Why I'm a Christian Feminist...

I’ve been reflecting upon and reading the #YESALLWOMEN and the #YESALLBIBLICALWOMEN tweets. The conversation highlights not only the historical and current violence and misogyny women experience, but it also reasserts and reclaims feminism as a positive movement. I’ve read and witnessed too many rants against feminists, and as a Christian feminist, I’m doubly judged—not only by misogynists in popular culture but also by the conservative religious community. My evangelical background has shown me that while misogyny and rape culture reigns in popular culture, these issues thrive within religious communities where “biblical gender roles” and “complementarianism” pit gender equality against God’s will. So if you’re a Christian feminist you’re not just “wrong,” you’re “hellfire and brimstone wrong.”

Most horrendously is the way the religious patriarchy has caused and covered up rape and sexual harassment crimes against women. We’ve seen this in the case of Doug Phillips, where his position as the “biblical leader” within his home established a household where his decisions and authority remained unquestioned—allowing him to sexually abuse his children’s nanny. Numerous Bible colleges such as Bob Jones University and Patrick Henry College have lately gained national attention for not taking rape and sexual abuse cases seriously, for blaming the victim, or for demanding the victim “forgive” her abuser.

Then there is the concept of “biblical gender roles” espoused by many conservative evangelical churches. Referred to also as “complementarianism,” the belief upholds that men and women are equal in terms of moral responsibility and in terms of their need for God’s grace and salvation, but they must have different roles within the household where the woman is the nurturing wife and mother and the man is the breadwinner. Although upheld as “biblical,” complementarianism is really nothing less than the Victorian system of separate spheres—where the woman is idealized as the “Angel of the House” while the man maintains his “manly” duties working outside the home.

Complementarianism thrives among many of my conservative religious friends’ families and I have seen intelligent women attend churches where they are forbidden to teach men. I’ve seen women brainwashed by the concept into following their “spiritual leader” even if their leader’s decisions and beliefs harm their family unit—to protest or question their leader would not be practicing “submission.” I respect a woman’s decision to be a full-time mother, but I’ve seen women frustrated and depressed when they desire to work or pursue a degree outside of their home, but they feel too guilty because doing so would be “selfish” or against God’s will. Most disturbingly, I’ve had women fiercely defend their role as the submissive, nurturing partner to me because even though they might not like it, “it’s God’s law” and should not be questioned. They line out an avalanche of carefully chosen verses in the Bible while ignoring other verses upholding women as leaders, as the first witnesses to the Resurrection, as savvy business negotiators. They also ignore the stories in the Bible where “biblical leaders” rape or try to sell their daughters as prostitutes, where a father burns his daughter alive because he believes it’s God’s will. They ignore the fact that the “spiritual leader” in a home can be morally corrupt or brutal, because well…this would disrupt the essential foundation of their “biblically prescribed” ideology.

Biblical patriarchy and complementarianism assert the worst traits of human nature. We all want to be the boss, to have our way—this is part of human nature and why relationships are so difficult. As a Christian feminist, I believe in fundamental gender equality, that as creations of God men and women have equal value when it comes to giving a hundred percent to the economic and domestic well-being of a household. It would be just as wrong for me to try to rule over my husband as it would be for him to try to rule over me, and thisegalitarianism, this complete mutuality, is what makes our relationship and our household work.

Evangelical Mommy Wars: Halloween


I’m no longer an evangelical. I was raised in a conservative evangelical home, attended an evangelical college, and many of my Midwestern family members and friends are still in that world. Now, I’m still a Christian, and I attend my local Episcopal church with my family every Sunday. This fall, as in so many previous years, I’m witnessing evangelical “mommy wars” centered around Halloween. In the same way that some moms shame other moms for using (gasp!) an epidural during labor, not breastfeeding, not breastfeeding long enough, some—although not ALL—evangelical moms like to berate other moms, like me, for letting their children celebrate Halloween. And thus, the battle lines are drawn: their children attend fall festivals while mine attend Halloween parties. Their children wear cozy sweaters and bob for apples while mine dress up as ninjas and mosh elderly neighbors for candy corn. These moms sip apple cider at the end of a hard night of keeping their little ones safe in a world of miniature goblins while I chillax with an Appletini. (Cinnamon on the rim, thank you very much!) The basis for their argument against celebrating Halloween is that Christians represent God’s light in a very dark world. If we’re Christians we must eschew all things evil, wicked, or scary. Much of this is based on the New Testament verses about being light in the world. As a Christian, I get this whole “light bearer” idea. What I don’t understand is how being a light bearer means being anti-Halloween; the “evil” symbols of Halloween: ghosts, goblins, witches, zombies, are all parts of lore. I don’t get it because these monsters are not real. Most children aren’t dressing up as actual villains like Hitler or Charles Manson. Instead, on my street I see adorable children inserting themselves as scary, brave, or silly characters in their favorite stories—the vampire ruling a castle, Dorothy off to see the wizard, or Harry Potter, defeater of Voldemort. And if they are dressing up as actual people, they’re dressing up as their heroes—like my friend’s adorable little girl who rocked out as Amelia Earhart last Halloween. Or (shudder) the tween babysitter dressing up at Snooki. Bottom line: I don’t see a celebration of evil, but a celebration of stories and of people.

