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Where the Light Enters

An enthralling epic about two trailblazing female doctors in 19th century New ...
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Created: 10/07/20

Replies: 5

Posted Oct. 07, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 3290

Ask the Author

If you would like to ask Sara Donati a question, please post it here and she will respond shortly!

Posted Oct. 07, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert

Join Date: 09/03/19

Posts: 177

Ms. Donati where do you do most of your research to find information about female physicians/midwives and especially female physicians of color during this time period?

I am a social scientist by training, and for that reason (and others) I take research and historical accuracy very seriously. Obsessively, even. 

It may surprise people to learn than there were female physicians in the 1880s, but in fact there is quite a lot of documentation on the way they were trained and practiced medicine. For example, I have done a lot of research on Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi (, a practicing physician in Manhattan in the 1870s-1900s. Anna Savard's professional career is based in part on Mary Putnam Jacobi's life and works; the historical character herself appears very briefly in The Gilded Hour, and a little more often in Where the Light Enters. Mary caught my attention because she challenged Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell's ( belief that a woman must be maternal above all else, even in her role as a physician. Mary Putnam was, in the first line, a scientist; she believed that medical education - for men and woman - had to be science based. 

In 1860 there were 300 female physicians practicing in the U.S., none of them women of color. In 1864 Rebecca Lee Davis Crumpler was the first African American woman to graduate with an MD, from the New England Female Medical College. In 1876 Sarah Loguen Fraser ( was the fourth African American woman to get a medical degree. Sophie Savard is based, in part, on Dr. Fraser. There's an interesting short article about her here: ( By the 1880s there were somewhere between 50 and 75 African American female physicians active in the U.S.

This is one of my favorite aspects of writing historical fiction: chasing down the facts, and discovering people who were too soon forgotten.

Some of the references I used while researching this subject:

Carla Bittel's Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America

Regina Morantz-Sanchez's Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn

Ruth Abram's Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America, 1835-1920.

Susan Well's Out of the dead house : nineteenth-century women physicians and the writing of medicine

Regina Morantz-Sanchez's Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine

BookBrowse Note: Book clubbers might also be interested in our "beyond the book" article for Where the Light Enters: "Forgotten Women Physicians of the 19th Century"

Posted Oct. 08, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert

Join Date: 07/17/19

Posts: 17

Greetings from a Northwest Neighbor. Is there a third book in the series? Thank you.

My contract with Berkley/Penguin is for three novels:

(1) Where the Light Enters (the sequel to The Gilded Hour, published 2019);

(2) a third novel in the Waverly Place series, as yet untitled and

(3) and a novel set in the southwest in the years before the Civil War, tentatively titled Little Birds.

Kate --my editor -- and my publisher were convinced I needed to do the second and third novels out of order, so I am now writing Little Birds. I realize this makes some readers unhappy, but I think in the end they will see the wisdom of this.
Little Birds focuses on two of Lily and Simon’s adult children (Callie and Nathan) who travel from New York to the New Mexico Territory in 1857. Callie has accepted a job as a nurse and midwife in Santa Fe, and Nathan travels with her to see that she arrives safely. This novel will fill in some of the family history between the end of The Endless Forest and the Civil War. It's something of a bridge between the Wilderness series and the Waverly Place series.

The years before the Civil War were politically and socially explosive, as you might remember from history class and talk of Bleeding Kansas as well as the violence that followed from the westward push of Europeans into the traditional homelands of dozens of tribes.

As soon as Little Birds is finished I'll jump into the third Waverly Place novel.

Posted Oct. 15, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
rosannes's Gravatar

Join Date: 01/29/13

Posts: 45

Love this series

Question: I can appreciate all the research and attention to detail you deliver in your books and I read that you enjoy writing a long book. Do you think readers can be intimidated by the size of a book?

I enjoy getting in deep with a story but also find I get itchy sometimes to move quicker especially when details get so finite that they become tedious.

I'm curious about your thoughts on the matter.

Thank you,


Hi Rosanne --

You raise an interesting question. People who read fiction generally have very clear likes and dislikes. Some people will not spend any time on espionage or sci-fi novels; such readers can't work up any enthusiasm for master spies or aliens. Some people will only read crime or historical fiction. Within a group of readers -- in this case, those who like historical fiction, there are also strong feelings. In general it seems that historical fiction people like longer novels, and but some only tolerate them. Sometimes the story is so engaging that Reader A wishes the novel were twice as long, while Reader B loves the story but could have done with fewer pages.

