Interview with Elise Hooper, Author of The Other Alcott

Today, we’re thrilled to be speaking with Elise Hooper, author of the debut novel, The Other Alcott.

Please describe what your novel is about.

The Other Alcott is the story of May Alcott, the youngest of the Alcott sisters, and her quest to become a professional painter during a time when women were discouraged from ambitions beyond marrying well.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“So, your sister’s book’s success is a good thing, is it not?”

What do you want people to know about your book?

Louisa May Alcott is the most famous of the Alcotts, but this was a family that produced more than just one high-achieving daughter. Although often overshadowed by her infinitely more famous older sister, May Alcott is a fascinating woman who sought creative freedom and independence despite society’s reluctance to view women as little more than wives and dutiful daughters.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

I grew up near Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House. After attending drama camp there as a young girl, I found myself intrigued by the Alcott sisters. Were they really the neatly pigeon-holed characters set up in the March sisters? My gut told me there was more to these women than Louisa depicted.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

All writing is autobiographical in some sense. You may not be actually writing about your life, but you’re often writing about questions that you feel compelled to explore to understand your own life better. As I wrote about May gaining confidence in her skills, I found own confidence in my creative abilities growing too.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

The Other Alcott’s release on 9/5/17 marks almost four years to the day that I started working on it. I’d long wanted to write a novel about the Alcotts and started it the day my younger daughter went to her first day of kindergarten. The novel took me a little over two years to research and write. After I felt The Other Alcott was ready to head out into the world, I signed with Barbara Braun of Barbara Braun Literary and my manuscript was acquired by Lucia Macro at William Morrow/Harper Collins within a week of being on submission. The rest of the time was spent on edits and production.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

The Other Alcott includes letters between May and Louisa that I wrote myself. I loved channeling both of the voices of these two women.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I loved writing the letter from Louisa in which she describes taking her nephews to the Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Gardens. Even after many years of riding the swan boats, I didn’t know the history behind them at all. I discovered that the man who invented them died unexpectedly, shortly after starting the fleet. Once I learned that his wife was discouraged by the city’s elite group of businessmen from running the business herself, I knew that would have outraged Louisa May Alcott. Even though there’s no known connection between Louisa and the Swan Boats, I decided in my story she would write a letter in support of the widow’s efforts to run the business.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

In the car. I often drive around in a silent car and let the voices of my characters rattle around in my head before I start writing scenes.

Share something people may be surprised to know about you?

I’ve played on women’s tennis teams that have made it to the USTA National Championships twice in the last five years. The first time, my team lost in the finals, but the second time we won the whole thing. Tennis is like writing: perseverance is key.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Keep your butt in the seat and keep writing.

What’s next?

I have a second novel underway about Dorothea Lange, the pioneering documentary photographer of the 1930s and ‘40s. It will be released from William Morrow/Harper Collins sometime late in 2018.

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