From the author of The Alice Network, The Huntress, and The Rose Code, master historical fiction author, Kate Quinn is back with a new book that is based on a true to life heroine. The Diamond Eye is a compelling biographical historical fiction story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the young, single Ukranian mom librarian turned sharpshooting Russian sniper with 309 kills during World War ll. Fighting against the Nazis to defend her country, protect her son’s future, and to stand up to her older, pompous husband who refuses to divorce her, we follow Lyudmila on her personal and professional journey in The Diamond Eye. She is charming and magnetic and develops strong relationships with men, finding herself in the middle of a love triangle between her boss and her sniper partner. Lyudmila showcases her talent as an expert in combat, a sharpshooter who takes down Nazis and is on the quest to earn respect as a woman. When Lyudmila is sent to the United States on a goodwill tour to talk up the war in order to encourage support for the Russian army, she develops an unlikely friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt that continues for decades. A true hero who stole the hearts of Americans, Lyudmila Pavlichenko lived a fascinating life worth knowing about and celebrating.
Based on the memoir of the real Ukrainian sniper known as “Lady Death” and embellished with fictional details, The Diamond Eye is told through the eyes of lady sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an unnamed, fictional marksman on the quest to take down FDR. We are treated to many humorous and true stories about events that actually occurred with Pavlichenko and Eleanor Roosevelt weaved into the fictional, action packed narrative, along with an assassination attempt, a heart pounding chase and a drastic end to a bad marriage. This eye opening, fast paced novel gives us a view into history and I recommend it!
Book Nation Book Club was lucky enough to welcome Kate Quinn to our discussion to talk about her writing of The Diamond Eye, her research and the real Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Enjoy the video recording and the written Q & A below.
Q & A with Kate Quinn
Q: What inspires you to write and when did you start to consider yourself a writer?
A: My librarian mother introduced me to books and history, and I wrote my first story at age 7–all about the assassination of King Edward II, believe it or not.
Q: Some authors center their stories on historic landmarks, some on certain locations. You have written about strong women before. How do you decide on a subject?…And specifically, the lady sniper in The Diamond Eye?
A: I always look for fascinating, courageous women in history when I look for topics to write about. Lyudmila Pavlichenko (aka Lady Death) I found when I was researching THE HUNTRESS–as I looked up information about the Night Witches (the all-female bomber regiment that flew against Hitler’s eastern front) suddenly all kinds of other Soviet women war heroines were popping up in my research, chief among them Lady Death. So I immediately tucked her in my pocket for a potential future book.
Q: How did you go about research for this book?
A: Fortunately for me, Mila Pavlichenko wrote her memoirs later in life, so we have her own words directly from her mouth about what her war-time experiences were like. Also very useful were Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” columns, which were digitized and put online–I cannot believe how busy that woman was. Did she never sleep?!
Q: When writing historical fiction it seems like you use facts to anchor the story. (Correct me if I am wrong!) How do you decide where to embellish or add new characters and fictionalized story?
A: You look for the places there are gaps in the record, or things history has left unsaid, and fill those in. And sometimes I add fictionalized characters, or combine two real people into one so that I am not messing with someone’s real historical record too much, merely using it as a jumping-off point.
Q: How do you make the historical account of a real person/event read like fiction and feel so exciting?
A: I try to start with history–and women–that are so exciting, their actions stand for themselves before I have to add a thing!
Q: I imagine you included Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR in The Diamond Eye because they showed up in the Lady Death research; did you fall down any rabbit holes when it came to researching the Roosevelts or anyone else that became characters in the book?
A: The tidbit that President Teddy Roosevelt lost a ring in Rock Creek Park near Boulder Bridge, which I found out because I had an action scene take place there. As soon as I found that out, down the rabbit hole I went trying to figure out a fate for that ring…
Q: Was there a significant part of your story that ended up on the cutting room floor?
A: Not really–this one drafted very fast and very tightly. I ended up adding more later (the entire assassination subplot) but not a lot was cut.
