My guest today is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Her bio says:
My name is Sylvia Dickey Smith. I was born in Orange, Texas, and grew up in a colorful Scots-Irish family living in the midst of a Cajun culture. When 34, my curiosity about the world took on a whole new dimension when I moved to the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Awed by the differences in customs and cultures, particularly as they related to West Indian women, set me on a journey of study and self-discovery.
Back in the U.S. at 40, I started college and didn’t stop until I achieved a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in women’s studies and a master’s in counseling.
An advocate for women, my writing features those who recreate themselves into the people they want to be, strong women who take charge of their lives and get things done. (If you’ve met Sidra Smart or Bea Meade, you know what I mean.)
The stories dwell on the wondrous twists and turns of human behavior rooted in my background as a counselor before I became a novelist. The tales are fun, sassy, and (according to my fans) darn good reads. I hope you like these kind of books, too! I look forward to adding you as a fan.
Once you’ve met her, I’m sure she will add you as a fan, as she has me. 🙂
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I see you feature strong women in your writing. Did you have strong women in your life as you grew up?
I used to say no, I didn’t. But in retrospect, I’ve decided strong women come in all versions. If you ask me if I had a woman role model finding my voice, standing up for myself, holding me to a higher standard, being assertive, setting achievement goals, who accomplished, then no. I often wish I had.
The women in my family did not have a voice. With little education or communication skills, they never learned to be assertive, nor did they achieve lofty goals. (And likewise, they had no women role models in their life modeling those straits.) For the most part, they survived, and perhaps a few thrived. The idea of them working outside the home was something their husbands would never approve or allow. They spent their lives as dependent, submissive, subservient women. Perhaps that’s a lesson in itself. It certainly inspired me to step outside the mold they set for me. However, it took me until mid-life, and decisions on my part to get there. It was a tremendous struggle. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had those strong role models.
That’s not to say the women in my life didn’t have the strength of staying power. They fulfilled their responsibilities as wives and mothers. They survived the tough times of the Great Depression and two world wars. They washed their family’s clothes on rub boards with lye soap, or out in the backyard over a wash pot. They cooked, they cleaned, they went to church, and they fed the preacher on Sundays. They delivered their children with little or no anesthesia. That takes a certain type of strength, I think.
Do you consider yourself a strong woman?
Today, absolutely! But I wasn’t. I married a young preacher when I was barely 17, before I knew who I was, and what I stood for. y spent 28 years living the same role as my mother and grandmother. Except as “the preacher’s wife” I was expected to rise to a higher level of perfection. So were my children. I lived in the proverbial fishbowl, with a standard set for my life higher than God’s.
Then I hit midlife, and started college when I was 40 years old, and a whole new world opened up to me. My preacher husband supported me going to college, but he didn’t expect an education to change me. It did.
I began studying cultural anthropology and sociology, with a focus on women’s studies, and began reading books written by women advocates. Within a few years, my husband’s peers felt threatened by who I had become and were afraid to let their wives come close. Because I now had an opinion, and it often disagreed with my husband’s, he required that I go back and be the person I had been—No Voice Syl. To survive, I left that marriage. I knew if I didn’t, I would die, if not literally, then spiritually and emotionally. The next five years, I spent recreating myself into the person I wanted to be. I used the role models of strong women I read about, and in the process, found my voice.
So yes, I am a strong woman.
Was there a sense, during WWII, that there really was a “home front”–that civilians were an important part of the war effort?
Most definitely. Everyone pitched in, sacrificed, and supported their troops, their government, and their country. There’s nothing like a common enemy to unite a nation—at least during those days when it was easy to identify the common enemy. People willingly sacrificed those things needed to fight the war. Cars were held together by baling wire, people lived in shantytowns to take jobs available close by. Women began to not only find themselves as they took on roles previously filled only by men, but to feel like they contributed to winning the war. Older women met in groups and made bandages for the soldiers. They were so connected with what was going on overseas they gave their all to help bring the boys home.
Of course on the other side of this—the war brought much-needed jobs. Many people still suffered the backlash of the Great Depression and were starving to death. They sacrificed a lot to go where the jobs were. Money in their pockets and a sense to live for today led them to some high-heel good times.
Are all the strong women in your fiction “sassy”? As a sociologist, do you detect strength in quiet women, too? Is that harder to write than sassy strength?
Sidra Smart, in my mystery series, is sassy. She’s 50, and she’s lived in a vice all her adult life. Now, she’s found her voice and doesn’t hesitate to use it. And then, there’s Aunt Annie—Sidra’s sidekick—a woman definitely ahead of her times. Sassy oozes from her pores. Which, in turn, feeds into Sidra becoming more so to survive living with the woman.
In A WAR OF HER OWN my newest book (launching now), Bea Meade is a quiet, submissive woman, almost a doormat, who has married a man who thinks only of himself—his needs, his wants, his passions. Not too unusual for women in the 1940s. Most nights, Bea cries herself to sleep with no idea why. The only comfort she gains is holding onto a brooch she’s had for as long as she can remember, but without any idea where it came from or why it comforts her. When she’s forced to go to work at the shipyard when her husband leaves her for another woman, Bea discovers of what she’s made. Internal strength begins to take a foothold. Then circumstance leads her to discover why she cries at night. With this discovery, Bea begins to recreate herself.
As not only a sociologist, but as a professional counselor, and because of my own past, I find it easier to writer women in transition—those who have not yet tapped into their strength, who have not found their voice. I love taking them on a journey of self-discovery! That’s where my passion lies! Why? Because I feel these stories are the ones who set the example for women who still seek that strength within themselves.
How have your travels impacted your depictions of women?
Oh, significantly. First, I was born in the small town of Orange, Texas, with little exposure to the rest of the state, let alone the country, or the world. We didn’t even have a television until I was in Junior High School, and then only black and white and lots of snowy screen. At 19 I moved to Fort Worth for my preacher husband to attend seminary. From there we lived all across the state and back. My world during this time, however, was still so very sheltered the only role models I found even in the churches he pastored reinforced my submissive behavior. Oh, I did it well! Very well!
Then, at 34, and with three children, we moved to the Caribbean to work with the local churches of Trinidad, W.I. This ended up making a profound impact on my life. I fell in love with the Trinidadian women, and began to watch the differences in culture and customs. I began collecting and studying books about women of various West Indian islands, and learned to appreciate their strength in an even more patriarchal society than that from which I came.
When we moved back to the states seven years later, I continued collecting and reading books about women of different regions and eras, for instance of the Civil War, of those who helped settle the west. I began to see a common thread in women of greater strength than I.
Then, when I started university at 40 and a whole new world of thought opened to me, I shifted my way of thinking through the influence of courses in women’s studies.
Over time, I developed a whole new concept of strength. I watched and listened to professors, both men and women, who shifted my way of thinking. This shift, this self-discovery, is the pattern of organic growth I love to write about. These are the women of my work. These are the women who come to life when I incorporate their strength into their characters.
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August 9, 2010: Marian Allen
August 10: FatalFoodies
August 12, 2010: Straight from Hel
August 21, 2010: Meanderings and Muses
September 7, 2010: Jane Finnis
September 13, 2010: Eric Reed
September 29, 2010: Mason Canyon Reviews
WRITING PROMPT: Write a paragraph describing a strong woman, either a real one or a fictional one (by yourself or someone else). What makes that woman “strong”? Does it show? If so, how?