Sarah discusses her debut novel The Wrong Kind of Woman, writing about women’s issues in the 1970s, how her story resonates in today’s world, incorporating the music and television of the era into her research, and more.
Sarah discusses her debut novel The Wrong Kind of Woman, writing about women’s issues in the 1970s, how her story resonates in today’s world, incorporating the music and television of the era into her research, how long it took for certain college to admit women, finding just the right title for her book, and much more.
The Wrong Kind of Woman can be purchased at Murder by the Book.
Sarah’s 2 recommended reads are:
Other books mentioned are A Good Family by A.H. Kim, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins, and Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation by Nancy Weiss Malkiel
book, women, read, cover, talking, late 60s, Dartmouth College, Virginia, thought, listening, title, writing, people, interviewed, starting, fun, woman, 70s
Cindy Burnett, Sarah McCraw Crow
Cindy Burnett 00:07
This is the Thoughts from a Page Podcast where interview authors about their latest works. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books. If you have any comments or feedback for me, feel free to contact me through my website thoughtsfromapage,com. You can also check out the new book holiday gift list that I recently posted on the blog section of my site if you are in need of a present for someone. Today I am interviewing Sarah McCraw Crow about her new book The Wrong Kind of Woman. Sarah grew up in Virginia but has lived most of her adult life in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has run in Crab Orchard Review, Good Housekeeping, So to Speak, and the Stanford Alumni Magazine. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Stanford University and Vermont College of Fine Arts where she got an MFA degree. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably gardening or snowshoeing. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoy the show. Welcome, Sarah. How are you today?
Sarah McCraw Crow 01:04
I'm great. Thanks so much for having me.
Cindy Burnett 01:06
Oh, I'm so glad you're here. Well, why don't we start out with talking a little bit about The Wrong Kind of Woman?
Sarah McCraw Crow 01:13
So The Wrong Kind of Woman is about three people, Virginia, her daughter Rebecca, and college student Sam, and all three of them are grappling with the death of the same person. But I would say that at the heart of my story is Virginia, and her husband, Oliver has suddenly died. And Oliver was a history professor at the all-male Clarendon College in New Hampshire. And because we're in 1970, there's the backdrop of the Vietnam War, students strikes and protests, more radical actions further away. And then the Women's Movement becoming more prominent. And Virginia slowly starts to become friends with four women that her husband really didn't like. And these are the four sole women faculty on campus. And Virginia finds purpose in trying to bring the Women's Movement to their very traditional campus and their small town. And I would also say that Rebecca and Sam have pretty different trajectories from Virginia. But they both find themselves in danger at a certain point, for different reasons.
Cindy Burnett 02:21
Well, how did you decide to write about this subject matter?
Sarah McCraw Crow 02:24
Well, it came from a couple of different impulses. I mean, first, I would say I was just writing pages about this couple, about Virginia and Oliver. The other impulses that kind of led me to this story were my long-term interest in the women of my mom's generation and a little older, women who are now would be in their 80s and 90s. And I wondered what their lives were like when they were young, and how they managed the choices that were in and were not available to them, like jobs and careers. Like if you were young, in the 50s, and through a big chunk of the 60s too, the culturally acceptable jobs for women were pretty limited to jobs like nursing and teaching and being a secretary. And also the idea of combining a career and family was frowned upon. So that was one impulse. And the other is I have this interest in colleges like Dartmouth College, where I went before it was co-ed. And I mean, obviously it was co-ed when I was there in the late 80s, but it didn't go co-ed and was very firmly and stubbornly all male until 1970. So that was true for most of the Ivy League, and most of the other selective colleges in the East. They didn't admit women, and they admitted very few minorities until the late 60s and early 70s.
Cindy Burnett 03:46
Have you read Yale Needs Women?
Sarah McCraw Crow 03:48
I have read an excerpt of Yale Needs Women, but not the whole book.
Cindy Burnett 03:52
Because it talks a lot about that. I mean, obviously, Yale is the focus, but it goes ahead and talks about most of the other Ivy Leagues, I guess, particularly Harvard, and Princeton, but it does mention all of them, and just talking about how long it took for most of them to admit women and minorities, too. But the focus is mainly women.
Sarah McCraw Crow 04:09
Yeah, there's another book that's good on that same subject called Keep the Damn Women Out. And that was kind of the attitude for such a long time.
Cindy Burnett 04:18
Yes. And it's interesting that that was such an issue. And for so long, I guess, doesn't seem like that should have been happening in almost our lifetimes. But it was, and that's just it's sort of hard to imagine.
