The Other Side of Courage –
The Saga of Elizabeth Blackwell
Author Robert Nordmeyer chats with ePen about authors finding inspiration and what to do with it once you’ve found it. Read on then let us know where you found inspiration for your latest book.Click to buy!
For the writer, before the fingers can ever touch one key on the keyboard there has to be inspiration. From my experience, that magical moment happens spontaneously—never planned or sought. It just suddenly appears. Such was the case for my latest book about the life of Elizabeth Blackwell. My inspiration came about by complete surprise. Without realizing what was happening, a simple routine turned out to be the start of a wonderful relationship between me and this fantastic woman pioneer.
It was an innocuous little desk calendar that became the source for the book’s inspiration. The calendar was one of those Page-a-Day calendars, which included various points of interest for each day. One such feature was called “On This Day.” As I scanned down the page, I stopped to read the history note. And there it was: my inspiration. It read: “1849: Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.” The short blurb continued to say that in her pursuit Elizabeth was harshly rebuked by the all-male medical profession and that after receiving her degree she went on to open a hospital for the poor women and children in the slums of New York City.
That was all it took. Who wouldn’t get inspired by those facts? Immediately I recognized that this was a significant moment in history achieved by an amazing woman who was not only a very brave pioneer but who actually broke that impenetrable glass ceiling for women in medicine. Within hours, I began my research seeking out every bit of information and detail I could find about this remarkable woman. And what I uncovered revealed to me that I had a stirring story to tell, one about which very little had been published and one that shouted out to be told. Elizabeth Blackwell, as I was to learn later, was practically unknown and yet she was one of the more noteworthy historical figures in the world.
When I began to write the book, I had to decide how to handle it. Do I write a nonfiction account of this woman’s achievement or do I write a full biography, or perhaps, maybe, I should attempt a fictionalized version of her life? As I toyed with the various approaches, I came to realize that I had the makings of a unique historical fiction treatment that could truly make her life come alive. And that was what I settled on.
It was my first adventure into historical fiction. I wasn’t quite sure how to treat the story. There were various avenues I could have taken and I dabbled in them as a test. Should I attempt a first person approach or stay with the tried and true third person view. How vivid did I want to make the sequences of her life? How realistic should I attempt? As it turned out, I inadvertently created a biographical portrait of Elizabeth in the context of historical fiction.
Then there was the matter of doing a period piece. Elizabeth lived eighty-nine years from 1821 to 1910. Within those years, the course of life’s patterns changed. Society had many new philosophical approaches to a variety of aspects. Then, of course, I had to try to get inside Elizabeth’s mind, if that was possible. I had to attempt thinking like her and feel the pain and rejection and anger she felt when confronted with the resentment and animosity of the male-dominant medical profession. I had to be careful with language and the patterns of speech during that time. All these factors needed to be researched so that I could comfortably place Elizabeth in a very realistic environment.
Finally on May 28, 2011, I began writing. As I put the story together, I became more and more enthusiastic about what was developing. I could feel the vibrancy of her life and the various sequences of Elizabeth’s climb to that inevitable success of earning her degree in medicine. Most importantly, I was getting that feeling of exuberance that comes when words are formed and the sentences begin to tell an exciting story. As a writer, inspiration not only comes with the initial thrust of an idea but it also comes when that idea begins to materialize and the mind and fingers coordinate together to create. And it is the aspect of creation that gives the writer that rush of adrenalin.
But as any author will agree, what was initially created doesn’t stay the same. It took five rewrites for me to get the story into the form and substance that told Elizabeth’s story as she would have wanted it to be told. And on May 27, 2014 at 8:29 in the morning, I finished the epilogue and the book was completed. Then came the editing and proofing and polishing by three sets of eyes and six months later I had a book ready to be submitted. It finally made it to market with an independent publisher in October of 2015.
Inspiration is a writer’s most cherished companion. Without it there is no writing. With it there are endless possibilities. But the key is to know when inspiration is there, staring you in the face, waiting for you to take hold and do something with it. As I said in the beginning, before one finger can hit a key on the keyboard, inspiration must be there. And the amazing thing about all of this is that inspiration is everywhere in everything we see, hear, and do. The spark is waiting. Be alert. Be aware. Be ready. It is omnipresent. Grab it.
The story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a degree in medicine, begins in the anatomy class at the medical school of Geneva College. It is the day to examine and study the male reproductive organs. Being that she is to be the only woman in an auditorium filled with young men, the resounding clash with the morals and societal norms of the mid 1800’s is to be heard throughout the world. There is a disagreement between the professor of anatomy and this new exclusive student on the advisability of a women being present during the dissection of the male sexual organs. Doctor James Webster elects to absent her from the session. Elizabeth insists she is an equal and with gracious finesse and direct persistence she overrides his objections and accomplishes yet another first for women and medicine. More here.
About the Author:
Robert Nordmeyer has written professionally for more than forty-five years as a published journalist, columnist and author as well as creating advertising copy for both print and broadcast media, plus developing public relations and promotional materials. His published books include Shepards in the Desert, commissioned and published by the Diocese of Tucson, Guide to Organizing and Successfully Operating a Nonprofit Organization, published by the Graduate Group, Magnolias Don’t Cry, published by Booktango and his latest offering The Other Side of Courage – The Saga of Elizabeth Blackwell, published by CyPress Publications. He is a Professional member of the Society of Southwestern Authors and has served on its Board of Directors and currently is a member of the international group The Historical Novel Society. Robert and his wife Rita live in Tucson, Arizona.
Visit Robert here: http://blackwellsaga.blogspot.com
Thank you, Robert! Comment below and let us know where you found your inspiration!