Steve Thomas: Madeline, welcome to the podcast.
Madeline Martin: Thank you so much for having me.
Steve Thomas: Your book, The Librarian Spy, features a librarian protagonist, but what’s been your personal experience with libraries before we get into the book?
Madeline Martin: So, libraries have been a really big part of my life as I was growing up. I’m an army brat, so we were constantly moving all over the world. Well, really, I guess back and forth to and from Germany because we had three different tours there, and I was a pretty shy child growing up, and so my first friends were always the librarians at school because I basically would be going to the library every single day to get a new book. Through the pages of books is really where I found people who I could relate to, the characters that I really connected with that made me feel really not quite so alone, and of course later on I did eventually make real friends. So not to make it entirely sad and pathetic, but yeah, so libraries have always been really near and dear to me because they really helped me get through so many of those moves that really were so tough for a very shy little girl.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. So not only the librarians are your friends, but they’re introducing you to your friends in the books!
Madeline Martin: Exactly. 100%.
Steve Thomas: Is there a particular book that really stuck in your mind as maybe your first favorite book?
Madeline Martin: Yes. Laura Ingalls Wilder, her whole Little House, starts with Little House in the Big Woods and then Little House on the Prairie, and then all of ’em. I absolutely loved that series so much. I always wanted to be Mary, the Good Sister that was like perfect and everything. And I was just always unequivocally Laura, always somehow getting into some kind of mess here or there. Yeah, but I love that series. I think I read that series through probably like maybe 10 times to the course of my childhood.
Madeline Martin: I absolutely loved it.
Steve Thomas: Was historical fiction always something that struck with you? Cause that’s what you write now as well.
Madeline Martin: Yes. Historical fiction is something I’ve really always enjoyed. I just really, I love history. I think part of that is having grown up in Europe and then really letting it come to life with fiction and having the colors filled in with the fictional story, it just brings it all to life so much. I’ve always been a huge history fan, and I think that’s what I love about writing historical fiction is that I get to completely lose myself in all of that research, and then I get to just spin it into a story with all of that foundational fact.
Steve Thomas: And how do you conduct your research? Once you’ve gotten an idea for a book, how do you really dig into it?
Madeline Martin: I start buying as many obvious books as I can, and then I start scouring through the bibliography to find those more difficult books to find. And I’ll pretty much just pour through those books. Like I’m working on one right now, set in Warsaw, Poland, and I have over a hundred nonfiction books, and many of them are actually not even in print anymore.
Madeline Martin: So thank you, ABE Books, for always having so many of those available, and I also go through and I’ll hand write all my notes as I read through everything, and I try to read a lot of firsthand accounts, which a lot of those are kind of spliced into those nonfiction books as well, because I feel like you get such a feel for really just the culture and everything else that goes with what that character is experiencing or the person is experiencing on a day to day life. And I’ve also been very fortunate to travel as well. So, for example with the Librarian Spy, I did get to go to Lisbon, Portugal and to Lyon, France and I also got to go to DC to the Library of Congress, which I had never done before, and it’s beautiful if anybody hasn’t had the chance to go.
Steve Thomas: Yes. It’s like the Mecca for librarians.
Madeline Martin: Oh, absolutely, it’s just, it’s really stunning. I was blown away by it.
Steve Thomas: I’m sure the most common thing the authors are asked is where do you get your ideas and of course ideas are just out there in the world, but how do you decide which idea is the one that you’re going to pursue and say, Oh, well this is gonna be my next book, and then get into it. Like, is there anything in particular.
Madeline Martin: Really, I have a really unromantic response to that, and it’s ultimately my editor cuz we have, you know, as authors, we find all of these amazing ideas through articles that we read, through inspiration in our research that we’re doing for another book, we’ll just find all these amazing ideas just floating out there in the world and, and we’ll get all excited and sometimes we’ll bring it to our editor and our editor’ll say, “Oh, there’s a lot of that already out there. Give us something else.”
