The Story Behind ‘Shame the Devil’ by Debra Brenegan

Today’s guest is Debra Brenegan, author of the historical fiction novel, Shame the Devil Debra is here to tell us the back story behind her book!

In graduate school, I took a nineteenth-century American Literature class with a professor who told me, “I know a writer you’re just going to love.”  This writer, Fanny Fern, wasn’t on our reading list that semester, so, at my request, he added her book, Ruth Hall, to the reading list of a course I took with him the next semester.  And, he was right – I adored her!  Fanny Fern was the highest-paid, most-popular writer of her era.  She served as a literary mentor to Walt Whitman, earned the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne and was friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Fern’s personal life was a rollercoaster of highs and lows.  She was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, then married a third man, eleven years her junior.  I became so interested in Fern and her amazing life that I started writing papers about her.  I applied for and got a graduate school fellowship to visit Fern’s archives at Smith College in Massachusetts.  As I learned more about Fanny Fern, I couldn’t stop telling people about her.  And people were amazed with her rags-to-riches story.  They couldn’t believe that they had never heard of her.  When it came time to write my dissertation, I combined my interest in creative writing, literature and Women’s Studies to write a historical novel about this forgotten journalist, novelist and feminist.   I wanted everyone who hadn’t heard of Fanny Fern to learn about her; I wanted to bring her back to life.  My publisher is SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions.  I pitched the book myself, at a writer’s convention, directly to the acquisition editor.  He graciously listened to me, more graciously consented to read the manuscript.  It took a little while, but eventually, he and the rest of his editorial board decided to take on the book.  SUNY has been wonderful to work with from day one.  I’m extremely grateful to have found the perfect publisher for Shame the Devil.

 Debra Brenegan grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked as a journalist and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before beginning her graduate work. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also taught. She teaches English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. For her fiction, she has received a Ragdale residency and was a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, and other publications. Debra Brenegan’s novel, Shame the Devil, is a historical account of nineteenth-century American writer Fanny Fern (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions). She is currently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection. During the school year, Debra lives in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with her husband, Steve, and their elderly cat. They spend summers and school breaks in their native Milwaukee. When not teaching, writing, spending time with family or driving back and forth to Wisconsin, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, reading and traveling. You can visit her website at or visit her at Twitter at or Facebook at!/debra.brenegan;!/


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