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-four 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 Mary McCoy
Mary McCoy is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. She has also been a contributor to On Bunker Hill and the 1947Project, where she wrote stories about Los Angeles’s notorious past. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and studied at Rhodes College and the University of Wisconsin. Mary now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Her debut novel, Dead To Me, is a YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood.
There are so many things about Harriet M. Welsch’s general aesthetic and mode of being that appeal to me, from her inventive use of the word “finked” to her slightly fussy habits and routines (involving her spy route, the brand of notebook she writes in, the time at which her cake and milk should be served, etc.).
I love her fashion sense, the way she enjoys her alone time, her determination to be a writer.
On the Olympic podium of my heart, she is flanked by Turtle Wexler and Anastasia Krupnik, but the gold belongs to Harriet alone because she is so loudly and insistently herself.
And then there are the things she writes in her notebook, including such gems as:
THEY’LL NEVER GET ME IN A MUD PACK
Harriet’s mother is an evening gown-wearing, ballroom-dancing, upper class woman who embodies femininity like something out of the pages of a magazine. Harriet knows that’s not her and digs her heels in against it because she wants to keep being herself.
When I was growing up, there came a point where my friends became interested in being pretty and talking about boys, and it sucked. It wasn’t that I was a late bloomer. Actually, kind of the opposite, and embarrassingly so. And I was also interested in those things, it was just that whenever I tried expressing it, it always came out wrong. I liked the wrong clothes, I wore the wrong glasses, I thought the wrong people were cute.
I remember being at a slumber party once where all my friends were doing those Judy Blume-inspired bust-enhancing exercises, and one of my friends turned to me and suggested, not unkindly, that maybe I should lay on my back in the hopes that my boobs would retreat back in to my chest and stop being so inappropriately… there.
Whenever I tried to copy my friends and their brand of femininity, I felt like a fraud. It was exhausting, and what’s more, nobody was even buying it.
When you’re in fifth grade, people are not necessarily going to sit you down and say things like, “Gender is a performance,” or “There are as many ways to be a girl as there are girls.”
They might not do that, but someone might give you a book like Harriet The Spy.
And in its pages, you might recognize yourself. And it might cross your mind that not only was it okay to be like Harriet, it was an actively cool way to be a girl.
I could be finked if I’d go to dancing school, damned if I’d wear a dress, and still think that maybe someday I’d go to Europe and meet a lot of generals (or maybe Mata Hari).
I WANT TO BE A WRITER AND I’LL BE FINKED IF I’LL BE UNHAPPY WHEN I AM.
As I’ve become a writer and gotten to meet lots and lots of other writers, I’ve learned how much free-floating anxiety there is floating around this business, often about things that are entirely beyond one’s control.
Becoming a published writer has changed one thing about my life: my writing has been published.
Everything else is the same.
Loving writing and loving being a writer are two different things. The first is very important. The second isn’t, and none of it is worth a damn unless I can say…
I LOVE MYSELF.
My favorite thing about Harriet M. Welsch is that after her notebook has been found and her classmates have read the unkind things she’s written and they’ve turned on her and she has no friends and she’s lost Ole Golly and is at her absolute nadir, she still runs right out and buys another notebook and one of the first things she writes in it is I LOVE MYSELF.
I love how much Harriet loves herself.
I know that not everyone feels that way, and it’s not for lack of trying. There are fifty things that can make you hate yourself or make you feel like you are alone. Some of them are external forces you can’t control. Some of them are internal forces you can’t control, and we live in a world where the first impulse some people have when they see a person who loves themselves is to try to bring them down a few pegs.
Finding a way to love yourself isn’t easy, but it’s work worth doing. Harriet showed me two important things:
1. If you’re able to look inward and love what you see – no matter what your circumstances – you can usually weather those circumstances, and
2. It is a gift to enjoy one’s own company.
However, that’s not a Get Out of Self-Improvement Free card. There are times when you absolutely should look inward and NOT like what you see, such as, if you are Harriet M. Welsch, the following:
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PINKY WHITEHEAD
1. TURN THE HOSE ON HIM.
2. PINCH HIS EARS UNTIL HE SCREAMS.
3. TEAR HIS PANTS OFF AND LAUGH AT HIM.
Let’s not forget that Harriet is also kind of a dick. Mostly, she keeps it to herself, but she can be very unkind, rigid, rude, and bratty. As a young reader, I was able to admire Harriet while acknowledging that she was flawed.
Like me. Like all of us.
Loving yourself also means owning the things about you that aren’t great and trying to do better like Harriet does when she swallows her pride and apologizes to her classmates for the awful things she wrote about them.
And finally, of course:
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A GOOD TOMATO SANDWICH EVERY NOW AND AGAIN.
Thick slices of window sill-ripened tomato. Wheat toast. A little bit of salt. A whole lot of freshly cracked black pepper. Maybe some mayo or mustard.
On this topic, as on so many others, Harriet M. Welsch is on to something.
Title Dead To Me
Author Mary McCoy
Pages 304 Pages
Genre Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
To Be Published March 3rd, 2015
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
“Don’t believe anything they say.”
Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her – and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.
When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets – and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars – if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.
Evoking classic film noir, debut novelist Mary McCoy brings the dangerous glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age to life, where the most decadent parties can be the deadliest, and no drive into the sunset can erase the crimes of past.