9 Nov 2014

The Abortionist's Daughter: guest post by Elisa DeCarlo

Melanie’s Journey and Why I Took It
Since a teenager, I’ve cherished silent movies and the entire world of the early 20th century. Vaudeville, the Ziegfeld Follies, and early theater fascinated me, in part by reading biographies about silent movie stars, including Buster Keaton and Lillian Gish. My favorite authors were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, and W. Somerset Maugham, among others. The mores and morals of the 1910s seem foreign to us now, even laughable. 
THE ABORTIONIST’S DAUGHTER is an attempt to recreate that world. Melanie Daniels, the titular character, leads a stifling life in a village in the Adirondack Mountains. It is 1916, before women got the vote, when they were still “property.” The Roaring 20s were still far away. This novel is written to experience one woman’s life from her POV, which is often foreign to ours.
Melanie’s father, Dr. Daniels, has done a stint in prison for killing a woman during an illegal abortion. The family are outcasts. What destiny does she have? Being an old maid? Entering a loveless marriage? To cope with her misery, she loses herself in movie magazines (the “flickers” as they were known) and fantasizes about being a star. Then she meets James, a handsome stranger, and agrees to accompany him to New York City. She lies to her family to get money to leave, and they elope. This might seem a standard romance novel plot. But Melanie has broken society’s rules by letting herself be seduced by James, lying, and “living in sin” with her lover. Many a movie plot of the time had women tricked into phony marriages. Melanie’s eyes are wide open. She can’t afford to lose James. Once again, a man defines her existence, as her father had.
The challenge and inspiration were describing emotions and actions we take for granted, in terms of Melanie’s limited experience. Women in 1916 had no sexual education, no birth control, no understanding of their own sexuality. A “true woman” devoted herself to hearth and family. She has no words to describe the sexual sensations she experiences, other than lumping it in the category of “love.” As she observes elsewhere about popular media, “most passion seemed to die below the collarbone.”
Melanie is not the most likeable character to some readers, but I love her. I loved writing her journey from small-town life to a career as an actress. Again, I avoided the cliché of my heroine becoming a big star. She starts out in non-speaking parts. Writing that section was to relive that era. Actors were not “respectable”. Helping her understand herself was a tough task given the times, but ultimately she does discover that she is not a victim. That there is independence, even if it comes as a price.
The final job at hand was to write about abortion dispassionately. Then as now, abortion was regarded as a sin. It was hidden, dangerous. Women killed themselves with quack remedies. Dr. Daniels is a physician who performs abortions out of pragmatism. I’ve avoided coming down on one side or the other. The reader has to make his/her own judgment. This novel is not written as a polemic; it is written to be a good story.
There were many inspirations for this story, some when I started, some as I went along. I am grateful that they came to me when writing THE ABORTIONIST’S DAUGHTER.
@copyright Elisa DeCarlo, November, 2014 

ELISA DeCARLO’s first novel, The Devil You Say (Avon, 1994) won both “Locus Best First Novel” and “Amazing Stories Best First Novel”, and received the CaB Magazine Special Achievement Award. Its prequel, Strong Spirits, was published by Avon in 1995.  Her work has been collected numerous anthologies.
Elisa’s been a working journalist and magazine staff writer.  For 10 years she sold plus-size vintage clothing, both online and privately. Her latest novel reflects her passion for vintage fashion while painting an elaborate portrait of New York City just before World War One.
Elisa’s appeared in the popular soaps “General Hospital”, “All My Children”, and “As the World Turns”. She’s written comedy spots for NPR’s All Things Considered and was part of a comedy team show “Cheap Histrionics of the Airwaves” on WBAI-FM. 
Her greatest love is the theater.  She has written numerous award-winning solo shows, including “Toasted,” “I Love Drugs,” and “Size Matters”, which have been produced in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Her show “I Love Drugs” was a Chicago paper’s “Critic’s Choice” in 1994, and “Cervix With a Smile” was a San Francisco Bay Guardian “Critic’s Choice” in 2005. In 2008, the New York Times wrote an article called “Personality Plus” about a stage show she developed around her popular humor blog “Diary of a Mad Fashionista”. 
In 2015 the Exit Press will publish an anthology of her stage work, I Was Born To Suffer: The Plays of Elisa DeCarlo.
Elisa lives in New York with her husband, Jeff, and a fair amount of animals.  

1 comment:

  1. My heart goes out to the heroine of this book! A brave title for a book that definitely gets my vote!


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