Strong Women #7: Cecile Richards


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 seventh in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.


Cecile Richards. Source: Cosmopolitan.

Cecile Richards is my seventh #StrongWoman.


“Every bit of progress we have made in this country, perhaps in the world, has been because there were people willing to speak out even when it was unpopular.” 
Cecile Richards, Georgetown speech, April 2016


Ms. Richards is most well-known as Planned Parenthood's president, a position she's held since 2006, and which will end in May this year.  Ms. Richards' time with Planned Parenthood will close as a new endeavor opens: the publication of her forthcoming book, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead — My Life Story.


But Ms. Richards' activist life emerged in childhood: At age 14, her school disciplined her for wearing a black armband to protest the Vietnam War. Well, one might say her activism began in the cradle, as Ms. Richards' parents were Ann Richards (former governor of Texas) and David Richards, a civil rights attorney.


As a human lightning rod for Planned Parenthood, an organization committed entirely to the reproductive health of women and men - to medical, economic, and social justice - Cecile Richards is the target of daily attacks from individuals, organizations, and political operatives. Ms. Richards' valor in withstanding these electric strikes and swirling storms so resolutely ... it astounds me.


Women of courage like Cecile Richards? 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.


Strong Women #6: Dolores Huerta

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 sixth in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.


Dolores Fernandez Huerta. Credit: Gage Skidmore

Never heard of Dolores Fernandez Huerta?

I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't heard of Ms. Huerta until I recently watched a movie about Cesar Chavez, and I thought: Who is that woman who stands by him as a fellow organizer? Why don't I know of her? She is astounding.

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, called Ms. Huerta "one of the greatest civil rights leaders in this country's history."

Dolores Huerta originated the phrase, "Sí, se puede" - "yes, it's possible" - which Barack Obama adapted for his "Yes, we can" motto.

With Cesar Chaves, Ms. Huerta founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farmworkers Association. It was Ms. Huerta who served as the union's contract negotiator with the growers, who eventually came to the bargaining table after years of grinding, bloody work by Ms. Huerta, Mr. Chavez, and the farmworkers.

But let's go back to a time before the creation of the National Farmworkers Association. 

Born in 1930, Ms. Huerta was a feminist from a young age, inspired by her mother, Alicia. Ms. Huerta's mother, after many years of saving, bought and ran a 70-room hotel in Stockton, California, that served low-wage workers in their agricultural community of Mexican, Filipino, African-American, Japanese and Chinese working families.  Alicia charged room rates that the workers could afford, frequently waiving the cost entirely.

After college graduation, Ms. Huerta became a teacher in Stockton, and this experience presented another inspiration that would shape her future as a world-changer: Some of her students came to school hungry and without even shoes to wear.

Involved in the Stockton Community Service Organization, Ms. Huerta learned and honed essential skills in community organization, advocacy, being the proverbial squeaky wheel, and surmounting obstacles from within and without a community.

Can you imagine the environment in the early 1950s, when Ms. Huerta came of age - a woman, a woman of color, a woman who championed low-wage workers - during the McCarthy Era, when all social- and economic-justice movements were branded as Communist?

However, about that time, organizing the farmworkers, Ms. Huerta said: "You had this ambiance around you that you could really change the world."

I invite you to watch this C-Span video narrated by Ms. Huerta about her life's work for economic and social justice.

And below, a half-hour Democracy Now segment on Ms. Huerta below, lauding the release of a film documentary on Ms. Huerta's life and work:




Women of courage like Dolores Huerta? 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.


Strong Women Series #5: Cris Williamson


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 fifth in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.

Cris Williamson. Source: Freight & Salvage.



Never heard of Cris Williamson?

A singer and songwriter, Ms. Williamson's album, "The Changer And The Changed, was the all-time best selling independent record from the early 70s until the early 90s - the same time period that King's Tapestry was the best selling record by a female solo artist." (Source: warr.org)


In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, January 2015, Ms. Williamson said:
"We are given a voice at birth, we sort of open our beak like a little bird ... People go, 'Where did you get that voice?' And I think about it. I didn't get it anywhere. It pretty much came with the package. My thing was: ‘Now, what am I going to do with that gift?’"


So Cris Williamson had a remarkable voice, a gift as a songwriter, and the chutzpah to found several record labels over the years. But why is she one of my #StrongWomen heroines?

