The story behind the writing of “Angels at Sunset,” a historical novel about the suffrage movement by writer Tom Mach of Kansas. The foreword is by Colleen Jenkins, the great great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The publisher is Hill Song Press. Signed copies are available directly from the publisher.
“I am really passionate about the suffrage movement,” writer Tom Mach told me when we spoke on the phone recently.
I told him straight out: “I know how you feel.” We discussed the shared experience of people’s eyes glazing over when we insist on talking about a subject dear to our hearts –the suffrage movement. “It’s a busy world and people have more important things to talk about,” Tom continued. “Like 2012 being the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, and 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. But 2012 was also the 100th anniversary of the passage of Kansas suffrage, yet there was little public interest in that.
“It’s not that people don’t like history,” he said. “Apparently they prefer history when it’s combined with dead bodies, and there are plenty of corpses on battlefields and littering the bottom of rivers.”
What? No bodies in the woman suffrage movement? Nope. Unless you count Inez Milholland who died after collapsing on the campaign trail out West and several other comparable cases of dedication and sacrifice. Votes for Woman was a nonviolent successful social revolution which took 144 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to 1920 and the ratification of the 19th amendment. How dull. Tom said he heard the same thing over and over from people when he hit the road earlier this year to promote his novel, Angels at Sunset.
“VOTES FOR WOMEN IS NO BIG DEAL”: THE OPINION OF MASSES OF PEOPLE
“So what’s the big deal? Women couldn’t vote. They worked for the vote and got it. Case closed. Now, time to move on to something else.”
“But there’s nothing more interesting than the suffrage movement,” Tom insisted. Of course, there are those who might say Mach has a vested interest after having spent almost four years writing Angels at Sunset. The book highlights Kansas suffragists. Producing the novel, he says, captivated him from start to finish –from research to writing to promotion.
Tom reports contacting area newspapers and TV stations to get publicity when his book was hot off the press in February 2012. After all, he’d published other books on historical subjects such as the infamous Quantrill raid or the Lincoln assassination where people arrived in droves for book signings and to hear him speak. They didn’t hesitate to plunk money down on the table to purchase book copies. But still, there was very little interest from the public and local media about Votes for Women, how hard it was, and how long the movement took to reach the goal.
TOM HIT THE CEILING WHEN HE FOUND OUT KANSAS WASN’T PLANNING A CELEBRATION
“I became upset after finding out that the State of Kansas had no plans in the works to celebrate its suffrage centennial this year. The main character in my book, Jessica Radford, was spunky and obstinate. She wouldn’t give up. I’m the same kind of personality. When I hit a dead end, I pick myself up and keep going.”
So, Tom Mach smiled and dialed the phone and garnered the attention of key state decision makers. By March 2012, both houses of the Kansas state legislature passed resolutions launching the state’s suffrage centennial, and they named the celebration after his novel, Angels at Sunset. Not bad. Tom was invited to the Kansas House of Representatives for the honor and congratulated by the governor.
It’s still uphill. Requests to speak to women’s groups are trickling in, as well as increased interest associated with the upcoming presidential election where both political parties are soliciting support from women voters. Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona have suffrage centennials in 2012. The state of Oregon has a lively centennial celebration underway. Arizona’s suffrage centennial features events and a heritage history trail. I suspect that all three states face similar yawns and dismissals. It’s to be expected in a world where the Votes for Women movement either hasn’t been taught in school, or it was presented in a matter-of-fact, even superficial way.
TOM MACH BECAME HIS MAIN CHARACTER JESSICA WHEN WRITING THE NOVEL
What particularly interests me is the story of a writer on the topic of suffrage who has experienced the same lack of interest, rejection, apathy and more that was also faced by Votes for Women activists. Mach says he had to become his main character Jessica as he typed away, and this energized the same qualities in him. This suggests that he understood only too well the reactions of the grandmothers and great grandmothers and family members of years past when they faced discrimination and more because of gender.
Tom says he’s known about the suffrage movement since high school. He read a great deal, he said, but Votes for Women didn’t capture his interest back then like it has now. What was the turning point? At the end of a previous novel when his main character Jessica felt called to work for suffrage after a Votes for Women campaigner knocked on her door. Tom knew very little about the topic; he launched intensive research on the subject. There’s more, but I’ve run out of stream telling you the story.
Angels at Sunset has a press release, a video book trailer, a web site, long descriptions of the novel’s plot, and more. The work is available from the publishers, Hill Song Press, and book stores. I love how characters and the author himself are transformed. The work has some heady themes, not the least of which are compassion, persistence, and courage. Carry on, Tom. I’m ordering your book.