Kelly O’Connor McNees: I have been thinking about this as an idea for a novel for a long time, probably since I read Sarah Plain and Tall as a kid. Then of course there’s Little House on the Prairie and Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, which fueled my imagination of the setting. I learned more specifically about these arranged marriages from a nonfiction book called Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, and I was off and running.
LH: The women who chose to leave the civilization of New York behind for Nebraska were certainly pioneers in their own right. They took control of their destiny and traveled into the unknown. What qualities did these women have to have to embrace the risks involved?
KOM: I think they had to be very brave, of course, and also committed to the vision they had for not just their own life, but the lives of their children and grandchildren. Because the truth was (and they knew it) that they would not reap most of the rewards of their sacrifices. But future generations, who lived in these towns they helped build from essentially nothing, would know the benefits. They could not be deterred by sickness or drought or boredom! Boredom, I think, would have been the most challenging part of moving to a place like this. Even books were hard to come by.
LH: In the age of instant access to just about everything, are pioneer days over for American women? Do you think there are modern equivalents to Clara and her mail-order brides?
KOM: Hm, that’s an interesting question. In the literal sense, yes. There is nothing left to settle. On the other hand, any time a woman takes her destiny into her own hands, throws off others’ expectations, and sets out to build the life she has dreamed of, on her own terms, she is a pioneer.
LH: In addition to the subject matter, how was writing In Need of a Good Wife different than The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott? Was any aspect better the second time around?
KOM: It was different to write about fictional women. In some ways, it was easier because I was not constrained by the historical record, as I was when writing about Louisa. But I had to make everything up! So that was more work in its own
LH: I’m eagerly awaiting cracking open my copy of In Need of a Good Wife, but that doesn’t stop me from asking about what you’re working on now. Can you give us any clues about what is coming up next?
KOM: It is another historical novel, about a woman who flees a violent marriage in Buffalo, NY, and sets off for an island in northern Michigan. Stay tuned!
LH: A novel from you set in Michigan? I’ll be eagerly waiting! Thanks again for stopping by today!
Kelly is on tour all month discussing In Need of a Good Wife. Check out these other tour stops for more information a this interesting historical read:
Oct. 2: http://stylesubstancesoul.com/
Oct. 3: http://www.greatthoughts.com/
Oct. 4: http://nomadreader.blogspot.
Oct. 5: http://www.erikarobuck.com/
Oct. 8: http://www.2readornot2read.
Oct. 9: http://themaidenscourt.
Oct. 11: http://www.luxuryreading.com/
Oct. 12: http://readingthepast.
Oct. 25: http://womensfictionwriters.
Oct. 29: http://www.wondersandmarvels.