Rerelease Day: Lessons 4-Year Publiversary!

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Today marks the 4-year anniversary of the publication of my historical women’s fiction short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life (hence the “publiversary”).

This book was a huge departure for me when I first published it in 2020. I was writing my Waxwood Series at the time, which was set in the 1890s, and I was also working on my Adele Gossling Mysteries, which is set at the turn of the 20th century. So to write stories set in the post-World War II era was a big change. It was also a book that was more personal to me than anything I had written up until that time. 

A word about the title of this collection: I had some arguments with my mentor about changing it. Why? Because she felt the title was misleading. The implication of Lessons From My Mother’s Life is that the book is non-fiction stories about my mother’s life. Or that the book is true stories of other women’s mother’s lives. From a marketing perspective, she thought this would create some problems with the book reaching the right audience.

And truthfully, I did consider changing the title for this rerelease (which I had planned on doing since last year). But I decided to keep the title as it was for several reasons. First, it felt right (and authors can be very stubborn about their titles!) But second, the title originally came from the idea that the lessons the stories convey are lessons that come from my mother’s generation, though they are not lessons she overtly taught me. They are more lessons inferred from her own life, that is, her regrets and what she did that I don’t want to do. These are universal lessons mid-20th century women have to teach us, whether they are our mothers or grandmothers, or even great-grandmothers. In the stories, an older woman teaches a younger one something about life not overtly but covertly, by encouraging her to do what she couldn’t or sending the message “Don’t do what I did.” 

Why am I calling this a “rerelease”? Because a few things have changed. The biggest change is the cover. When I first published the book, I created the cover because I was a struggling author whose finances were extremely limited. But over the years, thanks to all my amazing readers (those existing and those to come), I’ve been able to afford to have a professional designer do my covers. So I knew it was time for Lessons to get a makeover. 

I also took the opportunity to give the book a new cover to give the stories another proofread. I’ve done this multiple times (don’t ask how many) as a way to refresh the stories and make sure they still read well. So there are some minor tweaks to most of the stories. Even if you’ve already read the book, I encourage you to pick it up again because the stories will read a bit differently than they did in the original version.

I hope you enjoy the book and have a discussion with your mother or grandmother about what her life was like so you can learn the valuable lessons her life has to teach you.

Title: Lessons From My Mother’s Life

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Women’s Fiction/Short Fiction

Original release date: March 29, 2020

Rerelease Date: March 29, 2024

How happy was the 1950s happy housewife?

Women in post-war America were supposed to have it all: generous husbands with great jobs, comfortable suburban homes with nice yards and two-car garages, and all the latest gadgets to make their housework easier.

The pain and horror of World War II were over. The economy was booming and America was becoming a world leader. American women were to play a role in America’s prosperity, the role they were always meant to play: supporting mothers, wives, and daughters. Theirs was a life of ease. They were the fairytale princesses with the happy ending.

The women’s magazines told them so. The advertisements for laundry detergent and TV dinners told them so. The doctors who treated their children’s colds told them so.

Women in 1950s America were sold a bill of goods about their purpose in life and their futures. Some bought it and some didn’t.

This book is about the women who didn’t.

These are not nostalgic stories about my mother’s life or your mother’s life. They dig deep into the lives of five fictional characters who knew in the back of their minds that their lives weren’t happy and they wanted something more.

Five stories. Five women. Five roads that will lead to self-identity and fulfillment.

About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which takes place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with her town’s conventional ideas about women’s place. Tam is also working on a new series, the Grave Sisters Mysteries about three sisters who own a funeral home and help the county D.A. solve crimes in a 1920s small California town, set to release in 2025. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music), concocting yummy plant-based dishes, and exploring her new riverside town.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

Are you into fun and engaging mysteries set in the past? Love sassy but sensitive women characters defying the social conventions of their time? Then you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, enlightening anecdotes about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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The Feminine Mystique: Our Mothers’ and Our Grandmothers’ Lessons

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In 2020, I released what is probably to date the most personal book I’ve ever written. It’s not an autobiographical novel or even a partially autobiographical novel. It’s a collection of short stories set in the post-WWII era of America. The book, Lessons From My Mother’s Life became much more of a personal project than I anticipated (or even intended) it to be for several reasons.

First, it was intended to be a historical rewrite of the first book I ever published back in 2017. Those stories were set in contemporary times and were quite literary in tone and style. Reviewers liked the book overall but many complained the stories were too short and the endings seemed chopped off. I agreed with this (and did a lot of journaling as to why that was because I knew there were deeper reasons than the fact that it was my first book and I was still learning the writing craft). I firmly believe in giving readers the best I have as a writer and revising books when I know my writing has become stronger and my writing purpose clearer (I’ve done this with several books). So I had no qualms about releasing a second edition of that first book.

