Author Interview: Shelley Mosley on The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote

Shelley Mosley on Shelley Mosley: “I was born in Baxter Springs, Kansas, a small town in the far southeast corner of the state. My dad, Billy, dropped out of high school to join the Navy during World War II, and worked in the mines when the war was over. My mom, Jennie, stayed at home and took care of me and my younger sister, Vicki. Vicki had severe asthma, so we moved to Phoenix, where people with asthma and tuberculosis went to get well.

“I can’t say that I ever saw my father read, but he worked so hard doing manual labor, he was too tired to do much of anything when he got home. Dad, who got his GED at 33, was a math whiz, and helped me with my algebra and trig in high school. My mom, on the other hand, read to us all the time. She surrounded us with books, even when we were low on cash, which was usually the case. She and my dad agreed on one thing. Vicki and I would go to college. No excuses.

“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. From ages 7 to 10, I wrote stories and poems for the Boys and Girls Republic, a section of The Arizona Republic that came out once a week. Every Sunday, I’d grab the paper and see if something of mine had been published. If it had, I got a prize in the mail the next week, usually a coloring book or stamps from other countries. It was a great opportunity for kids.

“In 1971, I earned my bachelor’s degree in education from Grand Canyon College and married my high school sweetheart, David. He finished his degree at Cal Tech in Pasadena, then we moved back to Arizona, where I was a teacher. While going for my master’s degree in education at the University of Arizona, an extraordinary professor named Helen Renthal decided that my talents would be better put to use in libraries, so with her encouragement, I got a master’s degree in library science. I was a school librarian, a reference librarian, and finally, the manager of the Velma Teague Branch of the Glendale Public Library System.

“After almost 25 years, I ‘retired’ from my job as a library manager, and became a full-time writer and part-time reference librarian at Glendale Community College.

“I love to write with other people, and have co-authored several non-fiction books with different people: John Charles, Sandy Van Winkle, Joanne Hamilton-Selway, and Dennis Tucker. These include: The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote; Romance Today: An A-to-Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance Writers; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List; the What Do I Read Next? series and Crash Course in Library Supervision. I review for both Booklist and Library Journal–it’s terrific to be able to read books before they hit the shelves! Soon, I’ll also be writing Read-Alikes for NoveList.

“My wonderful family has been most supportive, and this has been crucial to my writing career. My husband cooks most of our meals. My daughter, Jessica, and my mother do proof-reading and editing for me. My son, Andrew, is my main cheerleader.”

Deborah Shelley on Deborah Shelley: “Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so it’s a treat to work with other people. In addition to team-writing non-fiction, I’m half of the romance writing team of Deborah Shelley. The other half, Deborah Mazoyer, is the Director of Building Safety for the city of Glendale, Arizona.

“We wrote our first book in 1993, and, based on what other writers told us about how long it took them to get published, we promised each other we’d keep writing together for five years. We vowed if our book hadn’t been published by then, we’d quit. Kensington bought Talk about Love in 1998, less than a month before our deadline. Much to our surprise, it was a finalist for the Holt Medallion.

“Debbie’s been busy overseeing the new stadium for Super Bowl 2008 and all of the hotels and restaurants associated with it, so our writing time has been limited. Our newest novel, tentatively titled Marriage 101, will be our fifth–and an Avalon hardback! Our novels, all romantic comedies, have been translated into Dutch, Danish, French, Russian, Norwegian, and Portuguese. We also have a novella in Romancing the Holidays, Volume I, a romantic comedy that takes place during Purim.”

Confessions of a multiple identity author: “I write many different things–romance novels, reference books, articles, poems, children’s stories, lyrics. When I was a library manager, I’d write limericks for people on their birthdays, and we’d sing them to ‘Blest Be the Ties That Bind,’ an old hymn that’s the only melody I know that works with a limerick! I ended up writing more than 600 limericks.

“Sometimes I have to remember what I’m writing at the time to keep the right tone for that project. For reference work, my brainwaves take a giant leap from the right side to the left.

“When we wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List, we read many, many books and did a lot of research, but we were encouraged to use humor in our writing. It was nice to use both sides of our brains on the same project!”

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

My path to publication began in 1993 or 1994, when I spoke on a panel of librarians who were advocates of the romance genre. Grace Anne DeCandido, an editor at Wilson Library Bulletin, asked if I’d considered writing an article based on my presentation. John Charles, who was also on the panel, had given presentations with me at conferences on the topic of the censorship of romance novels by librarians. He and I had actually already written an article, which was rejected by Library Journal.

