Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Adrianne Sainte Eve , Author of Horizontal Collaborator

SM: Hi, Adrianne. Thanks so much for joining me today.

AS: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

SM: Tell us a bit about your heroine, Violette, in Horizontal Collaborator. Was she based on someone who you know in real life?

AS: The idea for Violette was very loosely based on Marthe Richard, an espionage agent who worked for France during WW1. I borrowed from some of her adventures as a spy, from a book called The Skylark, published in 1932 and written by Major Georges Ladoux. He was the chief of the French Counter-Espionage Service and appears as Major Georges St. Denis in my book. The German Chief of Naval Intelligence, with whom Marthe Richard had an affair, appears as Leo von Beringer in Horizontal Collaborator, but his character is purely my own. Her story was a great starting point, but most of my book is pure fiction.

SM: Your book takes place in the late 1800s and moves on into World War I. What interested you about that time period?

AS: To be honest, it was mostly the fashion. There was so much imagination and novelty in women’s fashions of that period. The industrial revolution and the coming of the war created phenomenal changes in the way women were dressing, and fashion was a reflection of that changing society.

SM: Interesting. Then we can expect some unique descriptions of women's fashions in the book.

Violette was a poor peasant with aspirations. What was the class system in Hungary, and Europe in general, like at that time?

AS: During that time the class system throughout Europe was changing dramatically with new discoveries and technologies. Those in the privileged classes were rapidly losing their money and power as the lower classes were becoming less dependent on them. More opportunities for the working classes in general were created and women were slowly becoming more independent. It was no longer unthinkable to rise above the circumstances of one’s birth.

Hungary was still based on the ancient feudal system, and that system collapsed spectacularly as the war went on. Titles were revoked and land confiscated. The upper classes were wiped out in everything but their own opinion.

SM: That was a very auspicious time for a young woman like Violette to come of age. How many women acted as horizontal collaborators and was it a dangerous job? Were they ever killed when they were discovered?

AS: No one knows how many women were horizontal collaborators. It was a derogatory term used to describe women who slept with the enemy for profit, or even just to survive. I was able to discover a handful of women who were allegedly spies during WW1. Edith Cavell, a heroic Red Cross nurse, was caught and executed by the Germans. The infamous Mata Hari had offered her services to the Germans, but it is believed that she had not proven very useful to them. They cast her aside and through her own clumsiness she was caught by the French, used as a scapegoat during the espionitis epidemic and executed.

There were some very successful German women who were legendary spies: Anna Lesser, “the schoolgirl,” was one. “Fraulein doktor,” and “the tiger-lady” were believed by some to be the same person, but their (her) true identities were never discovered. Most of them had less fantastic but still interesting stories, carrying messages and working as cipher decoders. Women were considered to have a natural ability at this. The British even used the Girl Guides in a small capacity.

SM: I've heard of Mata Hari, of course, but not the others and certainly would never have expected the Girl Guides!

What inspired you to be a writer?

AS: I read constantly and read everything. The idea of women spies during WW1 intrigued me. When I read The Skylark it struck me that for Ladoux the topic of interest was the war. I was more interested in the character’s individual personalities and their lives. I wanted to know what they thought, these people who were on opposite sides of the war. I wanted their perspectives. This woman had an entire life besides being a spy for a while. What happened before and after? One day I suddenly thought I could absolutely do this and just started. I kept at it because I really enjoyed it. No one was more surprised than I was when it was finished.

SM: Having read the book, I think that you did an excellent job of portraying the different emotions of the characters over the years. And like you, that is what would have interested me most about their lives, too.

Tell me, Adrianne, are you planning to write another novel?

AS: I am planning on writing another novel. It will not be a sequel, but I will reference some of the characters from the first one. Only because I have grown attached to them and want to know what happens to them.

SM: Glad to hear it. I’d love to know what happens to them.

Before we wind down, what do you do in your spare time when you're not reading or writing?

AS: I always have some project going on. Right now I volunteer two days a week at the Chicago Park District Conservatories. I'm taking classes in horticulture at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

I'm also taking singing lessons, something I've always wanted to do. My voice is so bad I'm embarrassed to go, but I'm forcing myself. I used to sing to my kids when they were babies and they would beg me stop. My son would scream and clap his hand over my mouth, but I like to sing and I know the lessons will be fun.

SM: Ha ha! Kids are so funny. We can trust them to tell us when the Empress has no clothes.

Horizontal Collaborator is a wonderful book, rife with information, suspense, colorful characters and humor. It's available on Amazon ( and as an e-book on the Total Recall website (