Category Archives: Savage Girl

Savage Girl Talk-Twain House

For anyone wondering when I am venturing forth to speak about Savage Girl, one such event is coming up on March 14, a Friday, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. I am extremely happy to speak at Twain’s genteel abode because some of his early work informed Savage Girl. Specifically, the great writer penned Roughing It about his days in Virginia City, Nevada as a cub reporter in the 1860s.

This is how he looked at that time.

young twain 1867

I drew on the rollicking material in Roughing It for the first part of Savage Girl, which takes place in 1875 Virginia City at the height of the silver boom.

If you can make it to Hartford on March 14th, I’d love to have you there. I plan to read a bit from the novel and also talk about some wonderful images I’ll bring to flesh out the history behind the fiction.

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Wild Music for a Savage Girl

What wild child anthem gets your juices flowing? Curtis Mayfield’s Little Child Running Wild? Wild Thing by the Troggs? Or perhaps an oldie like Bessie Smith’s I’m Wild About that Thing? My personal favorite:  Born to Be Wild as rendered by the immortal Etta James.


Whatever your taste, you can get a bunch of hits in one place when you check out the Spotify playlist I’ve put together with the help of Viking for  Savage Girl’s release in… 11 days (really? is that possible?).

Of course, these selections all appeal to our contemporary taste and would probably appall the characters in Savage Girl, who would have been more entertained by music that was quite different in a pre-Victrola, pre-modern age. To enjoy popular music in the late nineteenth century people might sing around the piano in their homes, enjoying such numbers as My Grandfather’s Clock (1876), Clementine (1863), or Home on the Range (1873). They would also enjoy some of the great composer Stephen Foster’s work, tunes such as Beautiful Dreamer (1864) or Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair (1854), which were popular throughout the second half of the 1800s.


If they attended a ball, they would in all likelihood waltz – the most popular dance step of the nineteenth century — to compositions by Johann Strauss, Jr, who wrote the famous Blue Danube among over 400 waltzes.

I don’t think you’ll ever waltz to the Troggs. But you can try. Just click on my Spotify playlist.


Filed under Culture, Dance, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Music, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Savage Girl Events-Spring 2014

This spring I am looking forward to speaking about Savage Girl at various venues. Here are the firm dates so far. Further details to come closer to the date.

When I talk about Savage Girl I’ll likely show some pictures in a powerpoint to give the context for the novel, as well as talk and read from the book. It should be enjoyable! I hope that some of you will be able to attend one of these events.

I’ll continually update my speaking engagements on the sidebar to the right-hand side of this site.

If you live someplace not on my schedule but you’d like me to visit, please drop me a comment here or on my Facebook page, and I’ll get right back to you. (While you’re at it, please like my FB page!)

Savage Girl Events-Spring 2014

March 14   The Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT

March 26   Ossining Public Library, Ossining, NY

April 3   The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ

April 16   The National Arts Club, NY, NY

May 24   Musehouse: A Center for the Literary Arts, Philadelphia, PA

June 21   Millbrook Literary Festival, Millbrook, NY


Filed under Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Savage Girl Book Club Kit

My book club has an interestingly intellectual way of approaching literature — with lots of research materials, dozens of post-it notes on the book pages, and nary a glass of Chardonnay in sight. However, I have not seen them use information direct from the publisher. It can be really useful in directing a discussion and, in the case of the materials for Savage Girl, extraordinary beautiful (thanks to the  brilliance of the Viking design team). We also offer recipes for cocktails in the Gilded Age spirit and a terrific playlist that you can access on Spotify. And of course I answered some questions. So check out Viking’s on-line book club kit — whether or not you have a reading group of your own. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to start one up. (Warning: there might be spoilers in some of the questions.)

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Booklist Reviews Savage Girl

Booklist (March 1, 2014)

Savage Girl.

Mar 2014. 402 p. Viking, hardcover, $27.95. (9780670014859).

Debutante or demon? The title character of Zimmerman’s gripping historical novel seems to be a little bit of both. Discovered in a Nevada mining town by a wealthy couple determined to overcome the “savage” girl’s apparent feral upbringing, Bronwyn is introduced by them to Gilded Age Manhattan’s high society. But as the couple’s son, the novel’s narrator, can attest, she is perhaps not as innocent as she seems. All revolves around the central question of whether Bronwyn or the captivated narrator is responsible for the trail of bloody crimes left in their wake. Suffused with a gothic aura of dark suspense, this is a finely wrought psychological work from the author of The Orphanmaster (2012), rich with historical detail. The mystery stretches from society’s heights to its absolute depths and touches everything between, always increasing in dramatic tension. Zimmerman’s settings spring off the page, from the stinging dust of the American desert to the dank despair of the Tombs prison in New York. Immensely readable, Savage Girl takes the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go.

