Who else can you name that belongs on this list?
In 2003, Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, published The Hornet’s Nest, a novel of the Revolutionary War in the Deep South. It was the first work of fiction penned by an American President.
Lynne Cheney, wife of George W. Bush’s VP Dick Cheney, is the author of numerous books, including one historical novel, Sisters (1981), that evoked women’s experiences in the Old West; it’s set in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1886. It made headlines in 2004 because sections of the book depicted a lesbian relationship. Although the original publisher planned to reissue the book, which was long out of print, those plans were later scrapped.
Fannie Flagg may be an exception in this group, because she’s primarily known today as a bestselling author of Southern-themed fiction, including 1987’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, a multi-period novel set in Alabama that was made into a popular movie. Her newest historical saga, The Whole Town’s Talking, will be published in late November. Before her writing career took off, she was an actress and a regular on TV game shows, including Match Game.
Newt Gingrich, the Republican politician who served as Speaker of the House from 1995-99, and who was in the running to be Donald Trump’s VP pick, has written multiple works of historical fiction and alternate history with William R. Fortschen, including a 4-volume series on the Civil War (alternate history), two on WWII’s Pacific War, and a trilogy on the American Revolutionary War.
A native of Danville, Illinois, actor Gene Hackman has co-written three historical novels with Daniel Lenihan: the nautical adventure Wake of the Perdido Star; Escape from Andersonville, set around the infamous Civil War prison in Georgia; and Justice for None, a tense crime novel set in and around his home county during the Depression. He’s also written a Western, Payback at Morning Peak.
Retired physician Sam Halpern’s creative, salty observations on life first gained attention through his son Justin’s Twitter feed and subsequent book, Sh*t My Dad Says. Back in May 2013, Justin tweeted this comment: “My dad's been working on a novel for 40 years that's finally coming out.” Inspired by his childhood as the son of sharecroppers in rural Kentucky in the ‘40s, Sam Halpern's A Far Piece to Canaan was published by HarperPerennial.
David Johnston currently serves as Canada’s 28th Governor General. In 2015, his wife, Sharon Johnston, PhD, published a historical novel, Matrons and Madams, with Dundurn Press; this projected first novel in a trilogy was a Globe & Mail bestseller. Set in small-town Alberta in the post-WWI years, it delves into the social and political issues of the day.
When I was growing up in the ‘80s, I knew Ally Sheedy for her roles in War Games and The Breakfast Club. Before her movie career, when she was only 12, she (as Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy) wrote a children’s book set in Elizabethan times. She Was Nice to Mice (1975) imagines Elizabeth I’s court from the viewpoint of a mouse who lived there.
Today William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, has been in the news as Gary Johnson’s VP running mate on the Libertarian ticket. His third book, which received positive reviews after its 2002 publication, was Stillwater, an elegiac novel set in Massachusetts’ Swift River Valley in 1938, just as five towns are set to be flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir (a true incident).
The late actor Gene Wilder, who died on August 29th, may have been best known for starring in films like Willy Wonka and Blazing Saddles, but he also wrote three works of romantic historical fiction: My French Whore (set in Wisconsin during WWI), Something To Remember You By (WWII-era Belgium and London), and The Woman Who Wouldn’t (featuring an American violinist finding love in Germany in 1903).