“But these stories are so dark,” one of my evangelical friends said to me recently. She argued that if we’re truly light bearers then we keep our children away from “darkness”—at all costs. Many of my Christian friends claim that the creepy stories and costumes will harm children or make them commit evil acts. One rather high-strung Religious Right friend from college went so far as to say that if I let my children trick or treat, it’s the same as when the Israelites in the Old Testament committed child sacrifice to pagan gods like Moloch.(I’m pretty certain this friend isn’t around anymore. He imploded when “Obamacare” went into effect because affordable healthcare was too dystopian for him.) This anti-Halloween blog post by an evangelical mother claims that if we let our children enjoy scary zombie stories we shouldn’t be surprised by school shootings. (Why yes, clearly watching zombies eat brains makes a person take advantage of the lax gun laws these same people support.) Yet another friend, both a mother and teacher, told me she won’t allow Harry Potter books in her classroom or her home because “witchcraft is evil and bad.” (Interestingly, she doesn’t ban C.S. Lewis’s marvelous Narnia series which, last time I checked, contains a pretty bad-ass witch. Semantics.)

As a writer, I’m here to defend the scary stories we celebrate at Halloween because stories, of any kind, are empowering. Reading and exploring stories makes us more moral, empathetic, and brave human beings. G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” In the young adult dystopian zombie apocalypse novel, the point isn’t that zombies are real, that they’re cool, or that brains are delicious and you should pick some up for dinner—it’s about the struggle to maintain your humanity in the worst of circumstances. The most haunting and best ghost stories don’t show us that ghosts exist. Rather they make us question how much we can truly know about our world—and about love or fury that’s powerful enough to buck against the known boundaries of death. Essentially, in navigating these fictional worlds, we walk around in the shoes of characters doing stupid, risky, silly, wonderful, and brave things. We’re motivated to be heroes in our own extraordinary real world.

And in this real world, let’s focus on real evils. Because my children are more likely to get mowed down at school by a bullet than a broomstick, any light bearer should be focused on real and tangible solutions—passing reasonable gun control and making healthcare available for the poor and mentally ill. This makes more sense than arming ourselves against bogeymen.

“I want my children to read books where characters are clearly good and evil and always do the right things,” an evangelical relative told me once. Although I respect her a lot, I was puzzled by her words, mainly because somehow no one ever sent me a handbook telling me exactly what is right and wrong, good and evil. (And don’t tell me the Bible is this handbook, with clear, easy-to-get messages—it isn’t!) Personally, I think there’s a lot of yin and yang in all of us, and life is often a struggle to try to do the right thing when the answer isn’t always clear. Life is just more complicated than that.

This is why I’m drawn to writing. Toni Morrison said in an interview that she likes to “put [her] characters on the edge of a cliff and see what they do.” I can relate well to this statement. Navigating life’s moral flyballs is tricky business, and I like to watch how my characters fight their way through while making mistakes and messing up and falling in love. This is more exciting than oversimplifying a world that just isn’t black and white.

And the light bearer business becomes a lot more inspiring and actually effective when instead of snatching scary stories and costumes from our children, we boil it down to trying (as clumsily as we can) to alleviate as much suffering as possible. Rather than being inspired by the women who strike all semblance of demon lore from their children’s lives, I still think the best light bearers to me are Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Bartolomé las Casas, Mr. Rogers, Antoinette Tuff, and—yes— Jesus.

So this Halloween, I’ll be running through my neighborhood with pint-sized goblins, fairies, and ghosts. And afterwards (feel free to join me!) I’ll toast my Appletini to the power of story.

Jack the Ripper...Kindergarten Style

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Since I write scary books, I feel like I should share one of my worst fears: LARGE GROUPS OF CHILDREN. Yes, I have a couple kids of my own, but it’s not unusual for my household to resemble a Lord of the Flies day camp. Also, I’m not exactly, June Cleaver mom material. (Hence my Jack the Ripper themed Christmas card from two years ago.) And I certainly could never be an elementary teacher. I would get fired for yelling a swear word when the little rugrats moshed me for treats at snack time. Or for decorating my Halloween bulletin board with my favorite scenes from The Walking Dead. Or for telling little Katelyn when she cries because the world is just so hard to, “be a lollipop and suck it up.”

Nonetheless, for career week in my daughter’s school, I volunteered to do a class visit to talk about my job. I agonized all morning about how I was going to tell a bunch of five-year-olds that I write scary books about Jack the Ripper. (Fortunately, my talk followed a friend’s presentation. He works for a church. When I told him that I was terrified about telling a bunch of five-year-olds that I write books about Jack the Ripper, he said, “Yeah, well, try telling them that you’re employed by Jesus!”)

