When Clive, anxious to distract a depressed Henrietta, begs Sergeant Frank Davis for a case, he is assigned to investigating a seemingly boring affair: a spiritualist woman operating in an abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of town who is suspected of robbing people of their valuables. What begins as an open and shut case becomes more complicated, however, when Henrietta—much to Clive’s dismay—begins to believe the spiritualist’s strange ramblings. Meanwhile, Elsie begs Clive and Henrietta to help her … he search leads them to Dunning Asylum, where they discover some terrible truths about Liesel. When the child, Anna, is herself mistakenly admitted to the asylum after an epileptic fit, Clive and Henrietta return to Dunning to retrieve her. This time, however, Henrietta begins to suspect that something darker may be happening. When Clive doesn’t believe her, she decides to take matters into her own hands . . . with horrifying results. Drop In and escape the world with Clive & Henrietta!
Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a weekly blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. She suspects she may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, has resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there. Coincidentally, her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others, so she might be on to something. Unbeknownst to most, Michelle hoards board games she doesn’t have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. Also marmalade.Leave a comment for radio show guests
Have you ever stopped to think about yourself and your story? If someone were to write your memoir, what would it say? We all seek some level of authenticity, but have trouble removing the labels and finding our whole story. Welcome to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. In this program, we’ll explore diverse stories on identity, to help determine what is truly yours. Now, here is your host, Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In, everyone. It’s Juneteenth, a day in history, the 155th Anniversary of the Last Mill of Slavery. So Juneteenth, is what’s called a portmanteau. It’s a spliced word, and today we’re also traveling back in time with author Michelle Cox and her historical novel murder mystery, called “A Child Lost”, published by She Writes Press this spring. Welcome, Michelle. Good morning!
Michelle: Hi, good morning! Thank you for having me.
Diane: Well, you’re more than welcome and we’re happy to have you. But first, in case everyone doesn’t know what Juneteenth, is when the Civil War ended in 1865, the Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, and enslaved people in Texas, didn’t learn about their freedom until June 19th two years later, in 1867. On that day, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Major General Gordon Granger of the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order Number three, that secure the union’s army authority over Texas, and stated, all slaves are free. So it was a time lag, the kind of time lag we can conceive of now while we broadcast and disseminate information all over, inclusively, and hopefully with a lot of thought to being inclusive to being scientific and honest and truthful.
I really want to cut right to this book of Child Lost because Michelle Cox. In this historical novel addresses certain social injustices, but wrapped inside a murder mystery. And then of course a love story. So, Michelle well done, it’s to me it was a perfect if you don’t mind my saying it, it was a perfect form of escape. It was a great piece of romance, suspense, and escape. Is it truly important function, right now I believe in our world?
It always was the great pieces of art from music, to film, and painting all came out of daydreams and artist’s fantasies and you’ve provided a wonderful means of escape, and I congratulate you. Do you describe it that way yourself as a kind of form of escape?
Michelle: I think first of all, thank you for the lovely compliments. Yeah, I would. I mean I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with that description calling an escape and interestingly. I’ve been getting more and more letters from or emails from readers these days, saying the exact same thing that it was the escape they needed right now. And, even before these troubling times, shall we say, you know, that’s why I read a book, is I want to escape and that’s why I love reading historical fiction is because I just, I want to escape. You know my life or this, this reality and just be in a different place. At some point it’s almost like being in a movie or something like that so, no. I think it’s a great description.
Diane: And it gives us dimension. It gives our minds, I mean I think that we’re so performance driven or we get influenced by this idea that we should always be like doing something, and so I think escape gets a bad rap, but the key advantage of escape and daydreaming, as Freud pointed out, “You can engage in a trial action.” This is a quote without any consequences, you can imagine yourself, ridiculing your teacher without really doing it.
And you know it’s important to realize, events, such as Einstein, conjuring the Theory of Relativity, he did that while he was an office worker in Switzerland, and he was basically caught up in a daydream, a reverie. And I think that, you know we discount the importance of escaping and it’s also, thinkers point out it’s also a way to hone our social skills because long before computers Daydream served as the first virtual world, where we could rehearse, social situations, love affairs, adventures, emergencies and conflicts without the risk or consequence.
