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598. Historical Romances for Horse Girls with Mimi Matthews


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Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 598 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and my guest this week is Mimi Matthews! Mimi is back to talk about her latest novel, The Lily of Ludgate Hill, which is the third book in her Belles of London series. Y’all this book has pining. So much pining. I love pining. But this is also a book about grief: characters are pining for what was as much as other characters are pining for what could be. So we are going to talk about grief and loss and hope and adapting to massive upheaval and about The Gilded Age television show, so if you’ve been watching that, I would love to hear from you.

I do want to make it clear: we are talking about grief and disordered eating. We talk about diet culture in the ‘90s and the 2000s, and we also talk about the death of Mimi’s father, which inspired parts of Lily.

I want to say a very big hello and thank you to the Patreon community, and I have a compliment this week.

To Barbara J: There is a poem in every language that references how warm, hilarious, and extremely clever you are, and there’s even one that talks about your really great taste in all forms of baked goods.

If you have supported the show with a monthly pledge of any amount, thank you. The Patreon community keeps me going, makes sure that every episode has a transcript hand-compiled by garlicknitter – hi, garlicknitter! – [Hi, Sarah! – gk] – and you’re keeping me going, so thank you very, very much for that. We also have a lot of nifty benefits for the Patreon, including bonus episodes, a truly warm and welcoming Discord community – except when we talk about how cold it is; it’s not so warm there, but we are warm – and we would love to have you join us. You can go to patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar a month, and it would be lovely to have you join us.

If you like finding out about romances on sale and about romance new releases, you will want to listen to this spot real quick:

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All right, are you ready? Let’s do this podcast episode. Also, I apologize for my voice. I have had the worst cold. It was so bad. I took like nineteen COVID tests because I was convinced that I had COVID again. No! I just had a bad cold, which is something I haven’t experienced since like 2020. So apologies for my voice in this intro and outro. On with the podcast.

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Mimi Matthews: Hi, everybody! I’m Mimi Matthews. I write historical romance. It’s set mostly in the Victorian era. I also write nonfiction history books for Pen & Sword, a publisher in England, and I write articles on all aspects of 19th century history. Basically, if it’s about the 19th century, I’m commenting on it somewhere in some, in some publication.

Sarah: Which is really interesting, ‘cause if you think about it, the, the extremely rigid moral code and expectations of behavior, you can see some of that showing up now that has a lot in common with the expectations of social performance of, of, like, devotion?

Mimi: Oh my –

Sarah: You can see all that –

Mimi: – my gosh!

Sarah: – coming up now, and it’s like, Wait, no, we, we did this! We, we’ve done this!

Mimi: All these rules, yeah!

Sarah: Let’s do something else! [Laughs]

Mimi: Yeah. It, it’s, it’s strange.

Sarah: Isn’t it?

Mimi: It’s strange the way soc-, the, the things that happen in society sort of go through these ebbs and flows, and you can see things repeating –

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: – themselves. And if you’re a student of history, you know, if you’re really paying attention, sometimes it’s very disappointing ‘cause you’re like, Oh, I thought we all hashed this out –

Sarah: Didn’t we do this?

Mimi: – a while ago! Yeah, haven’t we all been through this? Or it, it, it just eventually feels like you’re watching the same series get remade over and over again with these little differences, but it, it feels a little bit –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – like you’ve been here before.

Sarah: Yep! Well, I want to talk to you very much about The Lily of Ludgate Hill. Congratulations on your newest book.

Mimi: Thank you so much!

Sarah: Now, I’ve, I have, first of all, one thing that I love is when I’m reading a book and I kind of get the sense, I think the author’s, like, having a really good time with these characters?

Mimi: [Laughs]

Sarah: Like, the author really likes these people! Now, I read the author’s note, so I know that this book was not written during a period of great personal fun, but it does seem like –

Mimi: No.

Sarah: – writing about this group of characters, that you’re having a real good time. Am I right about that?

