Monday, 23 February 2015

Elsie MacGill - A Woman of Many Firsts

It's been a while coming but here is the first official author interview of 2015! I met Dr. Crystal Sissons at a book launch she shared with my daughter Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail last fall at the Canadian Aviation Museum. She introduced the packed room to a relatively little known Canadian phenomenon named Elsie MacGill. But let's let historian and author Crystall Sissons tell this fascinating story! 

What gave you the idea to research the biography of Elsie MacGill?

I was doing my teaching placements as part of my degree requirements for a Bachelor of Education at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and I was teaching about the Second World War. Elsie’s name came up in the range of historical personalities to introduce to the Grade 10 students. Initially, to them, she was just another name in the maze of facts they were trying to sort out related to the war. But, when I noted that she worked only blocks away from the high school where we were sitting that got their attention. Elsie had local ties – and while the name of the plant was no longer Canadian Car and Foundry, the students knew the Bombardier Inc. plant and wanted to know more about her.

Shortly after that time, having decided to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Ottawa I received a phone call from Dr. Ruby Heap. She was responding to my interest in pursuing a topic related to women’s history and she asked me if I knew the name Elsie Gregory MacGill, as she was having her records at the Library and Archives of Canada catalogued. 

Having only a basic knowledge about Elsie from my teaching experience and being intrigued by this possibility I told her I was familiar with the name and interested in knowing more – the rest is history as they say!

What interested you most about her – personally and professionally?

I think the key features of Elsie’s personality that make her fascinating are passion, determination and perseverance. Once she latched on to an idea or a cause she put all she had into it and moved steadily forward even if that had to be at a slower pace than she wanted. She was also a problem solver – challenges were simply something to overcome – and as a trailblazer in women’s education and engineering, a polio survivor and a prominent Canadian feminist she knew the power of combining these aspects with teamwork to effect change.

How long did it take you to conduct all the research and interviews that fill this book?

If we count all my graduate work, which set the foundations for this work, the full duration is 11 years.

What anecdote would you like to share about that research process?

Elsie Gregory MacGill was a key member of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (est. 1930).  She ended up as the Provincial President of Ontario and the National President (1962-1964). As I followed her progress with this organization through her papers I found that I agreed with many of their aims and objectives and I asked my supervisor if joining this organization would be a conflict of interest. 

When I found out it was not, and that it might actually help me obtain some interviews I joined and attended the national convention in Toronto. Right away I understood what drew Elsie to this organization – and I did indeed obtain some interviews. Not too long after I also had a chance to attend the meetings of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs is a founding member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (IFBPW) which holds consultative status at the UN.

I loved and still love the look in the eyes of members when they ask me where I learned about the club and I say in the archives! This experiential learning was something I had not anticipated as part of the historical process, and it is something which still enriches my life. 

I have also been fortunate to connect with the incredibly rich world of women engineering organizations and explore the various possibilities offered by aviation. During my graduate work I was able to spend some time in a flight simulator, and since the publication of the book I have been fortunate to have my first orientation flight where I was allowed to take the controls of an aircraft under the instructor’s guidance. I look forward to seeing what new heights that will lead to!

Do you have any idea how many hours it took to produce this history book?

Research is a funny thing – you never know where it will take you. On account of my research I have read countless books, spent many, many hours in archives and as noted above been blessed with incredible life experiences.  Counting hours is impossible, and I have no desire to do so, because even at the most frustrating moments when I was sure I would give up, the goal of sharing Elsie’s story and the support of an incredible range of friends and family pulled me through. This has been a real labour of love – and while I never met Elsie – through my research and her family, friends and colleagues I feel like I have come as close to meeting her as history will allow.

Elsie MacGill was one of many women in her day who made a difference in the status of women both in Canada and around the world. What made her really stand out for you, as a researcher and as a feminist?

From my perspective as a researcher and feminist Elsie stands out for many reasons. As noted above, she had incredibly strong personality traits. She faced a wide variety of challenges and somehow always pulled through, like a pilot focused on the horizon. She was always able to see it, and recognize the potential it offered. She knew that the only way to make progress was to move towards it, even if that meant facing seemingly impossible odds. 

Elsie also knew the importance of teamwork. As an engineer, she knew that no project could be completed alone and that each one required a diverse range of expertise. She brought this thinking to feminism as well, along with her belief that nothing could be achieved if men and women worked in silos.  Changes, whether technological or societal, required all Canadians to work together, for their mutual benefit, and the benefit of the nation as a whole.

In the midst of all of this Elsie did not take herself too seriously. Her friends and colleagues remember her joking nature and have told me often of her laugh. To be such a trailblazer and still leave the echoes of your laughter warming hearts behind you is a wonderful legacy. 

How did Elsie get the name “Queen of the Hurricanes”?

The name “Queen of the Hurricanes” is based on a 1930s comic book story in an American comic book series, True Comics, of the same name.  The cover of the book is based on that comic, and since that time Elsie has been associated with it. 

