New interview with Barbara Casey

A big welcome
back to novelist Barbara Casey.
Today we’re chatting about her non-fiction book, Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy.

During her
virtual book tour, Barbara will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble
(winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for
a chance to win, use the form below.
To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit
her other tour stops
and enter there, too!
Barbara Casey
is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults,
as well as book-length works of nonfiction, and numerous articles, poems, and
short stories. Her nonfiction true crime book, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned
for a major film and television series. Her nonfiction book, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave, is under contract for a major film. In addition to her own
writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey
Agency. Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United
States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.
In 2018 Barbara
received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and
Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments
in the field of publishing and other areas. Barbara lives on a mountain in
Georgia with her husband, and three pets who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix;
Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.
Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews,
Thank you, Lisa. It is so nice to visit with you and your
readers again.
tell us about your newest release.
Once again I returned to nonfiction. Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy is a biographical “true
crime” glimpse into the life of a woman who became the first American woman to
face the death penalty on charges of spying for a wartime enemy. She was the
highest paid American woman who spied for the Imperial Japanese Government
during World War II.
inspired you to write this book?
In doing research on another book I was writing, I came
across some information about Velvalee. So little was known about her, and yet
she made international news at the time she was suspected of spying for the
Imperial Japanese Government. She was a diminutive woman, no taller than 4 feet
10 inches and weighing less than 100 pounds, who had made a name for herself
around the world as an expert in antique, foreign, and domestic dolls. And yet,
she became a spy. I was fascinated and wanted to uncover her story.
Velvalee Dickinson: The
“Doll Woman” Spy:
As intrigued as Eunice (Kennedy) was of these three
women—Iva Toguri D’Aquino, Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, and Lilly Stein—Eunice
was especially drawn to Velvalee Dickinson, now 56 years old and 29 years her
senior—the former owner of a prestigious collectable doll shop on Madison
Avenue in Manhattan who had been convicted of spying for the Japanese during
the war. By the time Eunice met Velvalee, the “Doll Woman” had already been at
Alderson a little over four years, spending her time writing letters to her
brother, Oswald, and asking him to send her things like “bobbie pins,” reading
the publication Cathedral Bulletin, learning how to play the electric organ,
writing magazine articles, and reading books such as Citidal by A.J. Cronin and
The Razors Edge by Somerset Maughan. She also took care of a yellow male cat
“which will soon be a father,” she wrote to her brother.
It is ironic that on the very day Velvalee was given the
maximum sentence of ten years in prison at Alderson and a $10,000 fine for
violation of the censorship laws, J.P. Kennedy, Jr., son of ex-ambassador
Joseph Kennedy and Eunice’s brother, was killed when a Navy bomber he was
piloting exploded in flight. And only a year earlier, in August 1943, another
brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been seriously injured by the Japanese in
the Solomon Islands, an injury that caused him chronic back pain for the rest
of his life.
Some speculate that Eunice felt sympathetic toward Velvalee
because she, like Eunice, had graduated from Stanford University. In fact, by
strange coincidence, Velvalee belatedly received her degree the same year that
Eunice graduated from Stanford. Or maybe it was because she believed Velvalee’s
story that it had been her husband, Lee, who spied for the Japanese and not
her. So many of the women Eunice had met and counselled through her work in
social services, after all, had gotten into trouble because of their
controlling and manipulative husbands or boyfriends. Or it could have been that
Velvalee had worked in social services for a time while living in San
Francisco, an interest and passion that Eunice also shared.
the next writing project?
I have been writing a young adult mystery series called
THE F.I.G. MYSTERY SERIES. So far there are three books published in the
series: The Cadence of Gypsies, The Wish
, and The Clock Flower. I am
working on the fourth and final book in the series now.
What is
your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with
this book)
The biggest challenge in writing Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy was the research. There
have been no other books written about her, so my research involved going to
the FBI Vault, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), personal documents and
letters, and newspapers from the time period. It was interesting, but intensive
and extremely time-consuming.
If your
novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research
first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you
need to fill in the gaps?
When writing nonfiction, it is critical that the
information be authentic and correct. I always do my research in advance before
I actually start writing. There are times, as was in this case, when additional
information will come in after I have started writing. Then it is a matter of
working the information in where it best fits. I have to say, as much as I love
writing fiction, I thoroughly enjoy doing research on the nonfiction I write.
your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse
is more active? Please tell us about it.
I have a home office where I work. I begin each day very
early, first feeding Benton, Reese, and Earl Gray, getting myself together,
then sitting down at the computer by 4 a.m. Early mornings are when I am the
freshest, and my writing is unforced. My office has built-in, floor-to-ceiling
bookcases lined with books, reference materials, and things of nature I have
collected such as a hummingbird’s nest, a basket of acorns, personal photos and
drawings, paintings on the walls, and other things. In my office is a large
over-stuffed reading chair and floor lamp, a credenza where I keep a collection
of antique ink wells, my late grandfather’s triangular-shaped measuring stick
next to a wooden file cabinet, and, of course, my desk and chair where I write.
There are large windows that look out over the woods and mountains where I live
which are a constant source of inspiration.
authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I tend to enjoy many of the British mystery authors.
additional you want to share with the readers today?
If any of your readers get a chance to read my books, I
hope they will let me know. I always enjoy hearing their comments.
you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thank you for asking such wonderful questions! I have
enjoyed it very much and hope to visit with you again soon.

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20 thoughts on “New interview with Barbara Casey

  1. Barbara Casey says:

    Lisa, I wanted to thank you again for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to talk about Velvalee. I will be following along, so if any of your bloggers have a question or comment, I will be sure to answer.

    All best,

  2. Barbara Casey says:

    You are welcome, James. So few people know about Velvalee, and yet she made international news at the time she was spying for the Japanese. She was quite a character. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  3. Barbara Casey says:

    Hi Victoria. Even with the seriousness of her crime, Velvalee was fun to write about. She was only about 4 feet 9 inches tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds; but she had a fighting spirit and wasn't afraid to use it against the FBI agents who arrested her. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Barbara Casey says:

    What an interesting question! As a matter of fact, I have one "go to" book–actually it is a series–that I read when I have time and for pure pleasure, and that is MAKE WAY FOR LUCIA by British author EF Benson. Thank you for asking.

  5. Bea LaRocca says:

    Thank you so much for the interview and giveaway. How much time do you usually spend on research for your non-fiction titles?

  6. Barbara Casey says:

    Hi Dale. If you like interesting little-known historical happenings, you will like this. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  7. Barbara Casey says:

    Hi Bea. I love your question. In general, I spend a minimum of 6 months researching my topic. In addition, I access the FOIA through the FBI and the FBI vault, and that can take several months. Once I start to write, though, I already have the story outlined in my mind so the actual writing doesn't take that long. Thank you for your comment.

  8. Bea LaRocca says:

    Hi, Barbara! Thank you for your response. I confess that I've never heard of Velvalee Dickinson but I find her story intriguing as well as the other stories that were mentioned in your bio. I will definitely be checking them out.

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