Mimi: I, I really have enjoyed the heck out of writing the Belles of London, because historical romance, especially this era, this particular decade of the Victorian era, the 1860s, is my sweet spot.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: But also, you know, there’s the different romances, and with different types of, of men. It’s not all – no shade to dukes; I love a good duke romance, but it’s not –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: – it’s men in different spheres of life –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – you know, which is very interesting to me. And it’s also friendships, horses, fashion. I mean, I love being in that world. You know, the gowns –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Mimi: – the, the riding; the different equestrian aids, you know, with the nods to dressage. It’s, it’s been so much fun to be able to do this. I’m sad that it’s coming to an end. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah, I can tell. I also love how a lot of them ride horses that are, like, absolutely absurd for their height and weight, and yet they’re riding, like, these mega-stallions, and they’re like, yeah, yep!

Mimi: Right, yeah! You know, it’s very interesting. So, like, for context, I’m not very tall; I’m just like five-three and a half, and my dressage horse Centelleo was sixteen-two, so his withers came to my head.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: So I rode a big horse –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – and I love that sense you get, if you have a good partnership with them. Not if you’re riding a big horse that’s disobedient and out of control; that is not good.

Sarah: That’s not fun.

Mimi: But when you go back and you look at, at some of the history books about equestrianism for women, you know –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – specifically for women, they describe the type of horses women should ride in, in a way that women are almost infantilized. You know, like nothing over fifteen hands, two, two inches, so nothing over fifteen-two, and, you know, these gentle creatures, and I felt like, for my Belles, the big horses – and not even just size, but temperaments, the different temperaments they have – are an expression of their power, the women’s power –

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: – in an era when, you know, there were very limited avenues for them to ex-, to them, to acceptably express that level of strength and power, and the horses really are representative of that for each of them in their way.

Sarah: And isn’t that also something that is still happening, that we infantilize women and try to compress them into very limited spheres when it’s like, no! You can ride a big horse!

Mimi: Yeah, you – yeah. I don’t know, I don’t know really the purpose of that, except for just some deeply ingrained –

Sarah: Sexism.

Mimi: – social positions that have just, yeah, stuck around forever that something in, you know, the human brain – and not every human brain – wants to categorize everybody and put them in these little boxes.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: And becomes very distressed if somebody exceeds the – [laughs] – exceeds the walls of that box. Like, Oh! But yeah, it was definitely like the, the Victorian era for women –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – and very difficult for them to express themselves. So, but they still did express themselves –

Sarah: Oh yes.

Mimi: – a lot of times in just very unique ways.

Sarah: Oh yes!

Mimi: You know, within, within the, with the tools they had at their disposal.

Sarah: Have you thought about marketing your books as historical romances for horse girls?

Mimi: Yes! I, you know, I thought belatedly after the, everything had already, you know, been set in motion, I was like, Oh, we should have used the tagline Ride or Die!

Sarah: Yeah! Ride or –

Mimi: Or Ride or Die Friends!

Sarah: Well, all you have to do is convince Berkley to release an omnibus edition, and then that can be the Ride or Die collection.

Mimi: The Horse Girl Manual, yeah.

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: The Ride or Die collection. I think it would be so great. But –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: – you know what? I saw somebody saying once about, about horse girls, and they were like, Oh, those girls who make horses their whole personality. But I think it’s people who are not familiar with the sort of horse girl life and don’t realize that it’s more than just, like, a hobby or something like, you just ride your horse. I mean, it is a, it’s a sport!

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Mimi: It’s really a lifestyle, and it takes up a ton of your time. Certainly takes up a ton of your money when you’re young –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: – ton of your parents’ money. I think that horses are really, really good for girls when they’re growing up. And again, that sense of power and –

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: – just being with a creature larger than you and teaches you patience and a certain humbleness.

Sarah: It is intense. And speaking of the horse girls, now, I know from having read Belle of, The Belle of Belgrave Square, that that was clearly inspired by “Beauty and the Beast,” and you mentioned that there’s different heroes and different, different characters that they have this core friendship, but each book has very different themes. What were some of your inspirations and influences for Lily?

