Interview & Giveaway: Diane C. McPhail & The Abolitionist's Daughter

Hello, dear readers! I hope you are all staying healthy & happy & reading some great books! Today on the blog I have an interview with Diane C. McPhail. Diane is currently on tour for her great historical, The Abolitionist's Daughter, which I highly recommend!

Hope you enjoy the interview & be sure to enter the giveaway!

Hello Diane and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Abolitionist’s Daughter!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I came to writing with many diverse interests in my background. I am an artist, a therapist, a minister, a teacher, and retreat leader as well as a writer. Most of my writing has been in flash fiction and poetry until I encountered the background that led to The Abolitionist’s Daughter.

What inspired you to write The Abolitionist’s Daughter?

An historic story of violent family and community conflict in the “ghost town” of old Greensboro, Mississippi, that I heard all my life, never realizing that the so-called feud between two families was the story of my direct ancestors. My mother died when I was only nine weeks old. In my middle adulthood I visited my uncle in search of knowing who she had been. In an album he showed me, I came upon an old newspaper article about “Bloody Greensboro.” I was astounded to learn that at the center of the violence was my great-grandmother. I had been haunted by her story since childhood without knowing the connection. At that point, I began to write in an effort to make sense of this horrendous story.

What research did you undertake when writing The Abolitionist’s Daughter?

I spent twelve years engaged simultaneously in writing and research. Of course, I turned to traditional examination of library sources on the Civil War, slavery, Abolitionism, the laws against manumission, the shifting role of women during and after the war, books, articles, online resources. The treasure of my research, however, came from the archives at Mississippi State University, where the family Bible, plantation papers, a few letters, and a number of inventory lists gave me an in-depth view into this family and its members.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Abolitionist’s Daughter?

There are several things I hope to explore with readers: One, the complexity of character and relationships—none of us is all good or bad; we each carry in us some of each. Two, because of that complexity, all situations are multi-determined—making quick judgments questionable. Three, our stereotyped views that simplify history fail to encompass reality—as in the little-known presence of Southern Abolitionists. Four, I hope that readers will fall in love with these very human characters and their story.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I don’t have to think twice on that question. There is a scene in which Emily questions Ginny, the slave companion who has been educated alongside her, about her use of language. In her typical straightforward manner, Ginny addresses the specialness of all people, the devastating history behind Negro language, the nuances of one’s place in a culture, with wisdom and an eye to the future that confronts us even today.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

That is a harder question. There were many that were difficult to write. I think perhaps those involving Adeline and her dead sons, knowing the gut reality of those details, may have been the most heart-rending for me.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

In college, I experimented with poetry and even short stories. Most of those, fortunately, have gone by the wayside. But I continued to write poetry, keeping it hidden away in a drawer. I finally shared it with a friend who was a fine poet and he encouraged me. As an artist, I began to combine image and poetry, leading to a major commission to create a thirteen-figure sculpture garden for a large park in Atlanta. Madeleine L’Engle had long been a great influence on me. When I had the good fortune to study with her several times, she convinced me that, indeed, I was a writer.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

My routine is hardly routine. I tend to be a bit erratic in everything I do. I may work all day and into the night on some days and not at all on others. I may write two to four hours for days on end. Then I may not write for a week. Often my writing is constantly interrupted by some research detail that I have to stop and follow down a long trail of new information.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

My greatest challenge, one I am comforted to share with other authors in my writing community, is to maintain the courage to believe in ourselves. The publishing industry is not an easy one. Writers constantly face rejection. The average number of agent rejections for a writer is about 100. Most of your favorite books are in your hands because an author persevered. My husband set that 100 as a goal to reach. Each rejection counted as a point toward winning. That was a great metaphor for me. It landed me with one of the best agents and best editors I could hope for.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Madeleine L’Engle, as mentioned, has had immense influence on me. I am also deeply inspired by Cormac McCarthy, Kent Haruf, Delia Owens, and Wendell Berry—to name only a few.

What was the first historical novel you read?

Jane Eyre. I was in fourth grade. Our school had a book fair and we could request a book. When I chose this one, my teacher said it was too old for me. I went home, found it among my grandparents’ books, and have never gotten over that first reading.

What is the last historical novel you read?

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: an exceptional reading experience.

What are three things people may not know about you?