After sitting on a rocking chair labeled in large black letter, “rocking chair,” (heh), I read to the sea of children one of my favorite Halloween picture books, The Spider and the Fly. I thought it was way more age-appropriate than the section I normally read from my book, Ripper, where the Ripper disembowels two women in East End London in the same night.

Then I explain that although I didn’t write The Spider and the Fly, I write scary books for “big kids.” “You’ll be able to read them in about ten years,” I say with a wink.

So far so good.

Then I ask if there are any questions.


Oh dear…

“Ummmm….you…did you have a question?” I ask the little boy just in front of me wearing a Spiderman shirt. He has a very runny nose.

“No,” he grunts quietly. “I was just raising my hand.”


I call on a little girl sitting next to my daughter.

“Yeah…”she says, smoothing her skirt down primly.“So what do you do for work?”

“I write. I write books. Is that what you mean for work?” I ask, way too defensively.

“No, like do you have a job where you make money?”

I furrow my brows. Smart girl.

I tell her that I not only write books, but that I teach books to “big kids” at a big school called a college.

She doesn’t look completely satisfied, so I turn my attention away: “Next question.”

“What do you do when you’re not working? Because when my mom gets home she just wants to lay on the couch and watch TV.”

I snicker. We all know very well that sometimes motherhood means sending your children to their rooms while you watch The Vampire Diaries on Netflix.

“Well, I jog, or I watch television too, or sometimes I just want to take a nap.”

“Where do you like to write?” one of the teachers asks.

Then, I totally have one of those awful Bridget Jones moments where my natural response screams in my mind while I scramble to voice a more appropriate answer.

“Well, I like to write at my desk at night with a…”

Shot of bourbon.

Shot of bourbon.

Shot of bourbon.

“mug of COFFEE,” I say out loud.


Soon, my visit is over, and I’m very proud of myself for not saying, “Jack the Ripper,” or for mentioning alcohol in front of kindergartners. But just as I stand to leave, one of the teachers tells me to wait. The kids all stand up at once and their hands slowly up in the air all while making clicking noises. Then all together they swoop their hands down mimicking a roller coaster.

“Ummm…thanks?” I say.

When my daughter gets home, I asked her why they made roller coaster signs with their hands.

“Oh…” she said coolly. “That means we liked you.”


“But if we really like you we do the firecracker. That’s when we act like we have an explosion in our hands.”

“So I wasn’t that good. Did you do the firecracker for any of your career week visitors?”

“Yeah,” she says. “The lawyer. He was awesome.”

Interview with Kristina Perez: YA Author, Academic, Morgan la Fey Extraordinaire


Kristina Pérez holds a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge and a non-fiction title based on her research, The Myth of Morgan la Fey, is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. In 2012, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University's Journalism and Media Studies Centre. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Asia,DeparturesL’Officiel IndiaCondé Nast TravelerCNNGo and the South China Morning Post, among others. She is also the author of A Hedonist’s Guide to Beijing. She is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

1. Congratulations on your forthcoming book nonfiction book, The Myth of Morgan la Fey. I’ve always loved Arthurian legends! Can you tell me first interested you about Morgan?

Thank you, I’m pretty psyched! As for how I originally became interested in Morgan, I’m going to have to give you a fangirl answer. When I was thirteen years old, I discovered The Mists of Avalon and it was pivotal moment in my life. I became obsessed. I decided right then and there that I wanted to write the definitive book on Morgan one day. Hopefully, I have!

2. Your book examines the way that she has evolved over the centuries. How has she evolved?

Morgan’s trajectory over the past millennium has actually been more of a devolution from Celtic Sovereignty Goddess to Fairy Mistress to Witch. My study investigates the ways in which the changing portrayal of Morgan la Fey provides insights into fundamental gender dynamics that still inform the construction of self in the Internet age.

Morgan continues to play a key role in cultural zeitgeists ranging from Elizabethan England to Second Wave Feminism because of her inherent duality as both a Mother and a Lover. Western culture consistently seeks to control female sexuality by splitting a woman’s identity into either a Mother or a Lover, i.e. a Madonna or a Whore. Morgan’s endurance in the popular imagination is, in my opinion, a direct result of her refusal to have her roles divided or let her identity be fractured. And this denial creates a persistent tension that fuels her descent from goddess to wicked enchantress.

3. Apart from The Myth of Morgan la Fey, you are also in the process of writing a young adult book, Warwick Hall. (As someone who loves anything Victorian/Gothic/detective, it looks super-intriguing!) Can you talk a bit about it?

I, too, have a passion for all things gothic and macabre. Poe has long been one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, WARWICK HALL is a cross between a Victorian Gothic novel and a teen detective story: Veronica Mars meets The Woman in White. At Warwick Hall Academy, both the living and the dead have secrets. Two girls––one alive, one not––team up to solve the mystery of the menacing presence that haunts them both. The answers are hidden somewhere within the school grounds, where everyone is a potential suspect and trusting the wrong person could get you killed.