Mimi: For Lily, I feel like it didn’t have, it didn’t draw as much directly from – for Belle it was definitely a lot of Victorian sensation novels –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – and “Beauty and the Beast” or Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret, things like that. But for Lily, I didn’t have as much direct inspiration, but I can certainly, I certainly had feelings that were generated from stories like Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Sarah: Yes! I noticed that one!

Mimi: – and far from – yeah! – Far From the Madding Crowd

Sarah: Yep.

Mimi: – by Thomas Hardy. You know, just the idea of this sort of strong, solid, steadfast hero who is pining for this heroine, or waiting; you know, not even so much pining but waiting and there to be of service. I especially think of that with Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, you know. He, he says at one point to Bathsheba, the heroine, I’ll do one – I’m going to quote this really badly, but – I’ll do one thing in life and one thing certain, and that is love you and long for you and keep wanting you until I die. And I think that’s one of the most romantic lines I know.

Austin Roses, that does roses, has, actually has a rose called – [laughs] – Gabriel Oak that’s one of their most beautiful roses. They name them aft-, they name different roses after different characters, but they have, like, their, one of their most popular roses is the Gabriel Oak rose. At any rate, I’m a big Gabriel Oak fan.

But I liked the idea of that, and also growth, meeting someone when you’re young, and it’s not necessarily a soulmate or this is my one true love or anything like that, but meeting somebody who you’re meant for, but you meet them a little bit too soon. You’re immature.

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: The timing’s not right.

Sarah: No.

Mimi: And for Anne and Hart, it was definitely really about that journey, and also layered into that is Anne taking on this role – Anne has a very, very strong mother, a lot in the model of Queen Victoria, very strong mother. The destabilizing effect for Anne of seeing a mother that, who is that much a pillar of strength brought low by grief –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – and what that does after losing your other parent, to see that your remaining parent is, has, has cracked like that –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – and children becoming the caregiver. This isn’t a direct thing that’s happened to me in my life, but it, to an extent it has. I really feel that now of, after losing my dad, you know – ‘cause my mom is very strong woman, very strong mother, and seeing that, and you really feel like the ground underneath you is, is not stable anymore. A, a romance with Hart, you know, what, what that can look like, and what kind of maturity there is –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – in, in adapting to all that change. So it was all those things I was sort of thinking about in my head at the same time as I was, as I was writing it. But yeah.

Sarah: One thing I really liked about both stories is that in The Belle of Belgrave Square and The Lily of Ludgate Hill, both Belle and, and Anne, who, they’re trying to move on from their families to form a family of their own.

Mimi: Yes.

Sarah: And they want to leave their families, because –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – they are grown and they would like to have their own lives, but of course there are very many reasons why they can’t just be like, Well, Mom and Dad, got an apartment, moving out.

Mimi: Gotta go. [Laughs]

Sarah: Gotta go! It’s been great, but I’m going to take my stuff and I’m going to move out; I’m going to live on my own.

Mimi: Exactly!

Sarah: Like, that’s not happening.

Mimi: And not have to worry.

Sarah: That is not happening.

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: And with The Belle of Belgrave Square, her parents were just dreadful! Like, they were just awful, and wanted her to be their –

Mimi: Caregiver –

Sarah: – caregiver.

Mimi: – in a way, and so her wanting to escape, you know, had a little bit more urgency to it in the sense that they were making some bad health decisions on her behalf, which was really –

Sarah: Yes, they were making some really dreadful –

Mimi: – oh… 

Sarah: – decisions on her behalf, yeah.

Mimi: Yeah. And based truly in Victorian history.

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: It seems so overdramatic and melodramatic, and I wanted it to have that feel a little bit, ‘cause I really wanted to, to have that feeling of a Victorian sensation novel, but that stuff was really happening. Yeah.

Sarah: Now, I don’t like to do spoilers for books that people who probably are listening have not read yet, but to me it seemed like one of the major themes in this book was pining, but lots of –

Mimi: Yes.