Madeline Martin: And then you have to basically come up with something else and kind of go from there, but really at the end of the day, I think one of the great things about that is that it does make sure that we’re offering unique perspectives that are really getting out there. And it really is not just the same World War II story being told over and over again because, and I’m a huge reader of World War II, but I also haven’t read every single book that’s on the market, unfortunately. I wish I could have. So, their finger’s on the pulse significantly more so than the authors.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. And there’s trends that happen in publishing where like right now there’s a lot of books like The Librarian Spy out there, like set in World War I or World War II with especially female protagonists, which is good cause it’s showing strong female characters at the time.
Madeline Martin: I think for a long time there really weren’t stories about women that were being told, and I think that with the changing of our society and really kind of having more equality between men and women, I think there’s a lot more interest now in seeing what women were doing back during World War II when their efforts a lot of times were very much discounted and glossed over. So, I think it’s really actually wonderful that we’re having the opportunity to see that a lot of women really did put their lives on the line and they put so much hard work into the efforts to keep America free and to also fight with the rest of the world.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. So, for this particular book, the Librarian Spy, do you remember what the spark was for this one that really made you wanna go toward this story?
Madeline Martin: So, I was actually reading an article about the librarian spies that were sent over to neutral countries to do research or to really get information as intel to send back to America, and really what kind of appealed to me was the fact that these poor spies really didn’t receive any training. They were sort of just thrown over there. And for anybody who’s read the 007 series, Ian Fleming’s 007 books. The Casino Royal book was actually based off of his time in Lisbon, Portugal.
Madeline Martin: So that will give you an idea of the consummate spies that our poor hapless librarian was really rubbing elbows with, and I thought, because really, I would probably be that kind of a spy, you know, that was kinda thrown over and like, I love books, but I’m not really sure what I’m doing here. And so, I thought, oh, that might make a really interesting story. And so that’s what gave me the idea for that.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. No, and you have her, Ava, you have her sort of rubbing elbows with the, not quite James Bond, but that kind of spy where they’re around, but she’s not one of them.
Madeline Martin: Yes, exactly. No, she’s not one of them. She is sort of learning the ropes as she is going, which is exactly how it was for the IDC agents that were sent over to neutral countries.
Steve Thomas: Well, why don’t we start with, why don’t you tell me about the book in general, and then we can go from there.
Madeline Martin: Okay, the main, well I guess there are really two main protagonists, but one of them, Ava is inspired by the IDC, and I’m trying to think of what the stands for, but it’s really long, so my brain does not remember, but basically the IDC agents were sent to Portugal, they worked with the OSS, they were sent to Portugal and to Sweden and other neutral countries to gather as much intel as possible. Just basically cuz you would have a lot of newspapers that were there from all over the world, especially in Europe, and a lot of them were even the clandestine newspapers that were sold in kiosks and everything. So, they would be gathering that intel and sending it back to America for people there to comb through to ensure that there wasn’t any information that might be pertinent.
Madeline Martin: You know, it’s interesting sometimes how research for books can overlap. So, an example of this is one that I actually found doing my research in Warsaw. There’s one particular time in Warsaw where they were taking all of the furs from everybody in the Jewish ghetto, and the reason they were actually doing that is because Hitler was getting ready to attack Russia. So, it seems like, okay, why would them getting furs matter? But really, it’s because there’s a huge attack coming. So sometimes seemingly innocuous things like that really can have very huge impact on what’s happening with the enemy. So that’s basically where that particular part of the book came.
Madeline Martin: And the other part of the book is set in France, Lyon, France, which is the capital of the French resistance, and Elaine’s character is actually based off of a real woman who existed. Her name is Lucianne Gonia, and she worked with the underground printing press, creating clandestine newspapers.
Steve Thomas: It’s interesting going through the book as you see the two plots coming together. You can say, Oh, well she’s collecting publications. Look, now she’s doing the publications and it’s coming together. And as Elaine talks about, and they get into that later on that not only getting clues like that of furs, but this Resistance is actually sending coded messages through the papers too for people to figure out as well. So
Steve Thomas: oh, and by the way, I did look it up while you were talking, the IDC is the Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications.
