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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Author Laurie Alice Eakes!


I Could Be Anything If Only I Knew What It was
by Laurie Alice Eakes


click HERE to read an excerpt
This is the name of a book I read back several years ago when I nearly had my MA in creative writing and knew I needed a real job until I got published and then started making enough to live on. Basic premise: We don’t get what we want or where we’re going because we haven’t a clue what we want or where we’re going.

My needs were simple—I wanted a job where I got on the train and went to an office like everyone else around me in the hyperkinetic DC Metropolitan Area. Wasn’t quite sure what I’d do in that office, but… Well, I was facile with words and decent with other aspects. The point was—I could do a number of jobs.

I ended up in Human Resources at a huge corporation and hated every minute, from the horrendous commute, to the office politics, to the boring and tedious job. But that’s another post.

My point is that women now can pretty much be whatever they want from carpenters to astronauts, city council women, to Supreme Court justices. Our foremothers, however, could only be wives and mothers, maybe companions, governesses, cooks, servants. Right?

Of course. We’ve all read how downtrodden women were in history, that they swept out the dug-out or helped haul the plow, cleaned the house in heels and pearls, and took care of the children, theirs if they were lucky enough to get a husband, someone else’s if they weren’t.

Not.

Not only, that is.

While writing the manuscript that is now my fifth book to release, I realized that all my heroines had careers or wanted some vocation besides wife and mother. Hmm. Was I making a huge historical error? I went back to notes from when I was a history grad student and to many of my sources, many of which were original documents, and realized that, no, I wasn’t being historically inaccurate. I could have been if I handled situations incorrectly, but I wasn’t.

Let me say something here that goes against the grain of contemporary historical thinking—the Industrial Revolution robbed women of independence.

Before the mechanization of most industries beginning in the eighteenth century, families worked together. Their home was their place of business. The wife, the children, and the father worked together to build their product, from furniture, to fabric, to cutlery. Money came into the home and stayed in the home with the family. The wife knew how much her husband made, probably even took the actual pay and tucked it into its safe place to pay the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Then machines came along and could produce faster and cheaper. Cottage industry died. Men went out to work. Women stayed home with the children. Men got paid at the end of the week and stopped at the tavern on their way home. He might or might not give his wife what was left over.
Money grew scarce in the family. Children went out to work at too young an age. The wife sometimes took in laundry or did some cooking for others, but it wasn’t much. Men lost pride in their work because they had little control over the end result of a machine-produced product…

Yet women had known independence in the form of at least being a part. They didn’t lose that, and many rebelled, even in a quiet way. Anne Bradstreet was, by all accounts, a rather good wife of colonial New England. Yet she wrote poetry that wasn’t hidden away in a desk drawer. People read it. Women sewed and sometimes got so good they became seamstresses with others working for them. Especially in Holland, women became painters, but even women in England and colonial America were professional artists. Women inherited businesses from their husbands. A woman (Clementina Rind) ran the Virginia Gazette after her husband died in the eighteenth century.

So was I out of line when my heroine in my first traditionally published novel, Family Guardian (Avalon Books, 2006) became a perfumer? If everyone knew she was one and supported her family with her product, yes. She would have been shunned by society and her family rather disgraced. So she must keep it a secret, which becomes a source of conflict for the story and between her and the man she loves. She won’t marry and let him have her business by law.

In Better than Gold, Lily was a telegrapher. Western Union liked paying women to do this—they could pay them less and they gave less trouble. They even put the machines in women’s homes so they could be moms and housewives at the same time. My next three heroines want to do something with their lives besides be wives and mothers. They want that, too, but feel God has something more for them—and they find it.

And we come to my favorite subject, which is another post, too—midwives. I wrote and presented a paper at a history conference called “Women of Power, Midwives in the Early Modern World”. Oh, yes, they had power—independent means, the power to testify in court, the ability to travel at any time of day or night without being thought indecent. Is it any wonder I have a whole series coming out with midwife heroines? (Lady in the Mist, Revell, Feb. 2011) Midwives even had a lower infant mortality rate than did doctors until germ theory and disinfecting the birth room took over.

And when male doctors took over birthing and a monopoly on the forceps, women became doctors. So I wrote a book with a doctor. When the Snow Flies, my second ABA book, just released.

And if a woman could be a doctor, why not a lawyer? They had been merchants since Lydia sold purple in the New Testament, and politicians since Deborah sat under the tree and dispensed judgments.

Thus, when you see a heroine struggling to be more than a wife and mother, don’t automatically assume the author is foisting modern values onto historical ladies.

~*~
Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes does not remember a time when books did not play a part in her life; thus, no one was surprised when she decided to be a writer. Her first hardcover was an October, 2006 Regency historical from Avalon Books and won the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency, as well as being a finalist for Best First Book. She is also a finalist for the ACFW Carol award in the short historical category (winners to be announced in September). After selling her first book in the inspirational market, she also wrote articles and essays for Christian publications. A brief hiatus in publishing climaxed with her selling thirteen books in thirteen months, to publishers such as Barbour, Avalon, and Baker/Revell.

She is an active member of RWA and ACFW, and started the Avalon Authors group blog. A graduate of the Seton Hill University Master of Arts Degree in Writing Popular Fiction, And a Bachelor of Arts graduate in English and French from Asbury College, she is an experienced speaker, and has made presentations at local and national RWA conferences, as well as local universities and libraries.

