Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meet My Experts--Part I

As promised, today you're going to meet four women I have interviewed in the process of writing Half-Truths. I hope you'll enjoy a glimpse at their lives--"back in the day"-- and a few of their insights which have contributed to my book.

Thereasea Elder

T.D.'s Truths by Stanley and Janice Frazier
In 1962, Thereasea was one of the first black public health nurses to 
integrate the white nursing community in Charlotte.

Thereasea as an Army Cadet

At JCU's exhibit honoring the African Americans who 
integrated the medical profession in Charlotte. 
June, 2014

Thereasea has given me hours of her time answering innumerable questions about her community growing up, what it was like going into a KKK community as a black nurse, and the challenges which Lillie and Kate (my characters in Half-Truths) could conceivably face. One day when we were talking about race she said, "None of us were the same color. 'If you’re black get back, if you're brown stick around, if you’re light and bright you’re damn near white.' This wasn't said in our home, but it was said the streets. Even though everyone was brown and knew in general what that meant – that white blood was there—the specifics wouldn’t have been shared."

Vermelle Diamond Ely

Vermelle Diamond as Miss Queen City Classic

Vermelle and I at the Second Ward High School
Alumni House, 2010

Although she has been legally blind for all her life, Vermelle is co-author of the book, Charlotte, NC which is part of the Black America Series. When we talked about passing she told me, "Black girls who passed did it for their convenience. To get their hair done, go to the front of the line, get waited on, or go to eat in a certain restaurant. Their parents wouldn't have encouraged them." Speaking of my characters she said, "Lillie and Kate might have tried to see if Lillie could pass--just for fun and to see if she could get away from it." And for the record, "Lillie could have gone wherever she wanted with Kate because she was so light she could pass. Kate would have stuck out in the black community-but she would have been accepted there."

Daisy Stroud
Daisy and Gerson Stroud wedding
Circa 1948 

Outside their home
Circa late 1950's-mid 1960's

Daisy Stroud
December 2010

Daisy talked about the Cherry neighborhood (where Lillie lives): "There was a lot of pride there. They were the strivers who made sure their children had the opportunity to go to college." She remembered Bishop Daddy Grace: "He had beautiful light-skinned girls fanning him when he sat on his throne. It was an honor to be one of his girls; they were attractive and had good hair. They looked more like they were a different race." Similarly, "Young women who represented Second Ward High School were light-skinned….They were the privileged ones…We accepted in our race that some were like this. Then we would try to be like them because their beauty brought them privileges."
Dorothy Counts-Scoggins

In 1957, Dorothy Counts was one of the first black
students admitted to Harding High School in Charlotte.

She was met with jeers

and harassment. Her parents withdrew her
after four days. 

Photo taken at Johnson C. Smith University
where Dorothy grew up. 

June 2014
"I wanted to make sure that what happened to me at age 15 growing up in this community wouldn't happen to someone else." Dorothy has spent her life advocating for better education for all children passing along her father's legacy. "We knew separation was wrong but my parents taught me acceptance and tolerance. My father, a professor at Johnson C. Smith and a minister, wasn't able to do anything about the separation. But when Kelly Alexander, Sr. asked him if he would be willing to test the new civil rights legislation, (Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 outlawing segregation in schools), our family agreed."  
I am indebted to these women--and the other experts who have shared their life stories with me. My work is a richer tapestry as a result of their honesty and forthrightness. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Picture This: A Behind The Scenes Look at Researching Historical Fiction

Congratulations to Linda Andersen who won an autographed copy of Linda Phillips' ARC, CRAZY.

My last few blogs have been heavy on text, so I thought I would do something different for the next two weeks. Today I'm going to share some of the photographs I consult while writing Half-Truths. Next week, you'll meet a few of my experts--from "back in the day," and now. 

With the help of Pinterest and The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, these images help me create the story of Lillie Harris, my light-skinned African American protagonist who lives in Charlotte, NC in 1950. 

MRS ANNIE TURNBO MALONE A chemist and entrepreneur, Annie Turnbo Malone became a millionaire by successfully developing and marketing hair products for black women in St. Louis. She used her wealth to promote the advancement of African Americans and gave away most of her money to charity. Born on August 9, 1869, in Metropolis, Illinois. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Malone

Johnson C Smith University
1947 Homecoming 
African American Album 

Rose Morgan - Founder of Rose Meta House of Beauty, one of the largest and most visible African American beauty salons in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. From Ideas to Independence: A Century of Entrepreneurial Women | NWHM. entrepreuners.nwhm.org 

Pinned from Etsy, this is my model for Lillie's little sister, Gloria.

The Tate Family, 1910
A prominent Charlotte African American Family
Several of Thaddeus' Tate daughters
passed for white. 

