The big news is….I’ve sold!

Standard

Signing my contract

 

 

 

 

I have signed a three book contract with Samhain Publishing! Those of you who have been so supportive about the Bledsoe sisters, July is the month for Ruby, September for Mags and November for Nettie. Thank you so much to those of you who have supported this blog. I will blog about the details of this new event on Monday, so there will be no column on Sunday. Thanks for understanding. Much love and appreciation!! Piper

Tunis Campbell—the wild man politician of the Reconstruction

Standard

Tunis Campbell wrote a book before the war.

Accomplished African Americans like Virgil and Amanda who possessed specialized skills at the end of the Civil War must have felt incredibly overwhelmed at the work that lay before them in helping the enslaved to a better life.  Still, they plunged wholeheartedly into doing that work. Tunis Campbell, one of the most prominent politicians in Georgia at dawn of Reconstruction, was one of them.  He did his work with a flair and a somewhat reckless regard for the law, choosing to focus instead on what was morally right to him. He was an early example of civil disobedience from an African American.

Born in New Jersey, he was trained as a missionary for Africa.  In the wake of the Civil War, he was appointed as a agent for the Freedman’s Bureau in Georgia.  He was fired a year later, which tells me something about Campbell—he came to make radical change and folks didn’t like that.

He moved to a different part of Georgia,  and found a mostly black constituency in Darien in McIntosh County. and got himself elected justice of the peace (a much more powerful position then) and started to make some changes.  Edmund Drago explains it in Black Politicians and Reconstruction in Georgia, Campbell “exercised his powers arbitrarily and totally to the benefit of blacks.” Black crew members jumped ship from a British ship near Darien.  Campbell had the captain arrested and ordered him to pay court costs and the sailors’ wages. The problem was–Campbell had no jurisdiction.  He didn’t care.  He was the law in that town.

He got himself elected to the state legislature, but that didn’t stop the larger powers that be from trying to get rid of him.  They tried to bribe him, but he wouldn’t be bribed. They sought to have him arrested over the another unjust arrest of a white man.  That arrest stuck. In 1876, he was jailed for malfeasance in office.  He served about a year in a labor camp before he left Georgia for good.  He died in 1891 in Boston, Massachusetts.

It may be hard to see Campbell as a Union army chaplain and minister, but that was how he served.  Becoming a minister was one of the only ways a free African American man  could work with dignity and purpose. Ultimately, Campbell had had enough and left Georgia, but he provided an example to others of the formerly enslaved that they should not give up the fight for their rights and for equal opportunities.  Virgil represents the line between Tunis Campbell’s “radical” style and Henry McNeal Turner’s more sedate and patient approaches. Radical Reconstruction in Georgia needed all kinds of people to begin to pry open the closed doors of opportunity to everyone.

 

 

Virgil’s big brother in spirit–Henry McNeal Turner

Standard

Henry McNeal Turner had the right spirit for getting things done, but his too-trusting nature probably came about because he had never been enslaved.

In The Mayor’s Mission, Virgil Smithson becomes involved in a central event of the early Reconstruction era. In September 1868, the white Democratic members of the Georgia House of Representatives ousted the Republican African American members on the basis that they were not allowed to hold office. On that September third day, the African American members mainly made up of prominent ministers and town officials like Virgil, appointed Bishop Henry McNeal Turner to speak on their behalf. And he does. Turner gives one of the most important speeches ever given by an African American in United States History.

Born free in South Carolina in 1834, Turner served as a chaplain to the Colored Troops during the Civil War. After the Civil War, Turner was in Georgia to help organize churches to become part of the A.M.E. denomination. A freeman all of his life, Turner certified and organized ministers and churches regardless of their literacy. According to Stephen Ward Angell in Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South, Turner was looking to capitalize on the recent gains of Reconstruction and to organize leaders. Then he sought to organize the schools to help with the problem of literacy amongst the recently installed leaders.

His efforts at organization singled him out to be elected to participate in the Reconstruction Constitutional Convention of 1867-68 (which Virgil attends). Politically, he was very conservative in manner and even, to the shock of some, supported policies that lenient to the former Confederates in allowing them suffrage and favoring a full pardon for Jefferson Davis. He even voted against inserting a proviso stating that the recently enslaved were permitted to hold office. He didn’t think it was necessary. In his Christian perspective, Turner sought to be forgiving and to make peace.

Unfortunately, this forgiving attitude about allowing African Americans to hold office came back to revisit Turner when, after the Constitutional Convention was over and he was elected to the Georgia House, Georgia Democrats united to get rid of the African American population of three Senators and twenty-six House members because they said the rights to citizenship did not include the right to hold office. After all, it wasn’t explicitly stated in the constitution so….