Except it didn’t turn out to be a second edition. It turned out to be an entirely new book. I set the stories in a historical timeframe rather than a contemporary timeframe. Most of the stories in Lessons differ from those in the original first book (which is still available in online bookstores). I took some stories out that didn’t fit with the historical background and themes I was aiming for and replaced them with other stories. 

Second, the historical era I chose turned out to be a big surprise even to me. As many of my readers know, I am a huge fan of the 19th and early 20th centuries. My preferred timeframe for my books is the Gilded Age (roughly, the last quarter of the 19th century) and the Progressive Era (roughly, the first few decades of the 20th century, up until the end of WWI), though I’m experimenting now with a new upcoming series that is set in the 1920s.

Photo Credit: Betty Friedan as photographed in her home, 1978, photo taken  by Lynn Gilbert and uploaded 6 August 2009: LynnGilbert5/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

So why did I choose to set the stories in Lessons in the 1950s and early 1960s? Because, at the time, I had rediscovered a book I read in grad school: Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Friedan’s book introduced the paradox of women’s lives during the post-WWII era to the American public. The book came out of Friedan’s experiences talking with women in the 1950s, especially housewives, while working as a journalist for women’s magazines. She takes a very comprehensive look at what she calls “the feminine mystique” and the institutions that allowed this image to emerge.

The “feminine mystique” has been defined in many ways over the years, but for me, it’s the idea that a woman’s biological, psychological, social, and spiritual destiny boils down to one thing: her identity in relation to others. In post-WWII America, this was pretty much all that was expected of women. As Friedan puts it, “[For] the feminine mystique, there is no other way for a woman to dream of creation or of the future. There is no way she can even dream about herself, except as her children’s mother, her husband’s wife” (p. 59).In other words, her identity and her role in life are defined as wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, caretaker, lover, etc.

For Friedan, the problem wasn’t with these roles but with the isolation and restriction the outside world forced upon them. It wasn’t that it was bad to be a mother or a daughter or a wife or that women who wanted these things were wrong. It was that the expectation that this is all a woman was capable of being and should want to be was limiting and unfulfilling to many women. 

Now, this idea of restricted identities for women is not new. It’s an inherent part of the separate spheres, which began in the 18th century but really saw its heyday in the 19th century. But what was different about the post-WWII era was that women were starting to feel the damaging effects of it on their psyches. They were getting subtle messages from their mothers and grandmothers who had grown up with the separate spheres that this was not enough and shouldn’t be enough for many women. The epigraph for Lessons states:

“A mother might tell her daughter, spell it out, “Don’t be just a housewife like me.” But that daughter, sensing that her mother was too frustrated to savor the love of her husband and children, might feel: ‘I will succeed where my mother failed, I will fulfill myself as a woman,’ and never read the lesson of her mother’s life.” (p. 71)

Lessons From My Mother’s Life is exactly about the lessons mothers and grandmothers have to teach the younger generation. The stories are set in the 1950s and early 1960s, before the second-wave feminist movement. In each story, the main character sees the writing on the wall in terms of where her life has been or where it’s going and someone outside of her is trying to teach her the lessons of the feminine mystique. For example, in my story “Fumbling Toward Freedom,” Susan is a nineteen-year-old college student about to marry an upright young man still in medical school. When she attends an exhibition of Circe sculptures by an older woman artist, the artist’s work demonstrates the consequences of letting a marital relationship define who a woman is. The story ends with Susan taking a step back to examine what it is she really wants in life.

Is Friedan’s book and the idea of the feminine mystique still relevant to the younger “I don’t need feminism” generation today? I explore that in this blog post.

Lessons is getting a makeover with a new cover and a few revisions and will be out in its new form on March 29th.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

Works Cited

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique (50th Anniversary Edition). W. W. Norton & Company, 2013 (original publication date: 196). Kindle digital file.

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Generation Bonding: “Two Sides of Life”

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I’m a Generation Xer. I say it loud and I say it proud. Yep, I’m from the generation that started the technology revolution and brought you big hair, hip hop, and MTV. We’re known to be independent, educated (sometimes too much), and family-oriented. 

And I won’t lie. Sometimes, I have a hard time bonding with Generation Z or, as I like to call their kids, Generation Z Squared. Each generation has its own set of values and behaviors and even trying to explain one to the other can be a challenge. A fellow Generation Xer posted on Facebook recently that she tried to explain the stick shift car to her children and they didn’t get it.

But different generations can teach each other new things. One of my ESL students told me recently her company always puts older and younger employees on teams so the older ones teach the younger ones the value of their expertise and experience and the younger ones teach the older ones a new perspective and new technology. 

