Monday, October 5, 2020

Women in the 1970s. An all male-college during the most turbulent times. Love, grief and family. Sarah McCraw Crow talks about THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, printing out and retyping drafts (a great writing tip, by the way), and so much more.


When I first read Sarah McCraw Crow's novel, THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, I immediately wrote a blurb for it. Here it is:


“How could I not devour a book set in my favorite era, the 1970s? About family, marriage, love and grief and a country in the turbulent flux of change, The Wrong Kind of Woman limns the lives of a stunned widow, her daughter and a lonely college student as they all struggle to come to terms with death—and life—against the backdrop of an all-male college during the Vietnam war, Kent State, the drug culture, and the first heady rise of the women’s movement. Absolutely fabulous.”

—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

 And I am not the only person entranced.

Publisher's Weekly
says: “An entrancing debut” and “engrossing reading.” Also “Sarah McCraw Crow’s smart and thoughtful story will ring true to those who witnessed the social upheavals of the ’70s.”


And from Booklist, “readers will soar through the smoothly written prose and empathize with the strong characters. Suggest to those who loved Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything.”


SARAH McCRAW CROW’s articles, reviews, and short stories have run in many magazines and literary journals. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives on an old farm in New Hampshire with her family. Thank you so much for being on my blog, Sarah!




I love, love debuts. What’s it been like for you? What are the pluses as far as writing your second novel? Any minuses? Did you learn something new about you and your writing process as you were finishing the novel?


I love debut novels too! It’s thrilling but also feels a little strange that a book that I wrote is actually getting published. Also, I’m not the typical debut author, if there is such a thing—I’m 55, so I’m not exactly young and cute. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my early forties, when I took a novel-writing class at UCLA that you were teaching. Thank you for helping me get started! Many classes, two novels in the drawer, and one MFA program later, here I am!


As to the writing process, two tricks that helped me with revising were printing out and then retyping the whole draft, so I had to look at each sentence and each paragraph again as I typed. Also I read the whole draft aloud, which helped me hear those sentences that sounded clunky or ridiculous.


Regarding the second novel, yes, there have been pluses and minuses: On the one hand, as Brian Leung, one of my grad-school teachers, said about writing the second novel, “You did it once, so you know you can do it again.” I’ve found some confidence in that, which has kept me going.


On the other hand, and maybe this is also a reflection of the craziness of 2020, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and terrible leadership at the top of our country, there have been many times this spring and summer when I’ve wondered whether my words have any meaning or use.


 I always feel that writers are haunted into what they are writing. What was haunting you?


Haunted, yes, and by a couple of different things. I’ve always been interested in the women of my mom’s generation, and the choices they made, whether to go with the dominant culture or against it. My mom is progressive, but in the early Seventies, when she was busy with little kids and a medical-resident husband, she missed out on the women’s movement entirely.


I’m also haunted by the history of my own college, Dartmouth College, which the school in my novel, Clarendon College, is loosely based on. I wondered what it was like in the years before it went coed, when it was a lot like Animal House, and how it might have been for those who didn’t fit the mold of jockey WASP male. What if you were one of the few women faculty on campus back then? And what if you were a female exchange student among all those men who didn’t want you there—what would that have been like?

The Wrong Kind of Woman is told in three unique voices, that of a widow Virginia, her young daughter Rebecca, and college student Sam, each giving us a unique portrait of the process of grief, for both a family, and in a very real way, for a country in trouble. Can you talk about this please?


It's funny, because despite what I said before, when I started writing, I thought this was only a novel about grief, about three people getting through an untimely death. But as I watched Virginia’s journey, I saw that this story was about women—their place, or lack of it, on the Clarendon campus, and Virginia’s changing understanding of herself and the husband she’s lost—and also about a time, the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the country was pretty torn up.


By 1970, the Vietnam War had gone on for too long; Johnson had decided not to run again and Nixon had won the 1968 election. As the students kept protesting, the reactions got more heavy handed (as at Kent State). College campuses, and really the whole country, were in turmoil. And splinter groups like Weather Underground were setting bombs in public places. And the women’s movement was entering a new, more visible phase, beginning to push for the ERA and other changes.


I was really fascinated by the terrible way women were treated in academia. I’m not so sure it’s world’s better now. Is it?


That’s a good question. I’m not an academic, but it seems like it’s still tough for women in science to get the top jobs. Just last year, a group of women psychology grad students at Dartmouth won a settlement against the neuroscience department at Dartmouth for sexual harassment and sexual assault. That said, there are many, many more women in all areas of academia and college administrations than there were in the early Seventies.


So much of this amazing novel has got the 1970s spot on. What was your research like? What surprised you? Did anything surprise you so much that the plot veered?


Thank you! I love the Seventies, maybe because I was a little kid then. But the kinds of things that I remember from 1970—my Close ‘n Play record player, or TV shows like the Brady Bunch and Sesame Street—didn’t take me very far. So I read a lot of old newspapers, listened to late-Sixties music, looked at the books that were bestsellers. I also read accounts from women who were active in the women’s movement, and who’d joined anarchist movements like Weather Underground, and who were exchange students at all-male schools. Also, some readers of my early drafts happened to have been teens and college students in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and they noted when I got something wrong.

What’s obsessing you now and why?


I’m obsessed with a couple of things! One is an institute in the town where I grew up that promotes research into psychic phenomena—I’m curious about the people who founded it, and about its history more generally. I’m also kind of obsessed with the anti-nuclear weapons movement of the early Eighties.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?


Well, it’s actually a question about you—how do you find the time not only to write your novels, but also to teach, read writers’ manuscripts, review books, and promote other authors here on your blog and for A Mighty Blaze? And I’d like to say thank you for all the good energy you put into other writers, as well as your own writing.

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