Sarah McCraw Crow 04:29
Well, it really is. I mean, we think of 1970, on the one hand, it doesn't seem like that long ago. And on the other hand, it was. I mean, the late 60s, even if you think of let's say you're a young person, starting college, if you're a young woman starting college in 1968, you would have gone in to a college with house mothers, dorm mothers, no boys allowed, and by the time you graduated, everything would have been different. So there was like this sudden sea change after that point, and I think the, Vietnam had the Vietnam War had a ton to do with it. All the protests and people starting to see things differently.
Cindy Burnett 05:07
I think that's right. And I think we're going through a similar period, not similar in terms of the social changes, but a similar time, in terms of things are going to be radically different, I think, when we come out on the other side of some of these things.
Sarah McCraw Crow 05:20
Yes. And I think, I think that's really true. And also, sort of resonance between these two times, at least for me the way all of the protests that happened in the late 60s, and then all the protests of the last four years. And then thinking about after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, this is a little tangential to what you're talking about, but just thinking about how much has changed and the rights that we have gotten as women, the possibility that some of them may be taken away. It's kind of scary.
Cindy Burnett 05:50
It's very scary, and I have two teenage girls. And so I just really think about it in terms of them. And think we cannot take back some of the progress we've made. It's just, it is a little frightening.
Sarah McCraw Crow 06:03
When I started to write this book, that's not really what was on my mind. I was just writing about these people who were all struggling, and the larger issue sort of crept in. And then it became weirdly resonant when the book came out at 2020, 1970. And you never know how things are going to work out when you're working on something, when you're writing something. And it's going to get published possibly many years later. But it is funny how things kind of have become a lot more resonant than I ever would have expected.
Cindy Burnett 06:35
Most definitely seems incredibly relevant for the time that we are going through now. Well, what kind of research did you have to do?
Sarah McCraw Crow 06:42
So I did a fair amount of research. And I actually researched as I went along. I wrote and then I researched and then I wrote some more. And then I researched as questions came up. And I did quite a bit of reading of different kinds of books. The book that I mentioned before, Keep the Damned Women Out was a big help. And some memoirs, of wives of college presidents and things like that. And I read a lot of old newspaper articles and magazine articles and looked at photos from Dartmouth College's archives, and talked to people. I interviewed, let's see, I interviewed women who went to like Seven Sisters Colleges in the East, and I interviewed a couple of female exchange students from Dartmouth College. So I got like a sort of a weird array of sources. And I guess one other thing that doesn't quite count as research was music. I listened to a lot of music from just sort of late 50s onward, just to kind of get that texture a little bit be thinking of what they would be listening to, watching on TV and movies and bestsellers and things like that.
Cindy Burnett 07:54
Oh, that's so interesting. I don't know that I've ever had anybody mentioned that they've included that as part of their research. But I think it's so relevant, especially the music and the TV, because the music was very political at times. And there was definitely you know, not not the late 50s. But as you got into the late 60s, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and some of the other groups that really incorporate a lot of politics into their songs,
Sarah McCraw Crow 08:17
For sure. I mean, I think music took on a whole new meaning in the late 60s and into the early 70s. And also, if you're on a college campus, around that time, there's always going to be music coming out of dorm windows and maybe coming out of the frats. And that's also a time of life when you're in college, or that's, pop music, or rock music is probably going to be pretty important to you.
Cindy Burnett 08:40
That's my favorite era of music. I still listen to it, probably the most of anything that I listen to. There were just so many great songs and so many great groups.
Sarah McCraw Crow 08:49
Yeah, I listen to it too. And it was really fun to spend more time listening to it and learning more about the different bands and so forth. I mean I thought I knew quite a bit about the 60s and early 70s and the music, but it was really fun to kind of do a deep dive and learn a lot more about them.
Cindy Burnett 09:06
I have found between Spotify and Sirius XM, that I have learned so much more about some of the songs from that era than I ever knew. I thought, I was the same way I thought I knew a lot about it. And I do know a decent amount. But I always feel like I still am learning all these different tidbits that I didn't know from people talking about it or the excerpts on Spotify. It's fun to learn more about that era.
Sarah McCraw Crow 09:29
Cindy Burnett 09:30
Well, what do you hope readers take away from this book?
Sarah McCraw Crow 09:33
Well, a couple of things. One thing I would hope they would take away from it is that they've felt like they've read a story with characters who have all sort of come of age in different ways and have gone through some difficult times and come out on the other end, if not at an exactly happy ending then at a more hopeful place. So that's sort of the story aspect of what I would hope. And then on a more I don't know if it's more thematic or philosophical level, I hope that people will think about, on the one hand, how far women have come, how different things are now than they were in 1970. When you couldn't, if you're a woman, you couldn't get a credit card in your own name without a husband or dad signature. Never mind a mortgage, but to remember that and to keep to keep that in mind, and it wasn't really that long ago that things were pretty limited for women.
Cindy Burnett 10:30
I like that. Because I do think we tend to think, well, things haven't changed at all. But when you when you put it that way you think about some of those things, things have come a very long way.