Madeline Martin: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It’s such a mouthful. And the funny thing is, you know, when I was writing the book, it was like forefront in my head. But, you know, as time has gone on, unfortunately not all of that information remains forefront and unfortunately all of that mouthful kind of slid back. So, thank you.
Steve Thomas: Well, you still had IDC in your head, so you got that!
Madeline Martin: Yeah, I got the important part!
Steve Thomas: And you mentioned that you got to go to the Library of Congress. Did you get to go to the Rare Book Reading Room and all that, get to see everything that Ava actually did back in those times?
Madeline Martin: No, unfortunately I got to go to the main reading room, which is absolutely stunning, and I did get see, I got to just go do like a very small tour. I went while COVID was still going on, and so a lot of it, I mean, we had to book our appointments out with a couple of girlfriends who live in the area and we had to book our appointments months in advance.
Madeline Martin: It was a little bit of a complicated process and we barely were even able to get what we got with the main reading room. And once we were there, you really couldn’t deviate from any of that. A lot of the tours were shut down and so I didn’t get to explore quite as much as I had wanted to, but I did look up a bunch of pictures and everything online and did a ton of research on the Library of Congress as well.
Steve Thomas: Well, hopefully someday you can go back and see that rare book reading room too. Was there anything interesting that you learned in the research for this particular book that didn’t make it into the book that you really wanted to get in but you just couldn’t fit it in, but it was a really neat story or anything.
Madeline Martin: You know, I think, it’s actually included in my authors note, but one of ’em had a lot to do with Sousa Mendes. So, Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese diplomat that was actually stationed in Burgundy, France and when all of the refugees were trying to come out of France and flee into Portugal, he was told that he was not allowed to sign any more visas. And he went against orders and he went with his heart. That’s exactly what he said, he went with his heart and his conscience and he signed thousands of visas.
Madeline Martin: It got to the point that he actually was only writing his last name, just Mendes, because he was trying so hard to write as fast as possible. I think he signed those for like two or three days straight and so now they actually have a Sousa Mendes Foundation that has all of the descendants of those survivors who were able to escape France because of him signing those visa papers.
Madeline Martin: And he ended up dying in abject poverty. I mean, he never did recover politically from that. And for me, that was such an incredible story of bravery and just such selfless devotion to doing the right thing and to saving innocent lives. And I wish that I could have incorporated that into my book, but it happened two years before my book started and finding a way to incorporate it without it feeling like author interjection, I couldn’t find a smooth area to glide it into. And so, I just had to put it into my author’s note, but yeah, I mean, it was just incredible.
Steve Thomas: There’s a little bit of that in the book of people trying to get visas when they can’t get visas.
Steve Thomas: You have the refugees all outside the embassies, and I didn’t even really think about that cause you don’t learn about that stuff in school. Maybe you hear, oh, Portugal was neutral, but then they don’t say anything else about what’s happening in Portugal. You don’t think about the fact that World War II’s happening around them, so that was interesting cause I actually don’t know that much about Portugal at the time, so that was neat.
Madeline Martin: Yeah, it was really interesting for me doing a lot more research. I will say research was difficult to find because since it was a neutral country, there wasn’t a lot written about Portugal. I like to have several dozen nonfiction books that I can really utilize. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I think I had like 10 nonfiction books that I was able to use when it came to Portugal, but when I went there, I was able to find a tour guide who was just absolutely wonderful. She had so much knowledge of Portuguese history. And she actually had a grandmother who was 101 years old at the time, and she actually remembered all of the refugees coming into Portugal.
Madeline Martin: And so, she, through her granddaughter, shared her experiences from that time period, which was really incredible, and I also, I have like this like sort of souped-up translation software on my computer and I’ve learned that if I try typing something in English, I probably will not get any results. But if I translate it to Portuguese and I put the Portuguese in my search engine, you do get a lot of really wonderful information, and I don’t really like to rely on things that come from the internet. But when you can find several different websites that correspond with the same information, and you only have 10 books to really go off of, sometimes you do have to use that as a tool a little bit more than you would like to. So that’s kind of something I had to do as well.
