Friday, January 13, 2012

If The Pants Fit by Alison Bruce

A few years ago I entered the book that would become Under A Texas Star in a literary contest. I was prepared for criticism of my characterization, plot, and/or pace. After all, the chief reason I entered the contest was to get feedback I could use to improve my story.
I was dumbfounded that the judges’ chief complaint was that it wasn’t believable that a young woman could pass as a young man. Now that Under A Texas Star is published, I feel I can indulge in a little rant on the topic.

The dramatic device of a woman masquerading as a man has been around forever. It’s as accepted in historical romance as fast-than-light travel is in science fiction. Let’s set that aside, however. The fact is, women have been successfully posing as men throughout history.
I belong to Minerva, a history list devoted to women in the military. Thanks to the academics and enthusiasts, I learned that at least 400 women fought in the American Civil War. They cut their hair, bound their breasts and learn to behave like men. They were only ever discovered if wounded or killed or, as in the case of Sarah Emma Edmonds, they wrote about it afterwards.

I’ve picked Sarah Emma Edmonds, aka Frank Thompson, as an example because, like me, she’s Canadian. Edmonds escaped an abusive father in Nova Scotia to live in the United States. When her adopted country went to war, she was determined to serve.

Sarah could have been the heroine of her own romance. She served as a “male” nurse in an army hospital, then as a Union spy - disguising herself as a black man, an Irish peddler, and black mammy. In a ploy straight out of Victor-Victoria, she masqueraded as a man masquerading as a woman. Her story includes horse chases, gun play and near escapes - not unlike the adventures of Marly Landers in Under A Texas Star.

Unfortunately Sarah contracted malaria and had to desert or be found out. She returned to Canada, fell in love and returned to the States with her husband. They had three sons who, like their mama, served in the US Army.

To find out more about Sarah, check out her biography or read the Civil War Women Blog.

To find out more about Marly Landers, read Under A Texas Star, available in Kindle, Nook, Kobo, other formats on Smashwords and in paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Disguised as a boy, Marly joins a handsome Texas Ranger in the hunt for a con man and they must bring the fugitive to justice before giving up the masquerade and giving in to their passion.

When Marly Landers is fooled by con man Charlie Meese, she's determined to bring him to justice--even if it means dressing up as a boy and setting off across the plains to find him.

“This is a rollicking adventure and Marly Landers is a girl with True Grit.”
Phyllis Smallman, Arthur Ellis Award winning author of Champagne for Buzzards

Alison Bruce has an honours degree in history and philosophy, which has nothing to do with any regular job she’s held since. A liberal arts education did prepare her to be a writer, however. She penned her first novel during lectures while pretending to take notes.
Alison grew up surrounded by the great dames of golden age mysteries - Christie, Sayer, Marsh - Georgette Heyer’s historical romances and the classic westerns of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Naturally enough her debut novel, Under A Texas Star, is a mystery-romance set in the old west.,,


Melodie Campbell said...

Wonderful history about Sarah - makes one very proud. So glad I read this. An excellent post!

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thanks Mel! I was good to brush up on my research. I think Sarah might just have inspired a new character too.

Suzie Grant said...

Alison! I always love your posts! I just thought I'd add to this by giving you this information as well. It's one of my favorite women dressing up as men in stories. Tell your naysayers to stick this in their yarn.

Dr "James" Barry did a degree at Edinburgh Medical School. She joined the British Army in 1813 and became the Surgeon General. Her gender was discovered after her death in 1865.

Great topic!! And I loved the story of Sarah!!

Alison E. Bruce said...

Cool story, Suzie. I can see why that is one of your favourites. Have you ever read Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett? It's humour/fantasy but, as is often the case with Pratchett's books, it is grounded in fact. In what was a man's world, is it any wonder independent, ambitious women masqueraded as men?

Lyn Horner said...

Alison, do you remember Ashes In The Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss? It's my favorite Civil War romance. The heroine, Alaina, masquerades as a boy for about half of the book. It's a wonderful story and I love how Woodiwiss handled the boyish persona. Your Marley is just as convincingly drawn. My compliments!

Patricia said...

This was quite a history lesson for me and I really enjoyed it. I never knew women masqueraded as men so they could fight in the Civil War. Your novel sounds both innovative and intriguing.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Patti, thank you. It didn't begin with the Civil War. Women have shorn their hair and taken up the sword for millenia. By WWI it would have been trickier because by then Army doctors were doing physical exams. On the other hand, that's also when the women's auxilliary corps started. Coincidence?

Lyn, I must add Ashes in the Wind to my reading pile. First I have to read Dashin' Druid. Before that, I have a sequel to write.