Then and Now. Jennifer Laam, author of ‘The Secret Daughter of the Tsar’

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

Since starting the ‘Then & Now’ feature this year, I’ve come across some hugely inspiring tales of determination, hard work and self belief. I’ve been very lucky to connect with lots of authors from around the globe,  writing in many different generes, who have kindly shared their publication stories with me, and I am completely blown away by them every time. ‘Then & Now’ reminds me that this job of writing, which we all love so much, is definitely not for the faint-hearted!

This month, I’m delighted to welcome author Jennifer Lamm to Whims & Tonic. Jennifer’s debut novel THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR is published tomorrow. The novel tells an alternate history of the Romanov family and has been getting great advance reviews. With that stunning cover and such an intriguing premise, I have a feeling this one is going to do really well. Jennifer will be hosting an author Q&A over on Goodreads tomorrow and competitions on her website all week (see below for the links), but for now, over to Jennifer to explain how her debut novel came to be ….

What stage were you at with your writing this time last year? 

My journey from acceptance to publication day took almost eighteen months, so I’m going to go back two years, before I had an agent or a publisher. Two years ago, I was “almost” finished with The Secret Daughter of the Tsar. I had a solid idea for the last chapter and had been working on the novel on and off for at least eight years. The last chapter was a few paragraphs with a big “NOTE TO SELF: WRITE THE LAST CHAPTER” or words to that effect. When I saw that note, I always returned to edit earlier chapters. I think I had a mental block with the ending. Finishing that chapter meant I was truly done. And then it would be time to submit to agents. Even though my dream was to become a published author, I felt terrified of failure. I think a part of me never wanted to finish because then I would have to let the work go.

What was causing you the greatest challenge with your writing?

The greatest challenge for me was and is self-doubt. I have low moments, but I keep going because I really do love to write and to escape into the worlds I create. But the idea of letting go of those worlds and turning them loose unprotected in the real world sometimes feels overwhelming. It took me a long time to get past the fears associated with showing deeply personal work to others.

What important decisions did you make in the last 12 months?

This decision happened three years ago. I joined a writing group. First of all, I got used to showing my work to other people. Secondly, without their support, I’m not sure I ever would have submitted or even finished this book. That last chapter would still hang over my head!

What was the pivotal moment for you in the last 12 months? How did that come about?

I remember composing my query letter while sitting with writing friends at a café. I was about to hit send, but then hesitated at the last minute and told them I would wait until morning to give it “one more look.” One of my friends said something like: “Just do it. Do it now. Don’t wait until tomorrow morning.” This was exactly the right amount of peer pressure. I see now that if I had waited until the morning, I might have waited another year. Or five years. Or I might never have sent the query at all. That was a pivotal moment. It led to the moment when Erin Harris offered to represent me and my book.

What were the high points of the last twelve months?

First of all, being able to say the words “my agent” was huge. I smile all the time when I use that phrase. When The Secret Daughter of the Tsar was accepted for publication and I started saying “my editor,” my smile got even bigger. Another high point was the cover reveal. Lisa Marie Pompilio at St. Martin’s Griffin did a beautiful job and clearly “got” my novel. I feel the cover captures the idea of Russia and the lost world of the Romanovs as they are seen by my characters: eerie, beautiful, and mysterious.

What is the most important thing you have learnt about your writing during the last twelve months?

Perhaps I overthink my writing. It slows me down. I spend time playing out different scenarios in my head, but inevitably return to most of what I set down in the first draft. Don’t get me wrong, I will always need multiple rewrites. I don’t plan much in advance. I believe in writing a quick and dirty first draft that then needs heavy editing and further research. But in terms of the general plot and the personalities of the characters, I think I’ve grown to trust my gut a bit more.

What are your hopes for the next year?

Over the next twelve months, I want to build relationships with readers who share my sensibilities. I’m writing a sequel to The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and would love to see that published. Ultimately, I want to publish a novel every year. I want to explore other time periods in Russian history, specifically, the world of Catherine the Great and her advisor Potemkin in the century and that of Alexander Pushkin in the early 19th and 18th in the Russian presence in Spanish California.

Any other good news, inspirational or positive experiences to take away from the last twelve months?

