In Honor of All Saints! Discovering a New Voice at Midlife

Feathers and Trumpets

A post by writer Joyce Ray, posted especially in honor of All Saints Day:

As women in midlife, we’ve all found our voice, haven’t we?

Or do we have different voices at various stages of our lives?

In the 1980s, Carol Gilligan’s well-known research on girls’ development (In a Different Voice) showed us that many girls, while vocal in early life, undergo more than physical changes during puberty.

Socially, they learn to quiet their voices.

For some, it’s a long journey back to asserting them.

The protagonist of my forthcoming early YA historical novel, Hildegard of Bingen, was the 12th century’s strongest female voice.

Most women had no voice at all back then. But Hildegard risked heresy at age 42 to talk about visions that had troubled her since childhood.

Since 2012, she’s become a saint and a Doctor of the Church.  Not bad for a quiet girl.

In my twenties, I began to develop my teacher voice, soon to be followed by a mother’s voice, maybe not that much different.

In my fifties, my mentors and colleagues at the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults Program teased out and encouraged my writing voice.

I was floundering in the world of picture book manuscripts, meaning I wasn’t having much success.

Then Hildegard rescued me and tapped me to write her story.

I was struck by this mid-life voice discovery that we shared. In addition to her theological works, Hildegard went on to write medical and scientific books, a morality play, and song lyrics and even preach public sermons!

I am not so prolific and even struggled with my developing voice.

At first, I kept close to the historical facts, not wanting to stray from the “truth” as my sources told it, which is what a biographer does.

When I wrote fictional scenes to discover my character on a personal level, I found myself transitioning from well-researched non-fiction to fiction.

However, it was a challenge for me to let go of the facts and imagine Hildegard at different stages of her feminine and religious journey. I had to trust that the research I had done would be the scaffold that supported my story.

It takes time to develop one’s voice, sometimes half a lifetime.

Once Hildegard felt free to write, she wrote a whole lot about women’s sexuality. A competent herbalist, she made it her business to know how to help women at every stage of their lives.

Read more about Hildegard on this site,


Read more about Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, coming in March from Apprentice Shop Books at


Joyce Ray is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her forthcoming early YA novel, Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen (Apprentice Shop Books, spring, 2014), is an intriguing look at this dynamic woman of the Middle Ages. Joyce is co-author, with Andrea Murphy and other contributors, of a new title in the America’s Notable Women Series – Women of the Pine Tree State, 25 Maine Women You Should Know. The following series’ titles also contain short biographies written by Joyce: Women of the Golden State, Women of the Empire State and Women of the Prairie State.

Joyce lives in Maine and New Hampshire, contributes to Poetry Friday and reviews books on her blog Musings at

Aging, Menopause

Mirror, Mirror! Louise Hawes on Writing and Aging, Plus a Free Novel Giveaway

Black Pearls

A post by writer Louise Hawes:

When you’re a working writer/teacher, you have more occasion than some to mark the passage of time—in your own face!

With each new book launch , conference gig, or writing workshop I commit to, there is always the request for a bio and “recent photo.” Ackkkk!

While I sometimes wish I could send out an airbrushed, retouched, ageless portrait, if I did it’s unlikely anyone at the event to follow would recognize me!

Botox? I’ll pass.

Face lift and tummy tucks? My body and I came to a mutual agreement years ago: we’re in this for the duration, and we’re in it together.

Hair color? Now that menopause has ended regular visits from my “friend,” I’ve decided to spare myself that other monthly pain as well. If I never inhale peroxide again, or wrestle with plastic gloves, or wonder if I put in so much toner my hair will turn purple, well, as the ad says, I’m worth it!

Snow White’s evil stepmother worried a lot about her image.

But it seems to me, her mistake wasn’t putting in all that mirror time; it was the way she looked at herself.

For Queenie, it was all about comparisons: who’s the fairest?

In other words, how do I stack up against my younger self, my daughter, the models in magazines, other women my age, how I looked yesterday, the women I pass on the street?

If you play that game, you’re bound to lose.

But what if looking in the mirror was a win-win?

What if each time you checked your reflection, you laughed out loud? Or cheered? Or clapped? Or cried.

That’s what I do, and it’s not because I’m early onset, either. Thanks to my sister, who’s a painter and teacher, I’m learning to come to the image in my mirror with fresh eyes and an open heart:

When her students start critiquing their work instead of responding to it, Helen asks her students to take a fresh look, to study it as if they’re seeing it for the first time.

“Close your eyes,” she tells them, “scrunch them tight, then open them and see your whole painting at once. Don’t focus on just one part, and don’t worry if some detail is right or wrong. Listen, instead, to what this brand new experience is telling you.”

That’s how I try to look in the mirror now—with my eyes, not my head.

I don’t zero in on the fact that one side of my mouth turns down further than the other, or on that tiny age spot shaped like Bolivia on my right cheek.

Each morning, I introduce myself to me, the me who’s here NOW, not in the past or the future.

I don’t fault find or take out my mental airbrush.

Instead, I smile and say hello. When we look at each other with that unconditional friendliness, my reflection and I?

Mostly, we like what we see.

And hey, if not, there’s always the sign I’ve taped to the glass: “At least, I still have my teeth!”

*  *  *

Speaking of Snow White (writers are sooo good at segues, aren’t we?!), I hope the winner of this book drawing enjoys dark fairy tales.

Black Pearls features all the old favorites, told from angles you’d never dream of!

Booklist called it, “Twisted, clever, and artfully written.” Named to the Hall of Fame of and chosen as a Best Book of the Year by the Austin-American Statesman, this collection was written for both adult and YA readers.

You can watch the trailer here:

Giveaway! To enter the giveaway for a copy of Black Pearls, post a comment by May 6 saying you’d like to win. Winner will be chosen at random.


Louise Hawes is a founding faculty member of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College. Her short fictionhas appeared in anthologies and journals in the US and Canada, and is collected in Anteaters Don’t Dream, and Black Pearls, a Faerie Strand. Her novels for young adults include Rosey in the Present Tense, Waiting for Christopher and The Vanishing Point.

Louise has a grown son and daughter, as well as four grandchildren (not yet grown, but shooting up fast!) She lives in North Carolina and travels frequently, often to give Four Sisters Playshops with Helen (mentioned above) and her three other sisters. These creative retreats explore film, music, writing, and painting, and have been held all over the world.

For more information on the Sisters retreats and a look at Louise’s books and lectures on writing, please visit

Photo of Louise:  The un-retouched, all-natural photo above was taken by writer and photographer Mamie Potter.

The Cover of Black Pearls was created by Rebecca Guay.