This association was simply one of many accounts of her work during the Second World War as being a Chief Aeronautical Engineer in wartime was highly unusual. As a result the media did their best, as they did with other women in prominent non-traditional roles, to “normalize” her. This meant that featuring her in a news story would mean highlighting her femininity at the same time as whatever key point the story was mentioning. 

An example would be something to the effect of: “Woman Aeronautical Engineer Advances Plane Designs by Day and Bakes Pies at Night.”

Elsie had many “firsts” for women in Canada and around the world. Based on your research, what would you say were her most significant “firsts”? Why?

Elsie’s most significant “firsts” that readily come to mind are those she accomplished in engineering. She was the first woman to graduate in engineering from the University of Toronto (1927), the first woman to graduate with a Master’s of Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Michigan (1929). 

As a result, she went on to become the first Canadian woman professional engineer, and the first woman aeronautical engineer. These early achievements were ground breaking and opened the doors for her to become the first woman to become a Chief Aeronautical Engineer and design and oversee the production of an all-metal aircraft (the Maple Leaf II).

She is therefore a very important role model and historical foremother for women in engineering today. These women are eager to own their history and Elsie’s story is an incredibly important one for them. Her story also challenges the North American literature which has often seen women engineers and feminists at odds because Elsie merged these two diverse worlds into a unified vision of life. They caused some tension in her life, but she demonstrated that it was possible to take the best from both worlds and move forward to effect positive changes in the world around her.

Are you working on another history book? Please tell us a bit about it.

Yes. While working on Elsie’s biography many people asked me if I would write a book that was accessible for young adults. At the time, I was too engaged with finishing that project to give it serious thought, but after a presentation of my book to the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group in Ottawa the question was raised again. This time, it took hold of me and I had ideas for dialogue racing through my mind.

I am still at the drafting stage, but this project while being based on the biography I’ve just completed, allows me the creative liberty to imagine what Elsie was thinking during her many “firsts”. It opened a whole new range of possibilities for me to explore her engineering, her time as a member of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women and as a Commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.

About You

Queen of the Hurricanes: The Fearless Elsie MacGill is based on my Master’s and doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa.  After I graduated in 2008, I continued researching and developing my manuscript. My book is the fifth Feminist History Society (FHS) book and I am indebted to the support and guidance of the incredible women within this organization most notably Dr. Constance Backhouse and Dr. Diana Majury.

I live and work in the National Capital Region [Ottawa/Gatineau, Canada] with my incredibly supportive husband Dr. Teva Vidal. No matter how many times Elsie’s books and papers have encroached on our living space, or how many drafts I have asked him to review he has always stood strongly beside me as my number one cheerleader. His support is a precious and priceless gift.

I am an active member of the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Ottawa Club. I love to write and read, usually I have between 5-10 different books on the go and my new Kindle has only enhanced my reading addiction! Depending on the season you can usually also find me snowshoeing, biking and swimming or heading back to my family’s camp outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario.      

Social media links:

·       Website: 
·       Queen of the Hurricanes:  The Fearless Elsie MacGill Blog:
·        Twitter handle:  @CrystalSissons

Links for the Book:
·       Feminist History Society:

·  Perfect Books, Ottawa, ON
·  Beechwood Books, Ottawa, ON
·  The Northern Woman Bookstore, Thunder Bay, ON
·  Thunder Bay Historical Museum, Thunder Bay, ON
·  Vintage Wings, Gatineau, QC

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Sandie has left a legacy in her writing

This interview with Sandie originally appeared May 22, 2012 following the publication of her second book. Her third novel came out two years ago this month. My sincere condolences to her husband and two grown children. 

December 10, 1955 to February 4, 2015

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing a fellow Canadian who lives in one of my favourite places in the world: Vancouver Island. Please give a warm round of applause *clapping* to Sandie Bergen, author of The Jada-Drau and Tyrsa's Choice.

What are you working on right now, Sandie?

Book 3 published February 2013
I’m currently writing a book called The Angry Sword. It’s the third installment of The Jada-Drau trilogy. At least I hope it will be a trilogy; sometimes my characters insist more happened than originally envisioned. The first two books, The Jada-Drau and Tyrsa’s Choice are available on Amazon. I hope to have The Angry Sword out by the end of the year.

This story started out as a dream I had over ten years ago and just grew. (Dreams influence much of my writing; maybe that’s why I write fantasy.) The Jada-Drau takes place in a pseudo-medieval world and is centered on a girl whose father sired her for the sole purpose of fulfilling an ancient prophecy, except that he wanted a son and condemns her to a life of loneliness and abuse. When she’s fifteen, he marries her to a young lord who then has to deal with a wife he thinks is a lack-wit. When her magic begins to show itself, the young lord soon realizes she’s much more than she seems, and her father will do anything to get her back.

What do you feel are the main issues facing commercial publishing today? Why?
The main issues facing commercial publishing are the rising popularity of ebooks and the number of authors who are now self-publishing. The big companies are feeling the pinch to the point where they’re not paying established authors enough for digital rights, and some of those authors are now choosing to self-publish. David Farland, author of The Runelords series, is self-publishing his newest book, Nightingale. If my current publisher is unable to continue with my works, I would consider self-publishing.

