Blog tour time!! I was lucky enough to interview the author of She Wears the Mask, Shelly Stratton. This book sounds so unbelievably good! There are not enough historical fiction books about Chicago. I love how this story weaves together stories of two women, explores interracial relationships (especially in the 50s), and how those two women’s help each other.
As you scroll through, take a look at the synopsis, my interview with Sherry Stratton, A GIVEAWAY, and some of the other amazing bloggers on this tour. Alright, let’s do this!
SHE WEARS THE MASK BY SHELLY STRATTON
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Paperback & eBook; 262 pages
Genre: Historical/Women’s Fiction
No one can ever really know what lies behind the mask . . .
Gripping and moving, She Wears the Mask is a novel about two women from two very different worlds, both burdened with secrets from their pasts, who form an unexpected bond…
1950s Chicago: Angelique Bixby could be one of many fresh-faced sales girls working along the Magnificent Mile, but she’s unique. She’s a white woman married to a black man in 1950s Chicago, making her stand out among the tenements on the South Side where she lives. Despite the challenges the couple faces, they find comfort and strength in their love for one another. Angelique is content, as long as she has her Daniel by her side and their baby in her arms, until she loses them both—one to death and the other to dire circumstances.
1990s Washington, D.C.: Angelique Crofton is a woman of privilege. A rich, aging beauty and mother of a rising political star, she has learned to forget her tragic past. But now that she is facing her own mortality, she is finally ready to find the daughter she left behind, remember the young woman she once was, and unearth the bittersweet memories she had long ago buried.
Jasmine Stanley is an ambitious lawyer—the only black woman at her firm. She is too busy climbing the corporate ladder to deal with her troublesome family or their unresolved issues. Tasked with Angelique’s case, Jasmine doesn’t know what to make of her new client—an old debutante with seemingly too much time and money on her hands. Jasmine eagerly accepts the challenge though, hoping if she finds Angelique’s long-lost daughter, it will impress the firm’s partners. But she doesn’t count on the search challenging her mentally and emotionally. Nor does she expect to form a friendship with Angelique, who is much more like her than she realizes—because Jasmine is harboring secrets, too.
BR: What drew you to the historical fiction genre?
SS: In college I was a journalism major with a minor in history, so writing and history are two topics that have always been close to my heart, even if for most of my writing career, my books have had contemporary settings.
I’m also an author who loves world building, but I know that creating entirely fictional worlds like in science fiction, wouldn’t be my strong point. I have to ground the details in some type of realistic setting. Historical fiction allows me to do that. l love doing research into different time periods and places and weaving those details into story lines. If you do it well while keeping the characters believable, you can seamlessly transport readers into the past.
BR: What was the first idea/thought/inspiration that started you on the path to writing this book?
SS: My editor at Kensington Publishing suggested an African American historical fiction novel to me a few years ago. While the plot didn’t really appeal to me, the themes that were hinted at in the story she suggested, I found fascinating. I decided to re-tweak the plot and take it a step further by making it a dual timeline historical fiction work. And that’s how I developed the bones for She Wears the Mask.
BR: How much research did you have to do?
SS: My novel takes place in 1950s Chicago, Cleveland, and New Orleans as well as 1990s Washington, D.C. and Virginia and it covers topics like the Great Migration. I knew I would have to research about those cities and the neighborhoods during that time period, but I hadn’t anticipated researching old train routes and train designs, segregation laws, streetcars, women’s wear, and department stores–all in an effort to make the setting seem real. My material came mostly from online archives, text and videos, and a few trips to museums. Luckily, I live near Washington, DC, which has the Smithsonian Museums. They have some of the most extensive historical collections not only in the country, but also globally.
BR: What is your writing process like?
SS: I’m a mix between a planner and a “pantser.” With most of my novels, I write a few chapters (maybe three to five) free form. I want to get to know the characters, the setting, and tone of the novel. Is it fast-paced or more thoughtful? What are the characters’ motivations and personalities? Once I feel reasonably secure that I “get” what the story is about, I do a two-page synopsis to map out the plot and this is often subject to change. I write some more chapters–maybe half of the book–and by then, I know the overall themes and plot. This is the point where I want to make sure all loose ends are tied up and the story falls in line thematically, so I may do a detailed chapter outline before I finish the remaining chapters.
It sounds like it would be time consuming, but some books I have completed in less than four months using this method.
BR: Which authors/writers inspire you?
SS: I read a wide spectrum of fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, authors like JP Delaney, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison I find entertaining and inspiring for very different reasons. When it comes to non-fiction, I was truly inspired by The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Talk about extensive historical research! And her writing was so lyrical and beautiful. I pre-ordered her next work, Caste. I’m excited to read it.
BR: What do you do when doubt starts to creep in while you write?
SS: When I have too much self-doubt, it’s better to take a break and step away for a bit. And sometimes, that self-doubt is there because something feels off in the story or with the character, and I can’t put my finger on why. When I step away from my laptop and do something else for a while, that’s usually when I have that “A-ha!” moment and my confidence comes back. I’ve learned that instead of berating myself, to just be patient with myself and the writing process. The book will get done. It always does.
BR: What do you hope readers take away from this story?
SS: Both main characters—Jasmine and Angelique—have made some hard choices, some of which don’t look good on page, and a tremendous amount of sacrifices. They’ve also experienced prejudice and injustice. Their stories reflect not only the human experience, but also the sacrifices people have made in pursuit of the “American dream.” They’re survivors and they see that in each other.
BR: Do you have anything in the works we can look forward to?
SS: Not for Shelly Stratton in the near future, but I have a domestic thriller coming out in March 2021 under my other pen name Shelly Ellis with Kensington. It’s called The Three Mrs. Greys.
About the Author
As long as she could remember, Shelly Stratton (who also writes under the penname Shelly Ellis) has wanted to be an author. In college, she studied journalism and started out as a crime reporter for a small local newspaper. Now she is an editor at a trade journal.
She became an author when she was selected as one of four finalists in the BET Books First-Time Writers Contest when she was 19 years old. The prize was having her first short-story romance published in an anthology.
Since then, she has authored ten books and has been nominated for various awards, including a NAACP Image Award® in the Literary Fiction Category, an African American Literary Award in the romance category, and a RT Reviewers’ Choice Award.
Shelly lives in Maryland with her husband and their daughter. She loves to paint, read, and watch movies.
During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a $50 Amazon Gift Card!
The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on August 31st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, August 17
Review at Books, Writings, and More
Tuesday, August 18
Feature at I’m All About Books
Wednesday, August 19
Interview at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals
Thursday, August 20
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Friday, August 21
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Monday, August 24
Review & Excerpt at Robin Loves Reading
Wednesday, August 26
Feature at Reading is My Remedy
Thursday, August 27
Review at Passages to the Past
Friday, August 28
Guest Post at History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, August 31
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story