Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beyond the Books

Sure, writing historical fiction requires a good deal of research.  But, truthfully, that's a lot of fun.  Sitting in libraries digging through archival boxes – oh, look a glove, a lock of hair, a letter.  Not to mention the vast amount of reading involved – books, articles, chapters.  But, research involves more than just reading (although nobody can underrate the necessity of that).  It involves immersion in the era to understand language, dress, and cultural habits.  Today I got to write a guest blog for writer Anne Johnson.  The topic?  You guessed it - researching historical fiction.  Check it out:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Words of Wisdom 150 Years Old

I'm so excited that Vision 2020, the tremendous national organization dedicated to working for gender equality by the year 2020, has asked me to be its guest blogger today.  Since my dear Fanny Fern had a mouthful to say about gender inequality, I found it easy to liberally quote her.  Read how things were for women interested in earning their livings 150 years ago, in Fern's time.  Then read how things have (or haven't) changed . . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect . . . Guest Blog with WriteNowCoach

Hey, folks, I got to write a guest blog for WriteNowCoach.  It's like taking a very short creative writing class with me.  I won't even grade you, I promise.  Check out my thoughts about the top requirement for successful writers -- practice!

Click here:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Men Who Read

Bill, Rusty, Irv, Dave, Rich and me (Steve is taking the picture).

Last night I had the great pleasure of meeting with my first book club.  Ohhhh, yes – I actually got to chat with a group of people who were not close relatives and who voluntarily read my novel.  Now, this was no ordinary book group – this was my favorite book group.  Why?  Because my husband is a member (and, okay, yes, he may or may not have had something to do with the group’s July book selection).  When I first met my sweetie, I asked him what the last book he read was.  When he told me it was Middlesex and that he was in an all-male book club, I swooned.  Can you imagine anything more thrilling to a writer and English teacher?  I was supremely impressed with him and his book group – and eventually got to know all the members in the group as friends. 

So, this book group was going to read Shame the Devil.  I was excited.  I was nervous!  Would they hate it?  Sit politely with tight faces and say the book was “interesting?”  I was, after all, their friend’s wife!  Furthermore, this was an all-male book group – would they be able to connect to my story about Fanny Fern, a woman writer from the 19th-century?

Happily, we had a terrific time!  Not only did the group like the book, they asked almost two hours worth of thoughtful questions and we got to discuss a whole range of topics – the Civil War, 19th-century medicine, the literary canon, the rise of literacy and the media in the U.S., women’s and marginalized people’s rights.

These wonderful men wowed me with their knowledge and their curiosity, with their insights and their questions.  And, they slashed a flaming hole through the stereotype of men who don’t read, not to mention the myth about men who won’t read books about women.  I remain supremely impressed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Bowl of Cherries

I love summer because summer means fruit and fruit means breakfasts of fruit and yogurt.  I have lots of favorites, but one of the top fruit contenders has got to be fresh cherries.  Nothing beats the ripe red goodness of sweet firm cherries swimming in a sea of creaminess.  But, the logistics of cherry eating often kept me from partaking of them in the a.m.  I would sometimes plunk the cherries, whole, into my bowl of Greek nonfat, but then breakfast became a search and rescue mission of carefully gnawing my spoonfuls of yum in order to find all the pits before they chipped my teeth.  My other alternative would be to cut cut cut cut around each cherry about 38 times in order to slice the fruit away from the pits.  My fingers would be stained, the cutting board would be stained and it would take me an inordinate amount of time to cut up enough fruit to do the yogurt justice. 

“Haven’t you ever heard of a cherry pitter?” a relative finally asked me.

I heard angels singing in the clouds.  A what?  No, I had never heard of such a thing, but if it was any relation to the apple corer/slicer and/or the melon baller (both of which I bought and never used) then no thank you.

I was soon convinced of the superior benefits of a cherry pitter and vowed to get me one of those.  I shopped and purchased and stood, the other morning, poised over a big bowl of fresh, firm cherries.  Zing ping – the pit popped right out!  Zing ping – another did.  It was so fast and efficient.  Look, Honey, I called to my husband, look how fast and easy!  I was popping out pits faster than a machine.  Pretty soon, the whole bowl was full and I covered the pitted mound with yogurt dollops.

My smart relative was right!  A cherry pitter was fantastic.  I smugly gobbled down my breakfast thinking I was all that, now that I had a cherry pitter and knew how to use it.  I could be on an infomercial.  I could sell these things at the state fair. 