So, it can be an important form of creativity, and one where as they said, we get to rehearse life and imagine possible world. And there’s certain part of me that just wonders, well, what could be more important? So I guess I’m going to give the listeners a bio because it describes you, and your extensive repertoire in this genre. Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a weekly blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents.
She suspects she may have lived once in the 1930s, or once lived in the 1930s and yet, has not yet to rediscover the handy time machine, and so is resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there. When coincidentally her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others. And so she might be onto something. Unbeknownst to most Michelle hoards board games and she doesn’t have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music and course also, marmalade.
So Michelle, you find yourself, I think in a world where we are escaping that Downton Abbey and the crown, and a lot of these Netflix series have taken us away from our immediate world, and they’re also as I found with A Child Lost, highly instructive historically. So, I began to wonder, when did you begin to imagine and daydream these books?
Michelle: Do you know that’s a great question. I probably, I started writing like, for the first time ever, really, in about 2012. I came up with the idea for the series so more like 2014 and I, in a previous life. Earlier in the early 90s I had worked in a nursing home, and as a social service director. And I was privy to so many wonderful stories, which is where you know I get this stories from my blog and I decided to write a book, not a series, and I thought that a mystery, would sell. Little do I know now.
If I’d known more about the market, back then I might have chosen a different genre but I thought history would be great. So we needed a jumping off point. And I took the story of a woman. And, who had this amazing life in the 30s and 40s in Chicago, and I took little bits of her story and created Henrietta out of her. And then, thought up the mystery and the inspector and how it would all go but you know midway through the book, I really love these characters and they didn’t want to let them go and I thought you know what I’m going to turn this into a series, which was a little bit tricky because I had to change some things because I didn’t want to just end it.
Where book one was going and it went to be a cop in Chicago and his wife, and I felt like that had been done before in the whole mob scene and all of that so I just, you know switched it a little bit, and gave Clive a secret passed, and he, like a gentleman obliged. So that was the start of it.
Diane: Well great, and you did allude in your biography to perhaps having had a previous life in the 1930s. Do you really feel that? Do you really resonate with that?
Michelle: You know, honestly, I’m not really sure. I do feel an amazing affinity to that era, to the 30s and 40s I mean, it’s not normal. I don’t think before a person in this day and age to put on, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman and actually have tears. There’s just something about it that just moved me.
Michelle: And I am able to write that era very easily. Of course, I’ve done research but it doesn’t take a lot of resources like I’m tapping into something so I’m not sure.
Diane: That’s fascinating. Like you’re channeling. In case there’s not a lot of knowledge of the background during the 1930s, I actually had to look into the culture, myself, but we’re coming out of the depression or it’s during the depression, most people didn’t have much money, and most but most people did have radios and listening to the radio was free. The popular broadcasts were those that distracted listeners from their everyday struggles, comedy programs, like Amos and Mandy, soap operas and sporting events so it is again, escapism, the need to transport ourselves in order to take the time to process and make sense out of our lives. Swing music encourage people to cast aside their troubles and dance and band leaders like Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson drew crowds of young people to ballrooms and dance halls all around the country. So even though money was tight, people kept going to the movies and musical screwball comedies and hard boiled gangster pictures, likewise offered audiences, an escape from the grim realities of life during the 1930s.
I really wonder, about this now because we’re in the era of 24/7 News. And we focus so much on the negative of keeping ourselves informed and in this grim reality where we, of course do need to pay attention and we do need to be conscious socially. But you really, I think draw a very good point that this kind of diversion is one that draws attention to also the timelessness of social injustice you witnessed it working in a nursing home. I’m sure, and then drew out this very important character, Henrietta who is quite complex. And I would say very online card, wouldn’t you say, she was kind of a pioneer.
