Jan 10, 2015

The Origin of Audacity

With me, theres rarely a simple answer to a simple question. My friends know this about me. Im that person at a party who you ask some small-talky question (never intended to get more than a glib one-word answer) who ends up talking for ten minutes. Youll get the what part of the answer, but youll also probably get the why and the how as well.
    Sorry? Not really. My friends still love me, and for now at least, they still invite me to their parties. Besides, that inquisitive tendency of mine, that rolling a thought around and around until I know the answers to all the unasked questions is a big part of why I am a writer and how this book found me.
    So how did I get the idea for AUDACITY? Do you have a cup of tea? Would you like to sit down? Get comfortable? Heres my answer.
    Ten years ago, I watched an HBO movie called Iron Jawed Angels about the tactics of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns at the climax of the suffrage movement in the United States. Its a story of friendship and courage and grit. I cried buckets of ugly tears and still list that movie as one of my favorites.
    Skip about five years down the road, and Im in grad school, trying to push myself outside of my writing comfort zone. Thinking Ill try my hand at nonfiction, I start combing through accounts of women whose work I admire. There are so many places to lookscientists, adventurers, activists. Remembering Alice and Lucy and how deeply their story affected me, I narrow my focus to suffragists active in the early 1900s. Since Im planning a book for young adults, I want to find someone close to my readersage. Many suffragists at the time were college educated women in their mid to late twenties, and while their stories are compelling and incredibly moving, I know Im looking for something different. Thats when I find my story, in the younger set of suffragists, the less educated, bleakly impoverished young immigrant women. To work a twelve hour day in a dirty, dangerous shop and then campaign for womens rights?Astonishing.
    When people talk about Clara Lemlich, they tend to use the same adjectives: brave, determined, passionate. Its easy to be inspired by her story. I probably learned about Clara in my US History class in high school. It was an AP course, and my teacher was excellent, so Im sure he told us about the plight of immigrants in the early 1900s, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the Uprising of 20,000. But somehow I had forgotten about all that in a way that I dont think I will ever forget Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
    So I began writing that biography, but I didnt get very far. It wasnt enough. If it didnt move me, how could I ever expect it to move readers? I set it aside, maybe forever. But writers never really put things away. Our ideas are always churning in the back of our minds even when were focused on something else.
    Back at that partyyoure saying something, and my eyes just glazed over? Im listening to you. I promise. Its just you said something that joggled loose an idea in the back of my mind and now I think Ive figured out some problem in my story and if I could only find a pen and a napkin to get this down before its gone again
    Really, this time. Sorry.
    What was it about Iron Jawed Angels that affected me so deeply? The movie brought the word suffragist to life for me. It brought Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to life for me. They were no longer single line entries in a history textbook. They were no longer just black and white photographs.
    Thats what I wanted to do for Clara. I wanted to bring her out of black and white, out of that textbook. Dont get me wrongI was shocked when her voice appeared in free verse. But I had found my medium and I didnt stop. This time when I started telling her story, I could feel it. I could feel her character coming to life.

1 comment:

  1. Margaret Bonass MaddenJanuary 11, 2015 at 12:38 AM

    This sounds amazing! My kinda book :)


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