— Bridget Thoreson


Filed under Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval

I’m so pleased to see Savage Girl among Good Housekeeping‘s recommended books for March.


Here is the magazine’s thumbnail review, which manages to distill the essence of the story quite well, I think.

Good Housekeeping, March 2014

New Book Picks: No matter what mood you’re in, we have a page-turner to tempt you


Savage Girl

A wealthy couple touring the American West in 1875 “rescue” a young woman who’s said to have been raised by wolves, then attempt to introduce her into society back East. Bronwyn cleans up nicely, but her suitors keep ending up dead. A wild ride.



Filed under Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Big Ol’ Brick of Books

A brick of books. Author copies. Twenty-eight, to be exact, sitting where UPS dumped the box, in the fresh, deep pile of snow at the head of the driveway. The cardboard was soaked around the edges.

But the books were dry, miraculously. That novel is watertight.



Filed under Art, Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Kirkus Reviews Savage Girl

Kirkus Reviews Savage Girl (pub. Feb. 15, 2014):

A formal, measured tempo only heightens the tension in Zimmerman’s second historical fiction–cum-thriller (The Orphanmaster, 2012), this one set in the 1870s and concerning a serial killer whose rampage ranges from a rough mining community in Nevada to upper-class Manhattan.

The novel opens in 1876 with narrator Hugo Delegate, Harvard-educated scion of one of New York’s wealthiest and most socially connected families, locked up for the gruesome murder of another New York dandy. He willingly claims his guilt—though that guilt is far from certain—but his expensive lawyers demand he tell them the true story from the beginning. Hugo starts with his family’s visit to Virginia City, Nev., home of his father Freddy’s silver mine. Soon, Hugo’s parents, eccentric liberals interested in the nurture/nature debate raised by Darwin, are eager to adopt a young girl they have discovered in a Virginia City freak show, the owner of which claims she was raised by wolves. Of unknown origins, she speaks Comanche as well as a smattering of English, and her performance involves a set of mechanical claws and a swimming tank. The girl, whose name turns out to be Bronwyn, travels on the Delegates’ private train to New York, where the Delegates plan to put one over on their friends My Fair Lady–style by having her debut as a fashionable young lady. But one grisly murder after another seems to follow in Bronwyn’s wake, the victim always a man who has shown his attraction to Bronwyn’s considerable charms. Is Bronwyn, with her animallike instincts, the killer? Or is it Hugo, with his past mental problems, his capacity to black out and his love for Bronwyn that borders on jealous insanity? Neither Hugo nor the reader is sure right up to the satisfying if melodramatic end.

Zimmerman’s dark comedy of manners is an obvious homage to Edith Wharton, a rip-roaring murder mystery more Robert Louis Stevenson than Conan Doyle and a wonderfully detailed portrait of the political, economic and philosophical issues driving post–Civil War America.


Filed under Culture, Fiction, History, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Writers, Writing

In the Sky With Diamonds

The 60th anniversary of the Winter Antiques Show at New York’s Park Avenue Armory: the Diamond Jubilee. So it features special showings of diamonds, of course. And a lot of people are dripping with their own, too. One pouf-haired dowager in black stretch pants nearly blinds us with her sizable diamond pendant while scoping out the Tiffany Studio micromosaic table at the Associated Artists stall. In 1891, Tiffany designed things besides jewelry and lamps.


There are thousands upon thousands of match-head sized wood chips embedded in this decorative band that resembles cross-stitch, or snakeskin. Imagine the work that went into its intricacy. The table is the only one of its kind ever made, and with two matching chairs is priced today at 1.4 million dollars.

Going, going, gone, to the lady in the diamond dazzler.

There are a lot of things I love at the show. A small but powerful watercolor of a snarling but somehow jolly wolf circa 1800 gives me a welcome jolt of Savage Girl.

snarling wolf

There are girls here too, including one hand-sewn, winsome doll with brown velvet hair.