4. I often have Brontё or Austen novels dancing about in my head as I write. Are there any books that inspire you? What is it about these texts that enrich your own stories?

As a medievalist, I pretty much live and breathe the heroic culture, sagas and epic poetry. I couldn’t get away from it even if I wanted to. It informs the way I conceive my characters as well as my world-building. I also tend to think of plotting––and life––in terms of quests: certain goals that need to be achieved in order to move onto the next phase, all of the mini-climaxes culminating in the One Great Challenge. It will surprise absolutely no one that I was an avid Legend of Zelda player in the 1980s. (I saw myself as Link rather than the princess, by the way).

 5Apart from writing, you are also an academic. How does your academic background help or limit your creative writing?

There are a number of ways in which being an academic influences my writing process. I’m not sure if it hinders me in any way except that I am a very firm believer in outlines! My core concept for any WIP is essentially a thesis statement. While my fiction is certainly character driven, I try never to lose sight of my initial ideas about the overarching theme. Also, the first stage in any new idea is research, research, research! Since I actually really enjoy reading academic journal articles (the horror, the horror!), I will usually begin with a cursory search in a digital archive such as JSTOR regarding historical events, literary motifs, folklore or even period clothing.

 6. You recently concluded a Visiting Assistant Professor position. What did you teach? Does your teaching experience in any way affect your writing?

Well, I’ve taught medieval literature in the past, of course, as well as lots of literary, gender and psychoanalytic theory. Most recently I’ve been helping to design cultural studies courses for journalists. Since I’ve also worked as an arts and culture reporter for a number of years, I feel strongly that a basic grounding in art and cultural theories is a prerequisite to insightful and analytical journalism in this arena.

7. Can you explain a bit about what the Madeleine Project is?

Yes, indeedy! Part of my misspent youth was enjoyed in Paris and so I’ve always had a penchant for Marcel Proust who is probably the most famous self-published author in history (before E.L. James, that is). He penned the 1.5 million-word tome, À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as either, In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) between 1913 and 1927.

In one of the work’s most famous passages, Proust recounts dunking a madeleine––a shell-shaped French pastry––into his tea and being instantaneously transported back to his childhood. Proust’s madeleine is now interchangeable with the idea of involuntary memory: when cues in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.

As a teenager, Proust poured his heart out in a Confession Album––the ancestor of the modern-day Slam Book––which was all the rage in the 1880s. Proust’s questionnaire became the template for interviews used by the US TV program, Inside the Actor’s Studio as well as the back page of Vanity Fair magazine.

The Madeleine Project therefore uses a modified version of the Proust Questionnaire to recapture the moments that influenced writers’ artistic and professional paths. The goal is to create a collage of experience that allows authors, agents, editors, and readers to interact in a new way.

 8. How do you find time to write with your teaching load? Do you stay up late, get up early? Work like mad during office hours?

I received my first Filofax when I was twelve––clearly my dad didn’t know what to get a twelve-year-old girl ;-) I remember clearly that it had Minnie and Mickey Mouse designs on all the pages. I used to pretend that I was Penny from Inspector Gadget and longed for my own computerized version; now I have an iPad, so I guess that dream came true! Anyway, that’s a round about way of saying that I am obsessively organized and strict about keeping to the schedules I set myself. So when I allot time to write, I write.

 9. What helps you write? (i.e. do you have a favorite movie, snack, song?) What do you do when writer’s block hits?

Music, definitely. I have an infinite number of playlists on my iPad. I have playlists to suit the general mood of certain WIPs, specific characters, and types of scenes––i.e. Love Scenes, Epic, Duels etc. I don’t believe in letting writer’s block dictate your creative process; when I have set a time to write, I write something, anything. Even if it’s unrelated to my WIP.

 10. Ok, this is the fun question. If you had the chance, which literary character would you duel and why?

I’m going to have to say Morgan la Fey, even though I would lose. I would just love to see her in action: turning herself into stone, wielding Excalibur…regardless of the fact that I’d probably end up imprisoned in her Val Sanz Retour (Valley of No Return), frozen in a block of ice from the waist down while my head is engulfed in flames. But maybe, just maybe, I could get her to pity on me, bundle me into her barge, and transport me beyond the mists to Avalon. Now, wouldn’t that be something?!

Watch her very cool book trailer for WARWICK HALL. (Why yes, I have already watched it three times this morning!)


Bad Boyfriends in Literature

I’ve had several reviewers and fans say that in the Ripper series they do not like Abbie’s love interest, William Siddal. Apparently, there are A LOT of Simon fans--I’ve received several e-mails from Ripper and Renegade readers saying that they don’t understand why Abbie picks William over Simon. The answer is simple and is nothing new in literature: Abbie knows that Simon would be better for her, and yet, she cannot conquer her feelings for William. Ever. In Abbie’s defense, many heroines in literature don’t always pick sensible boyfriends. Here are a few examples. Case #1: Heathcliff

Heathcliff in Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights, is perhaps the worst boyfriend Cathy could pick. A “fierce, pitiless, and wolfish man” (to use Cathy’s own words) when he can’t have her, he ruins the lives of everyone around him, even abusing her own daughter. And although I love to get sucked into a wildly dysfunctional Brontё love story, by the time he tries to hang Cathy’s dog, well…I can’t summon up any sort of literary bad guy crush.