Again, from warr.org: ".... Williamson didn't get even 1% of the media attention of .... other artists, mostly because she was an out lesbian before Melissa Etheridge, Phranc, or even Martina Navratilova - she was the biggest lesbian star in an era when lesbianism had zero mainstream visibility."

In a 2009 interview with Berklee, Ms. Williamson answered a question about being a role model for young musicians who are lesbians. Ms. Williamson replied: " .... my approach to music is to speak as though we were all creatures who come to a water hole, in a clearing, in the wilderness. And everybody deserves the water, and the water to me is music. And that's what brings us all human beings together. And I think music should bring people together and not drag them apart."

Ms. Williamson answered the interviewer's question in the context of mentoring musicians, but this phrase within her response is what spoke to me of a vision, a source of courage:
....  we [are] all creatures who come to a water hole, in a clearing, in the wilderness. And everybody deserves the water ... 


If Ms. Williamson had concealed her sexual orientation and feminism, we might all know her as well as we know some of her contemporaries: Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell.

In choosing to come out as a lesbian and as a feminist in the 1970s, Ms. Williamson's musical voice gave heart to legions of girls and women who shrouded a part of their true selves in secrecy.

Women of courage like Cris Williamson? 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.

Strong Women Series #4: Crystal Lee Sutton


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 fourth in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.


Crystal Lee Sutton. Source: LA Times


Never heard of Crystal Lee Sutton? If no, you may recognize her movie-world name, Norma Rae, as played by Sally Field.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In 1973, Sutton worked at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Fed up with the poor pay and working conditions, she joined the Textile Workers Union of America and became an organizer whose activism quickly earned the wrath of management.
Moments after being fired, she wrote "UNION" on a piece of cardboard, climbed onto a table in the middle of the factory floor and raised the sign for co-workers to see. Stunned by her courage, they switched off their machines and focused on the 33-year-old mother of three who earned $2.65 an hour.
Some raised their fingers in a V for victory, but a union contract was still years away.
The victory that day was over fear.


Ms. Sutton didn't just have to conquer her fear about her bosses and lack of income, she had to overcome fear about going against the tide of her friends, family, and neighbors who also worked in the mill. From the APWU:
As the daughter of mill workers herself, Sutton felt mill workers’ children learned an attitude of resignation from their parents. “All their life, all the children ever hear is J.P. The parents come home and say, ‘Lord a mercy, they worked me down today,’” she explained to Leifermann. [emphasis mine]


Listen to Ms. Sutton in this 1980 interview from Pacifica Radio, which is in the University at Albany's Talking History archive. Ms. Sutton describes "brown lung," a common affliction of textile-factory workers, which eventually kills its victims. Although her aunt suffered symptoms of brown lung, she was afraid to get diagnosed with brown lung because she was afraid the company would find out about it and fire her.


"It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world," she said in a 2008 Burlington Times-News interview [in 2008]. "That my family and children and children like mine will have a fair share and equality."


" .... People are going to long know where I'm coming from: I believe working people need to join together, and the only thing they got going for them now is a union." Washington Post, 1985. 


Women of courage like Crystal Lee Sutton? 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.

Crystal Lee Sutton died in 2009.



Strong Women Series #3: Wilma Mankiller


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 third in my Strong Women Series. The series honors women and girls of courage.

Wilma Mankiller. Source: NewsOn6, 2010.



"In a just country, she would have been elected president." 
Source: Gloria Steinem


"I'm a pretty ordinary person that just happened to be given an opportunity to do extraordinary things in my life," Wilma Mankiller.


"I've done everything I could do to make everybody in the world mad at me this past four years [as chief of the Cherokee Nation]."

And that's what strong women must do - persevere on a path strewn with rocks thrown in anger.


Ms. Mankiller:
  • Survived childhood destitution
  • Discovered her political voice for social justice in the 1960s, during the Occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans from a number of tribes (Indians of All Tribes)
  • Recovered from a near-fatal auto crash
  • Lived through three serious physical illnesses, including cancers
  • Was elected as the first woman principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, serving in that capacity for 10 years
  • Raised two daughters
  • Wrote the best-selling book, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
  • Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

A short video homage to Wilma Mankiller below:




Women of courage like Wilma Mankiller? 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.


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 day 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