Steve Thomas: Yeah. Well, and sometimes using the internet as a starting point is good. That’s why I always tell people, don’t rely a hundred percent on Wikipedia, but scroll to the bottom where they have all those links out to their bibliography. Those primary sources at the bottom are great.
Madeline Martin: Oh yeah, no, they definitely are.
Steve Thomas: It’s interesting cuz you have the way the story is going, that back and forth, chapters between the characters, and Lisbon and Lyon are completely different places. It’s almost like there’s abundance in Portugal and then like, Ava’s walking past the bakery and it’s just full of bread and Elaine can’t get anything in France except two-day old bread, basically. The contrast between the two settings is interesting.
Madeline Martin: Oh, absolutely, and the thing is with Lisbon, it wasn’t necessarily that they had an abundance, it’s just that they didn’t have the ration on. And so, as a result, it really did feel very much like an abundance, especially when even in America there was a ration going on. But in Portugal, because they weren’t sending their troops out to battle anywhere, they didn’t have to worry about conserving all of their resources. So, they did still have bread, they did still have coffee, they still had sugar, they still had excess clothes, you know, they could use cloth for having more, I mean, I say like extravagant clothes, but really, it’s actual size lapels on shirts and skirts that can flare out a little bit more without, really seeming like they’re being wasteful. It was really interesting too because people who had come from places where blackouts were happening were amazed to see Lisbon all lit up at night because they had come from places where it was completely pitch black at night to avoid any kind of bombing. And then on the other side we have France and they had a very, very strict rationing system going on. In fact, a lot of people were suffering from malnutrition. And when I was reading through the firsthand. The overriding theme was hunger. People were so incredibly hungry.
Madeline Martin: And so, you had mentioned the bread and that was another sort of interesting aspect of it as well. They could not sell fresh bread. They had to sell it at least 24 hours. And the reason for that was because they could get, it was more firm. They could get a more precise cut to make sure that they were giving them exactly the grams of bread that they were allowed with their ration card. You would go to the bakery and the baker would tell you, “Oh, I can’t sell you anymore bread. I’m out.” And there would be hot, fresh loaves right behind him that had just come out of the oven that he was not allowed to sell until exactly 24 hours later, which is just heartbreaking. And even little things like in the book, I include how she gathers up the breadcrumbs and she puts ’em in a jar and she saves those to put into a recipe at some point to kind of thicken it and make it last a little bit longer, and that’s something that I read about in the firsthand accounts as well, that women very much did save all of the breadcrumbs, which I mean, I can’t even imagine being so desperately hungry that we’re literally scooping up breadcrumbs to save, to cook into a meal later.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, but those are the important little details, I think, that probably you’re finding just in those firsthand accounts that you can include in stories that makes it that much more real.
Madeline Martin: Right. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And for me, really, that’s one of the things of research that I enjoy so much. Like whenever I do start writing, especially if I’m doing a new country, it’s so important to do significant amount of research, not just on the time period that you’re writing about, but their entire history.
Madeline Martin: So, you need to know the history of the country, what their economics look like, what does their politics look like, what did it look like previously? It’s just like, somebody who is here in America, they’re going to know all about the Constitution. They’re gonna know about the horrors of slavery that we had and just everything else. So, I want my characters to have that as well, so that’s part of the research. But you know, really my favorite part is honestly learning about that day-to-day details that people really experience during that time period. And that’s what I like to incorporate into my books as well.
Steve Thomas: You mentioned that Elaine was based on someone. Was Ava based on anyone in particular?
Madeline Martin: So there actually was only one IDC female, and she was actually a really amazing spy. She was stationed in Sweden, and she was so meticulous with all of her notes that they were always asking her for more details, like “How did you find this out? How did you get this?” And she would never answer them. She was really, really, really incredible. And as much as that would make a really interesting story, I kind of wanted somebody who was starting off from scratch that didn’t really know what they were doing and, and going into like I said, into the situation where they were sort of helplessly thrown in.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, that’s the parallels between the stories too, that they’re both kind of thrown in. Elaine doesn’t know anything about, I mean they supported the Resistance before, but she wasn’t in the Resistance before and once her husband goes missing, then she joins the Resistance and then she has to learn that while Ava’s having to learn her job.
