Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Victory of the First Olympic Women
Film Rights to DreamWorks and Kennedy Marshall (Seabiscuit, Lincoln, Jurassic Park)
An Entertainment Weekly Must List selection
A 2017 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2017
“Fascinating... Montillo is a brilliant storyteller...an engaging, insightful look at an era in women's sports.”
— Publishers Weekly
The inspiring and irresistible true story of the women who broke barriers and finish-line ribbons in pursuit of Olympic Gold .
When Betty Robinson assumed the starting position at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, she was participating in what was only her fourth-ever organized track meet. She crossed the finish line as a gold medalist and the fastest woman in the world. This improbable athletic phenom was an ordinary high school student, discovered running for a train in rural Illinois mere months before her Olympic debut. Amsterdam made her a star.
But at the top of her game, her career (and life) almost came to a tragic end when a plane she and her cousin were piloting crashed. So dire was Betty's condition that she was taken to the local morgue; only upon the undertaker's inspection was it determined she was still breathing. Betty, once a natural runner who always coasted to victory, soon found herself fighting to walk.
While Betty was recovering, the other women of Track and Field were given the chance to shine in the Los Angeles Games, building on Betty's pioneering role as the first female Olympic champion in the sport. These athletes became more visible and more accepted, as stars like Babe Didrikson and Stella Walsh showed the world what women could do. And—miraculously—through grit and countless hours of training, Betty earned her way onto the 1936 Olympic team, again locking her sights on gold as she and her American teammates went up against the German favorites in Hitler's Berlin.
Told in vivid detail with novelistic flair, Fire on the Track is an unforgettable portrait of these trailblazers in action.
A former library research assistant, Roseanne Montillo holds her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, where she teaches courses on literature, in addition to courses at Lesley and Tufts Universities.
Published by Crown in 2017.
More praise for Fire on the Track:
“A worthy addition to the genre...Montillo succinctly adds context to prevailing—and appalling—views and thus elevates the accomplishments of all the women competing in track.” — New York Times Book Review
“Inspiring… riveting.” — Entertainment Weekly
"Montillo writes about [Betty Robinson] and her era with precision." —Wall Street Journal
"A tightly woven, flowing narrative... Just as Laura Hillenbrand, in Unbroken, earned acclaim for resurrecting the life of Louis Zamperini, an overlooked American war hero and Olympian, Montillo deserves praise for sharing with honesty and integrity the remarkable stories of these resilient trailblazers. This is a must-read, certain to inspire a new generation of athletes with its fascinating slice of Olympic and women’s sports history."
— Booklist starred review
"Rich... this well-balanced biography and history of a groundbreaking female track star recalls a time and an athlete worth celebrating. Sports enthusiasts and women's history buffs will be captivated by Robinson and her fellow trailblazers. Montillo's in-depth research and highly accessible style make this a timely and appropriate choice for public and school libraries."
— Library Journal
"Fire on the Track tells the powerful story of one woman’s success in breaking an early glass ceiling in women’s Olympic sports. The triumph, tragedy, and redemption that punctuated Betty Robinson’s life present a commentary on 1930’s America and the trailblazing courage of ordinary women to change the country’s thinking about the abilities of their gender. Using anecdote and insight, Montillo has written an important book, bringing to light a resonant piece of history." — Lucinda Franks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me
"Roseanne Montillo has written a must-read, exhilarating story about a remarkable time in American sports history when women proved that they could be champions. Going against cultural expectations, these athletes managed to achieve greatness during the toughest of times. Betty Robinson is a hero for the ages. Her breathtaking journey from catastrophe to ultimate victory made me stand up and cheer!" — Lydia Reeder, author of Dust Bowl Girls
"Here's an uplifting new entry for your shelf of Olympics inspiration. Male rowers have Boys in the Boat and female runners now have Fire on the Track. The dawn of women's track comes to life in history that reads like fiction, brimming with character and drama."
— William Martin, New York Times bestselling author of Cape Cod and The Lincoln Letter
The Wilderness of Ruin
“A riveting true-crime tale that rivals anything writers in the 21st century could concoct. ... [Montillo is] a masterly storyteller.” — Publishers Weekly
The Wilderness of Ruin is historical murder mystery—a window into the criminal, psychopathic mind of a child, set against the backdrop of Boston’s great fire of 1872, and shaped by the insights of a literary friendship bent on determining the nature of evil.
Until the 1870s, the term psychopath was not used in general terms, much less for children. But when Jesse Pomeroy’s crimes were discovered, they opened a door of complex inquiry into the roots of the criminal mind. Even today, it is hard to imagine that psychopathic children exist; but they do. In the 1870s, this notion disturbed even physicians who crossed Jesse's path.