Case #2: Mr. Rochester

In Charlotte Brontё’s novel, Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester has a pretty strong argument for being bad boyfriend material. Falling in love with him as she cares for his illegitimate daughter, Adele, Jane has to endure all of Rochester’s snotty neighbors and his manipulative games. He feels the need to tell Jane about all of his romps with former mistresses. And he’s keeping a little (ok, a gargantuan) secret in his attic.  St. John Rivers, the handsome but cold-fish theologian seems like a safer bet. But alas…when Jane stands at a crossroads as two men vie for her heart, she, without regrets, follows her heart.

Case #3 Mr. Darcy

In Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, arrogant beyond belief, Mr. Darcy is rude to heroine Elizabeth Bennet upon first meeting her; he convinces his friend Bingley to forget about the girl he loves—Elizabeth’s beautiful sister Jane, and he asks Elizabeth to marry him in perhaps the most condescending proposal in the world: “I have fought against my better judgment.” Finally, it’s very hard to get over the fact that his name is: Fitzwilliam. Fortunately, Lizzie Bennet is no wallflower. She angrily refuses him and dresses him down for ruining her sister’s happiness.  But he earns back her love, paying off the rake Wickham to marry Lizzie’s ruined sister Lydia, easing Bingley back into the arms of Jane, and eventually winning back Lizzie’s heart.

GIVEAWAY: Go to my Facebook page wall and write the name of your favorite bad boyfriend in literature. It can be from any book: young adult, romance, or mystery, and I will enter your name in a drawing for a signed copy of RENEGADE. The contest ends at 5:oo next Friday (July 26).

Exploring Old St. Pancras Church

A church rises up in the background on the cover of the final book in the Ripper trilogy, Resurrection. This church, Old St. Pancras, has a fascinating history and was one of the main places I explored while visiting London on my research trip in March. Old St. Pancras Church and Highgate Cemetery are both major settings in Resurrection.What’s so remarkable about Old St. Pancras Church?


It’s VERY old!

The church is very old, possibly the site of the oldest site of Christian worship in England, possibly dating back to the fourth century. Although the church had fallen into disrepair, the Victorians completed many renovations upon the place. These renovations revealed remarkable remnants from the Church’s history including stones dating back to the Norman period. The last major renovations during the Victorian period took place in 1888, the year before Resurrection takes place.

The Cemetery’s Lost Bodies and Bones


One of the most bizarre and interesting pieces of the place’s history has to do with the construction of a railway behind the church. The Church’s cemetery blocked its path, and railway workers irreverently dug up and moved aside graves and coffins. Thomas Hardy, later a Victorian novelist, was in charge of removing the coffins. In an effort to maintain some dignity for the dead, he clustered them about the base of a tree immediately behind the church, now called The Hardy Tree. He wrote a haunting little poem about the tree in “The Levelled Churchyard.” My favorite lines are: “We late-lamented, resting here, / Are mixed to human jam, / And each to each exclaims in fear, / ‘I know not which I am!’”

Many graves were lost. Ripper fans might remember William Siddal’s long dead relative, John Polidori. Lord Byron’s physician and an author of one of the first vampire novels, Polidori died quite young. He was buried in this churchyard and unfortunately, his remains were lost. Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous Romantic era feminist writer (and mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley) had been buried here. Fortunately, Mary Shelley’s spunky daughter-in-law saved Wollstonecraft’s body and the body of her husband, William Godwin. However, the graves of other members of Wollstonecraft’s family were lost.

Why yes, the Beetles were there!

More recently, The Beetles were photographed in the gardens surrounding the church during their Mad Day Out photo shoot. Pretty awesome!

I photobombed my favorite feminist! (Well…sort of)


I’ve had a serious girl crush on Mary Wollstonecraft ever since reading her feminist essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Women in high school. One of the major highlights of my churchyard adventures was finally locating the small monument to Mary Wollstonecraft. The morning was very cold and rainy, but I begged my sister to snap several photographs of myself next to my BFF. I was geeky excited!

Girls Can Be Doctors Too – Even in Victorian London


While in London, I visited the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery. The gallery is the restored first floor ward and entrance to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and contains fascinating information and displays about England’s first female physicians. Who was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson?

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was one of England’s first female physicians. She helped found hospitals for impoverished women and co-founded the first medical school for women in London. She paved the way for ambitious women, like Abbie Sharp in my Ripper series, who wanted to be doctors. During Abbie Sharp’s era, Dr. Anderson’s hospital was called the New Hospital for Women and was renamed later the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. Dr. Anderson’s charity hospital for women was similar to Whitechapel Hospital in Ripper, except that all of the physicians and nurses were women.