Wilson Library Bulletin published the article, “The Librarian as Effete Snob: Why Romance?” We won a Veritas award from Romance Writers of America in recognition of the article, and two professional writers were born. Since then, John and I have written many articles (including some for Library Journal) and worked on four reference books together. We’re developing a proposal for our fifth book.

Of course we’ve stumbled. In fact, we’ve fallen flat on our faces! There are snags with every project. Some are out of your control.

With The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Ultimate Reading List, the last editor on the book sent the uncorrected galleys to us the same time she sent the book to production to be printed. This means we could see the errors, but it was too late to get them corrected. There are only a few errors, even though the book has a thousand recommended titles listed by category and annotated.

Unfortunately, one of the mistakes was in a sidebar about Harry Potter, and that didn’t set well with an anonymous librarian who happens to be a Potter fan. She posted in huge letters on not one, but two websites: “Why You Should Never Read This Book!” Underneath her warning sat a large picture of our book. We explained the situation in a post, and she responded that she was open to looking at it again…if a corrected second edition comes out. In the meantime, the banner discouraging potential readers flies proud and high over two very searchable blog sites!

This is a good book, and up to this point, we’d never had a bad review. What a frustrating, humbling experience!

Congratulations on the publication of The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote, co-authored by John Charles (Scarecrow, 2006)! Could you offer us an overview of what to expect from the book?

John Charles and I wanted to spread the word about the suffragists and their sacrifices, so we designed this book to be useful for several audiences: teachers, librarians, researchers, students, and parents. The first part of the book has short biographical essays about fifty individual American suffragists. Each essay is followed by a list of books and other resources about that person. Next is an annotated list of collective biographies and general histories of the American suffrage movement. All resources in the book have been given a suggested grade level.

Other sections include:
Suffrage-Themed Fiction
Suffrage-Themed Drama
Suffrage-Themed Media
Internet Resources (including links to primary documents)
Field Trips and Places of Interest
Classroom Activities for Elementary School Children
Especially for YA Discussions or Papers
Suffrage Movement in Other Countries–Recommended Resources

You can browse the book and read the essays. We’ve tried to include as many interesting tidbits as space would allow. For example, did you know that Helen Keller was a suffragist…and Anne Sullivan didn’t approve of women’s suffrage one bit?

You can use our book as a starting point for your research. You can use it to teach your students about the suffragists. You can use it to develop library collections. We’ve tried to see that The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote has something to offer just about everyone from ages five to adult.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My initial inspiration for writing this book was my life-long admiration for the brave suffragists who risked their families, their place in society, their health, their freedom, and even their lives so American women would have the right to vote.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Gosh, I’ve had the spark since 1975, when I saw the documentary “Shoulder to Shoulder,” which chronicles the British suffragettes (Americans were called “suffragists”). I asked for the companion book for Christmas, which my ever-supportive husband gave me. (He even marched in support of the ERA!)

I had my first child, Andrew, in 1977, and worked full-time as a teacher. When Jessica was born in 1981, I’d made the move to public libraries. My life centered around my family and my work.

In 1993, I started freelance writing, but it wasn’t until 2002, when Kim Tabor of Scarecrow Press offered me a chance to write the suffragist book, that my dream was realized. In 2004, I retired from my position as a library manager. A side effect of my “retirement” was more time to write and research this project. The Suffragists in Literature for Youth: The Fight for the Vote was published in Nov. 2006.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Believe it or not, the main challenge in writing this book was stopping. My co-writer, John Charles, kept telling me that I was writing way too much. For example, we were going to feature 50 suffragists. We ended up with 350. It turns out John was right–we had a 900 page manuscript, and the publisher wanted a 300 page book. We had to cut 600 pages and 300 suffragists. It broke my heart, but I intend to use that information in another book or two.

We had to dig deep into primary documents for much of the information, and spent hundreds of hours doing research. However, there were some wonderful ah-ha! moments.

One of the highlights of my research was when David took me to Seneca Falls, New York, where the woman’s suffrage movement was born. It sent shivers up my spine to stand where Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave her famous speech in 1848 that started the whole thing. Wow! David took a photo of me by the statue commemorating Amelia Bloomer introducing Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony. He made it into a screen saver, so every day, when I turn on my computer, I’m reminded of these great women and how much I owe them.

Why was this subject so important to you?

Women’s rights have always been important to me. Younger women often don’t realize that before the mid-1970’s, women couldn’t get credit; their income didn’t count toward qualifying for a loan to buy a home; and their career choices were limited.