Sarah: – different kinds of pining. I have to say, on a very selfish level, thank you; I love pining. It is probably my favorite romance motif because it is all of this internal emotional tension –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – of really being into somebody, but choosing not to act on it for capital-R Reasons. And sometimes those Reasons are external, and sometimes they are internal, and when it’s –

Mimi: Right.

Sarah: – really good, they are both! But I love pining. I love the, I love a good pine-y hero; give me a nice balsam duke; I’m a big fan. I love pining

Mimi: [Laughs]

Sarah: So first of all, on behalf of me, thank you for the pining.

Mimi: Oh, great!

[Laughter]

Sarah: But one of the things that I realized as I was reading this: there’s lots of different pining in, among the characters in this book. There’s pining for the future and the possibility of a romance; and pining for a future where you can earn your own money or make decisions about your own finances and not have to rely on –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – an inheritance; and pining for independence, both financial and personal; and also pining for the past! You know, pining for someone who has died and a life that you thought you were going to have that you can’t let go of not having. So the future –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – pining and the past pining made such an interesting contrast for me, because they’re both, like, completely normal human things to do, but if you’re pining for the past and you can’t move on, you get –

Mimi: You’re stuck –

Sarah: – stuuuck!

Mimi: – yeah. There was so much of the Victorian era in this period that was like that: stuck!

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: Sort of, I guess they would say preserved in aspic, where it’s just set.

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: We’re doing the same things all the time. We have a queen in perpetual mourning. So I definitely did want to convey that, and what it takes to become unstuck.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: And, and some of that models for me, too, that sense of when there is enormous change, you know –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – in the world, in your life –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – a loss, you know, something like losing a parent, especially, part of the thing that sticks you is this sorrow, this, this depression or this sorrow, and you’re so in it that sometimes, you know, all you have is the pining, because you can’t take the action, can’t move past it. And part of that is you’re not, it takes a while to be ready to move past it. Well, Anne’s had a lot of years, and she’s also sort of, with Hart, you know, she, she doesn’t really trust him, and I know for some people it would be like, well, he was so good in, in the present of the story; why didn’t she just forgive him? But when somebody lets you down during the crisis of your life – again, no spoilers, but just, in the past, when something happens with somebody at a pivotal point, it is very hard. [Laughs] You have to see visible, tangible proof that they have changed to trust them again, especially if, in order to, to go forward in that direction it means, you know, you feel you might be abandoning somebody else who you owe loyalty to –

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: – or who, who has been your sort of companion on this road as you’re going through. But yeah, I felt like definitely the pining was a lot for all of those things. You know, the other part of him being stuck is in this world, in Mayfair, I think it mentions in this – I say “it mentions” like I’m not the one who wrote it.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: Some there – [laughs] –

Sarah: Some rando wrote in my book!

Mimi: For…it was written, I think it says that –

[Laughter]

Mimi: – that part of being stuck is being in this sort of rarefied air of Mayfair –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – in this part of London.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: It’s not real life!

Sarah: No.

Mimi: You know, it’s not real life, what was in the city. When they go to Ludgate Hill, there is a diversity of class; there’s a diversity of race. There is activity and energy, and it’s like suddenly coming back to life.

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: But part of, part of being stuck was being stuck in that little community, which had not moved on with the times.

Sarah: No. So it –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – it, it’s, one of my favorite scenes is when, you know, Anne is, like, just going shopping.

Mimi: Mine too. You know what? I had a visceral feeling when I wrote that. So I –

Sarah: Aww!

Mimi: – so I went to school – so I live in the Bay Area, but I live in, like, a suburb –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – where you have to drive a few miles to get – most people in the Bay Area live that way, like, and then you –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – take the BART into the City. But I went to undergrad in Oakland –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – and I went to law school in San Francisco, and for the first year, you know, you BART into the city, and there’s this literal feeling that BART is under, and when you’re going up the escalator into the City, you can feel the energy change, and I think it’s this way in every big city, where, as you’re coming up from underground, the air is just crackling! I mean, there’s so many people, and everybody is so busy with what they want to do, and there’s so many different kinds of people, and that energy is intoxicating.

