him my thesis about a female sniper. Later, I saw him at Thrillerfest
and wrote a feature on him. He was so appreciative he offered to help me and coached me to dig deep into my characters as well as my writing craft.
EC: You highlight the atrocities of the Jihadists?
Howe: They humiliate, torture, and behead. Because of them kidnapping and human trafficking
are on a huge rise. Terrorists use it as a fundraiser mechanism and a political statement. It is a hot button for groups like Isis, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram who are incredibly awful to women and children. I wanted to highlight how we all
have to pay attention as world citizens.
EC: The descriptions are pretty graphic?
Howe: I want to evoke emotion and showcase these very serious issues, to be educating as well as entertaining. It is important to have a writer interact with the readers, which is why I give broad strokes
to create an image for them. Readers use experiences in their life to create a personal image in their mind.
Is the plague a character in the book?
Howe: It is there as an impeding threat. Father and son Dietrich are at war because of their different principles, worldviews,
and priorities. I used the plague as a ticking time bomb that helped to create a deep conflict within the Dietrich family. It highlights how these characters must make choices.
EC: How would you describe Thea?
Howe: Smart, fearless, and vulnerable. It is incredibly important for
me that girls have strong female protagonists to look up to. We have all these males: James Bond, Jack Reacher, and Jason Bourne. Where is the strong female? But, males are not turned off by her. In fact, a lot of my Special Forces
guys enjoy reading her exploits. I think through her I am able to weed into the story both action and emotion.
would you describe the two boys?
Howe: Spunky, well adjusted, enjoy life, and simplistic, despite their life’s experiences. They were fun to write. Since I
lived in Africa for three years I wanted to realistically get their personalities across.
EC: A supporting character
that is enjoyable was the Texan, Michael Dillman. Was he based on anyone?
Howe: A super nice man who is a former banker who works in book selling. His goal
is to be a character killed off in as many fictional books as possible. I was his Silver Anniversary, the 25th book. He has this business card: former banker, willing victim.
EC: Your settings appear very realistic?
Howe: I hope to go to different parts of the world in each book I write.
I try to go to all the places I write about. I want to experience, touch, and taste my setting personally. If I had not been to that place I try to go there because authenticity is important to the story. Of course, authors take license to
get the plot rich and interesting.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
Howe: A bunch of journalists will be kidnapped in Jordan along with an Israeli soldier. I explore more of the negotiation process and how each country handles dealing with terrorists.
Red Sky by Chris Goff is a fast-paced thriller that has action, intrigue, sprinkled with some technology. In this second installment of the series, the featured character, Raisa Jordan, a U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent, heads
to Ukraine to investigate her father’s death. While there she is side-tracked when People’s Republic Flight 91 crashes, killing everyone on board. Notably, among the two-hundred dead passengers and flight crew, is George McClasky, a veteran
DSS agent who was escorting a Chinese-American prisoner, accused of treason, home from China. She is assigned to investigate the cause of the crash, and quickly realizes that the downing was no accident. The technology used to down the plane was part of a
top-secret weapon being developed by several countries, including the United States. The Russians successfully tested the “railgun” on the plane and intend to use it against others in an attempt to take over the Ukraine. Her investigation draws
the attention of Nye Davis of Reuters news agency, who agrees to help her uncover who is behind the crash and what are their motives.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story? A Diplomatic Security
Agent is not very well known.
Chris Goff: I got the idea when I was in Israel with my daughter for two months. She needed medical treatment.
EC: What did you think of Israel?
CG: I loved my time there. I found it to be a very interesting and dynamic place. We stayed in Tel Aviv but traveled to Bethlehem, Tiberius, Masada, and the Dead Sea.
EC: The plot of your
first book, Dark Waters, has the setting in Israel?
CG: I decided while in Israel that my main character Raisa Jordan is asked to investigate the assassination of her predecessor, and ends up protecting an eleven-year-old daughter of an American
federal judge who has brought the girl to Israel for medical treatment.
EC: The setting for this book is the Ukraine?
CG: Yes. At the end of Dark Waters, I had Raisa decide to travel to
the Ukraine to investigate the death of her father. This book, Red Sky, is a continuation on the backstory of Raisa.
EC: Did you ever travel to the Ukraine?
CG: I went there to get a feel
for the setting with my youngest daughter who is a school teacher. As soon as we got off the plane someone asked if we want to go to the front lines? We could do it For $50 and the driver will have a gun, as well as a flak jacket and helmet for us. I said
‘ok,’ but my daughter put her foot down so we did not go.
EC: What were your impressions?
CG: In Kiev, at least half of the people are tied to Russia and are pro-Russian. Whereas,
in Lviv, on the western side of the country, they identify with the Polish people. They would not acknowledge anyone who spoke Russian. They actually had in the markets Putin toilet paper.
EC: How did you
come up with a DSS Agent?
CG: My daughter had a really close friend whose father is a DSS Agent. The stories he told, about what he did, fascinated me. I found out that this Agency is the law enforcement arm of the US Government
overseas. They are not a spy agency like the CIA, nor are they military. They handle those who deal drugs, commit murders, and track down fugitives. They have to figure out where the bad guys are, many times through visas, and then they arrest them.
Interestingly, they are not allowed to carry a gun unless the country they are in approves.
EC: How would you describe a DSS Agent?