The Wilderness of Ruin deals with the cultural landscape of that time; the dime novels, which Jesse Pomeroy read voraciously, and the crime-driven journalism that sometimes made light of the horrid events taking place across the country, often influencing the outcome of trials. Much like today, where violent video games and television shows are blamed for some of the actions children take, in the 1800s, dime novels, depicting scenes of beheadings, murders, and rape, were said to have a negative impact on those who read them. Jesse's lawyers insisted, to no avail, that his love of these books had caused his mental breakdown and encouraged him to try his hand at murder.
Lastly, The Wilderness of Ruin is the story of a friendship: between the writer Herman Melville and the physician Oliver Wendell Holmes. Their pursuit of understanding Melville’s mental instability and his efforts to stave off what he believed was inevitable—the twisted mind. Holmes, his friend and doctor, counseled that Melville was not going crazy, despite Melville's family belief to the contrary. Holmes was an expert on Jesse Harding Pomeroy and eventually Jesse's trial proved to be the inspiration for Melville's last work, the novella Billy Budd.
Published by William Morrow in 2015.
More Praise for The Wilderness of Ruin:
“The Wilderness of Ruin is a captivating tale of depravity in the Athens of America. Roseanne Montillo masterfully conjures a lost Boston where a teen-age ‘demon’ hunts children and the city itself is a tinderbox ripe for the flames.” — Mitchell Zuckoff, author of the New York Times bestsellers Lost in ShangriLa and Frozen in Time
“Supremely creepy. ... As thrilling as it is disturbing.” — The Boston Globe
“A compulsively fascinating and chilling read on the nature of evil.” — The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A lively, evocative reinvigoration of Boston’s Gilded Age. ... Cinematic. ... A chillingly drawn, expertly researched slice of grim Boston history.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“A dramatically told history of murder, madness, and urban growing pains.” — Shelf Awareness
The Lady and Her Monsters
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
“Montillo achieves a freshness through her lively narrative approach and a fascination with long-ago science and its ethics that sparks across the pages.” — The New York Times Book Review
A captivating work of narrative nonfiction in the vein of The Professor and the Madman and The Monster of Florence, Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters brings to life the fascinating times, startling science, and real-life horrors behind Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein. Delving into a world that teeters between superstition and medicine, between sanity and madness—where fame-hungry scientists perform for rabid, wide-eyed audiences and maniacal body snatchers toil away in castle dungeons—it’s also the personal story of an artist’s ingenuity, how the demons in her own life and the surrounding world pushed her to weave one of the greatest horror stories ever told.
Evoked famously in James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein, the genesis of Shelley’s novel is woven inextricably into literary mythology—on a stormy night at Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva, “a hideous phantasm of a man” haunted Shelley in her dreams, and thus, as the legend goes, Frankenstein was born. But is it truly possible that this classic work was born of nothing more than a dream? Montillo reveals that Shelley and the characters in her book were not the only ones preoccupied with resurrecting the dead; for the author, who mingled in highly educated, enlightened circles, had documented knowledge of the many groundbreaking, daring scientists who were cropping up across the continent—anatomists like Giovanni Aldini, Andrew Ure, and the occultist Johan Konrad Dippel (resident of the real life Castle Frankenstein in the 18th century), who were fueled by the newly discovered possibilities of electricity and human re-animation.
For fans of horror, science and literature, The Lady and Her Monsters is a rich, revealing, sometimes shocking exploration of the little-known movements and people that influenced one of the 19th century’s greatest female writers.
Published in 2013 by William Morrow.
More praise for The Lady and Her Monsters:
“A delicious and enticing journey into the origins of a masterpiece.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Enthusiatic prose... A Spirited investigation of the bizarre times that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review
“Her narrative… rattles enjoyably through a lurid and restless landscape. … Equally a literary and a scientific endeavor.” — The Wall Street Journal
“With a flair for both drama and detail, Montillo breathes her own kind of life into the story of the men determined to discover its very elements.”
— Discover magazine
“Spills the dirt on the making of the 19th-century novel--affairs, family drama, a lake house with Lord Byron!-and paints a grimly fascinating picture of the dissections and experiments in “animal electricity” that inspired the gothic tale.” — Mental Floss
“Montillo’s book is a welcome tribute to the literary, and especially the scientific, roots of the story.” — The Commercial Dispatch
“Montillo never loses sight of the fact that it was Mary Shelley’s imagination that sewed the pieces together - and provided the vital spark that keeps the tale alive nearly two centuries on.” — New Scientist
“A haunting picture of an era in which science and the arts overlapped, a perfect storm in which inspiration for “Frankenstein” could strike. Like a bolt of lightning.” — The Washington Post