Michelle: She really was, and I did base her as I said on a real person, because sometimes I get a little bit of flack that she was a little bit more advanced than you would expect a woman of the 30s to be in that. She’s a hard character to write because you want her to be true to the time, but you want readers to be able to relate to her in truth, in reality the woman that I based her on had a huge thing of jobs in the 30s and 40s in Chicago. She was a very apparently, very voluptuous beautiful woman.
And even though, as you mentioned it was the Great Depression in Chapter very hard to find it was never hard for her. Probably because she was so beautiful, but she was working in jobs like, an usherette or a burlesque girl or a waitress, but she was always losing her job because she was always being felt up, and she would always slap the owner or the manager, whoever it was instantly fired.
So then she would go and get another job but I used to think that one detail about this person is so significant, because that would have been incredibly risky. During the Great Depression, when people were lined up for jobs, to stay true to herself, and not put up with it which I think is, very forward thinking. So I think that that detail and a few others just gave me the idea or the inspiration to make her the character that she is.
Diane: She came to life. She is essentialist, and she is a femme fatale. And in the book, we have a clear image of her as being attractive, and also attracted to Clive. But yeah, she has a real solid sense about her. And in terms of extending her care towards other members of the family. Once she marries into this very wealthy family. She marries into a very upwardly mobile kind of marriage but it’s a love match. She marries Inspector Clive.
So maybe we should give just a little bit of a summary of A Child Lost. It begins. This summary begins a spiritualist an insane asylum and a lost little girl. When Clive is anxious to distract a depressed Henrietta. He begs his sergeant Davis for a case, a private investigator case and he’s assigned to investigating a seemingly boring affair: spiritualist woman operating in an abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of town she is suspected of robbing people of their valuables and what begins is an open and shut case.
Of course, becomes more complicated when Henrietta much to Clive’s dismay begins to believe the spiritualist’s strange ramblings. Meanwhile, Elsie begs Clive and Henrietta to help her and the object of her budding love Gunther. To locate the whereabouts of one Liesel Clink Hammer, the German woman, Gunther has traveled to America to find and the mother of the little girl, Anna is a darling character who has brought along with them.
And that search leads them to Dunning Asylum where they discover some terrible truths about Liesel and where the child for self is mistakenly admitted to the asylum after an epileptic fit. So Clive and Henrietta returned to Dunning to retrieve her, but Henrietta begins to suspect there’s something darker happening, and she takes matters into her own hands with horrifying results. There’s a lot to unpack there.
One is the role of a spiritualist. So this is different than a psychic, I had to go back and find out the definition. So a spiritualist is one who believes spiritualism, believes that the voices of the dead can be heard through a medium, and they are transmitted to the live person, whereas a psychic is basically you know consumed with foretelling the future. You have this spiritualist and she’s got a lot of credibility, Madame Pavlowski. I wondered how much agreeance you felt towards her?
Michelle: How much, pardon?
Diane: Agreeance. Agreeance you feel towards her? She was viable in this book, everything she said was true, spot on, accurate.
Michelle: Yes, she’s an interesting character. And I obviously want to paint her that way, sort of, charlatan. But, in a sort of decency and fashion she turns out to actually have some truth to her, and hoping that the reader is left with a little bit of confusion or mystery at the end, like is she real or isn’t she. And hopefully she will make a reappearance in the subsequent books.
Diane: Well, we do get a dangler right at the very end because she surrogate, who does their set up with the crystal ball and she admits to a little bit of schlockism there that she has a ball glow and she says, “Why did you release Clive mysteriously encryptically says, well but he’ll be back.” So we find out that, he’s hooked and actually were quite hooked. Henrietta is this really I think brilliant woman who does trust her instincts, she returns to this asylum when she feels that everything is not quite right. And they’re trying to also retrieve this young girl, a child lost so we have just about a moment. When you talk about Anna, is that the child lost? And how would you characterize that as an entity in the book?
