Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood

I’m so happy to be part of this blog tour for a historical fiction, kickass book! A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Badass Girls was edited by Jessica Spotswood and includes short stories from a variety of female YA authors. Three questions were asked of all contributing authors; today I’m featuring answers from Leslye Walton, Elizabeth Wein, and Jessica Spotswood.

A Tyranny of Petticoats

Also available as an e-book and in audio

Summary (From the publisher): Crisscross America, on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains, from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own courses. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own ways in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

Our authors are as diverse as their characters. To give readers a better sense of their diverse processes and experiences writing for this anthology, we asked three questions of each contributor:

  1. What inspired you to write about this particular time and place?
  2. What was the most interesting piece of research you uncovered while writing your story?
  3. Who is your favorite woman in history and why?

Here are their answers:

Jessica Spotswood is the author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles, a historical­ fantasy trilogy, as well as the contemporary novel Wild Swans. She grew up near the Gettysburg battlefield but now lives in Washington, D.C., where she works for the D.C. Public Library system as a children’s library associate.
Twitter: @jessica_shea, Facebook, Instagram

Jessica_Spotswood credit C.Stanley Photography (1)

What inspired you to write about this particular time and place?
I’ve been fascinated with New Orleans since my first visit when I was twelve. The city was French, then Spanish, then French again briefly, was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, seceded to join the Confederacy, then became part of the United States again. The architecture, food, and music all reflect this unique history as well as Creole, Cajun, and Haitian influences. By 1826, there was a large number (according to the census, perhaps as many as twelve thousand recorded in a city of forty-six thousand) of gens de couleur libre, or free people of color, which made New Orleans unique among antebellum Southern cities. Most free blacks were mixed-race; some were descended from slave mothers and white fathers, and others emigrated from Haiti after the revolution. They were educated property owners, a thriving middle class of businessmen, shop owners, and tradesmen who went to mass at Saint Louis Cathedral, attended the theater and the French opera, and sometimes had slaves of their own.

What was the most interesting piece of research you uncovered while writing your story?
In 1786 Governor Miró passed the tignon laws, which required women of African descent — slave or free — to cover their hair and refrain from excessive attention to their dress. In response, women of color began to wrap their hair in beautiful, colorful scarves called tignons and were still as beautiful and eye-catching as ever. The law was basically to preserve racial and class distinctions, because some free women of color were so light-skinned and richly dressed that they were mistaken for white.

Who is your favorite woman in history and why?
I’m fascinated by Nellie Bly, who was an intrepid lady reporter. She wrote about the problems of poor working girls and called for the reform of divorce laws. She was a foreign correspondent in Mexico, but the editor of her Pittsburgh paper kept assigning her stories for their women’s section about fashion and flower shows, so she resigned and moved to New York. Most famously, she feigned madness while working undercover to write a series on the abuse of institutionalized women at the asylum at Blackwell’s Island. In 1888, she also tried to recreate Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and filed dispatches to her paper via telegraph. She only took seventy-two days, like the boss she was.


Leslye Walton is the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, which was a 2015 Pacific Northwest Book Award winner, as well as a 2015 YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest but has recently been finding her dreams filled with vast desert skies and the gorgeous pink flowers of the prickly pear cactus. Her short story is the result of those dreams.
Twitter: @LeslyeWalton, Facebook


What inspired you to write about this particular time and place?
I was interested in exploring the juxtaposition of power and limitation, a blurred line that has defined the lives of women throughout history. I wondered what it might have been like to live as a young teenage girl during a time of upheaval and change in American history, while also capturing a time and place where cultural and national identities felt at odds. I suppose these thoughts wove themselves together, because suddenly I had Valeria, Rosa, and Maria Elena, three immortals sent down to live as Mexican-American sisters during the years after the Texas Annexation.

What was the most interesting piece of research you uncovered while writing your story?
I loved learning all the intricate details about the family ranchos of that time and the lush Rio Grande landscape of yucca plants, honey mesquite trees, and prickly pear cacti.

