Teaser Tuesday: How autobiographical is Eloise?
August 19th, 2014

Recently, I’ve received a number of messages asking whether (and some assuming that) the Eloise portion of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is autobiographical.

Here’s the short answer: it’s not.

There are certainly elements of my world woven into Eloise’s story. The descriptions of Cambridge in 2004 are as true as my memory can make them. Just as I loaned Eloise my basement flat in London, I also made her free of my studio apartment in Cambridge, in a building that no longer exists as it was then: 1306 Massachusetts Avenue. The year after I left (2006/7), the building was completely renovated, doing away with my old apartment, the mustard-colored hallways with their rust-red trim, and, sadly, the Toscanini’s on the ground floor.

Likewise, Campo de Fiori, where Megan and Eloise have their pre-class lunch of potato pizza, was a real place. Like 1306 Mass Ave, Campo de Fiori is long gone, but those plastic tables once took up a corner of the Holyoke Center, and, like Eloise and Megan, my friend Jenny and I used to meet there for sustenance before marching off to tackle Western Civ sections.

They say to write what you know. At one point, I knew the History department, Hist and Lit, and Dudley House (the grad student social center) rather well. All of them are as true to their 2004 selves as I could describe them, from the faculty sky-boxes in Robinson Hall to that annual Halloween party.

And now we start moving into fiction….

Once we get past the physical descriptions of Eloise’s world, we’re purely in the realm of make-believe. Eloise and I are very different people. We didn’t even study the same thing: in my academic life, I was an early modernist, focusing on the 16th and 17th centuries.

Unlike Eloise, I had an ulterior motive in going to grad school. My goal was always, in the end, to use my education to write perfectly accurate historical fiction, preferably a great big doorstop novel set in Scotland in the 16th century. Of course, along the way, I discovered there’s no such thing as undisputed historical accuracy, and, ten years after my first book, I have yet to write anything set in either the sixteenth century or Scotland, but…. Details, details.

So (not to give too much away for those who haven’t read it yet), for everyone who has asked me if the conversation Eloise has with her adviser in Midnight Manzanilla is drawn from the life… it’s not. Not even close. I will say that, unlike Eloise’s, my adviser was extremely supportive and made clear that I was still a member of the history department, always welcome to return, when I announced that I was making the switch to law school.

(If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry. Eloise doesn’t go to law school.)

For those who are curious as to why I decided to leave grad school, I discuss it a bit in a book that just came out last week: Rebecca Peabody’s The Unruly PhD: Doubts, Detours, Departures, and Other Success Stories.

I tend to discuss it rather more frankly after a few drinks, but, even in that version, it’s nothing like Eloise’s story.

It’s called fiction for a reason….



6 Responses to “Teaser Tuesday: How autobiographical is Eloise?”

  1. Céline says:

    That’s so interesting! So, my question is : do you actually use at least a bit of what you learned in grad school in your novels, even if they don’t take place in Scotland, neither in the 16th century?
    Being a former grad student in History, does it make a difference in the researching of the novels you write?

  2. Céline says:

    (strange, I think Internet has eaten my comment…. I’ll paste it again, and sorry for the double post if it shows up later in the day!!!)

    That’s so interesting! So, my question is : do you actually use at least a bit of what you learned in grad school in your novels, even if they don’t take place in Scotland, neither in the 16th century?
    Being a former grad student in History, does it make a difference in the researching of the novels you write?

  3. jeffrey says:

    Thank you for sharing a little more of what makes you ‘tick.’ Check that, I don’t think you ‘tick;’ More likely you “hum.” {:-D]

  4. Lynne says:

    Thanks, Lauren…I’m just at the pages where Eloise is dealing with her advisor and it occurred to me to ask the very question you answered. I’ve always wondered…

  5. Paige says:

    Yes, thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes bits about your writing. It is always great when you do.

    This may be a bit random, but I have ways wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed the Eloise and Colin story throughout the series.

    I distinctly remember when I read about the potato pizza in The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. “Poato pizza? Did I read that right? Yes, I did. Oh, my gosh that sounds so good! Why have I never heard of this? How did I not invent this? Where must I go to get this?” Yeah, I did not even know this was a thing, and it is two of my favorite foods combined.

  6. Pam says:

    As an “unruly Ph.D.” myself, I just wanted to say what an immense comfort Eloise has been to me as I’ve navigated my way out, back into, and (maybe this semester?) through graduate school. After I left my degree program to take some time off, the Pink books were actually part of what inspired me to come back (the British Library scenes were what really got me). When I went on my research year she was a good pal and a reminder that projects can go in unexpected directions. Alas, no fairy godmother types with secret caches of documents ever invited me for tea, but I guess you can’t have everything…

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. They started out as “just” fun reads but ended up having a real and unexpected impact, maudlin as that probably sounds. Godspeed Eloise, Jane, Lord Vaughn, and Co., you will be missed.


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