Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Maya Rodale Interview - The Mad Girls of New York

Photo Content from Paul Brissman

Maya Rodale is the best-selling and award-winning author of funny, feminist fiction including historical romance, YA and historical fiction. A champion of the romance genre and its readers, she is also the author of Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. Maya has reviewed romance for NPR Books and has appeared in Bustle, Glamour, Shondaland, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and PBS. She began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and has never been allowed to forget it.


The Mad Girls of New York is inspired by the true story of Gilded Age stunt girl reporter Nellie Bly on her first big assignment: feign insanity and get committed to Insane Asylum at Blackwell’s Island. I drew on Nellie’s own writing, Ten Days In a Mad-house, but I also imagined a rich personal life for her, with professional rivalries, a squad of fellow female reporters and romantic intrigues.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
My writing is influenced and inspired by real women in history because they often led such fascinating lives that have me thinking “you can’t make this up!” There were so many barriers for women in history, yet there were also so many strong-willed, confident women who fought against them–and that’s the perfect combination for a great story.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is how we build connections with each other. By empathizing with character’s emotions or their experiences, we’re able to move through real life with more empathy and experience for others. Also, it’s fun! And entertaining! And fun and entertainment is very important.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book?
I have a few on my keeper shelf: Anne of Green Gables and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton are two I’ve reread countless times.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I have a fun bonus story featuring Nellie Bly and one of her love interests available for my newsletter subscribers (sign up here: www.mayarodale.com/newsletter) and I’m working on more historical fiction based on real life 19th century women.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
Did she really do that?! Nellie is such an ambitious, unapologetic and daring woman—both in real life and on the page in The Mad Girls of New York. I hope readers are surprised, thrilled and impressed with the lengths Nellie goes to for a story.

What part of Nellie did you enjoy writing the most?
I loved writing Nellie’s banter with the other women in the story, whether it is her friends in the asylum like Prayer Girl, who always has a darkly humorous prayer for death (it’s her coping strategy) or her fellow female journalists as they snark about the ridiculous ideas male editors have about female reporters.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I actually have a lot of book hopping characters! My romance novel series are all centered around groups of female friends, so they are all in each other’s stories. But I would love to introduce Nellie Bly to the heroines of my Writing Girls series, starting with A Groom of One’s Own, about women who work for a newspaper in Regency London. I bet they’d have a lot to chat about.

Where can readers find you?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram constantly, so you can find me there: @mayarodale. The best place to find more about my work is my website.

  • 1. Nellie Bly is real person—but Nellie Bly wasn’t her real name. She was born Elizabeth Cochran (she later added an “e” at the end to be fancy) but her mother called her Pink, after all the frilly pink clothes she dressed her in. She adopted the pseudonym Nellie Bly when she started publishing.
  • 2. The Mad Girls of New York is based on a true story. It seems like it’s made up: ambitious young woman leaves her hometown to make it as a journalist in a big city and the only assignment she can get is to feign insanity and get herself committed to the notorious Blackwell’s Island insane asylum for women. “I said I could and I would. And I did,” Nellie writes. Her two-part story was a revelation, sparked outrage and led to reform. It’s all true!
  • 3. Nellie was the first “Stunt Girl” Journalist (but she wasn’t the only one). With her madhouse exposé, Nellie pioneered the practice of going undercover to report a story and it immediately caused a sensation. Other newspapers got their own stunt girls.
  • 4. Her editor was afraid her smile would give her away. “But I am afraid of that chronic smile of yours,” he said. Nellie replies “I will smile no more.”
  • 5. In The Mad Girls of New York, Nellie flirts with the hot bachelor mayor named Hugh Grant. There was in fact a hot bachelor mayor named Hugh Grant. In real life, they met when Nellie interviewed him for a story on whether women should propose or not.
  • 6. The character of Prayer Girl is based on one line in Nellie’s original story. “Nearly all night long I listened to a woman cry about the cold and beg for God to let her die.” I decided to take that and run with it, imagining a young, snarky girl who used dark humor as a coping mechanism.
  • 7. You can go visit the Blackwell’s Island Insane asylum today! It’s now a luxury apartment building on Roosevelt Island (the island has been renamed). Check out my Instagram to see my pictures from the infamous Octagon Tower.
  • 8. Nellie Bly famously went around the world—solo! In 1889 she embarked on her most epic stunt yet: journeying around the world in a race to beat the fictional record set in the novel Around the World in 80 Days. Nellie did it in 72 days.
  • 9. She also returned with a pet monkey. As one does.
  • 10. Nellie Bly was the most famous journalist in America. Nellie didn’t just do stunts, she was also a gifted interviewer who did stories with the most famous women the day (Susan B. Anthony, Emma Goldman, all the first ladies). Later, she reported from the front lines of World War One and wrote a weekly column that matched orphans with forever homes. Through it all, her name appeared in the headline when most stories didn’t even include bylines. A story by Nellie Bly promised to be sensational!
Journey to writing THE MAD GIRLS OF NEW YORK
I had always vaguely known about Nellie Bly from various young reader books...but I didn’t get hooked by her story until I picked up a book called Charmers and Cranks: Twelve Famous American Women Who Defied the Conventions by Ishbel Ross. The book had been gathering dust on my TBR pile for years and in the spring of 2020, it seemed like the time to finally get around to reading it.

I was charmed by Nellie’s childhood nickname—Pink! I loved how she got her start—teenage girl writes outraged letter to local newspaper and gets published! I was wowed and impressed by her sensational career—her Madhouse story was just the beginning, years of pioneering journalism followed. I was especially intrigued by her years as a working reporter in NYC while just in her twenties (It felt like Sex and the City with social justice). When I got to the part where she races around the world and returns with a pet monkey, I knew I had to write her story.

That summer—of shut downs and social distances—I went for long walks where I brainstormed my version of Nellie’s story. There was so much from her real life and writing to use. There was less information about her personal life and romances and as a historical romance novelist, I delighted in making it up. I walked and plotted, plotted and walked. I dreamed up love interests for her—a rival reporter who falls for her as he competes with her, and the hot bachelor mayor named Hugh Grant (based on the real bachelor mayor named Hugh Grant). I gave Nellie friends—Harriet, a fairy godmother like character as well as Marian and Dorothy, two other female reporters with whom she can commiserate about how hard it is for a woman to make it on Newspaper Row. And then, of course, there were the women nellie meets in the asylum. Some real, some imagined. All with heartbreaking stories. All of them connected by Nellie.

And then, I sat down to write.

Fearless reporter Nellie Bly will stop at nothing to chase down stories that expose injustices against women—even if it comes at the risk of her own life and freedom—in this exciting novel inspired by the true story of one remarkable woman.

In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she'd be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum for Women.

For months, rumors have been swirling about deplorable conditions at Blackwell’s, but no reporter can get in—that is, until Nellie feigns insanity, gets committed and attempts to survive ten days in the madhouse. Inside, she discovers horrors beyond comprehension. It's an investigation that could make her career—if she can get out to tell it before two rival reporters scoop her story.

From USA Today bestselling author Maya Rodale comes a rollicking historical adventure series about the outrageous intrigues and bold flirtations of the most famous female reporter—and a groundbreaking rebel—of New York City’s Gilded Age.
You can purchase The Mad Girls of New York at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. I would love to go on a road trip through the Southwest states.

  2. To visit the world's national parks

  3. Visiting Antarctica would be an amazing journy.

  4. "What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?" I would like to go on a European antiquing adventure, buying up all of Europe's old tapestries, furniture, Old Master drawings, suits of armor, etc.! That would be so exciting and amazing!

  5. A cross country trip from Florida to Washington state!