How do writers write? A stop on the “My Writing Process Blog Tour”

Thanks to Darcey Steinke for asking me to take part in the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR, a path linking writers’ blogs in a discussion about approaches to fiction and nonfiction. Darcey has a new novel, Sister Golden Hair, coming out in the fall, and you can find Darcey’s answers to the four questions here:

At the bottom, find the link to the blogs of the wonderful Elliott Holt and Julia Fierro for their responses next week. Here are my responses to the questions:

1) What are you working on?

I am working on a novella-length nonfiction piece about a turn-of-the-century New York woman. She managed to fight crime, save the innocent from death row, find the hidden corpses of murder victims, write treatises, travel Europe, Syria and Russia alone on a mule, dodge assassination attempts, and combat entrenched government corruption all while relatively young. She makes us so-called liberated women look entrapped and lazy. I am also finishing up a proposal for the next book I would like to write.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I try to give my historical pieces a strong narrative line because ultimately I enjoy story. Conveying fact in this way, it seems to me, gives a more accurate sense of history, the tension of not knowing whether the crime would be solved or the mammoth statue would be built, or girls would keep disappearing by the hundreds from New York streets.

Hopefully, if people read my new book Liberty’s Torch, they will have the same sense that the creators did of uncertainty: that the statue might never make it out of the French workshop for lack of


I was lucky enough to visit Colmar, the town where Bartholdi was born, twice during the time I researched Liberty’s Torch. His childhood home has been transformed into an impressive museum. On one floor, the historian, Régis Hueber, presided over Bartholdi’s archive of letters and diaries.

The town shows plenty of signs of both French and German influence, having been absorbed into one or the other nation over its history. The top two photos show the view from the small apartment I rented while researching. The warehouse structure on the canal is the covered food market, which served as an ad hoc ammunition storage facility during the Franco-Prussian war; at that time Bartholdi was called upon to organize the ragtag fighting force of townspeople as commander of the National Guard.

Meet Your Maker: Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

The Statue of Liberty is America’s most famous symbol, yet few people could name the man who imagined, created, championed, groveled for, lost sleep over, and unveiled the colossus. The accepted history goes that France gave Liberty to America as an act of friendship, but this was not a gift from government to government. Instead, one artist envisioned a colossus. He designed her to stand in the harbor of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through. He needed to sell his work somewhere, so he headed to America:

“Each site presents some difficulty,” he wrote to his mother on his journey in 1871. “But the greatest difficulty, I believe, will be the American character which is hardly open to things of the imagination. . . . I believe that the realization of my project will be a matter of luck.”

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Author Bio

Elizabeth Mitchell is a journalist and the author of three nonfiction books: Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing, W.: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, and Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

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