Monday, July 9, 2012

{Book Tour} Guest Post: Kathy Leonard Czepiel, author of A Violet Season

One of the pleasures of doing research for my historical novel A Violet Season was the unexpected gems I found along the way. By “gem” I don’t necessarily mean something beautiful, but rather something valuable to the story. In my case, one of those gems was the laundry.

I knew that doing laundry used to be a lot harder than carrying a basket down to the basement and piling clothes into the washing machine. But I honestly didn’t realize how hard until I did my research. What I learned was so surprising that it became the centerpiece for a full chapter in A Violet Season. In 1898, when the novel takes place, doing a family’s weekly laundry took two full days. The first day involved boiling and lifting huge pots of water, scrubbing and rinsing multiple loads, then running them through a hand-cranked wringer and hanging them on a clothesline to dry. The following day would be spent ironing all of the outer garments, which were wrinkled and misshapen by the wringer. Women who could afford it hired a laundress instead. When my protagonist, Ida, is looking for a way for her daughter to earn money, the last thing she wants her to become is a laundress.

Kathy's cat--not how laundry was done back then  ;O)

I was unexpectedly fascinated by these issues of women’s work—not just the laundry, but sewing, canning, wet nursing (nursing other women’s babies for a living), and, of course, picking and packing violets. A Violet Season is set on a violet farm in the Hudson Valley, where I grew up and where violets were once the cash crop. The industry has disappeared today, but I wanted to bring back to local memory what life on a violet farm might have been like.

The answer is that, like anything, it was hard work. The violets were a cool-weather crop, grown in greenhouses that could keep them just warm enough over the winter. In order to maximize space within the houses, beds were planted deeper than a person’s reach. That led to an unusual method of picking. Narrow wooden boards were hooked onto a heating pipe along the greenhouse wall and rested on the edge of the bed. The pickers would then lie on their sides on these boards and reach down into the beds to pick the violets, tying them in bunches of fifty or more with string which they kept around their necks. Picking violets was often women’s work. Women also worked in the packing room, where they arranged a skirt of galax leaves around each nosegay, fastened it with string, attached a “boot” to keep the arrangement fresh and packed it in a shipping box with waxed paper for protection. Standing at the packing table all day was probably preferable to lying on the picking boards, but not by much. And the women, of course, would go home from this work to their usual household chores. 

Historical fiction is best when it turns us back on ourselves, when something that happened in 1898 resonates with us today. Women still work hard, whether that work is paid or not, and it isn’t too much of a stretch for us to picture ourselves bent over a washtub full of cold water and bluing. It’s interesting to realize how far we’ve come and then to notice how much we still have in common with our sisters of a century past.

About the book:
A mother’s choices in a time of crisis threaten the one person she means to protect—her only daughter—and force her to make the boldest move of her life.

The violet industry is booming in 1898, and a Hudson Valley farm owned by the Fletcher family is turning a generous profit for its two oldest brothers. But Ida Fletcher, married to the black sheep youngest brother, has taken up wet nursing to help pay the bills, and her daughter, Alice, has left school to work. As they risk losing their share of the farm, the two women make increasingly great sacrifices for their family’s survival, sacrifices that will set them against one another in a lifelong struggle for honesty and forgiveness. Vivid and compelling, A Violet Season is the story of an unforgettable mother-daughter journey in a time when women were just waking to their own power and independence.

Price: $15.00 paperback, $9.99 ebook
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9781451655063
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release: July 10, 2012

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About the author:
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and teaches writing at Quinnipiac University. Her short fiction has been published in numerous journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, Calyx, Confrontation, and The Pinch. A native of New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley, she now lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.

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