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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Libby McNamee

I got in touch with Libby McNamee, award-winning author of two American historical fiction novels, Susanna's Midnight Ride and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812, and I had the honour of interviewing her for this post. After interacting with her and getting to know her over Epic Patriot Camps 2022 and 2023, I thought it would only be fitting.


In this interview you'll discover more about her, her writing, and the inspiration behind her two fantastic books.



Author Interview: Libby McNamee


Hi Libby! Before we start, tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi Christopher! I live in Richmond, Virginia, and I have an 18-year-old son who’s a senior in highschool. I am also a lawyer, I served in the US Army JAG Corps for 6 years, and I’ve lived in Bosnia, Germany, and Washington State. I love to read, write; I love walking, swimming, travelling and History.



You’re the author of two historical fiction novels; Susanna’s Midnight Ride and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812. What inspired you to write these stories?


Susanna's Mightnight Ride Libby McNamee

Susanna Bolling

I was at a funeral for a little girl I met way back when she was little, and we were really close. At her funeral I was talking to her uncle about my writing when he said, “I’ve got this story and somebody needs to write it—I reckon you should be the one to do it.” He was married to a descendant of Susanna Bolling, a very influential woman during the American Revolution. I actually set out to disprove it, as I had never heard of her. When I found corroboration for it, I became fascinated with the whole Southern part of the American Revolution. When I finished writing Susanna Bolling’s story, I thought, “I’m never going to find a story that great again.”




Dolley Madison and the War of 1812 Libby McNamee



Dolley Madison

A friend of mine wanted to go see a lecture on Dolley Madison for her birthday. By the end of the lecture, I thought, “There’s my next book!”. 






What actually made you want to be a writer?

I’ve always loved words. When I was little I used to live right near the library, and my older sister and I would go every week to the library and get a stack of books. The next week we’d come back and return the stack to get a new one! 

When I went to law school I soon realised I didn’t like that kind of writing because it’s very technical and not creative at all. It made me want to do something else. I have quite a few other things that I’ve written that I haven’t really done anything with, but once I got onto Susanna’s story, I realised that that was where my passion really lay. 


 "If you get the facts wrong, you’re going to lose your readers very quickly."

So what was the first writing you took seriously as a writing project?

I once wrote a contemporary fiction novel about a woman in Richmond who worked at a law firm and she didn’t really like it—it was very autobiographical! I tried to shop it around and I had people who were interested, but they wanted me to rewrite it, and I didn’t have that passion for it.


I also tried a mystery, about two friends and their two little kids going to historic places where something goes wrong and they need to solve the problem. I started writing it, but then I realised it wasn’t for me—writing mysteries is really hard!


I’ve also got some kid’s picture books that I was never able to find a publisher for. I’ve got the illustrations done, but I never really pursued it. Maybe I’ll self-publish them someday.



So what would you say the hardest part about writing historical fiction is?

For me, the hardest part is actually sitting down and writing! I love writing historical fiction because I love learning about the era. It can be difficult sometimes when you have facts that don’t flow well and you have to alter them so that the story flows better, because then you need to include that in the Author’s Note for credibility. What I like about writing historical fiction is you have a built-in plot. 


I had an editor who once told me, “Stop researching and just write the story!”, because sometimes even research can be a form of procrastination. 


One thing about historical fiction is that if you get the facts wrong, you’re going to lose your readers very quickly. They’ll think “Well if that’s wrong, I don’t trust anything else you have to say”, so it’s very important to keep it as accurate as you can.



Speaking of outlining and writing—at the moment you’re in the process of writing a new book! Could you tell us a bit more about that?

It’s about a woman by the name Elizabeth van Lew, and she lived in Richmond during the Civil War. She was a Union spy leader who formed an entire spy ring. She also helped orchestrate a huge escape out of a prison for Union prisoners—actually called Libby Prison! By the end of the war she was reporting directly to General Grant. I’ve learned so much about the Civil War and I’m about 80% done with my first draft!



"Every single person started with a blank piece of paper"

Who is your biggest author inspiration?

I’d have to say Jenny L. Cote—I really admire her; she’s been at it longer than I have. We actually just met four years ago through American Friends of Lafayette! Then she did a talk here in Richmond, which I went to, and after that she and I went on a weekend trip to Yorktown, where we really hit it off. 


I love Jenny’s enthusiasm! She’s just such a hard worker! If there’s a really painful task ahead of her, she just walks right through the fire, and I admire that. And she keeps up a positive attitude, which helps so much! 



You mentioned the editing of each other’s work and collaborating to revise chapters with others—so what’s your biggest grammar pet peeve?

