Author and MFAC alum Susan Lotta talks about her novel, Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs. Bold Women of Medicine tells the stories of twenty-one courageous women from the 1800s to the present. Packed with photos, informative sidebars, and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.
What inspired you to write Bold Women of Medicine?
My daughter was in the process of applying to medical school and I witnessed the effort she was putting into her career choice. At the same time, I discovered the Chicago Review Press Women of Action Series which “introduces young readers ages 12 through adult to women and girls of courage and conviction throughout the ages.” I thought about the trials the pioneering women in medicine must have gone through. With the momentum for women to go into stem careers, I thought this would be a perfect way to view the early stem workers to see how women have evolved in their push for equality in science. Women still have a long way to go but each new woman that enters the field advances the cause.
What were the challenges (literary, psychologically, logistically) in bringing this book to life?
The challenges were in the research especially related to the historical women. Some like Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, and Florence Nightingale had so many resources that I worked hard to narrow the brief profiles of their lives. Others like Rebecca Crumpler, Rebecca Cole and even to some extent, Marie Zakrzewska, the material and photos were very hard to come by but I wanted to include them. In fact, there are no known photos of either Rebecca Crumpler or Rebecca Cole, the first two African American physicians. I probably have 20 additional women that I considered including, and even more that I uncovered in my research, but there was just not enough room.
What do you hope readers take away from Bold Women of Medicine?
I hope readers will take away the power of hope, education, and perseverance. If you have the will to accomplish something (in any career), you’re over halfway there. The Bold Women of Medicine survived many failures on their way to success but they believed in both themselves and their goals. They didn’t let anyone deter them even when they were up against insurmountable odds. They didn’t listen to those that didn’t approve of their choices, they just powered on through. When they needed more explanation, they sought the answers through education. The Bold Women of Medicine’s love for both compassion and science fuels them.
What were the early influences on your writing and how do they manifest in your work?
I majored in journalism and mass communications in college, so I guess you could say that form of writing has influenced me. The writing lab we had as sophomores was a four-hour block, three times a week. We had to arrive with at least 5 new story ideas for every class, then were sent out to “chase” at least one of those stories, write it up, and turn in a draft before the class period was over. This experience manifests itself in my work in that I never have trouble coming up with ideas, which is more of a problem than you might think. It is the carrying through to a finished draft that is challenging for me.
What books have fortified you as a writer?
In nonfiction, I have loved Jill Lepore’s work (Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and A Is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States) and many more. Also, anything by David McCullough, especially John Adams. Both of those authors turn nonfiction into captivating stories with ease, or at least they read that way. I know as an author it wasn’t really with ease. For children’s books, I remember loving Snow Treasure by Marie McSwiggan, Charlotte’s Web, The Little House series and as a middle schooler I devoured Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I don’t know how these fortified me as writer, but they have stuck with me for many years.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Of course, like most writers, I love to read. When I’m not reading you can find me with family up at our cabin, out with friends, walking the neighborhood, and volunteering at the library book sales and other events.
What props are most necessary for you to write?
Silence, or instrumental music, coffee in the morning, iced tea in the afternoon, and a window with an ever-changing view. Mine looks out on our sort of busy street and sidewalk. Lots of walkers, runners, and dogs. My den often includes at least one dog, our 11-year-old Golden Retriever named Stanley and lately, our new 6-month old Golden Retriever puppy named Hobbes, (who will steal my shoes as soon as I take them off).
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. That has worked the best for me. I like to dissect how successful writers structure their pieces especially nonfiction which I seem to gravitate more to now.
What is next for you? What are you working on now?
More nonfiction I think. Working on a proposal geared to middle grade readers on an historical event. Right now, I’m struggling with how best to structure the piece. I will take any advice on that subject!
Susan M. Latta holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Hamline University. She has written on history, biography, and geography topics for Appleseeds and Faces magazines and contributed freelance projects to Heinemann Leveled Books and ABDO Publishing. She is the recipient of the Loft Literary Center’s Shabo Award for Children’s Picture Book Writers. She lives in Edina, Minnesota.