Q&A with Elise Hooper, Author of Fast Girls

by Heather Caliendo
Elise Hooper interview - Book Club Chat
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Elise Hooper is the author of Fast Girls, which will publish on July 7.

A New Englander by birth, Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle, where she teaches history and literature. She’s drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told. Her novels include The Other Alcott (2017), Learning to See (2019), and the Fast Girls (July 2020).

Here’s the synopsis for Fast Girls:

In the 1928 Olympics, Chicago’s Betty Robinson competes as a member of the first-ever women’s delegation in track and field. Destined for further glory, she returns home feted as America’s Golden Girl until a nearly-fatal airplane crash threatens to end everything.

Outside of Boston, Louise Stokes, one of the few black girls in her town, sees competing as an opportunity to overcome the limitations placed on her. Eager to prove that she has what it takes to be a champion, she risks everything to join the Olympic team.

From Missouri, Helen Stephens, awkward, tomboyish, and poor, is considered an outcast by her schoolmates, but she dreams of escaping the hardships of her farm life through athletic success. Her aspirations appear impossible until a chance encounter changes her life.

These three athletes will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, Betty, Louise, and Helen must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

Let’s get to know Elise as she talks favorite books, writing historical fiction and much more!

What are some of your favorite books?

I have so many, I don’t even know where to start. I have some comfort reads that are essentially books I return to over and over and these include Little Women, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, and Lonesome Dove. And honestly, if I don’t have time to read them, I sometimes cheat by watching the movie versions to connect with the characters who feel like old friends.

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I have a very clear childhood memory of standing upstairs in Louisa May Alcott’s bedroom at Orchard House, staring at the tiny desk where she wrote Little Women, and realizing that people write books—they don’t just magically appear on bookshelves, people write them! It sounds so obvious, but for my nine-year-old self that was a major realization and I knew I wanted to become one of those people.

What do you like best about writing historical fiction?

First of all, I love to learn new things so I’m always pushing myself into new areas to discover. Fortunately for me, history’s always doling up new surprises. And these days, I like to escape into the past to give me a sense of perspective. People have survived all kinds of difficult experiences and I like to remind myself of that.

How do you balance fact and fiction when working on books in this genre?

I try to stay focused on the heartbeat of a good story. Sometimes it’s tempting to let the real events and people overshadow everything, but that heartbeat is important to keep at the center of it all.

What inspired you to write Fast Girls?

When my younger daughter was in fourth grade, she chose to study Gertrude Ederle for a biography project. Ederle was the first woman to swim the English Channel, and she was a major celebrity in the 1920s, yet I’d never heard of her. She made me wonder about other pioneering women athletes so I started digging around. When I found the stories of Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, and Louise Stokes, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of these women.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I have quite a mixture of reading happening right now. Beach Read by Emily Henry is on my bedside table, along with Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. Not sure those two get paired up together very often, but I’m enjoying both!

Click here to order Fast Girls on Bookshop to support indie bookstores. 

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