Friday, April 27, 2012

Author Karen Kondazian: Women Who Lived As Men

Reading can transform us into anything our imagination envisions. But what about becoming someone else just to survive? 

Author Karen Kondazian makes a stop here today on her WOW Blog Tour launching the release of THE WHIP, a historical fiction novel based on a true story. In her book, Karen takes readers on a trip back in time to the Wild West and a woman devastated by loss who hides from her pain by masquerading as a man (and she happens to kill a couple desperados while in disguise).

Here’s a brief synopsis of THE WHIP
Life can be tough! Imagine falling in love with a runaway slave and having his child. Or tracking a killer who destroyed your family. Living your life as a man, making your living as a stagecoach driver, or killing a famous outlaw. Any one of those things would qualify as a tough life but what if they ALL happened to you? They did to Charley Parkhurst and THE WHIP is the story of her incredible life in the Wild West of the 1860s. 

Karen joins us to talk about ‘the original Steel Magnolias: women who lived as men.’

KarenKBookCoverFor a myriad of reasons, many women throughout history have put on britches and lived their lives as men. Charley Parkhurst, (1812-1879) the main character of my novel, THE WHIP, was one of those free spirited women. 

That females have chosen to live as men is no surprise though, since women always, since time memorial, have confronted constraints and rules in how to behave and how to live their lives in their 'gentile cage'. Ninety-nine percent of the 'gentle sex' had two choices in which to live out their dreams: that of wife or prostitute, and on rare occasions, if they had some education, they could aspire to become a teacher, but always under a man. 

So for a few brave and extraordinary women who wanted to live their lives out loud, there was sometimes no other choice except to don men’s clothing in order to gain freedom and access to man’s privileges. Many of these courageous women are known, but most lived and died and were not famous, so their names are lost. But Loreta Velazquez and Hannah Snell are two women we do know of who made the same bold decision as Charley Parkhurst, but for different reasons.

Loreta J. Velazquez (a.k.a. Henry Buford)

image Though born in Cuba in 1842, Loreta Velazquez eventually made her way to New Orleans for schooling, where she learned English. There in Louisiana she fell in love and eventually eloped with a soldier known only as William, and at the outbreak of the American Civil War, joined the Confederate Army. When Velazquez wasn’t able to convince William to let her join him, she disguised herself under the name of Henry Buford and went to Arkansas. She recruited over 200 men in several days, and presented them to her husband to command.

Disguising herself as a man must have been liberating because she later moved on to Tennessee and fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until the Confederate Army surrendered. During this period, Velazquez became a lieutenant. At the battle of Shiloh, she fought the same battalion she’d raised in Arkansas but was wounded. When the doctor discovered that he was a she, she quickly left for New Orleans and gave up her uniform. Later, authorities would hire her as a spy (as a woman) and while traveling north, officials hired her once to search for herself!

Hannah Snell (a.k.a. James Grey)

Hannah Snell, born in 1723, would marry in 1744 and move to London. Two years later, she gave birth to her daughter. However, her daughter died and her husband later deserted her. Maybe as a way to cope with her grief, she assumed her brother-in-law’s name, James Grey, and, dressing in men's clothes began looking for her husband. 

In her search, she moved to Portsmouth and ended up joining the Marines. Her unit set sail on the ship Swallow, and sailed to Lisbon, Mauritius and eventually India.

Fighting in the battle of Devicotta in 1749, she was wounded several times in the legs as well as her groin. Somehow, she was able to treat her groin wound secretly and her sex was never revealed. 

Probably tired of keeping her sex a secret, when her unit returned to Britain, she revealed her true self to her shipmates. Snell would then petition the Duke of Cumberland for her pension, and sold her story to the publisher Robert Walker, who published her account in several different newspapers. 

She would be honorably discharged and the Royal Hospital officially recognized Snell’s military service, granting her a pension. At the end of it all, though, she eventually remarried and had two children, coming full circle to where she began.

Karen, thanks for sharing these stories with us. It’s fascinating to learn how these women survived (and thrived) as men.

Here’s a bit of background on Karen. Her life dream was to be a CIA spy…until she turned eight and she was invited to appear on Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. After several days of missing school to tape the show Karen realized that acting was indeed her true calling. 

Karen has an extensive list of both theatre andWOWblogExcellence television roles she’s played and also teaches at the Lee Strasberg School of Theatre and Film in Hollywood. Karen’s first foray into writing also stayed in the acting realm: The Actor’s Encyclopedia of Casting Directors. But now she’s branched out into historical fiction with a main character that any actress would love to play! 

For more on Karen and her writing, visit her website, check out her blog, find her on Facebook, or chat with her on Twitter at @thewhipnovel and on Twitter the hashtag is #WhipNovel.

Now here’s an intriguing book trailer where the author discusses THE WHIP with Peter Robinson.

Ladies, have you ever dressed up as a man? Men, what about you - anyone ever dressed as a woman? Thanks so much for stopping by today. It’s always fun learning more about history and the people who made it.


  1. Karen, thanks again for sharing this intriguing information with us. Wishing you continued success with your writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Karen.

    Karen - It is fascinating to think of how many women there were who felt they had no other choice but to dress as men in order to accomplish what they needed to accomplish. Thanks for sharing this little-known part of history, and I wish you much success with The Whip.

  3. Fascinating. Probably there were a lot more women who did this. Congrats on your book.

    Hi, Mason :)


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.