Sarah McCraw Crow 10:40
Yes. And that's, and that's all good. And we are hopefully moving forward little by little continuing to keep doing that.
Cindy Burnett 10:48
I guess, sometimes you just want it all to happen at once, and nothing ever does. So you just have to kind of remember one thing at a time, and then slowly, we'll get there.
Sarah McCraw Crow 10:56
Cindy Burnett 10:58
Did you have a favorite character to write?
Sarah McCraw Crow 11:00
Oh, you know, that's, it's That's a hard question for me, because I would say Virginia is probably the character who's closest to my heart, because I spent the most time with her. And also, I really relate to her second guessing and lack of self confidence and that kind of thing. Honestly, I think I had the most fun writing Sam. And I really could have written many more pages in his perspective. And that's kind of strange for me, because when I read books that like, let's say, a man has written in a woman's perspective, I usually feel like he didn't really quite get it. And it's the rare book that I think that let's say a man has gotten the woman just right. So I don't know why I thought I could do it. But I really loved writing his pages.
Cindy Burnett 11:45
Oh, that's interesting. I guess I'm sort of split. There are times when I read a man writing a woman and I'm like, Oh, my gosh, that is not how someone would talk. But then there are plenty of times where I feel like, okay, that's a great attempt, or that worked out very well, and I think that character is very solid. I think it's probably split for me.
Sarah McCraw Crow 12:02
Yeah, well, it right? Of course, it depends. And the ones that I remember, I'm sure are the ones where I thought yeah, he didn't quite get that.
Cindy Burnett 12:11
Especially when it's really bad. Let's stick out and I will forever remember them. Well, tell me about the title. How did you come up with the title to this book?
Sarah McCraw Crow 12:18
Oh, so the title, the title went through many, many iterations. And I know this is actually really common, you know, people have a working title. And then it changes and changes again. When I was first turning this into my agent, it was called Westfield for the name of the town, the fictional town where it set. And pretty quickly, my agent said, that's not going to work. And we both brainstormed a whole bunch of other titles with words like woman and Clarendon. And year, and I think we settled on The Year of the Woman. And that's what it went out on submission with. And then after the book sold, the first thing my editor said was, the title needs to change. People here don't like it, so back to the drawing board. And then the funny thing was one day she, so I had sent in all these lists, and we were supposed to have like a meeting or something. But she emailed me and said, everybody loves your title, this is going to be great. And it was the title that it is now. And it was The Wrong Kind of Woman. And that was not my title. I mean, I had all of those words in that there was wrong this and woman that and somebody at Mira had come up with that title. And I really like it. I like that it raises questions. And like who is the wrong kind of woman? And so who is the right kind of woman? But yeah, so that was kind of a weird little journey for the title.
Cindy Burnett 13:41
I have to say I like The Wrong Kind of Woman better than The Year of the Woman because that sounds like a self help title to me.
Sarah McCraw Crow 13:48
It does. And it also it sounds sort of triumphant or something. And in that and that way, it would have been sort of an ironic title. So I think The Wrong Kind of Woman works much better.
Cindy Burnett 14:00
It's funny how those things get to where they're supposed to be. It's sometimes just takes a little while.
Sarah McCraw Crow 14:04
Cindy Burnett 14:06
Well, how about the cover? How did that all come about?
Sarah McCraw Crow 14:09
So the cover also had a previous iteration. When we first started talking about the cover, my editor asked me if I had any ideas, and I said, I really liked, I named a bunch of covers, but the two that sort of stood out for me were The Nixby Nathan Hill and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, because the graphics are the main part of the art. And she said that's what their art department was thinking to. So that was very nice. And they created a cover that looks a lot like the cover now with the same collegiate image on the bottom and the young woman. But the lettering, the typography was very different. It almost looked like it could have been a 70s magazine cover actually. And so that was the cover for a little bit and then at some point, my editor emailed and said, actually some of the salespeople don't love the cover. So we're gonna do something a little different. And they came back with what it is now. And I'm not a very visual person. So I haven't had any objections to the previous cover. But I like the current one so much better. It's a little hard to say exactly what the distinction is. But the lettering now looks retro, but not actually from the 70s.
Cindy Burnett 15:23
I'm that way a lot on covers and other graphic things. Because I can't say what I want. Like if I'm looking for like, when I was doing my logo for the podcast, I couldn't say, Okay, this is exactly what I want. But I can tell you what I don't want. And so then I kind of work my way there until, you know, get there. So I understand what you're saying. It wasn't that you were like, okay, it should look this way. But it was more like, Okay, this new one looks a lot better.
Sarah McCraw Crow 15:47
Yes. And I really like how it's, there's a, I don't know if you've looked at the cover closely, but there's like a color fade in the words. So it shades from kind of a pink to orange. And it's kind of subtly sparkly. And it turned out to be a really pretty cover.
