Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tenacity

Weds is senior movie night at the Magic Lantern here in Spokane, so we motored down the hill, found parking, and settled in at the theater to enjoy a bio-pic (Magnolia Pictures documentary), about U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The film rolled, a beautiful blend of photos, videos and interviews, mixed between the present and the past. I did not expect to be taken back to the 1970's.

For Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal advocacy for rights for women was shaped by the values of the times, post World War II, the civil rights and women's liberation movements, and an environment of deeply embedded prejudice against women.

At my high school in 1961, all graduates were required to have an exit interview with a counselor to discuss our future path. My greatest and most impossible ambition was to attend college. The counselor greeted me: "So, when are you getting married."

I simply got a job and began working my way through college, sometimes full time and sometimes part time. At Chico State, in California, one class intrigued me: "The Economic History of Great Britain." In a class of 70 students, I was the only woman.  As the professor glanced around the class on the first day, he went on a rant -- directed at me. "How dare you take the space of a man who will need to support his family. Why are you here?"

I kept my head down. I knew how to survive bullies. At the end of the class, the professor announced an oral final -- in his office. After a grueling 2-hour final, face-to-face with my nemesis, he grudgingly commented, "I guess you know the material." I earned an A.

But then I ran into two buddies from that class. "How did the final go?" I asked.

"Easy," replied one. "In and out in 5 minutes."

Generally speaking, when someone said I couldn't do something, I quietly got to work. And that's why this powerful movie, RBG, is well worth seeing.

For RBG reminds us of a time when perseverance made a real difference in our culture, our expectations, and our dreams. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's role in redefining "equal protection under the law" to all citizens changed the lives of women and many, many others.

When I retired from teaching about ten years ago and seriously began writing, my first book, Standing Stones, was set in the time of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on one struggling family of fishermen in northern Scotland.

Where did I learn about the Industrial Revolution? That long ago history class I took at Chico State.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

June IWSG: Characters or Titles?

This month, the Insecure Writer's Study Group asks which is easier: coming up with the title for your current book or naming those characters?

For me, titles seem to well up like a line of poetry. Even a temporary title will ultimately morph into something that resonates with the sub-theme. For example, readers have begun to refer to my trilogy as that 'stones' trilogy. That was entirely accidental, though I did want a key word to hold the linked (but OK to read alone) stories together.

Standing Stones is set in the Orkney Islands, Scotland (1840's). We visited the Neolithic Stones of Stenness on the Mainland of Orkney, and I could actually touch those cold stones and imagine long-ago lovers who plighted their troth there. My characters found solace in a similar imaginary circle of stones as they struggled with evictions brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

Stones of Stenness, Mainland, Orkney (Camp)
In Years of Stone, Mac McDonnell is transported to a penal colony in the 1840's, Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania, Australia. As many were, Mac was assigned to break up stones, as he struggled to survive. Today, that convict legacy is respected rather than hidden.

In Rivers of Stone, Cat McDonnell, disguised as a boy, crosses Canada in the 1840's to the Great Nor'West in search of her husband. Living in the Northwest with family on the east coast, I've often traveled and hiked across Canada and have great respect for the wilderness Cat encountered during the fur trade era.

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Canada (Camp)
These titles didn't emerge linked together in the beginning, but each one fits together, perhaps like a carved stone. Hopefully these stories will endure and tell how we struggle to achieve our dreams, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

Naming characters is somewhat different. If I'm really stuck, street names and lists of baby names online are helpful sources. Otherwise, those darn names shift around until one sticks. For example, my current hero in The Seventh Tapestry has gone through four name changes -- and I'm not happy yet. Thank goodness for that search and replace feature!

Luckily, IWSG didn't ask about gender changes.

Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh and the team at the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This month's co-hosts are: Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!  Check out what others have written HERE and may your reading, writing, revising, and editing go well!