As soon as I saw the trending hashtag, I wanted to write volumes. After all, this is what I do. Looking up #FilmHerStory on Twitter is inspiring, but alas, I’m no filmmaker. I am, however, an author, and #WritingHerStory is exactly what I’ve been doing for years. To the left of my desk stands a list of dozens of extraordinary women who have been marginalized by history. It’s a race against time to see how many I can get to.
It began with Dracula’s wife (well, consort, really). When I told people about the story, everyone had an idea. “You should write about Granía O’Malley. She was known as the Irish Pirate Queen,” said my mom’s best friend. I added her to the list. While researching Granía, I discovered a story about a woman who disguised herself as a man to accompany her lover into war, when Spain sent its armada to England in 1588. A visit to the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson introduced me to May Woodman, who, for a time, was the only female inmate in Yuma Prison, after shooting her lover on the same corner in Tombstone where Virgil Earp was shot after the infamous gunfight at OK Corral.
The women I write about cross every era and every culture. Some ruled empires. Others were solitary nomads. Others were strategists and warriors. As each story I write comes to a close, the voices of the unwritten clamor for attention, all wanting to be next. They’re often underdogs who achieved great things despite the odds. Plenty of authors have told the tales of grand ladies such as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. True, they’re fascinating, but I like to look deeper for the forgotten voices. This misheard and misunderstood. The unusual.
Writing novels about real women in history wasn’t necessarily the theme I set out for when I started writing, but the more I read, the more lost voices I found. I’ve even gotten to the point where I wince a bit when I see a subject line in an email, something along the lines of “Have you heard about her?” “I found a new novel for you to write!” This of course, followed by a links and photos to another fascinating woman from somewhere in time. I wish I could get to them all. That’s why I was so glad to see the trending hashtag on Twitter.
I’m glad to see so many other people thinking about this. My only hope is that if they do get filmed, or novels written about them, that their story won’t be diminished by the Hollywood formula that can corrupt the essence of so many amazing personalities. Don’t make it a love story because you think it’s marketable. If the woman preferred solitude, embrace who she was. Make sure these stories pass the Bechdel test. Audiences are far more diverse than Hollywood gives them credit for, but fortunately, there are many indie avenues to explore and share. The Guardian recently reported that women who self-publish are finding good success, maybe better so than in traditional publishing. That may be so—it’s worked well for me so far.
I look forward to settling into my new home in two weeks and diving back into the fourth novel, which features Enheduanna, poet and priestess in the Sargonic dynasty of ancient Mesopotamia. I also look forward to seeing what happens with #FilmHerStory, to see if anyone makes good on the suggestions. And I also suggest #WriteHerStory as well. Let’s bring some of those forgotten voices into the light.