Interview & Giveaway: The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton by Sophie Schiller

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I have a great interview with Sophie Schiller, the author of The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton, and a chance for you to win a copy! 

Hello Sophie and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton!

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

Thanks for having me! I’m a writer who has always been captivated by the past; or rather, by learning about the past through reading historical fiction. I find the drama and challenges the characters have to face and overcome to be cathartic. This is the whole reason why people read fiction, for the cathartic element. I discovered historical fiction as a teen one summer when I was bored, and it opened up a whole new world to me. Now I want nothing more than to tell the stories that I feel need to be told.

What inspired you to write The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton?

In April of 2016, I was approached by a gentleman from St. Croix who asked me to write a novel about Alexander Hamilton’s childhood in the West Indies. The reason for his request, he told me, was to show the world the importance of St. Croix in forming Hamilton’s character and financial vision for America. He wanted to demonstrate how this West Indian island provided the backdrop for Hamilton’s singular genius in developing America’s financial system.

We spoke over the phone several times and the wheels in my brain started turning, but I was deeply involved with another project that I wanted to finish. And truthfully, I had doubts that I would be able to tackle this subject matter. While we did hold several conversations about the idea, I remained skeptical about the feasibility of it. But I was firmly committed to writing it. His belief in me and my unwillingness to back down was the fuel that drove me to finish this novel.

What research did you undertake when writing The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton?

When I was ready to start in February of 2018, I almost didn’t know where to begin. I had to learn about the 18th century, the history of the West Indies, the importance of smuggling and privateering, the history of St. Croix and the Danish West Indies, the social, political, and commercial life of St. Croix during colonial times, plantation slavery, the triangular trade, how to manage a counting house, the duties of a counting house clerk, slave auctions, bribing customs officials, social values and customs of people in the West Indies, the history of Alexander Hamilton’s family, his parents’ struggles, his personal struggles, plus I had to develop a timeline of everything that happened until Hamilton left for America in 1772. The timeline ended up being around 50 pages full of details. Sounds like a lot? ;)

Luckily, at this time, I made the acquaintance of an American historian named Michael Newton, who was working on his own biography of Alexander Hamilton’s childhood in the West Indies, using newly discovered records from the Royal Danish Archives. Michael’s research was indispensable to me, and I will forever remain indebted to his perseverance and commitment to uncovering the truth about Hamilton’s boyhood. Michael kept me grounded and he always steered me in the right direction every time I asked a question. In addition to all this, I read numerous scholarly papers and novels set in 18th century Colonial America. Writing a novel of this magnitude is a little like training for the Olympics. You push aside everything that is not important and focus on your goal. The effects may be detrimental to your personal life and well-being, but nothing matters so much as finishing your project.

During your research did you learn anything about Alexander Hamilton that surprised you?

What surprised me was how similar our childhoods were. I also grew up in the West Indies, endured the breakup of my parents’ marriage, worked in numerous trading firms in the islands, studied international trade, spoke foreign languages, and experienced the same loneliness, hopelessness, and ambition to succeed.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton?

That success comes from within. That any person, no matter what his station in life can succeed if he has the will and is willing to work hard and sacrifice everything to obtain his goals.

What was your favorite scene to write?

My favorite scenes were the ones with Captain Peter Tongelo, the captain of the Free Black Militia. I based his character on Louis Gossett Jr.’s performance in An Officer and a Gentleman. I loved that character! And I loved writing the repartee between him and Alex, and especially the bond of friendship and respect that grew between them.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The hardest scenes to write were the scenes involving slave auctions and the suffering of slaves on the plantations. This was a huge hurdle for me! But then, of course, another hard scene to write was that of the father leaving the mother. I wrote that scene one day when I had no plans to write at all. I was reading in my room during a quiet moment when all of the sudden the characters came to life inside of me and they started speaking. I wrote down everything they said, and that entire painful scene mostly appears in the book as I originally wrote it.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Probably from the time I was in middle school. But I lacked the self-confidence and self-knowledge to pursue that path. I lived under the delusion that I had to live a long, full life before I could begin to write. I didn’t know that writing is a very personal experience where the writer communicates his thoughts and feelings in a natural, spontaneous manner that touches the reader on an emotional level. One does not need to have lived a long life to do that! This is one of the hardest lessons of all. It is a lesson I am still learning.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

It depends on which stage of writing I’m in. Generally I write in three stages. There’s the story development stage, the first draft stage, and the “production” stage. During the story development stage, I do all the research and take notes. I read everything I can about the subject and develop a plot and a basic outline. During the first draft stage I write scenes that drive the story forward and flesh out the characters even more. Usually I write chronologically, but sometimes I have future scenes written ahead of time. During the final stage—the production stage—I am producing a readable novel that answers all story questions and concludes all plot lines. During this stage, I employ an editor and spend hours working on each scene so that the narrative flows naturally and quickly. I sometimes go away for weeks at a time to work in solitude, and I try to spend minimal amount of time on social media. But this is not always the case!

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

Believing in myself is a huge challenge. Balancing the needs of my family with my need to produce great novels is another huge challenge. I’ve been able to overcome the first challenge by realizing that every time I sit down to write, something good happens. Stories are born. The second challenge is still a work in progress. And the third challenge is guessing what kind of novels the market wants to read. Since this question has no answer, the only possible answer for each writer is to write the stories that appear organically in their head. The stories they feel they were born to write.