Madeline Martin: Yeah. And I very much did try to parallel their stories. I didn’t wanna be so obvious as like, Oh, this happens to her and then this happens to her. Right. This happens to her, and then that happens to her. Yay. But I really did, it was so important for me to really parallel their stories, just because of the way that it goes. They don’t, I don’t wanna go into that cause I’m afraid it might be spoiler…
Steve Thomas: No spoilers, but they both do have family members that they’re worried about so there’s a personal stake in it for them. I mean, Ava’s brother and Elaine’s husband, so I mean, they have a personal drive, but then also just patriotic drive. I mean, just they love their country and she wants France back and wants the Nazis out, and Ava just wants to help because America can help.
Madeline Martin: Right. And you know, at this point too, we’re really about two years, a little over two years into the war, and really just, everybody wants the war to end.
Madeline Martin: I mean, if we think about what’s happening in Ukraine right now, it’s not even about what’s personally happening to us because we’re not having a ration going on. We’re not having anything like that. But we all still want the war in Ukraine to end. We want Russia to stop what they’re doing because, I mean, it’s horrible just hearing what’s happening to people, seeing what’s going on, knowing those atrocities and feeling so impotent, really being able to stop it. If we had something that we could do, I’m sure a lot of us would be more inclined to do that, to make that end faster and this very much was the case with World War II as well, including the patriotism and the concern for their loved ones.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, and there’s a little bit of even, I wouldn’t say disinformation or misinformation that they’re talking about, where Ava gets concerned that people in America are not paying enough attention to what’s happening to the Jews in Europe. And some people, she keeps talking about where they bury it way back into the newspaper and it’s not on the front page. And sort of the same thing here. You know, Ukraine was first story in the news for weeks and now sometimes it’s not in the news at all. And it’s like, there’s still a war happening. We’ve just lose focus.
Madeline Martin: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, all the information really was out there and it was all being buried and the front page was like, how to make an apple pie for 4th of July with your ration, you know, rather than really unfortunately addressing a lot of the horrors that were going on and the people who were reading those articles for them it was like, you know, millions of Jews are being killed. And they’re like, that can’t be true. That’s ridiculous. That’s way, that’s not even believable. So, the people who were actually finding those articles and reading them, they weren’t believing ’em because they felt too fantastical to be real which unfortunately, obviously, turned out to be true. And then everybody was like, Oh gosh, I wish we would’ve done something. So, yeah.
Steve Thomas: Yeah, even now, I mean, just thinking about it, it’s hard to really think about that many people…
Madeline Martin: Oh, absolutely.
Steve Thomas: The structure that had to be put into place to kill that many people in that short period of time. It’s just baffling.
Madeline Martin: Yes. Just like the cold, cruel efficiency of it. I mean, it was just horrifying. Who would ever think that humanity would even be capable of something like that?
Madeline Martin: I have read horrible, horrible, horrible things. Things that I won’t tell anybody, things I wish that I hadn’t read that I will never put in my books because it really is just, it’s so, so, so horrific.
Steve Thomas: Well, for something a little happier, I guess, is there a particular time period that you have enjoyed writing about or that you have not yet written about that you want to write about?
Madeline Martin: Before writing World War II historical fiction, I was writing historical romance, and I wrote medieval and I wrote Regency as well, and I also wrote some that were set in the 17 hundreds, as well. You know, honestly, I love history and so for me, like when I start learning about new time period, it’s like, oh my gosh, this is fascinating. And did you know this? And did you know that? My poor husband, every time I start researching something new, it’s like, he gets an earful constantly of all the wonderful things that I’m learning, hopefully he thinks is as wonderful, but you know, I don’t really have specifically like a favorite time period per se, probably I guess whatever it is that I’m researching at that exact moment and whatever ones I might research in the future, I can’t even tell you. I mean, I never would’ve guessed that I would’ve jumped to so many different time periods in history as I have, but loving research as much as I do and loving learning about just the average person’s life in history in those various circumstances and time periods.