Until recently, she lived in Northern Virginia, then her husband’s law career took them and their dogs and cats, to southern Texas, where she writes fultime and enjoys the beach whenever possible.

You can find her web site at:  http://www.lauriealiceeakes.com/

WHEN THE SNOW FLIES
Audrey Sinclair Vanderleyden sets her heart on fulfilling a promise to her deceased husband to continue practicing medicine, despite opposition from their families. But the old physician from whom they bought a practice stands in her way and refuses to honor the contract. Audrey must either give up medicine and return to her family, or marry a near stranger. A gunshot wound robs Nathan Maxwell of the ability to continue practicing medicine. He must find another purpose in his life. Marriage isn't an option; only a desperate woman would want a blind man for a husband. Audrey is desperate, but marriage to Nathan isn't the salvation of her medical career she thought it would be. For Nathan, the union challenges loyalties and exposes what he's lost.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for stopping by the Inkwell, Laurie Alice. I think so often what makes a novel feel modern is less what the characters do, and more the attitudes and mores they embrace.

    Just about anything can be plausible but it has to have the appropriate set up. And if it isn't plausible, well then, don't assume a reader won't know!

    You always do incredible research. Can't wait until your next book comes out. Until then is When the Snow Flies available in the big box stores?

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  2. Welcome back to the Inkwell Laurie Alice.

    I know it's not true that contemporary authors have less research to do, but historical research just seems so much more fascinating to me. I'm really looking forward to your 'midwife' book. My great grandmother was the midwife in her small Pennsylvania coal town and my mother and grandmother had some very proud stories to tell.

    As Lisa said, your research is impeccable and having settings full of it always draws me into the story. The Glassblower, for instance, gave just the right amount of details to be interesting and educational.

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  3. So true, Laurie Alice! Women have done all kinds of interesting jobs throughout history, even if they weren't the "norm." And many of them did it like your character--taking over their deceased husband's business. Since those aren't the stories told in the history books, most people don't realize the varied roles women have played throughout history. I think that is one of the great things about historical novels--they can educate the reader on the big and the small aspects of our past.

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  4. I always enjoy hearing from you, Laurie Alice. I am really looking forward to your new books, especially Lady in the Mist. Now I have When the Snow Flies to add to my list. You are one busy woman with all these books coming out at once. How do you stay so prolific?

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  5. So glad you're hear today, Laurie Alice, before you get too famous for us Inkies ;)

    Great stuff and very true. I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how God wires us and the gifts he gives. I think in the old days women actually had a good bit of freedom to follow their natural interests.

    As for family businesses, they are still very much alive and well in the Middle East. In moderate countries, it's not unusual to enter a small mom and pop store and have a woman wait on you in full veil.

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  6. Thank you for your kind words on my writing. I'm not sure I'm so much prolific as a sort of dam of ideas; they were there waiting to be unleashed.

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  7. Your very encouraging post, Laurie Alice, was extremely timely for me. The book I'm currently writing deals with a woman desiring a vocation in 1912. I've been struggling with the very issues you talk about. Anyway, you've given me the boost I needed to keep on writing my character as I'd first seen her. A woman with a fine mind, who wants the career of her dreams, even if she is living in 1912.

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  8. I've spent the morning working on school stuff for the kids...well, at least the four that go to school. Uggh. I don't know how moms who work outside the home do it.

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  9. Christine, by 1912, women often wanted a vocation. Look at the heroine of Main Street. Yes, she got married out of college, but she went to college and wanted to reform the town. By the end, she was already planning on her daughter going to Vassar. It was a bestseller, selling over 250 copies in the first six months of 1921. In 1892, Johns Hopkins became the first medical school to allow coed medical training. My heroine in When the Snow Flies went to Paris to get this kind of training. Before that, women had separate and probably not equal, medical educations. Women were still fighting to get accepted to the Bar, but it was beginning, but that's another book I'll be writing soon.

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  10. Laurie Alice,
    One thing that can be counted on is that you have done the work to verify the historical accuracy of what you present. People then, as now, did what had to be done to survive, and often, it was the women who led the way.

    I look forward to WHEN THE SNOW FLIES.

    A J Hawke

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  11. Thank you. my specialty when I was studying history in grad school was gender studies. And read Proverbs 31. That woman was to weave and sell and teach and... I don't think it's unbiblical for women to be more than housewives and mothers. Of course, I think the family needs do come first, but that's another issue.

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  12. Good post, Laurie Alice.

    Where would we be without the women (and men) who fought for our voting rights or were willing to risk their lives to care for sick and wounded soldiers during wars, or made new scientific discoveries?

    The most interesting characters are strong women who stand toe-to-toe with a man, either in his own career world or in matching his personal self-assurance. (The romantic in us just doesn't want her to best him.) :-)

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  13. Thanks, Laurie Alice, for bringing us the benefit of your studies and findings and the pleasure of learning more about the place of women in history. You enlighten, encourage, and uplift!

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  14. Madame curie worked along side her husband on the properties of uranium, yes, used to ill in war later, but also giving us X-rays and atomic energy. And the first person to write a computer program was a woman in the 19th century. Not anything we would recognize as a computer today, but it was a program nonetheless. Worked with her father.

    What's the poem about women being created from a rib so we could work beside our man, not from thehead or foot so we would be above or below him?

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