Inspiration for my historical novel A White Room


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I first thought about writing a book in the post-Victorian/Industrial Revolution (1900 through 1910) time period while in college. We briefly learned about housewives who were so bored during the Industrial Revolution, as all their responsibilities were taken over by technology like the washing machine. The New Woman was also emerging, and many women felt lost in the traditional Victorian expectations of women and the new rising independence and strength of the new woman who worked, lived on her own, socialized without a chaperone, etc. Suddenly, there was an influx of women with anxiety, depression or just going crazy. Remember when you learned about hysteria and read The Yellow Wallpaper in high school or college? Psychology was also a semi new medical field and on the rise so diagnosing various problems as
psychological became popular around this time.

This was the first time the thought of a crazy housewife came to mind, but I found the time period intriguing as well because even as a history student, I couldn’t think of a visual image of period clothing. People can't think, oh yeah that's what they used to wear, which they can say about the 1920s or 1950s. I don't know why that grabbed my interest but it did. Nevertheless, at the time, the idea was fleeting, and I was preparing a science fiction story in my head.


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Meanwhile, I finished my last year in college, which was a gruesome period of stress and being overworked not only from school but from my inability to say no to any new project. At one point I got so stressed I had repetitive burn outs. I felt obligated to give everything I had in every direction, and I desired freedom from it all. I sometimes thought about how freeing it would be to live without any obligation whatsoever, but not only is such a thing unattainable it is unfeasible. There’s always an obligation even if it is just getting food and shelter.

When I graduated college and moved to a new state, I left behind everything I was connected to and overwhelmed with, and for the first time I had some freedom to just be, but that freedom was unbearable. I had this overwhelming desire to do something of meaning while simultaneously wanting to do nothing.

One day I was going over these thoughts while in my new one-man white box of a shower, and I released my feelings through a type of free-write in my head, which ultimately grew into the core idea for A White Room.

I imagined a white room that represented the obligation of life and inside there was a woman in a white flowing dress. Outside the room lay freedom but outside one does not fulfill the obligations of life that keep you alive. The tragic thing about this place is in the end the woman has to and always chooses obligation over liberation to maintain her life and the lives of people who rely on her. 
 However, she questions how much longer she can stand the prison before she is willing to sacrifice it all for those few moments of freedom. Thus was born the  idea of A White Room.

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It became a period piece because the woman I imagined in the room wore a historical dress. As I said before, I couldn't connect it with a specific time. When I looked at period clothing it resembled garments worn in 1914, think Titanic, but I ultimately chose to set the story in 1901 to ensure my character could be completely isolated. I did not want her to have access to phones, which were more common in 1914.

Initially, all I knew was the white room was going to drive her insane and through my research the story of her childhood and escape from insanity grew into Emeline Evans Dorr, the insane perfection-seeker who only wanted to be a nurse but sacrificed it all to serve her family but in the end finds freedom after all. The book is called A White Room instead of The White Room because anyone can have a white room of their own. Later the classic short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman would play a large role in the development of this inspiration.   

Amazon US ReviewCarroll does a superb job of pulling the reader in from the start. We feel as if we are Emma, her thoughts and actions and worries so pervasive to our own minds. Just as the house seeps in to our bones and we feel it closing around us as Emma does, as we feel the creepiness making the hair on our arms raise, just as we ourselves might go mad out of anger for Emma's life, a redeeming break happens. The light enters in and Emma shines. - Erin Al-Mehairi


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