Just a quick note here to let you know I’ll be at Mumfest this year, representing both Michelle Garren Flye and my alter ego Shelley Gee, who you might know as the writer of charming children’s mysteries. I will have copies of all my books, including my poetry booklet, which is in limited release (meaning you either have to go to The Next Chapter Books & Art or find me to purchase a copy). I’ve cut the prices for Mumfest weekend if you buy directly from me, so it’s a great time to stock up on good books! I hope to meet some of you at Mumfest. I’ll be in the purple tent on Middle Street with my friend Noel of Blissworks. It’s hard to miss! Noel’s artwork is fantastic!
March is Women’s History Month. How many of you knew that? I’m thinking fewer than should. We all know Black History Month is February, and many of us know April is Poetry Month, but for some reason Women’s History Month isn’t well known.
I’m thinking it may be because so much of women’s history isn’t known. It’s been suppressed in favor of men’s account of women’s history. I found it interesting, for instance, when I happened upon this little tidbit of women’s history on a trek around my hometown:
I did a little research on Emeline. Her name is alternately spelled Emmeline and Piggott or Piggot or Pigot or Pigott—even once in a newspaper clipping about her arrest “Eveline”. There are many stories about her, including that she “entertained” Union soldiers while her brother-in-law carried contraband to Confederate troops, that she ate a letter when she was arrested instead of turning it over to Union soldiers, and that while she was jailed an attempted assassination by chloroform failed because she broke a window to breathe through until help arrived.
It’s interesting to me because in some places, these stories about Emeline are referred to as legends and in other places are reported as facts. Even here on the sign, it says “According to local tradition”. That’s almost equivalent to “Once upon a time”. But Emeline was not a fairytale. She was a real woman, and, regardless of politics, she suffered for a cause she believed in.
It got me thinking about what women went through to get the vote. Until a few years ago I’d believed they marched peacefully, well-dressed and carrying banners because that’s what the school history books depicted. The reality is less appetizing, though. A few years ago I read about “the Night of Terror” when suffragists were beaten and tortured. A little shocked, I did more research.
Suffragists were badasses. Seriously. They didn’t just stand around with polite placards saying please let us vote until reasonable white men decided to give them the nineteenth amendment. There was property damage, rude signs and screaming at the president and Congress. Incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and were force fed with rubber tubes.
No doubt they were told at some point not to be so emotional.
I wonder if today’s men would dare to tell them to “smile more”.
My point is, you won’t learn about most of women’s history in schoolbooks. “Women held protests on the White House lawn and were given the right to vote in 1920” is about all you’ll get there. What women need to remember is that for decades women fought for the right to vote. They fought with much more than just orderly parades and when saying please failed, they didn’t hesitate to declare all out war.
Should we allow that history to be repressed? Shouldn’t we be teaching it to our daughters?
Infamous suffragist leader Lucy Burns, on the third day of a hunger strike following her imprisonment on the Night of Terror, was tempted with fried chicken to break her strike. With contempt, she said, “They think there is nothing in our souls above fried chicken.”
There is so much more in the soul of women than what we’re given credit for by the history in schoolbooks. I may not agree with Emeline Pigott’s politics, but I do think she carried iron in her soul, and I believe she deserves the credit for that. Her story should not be relegated to the same level of history as fairytales. Whatever happened to her while jailed, or while she was “entertaining” Union soldiers, it is part of women’s history and women’s history isn’t fried chicken. It’s iron and blood and suffering and triumph. And we should never forget that.
I’ve never liked that phrase “the exception that proves the rule”. If there’s an exception, then it proves the rule is faulty, right? Or does it prove that there is a rule to begin with? Or is it that you’re “testing” (proving) the rule with your exception?
No matter what, the expression is rife with possibilities for misinterpretation.
Which is why I’ve decided that Dickens Magic, which is most definitely an exception to my normal formula for Sleight of Hand books, proves nothing. Nothing except that I will go where my characters and their story lead me.
