March is Women’s History Month
by Leigh Podgorski
March is Women’s History Month, and this month I would like to remember a very special young woman, someone who perhaps very few people might remember or have even heard of outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a young woman who was brutally and coldly hanged on the 30th of December in 1768 for the crime purportedly of murdering her child, but truthfully was so publicly punished, humiliated, and executed for the unspeakable crime of having sex out-of-wedlock. As per usual in that day, as per usual to this day in so-called “modern” Middle Eastern societies, the man who engaged with Ruth Blay, the father of the child, the other half of this equation, was never even publicly identified; to this day, he remains unknown.
I first discovered the story of Ruth Blay while I was in Portsmouth with my husband actor/director Dave Florek (Prince of Belle Aire, Grace Under Fire, Ghost Busters ll, Audi Ahab Spot, and most recently Grey’s Anatomy among countless other credits) who was playing Happy in a revival of Death of a Salesman starring Dan Frazier (Kojak) over 25 years ago. I was dumbfounded by what I read and knew it was something I would have to write about. Consequently, I wrote the play Act of Grace which was a contemporary metaphysical/mystery/suspense interwoven with the historical story of Ruth Blay. Act of Grace ,because of its inclusion of two elder characters the Shirley sisters Amalthea and Druscylla, was chosen to participate in the Professional Older Women’s Theatre festival at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York City.
Subsequently, I adapted Act of Grace to a screenplay. Interesting note: the play was an all-female cast; I wrote the screenplay accordingly. Pitching the screenplay, I was told an all-female screenplay, Thelma and Louise not-with-standing, would never sell. I needed to write in a “love interest” for my lead Beth Rutledge. I adapted. The screenplay went on to win several awards including the Women in Film and Video Screenwriting Competition.
Was it a better vehicle now that it contained a “love interest” for Beth Rutledge? It was different. Did I like it as much as the all-female version? Short answer– yes. Would I have liked to have written the modern American film version of the House of Bernarda Alba? Do you really need to ask that? Here is my question– Why is it that we can have X to the nth degree of all-male movies, perhaps with the one you-know-what female, yet we still cannot promote, encourage, make a film with an all-female cast?
Act of Grace had a huge fan in Cynde Harmon of Really Real films in Vancouver, but Canadian Development is tricky, and they couldn’t get the development money. The film was never made.
Recently, I adapted Act of Grace to the novel Gallows Ascending.
Applying some of the critique from the Women in Film and Video Award, I expanded the role of the love interest. I also changed his name and his identity from the rather flat character I had written in the film ( the source of the critique I had received) reviving it to the rounder, much more interesting lead character Luke Stone. Thus, I was able to incorporate GALLOWS ASCENDING into the Stone Quest series, incorporating as well the story of Ruth Blay.
Gallows Ascending will be offered as a Kindle free book this Sunday March 24th and Monday, March 25th. I hope the offer will attract many readers to download the book. Amazon prime members can download the Kindle book for free any time. After the free giveaway, the price for Gallows Ascending is only $2.99.
On December 30, 1768 an innocent young woman dressed in white was dragged through the streets of Portsmouth in a horse-drawn cart. Her shrieks filled the air. Some say a rude wooden coffin sat beside her. She was taken to the Old South Cemetery where on a rise facing the sea a gallows had been constructed. She was scheduled to be hanged at noon, but the Sheriff, Sheriff Thomas Packer, was cold and he was hungry, and so he gave the order, and Ruth Blay was marched up the gallows stairs two hours before her time. And even as the noose was placed around her neck, a messenger from Governor Wentworth’s office was riding to the cemetery with a reprieve. But the messenger could not make it through the throngs that had gathered to watch the public spectacle. And so Ruth Blay flew screaming to her fate.
In memory of Ruth Blay– rest in peace, my sister.
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Genre – Metaphysical / Mystery
Rating – PG
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