Donna Thorland – Reframing Women’s History

Hi friends!

Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month 2016!

If you’re a new visitor to RARM, I hope you’ll come back every day in August to read all the wonderful pro-romance posts this year. Check out the full calendar here. You can also find links to the last three years’ posts from the boxes in the sidebar, and if you’d like, you can follow RARM on Facebook. Enjoy August!


Not Just A Plot Device

I love romance because in our aisle of the bookstore, women are allowed to win. They can solve the dutch girlmystery, turn the tide of the battle, get the guy. When I pick up a romance novel, I know that a woman will be at the center of the story and that she won’t be just a plot device. She’s not going to be murdered in the first ten pages to kick-start the story, relegated to the role of sidekick for most of the action, or awarded to the hero like a good conduct prize at the end.

I love the historical in particular because it’s an opportunity to write women’s stories back into a picture that’s often exclusively male. I grew up in Bergen County New Jersey, where Washington’s retreat route is marked by signs put up during the bicentennial. They feature a silhouette of a man holding a musket. Washington’s crossing of the Delaware is a popular subject for public art—bold men in a boat navigating an ice-choked river. I was a huge Doctor Who fan as a kid, and I watched it faithfully every Friday night on New Jersey public television. The channel signed off right after the show with a short PSA that dramatized Washington bursting in on the Hessians at Trenton on Christmas Eve. It was as dramatic as anything on Doctor Who, so I wondered why there weren’t more stories set during the Revolution — and where all the women were …

They’re easy to find if you go looking for them. My first book was inspired by two women who have been The_Turncoatrelegated to the footnotes of history. Quaker spy Lydia Barrington Darragh walked 12 miles in freezing weather to warn Washington’s army about a British sneak attack. The mysterious Widow of Mount Holly enabled Washington’s victory at Trenton by seducing Hessian Colonel Carl Von Donop and keeping him and his forces away from the conflict at the crucial moment.

Since we don’t read about these very real women in history books, we get to write and read about them—heroically, in the romance aisle.


Donna Thorland recommends: 

If you enjoy historical spies then you have to read Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series and Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster books. In American historicals I’m hooked on Piper Huguley and I love Sarah Donati.

Lauren Willig   –   –   (at Amazon)  (Lauren’s fab 2015 post. *)

Joanna Bourne   –    –   (at Amazon)   Joanna posted on RARM yesterday.

Piper Huguley   –  –   (at Amazon)   Piper will visit RARM on 8/12*

Sara Donati  –  –    (at Amazon)   Sara will visit RARM on 8/14*

(See the full 2016 calendar here. Search for more of Lauren’s posts in the search box at the top of the sidebar.)

Questions for the Author:

Tell us about a moment in your life when you felt romance surrounding you.

While we were students my husband proposed to me in the Pantheon, at Sunset, in a beam of light from the oculus. How he timed it all out with Roman traffic I will never know…

Tell us about someone special in your life (other than your partner) with whom you share romance.

 In my day job I’m a TV writer on the WGN drama SALEM and I love sharing romance novels with my boss, Adam Simon, who is an amazing storyteller with a truly awe-inspiring breadth of knowledge and interests.

Do you have a place in the world or a sound that you equate with romance?

My husband and I met at Yale. It is possible that I am the only person who has ever thought New Haven was the most romantic city in the world…

Who is your (or a) favorite romantic couple?

 Right now I’m completely consumed by the romances on SALEM and I’m on team Cotton/Anne.

Tell us about your dream date.  

I get to go on my dream date pretty regularly! On weekends my husband and I like to drive up to Essex, Massachusetts, paddle the Essex River Basin, and then stop for fried clams and ice cream on the way home.

Donna is generously giving away two copies of The Dutch Girl and two copies of Mistress Firebrand. (US only, apologies to international friends.) One winner wins one of each and two other winners win one of the titles. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or on the Facebook post you’ll find here (or both – Share the Love!) ;o) by 11:59 pm PST Feb 10. Good luck! 

Donna ThorlandA native of Bergenfield, New Jersey, Donna graduated from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History. For many years she managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and wrote and directed the Witch City’s most popular Halloween theater festival, Eerie Events. She later earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Donna has been a sorority house mother, a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow, a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and a writer on the ABC primetime drama, Cupid. Her screenwriting credits include episodes of the animated series, Tron: Uprising.

Her short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Albedo One. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project, The Night Caller, aired on WNET Channel 13 and was featured on Ain’t It Cool News. Currently she is a writer on the WGN drama SALEM. She is married with two cats and divides her time between the real Salem and Los Angeles.

Learn more:     |     Facebook     |     Twitter


Buy Donna’s books:

availableon-amazon       availableon-nook    availableon-kobo

*Please note that the Amazon button, most cover images and many text links connect to a Read-A-Romance Month affiliate portal. Thanks so much for your help and support!

  • Judy Goodnight

    I’ve decided I must read your books. I still remember one of my favorite books I read as a child was “Spies of the American Revolution” mainly because of the stories of the clever women who aided the cause.

    • Donna Thorland

      I hope you enjoy them, Judy:) I used to comb our elementary school library shelves for books about women in history. To this day I’m sucker for any and all stories about Cleopatra, because she was one of the few women I could read about as a child!

  • Make Kay

    Love your books, Donna!
    And you’re right,the gaze of history has been far too much on men.

  • Sue G.

    I read To Steal a Heart by K. C. Bateman this fall which was a story that takes place in Napoleon’s time. It was the first time I’ve read a romance story that entwines really history throughout it. It was a wonderful read!

    • Donna Thorland

      Have you tried Lauren Willig’s books? They are wonderful romances with Napoleonic spies and really cleverly worked in history. I love them and there twelve of them!!!

