A Historian Writes A Historical Novel by Ruth Rymer, Author of Susannah, A Lawyer (Guest Post and Giveaway)
Today's guest blogger is Ruth Rymer, author of Susannah, A Lawyer - From Tragedy to Triumph. You can read an excerpt from this novel by visiting the author's website. Make sure you stick with us to the end though, because we're ofering you a chance to win a free copy of this novel that has been called "a gripping historical novel which is difficult to put down."
A HISTORIAN WRITES A HISTORICAL NOVEL by Ruth Rymer
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to write a historical novel. As a history major, I traced my ancestors back to 1720 colonial Pennsylvania. When I graduated in 1966, few colleges hired women as history professors, so I headed to law school. After being admitted to the California Bar in 1971, I discovered that law firms rarely employed women as lawyers. I was fortunate to establish my own practice without worrying about having to please a boss. I specialized in family law and enjoyed my career until 2000 when I retired to marry, travel and write.
Originally I had wanted to write a biography of my great-grandmother, Pollyanna Mead Reynolds (1857-1918) but I couldn’t find enough material about her. With Susannah, I retained my great-grandmother’s birth year, 1857, her status as the fifth child in the family, and her birthplace of upstate New York.
I had long admired Myra Bradwell of Bradwell v. Illinois (83 U.S. 130). Jane Friedman’s biography of Bradwell, The First Woman Lawyer in America, portrayed how lawyers practiced in 1860-1890 Chicago. The then common, now criminal actions of jury tampering and embezzling from clients’ settlement funds seemed inappropriate to Mrs. Bradwell, but were no more scandalous than divorce. Historic Myra Bradwell provided an excellent model & mentor for the fictional Susannah Reed.
Professional historians are strict about two rules. First, sources must be from primary material that is, created contemporaneously with the event. Second, the use of speculation and imagination are not allowed.
As a novelist, I could break the history restrictions. Still, I did not want to vary too far from the primary source rule. Two of my favorite historical novelists, Jane Kirkpatrick and Florence Weinberg, rely heavily on original documents.
W. Howells, in A Modern Instance (1882), was the first American novelist to address divorce and describe a fraudulent procedure common in Indiana. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie captures the atmosphere of 1875-1890 Chicago, paints a vivid picture of how folks lived, where they ate, and how much they earned, as well as what happened to someone unlucky enough to be the “other woman.” Much of Dreiser’s world I verified by reading classifieds in the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune reported unusual divorces from all over the country and even described some lurid cases, especially when fraud or murder was involved. Susannah addresses situations similar to those described in the Tribune. The classifieds also gave me an accurate picture of women’s jobs at the time--cook, nursemaid, factory worker, and “typewriter” (a woman who owned a typing machine and hired it and herself out to businesses on an hourly or daily basis).
Of those who are acknowledged for helping create Susannah, the most unusual person is Warren Newman of the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming. I would describe a potential scene to him and he would tell me what model of gun the character could have used.
An early women’s rights scholar, Ruth Rymer practiced Family Law and lectured on “Women and the Law” in California under the name of Ruth Miller before retiring to write.
She holds a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from The Fielding Graduate University and wrote her dissertation on the historical, sociological, and psychological aspects of divorce.
Dr. Rymer, listed in the "Best Lawyers in America," 1988-2000, is Past President of both Queen’s Bench (Bay Area women attorneys) and the Northern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.