Passive voice! —it robs the story of energy. But until you’re trained to look for it, you don’t realise what it is. 

One of my other pet peeves is when people write “me and my friends” or even “he came over to me and my friends” —because it’s my friends and ME! ‘Me’ always comes last.


And this is another one: they’ll say, “He gave the book to my friend and I”. 


I think people think ‘I’ sounds more polished, but what you need to do is take out the “my friend and” and then you can tell! 



I think for me, one of my biggest fears as a writer is publishing something that has a typo in it that I’ve missed!

It’s true! A writing friend of mine once told me “Do not skip editors!” 


And in Susanna’s Midnight Ride, the proofreader caught that when I had mentioned some oxen, and I said “The yolk around the oxen’s necks” — I had it spelled YOLK, like an egg yolk, instead of YOKE! I was mortified! 


But it’s humbling, because you might not think you need an editor, but you really do—always! That’s why it’s so important to have other people look at stuff, because we get so used to seeing it that we don’t even notice it.


"Walk straight through that fire FOR THE CHILDREN!"


How do you deal with Writer's Block when it comes to you?

Usually I go and work on something else, a different part of the story, or I’ll take a break. For writers, sometimes taking a walk can be productive; getting yourself outside; the kind of stuff that inspires you. 



So what is something you really like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to read! And I love walking; I love taking a long walk outside; I love swimming—I love swimming in laps and I like swimming in lakes; I love travelling, and going to historic places and hearing speakers and visiting museums. I love hiking; travelling, and I love my friends—I love getting together with friends, and I do a lot with my family too. I’d much rather read a book than watch TV or a movie.


Once in a while there’ll be a good movie, but I’d much rather read a book. And my husband will always laugh—he’ll say “Mom’s into her book” when it’s quiet in the house, because I’m not talking! A book is much more immersive than a movie or a TV show. But I’m always reading something—if I’m not reading a book I’m miserable, like I have to have something going. 




What is a word of advice for other young and/or aspiring writers out there?

Just keep writing! It’s a muscle and you’ve got to use it! No one’s going to write it for you—you have to do it yourself. You’ve got to commit yourself to it, just one step at a time, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day! Just keep at it—it’s like swimming, or tennis or ANY sport - the more you do it the better at it you’ll become.


There’s a lot of rejection but, as Jenny says, “dust yourself off and just move on” — walk through the fire; straight through the fire FOR THE CHILDREN!! You’ll find your audience. Remember that when you go into a library or a bookstore, and you look at all these books, every single person started with a blank piece of paper, so it’s important to persevere.


There is something truly amazing about opening your box of books, once it’s all done. It’s incredibly satisfying, but you have to work hard to get there. Just keep at it. That’s the best advice, which I need to take myself! 



Thank you so much for your time, Libby, it's been a pleasure to interview you!
 

I hope you enjoyed that! I am honoured to have been able to interview Libby McNamee, and it was really insightful! I learnt a lot and was inspired to keep going with my own writing. I hope you feel the same.



Other questions asked


What is your writing process? Do you outline and plan, or do you just go from the information you have and write?
A lot of authors talk about this “first draft”— but what does that actually mean?
Your writing has been really progressive! From there, to now having two historical fiction books, and another one coming out soon!
What kind of style/genre are you really interested in reading?

 

written by Christopher J. Watt

Christopher J. Watt author

Christopher J. Watt is a passionate young South African writer now living in Australia. He has co-authored two historical fiction novels in the Epic Story of America series and is currently working on his own projects. When he's not writing, you can find him doing graphic design, drawing animals, film editing, or swimming. Find out more at www.christopherjwattauthor.com.






guest: Libby McNamee

Libby McNamee author

An author, public speaker, and lawyer, Libby McNamee loves exploring America’s many historical sites. A Boston native, she graduated from Georgetown University cum laude and Catholic University Law School. Libby served as a US Army JAG Officer in Korea, Bosnia, Germany and Washington State. She and her book-obsessed husband and son live in Richmond, Virginia.


Libby is a member of the American Friends of Lafayette, the Lafayette Society, the Montpelier Foundation, the Historic Hopewell Foundation, the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond, the Civil War Round Table of Richmond, James River Writers, SCBWI, and the Virginia State Reading Association in the Richmond Area Reading Chapter.



Find out more at www.libbymcnamee.com


 

1 comment

1 Comment


Lori Scharf
Lori Scharf
5 days ago

Great interview! I love the history of the War of 1812 and really all American history, so I'll have to check out her books!

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