The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb – author interview – Melanie Benjamin

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Mrs. Tom Thumb Book Tour

Join Melanie Benjamin, author of the historical novel, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Delacorte Press, July 26, 2011), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in August on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book.

About Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was Alice I Have Been. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second release. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.

You can visit her online at

Visit her tour page at Pump Up Your Book!

About The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

In her national bestseller Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”

She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.

Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.




Q:  Give us an example of a typical writing day.  

 Now that I have so many different books in the hopper – ALICE I HAVE BEEN has been out for over a year; THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB is just out, and I recently completed my next book, which will be out in the summer of 2012 – I definitely find that my “typical” day has changed!  I used to have the luxury of time dedicated only to writing; now I have to schedule it in around everything else I have to do.  If I’m on tour, of course any writing has to be on hold for that time.  I have a lot of correspondence to answer, requests for bookplates, charities; I SKYPE and call with numerous book clubs, which I also have to schedule.  I try to do all this “busy work” in the mornings; most SKYPE sessions are in the evenings.  Which leaves my afternoons for writing.  I’m grateful for all the other tasks I have to complete now, as a multi-published author, but there are times I miss the old days when I had nothing to do but think about the novel I was writing!


Q:  Do you work from an outline?

 With historical fiction, you do have something of a template, or outline, with which to work.  I’ve learned that every life is composed of a thousand stories, and it’s my job to pick the handful of stories out of a life that will form a compelling novel.  So once I settle on those stories, those certain events or choices in a life that will move a novel forward, I do have kind of an outline.  When you’re writing about real people, of course you have birth dates, marriage dates, death dates – you can’t often go beyond that, of course!  Still, I’m constantly surprised.  I assumed that I would end THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB near the end of Vinnie’s life, as I had done with Alice Liddell in ALICE I HAVE BEEN.  Instead, I realized that the story that had muscled its way into the forefront of the novel was the story about the relationship between Vinnie and Barnum; it made sense, then, to end the novel with their reconciliation, which took place a full forty years before Vinnie’s death.  It was a surprise to me, but it felt right.

Q:  What’s next for you?

I recently handed in my next novel; it’s slated for publication in the summer of 2012.  While I’m sworn to secrecy for now, in order to give MRS. TOM THUMB her time in the spotlight, I can say that I hope to lift the curtain on another famous person’s private life.  It’s set more recently than my previous books; in the first half of the twentieth century.


Q:  Do you have a writer’s studio? Describe it for us and what is the view you see from the window?

 I finally have my own writing space!  After years of schlepping my laptop around to any available quiet room, I was rewarded with my own office after my youngest went to college last year.  I took over my sons’ old playroom, and made it into my sanctuary.  I have all my books surrounding me, stacked horizontally and vertically; a small TV (which I never use), an old-fashioned radio.  I write on a futon, because I like to curl up with my laptop.  Outside my windows – which are at ground level, as I’m in a half-basement – I can see my garden, and chipmunks constantly come up to glare at me!  I don’t know why they’re always so angry to see me in my own room!


Q:  Have you ever abandoned any books/novels in progress?

 Oh, definitely!  I’m not a believer in writer’s block; instead, I believe that if you’re truly stuck in a book, it means this is not a book you were meant to write.  And THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB came about because I abandoned a contracted novel, half-way through.  I was 50,000 words in, and every day was becoming more and more agonizing until finally, I realized I was simply bored with my protagonist.  She had turned out to be a bit of a sap, to be honest!  And if I thought that, well – of course, the reader would!  So I put it away without a qualm; I don’t look at those words as wasted time, because I learn something new, every day I write.  I learned a lot of lessons while writing that book, particularly about how careful I need to be about picking a protagonist.  When I put that book away, I knew I’d have to come up with another idea, fast, for my editor – and that frantic search led me to Vinnie and her amazing story.


Q:  Advice for the audience, first time authors, those choosing the writing life.

Read, read, READ!  You have to be reading everything that’s published today, particularly in your genre.  I’m constantly flummoxed by aspiring authors who ask me for advice.  I always then ask them to tell me about the last book that they read – and more often than not, the answer is, “Um, I haven’t really read anything in a long time.”  Or they’ll answer with something they were assigned in high school or college; an old classic, not something that might be published today.  For starters, you need to support this industry with your time, attention and yes, your money, if you want it someday to support you; but most importantly, the only way you learn to write is through reading – this is something I fervently believe.  Also, I first encountered Mrs. Tom Thumb in the pages of E. L. Doctorow’s RAGTIME.  Writers can and should be inspired by other writers.


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