Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot is a page-turning read about the womens suffrage movement in the United States. It’s well-researched, thorough, nuanced, and completely engrossing–in other words, everything I look for in nonfiction. Today I have Winifred here to share a bit more about this book and her process.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Winifred Conkling (WC): I’ve always loved sitting at my desk, writing stories. I was the nerdy kid in third grade who typed up a 10-page report when the assignment was to write a three-paragraph paper. I loved seeing the words on the page and feeling satisfaction when an assignment was finished. I studied journalism in college, then worked at several newspapers and magazines. When I had children, I started writing adult nonfiction (and doing a lot of ghostwriting). I changed lanes again in 2009 when I went back to school to get an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in a program for Writing for Children and Young Adults. I now see myself as a children’s book author, although I can make no promises about what may come next.
MP: What was the inspiration for Votes for Women? What drew you to this subject?
WC: So often the inspiration for one book has a link to a previous project. In this case, my inspiration for Votes for Women! came from my 2016 book Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World. In my research for that book, I learned that women in France did not get the right to vote until 1945. Yes, 1945!! That got me to thinking about suffrage in the United States. I knew that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States in 1920, less than 100 years ago. Most people don’t know much about women’s suffrage – and they should, now more than ever.
MP: What kind of research did you do while writing this book? Was there any information you discovered but were unable to include in the book?
WC: I love researching a new book. For this project I visited Seneca Falls and got to sit inside the church where the first women’s rights conference was held in 1848. It was also great fun to track down the photographs of the movement – from the early images of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the 20th century photos of the Silent Sentinels standing in front of the White House. There’s nothing like an old photograph to transport you to another place and time.
MP: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
WC: I’m really not a “typical day” kind of person. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. When I’m energized about a project and in the hard-core drafting phase, I’ll work for 10 or 12 hours a day. I even think about writing problems overnight, and sometimes I’ll wake up with a new idea or solution. During this more creative part of preparing a manuscript, I tend to neglect my daily responsibilities, although the dog always reminds me when it’s time for me to feed her. After I wrap up a draft, I say hello to my husband and children and catch up on the chores I’ve avoided. And then I start the cycle over again.
MP: What part of this story was the most difficult to write? Do you have a favorite section?
WC: That hardest part to write was a period in the late 19th century that historians aptly referred to as the “doldrums.” Frankly, not much happened in the suffrage movement. I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to make something boring more compelling. In the end, I summarized what happened and moved on to the more interesting bits.
I suppose the most fascinating part to write was the section about Alice Paul and suffragists who were jailed for standing in front of the White House holding protest banners. The conditions in the prisons were appalling, so the women began a hunger strike. In response, some of them were force fed by having feeding tubes shoved down their throats or into their nostrils. When Alice Paul continued to refuse food, she was taken to an insane asylum. It’s hard to believe that this happened in the United States of America just one hundred years ago.
MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?
WC: I’m going to respectfully dodge the question. I’m in the early stages of a couple of projects. I find that when I’m working on a new idea, I don’t like talking about it too much. I can only discuss the parts that I’ve got down on paper. Otherwise, my excitement comes out in conversation rather than on the page.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
WC: If an idea is interesting to you, it will be interesting to someone else. Dig in and follow your curiosity. Research, write, rewrite – then rewrite again. (That’s the unfortunate truth of the matter – writers spend a lot more time rewriting than writing.) There are so many fascinating stories that need to be told. Get busy!
Thanks again to Winifred for for taking the time to answer some of my questions.
You can also read my review of Votes for Women! here on the blog.