Strong Women Series, #2: Anne Moody

The Camel and the Scorpion is a book inspired by true events. It is the story of #StrongWomen - Caroline, Lydia, Anna - who spoke out for a good world despite the personal and professional risks to themselves in doing so.

This post is the second in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.

Photo credit: Fred Blackwell/Jackson Daily News, via Associated Press

You know the 1963 photograph of the young men and women at the Woolworth's counter in Jackson, Mississippi.

Anne Moody is the woman of color sitting at the counter.

Anne Moody in 1969. Credit Jack Schrier

You may not know that Ms. Moody wrote a book. A bucket of icy water thrown in your face to wake you up kind of book. Coming of Age in Mississippi. It is a book of thunderous power. Written in 1968.

About that time at the Woolworth counter, Ms. Moody wrote:
…. at noon, students from the nearby white high school started pouring in to Woolworth’s. When they first saw us they were sort of surprised. They didn’t know how to react. A few started to heckle … Then the white students started chanting all kinds of anti-Negro slogans. We were called a little bit of everything. …. A couple of the boys took one end of [a] rope and made it into a hangman’s noose. Several attempts were made to put it around our necks. …
A man rushed forward, threw Memphis from his seat, and slapped my face. Then another man who worked in the store threw me against an adjoining counter.
Down on my knees on the floor, I saw Memphis lying near the lunch counter with blood running out of the corners of his mouth. As he tried to protect his face, the man who’d thrown him down kept kicking him against the head. If he had worn hard-soled shoes instead of sneakers, the first kick probably would have killed Memphis. Finally a man dressed in plain clothes identified himself as a police officer and arrested Memphis and his attacker. 
Days or weeks later:
… I had gotten another letter from Mama. …. she told me that the sheriff had stopped by and asked all kinds of questions about me the morning after the sit-in. …. She told me he said I must never come back [home]. If so he would not be responsible for what happened to me. “The whites are pretty upset about her doing these things,” he told her. Mama told me not to write again until she sent me word that it was OK.
… I also got a letter from [my sister] Adline in the same envelope. She told me what Mama had not mentioned – that Junior had been cornered by a group of white boys and was about to be lynched, when one of his friends came along in a car and rescued him.
Besides that, a group of white men had gone out and beaten up my old Uncle Buck. Adline said Mama told her they couldn’t sleep for fear of night riders They were all scared to death. My sister ended the letter by cursing me out. She said I was trying to get every Negro in Centreville murdered. 

Anne Moody had to summon courage just about every day of her life, from childhood on into adulthood. There were challenges from all quarters, at home and at large, in the small towns where she came up. Obstacles going to college. Fear, stress, danger in her civil rights work.

Ms. Moody knew that choices she made might result in violence or loss of income to her family, friends, neighbors back home, because the white folks who wanted to keep the status quo - that's how they operated. Punish the community for what an individual does.

Ms. Moody's story awed me.

Even though she wasn't always likable. She was damn tough on the people around her. I'm kind of amazed her little sis, Adline, let Ms. Moody live with her when she became unable to care for herself.  Because Ms. Moody wasn't always so complimentary about Adline in her book.

You can listen to Ms. Moody herself in this 1969 New York Public Radio interview with then Commissioner William H. Booth of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Thanks to the Anne Moody Twitter account in general, and to Dr.  Roscoe Browne's blog specifically, for this resource. 

Women of courage like Anne Moody? They are who kept me writing The Camel and the Scorpion for 20 years, so I could share the stories of women like The Camel and the Scorpion protagonists, Caroline, Lydia, and Anna.

Honorable, imperfect, brave, vulnerable champions, all of them. Risking their personal and professional lives to stand up for their ideals.

Anne Moody died in 2015.

When a Book Doesn't Fit Into a Genre

“Woman writing” by virtusincertus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Every agent and publisher I queried about The Camel and the Scorpion took a pass on my book, probably because it is a hybrid.  It doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, such as women’s fiction or political thriller. As a result, I believe the agents and publishers assumed the book was unpredictable, and sales would be too.

In hindsight, I understand their reluctance. I, too, crave predictability in fiction if there are major stressors in my life. I want to escape into a specific genre, say, a legal thriller by John Grisham. I need to know that Grisham’s primary character will be an attorney, a major crime will be committed, and the perpetrator will be brought to justice.  Knowing those things brings the world back into balance again. 

But what if my life is purring along, and all the dragons have been slayed?  Predictability is the last thing I desire.  I seek expansion and genre-bending books that burst from their red-ribboned packages.  Books like Benjamin Percy’s “Red Moon” or Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” No doubt, it is harder to market and sell books that fail to be shoehorned into a specific genre. But that doesn’t mean authors should stop writing them and challenging the status quo. 

For another perspective, consider author Leah Kaminsky's 2016 article, On Being Genre Fluid, in Women Writers, Women's Books

Strong Women Series, #1: Malala Yousafzai

The Camel and the Scorpion is a book inspired by true events. It is the story of #StrongWomen - Caroline, Lydia, Anna - who spoke out for a good world despite the personal and professional risks to themselves in doing so.

This post inaugurates my Strong Women Series. It honors women and girls of courage.

Malala Yousafzai 2015.jpg

Malala Yousafzai

Malala is the 15 year-old girl who the Taliban attempted to assassinate. On her school bus.

Her crimes? Speaking her truth about what it was like living with the oppressive Taliban presence. Advocating for girls' education.

This 2009 New York Times video introduced many of us to Malala, only 12 years old at the time:

This young girl inspires courage in me. En-courages me.

She has the spirit of the protagonists in my book: Caroline, Lydia, Anna. It is because of girls like Malala that I wrote The Camel and the Scorpion.

Want to learn more about Malala? 

Interview with the Writers' League of Texas

“Draped Woman” by John Singer Sargent. Creative Commons 1.0.

Rejoice! I've been interviewed!

By the Writers' League of Texas - please take a look here!

I owe much to the League through the generosity, creativity, and talent of my fellow members. From the interview:
I have learned to believe in one’s writing, no matter what others think. It took me 20 years to write The Camel and the Scorpion, which is inspired by actual events. The rejection letters from literary agents filled rooms. I threw my manuscript at the wall too many times to count. But after each hurl and the passage of time, I would pick up the manuscript again and begin another rewrite. Why? I would have loved to discover the book I was writing in a bookstore or library.
I also give heartfelt thanks to members of the Austin Writers’ League, which morphed into the Writers’ League of Texas, for helping inspire The Camel and the Scorpion. I joined the the Austin Writers’ League’s “novel in progress” group, or “nippers,” as we called ourselves, in Austin in the late 1990s. We met weekly to critique each other’s work and be each other’s supporters and cheerleaders. Those critiques were invaluable—they were done in a nonjudgmental, nonthreatening manner. What’s more, my writing improved tenfold with the group’s input.

The Camel and the Scorpion - Published!

A nerve-racking, vibrantly dramatic tale ... Kirkus Reviews

Nothing has prepared shy young college professor, Caroline Cavanaugh, for the international storm she is about to enter when she learns that her fiery student, Lydia, has been arrested. In Israel. For espionage.

Lydia's grandmother begs Caroline to rescue her granddaughter. Caroline risks her reputation and her dream career at the University of Texas on the unshakable belief that Lydia is innocent. But is she? How well do any of us know another person?

It's the late 1970s. The country is reeling from the effects of the Vietnam War, the fall of President Nixon, civil rights movements, the Great Inflation, and hair-trigger tensions in the Middle East.

The Camel and the Scorpion, inspired by actual events, reminds us how elusive the meanings of guilt and innocence can be.