'The Bag Lady War'

Readers looking for a chuckle amid these uncertain economic times should seek out Carol SeCoy's "The Bag Lady War." At the zany intersection of vigilante justice and retirement planning, the novel provides an irreverent look at American justice from the point of view of three elderly widows impoverished and victimized by local toughs. With nothing to lose but their fear of handguns and nursing homes, they start a crime wave of their own, ridding the streets of several dozen criminals and securing for themselves a lifetime guarantee of three hots and a cot.

MJ: Where did the idea for "The Bag Lady War" come from?

CS: I was listening to the radio one day and heard our oldsters being unfairly blamed again for living too long and using up the Social Security Fund. Later that day I watched a TV program about the huge increase in homelessness and violence on city streets. Add to that the statistics on growing drug and gang activity and you will see we have created an impossible situation for our nation's elderly poor. Not only have their savings been eroded by inflation, but they must figure out how to navigate a dangerous world. The idea for "The Bag Lady War" popped into my head, almost fully formed, that very day.

MJ: Tell us why you chose Santa Ana, Calif., as the setting for "The Bag Lady War."

CS: My husband, Jack, and I raised our family in Santa Ana. We were well aware of how the area changed through the years due to drugs and violence. Both of us were originally Oregonians, and when Jack retired we were happy to relocate in Ashland.

MJ: How do you think readers in liberal Ashland will respond to characters who commit one cold-blooded murder after another?

CS: I donated one large-print copy and one standard-print copy of "The Bag Lady War" to the Ashland library, where there is always a waiting list of two or three for the large print and four or more for the standard print. My donated copy to Mountain Meadows' library also stays wait-listed. It is selling well at Bloomsbury and in the OSF Tudor Guild Gift Shop. The Ashland Community Theater presented a successful one-act play reading from the first chapter and I've been asked to speak about "The Bag Lady War" at the Ashland library and on local TV. Many book clubs are reviewing it — so I guess Ashland is okay with it!

MJ: How did you find out about the prison life depicted in your book?

CS: I took a guided, day-long tour of the California Institution for Women at Corona. It gave me all the information I needed and more.

MJ: Do you think society would respond with approbation if three old ladies actually pulled off the same crimes as the characters in your book?

CS: "The Bag Lady War" is satire, a caricature of life, where anything goes. If the characters are interesting or lovable enough, the reader will suspend reason and accept (well, mostly!) outrageous solutions to serious problems. So, in my satire, society doesn't judge them. But seriously, too often you can pick up the newspaper and read about an elderly citizen committing a crime in order to pay the mortgage or get medical care. In the case of our elderly heroines, they were faced with poverty and forced to live behind locks and bars to protect themselves from the gang that had taken over their neighborhood. They figured they may as well live behind locks and bars in the security of prison, where there is also free food, medical care, and the company of younger women. But, not wanting to be a burden to the government, they felt they should earn their way into prison by doing away with enough bad guys to offset the cost of their care.

Carol SeCoy, 77, has lived in Ashland with her husband of 57 years since 2004. In addition to writing, she volunteers at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Southern Oregon University.

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