Sarah: Oh yes.

Mimi: And I wanted, I wanted Anne to feel that, coming from Mayfair where it’s quiet and the rules and the restrictions and the suffocation, I wanted her to feel like this is the beating heart of this city, and you are waking up, and this is what real life is going to be like –

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Mimi: – and that she’s sort of buoyed from shop to shop on that feeling! Oh, and also she gets to eat some sugar, so – always important when you’re – [laughs] –

Sarah: That was the other thing, that was the other thing, ‘cause I read, I’ve read a lot of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness books. Have you ever read these?

Mimi: Oh yeah. I haven’t, but I’m familiar, I’m familiar with…

Sarah: So one of the conceits of this book is that the heroine is like, I don’t know, thirty-six, thirty-seventh in line for the throne under Victoria, but she’s a, a lady, and her brother has inherited, and they have this drafty, terrible home, and her brother’s sister, his bro-, her brother’s wife, her sister-in-law, wants to manage her and, like, control her, and she’s really not interested, and so eventually she ends up being summoned to the palace when she’s in London by the queen, because the queen wants her to investigate some problem that she can’t do officially. It’s all very back channel, but one of the things that I, is so memorable to me is that she’s having tea with the queen, and she’s starving. She has no money. She might be titled, but she’s got bupkis –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – and you’re not allowed to eat anything that the queen doesn’t eat, and the queen is eating brown bread, and so she’s looking at this giant tier of food and she’s like, But I can’t eat any of it, ‘cause the queen is having brown bread, so that’s what I’m having, and I’m like –

Mimi: Oh my God.

Sarah: – that sucks. And I was looking at Anne. Anne is restricted in what she eats by her mother’s expectations of austerity and, you know, your food must be as lacking in joy as my life right now.

Mimi: Well, her mom is from a different era –

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: – and her mom – I have a little bit more sympathy for her mom. She’s taken such rigid control of the, the only things she can!

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: And one of those things is her body –

Sarah: Yes, and…

Mimi: – and it’s sort of like –

Sarah: Very common start to eating disorders –

Mimi: Yes!

Sarah: – in any era.

Mimi: Yes. I’ve experienced this myself when I was young, of during times of intense stress I would be, like, logging – this is a very 1990s kid thing – [laughs] – writing, you know, all this obsession with food and calorie counting. It was the most toxic diet culture in the ‘90s, when I came of age.

Sarah: Yes! Oh my God! The ‘90s, and then the 2000s, where you had to have a specialty wax to wear the jeans –

Mimi: The low-rise jeans!

Sarah: – ‘cause the rise was this tall!

Mimi: I wore those jeans, Sarah, and I remember just, like, the diets I would be on. Always, literally always on a diet.

Sarah: Starving, starving.

Mimi: And –

Sarah: Don’t eat; have a glass of water.

Mimi: – I have a box of old journals in the attic –

Sarah: Oh God!

Mimi: – and I was thinking of shredding them because I thought to myself on one hand, Oh, this’ll be great for the kids when, my, my niece when she grows up, and I thought –

Sarah: No!

Mimi: – No! It’s all just, Today I looked fat. Today, you know, I weighed this. It was a very toxic time.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: Looking back at some of the images, too, on magazines of that time, if you ever look back and you just think, This was so patently unhealthy. Yeah, not Are you healthy? Are you strong? Are you eating when you’re hungry?

Sarah: No.

Mimi: But deprivation.

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: You know, make yourself small. I think as a woman today, looking back, that’s what I think: it was make yourself small and frail.

Sarah: It was like the, the blowback to the ‘70s and ‘80s advancement of women being in career places, where you could go into a business and you would see women in the workplace, and you would see women moving into –

Mimi: In power!

Sarah: – the executive spaces.

Mimi: The big shoulder pads –

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: – women looking powerful. Yeah.