“What happened to your shirt?”  My husband asked when he came into the kitchen.  I looked down at what used to be my favorite white tee shirt now splattered with 10,000 tiny specks of red.  Pitiful. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vision 2020

Image from

Here’s a cool organization I just heard about:  Vision 2020.  When I first googled it, I got all sorts of hits about eye doctors and Lasik surgery.  Ah, wrong vision 2020.  Words of wisdom:  be sure to put “women” somewhere in your search.  According to the website, “Vision 2020 is a campaign to make equality a national priority through shared leadership among women and men.”  Equality?  Shared leadership?  Don’t we already have those?  Check out these very interesting statistics from Vision 2020’s website:

Women hold 3 percent of clout positions in the mainstream media.  Source: Women's Media Center

The number of U.S. women receiving PhDs in most STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines has not increased in 10 years (1997-2006). Source: Association for Women in Science

From 2004 to 2007, the percentage of women artists on view in major art institutions: 5-8% at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); 15% at The Whitney Museum; 24% at The 2007 Venice Biennale; 27% at Art Basel Miami. Source:New York Magazine, “Where are all the Women?” Nov. 26, 2007

Female faculty have not made progress in closing the salary gap with their male counterparts. In 1972, they made 83% of what male faculty made, and today they make 82% of what male faculty earn. Source: The White House Project Report: Benchmarking Women's Leadership

Hard to believe?  These stats are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Check out the Vision 2020 website:  Better yet, sign up to help spread awareness.  Let’s work to more clearly see our social reality and, together, strive to ensure equality by 2020.

*Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would approve this message.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Late Bloomer

This is the story of two African Violet plants, both purchased two years ago.  The first bloomed almost from day one, lovely white flowers, over and over, day after day.  In fact the plant did so well that I had to transplant it, then divided it – not once, but twice.  I now have three thriving plants from the same source – all producing a continuous profusion of white flowers. 

The second plant was sickly from the beginning.  I worried about it.  It didn’t bloom, barely grew.  I fed it like its sister, gave it the same water and light conditions.  It didn’t grow much, but didn’t die either.  When its sister outgrew pots and needed dividing, it stayed quietly in its original pot – flowerless and a little wilty.   I didn’t want to do anything to disrupt its precarious lease on life, yet I wanted it to blossom, too.  I kept nurturing it . . . and hoping.

Suddenly this summer, it has come out of its depression and has taken to light, water, and food like an adolescent.  My little plant that wouldn’t suddenly bloomed . . . and we now have one lovely sprig of dark purple to join the masses of white.

It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

“Damned mob of scribbling women . . .”

A Youngish Nathaniel Hawthorne

Let’s investigate Nathaniel Hawthorne and his famous quote, shall we? 

In 1855, Hawthorne was serving as a diplomat in Liverpool and was frustrated with what he saw as a lull in his writing career.  So far from home and feeling he was becoming forgotten in literary circles, Hawthorne wrote a bitter letter of complaint to his publisher.  In it, he wrote, “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed,” a private comment, written in a dark moment, that became the mantra used especially to dismiss nineteenth-century American women writers and women writers in general. 

What most people don’t know is that Hawthorne regretted his rash words and wrote another, calmer letter to his publisher a week later.  He also had, ahem, just finished reading Fanny Fern’s first novel, Ruth Hall. 

On Feb. 8, 1855, Hawthorne wrote, “In my last, I recollect, I bestowed some vituperation on female authors.  I have since been reading “Ruth Hall”; and I must say I enjoyed it a good deal.  The woman writes as if the devil was in her; and that is the only condition under which a woman ever writes anything worth reading.  Generally women write like emasculated men, and are only distinguished from male authors by greater feebleness and folly; but when they throw off the restraints of decency, and come before the public stark naked, as it were – then books are sure to possess character and value.  Can you tell me anything about this Fanny Fern?  If you meet her, I wish you would let her know how much I admire her.

Fanny certainly threw off her era’s “restraints of decency,” meaning – she was a woman who wrote exactly what she wanted to write for a public audience.  Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia, became supporters and fans of Fanny Fern’s and Fanny, in turn, admired and supported the Hawthornes. 

Still, what do you think about Hawthorne’s “generally . . .” statement? 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 200th Birthday Fanny Fern!

Fanny Fern is one of the world’s many lost writers.  Just a few generations after her death, few people, outside of academia, have heard of this woman whose words took the country by storm. 

I fell in love with Fanny Fern in graduate school.  I loved her work and I loved her story.  I was incensed that the world had forgotten about such a remarkable writer, such a remarkable woman.  So, I began researching about her.  I wrote papers.  I read and read and read.  I wanted to bring Fanny Fern back to life.

It took nine years for my Fanny Fern passion to become a published book.  My historical novel, Shame the Devil, officially comes out today – July 1, 2011 – with SUNY Press.  Fanny Fern’s birthday was July 9, 1811.  I recently realized that my book, my Fanny Fern re-birth project, will come out just in time for the 200th anniversary of Fanny Fern’s birth.  I don’t know anything about the timing of the universe or astrology or nudgings from the beyond the grave or anything like that, but you’ve got to admit – the timing is amazingly coincidental!