I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but for over thirty years have lived in Atlanta, Georgia. Although my first few decades in Atlanta were consumed by raising three daughters born in a four-year span and caring for my parents, from early childhood, I knew my calling was to write stories. I had to find a way to make that happen, so even though overwhelmed with parenting and working as a secretary in support of my family, I kept the dream alive by writing books for children. Once my kids were grown—and 15 published children’s books later, including novels, picture books and a young adult book chosen by Barnes & Noble as a “Discover Great Writers” selection—I turned to what this old English major was born to do, writing novels about misunderstood historical figures.
My mission is to write stories that get to the heart of the human condition, using the lives of legendary people as my vehicle. It’s important to me to ground my books in historical facts--I want my readers to be confident when they read my novels that the events in them either did happen or could have happened. I don’t tamper with the framework of facts around which I tell my stories, but instead aim to connect the dots between events that really happened in my characters’ lives. To this end, I travel and research extensively, making a point of visiting every scene in my books. This is my idea of fun!
It amazes me—honestly, it hasn’t quite sunk in—that after decades of working toward my childhood dream, that this Atlanta housewife somehow inched her way to the title of “best-selling author.” Being singled out by People magazine, Oprah.com, and NPR, and having my books highlighted at Costco and the Target Book Club doesn’t seem quite real, either. I’d keep on working and researching and trying to make sense of our short lives regardless. But connecting with readers around the world has become a joy I’d never looked for. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.
Tell us about your book.
In 1909, Mark Twain turned on his secretary of nearly seven years after she had devoted her life to him. She’d taken care of his difficult grown children, (one of whom needed constant care for her severe epilepsy,) managed his personal affairs, planned his travel, paid his household accounts, built his home, bought his clothing, played hostess for his guests, entertained him nightly with endless card games, even washed that white hair! Yet when she married Twain’s business manager, with Twain’s blessing, Twain not only fired her a month later, but started a scorched-earth slander campaign that ruined her for the rest of her long life. Twain’s End explores why such a beloved benevolent legend as Mark Twain could have behaved in this way.
What inspired you to write Twain's End?
Twain’s End was written for all the secretaries in the world (of which I was one for decades.) I had to know why a man known to be such a champion of the underdog would have turned on the woman who, he admitted himself, knew him best. I found my answers in Twain’s childhood, and in the emotional wounds he received during his early years.
How much time per week do you spend writing/editing your work?
Now that my kids are grown, I work full-time on my writing. I put in 8 hour days under my laptop, unless I’m on a research trip or speaking to groups. I visit book clubs weekly, either in person locally or by Skype. Even though I put in long hours simply writing, I make a point of spending time with my children and grandchildren. They are more important to me than books. So as you can guess, I’m always in a time crunch.
What are you working on at the moment?
Set in 1934, BETTY KNOWS BEST is about a Midwestern widow whose mysterious infatuation with kitchen wizard Betty Crocker sends her and her reluctant daughters on a Wizard of Oz-style quest to meet Betty. While Betty Crocker advertises knowing "15 Ways to a Man's Heart," Dorothy and her two grown daughters learn the one true way to a woman's.
Title: Twain’s End
Author: Lynn Cullen
Now in paperback for the first time from the national bestselling author of Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen, comes TWAIN’S END (Gallery Books; June 7, 2016; Trade Paperback; $16.00), a fictional imagining of America’s iconic writer Mark Twain and the woman who knew him too well.
In March of 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed the wedding of his private secretary, Isabel V. Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft. One month later, he fired both, wrote a ferocious 429-page rant about the pair, and then—with his daughter, Clara Clemens—slandered Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her nearly seven years of devoted service to their family.
In TWAIN’S END, Lynn Cullen “cleverly spins a mysterious, dark, tale” (Booklist) about the tangled relationship between Twain and Lyon. A silenced woman, Isabel’s loyal service and innocence were not enough to combat the slander, and she has gone down in history as the villainess who swindled Twain in his final years. She never rebutted Twain’s claims, never spoke badly of the man she called “The King,” and kept her silence until she died in 1958. How did Lyon go from being the beloved secretary who ran Twain’s life to a woman he was determined to destroy? TWAIN’S END explains.
Lynn Cullen lives in Atlanta surrounded by her large family, and like Mark Twain, enjoys being bossed around by cats. Follow Lynn Cullen on Facebook or visit www.lynncullen.com.
Buy the book on Simon & Schuster