I’ve been writing since college, but it took me nearly 20 years to take the steps necessary to become a published author. I’m glad I finally took those steps. It’s given me tremendous confidence. I feel good about calling myself a writer. When I talk to other writers, I feel like I can provide solid encouragement. Keep writing. Keep rewriting. Keep submitting. Your dream can come true.

About the book
“Weaves a lively tale…Laam [tells] her story with verve and imagination.” —Kate Alcott, New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker

THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR tells the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte and imagines an alternate history for the Romanov family – one in which a secret fifth daughter, smuggled out of Russia before the revolution, continues the royal lineage to dramatic and unexpected consequences.

Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her.

Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov’s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie.

Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer’s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy.

As Veronica’s passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected.

About the Author

Jennifer Laam
Jennifer Laam earned her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is her first novel.

Contact Jennifer at the following links:


Ta dah! New cover reveal …..

Frankly, it is just too blimmin’ exciting for words, so without further ado, I give you the beautiful new cover for THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. So excited, so excited, so excited …… !!!!!

The Girl Who Came Home


Available in paperback and ebook, April 2014

I am now going to run around a field and do some cartwheels!


Discovering the creative spark!

pages flying from book

Ah, Saturday mornings. Quiet, peaceful, reflective Saturday mornings ….. yes, I’m kidding. My Saturday mornings usually consist of a stressful hour of trying to find football boots and unwashed rugby kit and cursing at our rubbish toaster before standing reluctantly on the side of a field (aka pitch), wishing that I’d worn my ‘big coat’. No surprise then, that as soon as I saw Katharine McMahon was to run an Historical Fiction writing workshop in Dublin last Saturday morning, I jumped at the chance!

I’ll be honest, I’m never too sure about writing workshops. I’m never sure whether I should just spend the three hours actually writing, or whether it is beneficial to spend three hours ‘talking’ about writing? The answer, in this case, was categorically ‘yes’ to the latter.

Katharine was focused, pragmatic, honest and extremely inspiring. She encouraged us all to think about our ‘historical spark’ – what, precisely, is it that has drawn us to write about a particular period, event or person in history. What prompted that moment of ‘oooooo’ and ‘aahhhhhh’ which led us to write thousands of words and develop a stooped back and a fondness for jaffa cakes in the process?

I found Katharine’s question really interesting. I’d never really thought, in any great detail, about my ‘historical spark’. I presumed I was drawn to certain historical periods, people or events simply because they interested me. Those haunting, sepia tinted images; pretty dresses; the drama and tragedy of great historic events … that sort of thing. But that wasn’t enough for Katharine. She wanted us to go further, dig deeper.

From spending the morning with Katharine, who provided some excellent writing advice and tips, as well as some fascinating source materials to consider, I began to figure out that my historical spark is women, or more specifically, the many amazing women who have featured in my life.

My spark comes from simple childhood days spent in my great-aunt’s kitchen watching, in wonder, as her frail hands turned the cup around so she could read my tea leaves and predict the future. My spark comes from my amazing mum and my three formidable aunts – if ever there was a rich seam of source material about the relationship between sisters, they are it. My spark comes from vague memories of a Queen Victoria-style great grandma who I see now only in faded photos and who I wish I could talk to about her life. My spark comes from my ninety-three year old grandma’s revelations of the hardships she experienced through the war years.

When set against the fact that I grew up in a village which was originally a Viking settlement, that I lived close to the incredibly historic city of York, that Emily Bronte’s dramatic moors were just a drive away and that I used to play in a remarkably antiquated sewing room on the top floor of my Dad’s clothing shop, it is quite clear that history has always surrounded me. And from the environment I grew up in, to the incredible women in my life, it has become the women from history who fascinate me. It is their stories – the social history of women’s roles, the intriguing relationships between women, the remarkable women who have overcome their social status or gone against societies expectations – that I now feel compelled to write about.

So, now I know two things. I know the source of my historical spark and I know that writing workshops are ALWAYS a good idea (especially on a frantic Saturday morning).


Katharine McMahon is the bestselling author of nine novels, including Season of Lightand The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy Bookclub choice. Katharine was in Dublin as part of the inaugural Dublin Festival of History.