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"The Orphanmaster," by Jean Zimmerman


Jeff Glor talks to Jean Zimmerman about "The Orphanmaster."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Jean Zimmerman: The original spark came from a real historical figure. I researched a she-merchant in New Amsterdam for an earlier nonfiction book- a gutsy, determined fur trader who wound up as the richest woman in New York by the time she died. Writing history can be constricting, especially when you tell the story of women, who seldom have left behind memoirs and letters. I thought fiction would give me a chance to write about a gutsy, determined she-merchant, but to give her the qualities and experiences that got my juices flowing. That was Blandine van Couvering. Everything in "The Orphanmaster" flowed from her character.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

JZ: Some of the seemingly outsized people and events in "The Orphanmaster" were surprising yet true. Antony the African giant, skipping death only because the ropes broke. Or the sport of pulling the goose, which sounds farfetched but had passionate adherents. Or even the notion of an Orphanmaster. All these were based on historical fact.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

JZ: Cultivating heritage roses. The history, names and fragrances of the old flowers fascinate me. Names like the Archduke Charles, the Cicle Blummer or the Katy Road Pink breathe romance, evoking whole worlds of the past.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

JZ: I am deep into Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up the Bodies," which manages to have the bite of real life even though it is so artfully crafted as fiction.

JG: What's next for you?

JZ: For myself, I have just finished writing a novel that begins in 1875 in Virginia City, Nevada at the height of the silver boom, where a girl is being displayed as a feral child. A wealthy couple from Gilded Age New York City attempt to raise her up as a debutante. Murder and mayhem follow.


Jean Zimmerman explains what an orphanmaster is, as well as her fascination with the historical period of seventeenth-century Manhattan.
Jean Zimmerman, author of "The Orphanmaster," talks about the challenges of writing about women, from an historical perspective.
For more on "The Orphanmaster" visit her website.
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