AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

A Veil Removed (Henrietta and Inspector Howard, #4)
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Interview witth Michelle Cox

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message 1: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
A Veil Removed (Henrietta and Inspector Howard, #4) by Michelle Cox A Veil Removed

Rebecca Rosenberg: Hello Michelle! Thank you for hosting this week! To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your novel?

What type of research did you do for writing A Veil Removed?

Michelle: As with the series as a whole, much of my research is from first person accounts. I used to work in a nursing home on Chicago’s NW side, and most of the residents there were in their prime during the 1930s and 40s, which is when the series is set. Though these people lived just ordinary lives, most of them immigrants, their stories were extraordinary, and I was really fascinated by them. Many of these stories have since wound their way into the series, especially that of Henrietta Von Harmon, the heroine of the series.

If you want to read all of these stories for yourself, you can find them on my blog, Novel Notes of Local Lore, which is gathering quite a following in its own right: http://michellecoxauthor.com/blog/

Michelle: As for additional research, I also regularly use online sites, such as Encyclopedia of Chicago, which has a ton of great information. And I frequent the historical society pages of individual Chicago neighborhoods, like Jefferson Park and Logan Square, to find unique information. Especially helpful are all of the photos from the past. Each picture is worth . . . well, a lot. These sites are real gems.

Rebecca: What was your favorite scene to write?

Michelle: Considering that I’ve written five books in this series thus far, it’s hard to name a favorite. But since we’re sort of discussing A Veil Removed, I’ll focus on that one. Still, it’s difficult to single out just one.

I will say that by this point, it’s almost a relief to write any scene with Clive and Henrietta in it because I feel like they’re old friends now. I can predict just what they’re going to say or do. Or it’s like I’m the director, and they are my lead actors in a really long-running series. When I tell them what to do, I know they’re going to understand what’s required, as opposed to new actors who are just walking onto the set for the first time. Those are more difficult situations and take more time.

If we’re getting more specific, however, I’d have to say that I really like scenes where all of the characters are confused about what’s really happening. So, the scene where Clive confronts Bennett in the board room at Linley Standard about the “woman” he suspects his father is having an affair with; or the scene between Clive and his mother, Antonia, when she discovers that a valuable painting has gone missing; or the scene where Antonia catches Clive and Henrietta in the act of searching her room. In all of those scenes, each character is confused, though the reader usually is not. Those are very fun to write—and I hope entertaining.


Rebecca: What was the most difficult scene to write?

Michelle: Any scene that involves Elsie, Henrietta’s younger sister, and Gunther, a German immigrant custodian whom she becomes inadvertently involved with. These scenes are difficult because Elsie is growing in her maturity level, which requires a flavor of uncertainty to be written into her actions, thoughts, and dialogue. It’s easy to write people as black and white, immature or mature, but harder to write someone who is waffling between those two states.

And Gunther’s dialogue is very difficult because he is a German immigrant who was a teacher in Germany and who learned some English as a child. So how do you write an intelligent, educated, well-read person with a pretty good understanding of the English language—but not perfect—who is now working as a janitor in Chicago? It’s definitely a challenge!

Also, it was hard to remember to slow their romance down. I didn’t want it to be too similar to that of Clive and Henrietta, but it’s agonizing to not let them leap into each other’s arms. They’re obviously perfect for each other! But I’m trying to control myself and give them their own pace.

Rebecca: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Michelle: Tune in tomorrow to find out!

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

My biggest challenge is definitely balance. I didn’t realize when I started writing and publishing books that this is a business venture. Had I really understood that, I might not have done it! That sounds harsh, but it is unfortunately true in this modern age of publishing. So now I have two lives: my life as a wife, mom, and house manager; and my business life. And then within the business life, I’m split into the writer (the one who produces the actual product) and the marketer/promoter (the one who actually sells the product.) Maybe this is easy for other people (I sure hope so!), but balance between all of these worlds is definitely very hard for me. I always feel like there’s not enough of me to go around!

Rebecca: Who are your writing inspirations?

Michelle: I think we are all influenced in some small way by every book we’ve ever read, but the authors who have probably had the most effect on me would be: Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery, Catherine Cookson, Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope. I’d like to think my style and voice are a big mix of all of them.

What I admire most about all of them is that character is so huge in their books. They are all of them masters of character, and the fact that some of their characters continue to live on still today is nothing short of amazing.

Rebecca: What was the first historical novel you read?

Michelle: I’m not exactly sure, but it was probably The Girl by Catherine Cookson. I was much too young for something that racy, but I found it on my mom’s shelf and couldn’t help my curiosity. I read the first few pages, and then devoured it. I went on to read all of her books, and I think Cookson has most definitely had a strong influence on my own writing in terms of creating the atmospheric saga. I was also really into James Michener—Chesapeake was my first by him.

Rebecca: What is the last historical novel you read?

Michelle: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time. Quick surprising fact: I much preferred it to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, but don’t tell anyone!

Rebecca: What are three things people may not know about you?