I worked toward the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, and was devastated that it didn’t pass. The person who authored the ERA, Alice Paul, was one of the major players in getting women the right to vote. After the vote was won, she spent more than half a century trying to get the ERA passed. And it came so close to being ratified…

It’s always upset me to think that the early suffragists, such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Lucretia Mott, fought as long as fifty years for the right to vote, and didn’t live long enough to exercise that privilege. How many of us would fight for something we believed in for half a century?

Some of the suffragists’ daughters, such as Harriot Stanton Blatch and Alice Blackwell, took up where their mothers (and in Alice’s case, father, too) left off. The fight began in 1848 and didn’t end until 1920. That’s 72 years! These were extraordinary, never-say-die women. The later suffragists, including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, were thrown into jail and force-fed. One of the most beautiful suffragists, later a symbol of the movement, attorney Inez Milholland Boissevain, literally worked herself to death by age thirty trying to get women the right to vote. Sometimes I cry when I read their biographies.

One day, I was showing a college class how to do research, and I used the suffragists as a topic. I asked who knew what a suffragist was. Not one person could answer the question! Not even one!

About the same time I’d taught that college class, Kim Tabor of Scarecrow Press called me and asked if I’d like to write a book in their “Literature for Youth” series. She said I could pick the topic. Any topic.

My immediate response was, “The suffragists.” I’ll always be grateful to Scarecrow for allowing me to write the book of my heart, and to my brilliant friend, John Charles, who agreed to write this book with me, as well as Romance Today: An A-Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance Writers at the same time.

What are areas of opportunity you see for youth literature authors on related topics? Or, what’s the book you’re aching to read, but hasn’t been published (or written) yet?

It is almost impossible to find information on Lucy Burns. One of the few Irish-Catholic suffragists, she was co-founder and second in command of the Congressional Union, yet she’s usually an after-thought in books about Alice Paul. I’d love to see someone write a biography about her. A picture of her in prison is the cover of our book.

I would also like to see something written about the Native Americans getting the vote. The 19th Amendment, which passed in 1920 and gave most women the right to vote, failed to enfranchise them. They had to wait another four years. Even after these legislations, minorities have been given a hard time, received threats, or suffered bodily harm when they went to the polls.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I would tell myself that rejection can be a good thing, and you can learn from it.

I’d say that the best way to get published is to network with editors at conferences.

I would take as many courses and seminars on writing as I could (I have since then), because writing what you want and writing for publication aren’t always the same thing.

I would only be in constructive critique groups. I’ve been in an excellent critique group (Sandy Lagesse, Marion Ekholm, Kimi Watters, and Carol Webb) for years, but my first group had a member who, at that time, was the only one published, and who trampled everyone’s self-esteem with her comments.

I made some really dumb mistakes when I first began writing professionally. One incident that stands out in my mind was when a publisher asked me for a synopsis and three chapters, I sent him a synopsis and the three chapters I liked best! Since, as I was soon to find out, a proposal is the first three chapters of the book, I got my three hand-picked chapters returned with “What’s This?!?!?!?” scrawled across the first page in huge letters.

How about specifically related to writing a book of this kind?

I would tell myself to stop at 300 pages, although I doubt it would do any good! I’d also work on the suffragist book by itself, not while I was writing another reference book at the same time. In fact, I’m still researching the suffrage movement. I can’t stop.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I work part time as a reference librarian at Glendale Community College and meet really cool people of all ages from all over the world. I do things with my family; learn about other cultures and religions; read and review books; go to movies; try new restaurants and foods; listen to music; go to the theater; travel; and give my cats the level of attention they demand.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

First of all, I don’t waste time doing housework!

It came as a shock to me that writers have to promote their own work. Now that I’ve done it for almost ten years, it’s still challenging, but actually kind of fun.

I love doing classes for new writers. I also do quite a bit of one-on-one mentoring with aspiring writers.

I’ve just learned how to blog and have written my first post, “Chocolate for the Writer’s Soul” (see Shelley’s blog).

As I get more proficient at blogging, I’m going to offer tips for new and aspiring writers on the site.

Every so often, I teach a class at the public library on writing memoirs. The stories I’ve heard from participants are extraordinary, from being a child during the bombings in Scotland during WWII to surviving the Holocaust.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I just finished a book called Crash Course in Library Supervision, which can actually be used for any type of supervision. I co-wrote this with Dennis Tucker, whom I’ve never met. At first it was surreal, writing with a stranger, but the longer we worked together, I came to learn that Dennis is a very bright, nice person.

Debbie and I have a romantic comedy, Marriage 101 (working title), coming out from Avalon in June, 2008. It’s set in a high school.