Laila Ibrahim, author of Golden Poppies and Yellow Crocus, is known for writing stories about love’s ability to transcend human-made systems of oppression and in her recently published SCARLET CARNATION she writes a novel about motherhood, acceptance, perseverance, and the indescribable love that exists between family members. Here’s Laila talking about some of the research she did for Scarlet Carnation.
For researching Scarlet Carnation I relied heavily on newspaper accounts from that time period—newspapers.com is my best friend! I read the front page of the Oakland Tribune month after month between 1915 and 1918 to form the arc of my story based on what was being reported in Oakland. I knew my main characters would be in the Bay Area and that they would be descendents of the main characters from Yellow Crocus.
Articles and books about that time period are helpful, but they have a fuller understanding of those events than what my characters would know at the time. My publisher is kind enough to let me put in a bibliography and resources so readers can look at my original sources if they want.
There are ‘intentional’ errors in the novel, but they come directly from the newspaper. It was the best knowledge of the moment. Only in retrospect can we more fully understand the arc of the 1918 flu pandemic or the European war.
As I researched this novel in the fall of 2019, I was struck by an image of masked revelers on Market Street in San Francisco celebrating Armistices Day—the end of World War 1. Before doing that research I hadn’t put together that the flu pandemic and Armistice overlapped in the Bay Area. I’d seen celebratory pictures of that day but they were not wearing masks. Once I saw that image I knew I wanted to end my novel with that scene.
Months later, I was living in the midst of a pandemic while writing about one. Many of the issues we grappled with around COVID were identical to the ones in the paper in 1918: vaccines, masks, social distancing. The tension and balance between the value of personal freedom and the value of collective care doesn’t have a simple answer.
With this novel I had to be on high alert to guard against using terms from now that would not have been used then. The most obvious example is using World War 1. It is so automatic for me, but of course it wasn’t called that until later.
Just as facts and timelines can be better understood with the distance of time, so can we see naïveté or prejudice in motivations. Researching the intersection between the birth control movement, eugenics and public health was fascinating and morally complex. My read is that Margaret Sanger wanted to give women safe choices. I don’t believe her primary motivation was to create ’superior people.’ The eugenicist wanted to limit reproduction for some kinds of women, but not others. Public health people wanted to increase the number of healthy births. There is an intersection where all of them agree, though the motivations for their shared goal are extremely different. It reminds me that there are always unexpected or unintended consequences from our choices.
Scarlet Carnation by Laila Ibrahim ~~ In an early twentieth-century America roiling with racial injustice, class divides, and WWI, two women fight for their dreams in a galvanizing novel by the bestselling author of Golden Poppies.
May and Naomi are extended family, their grandmothers’ lives inseparably entwined on a Virginia plantation in the volatile time leading up to the Civil War. For both women, the twentieth century promises social transformation and equal opportunity.
May, a young white woman, is on the brink of achieving the independent life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Naomi, a nurse, mother, and leader of the NAACP, has fulfilled her own dearest desire: buying a home for her family. But they both are about to learn that dreams can be destroyed in an instant. May’s future is upended, and she is forced to rely once again on her mother. Meanwhile, the white-majority neighborhood into which Naomi has moved is organizing against her while her sons are away fighting for their country.
In the tumult of a changing nation, these two women―whose grandmothers survived the Civil War―support each other’s quest for liberation and dignity. Both find the strength to confront injustice and the faith to thrive on their chosen paths.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.