"The Tate family lived in this elegant home at 504 East 7th Street. Thaddeus Tate opened a barber shop in 1882 which prospered for over sixty years. He co-founded several of Charlotte's leading black businesses, including the Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company and the Mecklenburg Investment Company." http://www.cmstory.org/african/album/volume1/010.jpg 

Second Ward High School
served black students from 1923-1969.
It was torn down when busing began. 

Second Ward cheerleaders, 1940

A view of homes along East 8th Street in Brooklyn. Area was demolished during urban renewal in the 1960's-1970's. Photo courtesy of Second Ward Alumni Association. 


Bertha Pinckenpack in front of her house on Alexander Street
 with her great-granddaughters, 
Geraldine and Beverly, c. 1950.

Bishop Daddy Grace
was the leader of the United House Of Prayer For All People, 
a Pentecostal denomination that met in the Brooklyn neighborhood.

I study pictures like these for all types of information: people Lillie might have heard about or met; hair, clothing, and shoe styles; neighborhoods she would have walked through; what her school looked like. I never know which image might provide an interesting detail that will inform my work.

How about you? What resources do you use when researching a book?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You Can Read it Here First: Giving Away CRAZY by Linda Phillips

The winner of my my most popular giveaway contest to date, is Laura Kay who blogs at A Novel Review, and who won a copy of Necessary Lies. Thanks to all 21 of you who left me comments. I hope the rest of you will find Diane's book at your library or buy it from your local indie bookstore. Now here is your chance to win a personally autographed ARC of Linda Phillips' debut novel, CRAZY.

As some of you know, I have been chronicling my good friend, Linda Phillips', path to publication. In my last blog about her in March,  Linda shared some of that journey as well as information about bipolar disease; the mental illness that afflicts the protagonist's mother in CRAZY

It has been my great joy and privilege to walk alongside of Linda  over the last fifteen years as she has crafted her debut YA novel. From reading the first twenty poems in which Linda poured out her anguish as a teen struggling with her own mother's mental illness; through watching Linda add, subtract, and organize these poems into a story arc at the 2009 Chautauqua Highlights Writing Workshop we attended together; through hearing the up's and down's of finding her agent and publisher; to now actually turning the pages and savoring the poems--it's almost as amazing as watching the birth of a child!

Now I have the opportunity to share with you some of my favorite poems and parts of this book. I've read some of these phrases several times and they still catch my breath for their simple beauty and sensory imagery; others surprise me as if I've just discovered a new treasure. Without further ado, here are some gems from CRAZY

In the opening poem, the protagonist, Laura, is humiliated in home ec when the class decides that her best color is brown. This poem not only foreshadows much of Laura's conflicts, but also provides the subtext for the cover of the book:

So the class decided on brown
for my basic color, 
as in mud
rotten bananas
swamp water
and dirty anything.

I ran out the side door after school,
thank heavens home ec was last period,
thinking my cheeks were so hot they must be leaving a trail of smoke.
I stopped by the canal,
swarming with hungry pelicans
and screeching gulls,
and I wondered,
just wondered and wondered
for I don't know how long,
what it would fee like
not to sit and dangle my feet through the slats
and daydream and watch
like I usually do
but instead to climb up on the railing,
and let myself just slip off and down
and down
and down.

I decided against it because, 
of course,
I'm not the crazy one
in our family.  (pp.14-15)

Laura's artistic talents are admired throughout her school. She sees the same talent--now unexpressed--in her mother. Laura wonders how her mother "had drifted from/creating brilliant oil paintings/to slapping paint on molded figurines." (p. 23) She asks,

"Why don't you take up painting again?"
I ask her one day,
admiring the pleasing arrangement she created when she was fourteen.

"Oh, I could never get back to that,"
she says, slamming a window
against the rising storm. (p.24)

Her mother's behavior becomes more erratic, irrational, and bizarre. One day Laura comes home from school and finds:

First thing inside the door
I smell turpentine.
I nearly trip over a wet canvas
propped against the door frame.
I follow a trail of smudgy rags
and scattered paint tubes
into the living room
where I find Mama,
her back to me,
crossing herself
before a dripping canvas.
She's been painting again!

"Hail Mary, Other of God…."

A sickening sense of panic begins
crawling up my spine.
"What's going on, Mama?" I ask 
She passes grubby hands absently
through her disheveled hair,
leaving multicolored streaks 
and smudges on her face,
and she begins crawling on the floor,
agitated, frantic,
looking for the missing paint
or who knows what.
Then it hits me.
This is my fault.
I caused this.
I pushed her over the edge,
oh my God,
I did this.
It was my suggestion,
"Take up painting again," I'd said--
oh my God….. 