Who is your favorite woman in history and why?
Oh, this is an impossible question! There are so many admirable women in our world’s history, all with incredible and oft times terrible stories; it’s virtually impossible to pick a favorite. I suppose, though, if I had to choose one, I’d have to admit that I am currently infatuated with Petra Herrera, a revolutionary war hero who led over four hundred female soldiers during the Mexican Revolution, if only for the sole reason that she proved that women could be just as effective as men in the art of combat.


Elizabeth Wein is the New York Times best­selling author of Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, and, most recently, Black Dove, White Raven. All three feature women as pilots in the early twentieth century — such rare birds in their own right that a black woman among them is a veritable phoenix. “The Color of the Sky” is a closer look at one of the real pilots whose life inspired a character in Black Dove, White Raven.
Twitter @EWein2412

Elizabeth Wein_credit David Ho

What inspired you to write about this particular time and place?
Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to become a licensed pilot, inspired me!

I earned a private pilot’s license late in 2003. That year also happened to be the one hundredth anniversary of the Wright brothers’ historic first powered “heavier than air” flight. I took part in a worldwide celebratory fly-out on December 17, the exact anniversary. But I was also the only female student pilot on the airfield where I learned to fly, so I became interested in flight, the history of aviation, and women in aviation all at the same time.

Bessie Coleman is one of the most amazing early female aviators. She got her international pilot’s license in 1921, and she was not only the first black woman to do so, she was the first American to do so — male or female, black or white. No one — of any color — would teach her to fly in the United States, because she was black and/or because she was a woman; so she took some French classes, found some sponsorship, and went to France to learn to fly. I am in awe of her initiative, her positive outlook, and her determination.

Though she died young, and tragically, in a flying accident (which is what my story in A Tyranny of Petticoats is about), Coleman was committed to opening a flying school that would allow young people of all races and sexes to learn to fly. Until her early death she traveled around the United States giving lectures and film presentations in schools to encourage young people to learn more about aviation, as well as fund-raising for her flight school dream.

The time and place of my story was dictated by the focus on Bessie Coleman — but to make it authentic, I ended up finding out quite a bit about Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1920s — its schools, churches, neighborhoods, and transportation systems!

What was the most interesting piece of research you uncovered while writing your story?
It was undoubtedly the amazing real historical characters I discovered as I was peopling my fictional tale. I want to write stories — books, even! — about all of them.

Except for my main character Antonia and her family, most of the named characters in “The Color of the Sky” are based on real people. In addition to the obvious — Bessie Coleman herself — I also had to find out more about the lives of Myrtle and Henry Wade Vencill, Louis Manning, William Wills, Robert Abbott, and John Thomas Betsch. I desperately hope I’ve been respectful of their historical counterparts — especially Betsch, who is in jail when my story ends!

The week following Bessie Coleman’s death in April 1925 must have been a heartbreaking time in John Thomas Betsch’s young life. He was only twenty-one at the time. College-educated, Betsch was the publicity chairman of Jacksonville’s Negro Welfare League and an aviation enthusiast; he was also a strong advocate for racial and sexual equality in Florida and continued to be so throughout the first half of the twentieth century. His legacy is evident in the lives of his children: MaVynee Betsch, who graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in voice and piano in 1955, sang with the German State Opera, and then devoted her later life to conservation; Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, who became the first female president of Spelman College, president of Bennett College for Women, and co-author of Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities; and John Thomas Betsch, Jr., a jazz musician who has lived in Europe for the past thirty years. It makes me happy to know what a better world John Betsch helped to create for his own children and for generations to come. I’d never have known about these people if I hadn’t been digging for information about the circumstances surrounding Bessie Coleman’s fatal accident.

