Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives with her family. She is the author of several YA novels. “A Death Of No Importance” is her first adult novel.

Released yesterday to advance rave reviews, “A Death Of No Importance” is a historical mystery that juggles the multiple classes of early 20th-century New York. By following ladies’ maid Jan Prescott, Fredericks opens a window into both the wealthy upper crust of NYC and takes readers into the bitter underbelly of the anarchist movement.

Fredericks touches on multiple historical moments, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the growing campaign for women’s rights. The 1910s were remarkably similar to today in that it was a time of great inequality, swift change, and a belief in violence as a political solution.

“A sparkling mystery… The novel’s voice, plotting, pace, characterization, and historical background are all expertly crafted, while the resolution—which feels both surprising and convincing—will leave readers hungry for more.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review).

Fredericks just visited the Astoria Bookshop (31- 29 31st Street in Astoria) on April 12.

QG: How did you begin your career as a writer? What were some early challenges that you faced, and how did you work past them?

MF: Like most writers—poorly! In college, I started what I was convinced would be my first published novel. Some 800 pages later, it still wasn’t done. (It now resides in a box somewhere in a closet.) So, I worked full-time in an office and wrote three more novels. At that time, Brett Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz were the rage, bright young things being naughty in big cities. I tried to write that book and failed. None of them sold. But then I wrote about bright young things being angsty and confused in 9th grade. That book became the young adult novel, “The True Meaning of Cleavage.”

I wrote YA for many years. But at a certain point, I wanted to write about adults and adult issues. I’ve always been passionate about history. So I made a second career switch to historical mysteries.

QG: What about your experiences as a native New Yorker have shaped and influenced your writing career?

MF: I’m not necessarily proud of this, but except for college, I have spent my entire life in New York City. All my books are set here. There’s no other place I know nearly as well. This could be true for all major cities, but there is a real sense of purpose in New York. You are here to do something, whether that something is artistic or financial or teaching or whatever. It’s a city of strivers and that energy is good for a writer.

QG: Your most recent novel, “A Death of No Importance,” is set in New York at the turn of the 20th century. Why did you choose that time period for your novel, and what about the 1910s do you find most interesting?

MF: This novel started when the first line, “I will tell it” popped into my head. I didn’t know who was speaking or what the “it” was. But I knew it wasn’t now and I knew it was a tale of violence. You can find killing and dying at any point in history, but the late Gilded Age is particularly fascinating in its contrast of massive wealth and refinement with the poverty and brutality of the era. You have anarchist bombings, labor strikes violently suppressed, appalling indifference to human safety that resulted in events like the Triangle Fire. It’s a time of great inequality, dynamic immigration, and outbreaks of murderous rage. Seemed a good fit for today!

QG: What is your favorite aspect of the creative process?

MF: I love living in a different head. All my books are first person and I enjoy my characters’ company. Everyone likes to escape. If I’m stuck on a slow subway, I can just go into Jane Prescott’s world and decide she’s on the subway, talking to another character. I’ve written a lot of scenes walking down the street. And writing a historical (novel) set in New York is a great excuse to just wander the city. We’ve knocked down a lot of the past, but thankfully we’ve held on to some of it. On almost any block, something interesting actually took place there—or you can imagine something that would.

QG: What are some of your hobbies?

MF: Like my work, most of my hobbies are centered on stories: books, TV, movies. I love walking. And I have an 11-year-old son. I’m never bored.

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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