Coming From Simon & Schuster in 2021
A Feminist pop biography
This upcoming feminist pop biography of WWII amputee spy Virginia Hall, told in irreverent Drunk History style, introduces you to the badass the Gestapo called 'the most dangerous of all Allied spies.'
Read on for an excerpt of CODENAME BADASS
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
AKA Not A Boring Introduction, so Read This Sh*t
Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid:
One of my favorite comics, John Mulaney, has this bit in his show Kid Gorgeous where he talks about his dad, doing this gruff impression that stands in for fathers everywhere: “And then my dad said, ‘Let’s change the subject!’ and I think he was just doing that dad thing of, like, ‘This is a weird topic and I want to talk about a book I read about World War II.’ ”
I laughed my ass off because RIGHT? Books about WWII—unless they’re romantic historic novels—are always marketed to men, mostly read by men, especially dads and grandpas. It’s always Churchill looking grim AF on the cover, or Eisenhower being all steadfast and gazing into the distance at all the Nazis he’s about to wipe out, or, like, the beaches at Normandy and dapper flyboys. And what all this is telling you, Dear Reader, who may have only picked up this book because the word badass is in the title, is that books about WWII are not only not for you, but they’re about as exciting as a Kraft cheese sandwich (only costs three ration points!). The covers and language and predominantly male authors of these books are shutting you out. They’re saying: Oh, sweetheart, you can’t read this. Go read The Nightingale*. Go read fiction. Let the big boys read the facts, hm? Also, make me a Kraft sandwich, will ya?
I am here to tell you: YOU CAN TOTALLY LOVE READING A BOOK ABOUT WWII. I mean, okay, we’re gonna talk about Nazis and that’s not fun, but I am here to plant my lady flag on the field of Book That Are Supposed To Be For Men and I am saying, No more. No more shall we endure books about one of the most exciting periods of history that read like a chemistry textbook. No more will dudes control the narrative. Ladies of the world unite!
Look: I know you. You’re probably thinking non-fiction is eating your vegetables because you’ve been told that all your life. Oh, sure, you’re allowed to read books about how to lose weight or learn how to talk to your angel guides. But a book about history? Where you, like, learn some shit? Non. Nein. Nyet.
Sister, I am here to tell you those mofos are wrong. You have permission to learn shit! Also, while I don’t think reading non-fiction is the equivalent of meeting your food pyramid requirements, I would also like to point out that THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO EAT VEGGIES. For example: This book contains vegetables from a farmer’s market in Paris, sold by a hot guy in a beret named François, and—Bonus!—they’re covered in béchamel sauce. Some of the veggies may even be fried in tempura. Or in the form of kale chips! (Heyyyy, Brooklyn).
So let’s learn some shit, okay? It’s going to be delicious.
* P.S. The Nightingale is awesomsauce, but that’s not my point. Also, Pro Tip: Don’t do what I did and read the end while squished on an airplane because you will ugly cry.
This Badass Needs No Introduction, But Imma Do It Anyway
It was a rainy day in Washington DC and I was in a bad mood because I’d left my new umbrella in the car my friend and I had taken to the International Spy Museum. This forgetfulness didn’t bode well for my future as an international Woman of Mystery: I mean, if you can’t trust me with an umbrella, why would you want to hook me up with state secrets or a hit list? In my defense, what I lack in detail-oriented skills I more than make up for in moral flexibility. (Hint, hint, Langley).
Going to the Spy Museum had been my idea: Ever since I could walk I’ve wanted to be a spy and I had a feeling a museum dedicated to espionage would kick ass (spoiler alert: it totally does, you should all go). The book I was working on at the time was a disaster and I needed a few hours to go to my happy place which, because I’m a totally maladjusted weirdo, is a building where you can learn all about how to kill people in sneaky ways, steal government secrets, and, of course, rock fantastic disguises.
About halfway through the exhibit I got to the WWII section, which is my other happy place (remember: maladjusted weirdo). They had exploding coal on display (perfect for sabotaging Nazi supply trains) and a pistol flashlight, a precursor to the KGB’s “kiss of death” (a pistol made to look like a tube of lipstick—which is now at the top of my list for things to ask for when the CIA recruits me). I thought I knew everything about WWII, but I had no idea that most of the agents operating in France during the war were women. Many of these women were couriers or wireless operators—arguably the most dangerous jobs behind enemy lines. A few of these badasses even ran whole resistance cells with the French Resistance and led sabotage missions, rescued downed Allied pilots, and were engaged in a constant game of chicken with the Gestapo, who were hunting them. They killed a few Nazis along the way, too. Most of them were spies for the Brits when James Bond was still in diapers.
The heavy-lidded eyes of the beautiful Violette Szabo, who joined up after her husband was killed in the war, looked out at me from a series of photographs, along with the confident, direct gaze of Christine Granville—a legend who, as one newspaper would later say “flirted with men—and with death.” Then there was the soulful look of Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of an Indian mystic father and an American mother. She met her death at the hands of the Germans after a year of brave service, along with many more of her sisters-in-arms. I came across Nancy Wake wearing her military uniform and looking chill AF even though she was a superstar thorn in the Nazi’s side on DDAY, giving them what-for while commanding hundreds of men in successful guerrilla warfare ops (Bad. Ass). At one point, the Gestapo had a five million franc price on her head: The Germans called her the “white mouse,” and she became one of the most decorated of all Allied spies.
And then—and then, Dear Reader—I came across a glass case that contained a wireless radio and a selection of identification documents for a woman named Virginia Hall. I liked her face: serious, but with a slight upturn of the lip that suggested she had secrets there was no way she’d be telling you. A little smug. I liked that, too. Next to a photo of her receiving the Distinguished Service Cross—the only female civilian in WWII to receive what is one of the highest honors in the United States— there was a small box of text with the title “America’s Incredible Limping Lady.” Intrigued, I read on and soon discovered my new shero.
The phrases “artificial leg,” “spy network,” and “French commandos” were total lady nip for me: I had to find out more about this woman. The more I read and researched, the more I realized that Virginia Hall was the baddest bitch in any room she walked into—and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. And soon, you, too, will know exactly why she’s your girl if shit gets real and the Gestapo are breathing down your neck. The Nazis didn’t call her “the most dangerous of Allied spies” for nothing.