Sarah: But you had to conform to this deeply narrow definition of appropriate appearance.

Mimi: Yeah, it was a way of controlling women.

Sarah: Absolutely it is.

Mimi: It was a way of controlling women.

Sarah: And teaching us to control ourselves, and when you apply that to –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – to grief, like, I can’t control anything that is happening to me right now, but I can control this.

Mimi: I think, you know, on one hand, I see that that’s a way of getting through it –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – to micromanage parts of your life. When my dad died, my God, I mean, it was literally like in Lily, I have to be honest. So he had battled many health things as he got older. He was –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – my step-dad, but I call him my dad; he was a dad to me in every way. And they told us he was, he was in hospice at home, and they told us he had two weeks, and we were devastated to think he only had two weeks, and the next day he died.

Sarah: Oh no!

Mimi: And we had in our heads that we had two weeks, and we were still trying to wrap our heads around that.

Sarah: And you had –

Mimi: And the next morning –

Sarah: – twenty-four hours.

Mimi: – he was, he was gone. And after that, the sense of being so lost, and we had to, you know – and plus, you know, figuring everything out, you know, because my dad – [laughs] – my dad was like our bookkeeper? So I would be like, every day we’re just going to do one hard thing –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – and two not-so-difficult things, and we’re going to incrementally get through these things, and then every day we’re going to walk on this treadmill – [laughs] – ‘cause we have to do something –

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: – to get some of this emotion out –

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: – to get some of this anguish out. But I think you have to micromanage in the beginning, but Anne’s mom has, it’s all she’s doing; you know what I mean? And, which is sort of understandable in an era when a lot of your identity came from your husband.

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: Her position came from her husband, the bulk of her wealth.

Sarah: She also had a lot of social power and a lot of social control.

Mimi: Yes.

Sarah: Like, she was a very powerful woman in society, and she took –

Mimi: Yeah.

Sarah: – all of that social power and turned it on herself and Anne.

Mimi: Yeah. I felt like Anne was really strong in this way.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: Was she right to stay so long? Should she have done things differently? Maybe; who can say? But the dynamic as it appeared to everybody else was not what the actual relationship dynamic was between them, that Anne had a lot more power than was visible to the outside world, just in the sense that she had taken on the role of a caregiver for a parent.

Sarah: Yeah. And she did so much to try to help her mom. They became in what I think would be in contemporary parlance extremely co-dependent on each other.

Mimi: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. And so not the most healthy thing, especially when it goes on past the initial period of mourning, which at that time would have been, for a widow, two years.

Sarah: Which is astonishing if you think about it. Like, you have to cut yourself off. You have to, like, not go out into society, when really, part of what might make you feel better is to be around people.

Mimi: To be among people –

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: – for healing, definitely. One thing I did like, and this was actually a reader who pointed this out to me, being in mourning was good in, in a way because it was a signal to people around you, strangers, Be gentle with me.

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: I’ve had a loss.

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: And I thought, Gosh, I love that! Because one of the things with, when you’re in the direct aftermath of a loss and you have to go back out in the world, you literally feel like you have no skin. Losing my dad at Christmas – December 23rd of this year will be two years – but I was out, and everybody was asking, How was your Christmas? Just normal, you know what I mean?

Sarah: And they had no idea.

Mimi: And it was – no idea –

Sarah: None.

Mimi: – and it was very hard. But I liked the idea that there was some symbol to show people, I have lost somebody –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – and please be gentle with me.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: You know, I’m not ready yet.

Sarah: And it’s interesting to look at Victoria doing this for so long, and then, you know, Anne’s mother doing this for, for so long. Instead of actually processing and moving through it you just –

Mimi: You’re stuck!

Sarah: – stay; you stay in it.

Mimi: You’re stuck in that spot. But yeah, change is, change is so scary, and sometimes I think when people are that frightened, they are just like, I’m just going to be still. Or I’m going to be still, and I’m going to look backward to a better time – [laughs] – and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: – try and pull everyone backward with me.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: But yeah, it’s just a very, a very human feeling.

