On the Shelf: Women at War

It’s been radio silence since January, not necessarily because I haven’t been active online, but because I’ve been spending the majority of my time over at Crone Girls Press, doing editor- and publisher-type activities. And then, let’s face, the world tipped head over heels into crazy-town, and wham-bam-without-a-thank-you-ma’am, we ended up wherever this is.

Case in point–this year I applied to be and was accepted as a guest at ConCarolinas. Woohoo! Cue the big rejoicing! And then, everything got dumped in the turdbucket along with my powers of concentration and ability to follow a to-do list. So now, the next best thing. I’m still a guest and panelist at … ConCarolinas — the Virtual Con! (If you read that in Yogurt’s voice, we can be best friends.) My panel, which will be live and virtual, is called Herstorically Speaking: Meet the Women of War, and will be online Friday, May 29 from 7pm to 9pm EST. Yes, I realize this conflicts with the big Dropkick Murphys streaming concert. Believe me, that will be on in the background … Anyway, if you’re interested in more Con content, check out their virtual schedule for the next few days.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been meaning to do is set up a regular blog feature about books. My reading tends to include huge chunks of fiction, and then clusters of nonfiction books around topics I find myself wanting to deep-dive into. Sometimes I’ll read two or three and move on, sometimes I’ll continue to return to the topic. My idea for this feature came about because first, I needed an idea for a recurring blog post topic, and second, I firmly believe that reading can make you a better writer. So, here is my new blog feature: On the Shelf.

On the Shelf will be an annotated bibliography introducing three to five books on a particular topic that I think might be helpful as well as some thoughts on why I’ve picked them, and what I think you might get out of them. In this case, I’ve chosen a few books from my shelf that relate to the topic of Women in War. Think of this as an annotated reading list that I’m putting together to inform my participation on the ConCarolinas panel on Friday. If you have any questions, or want to talk books, drop me a line!

Uppity Women of Medieval Times
Leon, Vicki. Uppity Women of Medieval Times, MJF Books, NY, 1997.

I picked up this book at Barnes & Noble way back when I was first getting into the SCA. It was one of the books you’d find in the bargain section (which is, indeed, where I found it.) Inside, you’ll find a quick, snappy introduction and then ten sections of short, snarky profiles of women who lived and made waves in the medieval period. Some of these women even picked up a sword or two (see Aethelfled, pp 30-31, Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun p 31, or Caterina Sforza pp 38-39.) If you are looking for depth, this is not the right book for you, nor is it if you only want tales of women wielding swords (check out the poet Walladah al-Mustakfi pp 94-95.) However, this is a great reference book to start with, especially because the short profiles allow the author to pull from a variety of geographic areas and professions. And, bonus, there is a pretty solid bibliography and index to help guide your future studies.

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War
Blanton, DeAnne & Cook, Lauren M. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, Vintage Books, NY, 2002.

One of the few times I’ve read a book because the author contacted me through Goodreads, and this time the gamble paid off. This is a well-researched, in-depth work of history with an extensive bibliography, notes section, and index. In it, the authors use historical primary sources to tell the stories of women who dressed as men to go to war. They lead the reader through the reasons why women enlisted, how they pulled it off, and their actions once they found themselves living in uniform. Along the way, they address such issues as hygiene and bathroom issues, training, the attitudes towards the women who were discovered, and the fact that there even were so many women who dressed as men to fight that it necessitated a full-length history book to relate. This is a terrific book, well-written and informative, on its own. If you are writing a war and want women characters in there (or even if you don’t, by the way, because these women weren’t really supposed to be found in the ranks either), then this is a book you want to crack.

Women Heroes of World War II
Atwood, Kathryn J. Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, Chicago Review Press, 2011.

I can’t remember exactly where I picked up this book, but when I sat down to write my werewolf urban fantasy, I cracked it open. Why? Because I was writing a character whose grandmother was a member of the OSS during World War II, and I wanted to get a feel for what it was like for the women who were fighting on behalf of the allies during that time. This book contains profiles of women who fought in one capacity or another, from resistance fighters to spy/singers (hello, Josephine Baker!) to agents who infiltrated the enemy lines. Not all of the stories have happy endings. The profiles are organized by country, and introduced with a short two to three page blurb about the efforts of women in that country. Each profile is bookended with a “Learn More” section that points the interested reader in the direction of more books and articles about that particular woman. The book contains an excellent bibliography and thorough notes section. This is one of those books that is super helpful on a writer’s bookshelf–a collection of profiles to read through and get inspired by, and the list of further reading just in case you want to take off down a rabbit hole.
(Note: After going to get the URL, I realized there is a newer edition with six more profiles; I have linked to that in the title above.)

Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War
Brown, Randy & Leonard Steve, eds. Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, Middle West Press, LLC, Johnston, Iowa, 2019.

This is a bit of a different choice, as the essays in this nonfiction work are, for the most part, personal narrative, not all of them are written by soldiers, and not all of them are penned by women. However, everyone in this volume has experienced what it’s like to serve during wartime, whether as a soldier or journalist or teacher, and their words can open a window in that world. Many of the authors in this lightly-edited volume can be found participating in online conversations. Many have longer works available for the curious reader. I think this book is an important project, and if you are writing modern military or military-affiliated characters living and working and acting in modern military settings, you should grab a copy of this book, and let it set you up to look over the field before you find the right rabbit hole down which to dive.

Like what you see? Come on over and find me on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a touch more active over there … for the most part. Got some thoughts? Drop me a comment.

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