Several years ago, the general attitude toward self-published books was that they weren’t good enough for traditional publishing. That is no longer the case. Many of the self-published books out there today are well-written and entertaining, and many of those authors are choosing ebooks as their method of publishing.

Chain bookstores are closing all over North America due to lack of business. If the big publishers are going to compete in today’s world, they need to adjust to ebooks and make themselves flexible enough to compete with the vanity presses and small publishing companies. 

Who would you say represent the three most influential writers in your writing genre?

Many writers have been influential to the fantasy genre, including Lord Dunsany, J.M Barrie, H.P. Lovecraft, and, to a certain extent, Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson. If I have to settle for three, I’d have to pick Robert E. Howard, who practically created the sword and sorcery sub-genre with his Conan stories. Howard influenced many writers that came after him and still has an effect on fantasy writers today.

T. H. White, author of The Sword in the Stone, injected comedy into his work, paving the way for such wonderful writers as L. Sprague De Camp, Robert Asprin and my favorite, Terry Pratchett.

The most influential, I feel, would be J.R.R. Tolkien. With The Hobbit, and then Lord of the Rings, he defined epic fantasy and made the genre popular. For the first time, fantasy held mass-market appeal and publishers actively sought it out. 

What advice do you have for your fellow writers/authors about self-promotion and its importance?

In today’s world it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re self-published or have taken the traditional route, you must promote yourself and your books. The big companies no longer have the resources to market you the way they could in the past, unless you’re an established, popular writer. How can people read your book if they don’t know it’s out there? Just having your book on Amazon is no guarantee people will see it. Websites, blog tours, social media, book signings and online ads are just some of the resources available for promoting yourself. Start a blog or hold a contest. If you have the money you can do give-aways, buy ads on Facebook and Google. Get someone to review your book. It’s well worth the time.

What are your hobbies/passions/pastimes?

Reading and writing are my two main passions. I grew up with my nose in books. In Grade 5, our teacher read us The Hobbit, and my love for fantasy began. I’ve always had stories in my head, but I rarely put them down until about twelve years ago. They’re my babies and it took great courage to let someone read them. I currently have three different series on the go, two are trilogies, including The Jada-Drau, and one…well, I’m not sure yet where it’s going to end.

I also like card making and scrapbooking. It lets me indulge in another aspect of my creative side. I enjoy the outdoors, especially the ocean, but recent health concerns have limited that aspect of my life.
Travelling is a passion both my husband and I enjoy, and we like nothing better than hopping in the car and just driving. It has led us to places we didn’t expect and there’s few things more exciting than taking a road not yet travelled.

I watch TV, play video games, love playing board and card games, and I knit sometimes. That’s pretty much my life in a nutshell.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Sandie. Hope to meet you when we're on the Island in August!

Sandie Bergen lives on an island in the Pacific; Vancouver Island to be exact, idyllic and perfect in its own way. She lives with Charlie, her husband of thirty-three years, and three muses, otherwise known as cats, MacDuff, Harmony, and Molly. She has two grown children, Amanda and Aaron. Sandie has been writing for years, mostly for personal enjoyment. The Jada-Drau is her first published novel though she had two ghost stories with Whispering Spirits Digital Magazine, as well as stories published with Worlds of Wonder Magazine and Flash Me Magazine.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Dance with Deception - Regency Romance at its Finest

My guest author today is bestselling Scandalous Secrets series author Tracy Goodwin.

I’m pretty sure yours is the first Regency Romance featured on my blog. For the readers, what is Regency Romance?

Regency Romances are typically Romance Novels set during the early nineteenth century. Though technically my novels are set in the early Victorian era (Victorian Romances are set during the reign of Queen Victoria which began in 1837), Dance with Deception has been on both the Regency and Victorian Romance bestselling lists ever since its first publication. I specifically chose the 1840s as the time period of the Scandalous Secrets series because of the amenities and historical events that occurred during that particular time period – the use of steam locomotives and the first Anglo-Sikh War, for example, both of which are plot points in Enticing Eve – Scandalous Secrets, Book 2.

My writing style also falls into both categories based upon the reviews I’ve received. Descriptions like “romantic,” “lush sensuality,” “endearing,” and “emotional” have all been used in reviews and author quotes to describe my writing. I think those traits transcend Regency and Victorian Romances and that is why you see many of the same books on both bestseller lists.

How much historical research went into Dance with Deception? What kinds of research did you do?

A great deal of research goes into each novel. My office is crammed with research books spanning everything from daily life in Britain during the nineteenth century to books on English country homes, gardens, London, art, fashion, Parliament, etc. I also do online research but actual books have been a major source of research for me.

How long did it take you to write the book?

It took about a year to write the original Dance with Deception. I then spent some more time on edits before going through the pitching process and selling it to a small press in 2006 and seeing it first in print in 2007.