Sarah: It really is, and it’s hard.

Mimi: Yeah, it’s a strange, it’s a strange thing, and I think part of that was, back then, about maintaining power.

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: Because you didn’t want upward class mobility. You didn’t want these hardworking, you know, city folk who, running mills like Mr. Thornton in North and South?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: You know, becoming up on a level with other people?

Sarah: Now, I want to ask you – I always ask about books, especially if you have books that you recommend that have a lot of pining in them. For example, North and South has some mad pining –

Mimi: [Laughs]

Sarah: – mad, mad pining. But I also wanted to ask, what was your father’s name? And do you want to share, like, one of your favorite memories of him?

Mimi: His name was Eugene, and I’ll tell you he was the most positive man. So my mom and I are more cynical, always like worst-case scenario –

Sarah: Yeah, I’m like that. [Laughs]

Mimi: – you know. But he was so positive, and so I’ll tell you a story of, one time I came over to their house, and we were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the bread in the fridge didn’t have enough slices, and I says, to my dad I said, There are only end pieces left, and he said, Why don’t we call them beginnings?

[Laughter]

Mimi: That sums him up so perfectly. He was so positive and, like, the most genuinely good person. A wonderful, wonderful man. I miss him so much, Sarah. It’s, it’s been really rough, but yeah.

Sarah: Do you think writing The Lily of Ludgate Hill helped a little bit?

Mimi: I think it did. Sometimes I wonder if the loss has changed me so much that it’s changed the way I write going forward, and of course fears of wondering did it sort of break my ability to write well or something? You know, just scared. Like anybody; it’s very human; just scared of the future. But I’m glad I had it to work on, because I had a deadline after he passed away, and I had to work every day.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: And I had to be in this world and, you know, the fun parts, the horses, the fashion, all of that, I really think it saved me, because I have a personality, you know, more prone to depression, and the grieving process, I think, would have just totally sucked me under if I did not have this book to get me through it. But yeah, working through the book and seeing them come out the other side of it, Hart and Anne and all of them come out, gave me a sense of hope.

Sarah: So what books do you want to tell people about?

Mimi: Some I get, some books I get sent to me super early, so some of these might not be available yet. I read The Stranger I Wed by Harper St. George, which is Gilded Age marriage of convenience, and if you’re watching The Gilded Age

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: – on HBO, which is, like, so fascinating. It’s almost just like Gilded Age Downton Abbey, basically. I mean, it has the same vibe, I feel.

Sarah: Somebody I know – I don’t, God, who said it? But it, I, I cannot remember who said this, but The Gilded Age television show is like The Real Housewives of 1896.

Mimi: Oh my gosh, it is! It is! And the way it does little snippets of everybody; there’s no deep dives in anyone’s story, to the extent that I get a little frustrated, ‘cause I’m like, Look, what is this, just a recap of everybody’s story? I need to go deep!

Sarah: Yes. It’s the to-camera part of the Housewives where they talk about how they feel when they were feeling about things. [Laughs] It’s like The Real Housewives of –

Mimi: …exactly it!

Sarah: – 1896!

Mimi: And you know, like, with the gorgeous gowns and the beautiful interiors. When the costumes are that good –

Sarah: Yes.

Mimi: – I will watch it. But there’s a storyline in it with a journalist –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: – her name’s Peggy, and she’s African-American. Her dad’s a preacher. There’s a storyline this season about integrating schools and some of the, the Black schools that were going to get shut down, which made me revisit a really great series called Home to Milford College by Piper Huguley? And I don’t know if you’re familiar –

Sarah: Ohhh, the Mil- –

Mimi: Yes!

Sarah: Yes!

