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Take Five: Greer Macallister and Woman 99

Please join us in welcoming back best-selling author and Writer Unboxed contributor Greer Macallister [1].

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. It has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films. Her novel GIRL IN DISGUISE, also an Indie Next pick, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which called it “a well-told, superb story.” Her new novel WOMAN 99 [2] is forthcoming from Sourcebooks in March 2019. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC.

 “A gripping story that exposes the Gilded Age’s tarnished veneer, when women who didn’t acquiesce to the standards of the day were locked away. Powerful and electrifying, Macallister is at the top of her game.” – Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Masterpiece and The Address

Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?

Woman 99 is a historical thriller about a young woman whose attempts to rescue her sister from a notorious insane asylum risk her sanity, her safety and her life. Once Charlotte is inside Goldengrove Asylum, she finds that many of the women there are more inconvenient than insane, and she discovers secrets that certain very powerful people will do anything to keep.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

There’s a certain portion of the reading population that hears “set in an insane asylum” and is immediately on board, but there are also readers who worry it’ll be too grim or negative. But this isn’t a depressing book! I was very mindful of balancing the dark with light. One of the ways I describe the book is “a 19th-century Orange is the New Black” — it’s a story of women on the fringes of society finding connection and community in the last place you’d think to look.

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

A large part of Charlotte’s challenge is her own naivete — she’s really very sheltered, and gets in over her head very quickly. She thinks it’ll be easy to find Phoebe in the asylum, and once she does, she figures all she has to do is tell the doctors she’s sane and they’ll let her out. So she’s in a very bad situation — that she got herself into, out of loyalty to her sister — and part of her struggle is finding a sense of her own identity as the kind of woman who can resist and overcome, not just go along with what society tells her she should do. She’s navigating a very harsh world without any preparation. Luckily, she’s not alone.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

As I mentioned before, balancing dark with light was something I really had to be conscious of the whole time. Conditions in last 19th-century insane asylums were pretty grim, and the people entrusted with the care of the mentally ill, historically, have not always put that responsibility of care first. So I had to acknowledge that and honor the people who went through it, without making the book too painful to read. Also, Charlotte herself was a challenge. She’s the most sheltered of my protagonists so far. She changes a lot more over the course of the book than either Arden (of The Magician’s Lie) or Kate (of Girl in Disguise). They were bold from the start. Charlotte has to get there.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

There was a line in the Publishers Weekly review that so perfectly captured what I was trying to do, it blew me away: “Though Charlotte narrates, Macallister also gives voice to a motley crew of women who, at the mercy of male whims, hide multitudes.” Charlotte’s perspective and actions drive the story, but it’s really more of an ensemble piece. It wouldn’t be the same without Jubilee, without Damaris, without Martha. I’m so glad the reviewer saw that, and I’m looking forward to readers connecting with the strength of these unusual, inspiring women.

Thanks, Greer,  for sharing more of the story behind the novel with us today. We extend you an extra warm congratulations on Woman 99 [2] being chosen as Editor’s Pick in the February edition of Library Journal, which said “Readers will become engrossed in Charlotte’s journey of self-discovery as she fights to free herself and her sister from a rigged system.”

Readers, be sure to order your copy of WOMAN 99 here [2].

About [3]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [4] and Kathleen Bolton [5] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [6] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [7] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [8] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [9], and join our thriving Facebook community [10].