1. I survived a tornado.
2. I can bale hay.
3. I used to dress up as a nun.

(More to come on Friday!)

Rebecca: What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

Michelle: I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood only reading “the classics,” which taught me more about the craft of writing, by the way, than any writing class. After my third child was born, however, my brain kind of turned to mush for a bit, and I wanted something to read that wasn’t so heavy and literary. At that point I had read very little contemporary fiction, and I had no idea what I even liked. I gravitated toward historical fiction, I think, because, like the classics, I still got to be transported back in time. I’m a very old soul. I already knew many of the “rules” of Victorian or Regency society—all of the manners, all of the niceties, all of the no-no’s—so it was fun to read a modern interpretation of those periods. I still love it. It’s the ultimate escape.

Rebecca: What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

Michelle: As I just mentioned above, I enjoy reading about the Victorian or Regency era because of all the formal societal rules. But following closely is the Edwardian period, which is fascinating because you have a society disillusioned by the war but still clinging to the old world by a thread.

But then there is the WWII era, which usually contains a heightened sense of danger or despair, and I also, oddly, love the dark ages (Viking) or medieval period. Those are intriguing, too.

The historical eras that I tend not to pick up are Roman, Civil War or American West. I probably should, really, but they aren’t the eras that pop out to me.

Rebecca: What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Michelle: Promote the series.

Oh, you mean for fun?

Well, I have a husband and three kids, so that eats up any free time that a break from the books might occasionally give me. I seem to remember loving to garden and bake somewhere in my past as well.

My real passion, however, remains board games. I grew up with board games, and, wanting to continue that tradition, I’ve probably amassed hundreds of them in my basement at this point (Garage sales are perfect for this!). I force the kids to play with me, which was easy when they were little, but now that they’re teens, tossing some dice and moving a plastic piece around a board is a pretty hard sell next to Fortnite or Assassin’s Creed. Still, I try.

My sibs and I still have occasional “game nights” when we can fit it in, which is a lot of fun. The highlight, however, is when all five of us and our families go back to my parents’ farm for a week in the summer, where we generally spend the time eating too much and playing games. It’s heaven! . . . That is, until the stress of being in the same house with 25 people for a week starts to take its toll. Then it’s time to go home. But it doesn’t take too many months of reality before we start planning next year’s trip.

Rebecca: Lastly, will you have more projects in the future?

Michelle: Book 5 of the series will be out next April, so that’s exciting. I’ve also written a stand-alone novel, also set in Chicago in the 1930s (why waste the research, right?) and also partially based on a true story. It’s called The Love You Take, and I’m currently looking for an agent for it. So wish me luck!


message 2: by Connie (new)

Connie Mayo | 10 comments Wow, reading about everything you do, including writing five books, is exhausting me! I'd like to hear about your caffeine consumption.

It's also fascinating to me that you can write five different books with the same characters. That seems like in a way it takes more imagination than writing five different books.


message 3: by Alice (new)

Alice | 11 comments Nice interview! Very enjoyable. I used to make forts out of hay bales, but I definitely do not know how to bale hay.


message 4: by Jess (new)

Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Great interview! I agree with you. Writing as a business is so hard!


Michelle Cox | 122 comments Connie wrote: "Wow, reading about everything you do, including writing five books, is exhausting me! I'd like to hear about your caffeine consumption.

It's also fascinating to me that you can write five differe..."


Hi, Connie! Thanks for the comments! Yes, I am pretty exhausted most of the time. And I do have a pretty intense coffee consumption rate! I start drinking coffee at 5 am and continue until about 2 pm. Then I switch to sparkling water for several hours and then to alcohol at about 8 pm. So, you know. Balanced.

And as for writing 5 different books with the same characters - It does take imagination to put them in new settings and create a new mystery, but they are always changing and growing. And, as I said above, it's so easy to write them now because they are like old friends. And also I have a pretty big supporting cast at this point, so I can rely on them to help take the focus off of Clive and Henrietta when I need to. :)


Michelle Cox | 122 comments Alice wrote: "Nice interview! Very enjoyable. I used to make forts out of hay bales, but I definitely do not know how to bale hay."

Thanks, Alice! Did you grow up on a farm, too?


Michelle Cox | 122 comments Jess wrote: "Great interview! I agree with you. Writing as a business is so hard!"

Thanks for taking the time to read it, Jess! And, yes, it's harder than you originally think, isn't it?


message 8: by Christie (new)

Christie | 13 comments Geeze, Michelle, You're the demon writer, babe. Must be drinking all that coffee, switching to water, then cocktails, baking pies! WHAT? Pies, too! Seriously, I'm in awe. You've got me singing, "Tote that barge, lift that bale, get a-little drunk and you land in jail."


Michelle Cox | 122 comments Christie wrote: "Geeze, Michelle, You're the demon writer, babe. Must be drinking all that coffee, switching to water, then cocktails, baking pies! WHAT? Pies, too! Seriously, I'm in awe. You've got me singing, "To..."

Ha! Thanks, Christie. Perhaps we have some things in common?


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