      • Sue G.

        No, I haven’t. I’ll have to add her to my list! Thanks!

  • Patty Vasquez

    Many years ago, Gwen Bristow wrote historical novels about American women who were or became survivors through necessity. I love that your stories are also set in the early history of our country. I read and loved Terms of Engagement. The Turncoat is on my TBR shelf. Thank you for bringing “herstory” to life.

    • Donna Thorland

      I love Celia Garth! I hope more readers rediscover Gwen Bristow now that her books are available electronically. They were hard to track down for a while! Thank you for reading my Salem-set book–it’s near and dear to my heart since it’s set in my adoptive hometown. I just visited Misery Island again, where the climax of Rebel Pirate is set, last weekend and am about to post photos on my FB page–it’s an amazing place!

      • Patty Vasquez

        Blergh. I’m sorry. I’d forgotten the title was changed to Rebel Pirate. I had my copy of The Turncoat handy with an excerpt of your next book; the title changed prior to its publishing. My favorite Gwen Bristow is Jubilee Trail when John gets the note from Garnet saying (words to the effect) she won’t marry a man who’s like soggy milk toast. That’s such a great scene! I still have my original paperback copy of Calico Palace.

        • Donna Thorland

          LOL Do not apologize — that book had so many titles even I call it the wrong thing. It started out as THE PRIVATEER but for some reason someone at Penguin thought that sounded self-published. My second choice was Marque and Reprisal (as in privateer licenses–letters of marque and reprisal) but the publisher scratched that as too obscure and Rebel Pirate won the day. I have not read Jubilee Trail but I have it on my Kindle!

          • Piper Huguley

            Butting in to say Donna, that Jubilee Trail is one of my favorites and I agree with Patty. Bristow’s Garnet inspired my Garnet (Nettie) in A Treasure of Gold. But I have to read Celia Garth next. Thank you so much for the shout out! It means a lot to me that you enjoy my work, just as I enjoy yours. Thank you so very much!

          • Donna Thorland

            OK now I have to read Jubilee Trail immediately!


    I have enjoyed Lauren’s books. I think I must find copies of your books. I love history and a reminder that history was populated by actual human beings. Thanks for sharing.

    • Donna Thorland

      Have you read Lauren’s THAT SUMMER yet? It was so deliciously gothic, and so neatly fit into the Pre-Raphaelite movement that I had to double check if the character was real or fictional!

  • Heather Roach

    *quietly goes and puts all the books on hold*

  • Meghan Stith

    I lived in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts but I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Essex. After your description, I would love to go kayak the river!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • Donna Thorland

      It really is beautiful — lots of great hiking trails too!

  • K Davis

    When you finish your romance in Salem, I would love for you to write a romance based on the original Route 66. That would be so interesting!

  • Carol Opalinski

    I loved reading your post! I have a familial tie to Salem and the Witch Trials. An ancestor on my maternal side, Daniel Eliot, defended Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse at their trials.His step-mother-in-law was Sarah Cloyes. I’m told that after Sarah was let out of prison the family, including Daniel, moved to Framingham.

    • Donna Thorland

      Have you ever had the chance to visit, Carol? Judge Corwin’s house aka The Witch House is open to the public and it’s an amazing window into the past.

      • Carol Opalinski

        Donna, yes! When we lived in Massachusetts we toured the museum. Unfortunately at that time I was unaware of my personal connection to all of it. Didn’t get into genealogy until later.

  • Anna

    And this reminds me that I wanted to request your books for my vacation later this summer. Thanks! 🙂

    • Donna Thorland

      I met all my favorite books in libraries–so thrilled so many romance readers are also library addicts!

    • Hi Anna – you’re DT’s winner!. Please send me your email address so I can get it to the author and she can get you the prize. Thanks so much!

      (You can reply with it here or send it in an email to If you send in a message, please put “Donna Thorland” winner in the title. Thanks so much! ~ Bobbi)

  • Pamby50

    New author for me. I love reading history books and I have your books on my wish list. My kids tend to go through my list and buy me books.

    • Donna Thorland

      Wow! Those are wonderful kids!

  • Eileen Aberman Wells

    Thank you for sharing your post. I agree that history has missed the boat not telling the herstory. You are a new to me author, but I will be looking for your books.

  • Debbie Fuller

    Great post. I love learning about history reading romance, makes it seem so much more real. Wish they would teach history this way in school, I would have learned so much more and not been bored.

    • Donna Thorland

      Me too, Debbie!

  • Linda Henderson

    I haven’t read any of your books but now I’ll be looking for them. The Turncoat sounds like a very interesting read. I actually enjoy books from that time frame so I’ll definitely be looking for that one.

  • Julie Nieves

    I enjoyed your post! I love the show Salem and I’m excited to read your books. I’m a big fan of novels that bring to life the stories of intriguing women overlooked by history. Megan Mayhew Berman’s ‘Almost Famous Women’ is a great one.

  • catslady

    Oh, this is my favorite genre but although I’ve not read you as yet, I’m sure I would enjoy your stories!

  • Glenda

    EXACTLY! Historical romance gives us a chance to see history from a woman’s point of view as well as see women participating in history!

  • rebecca moe

    I practically inhaled the Scholastic Sunfire books growing up, because I loved history but there just weren’t many women or girls doing much in our textbooks at school. When my teachers no longer gave out Scholastic order forms, I singlehandedly kept my younger brother’s class orders going–just to make sure I got my hands on the latest book ASAP!


    Little did I know they were my gateway drug to the romance genre 😉

    Thanks for posting–I’m adding your books to my TBR right now!

  • Mary McCoy

    Love romance that tells more of history than what is usually taught in schools.

  • Molly

    I love reading novel that involve historical events.