In Ripper, Lady Westfield wishes for Abbie to volunteer at Whitechapel Hospital because it is “vogue” for young women to participate in “charitable services.”  Victorian women, when they did work outside the home, were expected be philanthropic, merely caregivers extending their “innate” nurturing qualities to the public. Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson firmly distanced herself and her medical students from this stereotype. In 1867, Dr. Anderson stated, “I am strongly in favor of taking the work done by women out of the region of philanthropy. Of course, the real motive of anyone doing the work I do is the desire to gain knowledge. You are glad, and incidentally the poor are cured.” By the 1880’s her medical school was every bit as rigorous and professional as medical schools for men; her female medical students would have studied in New Hospital’s operating theater and surgical wards, completing their clinicals at the Royal Free Hospital.

New Hospital for Women


Most of the hospitals during the Victorian period were unsanitary and unpleasant. Dr. Anderson was very concerned that her hospital was well-ventilated and bright. Dr. Anderson’s sister, the celebrated interior designer Agnes Garrett, designed many of the rooms and fireplaces in the hospital, using blue as a calming accent. Lovely blue print tiles frame the fireplace in the entrance hall and accented the walls in the wards. Hospital beds were well-spaced, large windows cast light throughout the rooms, and fresh flowers rested near beds.


The bag in the photograph is similar to the type of medical bags that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would have used to visit patients outside of the hospital. It would have contained medicine bottles, syringes, any instruments necessary for a house call. The photograph of the entrance hall to the hospital looks exactly as it would have during Abbie Sharp’s time at New Hospital with the exception of an enormous statue that Anderson likely gave to one of the hospital’s donors. The doll in the photograph was used during the 1930’s to teach female medical students.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and India

Dr. Anderson’s hospital not only improved the lives of Londoners, but as the hospital grew, her physicians traveled internationally. Strict cultural rules in India prevented women from being cared for by male physicians. Particularly, after New Hospital became the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, many qualified female medical students worked as physicians in India after completing their degrees.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the Suffragist Movement


Although one of Dr. Anderson’s sisters, Millicent Fawcett, was an active suffragist, Anderson herself didn’t participate in the suffragist movement until her retirement. She worried that too many ties to the campaign would harm the reputation of her hospital, and it was a savvy political move, particularly since New Hospital relied so much on donations. Nonetheless, her work demonstrated her unceasing belief in the essential equality of genders.

Adventures in Highgate Cemetery...


Although I have visited Highgate Cemetery before, I had very specific places that I wanted to see this time because of the Ripper series. The West part of the cemetery (the most fascinating and beautiful part) can only be entered through taking a guided tour in which tickets must be purchased in advance. Apart from seeing Egyptian Avenue again, I needed to take photographs of the Rossetti family plot where Elizabeth Siddal and Christina Rossetti are buried—the plot where Dante Gabriel Rossetti had his wife, Siddal, exhumed and then reburied one year after her death. He wanted to retrieve his unpublished poetry that he had placed lovingly in her coffin. (The guy needed money!) But I was nervous, terribly nervous, about getting back to the family plot. This is why… Highgate Cemetery is privately run by mostly unpaid volunteers who very much care about its upkeep and reputation. (Incidentally, the cost of this upkeep runs at about £2000 per day! So donations are important.) But before the Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed in 1975, the grounds had fallen into disrepair and were plagued by vandals, Satanists, ghost hunters, and small mobs of crazy people trying to drive a stake through the heart of the “Highgate vampire.” (I’m not kidding.) The volunteers now care deeply about the reputation of the Cemetery and shun sensationalism. Although well-documented and true, Siddal’s exhumation falls into the sensational category and is not included on the guided tours. 

Anecdotally, I had a friend who visited Highgate Cemetery and when he asked his elderly guide about Siddal’s grave, she replied: “We don’t tell that story here.” (He proceeded to tell the story to all the other members in his tour group to her tight-lipped chagrin.) When I visited the Cemetery in 2005, my tour guide told me to “be very careful about who you discuss that story with here.” So, understandably, I was nervous about how I would “sweet talk” my tour guide into showing me the place. On the entire walk up Swain’s Lane I went over with my fearless research assistant (my younger sister) potential strategies for getting our guide to take me back there. I was seriously stressed…

Our tour guide, “Peter,” was older, looked a bit hurried, and he didn’t smile much. After briefly debating tactics, I decided that begging (and not mentioning Siddal’s name) would be the best approach.

Here’s how it went:

“Hi Peter, I’m working on a book series, and I need to see the Rossetti family plot. Could you please take me to it?”

Peter furrows brows, sighs audibly, says in an authoritarian British accent: “There is NO WAY I’m taking our group back there. It is too far off the path. We don’t have time..”

Me (wishing that I had removed my eyeglasses before speaking to him as they do no favors for my face): “Please…I came all the way from America to see it!”

Peter: “I will make NO PROMISES!”

“How’d that go?” I whispered to my sister.

