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Sarah is the author of ten novels. Her latest, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, is a tribute to Cathy/Cathay Williams, the only woman to serve with the fabled Buffalo Soldiers. Her previous novel, Above the East China Sea, was long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award; was an ALEX Award nominee; winner of the Texas Philosophical Society Literary Award; a Chicago Tribune Editor’s Choice; a Seattle Times Best Book of the Year; a Tucson Book Festival Great Books for Book Club selection; and a Marie Claire Best Summer Reads.
Sarah has been awarded the Texas Writer of the Year and received the Texas Institute of Letters Lifetime Achievement Award. She has written for Oprah’s Magazine, NY Times Sunday Magazine and Op-Ed columns, Chicago Tribune, Real Simple, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Salon, Daily Beast, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, MS, Texas Observer; and is a columnist for Texas Monthly. Growing up, Sarah moved all over the world with her air force family but is now settled in Austin, Texas with her husband, son and very cute corgi.
If your book was turned into a movie what actors would you choose to play your main characters?
What was the inspiration for this book?
The true story of Cathy Williams, a former slave who, after the Civil War, rejected all the awful choices available to any uneducated woman, disguised herself as a man, and served for two years with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
What’s the most difficult thing writing about historical figures?
Helping readers understand how fundamentally different life was for women in earlier times.
What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?
I was a very early adopter. Since I was friends with one of the pioneers of Dell Computers, I had one in my home in 1979! It used ten-inch floppy disks and 64 whomping K of RAM. The machine in its handsome wooden case was so large I had to haul it into my house with a wheelbarrow!
What is the most important message you hope readers carry away from this book?
My mission is to spread the word about Cathy Williams and for her to take her place in the history book as the first woman, of any race, to enlist in the peacetime U.S. military.
I also hope they will be as inspired as I was by a woman who refused all the horrible choices being offered to her, imagined herself into a better life, and made a way where there was no way.
Are you a night owl or an early bird? When do you do your best writing? Early in the morning or in the wee hours of the night?
Hmmm. Maybe I’m a high noon vulture. Takes me a long time to wake up and I burn out early. I’m not really sure how I managed to write ten novels, two non-fiction books, and umpteen essays, articles, and screenplays. Fairies? Did the fairies do them for me?
What question do you wish someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? And what would be your answer?
Why hasn’t anyone written about this amazing woman before now?
The role of African Americans in winning the West, as cowboys, pioneers, homesteaders, and soldiers, has been all but hidden until quite recently. The written accounts of those who, literally, make history are tragically scarce for former slaves who were forbidden by law from learning to read. Consequently, there is far too little documentation about the Buffalo Soldiers, in general, and Cathy Williams, in particular. Taking that into account, I chose to write a novel inspired by the heroic choice that, as far as we know, only Cathy Williams made.
PS Thank you for these really fun questions about a book that means so much to me, Sarah
You are very welcome Sarah and the book is amazing.
The compelling, hidden story of Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
“Here’s the first thing you need to know about Miss Cathy Williams: I am the daughter of a daughter of a queen and my mama never let me forget it.”
Though born into bondage on a “miserable tobacco farm” in Little Dixie, Missouri, Cathy Williams was never allowed to consider herself a slave. According to her mother, she was a captive, destined by her noble warrior blood to escape the enemy. Her means of deliverance is Union general Phillip Henry “Smash ‘em Up” Sheridan, the outcast of West Point who takes the rawboned, prideful young woman into service. At war’s end, having tasted freedom, Cathy refuses to return to servitude and makes the monumental decision to disguise herself as a man and join the Army’s legendary Buffalo Soldiers.
Alone now in the ultimate man’s world, Cathy must fight not only for her survival and freedom, but she also vows to never give up on finding her mother, her little sister, and the love of the only man strong enough to win her heart. Inspired by the stunning, true story of Private Williams, this American heroine comes to vivid life in a sweeping and magnificent tale about one woman’s fight for freedom, respect, and independence.
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