Another fascinating woman I learned more about while writing “The Color of the Sky” is Willa Brown. I’d known about her because she turned up in the research I did for my novel Black Dove, White Raven, and I like to think that the life of my original character Antonia will closely follow that of Willa Brown. Brown graduated from Indiana State Teachers College in 1927 and went on to help establish the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago. Willa Brown was the first African-American woman to earn a private pilot’s license (which had not been established when Bessie Coleman earned her international license). During World War II, in addition to training black pilots and flight instructors, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and became its first African-American officer. Throughout most of the twentieth century, Willa Brown was a tireless activist for racial and sexual equality, both on the ground and in the air.

I would love to go on — every single one of the characters who appear in “The Color of the Sky” has a fascinating history — but perhaps these brief portraits will inspire readers to do some digging for themselves!

Who is your favorite woman in history and why?
This isn’t a question I’ve thought about before — I don’t have a tried and tested answer that I give. I have many favorites, for different reasons at different times in history and at different times in my own life. If you’d only asked me to name “my favorite woman of all time,” I’d have said my grandmother, Betty Flocken.

But I’m going to go with Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906–2001), because her voice as a writer and a pilot sings to my soul. I knew and read her written work long before I became a pilot myself. Her inspirational Gift from the Sea, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1955, has been my guide throughout my adult life — as it was to my grandmother fifty years ago. Indeed, it was my wonderful grandmother who introduced me to Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writing.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of Charles A. Lindbergh, the early aviator who’s best known for his pioneering flight across the Atlantic in 1927. As a couple they skyrocketed into the media in 1932 when their infant son was kidnapped and murdered. Charles Lindbergh bordered on being a Nazi sympathizer in the years leading to World War II and, though he flew fifty combat missions in the Pacific for the United States and finished his life as an environmental activist in 1974, his image never entirely recovered in the public eye. Anne Morrow Lindbergh soared to fame on her own as a gifted diarist and travel writer, managing to transcend the brightness and shadow that her husband cast. Her clear-sighted and lyrical voice is one of the most prolific and honest of the twentieth century.

She was the first American woman to earn a glider pilot’s license and accompanied Lindbergh on early global exploration flights as his radio operator as they attempted to discover the best long-distance routes for future commercial airlines to places like South America and eastern Asia. She was a friend and deep admirer of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, another of my pilot-writer heroes (and author of The Little Prince). Despite the tragic loss of her first baby, she went on to raise five children, a free-thinking collection of writers and aviators in their own rights.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a quiet, private, shy, and privileged woman and didn’t have to do the kind of groundbreaking work that Bessie Coleman had to do. But her dedication to her craft, her prolific life’s work, and her ability to recover and forgive make me strive to be like her.

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Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the tour so you can learn more about each author!




  1. I liked reading the responses to the question what was the most interesting piece of research you uncovered while writing your story?

  2. Thank you for sharing this! All these awesome ladies! I loved learning about the women in history they looked up to 😀

  3. Love this!! Such great, thoughtful answers to the questions — not that I expected anything less! These are amazing women in their own right, and it’s great to read about the women they most admire. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. I have been eager for it since, oh, about a year ago I guess, when Jessica first announced it. Thanks for the feature, it was fun to read!

  4. I’m an Elizabeth Wein fan, so reading a short story written by her is a draw. I’m also into books with strong female main characters, so I’m intrigued by the diversity of authors represented in this book. Looking forward to reading it!

  5. This looks like such a seriously fabulous book. 😀 And I love the guts and passion of these early women flyers!

  6. This is so thoughtful and I adore the premise this anthology! I’m really in awe of all the fierce actions of these women.

  7. Leah Butler says:

    I absolutely cannot wait to get a copy of this book! These questions are great and I loved reading the responses.

  8. the early women flyers are incredibly inspiring! I wish I could write about ALL of them!

  9. I loved reading these interview questions! It was so intetesting to see what inspired the stories!


  1. […] Mentor Texts    * Q&A with me and contributing authors Leslye Walton and Elizabeth Wein at YA Love Blog    * Love shoes? I picked a historical shoe from the era of each book at Katie’s Book Blog. […]

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