Mimi: Yes, yes! And I had read the first one in that – I’m trying to think, is it The Lawyer’s Luck or The Preacher’s Promise? But I’d read the first one in that a while ago and loved it; it was really, really good. But it, it made me think of that. Now, it’s in like the 1840s?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Mimi: And so it’s, it’s not Gilded Age, but it just made me think of that same thing. So I think people who are liking that storyline a lot on The Gilded Age, definitely visit Piper Huguley’s books, because she does it so well, and she has such a great sense of the history. There’s so much authenticity, but it’s just sweet and, and beautiful love stories.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: Yeah, I think those are really great.

The other thing – well, this isn’t a romance, but I’m starting Yellowface, which I’m a little bit nervous about.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: I’m also late to the party. Everybody else has already read it, but I’m sort of a little hesitant just because it’s about the publishing industry?

Sarah: Yeah.

Mimi: Even though I, I guess, am in the publishing industry to an extent as a writer, I always am on the periphery because I don’t want to know too much about how the sausage is made.

Sarah: No.

Mimi: And any time there’s drama, I just think to myself, I don’t – look, my life is fraught enough.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: My personal life – [laughs] – so I just don’t need it. I love a story with an unreliable narrator. That’s like a hook for me.

The other thing that I read recently was – well, two things: another romance that’s not coming till May, so it’s a ways away, by Virginia Heath, called All’s Fair in Love and War, which is a start to a new series she’s doing, which was, like, fun; just pure fun.

And then I read a, a, a new series – actually, you know what? I don’t know if it’s even the beginning of a new series – by Anna Lee Huber, and it’s called Sisters of Fortune, and it’s a, based on these real-life sisters who sailed on the Titanic? The tension was, like, it was intense! It was really intense, and all the different stories of the people on the ship, but yeah, it, it’s something that I thought was just spectacular. My gosh, humans are resilient. There’s so much – [laughs] –

Sarah: Really. Yes.

Mimi: – so much of this history, you just think, God, how did we get through these things? How did people get through?

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: Somehow, yeah!

Sarah: I think that one of the reasons is that there are enough people who are pining for happiness and want to make that happen, as opposed to –

Mimi: Yes!

Sarah: – wanting control or wanting to go back in time or wanting to reclaim power that they feel they used to have. Some people are just really –

Mimi: Yeah! It’s like sort of this yearning.

Sarah: Yes, yearning!

Mimi: Yearning for their happily ever after.

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: Yearning for some, the next wonderful thing, you know?

Sarah: Yeah! That’s very true.

Where can people find you if you wish to be found?

Mimi: Well, my author website, mimimatthews.com, has links to my face, author Facebook page and Instagram. I’m also on Twitter; I refuse to call it anything but Twitter.

Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this, especially when you’re not feeling well. I really appreciate it –

Mimi: Oh, thank you so much for having me!

Sarah: – and –

Mimi: I always love talking to you.

Sarah: Oh, anytime. It’s really lovely to catch up with you, and thank you for sharing your father with us.

Mimi: Oh, thank you for listening, and thank you so much for reading Lily, and I hope that readers will love Hart and Anne’s love story.

Sarah: I think they will. Especially when I tell them there’s pining!

Mimi: So much pining! [Laughs]

Sarah: Mad pining; this whole book is piney fresh, like that little tree you used to put in the car.

Mimi: Exactly! That should –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Mimi: That should be the series symbol –

Sarah: Yeah!

Mimi: – on the front of this book.

Sarah: Little tree on the mirror. [Laughs]

[music]

Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you, as always, to Mimi Matthews for hanging out with me and talking all about her father and her book and her other book and all the pining. I love the pining. I love pining so much!

I will have links to all of the books that we talked about as well, and I have a picture of the Gabriel Oak rose, which is truly gorgeous; like, absurdly beautiful. And all of that is in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode number 598.

As always, I end with a terrible joke, and this joke is from Verity. Hi, Verity!

What is yellow and highly dangerous?

What is yellow and highly dangerous?

Shark-infested custard.

[Laughs] So silly, I love it! Thank you, Verity!

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week in the ongoing parade of mayhem that is this show.

I’m a little silly. There’s cold medicine, and I’ve had some. [Laughs]

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

Shark-infested custard! [Laughs]

[end of music]



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