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America's First Daughter: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2016
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From the Publisher
The Authors of America's First Daughter Talk with C. W. Gortner
C. W. Gortner (CWG): Congratulations on America’s First Daughter! I thoroughly enjoyed this book! How did you decide to write Martha 'Patsy' Jefferson Randolph’s story?
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (SD and LK): Thanks so much! It started over burgers at a writing conference, when we discovered a mutual love of American history and wondered what Jefferson was like as a father, not just a founding father.
At the time, Laura was a history professor by day and romance author by night, whereas Stephanie split her writing time between romances and historicals. We got the crazy brainchild to combine our experiences in a book about Jefferson's eldest daughter, and raced back to the hotel room to research. Frankly, we had no idea that it would take five years, three agents, eighteen thousand letters and a road trip to get this book out. But we did know that we had stumbled upon a great untold American story.
CWG: I am fascinated to know more about your collaborative process. The voice that jumps from the page felt united and seamless. What was co-writing like?
SD and LK: Having never worked together before, we were taking an enormous leap of faith. We have vastly different working styles. But we had a few things going for us, especially profound mutual respect. We shared a vision for the story, and neither of us had an ego about who wrote what. Therefore, we could freely revise what the other person drafted, making it so that both of us had worked on most scenes. We didn't often disagree, but when we did, we would explain our positions and ultimately come up with a third solution superior to what we'd come up with on our own. We were almost always able to build upon one another's ideas in a way that was a pure joy.
CWG: What was your greatest resource while researching this novel? And did anything surprise you during that process?
SD and LK: Jefferson's letters, as edited by his family for posterity, were indispensable. We were able to take dialogue directly from the letters; we were also able to glean changes in the man. In Patsy's early childhood, her father was suffering from tremendous suicidal grief, all while coming to terms with his new life as a single parent in an 18th-century world where fathers did little parenting. The controlling and sometimes emotionally unavailable Jefferson of Patsy's youth is a different father than the one he grew to be: warm, generous, and very respectful of his daughter's intelligence and talents. That was a big surprise for us!
CWG: This book is about one woman, and yet the scope and the sheer amount of history Patsy witnessed was enormous. Was it difficult to choose what to include and what to leave out?
SD and LK: Because Patsy's life story is really inseparable from her father's, we struggled with what to keep and what to omit. There wasn't enough room for all the important people whom Patsy knew or for all Jefferson's political battles and accomplishments. That meant formative experiences—including surviving an earthquake—ended up on the chopping block. We came to call her the Forrest Gump of Revolutionary history because she saw everything and knew everybody, so we tried to let drama guide us, especially in the second half of the novel. If someone died, dueled, or got arrested for murder, we kept it. Otherwise. ..
CWG: What will we see from you next?
SD and LK: So glad you asked! For us, writing fiction together—sharing the research, hashing out the historical interpretations, choosing a cohesive point of view—has been a challenging but rewarding experience. We loved it so much that we decided to do it again with our forthcoming My Dear Hamilton. It's about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. It's currently set for 2018.
“America’s First Daughter brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy’s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking by turns-a personal and political page-turner.” (Donna Thorland , author of The Turncoat)
“Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable -- this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived of our new nation. A must read.” (Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress)
“[A] triumphant, controversial, and fascinating plunge into the complexities of Revolutionary America, where women held power in subtle ways and men hid dangerous secrets. You’ll never look at Jefferson or his legacy the same way again.” (C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel)
“Authors Dray and Kamoie have performed tireless research. Whether it’s detailing Patsy’s life as a debutante in Paris, where she dances with Lafayette and witnesses the first flickers of the French Revolution, or recounting the world of a Virginia plantation, they’ve done their homework.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“This is a stunning historical novel that will keep you up late, hoping the engaging story never ends. Highly, highly recommended!” (Historical Novel Society, Editor's Choice)
From the Author
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Top customer reviews
Patsy Jefferson is the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Having run from their plantation Monticello to hide from the British in the Revolutionary War, she grows up as not only as the daughter of the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, she matures as the daughter of the third President of the United States. Growing up, she lost her mother at the age of 10; lived in Paris during her coming out years and experienced the revolutionary fervor there. She comes home and marries a distant cousin, Thomas Randolph. Even though she was constantly pregnant (she ended up giving birth to 11 children), managing her husband's plantations as well as her father's, she ended up being a pivotal part of Thomas Jefferson's life.
This is a long novel and if I could, I would have sat in my chair and read for hours. This story simply pulled you into Patsy's life, turmoil, world ... it gives a personal flair to a woman I have never heard of. It does touch upon the sticky issues of slavery, Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings and Patsy's own relationship with Sally as well as with other people. It is a reminder for those of us who like to think in terms of history being black and white, that there are a lot more issues that surround the times and nothing is ever so easy as we'd like to believe. The authors have navigated through some of the thorny issues with a fine touch by bringing a personal touch to it.
The only issue I have with this book is that it does not cover her later years as much as I had hoped for. However, if there are books written about her children, I will definitely seek them out. I know this is a novel, but I feel as if this would be a good starting point in getting to know the history of our forefathers, as much as to encourage the interest in our leading ladies. These 2 authors have managed to bring a woman who has been buried under the dusty pages of history to life.
And that is my favorite way to spend time ... reading about the ones who have lived before us. It is inspiring to read about people and be reminded that too, they were once flesh and blood, and survived to be remembered in history as to shape our country's path.
The novel starts with Patsy as a child as her family flees Monticello as British troops approach in the waning days of the Revolutionary War. It follows her to Paris not long after, where she accompanies her father, who is the fledgling nation's representative in France. Patsy grows up quickly amid the decadent French court and the stirrings of revolution. She finds, and then loses, her first love. After her return to Virginia, she marries a member of the illustrious Randolph family, whose members aren't known for their kindness or integrity.
Through it all, she is there for her father as he travels back and forth from Washington City -- later D.C. -- serving a variety of roles before running for president and serving two terms.
Woven through the narrative is Jefferson's relationship with the beautiful slave Sally Hemings, believed to be the half-sister of Jefferson's late wife and bearing a strong resemblance to her. Over the years, Sally bears him several children. Their attachment is an open secret that results in scandal brewed by Jefferson's political opponents.
This is a long book -- almost 600 pages -- but I raced through it. The writing is straightforward and Patsy's voice is strong. She was a witness to, and sometimes a participant in, the history of the nation, but that didn't protect her from tragedy. Life in the early United States was hard, and medical care was rudimentary.
The problems of Jefferson's descendants are not glossed over here. Still, it's a fascinating story -- stirring events are told in a first-person account that makes it seem like you are sitting in front of Patsy, hearing her tell her life story.
I highly recommend this book.