Her Story: Ladies In Literature 2019 with Wendy Heard

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Wendy Heard

Wendy Heard was born in San Francisco but has lived most of her life in Los Angeles, which is on fire more than she would honestly prefer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art, emphasizing painting, and a Master’s degree in Education. When not writing, she can be found hiking the Griffith Park trails, taking the Metro and then questioning this decision, and haunting local bookstores. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America, is a contributor at Crimereads.com, and co-hosts the Unlikeable Female Characters podcast.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

It’s 2002, and I’m falling asleep in an Art History class in an un-air-conditioned building in East Los Angeles. My professor, an angular woman with frizzy blond hair, is operating a whirring, dust-churning slide projector, droning on about classical artists.

“And after Caravaggio, Artemesia Gentileschi became the first woman painter to be accepted by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze,” she says. “She has a hell of a story. Are you okay with hearing about sexual assault? It’s a fascinating, empowering, tragic, and relevant story.”

I straighten up. I’m totally awake now. This is the day I fall in love with Artemesia.

Many years later, I read Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, a historical novel in verse about none other than my beloved Artemesia, and it’s everything I ever needed it to be.

“She is not small. She is not weak. She will never, ever be feebleminded,
And above all, she is outraged.
The world will tell you not to be outraged, love. They will tell you to sit quietly, be kind. Be a lady.
And when they do? Be Judith instead.”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

Judith and her Maidservant, 1635, Detroit Institute of Arts

Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–20, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Artemesia Gentileschi. Born: 1590, the eldest child of a painter. In her father’s workshop, she showed the most promise of all her siblings. Her father boasted of her prowess; she was a natural.

At age 17, she famously painted the story of Susanna and the Elders. In the story, found in the Book of Daniel, a young woman, Susanna, is bathing alone in her garden while being watched by older men — a creepily familiar scenario for all of us. The men threaten to tell people she was meeting a young man for sex unless she has sex with them. She refuses to be coerced and is tried for promiscuity, a crime that carried a death sentence if a woman was convicted. Paintings of this story often show Susanna doe-eyed and shocked, but Artemesia’s depiction shows Susanna grimacing, traumatized, wrenching herself away from the lecherous men.

Susanna and the Elders by Guido Reni

Susanna and the Elders by Artemesia Gentileschi

Artemesia was interested in naturalism, eschewing the idealistic imagery of her father’s generation, and this was the power she brought to her work: the power of the truth, the power of women painted by women.

God, I love her. She was a child, a teenager, and this was the brutality she brought to her work.

“Others will tell you Daniel saved Susanna’s life. But hear this: Susanna used her voice. She spoke her truth. She could not expect her words to change a single heart, but neither could she be silent.

Her words saved her life.”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

In 1611, Artemesia was raped, as women often are. She was 21. Some say she was born in 1693, not 1690, making her 18 for the rape. The rapist was respectable, a man her father had hired to tutor her. I won’t name him. His name is nothing.

Her father waited nine months. He wanted to see if they’d marry. During this time, Artemesia continued sleeping with the man, hoping he’d marry her, having lost her virginity, which was considered an actual asset, something you could steal and be prosecuted for stealing.

“They’re not monsters, either. Not men you’d shrink away from on the street. On the contrary. They’re men you’d see at Mass, who’d give you a polite nod while they greet your husband.”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

But the man didn’t marry her, and her father took him to court for the theft of her virginity. During the trial, Artemesia was tortured in order to confirm her testimony was accurate. Her story didn’t waver. They discovered more things this rapist man was up to, none of them good. He was planning to murder his wife, for one. Artemesia and her father won the case. The man received a sentence, which was never enforced.

“Piazzas, churches named for a teenager who gave life to the Christ. Sculptures, paintings, frescoes devoted to her holiness. But the only thing about her we remember, she was a virgin.”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

After the rape, which doesn’t define her but does define the character of the man who did it, she went on to live a wildly interesting and successful life.

“There will come a day,
when this horror is not the
only color on your palette.”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

Here are just some of the things she went on to do:

● Get married (By her father’s arrangement)
● Have tremendous affairs – One of the affairs was with a nobleman, her husband knew about it, and they had a great friendship
● Have a daughter whom she loved passionately and to whom she constantly strived to give a beautiful life
● Dump her husband when he became too much of a financial liability
● Move all over Italy and to London, working as a successful painter in many different scenarios (Court painter, portrait painter, collaborative artist)
● Adapt and change her painting style over the years, both to satisfy clients hungry for current trends and to explore different parts of her own artistic self, including some softer, gentler pieces that, when painted by men, are considered “romantic,” but when painted by her are considered “Artemesia getting in touch with her femininity at last”
● Famously painted female Biblical figures as powerful, stern, unsmiling, fierce, and warlike
● Endure constant scrutiny because of her gender, and yet she never stopped painting

She never stopped painting.

“I take a length of cloth and hold it to my head – a wedding veil. I do not regret the days of make-believe, but for every time I played at bride I should have played at goddess, river, warrior queen”
– Joy McCullough, Blood Water Paint

You see why I love Artemesia. She came, she saw, she conquered. She was knocked down. She got back up. She painted fearlessly. She tore it up.

Go read Blood Water Paint, and when they tell you to smile, to be gentle, to be smaller –

Be Judith instead.

Title The Kill Club
Author Wendy Heard
Genre Thriller, Suspense
Publication Date December 17th 2019 by MIRA
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book Depository

Jazz will stop at nothing to save her brother.

Their foster mother, Carol, has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.

Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her — people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to eliminate the abuser of another. They’re taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles — dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.

All she has to do is kill a stranger.

One response to “Her Story: Ladies In Literature 2019 with Wendy Heard”

  1. I love this guest post so much, especially the inclusion of the art! I have Blood Water Paint on my shelf so it has just moved up my TBR! Thanks so much for sharing, Jen and I look forward to Wendy’s book!
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