A Historical Novelist’s Fascination with the Forties

Today my guest is Sylvia Dickey Smith, a historical novelist who is published by a traditional small press in Wisconsin. In this author essay, Sylvia reveals what it is that compels her to write about a particular time in American history.

U. S. residents may comment on this post by August 10 to be entered to win a signed paperback of Sylvia’s 2010 release, A War Of Her Own, which National Press Women of Texas named as their Award Winning Novel of 2011. Subscribe via Feedburner for extra points. You may want to comment on the time period that you like to read about and why you think you are drawn to material set during that period.


Sylvia Dickey Smith was born in Orange, Texas, and grew up in a colorful Scots-Irish family living in the midst of a Cajun culture. At 34, her curiosity about the world took on a whole new dimension when she moved to the Caribbean and began a journey of study and self-discovery.

Returning to the U.S. at 40, she started college and didn’t stop until she achieved a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in women’s studies and a master’s in counseling. For the next twenty years she worked in the field of human services and for a couple of those years, taught as an adjunct professor. Her writing career didn’t begin until after she retired.

An advocate for women, her writing features those who recreate themselves into the people they want to be, strong women who take charge of their lives and get things done.

Her next novel, due out near the end of this year, is The Swamp Whisperer, a humorous yet serious tale of balance and imbalance through the eyes of a nosy old swamp woman.


Sylvia Dickey Smith:

A War of Her Own came about as a result of my sense of a sacred trust—a compulsion as it were—given to me to tell the story of a significant time in history and the people and events surrounding it.

This historical novel is set in 1943, in Orange, Texas, a sleepy little town alongside the Sabine River. The impact this small town made on World War II defense, and the impact the same war made on its people, has always fascinated me.

A toddler during those years, I have only flashes of the time period. However, these memories blend in and become one with events that I do remember, along with the happenings of my childhood. My mother, a victim of the upheaval dividing marriages, moved us in with my grandmother and went to work at the shipyard to support herself and her three children. The daughter of a Pentecostal mother, it was unheard of for women to wear pants and walk the streets late at night, yet my mother did just that, as did many other women of the day.

In A War of Her Own, Bea Meade is just such a woman, battling both the external world at war, as well as her internal battle within.

My fascination with the era involves the social impact on a small town growing from 7,000 to 70,000 in less than three years. People still suffering from the backlash of the Great Depression flooded the town for jobs. The question then was, where do we live, what do we eat, and what do we buy? The abhorrent living conditions people subjected themselves and their families to—all for jobs, and to help their country at war was phenomenal. Hundreds of destroyers, destroyer escorts, landing craft and the like were produced in the local shipyards in record numbers by unskilled workers—many of them women going to work alongside men for the first time.

To me, that is significant—and we dare not forget. We dare not forget.

I can’t explain this sense of sacred trust that I feel. It is just there—this history, this accomplishment, and this time of coming-together to accomplish a cause greater than the sacrifice of each individual. To honor the contributions made by thousands, and to acknowledge the social revolution this effort made to change our world forever. I accepted this sacred trust to pay tribute to the people of this small town, replicated all across this country, by telling their story through the eyes of a young woman named Bea Meade.

Bea is the mother of an infant son, who finds her life shattered when her philander¬ing husband announces he is leaving her for another woman. To make ends meet, she takes a job at one of the shipyards as a riveter. Life is good for ’most everyone in Orange—except for Bea, who has to fight her battles against a no-good husband, the prejudice facing women in the workplace, and the mysteries of her past that keep her awake at night.

Visit the author at www.sylviadickeysmith.com.

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  1. This book sounds fascinating. I’d love to win a copy of it.

  2. Since my mother and mother-in-law were young women during this period in time, I think it’s interesting to read what careers or professions they held while in their 20’s – 30’s. I have been about the lowcountry so shipyards in this book caught my eye. Since I had no brothers growing up, my sisters and I always learned to stand up for ourselves.

  3. No need to enter me. Just wanted to say that I loved A War of Her Own! Ms. Smith is a talented, eloquent and gracious author.

  4. There are so many reasons I would love to win a copy of this! The fact that she loves to write about how women recreate themselves, the historical reference and research, the fact that is Texas-based another. I am working on a historical nonfiction based in South Texas, mainly San Antonio. I love reading about life in Texas in any time period! Thanks for this opportunity Stephanie!

  5. I recently finished my second reading of Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room. I first read it in 1977 and wanted to see what impact it would have on me now. I think A War of Her Own would be a good follow-up read to this book.

  6. This has been on my to-read list for a while. I’d love to win a copy!

  7. I’ve seen the images of Rosie the Riveter, but have not read personal stories of what that life was like. I’d love to read this book.

