Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop (www.elizabethwinthropalsop.com) is the author of over 50 works of fiction for adults and children under the pen name Elizabeth Winthrop. These include the award-winning fantasy series, The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle as well as the short story, The Golden Darters, read on the nationwide radio program, Selected Shorts, and included in Best American Short Story anthology, and Island Justice and In My Mother’s House, two novels now available as eBooks. She is the daughter of the acclaimed journalist, Stewart Alsop. Daughter of Spies: Wartime Secrets, Family Lies, a family history about her parents’ love affair during World War II and their marriage lived in the spotlight of Washington during the 1950s will be published by Regal House, October 25, 2022.
WELCOME TO MY BLOG, ELIZABETH, AND THANKS FOR TAKING TIME TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS:
How do you come up with book titles?
The book teaches me what it’s about while I’m writing it. I almost never know the title until I’ve finished the book and even then, it can change.
What have people most liked or found most meaningful/funny/creative/ chall
enging about your book?
I’ve written a braided narrative which is a completely new form for me. It means that I moved back and forth in time from my parents’ whirlwind courtship in London during the war to the present-day challenge of caring for my mother as she slipped into dementia. I’m surprised by how many people have resonated with the caregiving aspect of the book whereas I thought they would be taken by the wartime romance.
Why do you write?
You might as well ask why I breathe. It’s been such an innate part of my life, psyche, personality for decades, so much so that I can’t imagine not writing. When I go for too long without putting my thoughts down, I get very grumpy as my husband will attest. We call it my creative anxiety.
As a result of publishing your book, what have you learned about yourself and/or the writing process?
This is my first memoir. In my many works of fiction, I’ve always put my opinions and feelings into the mouths and minds of my characters. In this book, I had to come out from behind the curtain and speak my truth.
I learned not so much from what I said but from how I said it that a part of me still felt like a little girl abandoned by my mother. When it came time in Part II of the book to write about my childhood, I gave up the braided narrative and let that little girl take and keep the spotlight. My mother wasn’t able to be there for me when I was growing up, so I didn’t want the reader sympathizing with her when I was telling my story. It surprised me that my need to claim center stage remained so intense decades later.
At what moment did you decide you were a writer?
I knew very early on perhaps because my father was a journalist, and I thought his job looked pretty easy. He slept late, worked at home, interviewed people over cocktails in our living room and then told the public what he thought. Of course, when I shared my perspective with him, he almost brained me over the head with his old Underwood typewriter. Looking back now, I realize he had to churn out three essays a week for a newspaper syndicate. At the height of his fame, the columns he wrote in partnership with his older brother, reached 28 million readers. That pressure to produce consistent high quality political commentary cannot have been easy. From the beginning I loved to tell stories to anybody who would listen so I knew right off that fiction, not journalism, would be my genre.
What does your writing space look like?… like do you have a crazy mess of a desk full of notes and post its? Or is it a quaint chair at a coffee shop?
Both. Although we live in a small apartment, I have two desks. In our bedroom, the desk I use to conduct the business of writing from royalties to publicity to travel plans looks out over a cityscape. That desk is very neat. My small study is reserved only for creative work most of which I do on a messy desk from breakfast until early in the afternoon when I retire to a coffee shop. I’ve learned over the years that I can write in public spaces no matter the noise of music or conversations or the clink of silverware. I’m sitting in one as I write these words.
What genres do you work in?
Fiction for all ages from picture books for little ones to novels and now a memoir for adults. Poetry, essays.
Who is your favorite character from your book(s)?
Such a hard question. My characters are like my children, and I hate to choose one over another. But if pushed, I would say William, the protagonist of my middle grade fantasy novel, The Castle in the Attic and its sequel, The Battle for the Castle. I’ve just finished a prequel to those two books. And if I were allowed to choose a second favorite, it would be Grace from a historical novel I wrote about a child laborer in a Vermont mill called Counting On Grace.
Do you travel to research your book(s)?
Yes, I do and I love it. For this memoir, I traveled to England so that I could see for myself every place where my British mother had lived from her convent school north of London now a Marriott golf spa, to her grandmother’s house in the Cotswolds where the owners let me walk upstairs and stand in her childhood bedroom, to the baronial castle where she met my American father for the first time at a raucous dinner party. He proposed to her that night in the rose garden. She thought he was crazy. After all, she was 16 and he was 28. But obviously he didn’t give up because I’m here to tell the tale.
Where would your dream book signing occur?
I have to admit that it is happening November 5th at Politics and Prose, the gold standard bookstore for all things political and literary in Washington, D.C. I will be in conversation with Evan Thomas, the journalist and historian who first suggested to me that I should write a memoir about my parents love affair and my childhood in Cold War Washington. For me, it’s a homecoming of sorts as it’s the first time I’ve used my maiden name on a book. It will connect me to my famous father but after 50 plus works of fiction published under my middle name, I feel I’ve earned the right to use the name Alsop.