CG: I found them to be cowboys. They are trained
at the Federal Law Enforcement Academy (FLECT). A true story was told to me about one agent who went to a Sheik’s palace, banged on the door, and even though he and the two Marines he brought with him were extremely outnumbered, demanded that the person
he sought after come with him. Another time, one decided to spy on terrorists in the middle of the night.
EC: How would you describe Raisa?
CG: Smart, loyal, a by the book person who
believes in rules and order. She is dedicated and has been impacted by the loss of her father.
EC: Nye Davis does not seem to fit into Raisa’s views of journalists?
CG: I guess
you are referring to her quote, ‘She viewed journalists like hyenas-offensive and sneaky predators feasting on the sensationalism of a moment…Too many times the real story was lost or ignored, usurped by moments taken out of context and distorted
by the reporter’s own bias.’ Today you would call it fake news. Since Raisa is a law enforcement agent I wanted to have her with the feeling of a lot of others who shy away from the media. They feel journalists always put them under a microscope
and they never worry about who gets hurt in the process. I think she falls for Nye because he is not just a journalist, but also a reserve in the Special Forces.
EC: Is the railgun true?
is being tested by the US Navy. Although in my book I had it working off a small battery which is only in the testing phase. The University of Texas is trying to get it to work off a truck battery. What I wanted to show is how it works. I
explained in the book, that it has three parts. The gun is a measure of energy that can put out a force of a one-ton truck going at 160 mph hitting a brick wall. The electromagnetic pulse travels around the rails creating a magnetic field that launches
the projectile. I think with thrillers things do not have to be real, just believable.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the story?
CG: In both books I want them to understand that
all the characters have to step outside of their comfort zone and need to trust each other. They need to rely on each other to solve the problem.
Surrender by Joan Johnston is a romantic western. The main characters, Brian and Taylor have a history, they dated in high school. Playing on the Hatfield/McCoy feud, Johnston has the fathers
hate each other. The plot begins with the protagonists forced to land the plane in the middle of a wild fire. With disaster looming, they must struggle to survive. Injured and starving, the threat of imminent death reignites something
deep and powerful between them. Feelings they thought long dead rise from the ashes, suddenly making them more than just allies in a life-or-death struggle against nature’s fury. A still greater challenge awaits after they are rescued and puts their
rekindled love to its ultimate test. This book is all about second chances
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for Surrender?
Joan Johnston: I've been working on a series of King's Brats books (SINFUL SHAMELESS,SURRENDER, and my current work, SULLIVAN'S PROMISE), all part of my ongoing Bitter Creek series. Two wealthy families, the Grayhawks and
the Flynns, are feuding, fighting, and marrying. Taylor Grayhawk and Brian Flynn were lost in the middle of araging forest fire--she was flying the plane that
went down, and he was asmoke jumper on the plane. They're presumed dead, but their antagonisticfamilies agree to join forces to search for them. That
gave me the starting point to figure out: What happened to Taylor and Brian? How did they survive? What are the consequences of their adventure in the wild?
In your dedication you gave a shout out to wildland firefighters. What
JJ: The dedication was a suggestion from one of the several firefighters and
smoke jumpers I spoke with during my research for this story in Jackson
Hole, Wyoming. Having done so much research, I have a great respect for
the danger these courageous men and women face when they go out to fight
EC: Tell us more about your research on smoke jumping.
I spent a week in Jackson Hole talking with the local fire chief. I was
surprised and delighted to learn the chief was a woman, Kathy Clark. I also spoke
a couple of smoke jumpers she recommended to me. The smoke jumpers
(who both work for the U.S. Forest Service) acted as a continuous resource
me as I worked through the novel. I know you can find out a lot of
things on the Internet, but I prefer going directly to the source.
How did you make the smoke jumping scene so realistic?
JJ: I'm a good writer! Okay, so here's the skinny. The smoke jumpers
recommended several good resource books to me. Anyone who wants to know
what smoke jumping is really like should read Jumping Fire, by Murray A.
Taylor. A lot of what I know about the dangers of smoke jumping, and its
addictiveness to those who do it, came from this book.
EC: What prompted you to choose the title, Surrender?
JJ: Both characters, at some point, have to surrender their very lives to
control of the other individual. That part is easy. It's the emotional
surrender, the willingness to love and be loved, that turns out to
difficult for them.
EC: What is the theme of this novel?
JJ: Someone pointed out to me at about book 25 (I'm on book 61) that the theme
of everything I write is ‘abandoned and neglected children . . . healed by
love.’ In this case, Taylor and Brian are two people who knew each other
as teenagers, and then find themselves lost together in the wilderness as
adults. Both of them were ‘abandoned and neglected children’ who are
finding their way to happiness through love as adults.
EC: What characters will be back in your next book, Sullivan’s Promise?
JJ: There's a great teaser in the back of
Surrender that gives you some idea
what happens between Victoria Grayhawk and Ryan Sullivan. Of course,
there's a secret baby, but he's
the one who ends up with the baby, and
she's the one who's trying to become a part of her son's life. Just a
little twist on a very old meme.
EC: Anything you'd like to add?
JJ: I love to hear from readers,
both their questions and their suggestions for
new books. Readers can find out more about me at my website,
www.joanjohnston.com, contact me on Facebook at
facebook.com/joanjohnstonauthor or Tweet me @joanjohnston. Anyone who
would like to receive my monthly newsletter, which often features the
dinner table settings for the monthly dinner-for-eight I host for friends
and informs readers when books will be available, can sign up at my website.