Questions and Answers
What is the full title and genre of your book and a brief description?
Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage by Cindy Peyser Safronoff (This One Thing, July 4, 2015). Literary historical biography.
A dramatic story about two trailblazing women, Crossing Swords compares and contrasts the personal lives, careers, and public statements of two prominent women’s rights advocates on opposite sides of “the marriage question” within the early women’s rights movement in the 1870s. It’s the untold story of America’s nineteenth-century culture war.
What topic does the book address?
On one level, Crossing Swords is about female empowerment and its effect on the institution of marriage in America. The focus is the American marriage debate in the mid-nineteenth century, a civic disagreement over the implication of the American Revolution and women’s rights for sexuality. The book discusses sex, religion, and politics—all the things you are not supposed to talk about in polite company! The book explores rights and restrictions, freedom and slavery, equality and double standards, as it relates to sexuality. I use Eddy and Woodhull to represent opposite sides of “the marriage question” of the 1870s—marriage vs. free-love. Although my approach to this topic might seem black and white, there is also a dimension of philosophy vs. practicality within the story too. The topic is really quite complex and multifaceted, and includes an exploration of the evolution of marriage and family law in America as well as a diversity of relevant religious theology.
Do you also explore current issues, like same-gender marriage?
Crossing Swords is strictly a historical work focused on the civic issues of mid-nineteenth century. The marriage debate of the 1870s did not include a demand for same-sex legal marriage, although it did include discussions on changing the definition of marriage in other ways. Homosexuality is mentioned once, as is just about every other form of sexuality and related issues like abortion and birth control. Everything is discussed as it relates to the story and is set within the context of American marriage and family law, using both the nineteenth-century terms and the terms we commonly use today. It is left up to the reader to draw their own conclusions on how these 1870s issues might be relevant to today’s issues.
Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
My audience is anyone who is interested in the topic of marriage and sexuality! Whatever readers’ own personal, religious, and political views may be, I hope they will find Crossing Swords to be an intriguing, thought-provoking, challenging, and enlightening journey into a previously unexplored area of American history. My goal in writing the book was give readers a way to clarify their own perspective and understand different viewpoints–all while entertaining them with a great story! This unique book includes new insights into the lives of both Mary Baker Eddy and Victoria Claflin Woodhull, and as well as other public figures on the topic of marriage. This is a side of American history which was not included in your 5th grade textbook!
How did you become interested in this topic?
I was trying to understand how Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on marriage fit into historic context within the early women’s rights movement–how her statements would have been perceived at the time she originally said them, and what other prominent Americans were saying on the topic of marriage. A brief mention of Victoria Woodhull in a footnote in a biography on Eddy lead me to read several biographies on Victoria Woodhull and eventually to read all of her published speeches. I found it fascinating to compare and contrast Eddy and Woodhull, and I realized I was uncovering a significant values conflict story that had been buried for a century, but is so relevant to current American culture. The topic grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go!
Why did you write this book?
I had created quite an extensive chronology of statements on marriage and womanhood along with significant life events for Woodhull and Eddy. One day I looked at the outline headings and said to myself, “This looks like the table of contents for a book I would really like to read!” At first I thought such a book would have only a tiny niche audience, but as my research went deeper and the philosophical conflict and dramatic storyline unfolded, I saw a larger universal relevance to the story. So I committed to writing the book and bringing it to the attention of the world. I hope it will inspire in readers a deeper understanding of marriage.
What did your writing process look like?
I did my research reading in the evenings. I have a comfortable couch in my office where I sit with a book in my lap, my iPhone at hand for looking up words in the dictionary, and a spiral-bound notebook at my side for copying down quotes and relevant facts. Throughout my research process, I read about one book each week. I would often wake up in the morning with about two pages worth of writing in my head. It did not go away until I wrote it down, even if I procrastinated for days. But eventually I got into the habit of sitting down at my computer and typing it all out first thing in the morning before doing anything else. That would take about two hours. On weekends I would read through what I had written that week and revise, refine, and reorganize. Then I would think about what unanswered questions I still had, look over my research notes, and set my research priorities for the next week. I worked this way for over three years to write Crossing Swords.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title Crossing Swords was inspired by a statement by Mary Baker Eddy in an article called “Wedlock” that her book “crossed swords with free-love” in “about the year 1875.” The dramatic story told in my book came out of my search to find out what exactly happened around 1875, which is how I discovered Victoria Woodhull. Later I found a quote by Victoria Claflin Woodhull where she also used the sword fight metaphor. In my research into the American civic debate of the 1870s, I found so many quotes on the topic of marriage and sexuality that included war-related terms that calling it the Battle for the Soul of Marriage seemed quite appropriate.
Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Why did you go with that particular image?
I wanted the cover to look like an event flier or newspaper from the 1870s. We tried to create an image for this “battle” which could be interpreted as light-hearted or deadly serious or anywhere in between. The portraits of Eddy and Woodhull are based on famous photographs, drawn in the style which was commonly used for newspaper illustrations in that era. Originally I wanted the cover to be almost completely black and white, but working through many design iterations, when the artist added more color and modern styling, I liked it better because it brought these women to life, as I have tried to do in my book.
Why did you decide to independently publish Crossing Swords?
I published independently for two important reasons. First, I wanted to have total control over the editing, the title and book cover, timing of the release, and how the book is marketed. For example, I was able to choose July 4 for a publishing date; besides being good timing for me personally, the publishing date of Independence Day is significant in the lives of both Eddy and Woodhull and in the arc of the story. Second, I felt the book was so timely that I didn’t want to delay its release for years trying to find a willing publisher. Because of my professional background in small business and technical writing, I was already had skills in this area and I was comfortable with the idea of publishing and marketing my own book.
What kind of review process did the manuscript go through before publishing?
I went through a process of peer review and editing similar to what a good traditional book publisher would require. I invited 100 people to review the manuscript, and of that group 70 gave me substantive feedback that influenced the editing directly or indirectly. This included several scholars with expertise on Mary Baker Eddy, Victoria Woodhull, or other historical figures in the story. Besides lots of help from these “beta readers,” I had significant professional help with copy editing prior as the final step before publishing.
Where is the book available?
Crossing Swords is available for purchase through Amazon.com or through your favorite local bookstore (by special order). Also, the e-book edition is available for purchase through several on-line book vendors, or can be borrowed through Seattle Public Library.
How are you approaching book publicity?
I have solicited book reviews by trade publications, magazines, and newspapers most likely to be interested in my book and have entered several book contests. I am using Facebook and Goodreads to develop a social media following. Crossing Swords is finding an audience through word of mouth.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
Consider yourself to be part of my publicity team! Here are 3 ways you can help make Crossing Swords successful:
- Purchase copies of the book for yourself, your friends and relatives, and spread the word! Word of mouth is one of the most powerful forces in the world, and that is something every reader can help with. If every reader urges their friends to buy and read this book, it could “go viral!” Comment on posts, like it, share it, tweet it, and talk about it within your community.
- Consider featuring Crossing Swords in the newsletter for your community organization.
- Visit Amazon.com and post your rating and review! Also, you can vote on the posted reviews.
Thank you so much for your support!
What can we expect from you in the future?
I do have a sequel in mind! As soon as Cross Swords has successfully made its way into the world, I would like to continue my research. There is so much more to explore on this topic, I’m eager to keep moving forward!
Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage by Cindy Peyser Safronoff is available on Amazon or by special order from your favorite local bookstore.