FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, WHICH ONCE HAD NO BOUNDARIES…
War is the time of destruction, destruction which leaves an enduring mark on people who had to face that evil machine wreaking havoc and spreading dehumanization all around. The values we used to believe in and the world we used to take for granted vanish into thin air. Nothing is immediately obvious anymore, and each day is just a continuation of a nightmare, the one you’d love to wake up from, the one which for unknown reasons has no end. Sleep doesn’t bring relief and the reality doesn’t resemble anything we used to know.
I never thought that the war drama could ever reignite again, right here in Europe. However, history likes to make circles, which reminds us of the importance of cultivating positive moral and patriotic attitudes, as well as promoting the acceptance of the other person, since everyone is the same valuable, even if they are citizens of another country or live on another continent.
Unfortunately, racial divisions still exist, allowing the spread of a ‘justified’ intolerance and looking down on people, caused purely and simply by an incidental fact that our ancestors were born in this and not the other place in the world – with the skin color they considered to be privileged.
Who among us has the right to determine which nationality is better or worse? Who among us has the right to decide which ethnic origin is better than another? Who among us has the right to judge which skin color is more aristocratic than the other?
Life often verifies our opinions and the things we believe in thanks to our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who many times raised us sharing misconceptions, which have been imposed by the power-hungry who just want to subordinate anything that is different.
Why life can verify our beliefs? Being faced with an extreme situation, fighting for one country which is the same motherland and home – both for the ones with fair complexion and the ones with dark complexion, which causes the union across artificially created divisions, established by the people for whom they were convenient.
An excellent example of such a union is the book Poster Girls and its female protagonists who were both white and Afro-American and were working together in the same plant during the WWII. They not only reunited to support Americans fighting at the front, but they also united as women, mothers and girlfriends forgetting about the reasons of the initial division.
I’m pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Meredith Ritchie – a happy mom, wife, professionally active woman and only lately a debut author of her first historical fiction novel, which is certainly worth a read for the ones who would like to get to know a little bit more about the women from Charlotte, where the skin color was of no importance.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Meredith: I am a banker by trade, a mother of triplets (who turn 22-years-old on Int’l Women’s Day this year), and now a first-time author of a novel based on my hometown. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 27 years.
Passion Piece: You have made a career in business communications and you published your first novel. Have you ever considered being a writer before?
Meredith: I have always been a writer of business marketing materials, product training materials and business blogs in my career, but learning how to write fiction was a brand new skillset for me. I had always wanted to write a book, so my children leaving for college all at the same time was the perfect motivation to try to make it happen.
Passion Piece: How did „the empty nest syndrome” and being a native Charlotte woman influence your decision on starting your writing career?
Meredith: I have been a long-time fan and avid reader of historical fiction. My understanding the details of the very personal, human stories of the past, I have been motivated to learn beyond what the factual, bland history books tried to teach me in school. I am also fascinated by the things we don’t know that turn out to be right in our back yard, or closer than we thought. When I learned about the forgotten history of the Shell Plant that existed in the city I was born in, I found the perfect setting for my novel and my own awakening. After my kids left for school, I wanted to show them that I could achieve a dream no matter how late in life you start.
Passion Piece: Why did you get particularly interested in the Shell Plant and its female workers before starting your work on Poster Girls? What’s the story behind it?
Meredith: I wanted to write a women’s empowerment story, that highlighted the unique way that women lead, but I needed it to occur when men were absent. WW2 immediately came to mind, so I started researching the history of my city during that time. That was when I discovered The Shell Plant (A place I had never heard of before that Google search). I couldn’t believe how large it was and how many Charlotteans it employed — 10% of the population — for almost three years, then it disappeared the day the Japanese surrendered.
Passion Piece: Who helped you to get to credible information on the protagonists of your historical fiction novel?
Meredith: I did research at the historical “Carolina Room” at my local library. I traveled to Washington, D.C. to do more research at the National Archives facility. I talked to many local historians and university history professors who helped guide me to find the right details or the correct context to use for my story. As I wrote the book over several years, I would read online/magazine articles and learn new things about that time and incorporate these new tidbits of information into the story narrative.
Passion Piece: What obstacles did you have to face while working on the plot of your novel?
Meredith: My largest obstacle was finding enough time. Because I was paying for three kids in college all at once, I worked full-time for Wells Fargo bank while writing my book. This meant I needed to write for two hours early each morning and all day on Saturdays. I finished my first draft while on lock-down for Covid-19. That gave me some good focus to finish my manuscript, but then it was on to the hard task of so much editing. I never realized how much additional editing work goes into a finished novel, even months after you have typed the words: “The End.”
Passion Piece: How was it possible to unite women of different races during the WWII in one factory? What happened to them after the war?
Meredith: I wrote this story during the turbulent times of #metoo and Black Lives Matter. Those were both periods of personal awakening for me as both the oppressed and the oppressor. I did a lot of self-reflection and poured through as much learning material as I could to be a better human being. This reflection also helped me write a better book, I think. Poster Girls would be a much different story without those two movements playing out when they did. Some have questioned the friendship between Maggie and Kora as too much, but I believe women’s friendships have been transcending the odds and breaking down barriers since the dawn of time. Women can do anything, have done everything, and that certainly applies to the two Poster Girl protagonists, Kora Bell and Maggie Slone!
Passion Piece: Have you ever met any of the Poster Girls? What was their reception of the book?
Meredith: Unfortunately, many of them are no longer with us. While researching the story, I spoke to a few women living in Charlotte who remembered their mothers working at the plant. That was fun to talk to them. I also met a few men who remembered their fathers working there too. After I published the book, I was told of a 102-year-old woman living near Charlotte that worked at the plant in the summer of 1943. After that summer, she joined the Red Cross and lived in Hawaii and Guam. Hence, she was not living in the country when certain events happened at the plant that are written into my story. However, it was still a treat to speak with Bess Phifer last month. At 102, she was funny, informative and very entertaining. I can only hope to attain that level of clarity at such an age.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time?
Meredith: I love to hike with my family and travel. Road trips are my favorite. I love my two rescue “barn cats,” Ginger and Lacey. They were always by my side while I wrote this book. I love to cook big meals for my family and always have a thick stack of books next to my bed that I love to read.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future? Are you thinking of writing another book?
Meredith: Yes, I would LOVE to write another book. This next one will also be historical fiction about my husband’s family who lived in Tombstone, Arizona when the entire town was briefly owned by two widows after the silver mining bust.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I can’t wait for your next fantastic novel!
See you around!
Photos by: Meredith Ritchie
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