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Kate Quinn is one of the best historical fiction authors of the genre—I love her books. Her latest novel, The Diamond Eye, releases on March 29.
What an honor is to have Kate participate in a Q&A on Book Club Chat! From The Alice Network (a Reese Book Club Pick) to The Rose Code, I adore her historical fiction novels. She’s one of my favorite authors!
First, here’s her bio: Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of Southern California, she attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network, The Huntress, and The Rose Code. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in California with three black rescue dogs.
The Diamond Eye is based on a true story as it features the Ukrainian-born quiet bookworm who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper during WWII. The Diamond Eye is coming at a time where history is undeniably repeating itself as Russian and Ukraine are locked in conflict.
Here’s the synopsis:
In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kiev (now known as Kyiv), wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.
Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.
Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.
Let’s get to know Kate as she talks favorite novels, writing for the historical fiction genre, inspiration for The Diamond Eye and more!
What are some of your favorite novels?
Pauline Gedge’s The Eagle and the Raven. Gwen Bristow’s Jubilee Trail. Anything by Bernard Cornwell, Eva Ibbotson, Brenda Jagger, and Sally Watson. Those were the books and authors that first hooked me on historical fiction.
When did you know you wanted to become an author?
I can’t ever remember a time I didn’t! I was writing stories by age 7, novels by age 10. At some point it naturally grew into my mind that at some point I’d like to try to publish them. I had other career dreams along the way, but storytelling was always a constant in the background.
What initially drew you to the historical fiction genre?
My librarian mom had a degree in ancient and medieval history, so the stories I was hearing as a kid were all tales from history–Caesar crossing the Rubicon rather than Cinderella; the rise of Elizabeth I rather than Rapunzel; I, Claudius rather than the Disney Channel. It always seemed natural, once I started writing stories of my own, to gravitate toward the past.
How do you decide which figures of history to write about?
I look for women of the past who did astounding, incredible things, and didn’t get enough credit for their achievements during their lifetimes. I want to do my part to shine a light on those women, their courage, and their work.
What inspired you to write The Diamond Eye?
I was researching The Huntress, and through its focus on the Night Witches (the all-female regiment of night bomber pilots who flew against Hitler’s eastern front) I found myself stumbling over many more Soviet women war heroines. The Soviet Union was the only Allied nation that allowed women to be active combatants on the front line, so these women were legion–including Lyudmila Pavlichenko who was not only the most effective female sniper of World War II, but the most effective female sniper in history. I knew right then and there that I had to write about her!
In light of the war in Ukraine, could you talk about what you learned about the country and its people when researching the life of Mila Pavlichenko?
Never underestimate the toughness and grit of Ukrainians, especially Ukrainian women. Mila came from the Kyiv area and fought to defend Sevastopol and Odessa against Hitler–she did not ever, ever give up in her fight, and neither did her compatriots. Reading about the resourcefulness and courage of Ukraine’s defenders in modern headlines has not surprised me one bit.
How do you strike the right balance between fact and fiction when writing historical fiction?
Historical facts provide the framework, like the bones in a human body. Then I fill in the gaps where there are missing bones/facts, and layer fictional elements and characters on top like laying flesh and muscle on top of the skeleton. Ideally speaking, it all then comes to life!
What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?
Currently I’m reading Libbie Grant’s The Prophet’s Wife (about the wife of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith) and Kristina McMorris’s The Ways We Hide (about British Intelligence’s WWII mission to create hidden escape tools for Allied prisoners). I’m looking forward to reading Vanessa Riley’s Sister Mother Warrior (about the women of the Haitian Revolution), and Stephanie Dray’s Madam Secretary (about Frances Perkins, our first female cabinet member & architect of FDR’s New Deal).
Thank you, Kate!
Stay tuned for my review and book club questions publishing soon!