Michelle: Well, yes. I mean, I don’t want to give too much away but yes, I’m hoping that fans of the series will see the title and think that it has something to do with Anna, because she also is in book four, the book before this one. Briefly, so I’m hoping readers think that yes, she’s the lost child. But there’s also Henrietta’s last time and the fact that Billy, the sort of relative mentally challenged brother is also referred several times in the book, as a child or a lost child. So we have that whole definition there as well.
Diane: It’s a beautiful, it’s just a beautiful analogy and one that really resonates, I want to. When we come back from the break which we’re going to right now, we’re going to find out what happens to these people, and whether the lost child is actually retrieved? So don’t go away. We’re on dropping in with Michelle Cox, Author of A Child Lost.
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You are listening to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to DDewey@trunordmedia.com. That’s the letter D, Dewey at T-R-U Nordmedia.com. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: And we’re back, welcome. We’re with Michelle Cox, Author of A Child Lost, a historical novel with a murder mystery and romance all both and in. It’s Michelle, how do you do it when you just casually mentioned that, she’s in the fourth book, and I’m my head starts to ache. You’ve written all of these books, and it’s amazing to understand that these characters must live somehow in your head, right? How is that to live with characters inside your head?
Michelle: It is really like they’re real and I’ve heard authors you know before I became an author, talking about this and I thought it was a little bit fruity and I, but it really does happen. I mean, when I was in the heart of writing this series, I have this big band, you know, playlist that I just play, you know, over and over and over for like three years, and one time I was driving in the car with the kids and I said, “Oh you guys you guys, this is Kevin Henry Henrietta’s favorite song.” And they just looked at me like, Mom, they’re not real.
Diane: We could forget too. Because they are so realistically drawn in case you’re just joining us, Michelle Cox, it has an affinity for the 1930s just as others of us have an affinity for African jazz, jazz from Harlem, you know, there are a million kinds of little pinpoints where we are drawn to different epox that are ones that we couldn’t possibly have had any contact with unless we sign how we are here as reincarnated.
Yes, and Henrietta and Clive, they must kind of endure or on a parallel universe, in your mind as you know as you’re living your life. I think that they are compelling characters and Henrietta, is the protagonist I believe who really, she also embodies this concept of a child loss she has suffered a miscarriage. And in order to distract her from her woes and her sorrows, her husband the Inspector Clive always Galant decides to try to divert them with a case that they are now developing their own private investigator firm nobody.
What could be more fun than that? But through all of this, their antics, their adventures, and their inquiries, they stumble across some serious issues, they return to a place called Dunning Asylum and you just mentioned that you worked in an elder care facility and you saw some of the neglect that goes on, and I see, indicative of the time I would think. I did a little research, even about what we were talking about before daydreaming, seemingly an innocuous things.
Something that opens up our minds, but in those times, for example, if you were enlisted in the Army, and you answered the question. I like to daydream. They labeled you as a neurotic and they do not help you. I mean it was not psychology wasn’t well understood right until after the 1940s and Freud and all of this. So, in a similar vein, schizophrenia and epilepsy, were not well understood and Anna, a child who remained with Gunther and Elsie is Henrietta the protagonist younger sister.
So she is diagnosed with schizophrenia, having only exhibited any epileptic symptoms. So, you know indicative of the times. Now, this is where I started to get really engaged is, Anna is in Kinderheim, so this is the German word for an orphanage, which is exactly the kind of place where I was in Germany. In the first years of my life, where, yes, your parent was still allowed to come. And in fact, if their financial states improved, might be able to take you home. They might not and you might get adopted.
And so of course, I was really riveted by these passages whereas Anna put in the Kinderheim because Gunther, who is her ward or is her caretaker. He has to work so she goes to the Kinderheim, which is run by these very well- meaning, and kind, knowledgeable people which I do believe or want to believe mine was as well or I actually know that for a fact, now that I’ve gone back. But schizophrenia. Schizophrenia was mistaken then, she was put in the Dunning Home, which was a nightmare. Right? I mean this was just part of the 1930s. And how much did you draw on your experience in these kinds of homes to depict Dunning, which if you’ll inform readers was a real place?