  8. I usually enjoy books set in the present time. But this one sounds fascinating. Thanks for the giveaway.

  9. I was hooked the moment I read the description for A War of Her Own on GoodReads.com. My parents married while my father was stationed in Jacksonville, FL in 1945. My earliest memories include my mom’s amazing 78 rpm record collection. Tthose songs were the first I danced to in my crib.

    I would love to win a copy of this book, but I WILL read it one way or the other 🙂

  10. This exceptional story would be memorable and special. I enjoy all books written about this era since it was so meaningful, important and had such an impact upon the next generations and decades. The era was profound and the books that deal with this period are always unforgettable.

  11. As a long-time journalist (and wanna-be published novelist) I am now struggling with whether to turn in my press pass and just find a better-paying job in PR, I have to say that being redirected here from Historical Novel Society feels a bit like an omen. It sounds like a wonderful book, combining many compelling elements – a woman not letting age or sexist prejudices stop her; a woman with ideals; the fascinating era of WWII, a war that was so unambiguous and right; and the Caribbean. Lovely.

  12. The Swamp Whisperer sounds wonderful too! I am a FeedBurner subscriber.

  13. If I don’t win this book I plan to buy it. Sylvia’s story sounds influenced by the same things that affected my own life because I was a pre-teen during the war and I remember all that she mentions. I’m dying to read it.

  14. Sounds like a compelling read!

  15. My mother was a teenager during the 1940s and spoke of those times, which sounded as complex as these times, although with different details. I appreciate any writer who adds to the stories. It wasn’t that long ago but it’s the more personal narratives, of course, that give the texture.

  16. enjoyed this posting very much…thanks for the chance to read this novel…

  17. I lived in Beaumont in the late forties, not long after the end of the war. I was born into the Bible-Belt-Southern culture. I love reading books about women who didn’t knuckle under to tradition. Strong women fascinate and inspire me. I enjoy reading books that incorporate history and culture in a well-told narrative. I will definitely read this book.

  18. This book sounds awesome! I love history in general & have immersed myself into the turn of the 20th century writing a story about a great-aunt who moved from the bayou to New Orleans during that period. Swamp Whisperer is right up my alley!

  19. This book sounds amazing and I’d love to win a copy of it. A few months ago, my literature class was discussing some historical issues relating to gender in the 1940’s and I thought that it’d be awesome to read a novel about a woman who was a riveter. I love historical fiction, especially about the 1930’s-1950’s because it seems like it was a time period with such a large amount of growth and learning and struggle for a lot of people. Anyway, out of all the novels I found on GoodReads about riveters, this one looked the best. It’s a plus that it’s set in the south too.

  20. I’ve read A War Of Her Own and recommend it highly. It is a well-written portrait of a woman who found the inner strength to survive when she desperately needed it, and a riveting time capsule of a period in our country’s history. The role women played during WWII should never be forgotten.

  21. I have known Sylvia Dickey Smith, the author of A War Of Her Own, since the mid-forties. We are so proud of her accomplishments as an outstanding author. I have lived in Orange since 1941, where my dad was a supervisor at the shipyard that Sylvia writes about in her book.

  22. As a fellow writer and friend, I would love to read Sylvia’s novel, A War of Her Own. Sylvia’s on-target critique skills have been instrumental in moving my own work to the publishable level, so I’m confident A War of Her Own will be an outstanding read!

  23. Sounds very good. Please enter me in contest.

  24. This story sounds interesting. I’d love to win a copy!

  25. I’ve known Sylvia a few years and know how dedicated she is to her writing. I watched her struggle with A War of Her Own, making sure the mechanical aspects of the history were absolutely correct. The shipyard was as she paints it. The POW camp existed. The gypsy camp, etc. Then, she worked to represent Bea as a woman of that era — one who grew up in downtrodden conditions, but when needed, found the strength to become the master of her own fate. As Earl Staggs said, it’s a “riveting” story. Guess I can add that she got all the “nuts and bolts” right. Read it. You’ll be richer for the experience.

  26. A War of Her Own is a fascinating book. Sylvia is a great writer. If you haven’t read A War of Her Own, I hope you win it.

  27. I edit and blog about historic voice. You’d be amazed at how often modern words and phrases sneak into the wrong time period–inventions like “countertops” that wouldn’t be found in an 1880 novel, for example. I’d like to win, too! I’d especially like to win a copy for my new Nook – is this available as an e-book? If I can hold this thought long enough, I’ll go check BN.com. LOL.

  28. This sounds fascinating! Well done, Sylvia! I know a great deal about the war in England, but very little about its effects in the States. I’d love to win a copy, if I’m eligible!

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