Martha Hall Kelly Exclusive Author Interview is here and I am so excited. Sunflower Sisters is officially out in the reading world and I get to chat with Martha all about it!
We are back with another amazing historical fiction read! Tell readers who love your works what they can expect from Sunflower Sisters.
Sunflower Sisters is the third and last novel about Caroline Ferriday’s family, this time set in the Civil War, featuring Caroline’s great-grandmother and her seven daughters. They were incredible women, way ahead of their time.
We follow the character of Georgey Woolsey, Anne-May, and Jemma, throughout this novel. Are they based on a real-life woman during that time?
My other two novels about Caroline’s family are Lilac Girls, set in WWII. Lost Roses is about her mother, Eliza, set in WWI, and like those books, Sunflower Sisters has three main points of view characters. Georgy is based on Caroline’s great-aunt Georgeanna Woolsey, but Jemma, an enslaved young woman on a tobacco plantation, and Anne-May Watson, the owner of that plantation, are completely fictional.
The novel itself is based on true accounts. Did you have to do a lot of research before crafting Sunflower Sisters?
I did! I was lucky to be living in Atlanta when I was researching it. On weekends I’d venture out of the city to former plantations, now museums, in rural Georgia and South Carolina. Sunflower Sisters is set on a plantation in Maryland, but that research still helped a lot. I also lived within walking distance to the Atlanta History Museum, which has an extensive Civil War collection of artifacts, and they were incredibly helpful there.
Do you have a favorite character in Sunflower Sisters?
I’d have to say it’s Jemma, the young woman who suffers so horribly at my fictional Peeler Plantation. She feels lucky to have her family still with her, not sold away, and loves them more than anything, but things take a turn for the worse for Jemma before they get better. Lots of tears writing this one.
What is it about historical fiction you gravitate towards?
The story for Lilac Girls kind of found me while I was taking a tour of a house museum in Connecticut in 2000, and I became obsessed with the story and writing it. I’d always loved reading historical fiction, but I’d never given even one fleeting thought to writing a book before then.
Your historical books have all gotten phenomenal reviews. How does it feel being a bestselling author?
I’m still a bit in shock. I never thought anyone would want to read Lilac Girls when I was writing it, so it came as such a surprise when it was so well received. It has changed my life so much, though. I’m so grateful my husband suggested I go up and visit the Bellamy-Ferriday House on that gray Mothers Day. Otherwise, none of this would have happened.
Was writing always something you wanted to do?
When I was eleven years old, I went to writing sleepaway camp and really loved it. But I never even considered becoming a professional writer. I thought that was for the lucky few talented authors that somehow made it big and could support themselves writing. I had no concept of the whole world of aspiring writers. So I got my master’s at Northwestern in Journalism and did what I could to earn a living, which was in the advertising field, writing TV commercials and print ads. I should have known I was in the wrong writing field though since I kept pitching continuing characters for the ad campaigns I worked on, which never flew back then.
Will we always see your name attached to a historical fiction book?
Good question! My next two books are a Cold War novel that is more in the suspense genre and then a contemporary suspense novel. It’s been so much fun writing both, but I wouldn’t rule out diving back into historical fiction at all. I just like telling a good story no matter the genre.
Before I let you go, tell us some fun facts readers don’t know about you.
Hmmmm. I have a mini golden doodle named Oliver. Three kids that are wonderful manuscript readers—complete truth tellers, which is so helpful. My husband Michael is always my first reader, though, and always has such helpful editorial suggestions. He loves the Civil War era, so he couldn’t wait for those first Sunflower Sisters pages. We travel a lot together for fun and research, went to Russia and Paris for Lost Roses research, which was such a phenomenal trip. I can’t wait to travel again and get out into the world. Headed to France again the first chance I get. Or London. Or Italy. Probably all of the above.
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