Monday, November 9, 2009

Interview: Ruth Rymer, Author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph

It is my pleasure to have as my guest Ruth Rymer, author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tradegy to Triumph.

Welcome, Ruth. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to talk to you. First of all, I want to mention how much I enjoyed Susannah, A Lawyer. It appears you are especially qualified to write a novel with such legal depth. Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Thank you, Mary. I practiced family law from 1971-2000, had an enjoyable career, but wanted more in depth knowledge about nineteenth century divorce law and women's rights. I achieved that goal when I obtained my Ph.D. in 1995. My dissertation was: Alimony and Divorce: An Historical Comparative-Analysis of Gender Conflict. I was ready to write a novel about a late nineteenth century protagonist--one who had a big fight to join the legal profession.

It's always fascinating to read about women's subordinate role in our country's early years. Susannah is a work of fiction, but your research must have uncovered exceptions such as your protagonist, Susannah Reed.

Freedom, individuality and self-determination was the norm, for men only, from the instant our country emerged as the best hope for mankind. Women's break from our subordinate role is a process that continues today. Some woman was the first in everything: the first doctor, dentist, Congresswoman and the first lawyer, historic Myra Bradwell. The latter made an ideal mentor for fictional Susannah.

Saying the book starts out with a strong hook is an understatement. The violent attack Suzanna suffers is a terrifying scene. But even more shocking is the manner in which she continued to be victimized. In your research, did you uncover an injustice such as this?

No, I didn’t encounter any identical situations. However, nineteenth century literature is full of further victimization of women who engaged in sexual activity whether voluntary or violently involuntary as in Susannah’s case–from The Scarlet Letter to An American Tragedy. As Susannah lamented, "How could I descend from princess to prostitute in ten minutes?"

Some writers feel that writing a book that features many characters is more effective in third person. Susannah, A Lawyer, however, is written in first person, yet you manage to share many points of view through your protagonist. Did you find writing the novel in first person limiting or difficult?

I wouldn't have considered writing in other than first person. It permits the author to delve more deeply into the character of her protagonist, both as a narrator, and by italicizing her thoughts. The limiting factor is that other characters must speak for themselves. Susannah, as an attorney, helped them articulate who they were and what they wanted.

Without the book becoming bogged down, you manage to cover in great detail the period's apparel, social mores, family dynamics, and customs. Tell us about your research along these lines.

Susannah is the culmination of my life's work, experientially as a lawyer and as a researcher for my doctorate. Additionally, to prepare for this novel , I read almost everything that I could find about 1875 upstate New York and Chicago, including especially valuable novels written during the period.

Okay, final question. Can we look forward to a sequel of Susannah, A Lawyer? Tell us about your current work-in-progress.

Yes, maybe I'll do a sequel. The Hay Market riots in 1884-85 were another American Revolution - that of the labor movement. Perhaps Susannah will represent a fictional rioter who was badly treated.

Thank you, Mary, for this opportunity to talk about Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph. It's available at from bookstores and


Alice Trego said...

Great interview, Mary, of Ruth and her first novel. I can appreciate the amount of research that Ruth put into her story. This book is on my TBR list!


Heidiwriter said...

I have your book on my TBR stack, Ruth, and I'm looking forward to reading it! Keep up the good work.