Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Conversation with Amy Stewart: "Lady Cop Makes Trouble"

A Conversation with Amy Stewart: "Lady Cop Makes Trouble"

The Kopp sisters are back for another installment. Were you always planning to write a series?
Yes, actually, from the very first day I discovered them. There’s something about their true-life story that lends itself to a series. Their lives were very episodic in a way that made it easy to envision each book. First came the buggy accident that let the Kopp sisters do a little amateur crime-fighting, and then Constance was hired on as deputy sheriff, and—well, it wouldn’t be giving too much away to say that World War I is coming, and that changed the course of everyone’s lives. I could see almost immediately how each installment would come together.

How much of LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE is based on a true story?
Almost all of it, really. I’m lucky to have a huge treasure trove of newspaper clippings covering 1914 and 1915. Constance was in the paper all the time. This book covers one particular incident that made headlines nationwide: the pursuit of a convicted criminal. I don’t want to give too much away, but Constance was just starting to work for Sheriff Heath as a deputy when this case came along. It was meticulously documented in the papers, so I was able to use so many real-life details, such as the address of a tenement apartment in New York where Constance hid out one night, and the names of witnesses and accomplices. I even dropped in real-life fictional details, meaning that if I wrote a fictional scene about her ducking into a restaurant cloakroom, I picked the actual restaurant and researched the cloakroom. So there are lots of small, seemingly insignificant details that are real, even if I’m using them fictitiously.

Was it unusual, at that time, for a woman officer to chase a fugitive?
Yes, absolutely. Women were just starting to work as deputy sheriffs and police officers. In fact, New Jersey had only just passed a law allowing women to serve a few months before Constance was hired. In most cases, women worked as “matrons,” looking after the women and children who came into jail or otherwise passed through the criminal justice system, whether as criminals, victims, or witnesses.
It wasn’t considered proper to have male guards handling women, and some sheriffs and police chiefs—but certainly not all—thought that women might do a better job of helping to resolve criminal issues involving women.

But most women officers did not carry a gun or have arrest authority. Constance did. This is what makes her so unusual in the history of women in law enforcement. She could—and did—chase male criminals down in the streets and throw the handcuffs on them. There were very few women doing that in 1915.

So women didn’t make arrests in those days?
I would say that it was rare, particularly when it came to male criminals. A woman officer would
have certainly had the power to detain a girl. In those days, women police officers and deputies did a sort of “morality policing” in that they’d monitor dance halls, saloons, amusement parks, and movie theaters to make sure girls weren’t being taken advantage of—or weren’t misbehaving. In this novel you’ll meet Belle Headison, who was in real life Paterson’s first policewoman, and she really did go around to the dance halls and make the girls wipe off their lipstick. But if a woman officer suspected a man of a crime, she’d be more likely to go back to the station and have a male officer investigate. It was an interesting time!

There’s a subplot involving a domestic violence case, and in GIRL WAITS WITH GUN there was a story about a single mother. Was Constance involved in these kinds of “women’s issues” very often?
Yes, absolutely. This is why she was hired, really. Socially-conscious women—usually wealthy, educated women with prominent connections—were pressuring police and sheriff departments to bring in women officers to deal with these very issues: domestic violence, unwed motherhood, runaway girls, alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution—all the social welfare issues that weren’t being handled by any other institution. I used to work in a battered women’s shelter, and there are women in my own family who narrowly escaped very dangerous, violent marriages. In my own lifetime, women haven’t always received the protection from the police they needed. Imagine what it was like in 1915! There was no place for women to go. So I took a real-life case about a woman who was actually in the Hackensack Jail when Constance worked there, and I added a fictional backstory involving domestic violence—but it was very much based on other, real cases at the time. You should see my file of newspaper clippings!

What about the sisters? What were Norma and Fleurette up to at this point?
I don’t know as much about how they were spending their time in the fall of 1915, when this book takes place. I do know that Fleurette was entering singing competitions in Paterson and performing at local concerts with her friend Helen Stewart, because I have newspaper clippings about that. So Fleurette’s interest in the theater, and the way she moves out into the world a little bit, is all based on what little I do know. I wish I could say the same for Norma! She did a very good job of staying out of the newspapers, which fits with her real-life personality as it’s been described to me by family members. Her interest in carrier pigeons continues to be fictional, but I’m having fun researching them. I have big plans for Norma in future books, so stay tuned.

What’s next for the Kopp sisters?
Actually, the third book is likely to be my favorite so far. You’ll see that in LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE, Constance is really struggling to prove herself—just as women today still have to prove
themselves when they take on a traditionally male role. But in 1916, when the third book starts—wow. Constance has really found her groove. It’s so much fun to see what she’s capable of once she has the chance. These books are really about these three women becoming themselves, and it’ll be interesting to watch!

About the Book
The best-selling author of Girl Waits with Gun returns with another adventure featuring the
fascinating, feisty, and unforgettable Kopp sisters.

After besting (and arresting) a ruthless silk factory owner and his gang of thugs in Girl Waits with Gun, Constance Kopp became one of the nation’s first deputy sheriffs. She's proven that she can’t be deterred, evaded, or outrun. But when the wiles of a German-speaking con man threaten her position and her hopes for this new life, and endanger the honorable Sheriff Heath, Constance may not be able to make things right.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble sets Constance loose on the streets of New York City and New Jersey - tracking down victims, trailing leads, and making friends with girl reporters and lawyers at a hotel for women. Cheering her on, and goading her, are her sisters Norma and Fleurette - that is, when they aren't training pigeons for the war effort or fanning dreams of a life on the stage.

Based on a true story, Girl Waits with Gun introduced Constance Kopp and her charming and steadfast sisters to an army of enthusiastic readers. Those readers will be thrilled by this second installment--also ripped from the headlines--in the romping, wildly readable life of a woman forging her own path, tackling crime and nefarious criminals along the way.

About the Author
Amy Stewart is the author of eight books, including the new Kopp Sisters series, which began with Girl Waits With Gun and continues with Lady Cop Makes Trouble. The series is based on the true story of three remarkable sisters who lived in New Jersey a hundred years ago.

She has also written six nonfiction books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers: The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She lives in Eureka, California, with her husband Scott Brown, who is a rare book dealer. They own a bookstore called Eureka Books. The store is housed in a classic nineteenth-century Victorian building that Amy very much hopes is haunted.

Stewart has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other newspapers and magazines, and has appeared frequently on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and--just once--on TLC's Cake Boss. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society's Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award.

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