Michelle: Yeah, Dunning. It started out as a poorer farm in the 1800s and on the outskirts of the city, it wasn’t part of the city at that time. And so, if you were poor you went and live there. And as time went on, it became sort of you know a place to drop off mentally ill people. People who are crazy or schizophrenic or whatever, turn you wanted to use, and the conditions there were very, very terrible. I think I make some notes at the end of the book, that there was actually a train.
It was called the Crazy Train and it ran from downtown Chicago. And the Milwaukee Northwest railroad line actually extended its tracks, so that it went almost all the way to the front door of Dunning. So the police or officials could just show off people this train, and then they would arrive at Dunning and be put in a ward or whatever it was. There were horrific things that went on there. And it was a real struggle, because I could have went very very dark, but this is a Clive and Henrietta novel, so I couldn’t. I didn’t want it to go that dark.
So it was a real struggle for me to paint it accurately. And but not, be so dark, but on the other hand I didn’t want it to be like a Scooby Doo Mystery either, so. Yeah, it was not a nice place and shockingly, I only heard about this place when my oldest child did a high school history project on it. And many years ago and ever since and I’ve been very intrigued by this place. And there you know it’s of course torn down now, but they did uncover in the 50s, mass graves. You know up to I think 30,000 people.
Michelle: So a lot of atrocity. Yeah and the hosing and the electric shock, all of that really happened.
Diane: And you point to mysterious demises. Many of these 30,000 people didn’t die of natural causes which is even more creepy. It’s a place that you know just kind of pulsates with like eeriness and terror. And I think it’s fascinating, because it was part of my curiosity as to what sort of ignites, the spark when you’re ready to write? Is it a place? Is it a character? Is a combination of things? Is an event? Where do you draw most, the most richly your inspiration?
Michelle: I think really it comes first from the characters, and I think that’s indicative of my whole series is it’s very character driven. You know some of the books have a little bit lighter mystery and but it’s not really the series, yes it’s a mystery series but it’s not so much about the mystery. It’s really more about these characters and how they are evolving with every book, and so that’s where I start into then when I’m starting a new book, it’s like okay, it’s just a continuation of the one before and the one before the one before, which makes it a little bit easier, but now I have to figure out.
What big problem or what big case are they going to tackle this time? And it’s usually formed from what’s going on with them so especially Elsie, who has a big role in these books. She started out as just a side bit character I never envisioned her to be getting equal playtime with Henrietta, but she does. And so I needed to figure out, who the mysterious Liesel was? Who is this Anna in Gunther’s life? And this is what came to me, then it’s a researching and go from there.
Diane: Well, it’s fascinating and I think all really good books, as A Lost Child is begin with character and these characters, have a heartbeat. You have the character of Henrietta. She chaves it at the bit in her traditional role with her husband. Yet, she keeps a lot of that together in her head in an interior dialogue and she offers him quite a lot of support. She is very kind to him when they go to Dunning and he is triggered to his World War, PTSD, anxiety attacks, right there in the hallway.
He’s sweating and he can’t quite get his mind clear and she sees it. She’s a very complex character and I think she’s a very winning character, one where I really felt taking this imaginary trip into their lives was instructive for me, they provided a very kind of grounded, well-balanced, role model, if you will, for what a marriage, actually looks like. Yeah, there’s, there are these, it’s not black and white, there’s the woman with her own mind, but she is part of a partnership, and they are synchronized and it is, they’re in symmetry with one another so it’s been really quite a touching relationship, I think that they have. He’s also recovering from having lost his first wife, and there’s just a lot that make them perhaps a little bit more raw. A little bit more vulnerable to one another.
And Henrietta has lost her dear father, as well. I, sometimes when we read a book, we’re here now on our virtual book tour so we get to talk a little bit about the writing, as well. And sometimes when we read a book that flows as easily as does, A Child Lost, we have this thought that comes into our head, “Oh I could write that.” Because it seems so deceptively simple, but it’s not. And when I thought about the reasons that I really appreciated reading this book. One of them was that there are so many strands to the plot.
