Monday, August 1, 2022

Zoe Sivak Interview - Mademoiselle Revolution


Photo Content from Zoe Sivak

As a young woman of color, Zoe Sivak advocates for diverse stories and characters in historical fiction. In her writing, she strives to explore famous male figures through the lens of the women beside them–women who could have existed, even if history left them behind.

When not engrossed in historical research, Zoe is pursuing both her Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
        
  

Greatest thing you learned at school.
In a summer history course at undergrad, I learned that people have always been people, with the same pain, trauma, love, cruelty, and compassion. The minute you forget the humanity in history, you’ve lost the larger picture.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I didn’t really, it was more that I am very impressionable! My best friend is an author, and watching her process—and the purpose it provided—was incredible. I wanted to feel that drive and direction too!

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My all-time favorite is definitely Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. His works are a master craft in historical epics and characterization.

Circe by Madeline Miller is my favorite non-historical fiction novel. I was intoxicated by her depiction of feminine rage, which I have also unconsciously inserted into my own work. I actually have a copy with a kind note from her.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling creates collective memory, which is why I believe diverse historical fiction is so fundamental: if we don’t ensure our collective past is properly represented, then our social memory is flawed and our future progress derailed.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
Essentially, I learned a more complete history of Blackness, and I felt compelled to share it—especially the Haitian Revolution and its enormous significance! The most surprising things I learned were more in the reality of revolution, and terror has and continues to shape our relationships amongst ourselves, each other, and our institutions.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from MADEMOISELLE REVOLUTION
It’s too lengthy for an excerpt, but my favorite has to be when Sylvie, my main character, finds her mother’s grave. She sees that other enslaved people had left beads and cowries, and her connection to her ancestry and identity is solidified—as well as her rage and grief. The notorious hurricane that ushers in the beginning of the Haitian Revolution looms, and so too does Sylvie’s own revolution.

Meet the Characters
SYLVIE
egregiously beautiful, biracial, fairly elitist and classist, but with significant issues regarding self-identity. She struggles with depression and PTSD, and she can be inconsiderate of the feelings of those closest to her. She incredibly loyal to her brother, Gaspard.

GASPARD quite blond, described as a “cherub.” He is Sylvie’s counterpart, being equally attractive and enamored with his own appearance. But he is inherently more sensitive and prone to melancholy. He carries a silver flask filled with gunfire (a blend of tea and rum), from which he overdrinks. He’s charming and romantic.

CORNELIE she is described as Sylvie’s opposite. She is fair-skinned, willowy, and tall. As an art student, she has a passion for painting—with Sylvie as her muse. She is arguably the more emotionally stable and grounded of these characters and was comfortable declaring her love for Sylvie. She is bound by a powerful sense of honor and loyalty, to those she loves and to her country.

Your Journey to Publication
My publishing journey began with my first manuscript in 2016, another piece of historical fiction. It taught me about my capabilities and weaknesses, as well as igniting the passion for getting my books on shelves. I did well on querying and I got wonderful feedback, which helped me immensely when I queried Mademoiselle Revolution next in 2019, which earned me offers of representation. After signing with my glorious agent Amy Bishop, we fixed up MR and went on sub. Fairly quickly, MR found a home with Berkley and Jen Monroe. MR is actually dedicated to my best friend and pseudo-mentor, Amanda, since she guided me through the entire process! And of course, my family was ecstatic!

Writing Behind the Scenes
I actually do almost all of my work in my school’s law library, so once I graduate this summer I’m going to have to get used to using my home desk for more than makeup! I also do my best work at night—I cannot imagine trying to write in the morning, it feels blasphemous.

Also, I take pains to be as accurate as possible, which can be self-limiting in many ways. Google maps can be your best friend, especially when all of your locations are real!

What is the first job you have had?
I worked at the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge when I was fifteen for the summer. Rough work and ticks galore, but I really value that time.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Leaving my phone a Seoul taxi on the way to Jeju Island. Also trying to get money out of a Korean atm for chicken-on-a-stick.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Oh dear, yes, on a regularly basis. I’ve gotten very comfortable with intervening where I see abuse or potential abuse. A very memorable instance was in a bar in Nottingham, England—a young woman was extremely drunk, and a man was about to take her home. I loudly had him removed.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
“I wish I had eyebrows.”

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would put 18-year-old me on antidepressants so that she can be her best self.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Getting off of escalators. Getting on is easy, stepping off? Chance of death in my book.


A powerful, engrossing story of a biracial heiress who escapes to Paris when the Haitian Revolution burns across her island home. But as she works her way into the inner circle of Robespierre and his mistress, she learns that not even oceans can stop the flames of revolution.

Sylvie de Rosiers, as the daughter of a rich planter and an enslaved woman, enjoys the comforts of a lady in 1791 Saint-Domingue society. But while she was born to privilege, she was never fully accepted by island elites. After a violent rebellion begins the Haitian Revolution, Sylvie and her brother leave their family and old lives behind to flee unwittingly into another uprising—in austere and radical Paris. Sylvie quickly becomes enamored with the aims of the Revolution, as well as with the revolutionaries themselves—most notably Maximilien Robespierre and his mistress, Cornélie Duplay.

As a rising leader and abolitionist, Robespierre sees an opportunity to exploit Sylvie’s race and abandonment of her aristocratic roots as an example of his ideals, while the strong-willed Cornélie offers Sylvie safe harbor and guidance in free thought. Sylvie battles with her past complicity in a slave society and her future within this new world order as she finds herself increasingly torn between Robespierre’s ideology and Cornélie’s love.

When the Reign of Terror descends, Sylvie must decide whether to become an accomplice while a new empire rises on the bones of innocents…or risk losing her head.

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