I used to tell people that I was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx; but the truth is that apart from the stellar education I received at the Fieldston School in Riverdale, much of who I am was shaped by my two grandmothers, who encouraged me to follow my bliss long before it became the sort of catchphrase you find on tee-shirts and new-age tchotchkes. My East Side grandmother took me to FAO Schwarz, the New York City Ballet, and afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel, where I dreamed of becoming another Eloise. My West Side grandmother took me to the Central Park carousel and the zoo and treated me to colorful paper parasols and gummy, lukewarm pretzels from the vendors whose wares my East Side grandmother deemed too “dirty” for human consumption.
There are writers on both sides of my family, and although I always loved to write, I never anticipated that it would become my profession. I had wanted to be a ballerina; and though my club feet were corrected at birth (from the stilettos I adore now, you’d never know) and my short Achilles tendons made my toes turn in (corrected at the age of 9), I was never going to end up en pointe.
About a year later, I decided to become an actress when (if?) I grew up, and I never looked back. Although I interned in the publicity department at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency in NYC, I majored in Theatre at Cornell University, worked in summer stock, and took classes with a couple of acknowledged masters. I performed a lot of Shakespeare and other classics in New York parks, basements, church choir lofts, and the occasional Off-Broadway theatre; then founded and ran my own nonprofit theatre company for several years. And when things got slow, and I found myself working three survival jobs simultaneously (one of them as a journalist and editor), I decided it was time to pursue an additional creative avenue.
Fast forward a decade. I became a multi-published author in three genres and a freelance journalist. And I also adapted a number of classic texts (Ivanhoe; The Prisoner of Zenda; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve) for the stage. I began writing women’s fiction and historical fiction simultaneously, but my first published novel was the urban romantic comedy Miss Match in 2002. In 2005, as I continued to write for HarperCollins about feisty female New Yorkers, my first historical novel was published by Crown, a division of Random House, under the pen name Amanda Elyot, named for the two leading characters in Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of wit and manners, Private Lives.
Why two names? At the time, I was writing in two different genres for two different publishers. There was a saying back when my grandmothers were young women about the famous rival NYC department stores that were located across the street from each other: “Does Macy’s tell Gimbel’s?”
While keeping that pair of literary plates spinning I made my historical nonfiction debut in the spring of 2008. The year before, New American Library (then a Penguin imprint) had published my first work of nonfiction–Royal Affairs– which inaugurated a wonderful career (with 6 published titles to date) writing about the loves and lives of European royalty. My nonfiction titles also led to years of amazing media opportunities on the Travel Channel, Canada’s History Channel, and CBS Nightly News where in April 2011 I discussed the upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
In 2011, Amanda Elyot became Juliet Grey. Under that pen name Random House published a trilogy of historical novels on the life of the doomed French queen Marie Antoinette. I also narrated the first of the series, Becoming Marie Antoinette, for Random House audio. The work was optioned by Sony pictures.
Although I often joke that I “see dead royals,” my latest release was as timely as could be. I was given just one month to write AMERICAN PRINCESS: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, which was published on April 24, 2018, just a few weeks before the royal wedding. Weeks of research, writing, and daily revisions became a blur of promotional interviews, culminating in a glorious morning in Windsor, where I was strolled amid the gathering throngs before taking my place as Facebook’s guest across the street from the castle itself.
In what I laughingly refer to as my spare time, I’m still a professional actress, working when the scripts and the roles excite me and narrating audio books, which “marries” my twin professions in the spoken and written word. Rarely have I had so much fun than behind a mic interpreting the words of my fellow authors.
I’m such a native New Yorker that I didn’t get a driver’s license until 2010, “Big Sky Country” means Central Park, and the farthest I’ve ever been from the Upper West Side for any great length of time was my four-year stint upstate in Ithaca, at Cornell, known for its rigorous academics and its equally harsh permafrost.
My birthday falls on the same day as two of my heroes—F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jim Henson. So I reread The Great Gatsby every year and number Miss Piggy among the great actresses of her generation. My favorite color is deep hydrangea blue, sometimes a dicey option with red hair.
My husband Scott—who is my hero and everything I ever dreamed of—now divide our time between the high-rises of Manhattan and the mile-high elevation of Denver.