There are very many interesting stories being woven at one time. There’s the personal abuse of Rose and her disadvantaged brother Billy, there’s Elsie, and Anna and Gunther and this budding sort of intriguing romance. There’s of course Henrietta and Clive, and there’s Dunning, there’s this central also should be done the institution becomes kind of a character. I wondered, do you develop plots? Does your working space your writing space have timelines all over the wall? I mean, how does this actually happen for you? How do you keep all this straight?
Michelle: That is such a great question. I don’t know. Yeah, I have each book in a notebook. And I sort of, that’s where I write out the basic outline and try to keep notes. Sometimes they will have to go back and do a search for what colors Elsie’s eyes, I forgot. And there was one point with one of the books, I don’t know maybe it was Book Three. We were in the final edit, and I sent this frantic email to my project manager saying, oh my gosh, I mean because I basically already signed off on the book, and I said oh my gosh.
Can we make one more change? It actually wasn’t eye color issue where I had put the wrong eye color in, and my project manager said, “Don’t you have a big chart of all of these?’’ Sorry, but I really should, but I just never have time to take that time out and make this giant chart so yeah, a lot of it’s just memory or just doing searches through the manuscript.
Diane: Well, they’re very real characters. Right, I mean, and that’s also, the thing Michelle is like, that’s a separate skill set, right? If you’re leaving and inhabiting a character as you write, that’s a different skill set than taking out a chart, writing down data. It’s a completely kind of process, right?
Michelle: It is, and I feel like people who are good at ones sometimes aren’t good at the other, and they’re I actually. I’ve met people who have given me their card you know at a conference or whatever, to say that they are people that actually do that for authors.
Diane: Like wow, oh no.
Michelle: They agree. And, they keep the matches, your social media calendar or your events, but they’re actually keeping track of all of the data in your book. Who drives, what car, what time of the year? It is all that kind of stuff.
Diane: Okay, it’s really scary. That’s really scary.
Michelle: I know.
Diane: Because, I mean. But look, it’s another it’s a cottage industry look this is a gig, it’s another gig, there’s so good. We have about a minute left in this segment I just wanted to ask you. This is a wild. These you have a real following, right? There is a real following. How big is it, I mean, how many countries are you published? How many people were following, Henrietta and Clive?
Michelle: You know, it’s a great question. I know that I do have fans in other countries. Occasionally I will get emails. Mostly, of course, the English speaking countries so England, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, but I’ve also seen a France, Germany, that type of thing. I know that I’m in a lot of international libraries, a lot of libraries across the US. It seems like it’s a following that just keeps growing and growing, so it’s amazing.
Diane: It must be very gratifying. It’s kind of a created kind of a classic, a cold classic. I would urge everyone to read, A Child Lost and even if you’ve not read the predecessors as I have not, now I’m hooked. It’s an addictive. It’s an addictive form of escape because it’s informed, it’s thinking, it’s the thinking person’s escape. When we come back we’re going to take a break right now, but when we come back we’re going to look at the interior the Downton Abbey aspect of A Child Lost. And really immerse ourselves in their world. Let’s see what happens, don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In, with Michelle Cox.
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You are listening to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to DDewey@trunordmedia.com. That’s the letter D, Dewey at T-R-U Nordmedia.com. Now back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here chatting with Michelle Cox, author of A Child Lost. And it’s an extraordinary book a study in contrast, we have the deportation train to Dunning, the Institute of everyone’s nightmares, the horrors of neglect and abused and then on the other side is the quintessential paradox that Clive and Henrietta live in the home of Clive’s parents and his father is deceased. So now the matriarch is Antonia and she has given Clive and Henrietta, one wing of the house.
So well, that might not be much to thumb. I can tell you, it’s palatial. And when you’re in the interior of this book, and reading its passages, you can only imagine the grand tour of this place. There’s chauffeurs, there’s cooks, there’s Butler’s, there’s private servants. And, given the proclivities of Henrietta and Clive and how like sexual they are, their private moments. They’re few and far between. They have to watch the door, when and Henry, thank goodness, I’m so glad that you depicted a woman who has sexual appetites.