I clean up the mess as best I can,
finally getting Mama to sit down in her rocker.
Still paint-splattered,
she rocks
back and forth 
staring past me
without recognition.
I watch her rock
almost in rhythm 
with the ticking wall clock
and I take deep breaths
trying to match the rhythm,
trying to beat down
the panic
surging through
my body.  (pp.65-68)

Here is Linda reading one of the next poems, "Nervous Breakdown."

As the book progresses, Laura wrestles with her own demon: her fear of being as crazy as her mother. With the encouragement of two new friends--a local gift shop owner who "stands out like an art piece herself/in a shift dress full of helter-skelter bright colors,/dangly earrings,/and the most beautiful long gray hair/I have ever seen" (p. 148); and her crush, Dennis, who pushes Laura to "dig for answers/don't run, dig"(p.272);  Laura discovers the work she must do to discover the truth about herself and her family.

There are two things this review of CRAZY cannot do. First, I can't communicate how proud I am of Linda's accomplishment and how wonderful it is to see this book in print. In a previous blog I compared myself to a mid-wife but that's not quite accurate. Linda is like a sister to me. Since CRAZY is her baby, I guess that makes me a proud aunt. 

Second, I can't begin to tell you how Linda's poetry touched a place deep inside of me. When I finished reading her final poem in which Laura asks her mother for forgiveness, I was in tears:

In her typical way,
she brushes it off,
says I don't have need for forgiveness
but of course she forgives me,
and she understands my confusion and frustration
and she doesn't hold anything against me,
and she loves me very much.

I'm not sure if she gets it at all,
what I am trying to say,
but the important thing is
I get it 
and I did what
I needed to do
and it feels as good
as anything I have ever done.

I wouldn't want to say it,
but I think there has been some healing 
in our family
after all.  (p.314)
CRAZY's official release date is not until October 20, but you can read the ARC now! There are two ways you can win a copy. Leave me a comment and I'll enter your name for my gently used copy; the drawing will be held on Friday night, June 13. You can also go to Goodreads and enter the giveaway contest there which will run from midnight on 6/10 to midnight on 6/17.  And of course, if you don't win, you can support Linda by pre-ordering her book through Eerdmans or Amazon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Necessary Lies- A Review and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Vida Zuljevic who won the good braider audio recording in last week's giveaway.

I met Diane Chamberlain at WNBA's Bibliofeast in 2013 and purchased her book, Necessary Lies, despite telling myself that I had enough books and wasn't going to buy one more! But when I saw it was set in North Carolina and written from two points of view--I couldn't resist. Another fortunate blog reader will be glad I did. When I confessed to Diane via Facebook that I couldn't part with my autographed copy, she indicated that her publicist would probably donate a copy as a giveaway. Thanks to Katie Bassel of St. Martin's Press, one of you will receive a free copy. Directions for entering this contest follow my review of this thought-provoking adult historical novel.

Necessary Lies documents an important story: the Eugenics Sterilization Program that sterilized over 7000 North Carolinians between 1929-1975. Set in the sixties, Diane Chamberlain does an excellent job portraying the internal and external conflicts her two protagonists face.

Jane Forrester is a 22-year-old idealistic newlywed who is eager to help people in her new job as a social worker. Her life is irrevocably changed when she meets her client Ivy Hart, a poor 15-year-old who is struggling to hold her family together. Ivy's father is dead, her mother is institutionalized; her grandmother (Nonnie) is ailing and doesn't take her diabetes medication; her 17-year-old sister (Mary Ella) is beautiful but feeble-minded; and her two-year-old nephew (William) is often neglected and shows signs of slow development.

The reality of Ivy's world shocks Jane on her first visit to the Hart's home; a shack on the tobacco farm where the girls are day laborers.  In this conversation with Charlotte, the caseworker whose caseload she will be assuming, Jane begins to assess the situation and Chamberlain foreshadows the problems she will encounter:

    "Mary Ella was kicked out of school when she became pregnant at fourteen," Charlotte said. "Once they're pregnant, that's the end of their education."
    "Fourteen!" I said.
    "Fifteen when she delivered."
    "Who's the baby's father?" I asked.
    Charlotte hesitated. "I doubt even Mary Ella knows," she said. "I have my suspicions but that's all they are. Mary Ella's blond as blond can be, but the baby's got very dark, very curly hair. His skin is fair enough, enough. He'll be able to pass."
     "Oh," I said, taking that in.
     "Don't put anything like that in your notes," she warned. "The last thing that girl needs is for people to think she's had relations with a colored boy, and a lynch mob would find out which one it was, you better believe it. Or they'd make a guess, which could be even worse. I didn't even mention my suspicions to the Eugenics Board."
    "The Eugenics Board? For her, too? Are they going to sterilize her?"
     "They already have," she said. "She's feeble-minded. IQ of seventy. But she doesn't know about the sterilization. Her grandmother and I agreed it was best to tell her she was having her appendix out."
     My mouth dropped open and Charlotte glanced over a me. "Sometimes you have to come up with creative ways of helping people, Jane," she said.
     "But it's so...dishonest," I said.
      "It's actually a kindness. You'll realize that soon enough. She can only understand so much, and she absolutely can't handle another child. She's out of control and I worry Ivy's starting to follow in her footsteps. Mary Ella's very pretty and Ivy's a little plainer and she's a big girl. Not overweight, but not lithe, like her sister."
    I instantly related to Ivy. I knew what it was like to be the "plainer" sister.
    "Ivy's still in school," Charlotte said, "and my goal--now your goal--will be to keep her there till she finishes. The main thing is to prevent her from having a baby of her own because that'll put an end to her education."
    "Is Ivy...feebleminded, too?" I asked. I'd rarely used that word.
     "Her IQ's about eighty," Charlotte said. "Low, but not feebleminded, which is a shame because it would make it easier to petition the Eugenics Board on her behalf." (p. 65-6)

