Susan Elia MacNeal ’91 is no stranger to spycraft, but she’s always eager to learn something new … and put it in her books. After researching World War II-era Paris and London and more for her Maggie Hope series of spy novels, MacNeal turns her attention to Los Angeles in 1943 for the 10th offering, The Hollywood Spy. After so many years spent with Maggie and her cast of characters, MacNeal is ready to write her first standalone novel—but she’s not willing to leave Maggie behind.
How was writing the 10th book different from the first?
I’m comfortable with Maggie and the characters now, but it’s always a new book and it’s always a new game. For me, personally, I wrote it during a pandemic and during a period of racial unrest. There’s nothing to prepare you for any of that.
What was it like writing during the pandemic?
I found it really difficult, especially in the beginning, being in New York City. I wasn’t doing much besides watching CNN, but then I realized I really needed to get back to work. The discipline was good for me. I loved writing scenes like when Maggie goes to the
Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel or she goes out to dinner with her friends or to a movie premiere. That was my way of going out.
The novel deals with some of the race issues going on in the U.S. during the war. Was it hard to write about that while we still grapple with those issues today?
It was really difficult to write about it, and the only solace I got was that a lot of people don’t really understand the connection between today’s Nazis and fascists and the history of that in our country. It was really good to feel like I was illuminating that a bit.
And now you’re at work on a non-Maggie Hope novel?
It’s my first standalone novel. There will be many more Maggie Hope novels, but it was time to step away. I was so inspired by doing research for The Hollywood Spy into the Nazi movement and spy rings in southern California in the 1930s that I really wanted to write about that. I think I’ll be able to tell the whole story within the confines of one novel, but you never know.
Was it strange stepping away from Maggie?
Everything is different, but I’m slowly making my way through. Doing the research makes me feel comfortable enough to write. We’re hoping for publication in February 2023.
And after that?
After that, Maggie Hope 11.
Garrett is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.