She’s quite, she’s quite a vixen, that one. And she, but they live among servants, right? They’re dressing, they’re just like Downton Abbey. They’re being buttoned up as they’re having these intimate conversations. You got to really, what do you make of that? What do you think that really would be like, Michelle?
Michelle: You know, it’s a great question. I don’t know because we all fantasize about it, right? Like how wonderful that would be. And I think a lot of people love the books because of that because they can get lost in that world and just watch it unfold and like you’re watching a period drama or something. And I do think I’ve tried to depict it in what I imagined it to be wonderful in a lot of ways. But, also very limiting and just like any other situation in life, or any other social strata. They have this luxury, but they are constrained as well not only just by the servants, but what’s expected of them. And that comes across very much through, as you mentioned, Clive’s mother Antonia who wants to hold them to a very strict standard.
There’s only so much they can do. And that’s one of the things in Book Three, where they are on their honeymoon in England. And that’s one of the things that Henrietta is very wistful about that they can’t just, if there’s a scene where they end up in a little pub, they’re searching for somebody, and she wishes that this could just be their life.
Michelle: And the same with Book Two. She goes and Steve’s at Highbury. And this is a huge culture shock for her. And this is, she’s kind of upset about it. And that’s not, I don’t think that’s the expected reaction who she comes from extreme poverty, who wouldn’t want to be transported in be the Cinderella but for her, she feels a little bit tricked by Clive, she wasn’t signing on for this. She was thinking they were just going to have this little life in Chicago.
And now she’s expected to be Lady of the Manor. So, Book Two is all about her, befriending the servants and doing all these not naughty things. It’s not like a naughty child, but she has an affinity to the servants, because people are closer to her, and she’s always getting into trouble and it leads to a mystery and all of that. Sorry, long answer.
Diane: No, no, not at all. I appreciate it, the depth of it. You know, she relates to the servants and also she wants to empower the servants. She’s trying to get her servant to become more of a secretary. She’s trying to broaden the horizon. And it’s really interesting to me, because of course, we fantasize that, I don’t personally, because I’m an enormously private person. But you know, the concept of, yeah I don’t have to do the laundry.
There were moments where I think all of us would think, and also there was a certain nobility to these roles, as you say, a butler would no more think of joining in tea that he serves, then, taking a trip to the moon, because that’s just simply not the role. The role is to be unobtrusive and of service and be of help. And, I think that there is this wistfulness. It’s very palpable in Henrietta, this wistfulness of a loss of spontaneity, of different sorts, even of thinking, that is characterized by the encumbrance of having people around all the time, not to mention, the concept that a person should be in servitude to another.
All of these are relics from a past that we’ve shed and, you know, certainly on Juneteenth, we’ve shed it. But it’s a very complex, it’s a complex situation and I do to say I do enjoy the journey of going back and feeling her ambivalence and her misgivings about it. Also, the lack of there’s an echo all the time, you know Clive checks in about her whereabouts. Through the chauffeur. You know and you know like does, Fred’s is kind of giving all the details of where she’s been and I think to myself, “Oh my God, if I had to really think about.” You know my husband and partner knowing this through a third party, there would be something, frankly, unnerving about that I think.
Michelle: For sure.
Diane: Yes, I mean she executes this though with complete grace and a poem, I must say, she tries to bring them forward.
Michelle: Exactly, yeah and when my mom read that part about the fact that, Clive all along. I said, Frit’s basically following her, she was angry.
Diane: Oh, good.
Michelle: I said, Mom, you know, yeah. I don’t think that that’s beyond the scope of reality for that situation. It is an interesting concept about this whole sort of servant class. And Book Three really sort of addresses that because they do go to Clive’s family estate in England and Henrietta observes that the servants there are different than the servants at Highbury, and even more reserved, and reticent and in the shadows.
