When I first saw the Nerdy Chicks banner, defining a Nerdy Chick as “Smart girl who flaunts brain power and flouts social norms,” I knew I had found my tribe. Because my new novel, Searching for Silverheels, is all about an old woman who does exactly those things, and a young girl who is just learning how. And it’s who I’ve always been–the girl who thought that not-very-girly sciencey stuff was totally cool. Who has been known to go all goosebumpy excited over complex analytical statistics.
But when I was a kid, it wasn’t always so easy to go public with my love of cool nerdiness. I went through all the awkward nerdy phases before I found my tribe:
–the grade school years when I thought wanting to be an archaeologist was the coolest thing ever, and couldn’t understand why other kids rolled their eyes.
–the middle school years, when I discovered already knowing you wanted to be an archaeologist got you branded as a freak of nature and therefore it was best to suppress, or at least hide, such crazy compulsions
–the high school years, when I discovered picking a college based on the strength of its academic programs was not the norm among my classmates, who preferred to check their Party School ratings in such upstanding journals as Playboy.
So, when, with a PhD and a college professorship under my belt, I set out to write a novel about strong, smart women, I didn’t have to do much research about how to write a smart young girl with big dreams but not enough backbone to stand up for herself. Because, I’m sorry to say, I’ve been there.
Nor did it take much for me to write the cranky-pants older woman who wants to fight for all the nerdy chick girls who need to grow that spine. I’ve been there too–in fact, I’ve got a whole closet full of crankypants even as I write this.
What did take some research, was finding the perfect setting. Which turned out to be 1917, just a few months after the US entered World War I. It was the perfect time, because I knew I wanted to write about a time when women weren’t thought of as strong, but did amazingly strong things. Any war time is good for that, but World War I coincided–or perhaps more accurately–collided, with the women’s suffrage movement.
This led me to researching both the war and the fight for a constitutional amendment granting women the vote. I didn’t know much about World War I, it seems to be the forgotten war for US history, or at least in my understanding of it. Yet the more I read about the home front in the Great War –the discrimination, the accusations of sedition against those who found fault in American politics, the pressure to conform to patriotic ideals that compromised freedoms–I came to appreciate how true it is that history repeats itself. How much every war, every international conflict, brings out those same issues. How much we need strong women in EVERY generation. And finally, now many unsung strong women there have been in every generation.
So let’s hear it for the Nerdy Chicks! Three cheers for brain power! Three boos for social norms that stop women (or anyone else, for that matter) from being all they can be! And thank heavens for the bold women who stand up for girls, either on the national stage (like the National Women’s Party that suffered harassment and arrest for challenging the president in 1917) or on the local stage, like my character Josie, the women’s suffragist who takes a powerless girl under her wing and teaches her that she has power within her that she shouldn’t be afraid to use.
Because you do have power inside you, Nerdy Chicks of the world. And it is beautiful, so let it shine!
Thank you Jeannie! And welcome to the Nerdy Chick tribe! ;) Keep reading to find out more about Jeannie and her novel.
Jeannie Mobley writes middle grade historical fiction. Her newest novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS released September 2, 2014. Kirkus Reviews calls it “an engrossing, plausible story of several unlikely feminist heroines, with a touch of romance and intrigue.”
When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present.
Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley
In her small Colorado town Pearl spends the summers helping her mother run the family café and entertaining tourists with the legend of Silverheels, a beautiful dancer who nursed miners through a smallpox epidemic in 1861 and then mysteriously disappeared. According to lore, the miners loved her so much they named their mountain after her.
Pearl believes the tale is true, but she is mocked by her neighbor, Josie, a suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote. Josie says that Silverheels was a crook, not a savior, and she challenges Pearl to a bet: prove that Silverheels was the kindhearted angel of legend, or help Josie pass out the suffragist pamphlets that Pearl thinks drive away the tourists. Not to mention driving away handsome George Crawford.
As Pearl looks for the truth, darker forces are at work in her small town. The United States’s entry into World War I casts suspicion on German immigrants, and also on anyone who criticizes the president during wartime—including Josie. How do you choose what’s right when it could cost you everything you have?