Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guest Post: Ruth Rymer author of Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph

Today Ruth Rymer, author of Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph, stopped by to share with us a piece she wrote for us.

Writing A Historically Accurate Novel
Ruth Rymer

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to write a historical novel. 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. In Susannah, I retained my great-grandmother’s birth year of 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. Historic Myra Bradwell provided an excellent model & mentor for my 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.

W. Howells, in A Modern Instance (1882), was the first American novelist to address divorce. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie captures the atmosphere of 1875-1890, painting a vivid picture of early Chicago. Much of Dreiser’s world I verified by reading classifieds in the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune reported unusual divorces from all over the country. Its classifieds also gave me an accurate picture of women’s jobs at the time--cook, nursemaid, factory worker, and “typewriter”.

You don’t need to know everything as a historian, but you do need to know who to ask. For instance, I didn’t know much about guns, but when I described a scene to a firearms expert, he told me what type of gun the character could have used.

About Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph:

Young college graduate Susannah Reed is brutally attacked and nearly killed in 1877. While recovering, she vows to study law, although The United State Supreme Court has just declared that women are too timid and delicate to be lawyers.

Susannah's fiance accepts her victim status and the child conceived during her sexual assault. However, he expects his wife be a beautiful object, not opposing counsel at the dinner table.

Susannah begins to study law at a firm in Chicago as she struggles unsuccessfully to combine her career with an engagement to a man who will not allow her to become an attorney. She meets Ted Nelson, a young lawyer who acts as her coach and mentor, applauds her ambition, and wants her to have what she wants. She passes the bar and is hired by the firm where she interned.

Susannah's handling of her cases brings her immediate success. She defends a battered wife who accidentally kills her husband, a young immigrant that the State's Attorney is harassing, and an accomplice in a big bank robbery. In the meantime, she must deal with her disabled daughter, the murder of a partner at the firm, and her relationship with Ted.

About Ruth:

An early women's rights scholar, Ruth Miller Rymer practiced Family Law and lectured on ''Women and the Law'' in California before retiring to write. She has a Ph.D. in Human & Organizational Systems from The Fielding Institute and wrote her dissertation on the historical, sociological, and psychological aspects of divorce.

Dr. Rymer was listed in Best Lawyers in America, and is Past President of both Queen's Bench (Bay Area women attorneys) and the Northern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The author lives in the Bay Area with her husband. Susannah is her second book.

Visit the author at

Thank you so much to Ruth for joining us today! If you'd like to pick up a copy of her book Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph, click the cover image below.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Neat stuff, ladies.

Beth, I've posted about this over at Win a Book for you.

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