Steve Thomas: Do you ever wanna dip your toe back into romance or anything? Or are you happy where you are right now?
Madeline Martin: I think romance is always going to be in any of my books like just a little bit, because I feel like, and it’s not even necessarily romance, it’s relationships, because relationships are such a ubiquitous part of all of our lives. You’re either in a relationship and hopefully it’s wonderful enough that you don’t have to think about it every single day, or you want to be in one, or you wish you had one or you just lost one and it’s horrible. Everybody has relationships that are going on in their lives, and that’s why it’s so integral to incorporate those still into historical fiction.
Madeline Martin: But from a historical romance perspective, I’ve actually been so busy with my historical fiction, I just really haven’t had the chance to. Will I ever write one again? Maybe. I can’t say yes or no for sure, but when I’m doing my research for these books, it takes so long to dig into such great detail, I mean it takes me a good like 10 months’ worth of research and then about three months’ worth of writing to get these books finished up. And I really don’t have room. It just seems like, oh, you’re researching for 10 months, can’t you write something in between? It really is very intense research.
Steve Thomas: So, you’re not gonna be a James Patterson and have a book come out every week.
Madeline Martin: Oh gosh. I think my hands would fall off.
Steve Thomas: So, you said you’re doing some research on Warsaw. Can you tell anything else about that book that you’re researching right now?
Madeline Martin: Yes so, this book is called The Keeper of Hidden Books, and it is about hidden libraries during the war and not only on the Polish side, but also on the ghetto side as well during World War II. So that’s pretty much all I can say about it. I actually just finished writing it yesterday and I’m working on doing my readthrough before I send it over to my publisher.
Steve Thomas: Do you have any kind of release date for that?
Madeline Martin: Yes, August 1st. So, it actually already has the release date, and I did get to go to Warsaw. My mom and I went there for two weeks for research. My mom’s such a trooper cause when I go for research, I go from like seven o’clock in the morning until around 10 o’clock at night. When I get home, I do more research and everything and I probably walk about 20 to 25,000 steps a day cause I really like to get the lay of the land, and my mom hung in there with me that whole time. She was awesome.
Steve Thomas: That’s great. It’s good to have a traveling companion.
Madeline Martin: Oh, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny cuz when I went to Lisbon, my husband came to Lisbon, my oldest daughter came to Lyon, and my mom found out I was writing about Poland and she said, “Dibs! I wanna go with you!”
Madeline Martin: People who have listened to my previous books, The Last Bookshop in London and the Librarian Spy, will be very happy to know that the Keeper of Hidden Books will be narrated by Saskia Maarleveld as well.
Steve Thomas: Very good. Yeah. I love a good audio book.
Madeline Martin: Yes, me too. And Saskia is one of my favorite narrators of all time. They asked me, they gave me some ideas, “Oh, these are some people, if you wanna go with one of these narrators or you can suggest one.” And I said, “Do you think that like maybe Saskia Maarleveld might be okay with doing this one?” and when she said yes, I think they heard me screaming all the way in New York because I was so excited. So, I’ve been very fortunate to have her for my historical fiction books. She’s been amazing.
Steve Thomas: Oh, that’s very cool, and of course you’re in the historical fiction / book, library genre, so bookshops and libraries…
Madeline Martin: Yes, exactly. No pressure for the next one though, right?
Steve Thomas: Well, Madeline, thank you so much for coming on the podcast to talk about Librarian Spy in particular, but then all of your books, and that book of course is available now so you can run out and buy it at your local bookstore or you can check it out at your local public library, and if you check it out enough times, they’ll probably buy more copies.
Madeline Martin: Yay. Well, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure to chat with you.
Steve Thomas: All right, have a great day.
Madeline Martin: Thanks so much. You too. Take care.