Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers.
Elizabeth Foxwell is editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection (the oldest US scholarly journal on mystery/detective/crime fiction) and editor of the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series (vol. 10: Ian Rankin). An interest in women’s roles in World War I led to her Oconee Spirit collection In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I and her Agatha Award-winning short story, “No Man’s Land.”
The contributions of American women to World War I often are neglected, perhaps because of a mistaken impression that as the official U.S. participation was two years in duration, its female contribution must be equally short. The few collections of World War I writings by women are composed of mostly British contributors, with only a few American women represented, and even those tend to be only the most prominent (e.g., Edith Wharton). The Department of Veterans Affairs report America’s Women Veterans states that more than 10,000 American women served in the war; of the nearly 200 listed as casualties, four occurred under combat conditions. Countless others worked in private or nongovernmental relief efforts or in initiatives connected to Allied nations. Still others reported on the war. In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I restores American women’s role in the war through their first-person accounts, thus providing a fuller picture of their participation.
1. How did you decide which stories to tell and which to leave out?
I focused on first-person accounts by US women in World War I because I wanted their authentic voices to be more fully represented than tends to be the case in most nonfiction on the war, and I wanted to include accounts by women who served in different roles in the war (such as fingerprint expert). I also wanted to avoid accounts that seem to be the typical go-to for discussions on the war (for example, Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone  that was featured in “The Great War” episodes of American Experience). I wish I could have located more accounts by women of color, because readers, I have found, are very interested in learning more about their experiences.
Are there other stories that you would include if you were working on this book today?
Velona Pilcher’s “A Regular Day at a Red Cross Hut” (Stanford Illustrated Review, Mar. 1919). Stanford graduate Pilcher (1894–1952) wrote The Searcher (1929), the “female Journey’s End” (a reference to the famous 1928 World War I play by R. C. Sherriff) that is based on her WWI experiences as a Red Cross searcher (a person who liaised with families, the military, and others about missing or incommunicado service members). This play has only been produced three times and deserves a wider audience.
2. What was your favorite childhood book?
The Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Like Jane Austen, Montgomery was unerring in her understanding and portrayal of the people in her society. Although she displays a delightful sense of humor in these books, it is sad to know that she struggled with depression and drug addiction, culminating in her suicide in 1942. If budding writers are interested in learning how to build character through dialogue, I recommend looking at the “Mrs. Skinner’s Romance” chapter of Anne of the Island by Montgomery, which is largely a monologue in a wagon punctuated by Mrs. Skinner’s frequent remarks to the horse to “[j]og along, black mare.” It’s brilliant.
3. As an editor, what advice can you offer to beginning writers?
I would urge beginning writers to seek out some radio or podcast experience. This involves writing for the ear, which can be very beneficial in learning to write concisely.