“Well, other than seeming a bit desperate, pretty well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”


I tried to walk toward the front of the group during the whole tour. I nodded a lot, smiled a lot. I tried not to be too obnoxious or take too many photographs. And the tour was fascinating. Peter was an excellent guide. I learned that a very rare species of spiders had recently been discovered in some of the tombs. I learned about the symbol of the lotus on the entrance to Egyptian Avenue—rebirth. I learned even more about the Victorians’ funny views of death, how so many of the graves are above ground so that they could feel connected to their dead loved ones. I walked through Egyptian Avenue, trying to see it through Abbie Sharp’s eyes, through her world. Peter even took us inside one of the tombs; it was cold, gloomy, and windswept in spite of the sunny spring day. I knew at the point when Peter told us what a terribly rotten man the menagerist, George Wombwell, was for neglecting and mistreating his animals that Peter, in spite of his scary British accent, was really a kind man and that he would, in the end, take me back to the Rossetti plot.

He did.


A bit out of the way, the plot is not that large. Only a few of the Rossetti’s are buried there, and the graves, compared to many in the cemetery, are very simple and modest. As you can see from the photographs I’m posting, you can barely see the names on the stones. Still the plot is marked with the overgrown beauty of so much of the rest of Highgate Cemetery. But it is the resting plot of two remarkable women, and I wished that I had brought them flowers.

I hope to return to the Cemetery before too long. It is such a testament to Victorian sentimentality and oddness and such a rich background for some of my favorite books including Dracula, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.

Trip to London

I just returned from a trip to London where I did some hands on research for the Ripper trilogy. Renegade comes out next month, but next year the final book, Resurrection will hit bookshelves in April. Specifically, on my agenda, I wanted to meander around Highgate Cemetery again and the Kensington area where Abbie Sharp lived. I visited Old St. Pancras Church, a fascinating little church, one of the oldest churches in England—a background setting for Resurrection. Over the upcoming weeks, I will be doing more specific blog posts on these places but here’s a brief photo album highlighting my trip![gallery ids="184,186,187,188,189,190,191,192"]


1: What is the working title of your book? RESURRECTION

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve had this book planned since I wrote the first RIPPER book. This is the third book in the RIPPER series, so I’m continuing that story. Specifically, in this book Abbie is pursuing the Ripper through London. She knows at this point that either she will survive or he will.

 3: What genre does your book come under?

Young adult.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Definitely Emma Watson would play Abbie. I would love to have Maggie Smith play Lady Westfield. In terms of the male characters, I can’t think about who would ideally play them, particularly the Ripper. He’s so unique and twisted--I can’t think of anyone who would do the role justice. :)

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Abbie, William, and Simon must defeat the Ripper once and for all, but he’s not going down without a fight.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

RESURRECTION is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and will be published by Flux/Llewellyn in 2014.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still writing it, but overall, it’s taking me about six months.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is a difficult question to answer. So many, specifically nineteenth-century books shaped my ideas. Abbie Sharp, in my mind, is like a knife-throwing version of Jane Eyre.

 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

If got the idea for RIPPER during a trip to London a few years ago. But I knew, even then, that I didn’t want the story to just to be about the murders—I wanted to add some paranormal and to have a main character with a complicated past.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Max is clever, and this time when he confronts Abbie, he’s not alone. There’s some pretty ferocious fights in the book. The stake are high and the monarchy gets involved in this one--yes, that's right, Queen Victoria herself. I’m actually flying back to London this spring to walk around some of the settings for these scenes—just to make certain that they’re realistic and vivid to my readers.

Check out the awesome sites of these other authors! Anne Greenwood Brown, Lynne KellyS. J. Kincaid. and Jamieson Ridenhour. 

Interview with Kami Kinard

Kami Kinard
Kami Kinard

 Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister (Scholastic, January 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in periodicals for children and adults. Kami also works as a teaching artist for SC schools, and teaches writing courses for continuing education programs. She lives with her family in balmy, buggy, and beautiful Beaufort, SC. Recently I finished reading Kami's middle grade book, The Boy Project. I really enjoyed it—there were so many laugh-out-loud segments. This past week, I interviewed Kami about her process of writing the book, what inspires her, and of course, who she would duel if given the opportunity!

1. So I loved The Boy Project, and I wanted to know a bit about what inspired you to write it. Can you talk about when you first got the idea for the book?

I got the idea for writing The Boy Project after reading my old middle school and high school diaries. As an adult, I hadn’t remembered wanting a boyfriend in middle school, but when I read the diaries it all came back to me. I thought that girls who are in middle school now could relate to that feeling.

2.  You do a really great job of making the main character Kara feel authentic—she wants a boyfriend pretty badly. And yet, she comes across as independent and likable. How did you strike that balance as you wrote the book? 

Thanks Amy. I think it is important to acknowledge that wanting to be loved is a basic human need, and that wanting that doesn’t make us less independent. I knew I would be criticized by some for writing a book about a girl who wanted a boyfriend – and I have been occasionally – but more often I get fan mail from girls who could really relate to Kara. As I wrote the book, I tried to make sure Kara reflected a normal girl who had talents and personality but who wasn’t afraid to admit that she also wants to be liked by a boy.