One baby Amazon in glossy marble.

baby amazon

I see a trio of ventriloquist dummies dating back to 1875. Oscar and Louise Shaffer, along with their musical troupe, toured the east coast throughout post-Civil War America. Oscar was the ventrioloquist. His three “friends” were Jerry Doyle, D Day and Sassafras Jones.


Louise Shaffer was billed as “the most versatile lady artist in America.” She was renowned for her cornet solos and banjo stylings.

Louise probably could have managed this enormous blue guitar, hand-crafted and reminiscent of Picasso’s famous Blue Period painting, The Old Guitarist..

blue guitar

I really like this chair, too. One of my favorites in the show.

worn chair

Now that’s what you call antique. The leather has received its share of buffing and burnishing by uncountable weary behinds.

At the Winter Antiques Show you can buy a quartet of really important geodes, if you have a couple large in your pocket.


We stand at a counter admiring diamond rings set with emeralds and rubies, next to a gentleman in tweeds examining a set of cufflinks displaying horses, a bargain at $1,400. I don’t ask the price of the rings. I have just been chastised by a guard for attempting to snap a picture of Queen Victoria’s tiara from 1840, ablaze with sapphires along with diamonds and prominently on display. There’s a shot on the show’s website, however.

Queen Victoria's tiara

Tiaras have always intrigued me. We think of them as belonging exclusively to princesses. There was a time, however, in the late nineteenth century, when the only thing that kept a woman from wearing one is if she couldn’t afford it. You didn’t have to be royal. According to one expert, “By 1894 nearly 100 tiaras could be counted among the possessions of New York’s social leaders.” That’s a lot of tiaras. If you were really well off you might have two or three to choose from when you went out to the ball. Tiffany could barely keep enough in the pipeline, churning out beauties like this 1894 piece assembled of gold, platinum and diamonds.


If you wore one, like Consuela Vanderbilt in 1902, you could imagine yourself to be royalty. She had an Alice in Wonderland neck and a trompe l’oeil waist.


Maybe that’s how that multi-faceted woman in the pouf-hair and leggings sees herself.


Filed under Art, Culture, Fashion, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Savage Girl

Sweetly Wild

Animal Planet produced a popular program Raised Wild that profiles people who have been nurtured by monkeys, by a pack of dogs, by a flock of chickens. In researching Savage Girl I came across parental bears and goats and even a girl raised by rats. The mythology goes back to Romulus and Remus, boys suckled by the same she-wolf. The two man-cubs eventually went on to rule Rome. Nothing that takes place in my novel should shock anybody who has viewed Raised Wild. But it might surprise the Savage Girl herself to come across a box of Valentine’s-packaged Wild Child candy hearts.

wild child hearts


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Fiction, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writing

A Fresh and Juicy Book

The dog woke up. It was mid-afternoon.

sleepy oliver

He barked. I looked out the window. A UPS truck. More important, snow.

snow cabin

I didn’t want to go outside to get a package. I wasn’t expecting anything. I’d stay in my socks.

Do the trees feel cold? On this day they would have.


The UPS guy whistled a tune as he headed from the Cabin back to the truck, winding his way through the snow banks.

Have you ever handled The First Book, fresh from the package? No?

When Gil came home he told me something had come for me, out on the porch. He slit open the plastic.

A hardcover of Savage Girl fell out, fresh and juicy as a ripe apple and cold as though it had been plucked from a tree in fall. The jacket, of course, was no surprise, as my publisher had involved me in the design process. But so many little details seemed different, the exact shade of blue on the back cover, the smidgen of lace along the edge. The spine, with my book’s title and my name and “A NOVEL” all perfectly proportioned.

jean book

There are a number of peak moments when you write books. The day you jot down a note and think about all it might be. The first page you write. Getting halfway done. Turning it in. Turning it in again after you revise it. Seeing the typeface. Paging through a galley.

No matter how many milestones you’ve passed, nothing can prepare you for the heft of the hardcover, holding this object in your hand, the ephemeral idea you had so long ago transformed into a tactile reality.


Filed under Art, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Stop by My Author Page and Say Hi

My Facebook author page has a brand new cover – it quotes Library Journal saying that Savage Girl is “A fanciful and occasionally surreal take on Gilded Age New York.”

And hey, I just reached 100 likes, a figure I’m a little proud of. But I’d like more likes, more! And more visitors. Come see reviews and interviews as they come in, as well as offers for galley giveaways. Savage Girl doesn’t hit stores until March 6 but there’s a lot going on before then.