Several of the stories in my post-World War II short story collection, Lessons From My Mother’s Life, are about the lessons the older generation has to teach the younger. The 1950s and early 1960s were vital for women’s place in America because the dissatisfaction and inertia many women felt at that time led to the second-wave feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. I talk more about how women felt in these post-war years in my blog post about the “Occupation: Housewife” Era

But there are stories in the collection that work the other way around too. It’s the younger generation that teaches the older one something new. One of these is the last story in the collection titled “Two Sides of Life”.

It was one of those writerly moments where an interesting anecdote my mother related to me became the germ of the story. When she was in her 50s (the age range I am now), my father took her to a nice restaurant for her birthday, as usual. They had a great time and when the check arrived, the server informed them the bill had already been paid. It turned out my father, who was working as a quality control consultant at the time, befriended one of his younger assistants who recommended the restaurant. The young man surprised my parents by paying the restaurant bill in advance.

I wrote the story as a contemporary work of fiction and posted it for a while as a freebie on my website. When I made the shift from contemporary to historical fiction, I took the story down, meaning to revise it. Toward the end of 2019, when I rewrote my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories, to what became Lessons, I removed the title story (as it didn’t fit with the themes I had planned for Lessons) and went searching for another story to take its place. I realized the story I had written about my mother’s birthday dinner (then titled “A Birthday Gift”) would fit nicely with the new collection.

I retitled the story “Two Sides of Life” and kept the incident of the birthday dinner but moved it (reworked in mood, theme, and emotion to fit the collection) to the background. “Two Sides” became more about the dysfunctional relationship between the protagonist Leanne and her husband of twenty years, Calvin, and the lessons the young wife of Calvin’s assistant, Arlene has to teach her about life and women’s place in society. 

Leanne, like many suburban housewives of the mid-20th century, had been indoctrinated into the feminine mystique and, like many of these women, had become frustrated by what Friedan called “The Problem That Has No Name”. The story opens on the day of her forty-second birthday. Her husband Calvin (an intelligent but emotionally distant professor) “suggests” she head over to one of their neighbors (Paul, Calvin’s lab assistant) and offer to help with his six-year-old son’s birthday party. Leanne agrees, though reluctantly. The party proves to be a turning point in her life, as she bonds unexpectedly with Paul’s wife, Arlene. Arlene represents the familiar sort of young woman we imagine started the second-wave feminist movement: The “do it all” woman juggling a career and family, determined to make use of her full potential in the home and out of it. Leanne, like many older women of her generation, judges Arlene pretty harshly at first but comes to realize her judgment is misplaced:

“Arlene says women today can have a career and a family too, if they just make sacrifices and balance everything correctly,” he said. “It’s what she’s trying to do, and so are most of the girls who graduated with her at Mills College.” He looked at her again. “Do you think a woman who has a job can’t be a good wife and mother too?”

She felt the breeze around her turn into waves, returning the strange chill she had felt that morning. The noise of happy children dimmed, replaced by the loud caw of birds. She realized they were standing under a nest where baby birds chirped out their starvation. She saw the head of the mother, its grim beak set and its gorging eyes searching the ground. She recognized the basic instinct of a mother on her children.

“I think any woman could do anything, if she sets her mind to it,” she said softly. “And I can see Arlene has her mind set on it. I’ve no right to judge her, and I’m sorry I did.”

Later, Leanne sees how she and Arlene are trapped in the same cage of feminine expectations, though their lives are very different. Their unexpected bond leads to some unexpected twists to the original story my mother told me. 

You can read “Two Sides of Life” as well as the other four stories in the collection which speak to the idea of bonding generations of women when Lessons From My Mother’s Life is re-released on March 29 with a completely new cover!

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Introducing the Grave Sisters Mysteries Series!

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If you’ve been subscribing to my newsletter (and if you haven’t, you might want to check out the link below because you’ll get a bunch of cool stuff, including a couple of freebies) you know I announced last year that I would be working on a new series in 2024 to launch in 2025. I’m now ready to talk a little bit about that new series.

The Grave Sisters Mysteries is going to be another historical cozy mystery series (like my Adele Gossling Mysteries). The two series have several elements in common. They both feature strong women sleuths who defy the conventions of their time. They are both set in small towns in California and they both include women who help men in law enforcement solve crimes. 

But the Grave Sisters Mysteries has a few differences that set it apart from my current series. As the name suggests, there is more than one sleuth in this new series. The sleuths, in fact, are three sisters. Eve is the oldest and most involved in solving the crimes. The middle sister, Helena, is her aide and brings different skills to the table. Their younger sister, Violet, is less involved in crime solving (at least at the beginning) but she nevertheless puts her hand in.