Cindy Burnett 16:05
I'm gonna have to go look closer at it. I'm not sure I'd paid close attention. But that also definitely sounds like the 70s, too.
Sarah McCraw Crow 16:12
It definitely does. But it doesn't shout the 70s. Like, if you just looked at it really quickly, you wouldn't say oh, that's definitely the 70s. But once you start to look at it, it takes on a more retro feel.
Cindy Burnett 16:23
I agree, because I had to look up what it was about when you and I were first talking about it. And so I definitely agree. I don't see it and think absolute 70s. But once you read the subject matter and the blurb for the book, I'm like, okay, that cover fits that perfectly.
Sarah McCraw Crow 16:35
Yeah, yeah, I think it does.
Cindy Burnett 16:38
Well, are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?
Sarah McCraw Crow 16:41
So yes, I am working on something that set in the early 80s. And it is pretty much just a big mush of pages at this point. But I do have one character so far, who's very afraid of nuclear war and is making her family crazy. So I have a long way to go. But I'm enjoying being in the early 80s. For, for the moment. It's a lot of fun.
Cindy Burnett 17:04
It is a lot of fun and talk about the music. That'll be fun, too. I love the 80s.
Sarah McCraw Crow 17:09
Yeah, me too. That's more of my sort of teenage time. And so it's fun to travel back in time that way.
Cindy Burnett 17:15
I bet. Well, before we wrap up, why don't you tell me what you've read recently that you really liked?
Sarah McCraw Crow 17:20
Okay, so Well, first, I would just like to give a little plug for all our amazing 2020 debut authors. And I know you've interviewed a bunch of them this year. And there are just so many great books out right now. And I'm listening to A. H. Kim's A Good Family. So there's just many, many more than I could ever mentioned. I would say two books that have really lifted my spirits recently are, let's see, one is called Miss Benson's Beetle by Marjorie Benson. Have you read that one?
Cindy Burnett 17:54
Sarah McCraw Crow 17:55
And I just thought it was just comic and had some similarities to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It handled the dark and the light really well, the dark moments, just I thought it was a wonderful mixture of both. And I love the sort of post-war London setting and then the sort of Technicolor New Caledonia. So that was one, and another one has not come out yet. It is called Faye, Faraway. And it's sort of a guess it's like a gentle time travel story. And I think that one is a debut novel. And I think that's coming out in January. It's I think it probably already came out in the UK. And it's coming out in the U.S. next month.
Cindy Burnett 18:40
That's the one where she goes and like time travels back to see her mom. Is that that one?
Sarah McCraw Crow 18:44
Cindy Burnett 18:45
I want to read that. Yeah, I keep hearing about it. But I haven't read it yet. I have it from NetGalley. So I need to start it. But I keep seeing it everywhere.
Sarah McCraw Crow 18:54
Well, it's very sweet and gentle. And her style is, I can't really compare it to anything. It's very sort of like as if she's talking to the reader the whole time. So it's, it's its own little thing. But it's good.
Cindy Burnett 19:08
Good. Well, I have to pick it back up. I have to say that debut group has been one of my favorite things about starting the podcast. I didn't even really know there was such a thing, you know, as a debut group. And I've had so much fun being kind of passed on from debut author to debut author to learn about different books and I have just found so many great reads and great people that way. I've loved it.
Sarah McCraw Crow 19:31
Oh, that's so nice. Well, it's been a really active group and super supportive of each other. And, of course, a real mix of books and mix of backgrounds and mix of ages. And that's all been really fun. And I'm a little sad because I joined it pretty late. I was in finishing up grad school last spring, so I just kind of had my head down. It was trying to finish that and got started on my own book stuff just a little bit on the late side. But it is a really great group.
Cindy Burnett 19:59
Yes, I've already asked somebody to connect me up with the 2021 debut group because I was like, Okay, this has worked so well. And I met so many great people and learned about so many books I wasn't aware of. So I was like, Okay, I gotta do the same for 2021.
Sarah McCraw Crow 20:11
Yeah. And I'm sure they're super strong group as well.
Cindy Burnett 20:14
It seems to be, so far, so good. So well, thank you so much, Sarah, for taking your time to come on the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, and I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Sarah McCraw Crow 20:24
Oh, thank you, Cindy. Thank you so much for doing this and all your support of books and authors and for including me. It was really great. Thanks a lot.
Cindy Burnett 20:34
Absolutely. Thank you so much for listening to my podcast if you like this episode, and I hope you did. Please follow me on Instagram and Pinterest at @thoughtsfromapage, tell all of your friends about the podcast and rate it wherever you listen to your podcasts. Sarah's book can be purchased at Murder by the Book where I work part time, and the link is in the show notes. Thanks to K.P. Regan for the sound editing, and I hope to see you next time.