3. The Boy Project is a uniquely middle grade novel. Can you talk about the difference between writing a middle grade novel and a young adult novel? What is easier/harder about writing a book specifically for this age group?

Right now, the trend is for middle grade novels to have main characters who are twelve and younger. This in and of itself is a little limiting. You also have to keep the language fairly clean, and although there can be kissing scenes, there can’t be more. There can be allusions to murder, but you wouldn’t show a murder. Usually characters in a middle grade novel won’t smoke or do drugs. There are always exceptions, but these are the general rules.

Since I haven’t written a YA novel, I’m not sure I could say which is harder. One is probably not harder than the other, but you do have more freedom with a YA novel in regards to language and content.

4. What is a typical writing day like for you? And when you write, do you have any special habits? Any favorite snacks that you must have or music that you must listen to as you write?

I haven’t had a typical writing day in a while, sadly. But a good writing day would start out with me walking the dog, then checking email and social media, then writing for a few hours in my small office until I pick up my daughter from school. I have to have quiet when I write, so I don’t listen to music. When I am working on a tough revision, I like to snack on Hot Tamales. It’s a bad habit, but it works for me.

5. What authors inspire you? What are you reading now?

I am currently reading Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen. I love his novels for adults. They are the best kind of crazy. I like funny books, so authors like Hiaasen, Tom Angleberger, and Jeff Kinney inspire me, but I also love beautifully written books like Wonder by R. J. Palacio and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. J.K. Rowling is also inspiring, of course!

6. I love your blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule, and the “nerdy chicks” you talk about in history and literature. If you could be any heroine in a novel who would you be?

Hmmm. I would be Alice from Alice in Wonderland. That’s what popped into my head, and I’m sticking with it!

7. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do? Do have any favorite hobbies?

I like to create things. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I make jewelry, and sometimes my daughter and I make things for her crafts blog. (www.craftycrafts.wordpress.com)

8. Which character in literature or history would you duel if given the chance? Why?

I’m basically a pacifist, so I’d have a hard time dueling anyone unless we were using Nerf swords. If it came down to that, I think I’d still have to duel with someone like Greg Heffley’s friend Rowley or Barney Fife. Maybe then I would stand a chance…

Thanks so much, Kami, for the great interview answers!  

Here's a summary of The Boy Project:

For anyone who's ever felt that boys were a different species....

Wildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She's going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara's project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy's bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara's research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it...

Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.

Visit Kami's website

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The Boy Project Book Trailer

Writing RIPPER Part Deux


So as many of you have seen from my previous blog entry, the sequel to Ripper, Renegade, is well on its way to coming out in April of 2013. I’ve finished the story, we’ve posted the beautiful cover reveal, and I want to share a bit about my experience writing a sequel.

What was DIFFICULT about writing a sequel:

1. I had to get over my nervousness. Once Ripper was on bookshelves, I felt so much pressure to “deliver” with the second story. I was very happy with the ending to Ripper, particularly with the cliffhanger. In the sequel, Jack is back and he’s worse than ever, and as I wrote Renegade, I felt very conscious about keeping up the pacing and energy of Ripper. I found, the more I wrote, as I relaxed, and just let his scenes play out in my head, that Jack’s energy just came out full force on the page. But I had to shuck all self-consciousness as a writer first and just continue the Ripper story.

2. Consistency!  Ah! This drove me nuts. I had to continuously read and re-read portions of Ripper to make certain that I was being consistent with plot elements, and back stories. It’s really important to keep the storyline as consistent as possible in order to keep the world as real as possible to your readers.

What was EASIER about writing a sequel:

1. I already knew my characters. I read somewhere (I really wish that I could remember the article!) that working on a new novel is like wandering through a city to get your bearings. To truly know the city you have to meander down alleys and streets, backtrack, move forward again. During Ripper I was constantly “reworking” scenes as I got to know my characters better. I found myself during the editing process thinking “level-headed Simon would never do that” or “you need to make William even more of an ass here.” While working on Renegade, I already knew my “city” so to speak. I knew exactly what Simon would say or do in a scene. I knew the layout of Whitechapel Hospital like the back of my hand.

2. Writing Renegade, was easier also because I was no longer writing about an actual historical occurrence. With Ripper, I had to constantly refer to a timeline that I kept by my laptop with the dates and times of the murders. I had to work my fiction story, as much as possible, around the actual events. With Renegade, all I had to worry about was being consistent within my own fiction story, there were no historical constraints.

3.    The sequel was even more fun! Truthfully, I had more fun writing Renegade. The stage had already been set in Ripper and so the love triangle could heat up, the dynamics between Abbie and Jack could go further, and I even added an additional opponent for Abbie—a lamia named Seraphina, who I am quite fond of. She is a terrifying and fascinating Byronic character—I’ll post more on her in the upcoming month.