WomensHistoryReads interview: Pamela D. Toler

Thrilled to bring Pamela D. Toler to the blog today for a nonfiction-focused #WomensHistoryReads interview! Pamela has written oodles of fascinating works on the women of history, but the best-known is probably the one that viewers of PBS' "Mercy Street" saw advertised at the end of every episode: HEROINES OF MERCY STREET, a companion book to the TV series that delved into some of the facts and real-life historical figures behind the fiction. Welcome, Pamela!

Pamela D. Toler

Pamela D. Toler

Greer: Tell us about a woman (or group of women) from the past who has inspired your writing.

Pamela: As a child, I read every biography I could find about smart and/or tough women who ignored  (or kicked their way through) society's boundaries and accomplished things no one thought they could accomplish.  Lucky for me, our school's revolving library owned a whole series of them. Each week a new one arrived and I snatched it before anyone else could get it, eager to read about Clara Barton, Madame Curie, or Julia Ward Howell.  Those books were an inspiration and I remember them with great affection, though I couldn't give you the name of a single title or author.

Greer: Do you consider yourself a historian?

Pamela: Absolutely!  And I have the papers to prove it.

Greer: I think you may be the first PhD I've interviewed for this series! What do you find most challenging or most exciting about researching women?

Pamela: Right now I'm writing a global history of women warriors (due out early in 2019). One of the most challenging and enraging things about the research is the consistent ways in which women are dismissed across time.  When scholars say maybe this particular woman didn't exist, it's easy to accept.  But when you see many examples of scholars writing about different times and places who give similar reasons why women in their own particular field may not have existed, you start to question every example.  And grind your teeth a lot.

Greer: [sound of teeth grinding] 

Pamela: And here's one for you:  Is there a period of history that grabs your imagination more than others?  And why?

Greer: My imagination is a fickle thing that jumps at anything sparkly, so not necessarily. But there has to be more than that initial "Ooh!" spark to make me really focus in on a story and commit to researching, crafting, revising, publishing and promoting a full-length novel. For that reason, so far I've been writing in a fairly narrow band of history: the United States between 1850 and 1905. I meant to avoid writing about war, as I feel that's really well-covered territory in historical fiction, except that I already failed at that with my second book, GIRL IN DISGUISE. The problem was that the real-life Kate Warne, first female detective, also worked as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. When history hands you facts like that, you can't just skip that part. I mean, one can, in theory, but I didn't.