05 October 2009

VBT Interview: Ruth Rymer

This is the first of two posts to go up on Lyrique Tragedy Reviews today for Ruth Rymer’s Virtual Book Tour for her new book Susannah, A Lawyer: From Tragedy to Triumph. (For the review, click here). Ruth was kind enough to answer a few questions that the book raised for me as I was reading it for review. Considering the topic of Susannah, Ruth’s background is that much more relevant and influenced the questions I asked:

About Ruth Rymer (From the Author’s website):

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

Dr. Rymer, listed in Best Lawyers in America 1988-2000, 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.

Dawn: Why historical fiction? Did you develop the legal and social issues you wanted to address first, or did you choose the time period and then extrapolate issues based on the period?

Ruth: Both. I like the time period. I know something about my great grandmother who was born at the same time and same place as Susannah. I am fascinated by the period thirty years after the first women’s rights conference, as women timidly began to shatter their chains. And finally, as a lawyer, I wanted to explore how hard it was for women to become attorneys initially. I’d read and taught about Myra Bradwell, the first woman lawyer in America, and wanted to bring her in as a mentor to my protagonist.

Dawn: Susannah is a very modern thinking character. How did you balance historical accuracy with modern notions of women? Was any aspect more difficult than another?

Ruth: Where women are concerned, there is always a first–the first woman lawyer, the first woman doctor, dentist, Congresswoman, Governor. No woman breaks out of the women’s sphere prison without “modern thinking.” To me, it is survival thinking–living one’s life by relying on oneself.

I loved the research and the writing. Editing and birthing the book were difficult.

Dawn: Do you consider Susannah, A Lawyer a feminist novel?

Ruth: I could argue that both ways, but in general I find feminism more shrill than it should be to bring women into full partnership in society with men. I tried to avoid lacing Susannah with feminist anger. That’s for the reader, if she would like, or not.

Dawn: You tackle domestic violence, rape and stigmatization of the victim, divorce, social and legal boundaries for women, and the right to independence and education of women in Susannah, A Lawyer (to name just a few). Why include all of these issues in one novel?

Ruth: I wanted to present a slice of life from 1877 to 1880. Any woman living during that period would encounter at least some of the issues presented in the novel, and a woman lawyer would deal with all of them in her quest to bring justice to her clients.

Dawn: Susannah, A Lawyer is historical fiction, but your protagonist and her struggles are anything but incidental. What do you want readers to walk away with once they finish reading?

Ruth: I think I’d like readers to miss Susannah after finishing the book. I’d like readers to appreciate the freedom we have now and to understand how much better we control our destinies than women did in 1880. Most of all, I hope readers will find Susannah a really good read!

Thank you, Ruth, for taking the time to answer my questions and to address some topics for discussion. Readers can get the book at Amazon and Ruth’s website (among other places). And read an excerpt of Susannah, A Lawyer on the book site, so go check it out and get reading. I promise it will leave you with plenty to talk about!