One: people generally are surprised that I am actually an introvert; two, I love interpreting in paint the actual sounds and rhythms I hear in music; and three, I still have poems hidden in the drawer I hope no one ever reads.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

History in school never interested me greatly, all those dates and names to memorize. Reading/writing about the reality of people’s lives beyond those dates and names makes even the present more alive to me.

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

Generally 19th and early 20th Century periods: these are recent enough to give me greater understanding of our present times and issues.

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

First, of course, is painting. In the recent shutdown, I love getting outside in the garden and going for long walks, my iPhone camera always at ready. I am having a wonderful time pouring creativity into sewing masks to give away in the community as needed. I have a large collection of old fabrics that bring me such fun creating these.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Presently I am working on a novel set in 1900, just at the turn of the century when immense cultural change was in the air. Two women—one in Chicago, one in New Orleans—unknowingly share the devasting loss of their husbands and of their infant sons. When circumstances bring them together through adversity and the opportunities offered by the first all female Mardi Gras krewe in New Orleans, fate intervenes to reveal secrets neither could have anticipated.

Wow, that sounds intriguing! I can't wait to hear more! Thank you for being here with us today, Diane!

The Abolitionist's Daughter by Diane C. McPhail

Publication Date: April 30, 2019
A John Scognamiglio Book/Kensington

Genre: Historical Fiction

In her sweeping debut, Diane C. McPhail offers a powerful, profoundly emotional novel that explores a little-known aspect of Civil War history—Southern Abolitionists—and the timeless struggle to do right even amidst bitter conflict.

On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily’s companion and often her conscience—and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan’s family arrives at the Matthews farm.

A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily’s stoic mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily—sheltered all her life—is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.

In the tradition of Cold Mountain, The Abolitionist’s Daughter eschews stereotypes of the Civil War South, instead weaving an intricate and unforgettable story of survival, loyalty, hope, and redemption.

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Praise for The Abolitionist's Daughter

"Diane McPhail excavates a nearly forgotten corner of American history and brings it to full, beating life. This is a fascinating and heartfelt look at the kinds of stories that don't always make it into the history books." -Louis Bayard, author of Courting Mr. Lincoln

"A contender, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched story . . . as good as it deserves to be." -Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author

"Complex, vivid, and emotionally engaging. This is a story of harsh realities written with a tenderness that shines through and honors the account of one woman's struggle to overcome her society's rules and her circumstances in the face of inconceivable devastation. I couldn't put it down." -Carol E. Anderson, author of You Can't Buy Love Like That

"What an impressive book this is! Diane McPhail works a spell on the reader, transporting us to Mississippi in the 19th century, introducing us to a family torn apart by the time and place in which they live. She tells a dark tale, yet it's laced with lyricism and compassion. This is a powerful, imaginative, captivating book-I'd say, even urgent, considering the time we find ourselves in now." -Judy Goldman, author of Together

"A tender, sparkling debut that bears gentle witness to the abominations of slavery and oppression while heralding the grace, power and necessity of righting wrongs and choosing love. McPhail is full of talent and heart." -Ethel Rohan, author of The Weight of Him"

About the Author

Diane C. McPhail is an artist, writer, and minister. In addition to holding an M.F.A., an M.A., and D.Min., she has studied at the University of Iowa distance learning and the Yale Writers’ Workshop, among others. Diane is a member of North Carolina Writers' Network and the Historical Novel Society. She lives in Highlands, North Carolina, with her husband, and her dog, Pepper.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, April 27
Review at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, April 28
Review at Books and Backroads
Feature at I'm All About Books

Wednesday, April 29
Review at Books and Zebras

Thursday, April 30
Feature at Just One More Chapter

Friday, May 1
Review at Gwendalyn's Books
Excerpt at To Read, or Not to Read

Monday, May 4
Review at Brightside Books

Tuesday, May 5
Feature at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, May 6
Review at Robin Loves Reading

Thursday, May 7
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, May 8
Feature at View from the Birdhouse

Monday, May 11
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Wednesday, May 13
Feature at Words and Peace

Thursday, May 14
Review at Tales from the Book Dragon

Saturday, May 16
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Monday, May 18
Review at History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

Friday, May 22
Review at A Darn Good Read


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a copy of The Abolitionist's Daughter! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Abolitionist's Daughter

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