Who are your writing inspirations? 

I admire the work of Graham Greene, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Helen MacInnes, Ann Rinaldi, Tracy Chevalier, Lionel Davidson, and some of the great philosopher writers like Albert Camus and Ayn Rand.

What was the first historical novel you read?

I believe it was QBVII by Leon Uris. It was the summer of 1980 and I was spending the summer with my father, complaining that I had nothing to read. This was back in the days when there was very little TV in the islands and no satellite TV at all. He thought for a moment, walked over to his bookshelf and plucked this book out and told me to read it. I was instantly entranced and haven’t been the same since.

What is the last historical novel you read?

The Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi, as research for The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton. Ann Rinaldi is one of America’s top writers of 18th century American historical fiction for young readers. Her sense of time and place and detail with respect to the American colonial experience is second to none. She’s right up there with Esther Forbes (Johnny Tremain) and John Jakes (The Bastard). 

What are three things people may not know about you? 
I’m multilingual. I started out life wanting to be a diplomat like Raoul Wallenberg, traveling the world and stamping visas for would-be immigrants. My knowledge of foreign languages has helped me read obscure foreign books as research for my novels.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I love learning about history. I love asking the ‘what if’ questions and creating thrillers that take readers on a journey they could not have foreseen. I love delighting my audience with exotic cultures and locations. I love filling in the missing gap in literature: writing thrillers set in the most unexpected locations and with colorful, entertaining characters.

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

I read more by author than by era. For instance, I would read anything by Follett regardless of time period. Ditto for Lionel Davidson, Graham Greene, or Leon Uris. But generally from 1880 to WWI, venturing occasionally into WWII.

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

Traveling, gourmet cooking, writing poetry, working on self-improvement and mindfulness, spending time with my kids, and traveling.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I am working on a modern-day fable similar to The Little Prince and a WWI espionage thriller.

The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton by Sophie Schiller

Publication Date: July 3, 2020
Tradewinds Publishing

Genre: YA/US Colonial & Revolutionary Period/Historical Fiction

The story of Alexander Hamilton’s lost childhood in the Caribbean—a land of sugar plantations and slavery—where an impoverished orphan must learn to survive despite impossible odds. It is a story of struggle, heartbreak, resilience, and ultimately, triumph.

1765. Alexander Hamilton arrives in St. Croix with his family to begin a new life. He longs for the chance to go to school and fit in, but secrets from his mother’s past threaten to tear his family apart. When he sees a young African slave being tortured, Alexander vows to act. He urges his uncle to buy Ajax and promises to set him free. But tragedy strikes when his father abandons the family and his mother dies of yellow fever. Orphaned and alone, Alex is forced to survive by his wits and resourcefulness. By day he works in a counting house learning the secrets of foreign trade. By night he studies Plutarch and dreams of fame and glory. When Ajax is sold to a brutal planter, Alex vows to save him, even at the risk of his own life. With the aid of a reluctant slave-catcher, he concocts a plan to rescue Ajax, but when the price for helping a slave run away is torture or death, no one is safe.

In this gripping tale, Sophie Schiller re-creates the boyhood of the young man who would grow up to become a Founding Father and one of America's foremost men.

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"The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton is a wonderful read... The musical "Hamilton" has brought the impact of this man in the founding of America sharply into our consciousness. But what author Sophie Schiller has skillfully done here is to take what little is known about Alexander's early life and fashion a fictional story around his upbringing that fleshes out the boy that would become the man. I can highly recommend this read." - Grant Leishman for Reader's Favorite (5 star review)

"The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton is the kind of story that helps to restore faith in mankind. It helps to illustrate that, while there are those who are evil, who care not for their fellow man, there are also those willing to put their lives on the line for others. Author Sophie Schiller's story of Alexander Hamilton shows him to be such a man. In these days when it seems that so little history is taught, and when the veracity of much of what is taught is questionable, this is the kind of story that those both young and old would do well to read." Patricia Reding for Reader's Favorite (5 star review)

About the Author

Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies. She is a novelist and a poet. She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic and far-flung locations. Kirkus Reviews has called her "an accomplished thriller and historical adventure writer." Her novel, ISLAND ON FIRE was published by Kindle Scout in 2018 and was called, "A memorable romantic thriller" by Publishers Weekly. Her latest novel, THE LOST DIARY OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON, is out now. She graduated from American University, Washington, DC and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 7
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Tuesday, September 8
Review at Momfluenster

Wednesday, September 9
Review at Books and Zebras

Thursday, September 10
Guest Post at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals

Friday, September 11
Review at YA, It's Lit

Saturday, September 12
Review at A Darn Good Read

Monday, September 14
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks
Review at History + Fiction + Adirondack Spirit

Tuesday, September 15
Excerpt at The Caffeinated Bibliophile

Wednesday, September 16
Review at Passages to the Past

Thursday, September 17
Interview at Passages to the Past

Saturday, September 19
Review at Reading is My Remedy


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton + a $10 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky winner! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on September 19th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton

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