In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert poses an interesting question: Do we find our ideas or do our ideas find us? She believes that the ideas find us, and if we don’t do something with them in the time they are willing to wait, they move on. I agree with her. Here’s why. I firmly believe that Victoria Woodhull chose me to write Madame Presidentess, my biographic historical novel about her life, which was just published July 25. Actually, I believe that Victoria’s soul was floating around a few years ago, screaming for creatives of all types to help her get her name into the history books where it belongs. Victoria was a Spiritualist who held a life-long belief she could communicate with the departed, so I don’t think she’d argue with me.
Why do I believe it’s not a random act of inspiration? Well, prior to Hillary Clinton’s second Presidential campaign, very few people had heard of Victoria. This is because she’s not been included in most history texts, so prior to a year or two ago, you’d have to look for specialist publications (like biographies or certain books on the suffrage movement) or consult historical or political experts to learn more than a line or two about her. However, that has changed rapidly.
- Since August 2014, four historical fiction novels (including my own) have been published about Victoria. Prior to that, none existed. (I started research on my Victoria book in early 2014 when there were no fictional books about her on the market.)
- In the last year, two more biographies or other non-fiction works about Victoria’s life have been published.
- A 1980 musical titled “Onward Victoria” just had a one-night, off-Broadway revival in Manhattan last week. (I was asked to sign books in conjunction with it, but given I had less than a week’s notice, I couldn’t make the travel happen.)
- A two films on Victoria’s life are currently being filmed and produced.
- Maggie Gyllenhall has publicly expressed interest in telling Victoria’s story and is quietly working on a project to that effect.
- Since June, when Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee, nearly 100 articles about Victoria have appeared online, including a Snopes page created in the wake of a social media debate over whether Hillary or Victoria was the first female presumptive nominee for President. (The historical truth is that Victoria was the first woman to run for President. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be nominated on a major party ticket. Many women, including Victoria, preceded her as part of smaller parties.)
That’s a lot of concurrent activity for mere inspiration or coincidence, especially for someone most people have never heard about. Now, it could be that all of us had the same foresight to look ahead to the 2016 election and see that there was a strong possibility that Hillary Clinton would get the nomination for the Democratic party. It could also be that American society is finally to a point where we are naturally looking back and the women who were the silent “firsts” ignored by history or co-opted by men are finally getting their due.
But I don’t know. The funny thing is, I’m normally a writer who hears the voices of my characters in my head. That didn’t happen with this book. I don’t know if that’s because this is the first real person I’ve written about or what. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. I felt her guiding presence the whole time.
And now that the book is out, I look forward to collaborating with all of those other creative people who are also interested in telling Victoria’s story. Imagine what we can accomplish together…
Do you believe our subjects pick us or do you think we come up with them? Why? Do you have a story to share about a time an idea found you?