The kind of historical novels I write are based on a lot of research. You can tell when you run into a crowd of serious historical novelists at a convention, because they are very animated talking about how shoes were made in 18th century Scandinavia or the tools silk makers used in 15th century China. Most historical novelists have a story about waking up at 3am in a sweat because it came to them that they had used the wrong kind of lantern, or cloak, or grain in a scene they had believed to be finished.

The general rule is that you use only as much of your research as you must use to solidfy the reader's sense of the time and place, but authors have different opinions and approaches on this, and so do readers. For example, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall -- set in Tudor England -- has had great critical reviews and success, but many, many readers find it too long and confusing, with no way to keep track of the multitude of characters and relationships. Authors like A.S. Byatt and Dorothy Dunnett write big, long, dense historical novels that many people adore (two of my all times favorites are Byatt's Possession and Dunnett's Niccolo Rising series). Other people want nothing to do with long-winded Victorian poets or the fine points of the alum trade in 16th century Europe. I never recommend these favorites of mine to someone unless I know the reader is willing to invest time and attention in return for excellent storytelling.

If you are finding a passage in a novel tedious, you might want to reconsider and put it aside. Not every reader is right for every novel, and the author won't jump out from behind the next bush to look at you with sad eyes. If you are loving the story but are pulling your hair out because the author wants you to imagine a battle scene in full, bloody detail, you might skip forward a couple pages. There are no secret police watching as you read; you can suit yourself. One more possibility: talk to friends who have read the same book and raise the subject. You may find that the passages on harvesting flax and making linen that bore you to death are your friend's favorite, and more important: he or she might be able to explain their fascination in a way that makes you reconsider. Or you may agree that the author went off track. I have had some great conversations in book clubs that started just this way.

Personally, I want the detail that will make that world come into focus, and I want a lot of it. At the same time I can understand that not every reader likes what I like, or what I write. C'est la vie.

Posted Oct. 21, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
rosannes's Gravatar

Join Date: 01/29/13

Posts: 45

RE: Ask the Author

Thank you so much for discussing this with me. I work with an author who tends to write very long, overly descriptive passages. As I said, sometimes i get itchy because I want the story to play out faster. So my advice to him has been to tone it down. I realize that perhaps he shouldn't. Clearly you love long books, you write beautiful long books so I was excited to ask you about this. I surely will rethink my advice to him. Perhaps what he needs to do is a bit more research and incorporate his findings in his lengthy passages.

Once again, thank you so much for your beautiful books and chat,

Posted Oct. 30, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert

Join Date: 05/13/20

Posts: 26

RE: Ask the Author

I have read The Wilderness series, the two new books about Sophie and Anna, and some of your blogs. My husband was a big fan, too, and we shared your wonderful Elizabeth Bonner from the beginning to almost the end. When it seemed certain that Elizabeth was going to die in the sixth book, my husband refused to finish the book--he preferred to think of her as living forever! My question is how do you find the time? Your reading list is intimidating. Your novels are long. Your weblog is full (and interesting and detailed). Also, do you have any conflicts between Rosina Lippi (the real you?) and Sara Donati?

Thank so much ahead of time for answering.


First, your husband and I have something in common. I still haven't read the last book in the Grant County series by Karin Slaughter because I know what's going to happen, and I couldn't bear to read it. Instead I just jumped to the next series and carried on (and oh, do I love Will Trent). Any writer understands how hard it is hard to say goodbye to characters you've spent so much time with. There's quote from The Purple Rose of Cairo that always comes to mind:

"I've met the most wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything."

Now to your question: where I find the time. It's a really good question, but one without a clear answer. Early in my fiction-writing career I was still a university professor with a full load of teaching, research and administration responsibilities. And I had graduate students who were writing their doctoral dissertations under my direction. And I had a toddler. But I somehow got things done. I finished my first novel and a back-breaker of an academic study in one year, and I managed all that because I had no time. If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it, as the saying goes. Now I have no structure at all to my days, and I wish I did. I'd get more written if I had less time to write.

Conflicts between Sara and me ... she's not much interested in the detritus. If I have a family crisis going on she shows me no mercy or empathy, even. She gets into a snit and flounces off, and I have to wait for her to come back to start writing again. She is a difficult muse, but without her none of the stories I tell would make it onto paper at all.

Thanks so much for your question. It made me think about the early days writing, and that was interesting way to spend a dreary November afternoon.


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