Q: I enjoyed the relationships Mila had with all the men in her life and I especially felt the tension building between her and her sniper partner. At what point in the writing process did you decide how her relationships would pan out?
A: Snipers and their partners work together so intimately–I cannot imagine a relationship closer or more trusting than that, going out together and putting your lives in each other’s hands night after night. It seemed natural to explore how that relationship would change, especially when Mila falls in love with someone else–her company commander. Historically the romance with her commander did happen, and I had to follow the record as far as how it unfolded…but history is silent about what happens afterward. So in a way this was my first time writing a love triangle, but it’s not the kind of love triangle I hate, where people are behaving very immaturely and refusing to make emotional choices. This is a love triangle between three mature adults who are considerate of each others’ feelings, and don’t allow jealousy to get in the way of friendship. Or of their battle to stay alive on the front-line, which is really their first priority!
Q: You described the actions of a sniper in such a realistic way. How did you come to learn about this job and have you ever shot a rifle?
A: I’ve done some shooting, though not regularly. I do own a Mosin-Nagant rifle with PE sights, which is what Mila did most of her shooting with on the front lines–fortunately for me, millions were made in the forties, and they’re still pretty easy to obtain! And her memoir is very specific about shooting details, for which I gave great thanks.
Q: What was the strangest/most interesting thing you did in the name of research for this book?
A: Plot a sniper duel on Google Earth. I had to; it was deep in the 2020 lockdown with no vaccines in sight, and there was no way I could travel to Washington DC to walk the ground myself and see what it looked like.
Q: Can you tell us more about the beginning of the chapters where you include snippets of “my memoir” and “my memoir the unofficial version”?
A: As helpful as Mila’s memoir was, it’s still a document which the Soviet propaganda officers censored–cutting some things out (you’d better believe there’s no mention of how the Red Army officers shot their own soldiers for any sign of retreating) or putting some things in (a meeting with Stalin that probably didn’t happen, given that none of the writings of Mila’s contemporaries mention it). So I wanted to make it as clear as I could in THE DIAMOND EYE that Mila’s memoir, though it is a historic document, does not always tell the whole story.
Q: The release of this book is so timely as it allows the reader to picture what went on in the book and then imagine how it may be similar to the war in the Ukraine today. I heard there is a modern day female sniper who has been compared to Lady Death; can you tell us about her?
A: The only thing I know about her is that she has the nickname “Charcoal”, that all her photos show her with her face mostly obscured for security reasons, and that her eyes are FIERCE. She supposedly said “The Nazis were not as vile as these orcs…personally, I will stand to the last.” Somewhere, Mila Pavlichenko is nodding in approval.
Q: What is your next project?
A: THE BRIAR CLUB, which takes place in an all-female boarding house in Washington DC during the fifties–so we’re talking the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the Cold War, all that gritty territory to explore. I’m really enjoying it!
Q: Who would you cast in The Diamond Eye movie?
A: Mila has to be played by Mila Kunis–c’mon, she’s Ukrainian by birth, speaks Russian, is a brown-eyed little brunette like Lady Death. It’s fate! For Kostia, Ben Barnes–dark and quiet and very intense. For Lyonya, maybe Nikolaj Coster-Waldau–golden and smiling but still formidable. For Alexei, Alexander Skarsgard–handsome and charming but scary. For the Marksman, Barry Pepper (a tribute to the sniper he played in “Saving Private Ryan.”) And for Eleanor Roosevelt, why not Gillian Anderson since she just played Eleanor in the miniseries “The First Lady”?
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s TAKE MY HAND. MOTHER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY by Susan Elia MacNeal. Jeannie Lin’s RED BLOSSOM IN SNOW. All wonderful!
About the Author:
Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of southern California, she attended Boston University where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network”, “The Huntress,” “The Rose Code,” and “The Diamond Eye.” All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with three rescue dogs.
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