Tag Archives: slavery

Easier isn’t always right

This 110+ degree heat is driving me crazy. Crazy was used in the 186Os. Unlike the words genetics or cool (as in neat, not the weather). One if the neat things abut writing historical is looking up etymology. Not that I got everything right in Honor and Lies. The problem with Texas other than the heat, at least during Civil War times, was that before the war, former slaves were free, but once the war started, in several areas, free people of color were enslaved even if they had papers proving they were free. I chose to make the North Texas ranch areas slave free for the purpose of my novel. In reality, my research showed a different kind of Underground Railroad in Texas. One that utilized Native American tribes to get those seeking freedom to Mexico. I was shocked that people who had always been free, people who owned property and businesses found themselves enslaved suddenly when Texas joined the South. It didn’t happen everywhere in the state, but it wasn’t uncommon either. We didn’t learn much about slavery when I was in school. I think we do a better job now. In England our tour guide told us they spend a long time talking about the slave trade, and he said they are very honest about confronting tough truths. I know any time we talk about racism and prejudice in class, it can leave an uncomfortable awkwardness if the teacher doesn’t do the pre-discussion work and then facilitate. It’s often easier to skip the discussion altogether. Easier isn’t always right, though.

Garden Tales Because Forgetting Isn’t the Answer

I think my love affair with gardens started as a child enamored with dirt.
It didn’t matter where we lived, dirt was my friend.
You could dig dirt and turn it into roads and mountains and cities and caves.
You could add water to the dirt and turn it into something you could mold, change, create.
On a hot day, water added to dirt left a cool smushy mixture I’d stomp around in for hours.
In the summers I’d spend weeks with my grandparents and their dirt and their gardens. I loved that time.
It was a simple time, a time before we were all so connected, so busy.
Watching seeds turn to plants and plants turn to vegetables and fruits was fascinating to a kid.
Grandma and Grandpa spent hours in the garden. They always let us help.
Back then, I was a master gardener. I grew peas and corn and potatoes and beans and squash and tomatoes and onions and watermelon and more.
Today, I can’t grow much of anything.
A few years ago, I tried.
I had a gorgeous garden in the back yard, but the drought hit and the birds started attacking my tomatoes looking for a way to get to moisture.
We put netting up over the garden, thinking it would help. I guess it did. Unfortunately, it also killed the birds because they got caught in the netting.
I didn’t plant that garden. I just tended it.
Last year I spent hours in the garden. And killed it.
This year I decided to give up on the garden. But my husband bought some plants anyway. We have them in pots on the front porch. Maybe I’ll have more luck with that than with the gardens of my childhood
In my research for Honor and Lies, I learned a lot about plantation systems and dirt. They called an area that ran across the deep south the black belt. The soil there was black and rich and could grown anything. At least a million slaves were forced to work the land there.
Sometimes people like to romanticize the plantation age. They like to think of balls and gorgeous homes and chivalry instead of violence and death and forced servitude.
Honor and Lies is told through the eyes of young women. They get to think of the dirt as a place to play, a place to pretend. By the end they see they’re trapped in a society that won’t let them go just like those birds were trapped in the netting above my garden. I can’t imagine the lives the slaves led. I’m sure I didn’t capture the reality of the horribleness of that system.
Some people say the answer is to ignore our past, to push it away and pretend it didn’t exist. I disagree.

And Now for the Rest of the Story…

50% off coupon for Honor and Lies and the link to buy the book at the bottom of this blog.

I suppose I should start this at the beginning, so I will.
I’m the product of a southern home. Not the Mississippi twang, Georgia Peach or Darlington tobacco farmer south, but the rowdy Oklahoma and outlaw Texas south.

In 1982, when I walked into a relative’s house with a friend chatting away about the wonders of sixth grade,  the relative stopped us and told my friend to step away from me because he didn’t want her talking to a “nigger lover” like me. (author aside: His words, not mine. I know they’re full of hate. I don’t write the word lightly, but it’s the truth of what was said, and it’s important to the rest of the story.)

The source of his agitation was the gold and yellow ribbon and feather barrette I had hanging in my hair.

That was my first introduction to bigotry, and it made an indelible print on who I am today. And with that mark came the first whispers of soul for the characters in Honor and Lies.

Those first whispers became shouts in 1987, although I didn’t know it, when a great uncle of mine who wanted to be a part of the Sons of the Confederacy started his genealogical research, bound and determined to show an ancestor had voiced a rebel yell during the Civil War.

His search brought fantastic results. Ancestors had not only fought, they had a plantation in South Carolina, and it was still standing.

Immediately, he went in search of this missing family, more than ready to tell them about their long lost relatives in God’s country.

He searched a long while before finally finding a small church on the outskirts of this town, and there he learned that not only was there a plantation, there was also a road named after the family.

And so his quest began in earnest. He drove the “family” road up to the ancient house that  stood a bit off the ground, with a great, sprawling porch around the entire structure and an equally ancient, old granny sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch with a shot gun across her lap.

When he got out of his car and approached the house, the old granny spit tobacco juice off to the side and asked him in direct terms what he wanted.

My uncle told the woman he was looking for the family place. He was a distant relative who had been tracing his ancestors and wanted to meet them.

My uncle says the old lady laughed. I imagine it was more of a cackle. Then she put the gun to the side, stood up and opened her arms up wide, saying, “Come and hug your granny, son.”

Or at least that’s the way the story goes.

Now my great uncle told this story to a house full of family in Oklahoma, and I could see the anticipation for the story’s end, a slide show made highlighting my uncle’s travel.

The lights went out and the slide projector came on, and there, on the screen before us, was the oldest, blackest person I’d ever seen.

She was Granny. The house was hers, and she was raising a whole new set of great grandchildren in it.

I wish I could have taped some of the reactions in the room. I bet a few of those people wished they weren’t in my grandma’s house because they sure did want to cuss.

With the Granny story, my characters slowly started on a road to fruition.

But the writer in me was afraid of them. So I waited.

I started my MA in 1997 with the full intention of doing my thesis over a comparison of 19th century northern women’s literature to 19th century southern women’s literature. I’d spent a great amount of time researching the topic and the century, and the whole women’s sphere idea interested me.

But then, Doctor Hoffman gave us a choice for our final paper. We could write the beginning research for our thesis, an in-depth study of the works we’d covered in class, or a novel written like or about the 19th century.

Granny whispered in my ear, and Honor and Lies was born. I hope you enjoy!

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You can find the book here!