by Sophie Schmidt
With Hamilton being all the craze, even bestselling author Melissa de La Cruz has been bitten by this particular bug! Her latest novel, Alex & Eliza chronicles the story of these two love birds, and what may have happened when they first met.
Hi, Melissa! Thanks for coming out today. To get us started, why don’t you tell us something that we can’t find in your bio.
Melissa de La Cruz: Oh my goodness, what is something that you can’t find in my bio. I feel like everything about me is out there. I was the Girl Scout troop leader for the second grade girls when my daughter was in school. We did a lot of urban scouting. We took them to museums and restaurants. It was fun while it lasted!
That’s so cool! So you cite Hamilton as a major inspiration for Alex & Eliza, what was it like to breathe new life into these characters from your own perspective?
MC: I definitely had my own vision. I loved Hamilton, and I was very moved and overwhelmed by the musical. My interest in writing this book came from my daughter’s interest in Eliza Schuyler. After we saw Hamilton, she was drawing all of these pictures of Eliza, and writing all of these things. She kept asking me what was real in the story and what wasn’t, how did they meet. As I was doing research to answer her questions, I got caught up in it, and I thought “Oh my god, this is the perfect Young Adult romance!” You’ve got the dashing, young, brave, penniless, nameless soldier and the rich American princess. It felt like a fairy tale. It also felt like I could write my own story with these characters. It wasn’t a Hamilton retelling, I wanted the Pride and Prejudice sort of style, so that’s why I called it Alex & Eliza; I think that Alexander Hamilton never went by the name Alex. I think that he was always either called Hamilton or Alexander, so I wanted to really stake my claim and say “These are characters.” They may be historical figures, but they are also characters of my imagination.
I really like that story! You include a lot of detailed history in your novel as well. How much research went into it?
MC: A lot! I had two research assistants, one of whom was an American history professor. They would put together dossiers of the characters, like here’s the letters, here’s the archives, here’s the source material. I could pick and choose, and I had an idea in my head of what I wanted the story to be, so we had to fit in what was happening in history at the time. We had Phillip Schuyler court martialed, so I said, “What if Alexander Hamilton was the one who brought that news to the family and that caused them to hate him?” There’s a lot of embellishment over historical facts.
It was really well done! The history junkie in me loved reading this tale. Do you yourself have a favorite time period?
MC: Yeah, I definitely like the historical romances of the Regency Era. It’s a little bit earlier, like 1850s or 1830s. You know, they didn’t waltz, which I found out in my research. The waltz hadn’t been invented yet. They had to dance the minuet where they only touch palms. I would say any time period where they had to wear those big gowns!
Which character to you relate to the most?
MC: I don’t know if I relate to her, but I really like Eliza. I’m normally drawn to the sophisticated, worldly character like Angelica, but there was something about Eliza. She was so American, she was so kind. I wanted to write about somebody who was sensible and kind and good. Maybe I was tired of the anti-hero, and maybe tired of these European, worldly women. I felt like I had done that already. I was really interested in writing about this really good, simple, nice girl.
Yes! She reminded me of an American Lizzie Bennett.
MC: She was definitely an homage to Lizzie Bennett. Definitely an homage to Jo March. She’s the girl who doesn’t have time for any of that.
For sure. Who is your favorite historical figure?
MC: I think Alexander Hamilton is definitely up there. He’s really fun. There was a French couple who was in Blue Bloods. I was really interested in their love story. I like the Romans – Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra – those are also really fun.
Writing in only historical time periods is something newer to you. Would you say it was harder than usual?
MC: I have my Witches of East End series where part of it is set in Salem, so I have written in older time periods. In Blue Bloods they jump around time periods. I’ve been wanting to write a full novel that was a full historical novel. While it seems new, it’s not really because it’s something that I have done in my books before. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Maybe three years ago I told my agent I wanted to write something in historical romance. It all came together with wanting to write a story about Alex and Eliza and my love for historical romances.
What challenges did you face writing this one?
MC: I think because we don’t know much about the courtship, and I had to write a story with conflict – I had to make some of that up. It was a balance of what we know and what I can get away with. He wasn’t her first boyfriend, she had crushes on other guys. One of the guys she liked a lot was Major John Andre who was this handsome, British officer. I wanted to write something where the parents wanted her to marry him, and my research assistant who was a history professor was like, “No, no, no! They would never want her to marry a British officer! This is a Revolution. They are an American family!” I had to be all “Oh, all right.” And I had to find another suitor.
Do you think you’re going to return to this genre?
MC: Yes! I’m writing the sequel right now, it’s called Love & War: An Alex & Eliza Story. It takes us through the first couple months of their marriage which is really fun also. He’s trying to found the U. S. Bank, and we have a little bit of Yorktown.
That’s awesome, I can’t wait to read it! In closing, what surprises you most about writing Alex & Eliza’s story?
MC: There’s an anecdote in the story that’s actually based on history, and I’ve noticed people say, “Oh, this is so unreal. That would never happen,” but it is! It the archives, it’s in the letters. One night Alex had a night walking with Eliza and he went back to the fort, and he couldn’t remember the password to get in because he was so love struck. I love that detail. While he’s a founding father and we think of this brilliant man, at one point he was a 20 year-old soldier in love.
Love that detail, too! Thanks Melissa!