Meanwhile, Ivy's world revolves around Henry Allen, the tobacco farmer's son. When they secretly rendezvous at night, they listen to the radio and look at books about California. Again, the reader sees life through Ivy's eyes and what's in store for her:

     We went through all the pages. There was trees as big around as the tobacco barns and foggy cliffs called Big Sur and rocks in the ocean covered with seals and big black birds. There was actual palm trees. How could one place have so many different beautiful parts to it? I felt that ache in my chest again as he turned the pages. I wanted to step inside the book and live that beautiful life. Henry Allen said everybody in California was rich and had swimming pools in their own yards. I wished California was right next door to Grace County and I could walk over there tomorrow.
    "Which place you want to live?" Henry Allen asked.
    "Any of 'em."
    "No, get serious. Let's pick our top place from these here pictures."
    "Someplace by the water."
    He turned the pages and I stopped him. "There, I said, pointing to a pretty little tree standing all alone, way out on a cliff above the ocean. "This place."
    "Monterey," he said. "Okay, then. That's our destination. Monterey, California."
    "What about you, though? Which place do you want to live at?"
    "Wherever you are," he said.
     My throat got tight. "What if I'm here, Henry Allen? What if I can't never leave?" Me and Henry Allen used to say we'd run off after we finished school, which meant three more years for me and two for him, but I couldn't see how I'd ever be able to leave Mary Ella or Nonnie or Baby William. Everything would fall to pieces without me. I felt sad all of a sudden. All me and Henry Allen had was the dream. So we didn't talk about the when no more. Just the where.
    All day long, I worried about other people. Was Nonnie going to have to start getting shots for her sugar? Was Baby William ever going to say more words than "mama" or would he be one of them dumb goys other kids picked on? Would Mary Ella get herself in trouble again? Worry worry worry. But when I was with Henry Allen like I was right now, him slipping my nightgown over my head and pressing his body into mine, so gentle and sweet, I could forget about everything except him and me and our dreams about the future. (p. 31-32, 33)
Jane works hard at gaining Ivy's trust, but their tenuous relationship explodes when the Department of Public Welfare presses Jane into submitting a petition for Ivy's sterilization. When
Jane defies her employer's orders and bring Ivy into her own home, Ivy discovers Jane's secrets--thus changing Ivy's life too:

    "Yes." It was her turn  to put down a card, but she just stared at the cards in her hand like she wasn't really seeing them. She looked up at me. "I lost both my father and my sister," she said. "Just like you."
    I couldn't believe it. I thought of her as a lady with a perfect life, especially now that I seen her house.   I felt like anybody could look at me and know I lost too much. I never would of guessed she had, too....
    "I looked at the picture another minute. Mrs. Forrester and her sister was both smiling. Both of them happy girls. Maybe happier than me and Mary Ella ever was. "You and me," I said, "we both go the same kind of hurt inside us."
    She nodded, and suddenly, just like that, I knew I could trust her with my life. (p.290, 292)

Since I am writing historical fiction set in North Carolina in 1950, I was interested in how Chamberlain used vernacular to give her characters voice and make them true to the time period and setting. I work at understanding my character's core values and knowing what makes them tick. Ivy and Jane's core values ring clear throughout the book: people should be free to make choices that will effect them and their futures.

There is much that one can say about this outstanding novel. But if you are a writer and are familiar with Blake Snyder's beats from Save the Cat, you'll be impressed with the opening and final images. Like bookends, a third narrator, Brenna, brings the book full circle.  
I could say more, but I don't want to include too many spoilers! Instead, here's your chance to win this book and read it yourself:

1. Leave me a comment. PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to this blog.
2. Become a follower to this blog and/or share the blog on your favorite social media site. Let me know what you do, and I'll add your name an additional time for each time you share it.
3. Enter by Friday night, June 6th. 


THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...