Maher’s All You Have to Do Is Call (Berkley, Sept.) fictionalizes the history of the women’s health organization Jane as three women fight for reproductive rights in 1970s Chicago.

You’ve written a number of historical novels. What draws you to fictionalizing real stories?

When I ask readers why they love historical fiction, to a person, they say it’s because they get to learn something while getting swept up in a great story. That’s why I write it, as well. I enjoy the research piece just as much as I enjoy the writing. I do think historical fiction helps us learn about history in a soft format. There are things about our history that we cannot and should not look away from—and this book fits into that category—but because you’re getting swept up in a story, it’s a gentler way of learning history than reading nonfiction. People talk about historical fiction having a resonance with current events, and All You Have to Do Is Call fits this in ways I never could have predicted when I sat down to start writing.

You mention in your author’s note that an NPR piece alerted you to Jane’s history. How did you go from that to the novel?

I just happened to be in the car at the right time when NPR did this story about the women of Jane. I had to pull the car over! I was like, they did what? I just knew I had to write this. The whole concept of this group of women who come together to help other women achieve bodily autonomy in a world where they don’t have it is never going to get old.

Why not focus on the real women who led Jane?

The women of Jane are largely still with us and they can, and I hope will, tell their own stories even more than they already have. Two of them have already written books [Judith Arcana, Hello This Is Jane, and Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane], and I read both. From a craft point of view, I had written three biographical novels about real-life women and I wanted a different challenge. I thought this was a good opportunity for me to try writing historical fiction from an entirely fictional point of view. And because it was three narrators, I didn’t want one of them to be a real person and two not real. That felt somehow clunky.

What surprised you writing the book?

What was remarkable in the research was the second-wave feminist attitude toward abortion. They looked at it as reproductive healthcare, and abortion rights were tied up in this moment with the language of liberation. I don’t want to equate an abortion with liberation—it’s still a difficult choice—but it wasn’t seen as the worst day of a woman’s life. It was an experience that some women had. It didn’t define her, and she didn’t have to apologize for it. It was just something that happened. And that, to me, was liberating.