But how is Dickens Magic different from my other books? First of all, the hero and heroine are not magicians. Neither one of them. They aren’t involved in magic (at first, at least) in any way.
Second, Dickens Magic does not take place in any exotic locales like Las Vegas or the Caribbean or Hollywood. There is one very brief scene in New York City. The rest of the book is set entirely in New Bern, N.C., one of the least exotic locales you could ever want to visit.
Third, Dickens Magic’s setting centers around a building. It’s actually a building I love. The Masonic Theatre where RiverTowne Players performs. And it’s based on my own theatrical exploits. I tell everyone my recent desire to be an actress is my midlife crisis. And I’m good with that. But the truth is, if I had never walked into that theater with my daughter when she auditioned for The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the age of five, that midlife crisis would probably have lain dormant forever. I couldn’t do it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure.
Finally, I never put myself in my books. I can honestly say I’ve never read one of my books and seen myself in it. But this one, I kind of did, although I didn’t realize it until the final round of editing. It startled me at first when I noticed it, and certainly it’s not a real clear portrait of who I am, but it’s there. I’m not one of the main characters, though, so don’t think I think I’m the multitalented Kate.
So, my exception is out there. It doesn’t prove a thing. I’ll return to the rules (or most of them, at least) next time. Though maybe I’ll decide it’s more fun breaking the rules, especially the rules I’ve made myself.
Everywhere I go now I’m touting my “new kind of romance”, so I thought it fitting that my blog should have a new look. So here it is, complete with a red rose background.
Next month I’ll be attending Mumfest in my adopted home town of New Bern. I’ll be selling my independently published books and giving away a few advance copies of Dickens Magic, which won’t be available until October 31, as well as a complete set of my Sleight of Hand series. I’m super excited about this, and I hope I’ll get to meet a lot of potential readers who are interested in my work.
For those who don’t know, New Bern suffered a great deal of damage during Hurricane Florence. The downtown area, where Mumfest will be held, was particularly hard hit as it is located at the junction of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. Many businesses were flooded, homes were lost. And yet no one has suggested that Mumfest should not happen. And so, on the fourth weekend post-Florence, our downtown streets will be crowded with booths of arts and crafts, food vendors, local businesses and non-profits. Flowers will brighten the corners which not long ago were occupied by storm debris.
And I will be there. I don’t yet know if I’ll be able to sell folks on my new kind of romance idea. I hope so. I truly believe what we read makes a difference. In the same way that what we eat affects our bodies, what we consume through books and other media affects our minds. If it’s good, wholesome and nutritious, so will our minds and hearts be. And good, wholesome and nutritious in the case of romance, does not have to mean not sexy.
I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from Dickens Magic, which takes place entirely in downtown New Bern at the historic Masonic Theatre I have come to love. I think this excerpt, which is from the POV of Alex, the hero, sums up a bit of what I feel about this town:
Alex walked without paying much attention to where he was going. He knew the way pretty damn well, after all. Every crack in the sidewalk, every storefront, every red light and stop sign was ingrained on his heart like a map of his very existence. He’d never felt that with New York, not even Broadway. Broadway was where he worked and his apartment in Manhattan was where he stayed.
New Bern was where he lived.
He paused at a corner. He stood directly in front of the old fire station, now a museum. If he looked right, he would almost see the old theater. It was just two blocks down, set back from the road with an unevenly paved parking lot in front, the crumbling façade of the building adorned with a poster of the theater’s latest production. What was it? Chicago? He’d read the review of it to his mother last week. He’d said maybe he’d take her.
Of course, that probably wouldn’t happen. He knew that.
A trolley passed in front of him and he caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection in one of the windows. Unshaven, his clothes a little more rumpled than he usually allowed them to be, his hair a little longer than he was usually comfortable with. And a worried look that wouldn’t be banished.
I hope you’ll come visit this town I’ve grown to love so much. New Bern got knocked down, it’s true, but she’s getting back up with the grace and dignity you’d expect of a 300+ year old dame. She’s strong. #NewBernStrong