By Terri Nolan
Joanna Davidson Politano has had a long-time love affair with the UK. Her ancestral roots are there, and nothing felt more like home than when she visited Scotland. Growing up, she buried herself in Bronte and Dickens, and now finds inspiration in the Victorian era where all of her standalone novels are set. Her third, FINDING LADY ENDERLY, is a novel full of scheming, mystery, and thoughtful meditation about identity, our given names, and finding balance between who we are and who we want to become.
Raina is an adventurous rag woman who works and lives in London’s east end. She’s considered a castoff just like the used clothing she peddles. She is passionate and caring, and fights for fellow disadvantaged people. One day, the solicitor of Rothburne Abbey offers her a job she can’t refuse: to pose as Lady Enderly of Rothburne while the countess, of delicate disposition, rests in India.
Raina has always dreamed of living the privileged life of a lady, far removed from the slums. But like all great mysteries, things are not as they seem. When Raina steps onto the train, she’s shocked to see her best friend—a man she thought dead.
While Raina takes to the responsibilities of a countess, she also searches the estate for information about the real Lady Enderly—a woman people speak about with various degrees of awe, respect, and contempt. Who is this mystery woman? What Raina discovers could be her own undoing and a threat to the servants’ livelihoods.
Davidson Politano recently took time to visit with us at The Big Thrill.
Welcome, Joanna. Is there significance to Raina’s name?
I honestly didn’t give much thought to Raina’s name as I normally do—obsessively so—because she didn’t use it for long. She became someone else, which made her name an important aspect of putting this story together. Who is a person at their core when every identifying mark, including a given name, is replaced? Her name came to have meaning later in the writing process as the heroine worked to free herself from the new identity that she initially envied, then came to fear. As the new name and title consumed who she was, I came back to evaluate the richness found in her simple given name and found it quite fitting.
What is a rag woman?
Rag collectors turned discarded trash into something useable. The sanitation system in Victorian cities did not include dumpsters and garbage collection services. A rag collector, or a rag-and-bone man, would appear at the service door of middle- or upper-class homes to ask for household castoffs. They carried their treasures in a burlap sack or in a wagon, wandering the streets in the early morning to collect, then spending their days in squalid flats to repair and clean their items. They would then sell them to the lower classes and live off the miniscule profits. They weren’t looked upon favorably—even in the slums—because they were associated with garbage. A girl in this position would have had little to live on and even less connection to people, yet they made themselves useful and often had a lot of talent in wood carving or sewing.
What would Raina’s bio be?
Raina is a renewer. She was taught to see the value in castoff clothing and remake it into something useable and even beautiful. She does the same with people. She brings her talent to Rothbourne Abbey and spruces up what’s been forgotten. Old gardens are uncovered and revived; halls attractively furnished using only what is already available. Several individuals haunted and tortured by various failures receive the same treatment. She’s beautiful and feminine, but plucky enough to ruin the day of anyone who comes between her and those she loves.
Do you have a day job? If so, how does it inform your writing?
My day job for many years was in the marketing side of publishing, and in medical writing. Five years ago, I became a fulltime mom when my babies were born, which has been the absolute best phase of life so far. I loved contributing to a company and working with peers, but being a mom is such a step up. There’s richness—a subtle significance—in everyday occurrences and random conversations. There’s depth in the simplest things, and symbolism that resonates in my heart. I’ve grown up a lot as a mom, and grown down too. I climb trees and have swing contests and water balloon fights. My heart fills with moments of meaning that are poured into my stories. I never take myself too seriously; no one with marker on her face or mud in her hair when the mailman comes to the door could.
You have a busy life. When do you have time to write?
My life has settled into a fabulous pattern that flexes to fit the circumstances. Most days, I am up early with my husband. When he leaves for work, I spend time with God and write until the kids awake. Then I turn into a kid and play full-force, releasing all the structured, heavy thoughts that go into my novels. While my kids sleep, I bury myself in distant worlds and slip into my characters’ lives. So far, I’ve managed to keep writing time to hours my kids are asleep, and it’s been wonderful. Each part of my life is a rest from the other part, and I dearly love both aspects of my day.
Joanna Davidson Politano writes historical novels of mystery and romance, including her debut Lady Jayne Disappears. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story.
She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and you can find her on her website.