And so she talks about that. And one of the themes of the book is that, this estate in England is crumbling. And the air is a suspicious character. And he doesn’t want anything to do with this. He wants to sell the estate and turn it into a home for soldiers and all those sorts of things. So he’s very much wanting to move into a new century, and Clive and Uncle are desperately holding on to the past. So it’s, I think that it’s an interesting look deeper look into that whole scene.
Diane: Absolutely. And recalls Harry and Megan, there’s out in LA, you know, introducing himself as Harry, I mean, because how absurd is it to be Prince Harry, in this day and age. I’m sorry, there’s a lot of merit, you know, and he, I think, also have this sympathy towards soldiers, those who protect our country and go to wars wage battles for us, for protecting us. He developed the Invictus Games, Harry and I suspect that, this mechanism of marrying Megan Markel.
That was a fairly deliberate calculated way out of just this very thing that you’re talking about, the walls having ears there being echo chambers to everything and just incredible expectations of formality that may or may not have a place in this world. You do present it extremely graciously and gracefully in A Child Lost. I don’t want to, I want to just capture the absolute immersion of that book, and one that will draw me to the others as well, there’s it’s provocative, it asks these questions and as you say, you’ve been thinking about these things as you’ve been writing you didn’t just sort of dash it off with like an acceptance of, well this is how it is, this is how it’s going to be and we’re not going to question it we’re just going to go with the fluff.
Now you’ve delved deeper and congratulations to you, Michelle Cox.
Michelle: Thank you!
Diane: When do we get to see the sequel then? And because we know Clive’s going back to Madame Pavlowskie. When do we see the sequel to this?
Michelle: And that’s a great question. Yes, my first five books were published with She Writes Press. And so I’m taking, I took a little bit of a break, because normally, by the time a book in the series is published, I already have the next book written. But I took a break to write a different novel, also set in the 30s in Chicago, also based on a true person, but more of a history of historical fiction, and I am just finishing the last edits for that one, and I am currently shopping that one with agents.
So we’ll see where that goes. And then as soon as I can get that one out the door I will start writing, six, I have outlined it. But, it’s impressed writer, I wrote A Child Lost the first stretch in three months. So hopefully it won’t take me too long, fans. Hang in there.
Diane: Right, the fan base we’re expecting now. I do think that there’s this paradoxical quality to your book, which is your books, which has just an incredible allure for me because it’s intellectual as well as emotional. You kind of write an expose at the same time that you’re upholding a kind of lifestyle that is fascinating to many of us. And you also draw from the political, too. I would say the personal because at the end of the day, I found in A Child Lost that the compassion of individuals, Henrietta has the compassion for those in Dunning, the asylum.
And Clive also likewise has a compassion for his board of directors is proposing they shut down a factory he says, “No, what about the employees and their families and the home for children?” And the way that tugs on our heartstrings at a time now, when we’re experiencing a lot of poverty across America and may even reach to see, again, kinds of the Bohemian home kind of situation. We’ve got a couple minutes left but I do wonder, for me compassion was the takeaway.
This is Hennessy gives work to Rose and Bailey, and there’s Elsie taking in Anna and we don’t want to do too many spoiler alerts but, compassion does save the day. Is that your fondest wish as a takeaway from this book? We have very short on time.
Michelle: Yeah, I really, I would say that. You’re such an astute reader, and yes, I do feel like compassion is an overriding theme and that’s true in the world I find, there’s good and bad people. There’s good and bad in everybody.
Michelle: So, yeah. I would agree.
Diane: Well, thank you for that. I unfortunately we’re at the last moment together with Michelle Cox. I know that and this mother child of air that lingers in the garden there you’re from Robert Louis Stevenson, you quote a child gardener versus. So thank you for this escape in this recovery. We’ve enjoyed it immensely Michelle, and you can find her at MichelleCoxauthor.com. Wherever books are sold on this June 19th, lift up those whose rights are still threatened every day. Be safe, be well. And as always, thank you for listening to Dropping In.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8am Pacific Time, and 11am Eastern Time, on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.