Another thing that makes the Grave Sisters Mysteries different from the Adele Gossling Mysteries is the sleuths’ non-crime-solving occupation. Adele runs her own stationary store in town. The Grave Sisters own a family business and its nature might surprise you. They run the only mortuary in town! That’s right. They deal with dead bodies in their line of work, though most of them get that way from natural causes rather than murder. Eve handles the administrative and accounting side of things while Helena is the resident mortician who prepares the bodies for burial. Violet, who is only eighteen in the first book, doesn’t get as involved in the family business until much later.

The time frames for both series are also different. Those who know the Adele Gossling Mysteries know the first book is set only a few years after the turn of the 20th century and the series is currently up to the middle of its first decade (spoiler alert: Book 7 is going to take place during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire). Adele’s values and ideas fit the Progressive Era and her New Woman status lends interest and background to the mysteries.

The Grave sisters live in a later era. The first book is set in 1921, a period in American history that was just as vibrant as the Progressive Era, though in a different way. World War I  was behind us but the Roaring Twenties wasn’t exactly in full swing. In fact, the nation was experiencing a sort of dip in prospects with so many World War I veterans who returned home to find they couldn’t get jobs (this becomes one of the themes of Book 2 of this series). But the sisters are firmly planted in this era that was experiencing a transition from the old to the new. America was still trying to hold on desperately to its old values and yet, the younger generation was sick and tired of the old ways and bringing in the modern age against their parents’ and grandparents’ resistance. All of these things affect the sisters and their relationship to one another. Future blog posts will address some of these topics. 

Even though Book 1 of the Grave Sisters Mysteries won’t be released until the spring of 2025, don’t despair! I have more information for you about the series here. Book 1 will be available for preorder sometime later this year. I’ll also be including more updates about this series as well as details and excerpts in my newsletter this year, so if you’re not signed up for my newsletter, now is a great time to do so!

If you’re new to my site and haven’t yet checked out the Adele Gossling Mysteries, I encourage you to do that too! Book 1 of that series, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookseller sites so you lose nothing but picking up a copy. You can find all the links here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Trailblazers: Lady Lawyers in the 19th Century

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Book 3 of my historical cozy mystery series the Adele Gossling Mysteries, introduces a new character into the small town of Arrojo. Rebecca Gold is a lawyer who has come to town to open her own practice after having been treated like a clerk rather than a lawyer in the big city law firms where she worked. 

How common were women lawyers in the 19th and early 20th centuries? As you might imagine, not that common. The separate spheres made it difficult for women to venture outside the private sphere of home, family, and church. The law, being one of the most public spheres out there (right alongside politics and business) was, therefore, largely off-limits. 

But there were a few who did brave the social and sometimes legal limits to study law. The first of these was Arabella Mansfield. In 1869, she became the first woman lawyer in America. Although her home state of Iowa forbade women to take the bar exam, Mansfield defied this practice and took it anyway. Her very high marks swayed Iowa legislation to relax these laws and allow women to take the bar exam. Mansfield became an apprentice at her brother’s law firm early on during her studies. However, once she passed the bar exam, she decided to forgo law for activism and education, including suffragism.

Alongside her was Ada Kepley who, in 1870, earned her law degree from Northwestern University. However, her home state of Illinois also didn’t allow women to take the bar exam and, unlike Iowa, Illinois legislation wasn’t budging on this. So Kepley was unable to actually make use of her law degree. Kepley did eventually take the bar exam in 1881 and passed but, like Arabella Mansfield, chose to use her experience and knowledge for activism, particularly temperance and — you guessed it — women’s suffrage.

Photo Credit: Drawing of Charlotte E. Ray, before 1911, unknown author: Gobonobo/Wikimedia Commons/PD US

And let us not forget Charlotte E. Ray who was the first African American woman to practice law. She received her law degree in 1872 and was admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia Supreme Court. Unlike Mansfield and Kepley, however, Ray did eventually open her own office, specializing in corporate law. Sadly, she only kept her doors open for a few years, as racial prejudice made gaining a steady clientele difficult. She took her knowledge and experience and became a teacher, focusing on education and later, women’s suffragism.

You’ll notice a pattern here: these three women either never put their law degree to use or they only practiced for a very short time. Why? I’m sure mistrust of women in so lucrative a field had something to do with it (and we know in Charlotte E. Ray’s case, there was added racial prejudice). Maybe it was also that the time and dedication needed to practice law made it difficult for these women to juggle both the public and the private spheres (since we might assume they also had the duties of the home on their shoulders whereas a male lawyer was largely exempt from that). Or maybe it was just the ideologies of the separate spheres die hard, even for progressive women. 

In my book, however, Rebecca Gold is a practicing lawyer and her first case gets her in plenty of hot water. Find out how in Death At Will, the third book of the Adele Gosslnig Mysteries. And how about Books 1 and 2? Well, you can pick up all three books in a lovely box set at a great price here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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