Interview with William Elliott Hazelgrove, author of 'Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson'

William Elliott Hazelgrove is the best-selling author of thirteen novels, Ripples, Tobacco Sticks, Mica Highways, Rocket Man, The Pitcher, Real Santa, Jackpine and The Pitcher 2. His books have received starred reviews in Publisher Weekly and Booklist, Book of the Month Selections, Junior Library Guild Selections, ALA Editors Choice Awards and optioned for the movies. He was the Ernest Hemingway Writer in Residence where he wrote in the attic of Ernest Hemingway's birthplace. He has written articles and reviews for USA Today and other publications. He has been the subject of interviews in NPR's All Things Considered along with features in The New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Richmond Times Dispatch, USA Today, People, Channel 11, NBC, WBEZ, WGN. The Pitcher is a Junior Library Guild Selection and was chosen Book of the Year by Books and Authors. net. His next book Jackpine will be out Spring 2014 with Koehler Books. A follow up novel Real Santa will be out fall of 2014. Madam President The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson will be out Fall 2016. Storyline optioned the movie rights. Forging a President How the West Created Teddy Roosevelt will be out May 2017.
He runs a political cultural blog, The View From Hemingway's Attic.

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About the Book:

After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a paralyzing stroke in the fall of 1919, his wife, First Lady Edith Wilson, began to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of the Executive Office. Mrs. Wilson had had little formal education and had
only been married to President Wilson for four years; yet, in the tenuous peace following the end of World War I, Mrs. Wilson dedicated herself to managing the office of the President, reading all correspondence intended for her bedridden husband. Though her Oval Office authority was acknowledged in Washington, D.C. circles at the time--one senator called her "the Presidentress who had fulfilled the dream of suffragettes by changing her title from First Lady to Acting First Man"--her legacy as "First Woman President" is now largely forgotten.

William Hazelgrove's Madam President is a vivid, engaging portrait of the woman who became the acting President of the
United States in 1919, months before women officially won the right to vote. Movie Rights Optioned by Storyline Entertainment.

For More Information

  • Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

I was reading Scott Bergs biography Wilson, and was struck by the fact he made a point of saying that some people thought Woodrow Wilsons second wife Edith Wilson was the first woman president. So I started to research Wilsons stroke and I was amazed to find that he was quite nearly incapacitated and the Vice President never took over. So then I started to research Edith Wilsonand I found out they were a very unique couple and that Woodrow made her almost an unofficial co-President. When the blood clot in his brain occurred and the President was laid up, Edith Wilson took over and ran the country for two years.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I have written thirteen novels and so the writing is not hard. But when writing narrative non fiction one has to research heavily before the writing and that is very different from just beginning a work of fiction. I fell back on my Masters in History that allowed me to handle voluminous material and condense it down to the nub. The reader naturally searches out what is dramatic and that is what gives us character. In this way non fiction and fiction meet on the same road. The difference of course is that the events actually happened in non fiction. Using The Papers of Woodrow Wilson helped me immensely and gave a real insight as to how Edith Wilson governed the White House.  So the research took a while and then when I sat down to write I had to jump around from source to source which can impede flow. My advice to any writer who is attempting to write fiction or narrative non fiction is that remember you are writing for people and you are writing about people. It is the drama of a life that lends humanity to a story and that is what we are always looking for.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

My publisher is Regnery. My agent submitted my proposal for Madam President The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson and they bought it on three chapters. I then proposed another book on Teddy Roosevelt and they bought that as well.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Well my first book was brought out by a very small press in Chicago. The thing that surprised me most was that the world didn’t stop and my life didn’t change after that first book came out. I realized then it was going to be a long process and I immediately began my second book, Tobacco Sticks.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

Forging a President How the Wild West Changed Teddy Roosevelt will be out in spring 2017 and Gangster and Nymphs The Fight for Chicago and the 1933 Worlds Fair will be out in fall of 2017.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

I think the one thing that would surprise people is that when you read about Edith Wilson you realize she ran the United States for two years and no one knew it. No one really understood the severity of WoodrowWilsons stroke and certainly no one suspected a woman was sitting at the pinnacle of power in America. Also I think the fact that Wilson consulted his young wife of only four years on important matters of state and used her during the war to decipher top secret codes is nothing short of amazing.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I think the message here is  that Edith Wilson was a normal person who found herself in an extraordinary situation. She had only been married to Woodrow Wilson for four years when he had his stroke and suddenly she was running the government while trying to keep her husband alive. Edith was  basically a self taught person who had a very difficult life with the early death of her first husband and child and yet she preservered and married a president and then ran the most powerful country on earth. Normal people doing amazing things.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I think if there is a moment for a book then Madam President The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson is coming out just the right time. We are looking at the possibility of our first woman president and yet, a hundred years before, a woman ran the United States. We could learn a lot from the Presidency of Edith Wilson

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