Photo courtesy of jshuimages.com — Medlock. Photo courtesy of jshuimages.com — Medlock has been writing her novel since 1980. She only recently published it after wanting to share her legacy.

South Whidbey writer pens story on feminism, misogyny

In 1980, Clinton resident Ann Medlock started writing stories based on her real life experiences for her Tuesday night writers’ group.

What she ended up with was umpteen stories about her brushes with misogyny and discrimination in the New York writing and publishing industry. Nearly 40 years later, she had enough to publish a book.

“I was just fooling around, and I didn’t know if I would ever let anybody see the stories,” Medlock said. “But, I’m 84 and I wanted to share part of my legacy. I just didn’t want to write a memoir, so I wrote a fictionalized reality.”

“This book is me,” Medlock said. “It’s a roman à clef, a novel about real people and things with fake names.”

Her first book, “Outing the Mermaid: A Novel of Love, Fear & Misogyny,” will be released on June 21. Medlock, who started Giraffe Heroes Project, which writes about unknown heroes, considers the novel her magnum opus. It pulls directly from her life in the late 1960s and 1970s when second wave feminism was in full swing, alongside the Civil Rights Movement. Medlock tells her story through a fictional character, Lee Palmer, who ponders a “huge decision,” before deciding whether to make it or not. The story weaves through the process of coming to that seminal moment, covering the struggles, prejudice and revelations Palmer faces throughout.

According to Medlock, the overarching story is about a woman who aims to find her voice after realizing she has been programmed to be someone else’s companion rather than an independent person. That storyline has impacted early readers who can relate to the protagonist.

“I know of at least two divorces that have come from this book,” Medlock said with a chuckle. “That’s true though. Some people are in bad situations, and they don’t know how to get out. I think this book could help those readers be conscious of that.”

The title has everything to do with the theme of overcoming a life unfulfilled and becoming an independent woman. It references “The Little Mermaid,” which follows the narrative of a woman who gives everything to a man, rather than herself.

“The core thing that’s given away by the title is the ‘Little Mermaid’ story that’s embedded in the main character’s life and she doesn’t even know it,” Medlock said. “I’m talking about the Hans Christian Andersen story, not the Disney version, where the character gives up her voice, her family and the sea all for a man. It doesn’t work out because she can’t tell him what she is or why she’s there, and going against this is how I’m outing the mermaid.”

Until recently, Medlock says younger women who have read passages and listened to her experiences didn’t believe what happened in the book could occur in real life. The younger feminists she spoke with often have the impression things are undoubtedly better for women than they were more than 30 years ago, Medlock said. The aspect of women being told what to do and who to be, she said, often seems distant to them.

For some, the level of discrimination still seems distant from the current atmosphere.

Bonnie Stinson, Medlock’s 27-year-old assistant, said, “This book is required reading for people of my generation who grew up with the Internet and did not experience the particular brand of misogyny of the 1960s and 1970s.”

“We may have watched an episode of ‘Mad Men,’ but we can only imagine the cultural and psychological oppression that women confronted.”

Medlock hopes to open a dialogue with female readers. She’s offering an open invitation to those who would like to discuss the book, her experiences and the readers’ personal situations. Medlock has video chatted with book groups, and hopes to continue doing so.

The goal, she says, it to encourage women to carefully examine their lives and how they’re living them. Part of that process is to promote conversation between the older and younger generations of feminists, she says, which would enable the younger generation to learn from the past and unite their causes.

Ultimately, she hopes to make her readers cognizant of their situations, and give those in bad situations the courage to make a change.

“When people tell you they were moved and started to make changes in their lives, it’s just delightful,” Medlock said. “That connection makes all the work that went into the book worth it.”

Medlock is hosting a launch party at 6 p.m. on June 21 for the release of “Outing the Mermaid” at Moonraker Books in Langley. Medlock will be available to discuss the book, its themes and content with those in attendance. She is also hosting a virtual launch party on June 20 via a live stream on her Facebook page, where she will start a dialogue about the book and its feminist themes with early readers.