I’m always trying to put up something fresh, not only about my books (Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Love Fiercely and others) but about writing, reading, and living in such a way as to make those things possible. How do you water an idea to make a book come up? Always trying to figure that out.


Something else: please post on my page! I would love to hear what you’re thinking about.


Filed under Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Love, Fiercely, Poetry, Publishing, Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Writers, Writing

Wild Peter

What is it that fascinates people about feral children? As far back as the 1700s men and women went crazy over the idea of an individual who was raised in the wild and then drops in to civilization only later in life.

A mute, naked adolescent was discovered by a party of hunters in the German forest in 1726 – near Hamelin, of Pied Piper legend —  and Wild Peter soon became the talk of Europe. His background was unknown. King George I brought him from Hanover to his court in London, where the child liked to play with acorns and grew excited over hearing a clock strike. King George himself hailed from Germany and spoke little English; perhaps that explains his sense of kinship with the boy.

NPG D3895; Peter the Wild Boy by John Simon, after  William Kent

Anthropology had lately come in vogue, with people bringing back accounts from foreign lands about monsters, Hottentots, unfamiliar animals. Was Peter truly human or was he more along the lines of an orangutang? He walked on all fours, after all. The press went wild, commenting on his primitive demeanor, wondering at his forest upbringing, marveling that he had become a kind of court pet.

This mysterious creature inspired satiric commentary by Swift and a pamphlet by Daniel Defoe, who proclaimed him the only truly sensible person alive. The painter William Kent included Peter in a mural of the royal court that even today hangs beside a staircase at Kensington Palace, with the wild child modeling a civilized green coat, grasping a bunch of oak leaves and acorns. His likeness also graced a celebrated wax museum. Wild Peter never spoke, but he became an expert pick-pocket.


Filed under Art, Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Savage Girl

“First to Read” at Penguin

Please note that the art people at Viking have helped me with a facelift for the site, posting a new Savage Girl banner with a matching background pattern of gleaming orangey rust. Publishing a book is anything but a one-person job. I so appreciate all the help I’ve gotten bringing this novel to the state it’s at today.

The state it’s at… well, you’re going to have to wait to find Savage Girl at your corner bookstore for another six weeks, so here’s some good news. The folks at Penguin (Viking’s parent company) have a special program through which you can request a digital version of the book. If you love paper pages and a luscious new jacket, wait. If you want, though, you can jump in now, through Penguin’s “First to Read” program, and get the novel on your e-reader. Then please leave a comment and let me know your reactions.


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The Body Parts of Vesalius

In Savage Girl, the Harvard student and aspiring anatomist Hugo Delegate spends untold hours over his drawing table, making pictures of whatever body parts he is lucky enough to get ahold of: human bones, hearts, hands, the cerebellum of a child killed tragically in a streetcar accident. The body is a mystery to him, one he wants earnestly to plumb. Aiding him in his self education is the work of a sixteenth-century anatomist named Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish physician based in Brussels who published a book called De Humani Corporis Fabrica in which the human body was for the first time demystified.

vesalius portrait

The fruit of untold hours of dissection and learning, the Fabrica went against the scholarly approach heretofore used to teach medical students. It exposed the body to the light with an exactitude that shocked and dismayed the day’s scientists.

vesalius 1

Vesalius performed the dissections but did not execute the illustrations. Those he supervised closely at his own expense in the Venice studio of Titian. In the text, he used metaphor to describe parts of the body, some of which did not yet have names. To talk about muscles, he used such images as a fish, a pyramid, a cleaver. Other parts were described as pumpkin vines and pigeon coops. It might seem odd, this combination of metaphor with so graphic visuals, but he was trying to discover a language that didn’t exist yet. After the work’s publication he took a position in the court of Emperor Charles V, where he had to put up with the jibes of other physicians calling him a barber (in fact, barbers were usually surgeons in those days, termed chirurgeons in English).

vesalius 2

The circumstances of Vesalius’ death have been debated over the years. Scholars once thought he died after performing an autopsy on a nobleman whose heart was still beating and was sentenced to death. Now it is believed that In 1564 Vesalius went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Returning, he died when his ship wrecked on the island of Zakynthos. He was just 50 years old, and so broke that a benefactor came forward to pay for his burial, somewhere on the island of Korfu. Recently Vesalius’ own personal copy of the Fabrica has been discovered, complete with the scientist’s marginal annotations, which prove that he went on exploring long after his great work had been published.


Filed under Art, Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing