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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki (Interview + Giveaway)

Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Publication.Date:February 11, 2014
Pages:496 (paperback)
Published By:  Howard Books
Website:Allison Pataki 

The Traitor's Wife on Goodreads

Where to get:

A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason.

Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the infamous Revolutionary War General who betrayed America and fled to the British as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot; a charming and cunning young woman, who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.

Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as Military Commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former lover and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.

Welcome to Bookish, Allison!  I'm so excited to have you here with us today! I'm personally a huge fan of historical fiction, even more so when it is based on actual people from the past.

Thank you, I’m thrilled to be here! And yes, agreed, historical fiction is my favorite genre.

What made you choose to write a novel based on Peggy Shippen Arnold, a character whom history often ignores? What was the thought process in deciding to tell the story from the perspective of Peggy's maid instead of Peggy herself?

The fact that history has largely forgotten Peggy Shippen Arnold was precisely why I wanted to write The Traitor’s Wife. I had known the story of Benedict Arnold’s treason, as many people do. And I had known the role that John Andre, the British spy, had played.

But I had not known that Benedict Arnold’s wife, Peggy, had been the central figure in introducing the two conspirators. And that Peggy had in fact been a loyalist to the British, and therefore a huge player in her husband’s decision to betray the American cause. When I found out – not only that Peggy had existed – but also that she was such an intriguing figure, I thought it made for a thrilling historical fiction novel.

I created the fictional maid, Clara, as the narrator so that the reader could watch Peggy Shippen Arnold as an outsider. To get to know Peggy as Clara gets to know Peggy. To be simultaneously seduced by but also disgusted by Peggy. Writing from Clara’s perspective allowed me to interject a fresh point of view, apart from the scheming and the treason.

Describe The Traitor's Wife in 5 words or less.


At least, I hope it is all five of those things!

I was already intrigued by the synopsis, but those words make me want to read it even more! During your research, did you come across any surprises in terms of historical events or illuminate a character in a particular way?

I was floored at the complexity of Benedict Arnold’s character and career. He was an ardent colonial patriot and a heroic general who fought valiantly for most of the Revolutionary War. If not for Arnold’s military skill at the Battle of Saratoga, the British would probably have won and the Revolution might have ended in 1777.

Also, I was surprised to learn that a certain amount of Arnold’s bitterness toward his colleagues on the American side was justified. George Washington often mediated for Arnold – and took his side – when Arnold was treated unfairly by the Continental Congress and his colleagues in the army.

Benedict Arnold’s name is synonymous with “traitor,” yes, but there are so many other descriptors – and positive ones – that might also be applied to him.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, logistical, etc.) you faced?

When you have the historical record from which to carve the arc of the story, it can be difficult to decide when to stick to the facts and when to use artistic license.

In some ways, having access to a timeline of events and such rich historical details makes your job easier as the writer. Of course you want to include fascinating details like what the characters looked like, how they dressed, what sort of homes they would have lived in, and so forth.

But, the more you uncover facts and historical details, the easier it becomes to get bogged down in thinking that you must include everything you find. You start to feel like you are getting way too granular and that the story is becoming unwieldy.

At some point, you need to throw your hands up and say, OK, I’ve got a lot of raw material here. Now it’s time to sit down and write a novel. A novel which, after all, is fiction. 

How much of this book is factual and how much creative license?

The arc of the story is based on the historical facts. Peggy Shippen was a beguiling belle who was courted by John Andre while he was stationed in Philadelphia. Peggy then fell in love with and married Benedict Arnold. Shortly thereafter, the Arnolds began corresponding with John Andre and moved to West Point, with the intention of selling that vital fortress to the British.

The plot is driven entirely by facts. Peggy was a charming, intelligent, well-connected woman. Arnold was a besotted man with a stellar military career but a bruised ego and an empty bank account. The characters like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Peggy’s Philadelphia friends all played roles similar to the ones developed in The Traitor’s Wife.

It is in the specific conversations and the development of the characters that I relied most on artistic license. Additionally, all of the servants are fictional characters, including the narrator Clara Bell. And so, all of their subplots, including Cal’s role in uncovering John Andre, are written with artistic license.

How do you prepare to get inside the head of people who actually existed?

By reading as much as I can about the characters and their lives. By learning about the worlds they inhabited, and what their motivations had been. By learning what their days must have looked like. So, for instance, exploring what they would have eaten, how they would have dressed, how they would have spoken, and so forth.

And then, from there, the artistic license comes in. You might say that’s the most fun part!

If you could spend a day with one your characters, who would you choose, where would you go, and what would you talk about?

It’s very tempting to say Peggy. I would love to have seen her in action!

But my answer would have to be George Washington. It would be fascinating to see him, the first ever leader of the United States. From his letters and biographies, you get such a clear picture of what an intelligent, fair, charismatic, strong, virtuous, brave person he was.

To be in the presence of such a titan of American (and world) history would be thrilling. What would we talk about? I would say nothing – I would let him talk, and I would gladly listen!

I myself would be torn between these two people, too. Just to see Peggy and have a conversation with her would be fascinating. However, can you really pass up the chance to chat with George Washington himself? Maybe we'd get lucky and get invited to a party they're both at!

What can we expect from you in the future?

I hope that The Traitor’s Wife will be the first in a long career of writing historical fiction novels. There’s nothing I love more than researching, reading, and writing historical fiction novels. It feels like playing.

I'll definitely be on the lookout for your future novels! Thanks for stopping by Allison - can't wait to start reading The Traitor's Wife!

ALLISON PATAKI grew up in upstate New York, in the same neighborhood where Benedict and Peggy Arnold once lived. Allison attended Yale University, where she graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor's Degree in English. While at Yale, Allison received Distinction in the Major from the English department and served as a campus reporter and news anchor for the student-run campus television program, YTV News. The daughter of former New York State Governor George E. Pataki, Allison was inspired to write The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America based on the rich Revolutionary War history of her hometown in New York State’s Hudson Highlands. Allison spent several years writing for television and digital news outlets prior to transitioning to fiction. The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America is Allison’s first novel. Allison lives in Chicago with her husband.


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