In his speech Turner said some remarkable things like: “No man has been more deceived by that race that I have for the last three weeks.” And “Am I a man? …If I am such, I claim the rights as a man. Am I not a man, because I happen to be of darker hue than honorable gentleman around me?” He spoke about his leadership qualities in serving as a chaplain but the twenty-nine politicians were thrown out of the House anyway.

Turner’s example is one that inspired me to reflect on how his efforts to build schools, organize churches and to seek political office began a new way of thinking about how African Americans participated in society. He certainly was a role model for Virgil Smithson, but my hero is not as patient as Henry McNeal Turner.

No alternative: The Preacher’s Promise comes from historical facts

Standard

 

Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Before I return to discussions about Reconstruction Era Georgia in September and October, I want to finish out the month by defining some approaches writers may take in telling a historical story. Some people have asked for some clarification about the historical events that take place in The Preacher’s Promise. I use the blog to discuss these historical events and people and readers are always welcome to look through the archives for the historical background of my stories.

There are several types of historical fiction (and romance may come into play in any of them). I’ll discuss three of them here.

Alternative history: This type of historical fiction is relatively new, but is gaining popularity in books like The Boleyn King series. The author, Laura Anderson, has taken on the historical problem of Henry VIII’s desire for a son. Her series is based on a big historical what if: What if Anne Boleyn did have a son? Since poor Anne lost her head for not giving Henry VIII a son, we know this didn’t happen, but Anderson has crafted a trilogy (and gotten a lot of sales), for writing stories based on the alternative way history might have turned out.  No, I’m not jealous of her series. It’s a brilliant idea I wish I thought of first….

Factual Fiction: This is where The Preacher’s Promise would be appropriately placed.  There are people/events in the story that are a part of the historical record:

Reconstruction-when the Union determined to punish the Confederacy after the Civil War by putting various states under martial law and allowed some of the formerly enslaved into positions of authority. Reconstruction lasted from 1865-77, but this primary shift of power occurred mainly in the first six years or so.

  • Teachers of various races who came south to teach the enslaved after the Civil War
  • Skilled workers like blacksmiths who were able to purchase their freedom
  • Formerly enslaved African Americans who made advances in politics and leadership during Reconstruction
  • White southerners who tried to help the enslaved population after the war (a.k.a. scalawags)
  • A farm utopia like Mont Blanc in Mississippi where the formerly enslaved received assistance from white southerners and banded together to farm and make a way in the world.

I, like many writers of this type of fiction, will take these historical events, create characters and situations who lived in these times and make fiction out of it. I chose to create a romance out of it featuring African American characters who live Christian lives.

Fictional Fact:   I hope to write some of these stories one day.  This is the type of fiction where a writer takes a real life event or person and uses fiction to explain the events in their story.  Writers may create conversations or composite characters, but the life events remain the same.  The movie Lincoln falls in this category, for instance.  A lot of the books in the “wife of” genre belong here as well—stories that are told from the point of view of the wife of some famous person.  The Paris Wife, written from the point of view of one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway, is a book example.

The Preacher’s Promise is no alternative history.  Understand, we’ve been taught a particular narrative in school about African American history. For some, it is hard to buy into the belief that in some ways, 1866 looked pretty promising to the formerly enslaved.  Three things have to be kept in mind about that narrative: first, that narrative is the product of scholars who harbored certain ill feelings toward the enslaved; second, the formerly enslaved were largely illiterate and could not tell their own stories; and third, new scholarship has emerged since we were in school.

Overall, it is the job of the historical writers to keep readers firmly in the place and time they have chosen. That is my intent.  I hope that people who are reading my “Home to Milford College Series” will choose to continue reading to see how Virgil and Amanda will accomplish something great. We will next visit them in The Mayor’s Mission in 1868 as more challenges come their way.

Where is the love? Opening talk on closed doors.

Standard

Closed doors can be a chance to explore new ways of showing love and passion.

On the blog this month, I’m dealing with questions that have come up in the wake of the release of The Lawyer’s Luck and The Preacher’s Promise.  I plan to return to Reconstruction Era history in September, leading up to the release of The Mayor’s Mission in the fall.

One of the questions that has come up several times, but always in a respectful way is: Where are your love scenes?  Love scenes, in romance novel talk, usually means sexual activity.  I thought it was a great question to ask and I appreciate the opportunity to address it on my blog.

When I came into this new phase of my writing life—I came to understand that I was not very gifted in writing, believable, organic sex scenes.  I felt despair about this. I had a very interesting contemporary story premise that I wanted to share, but without those sex scenes, I knew it wouldn’t be possible to be heard.

Then I discovered  inspirational fiction and a light went off in my head.  I could tell stories about people who would struggle with the Christian principle of waiting until marriage to have sex, but I could still share stories about how that decision challenges my characters and their worldview.  When I came to that decision about where I fit in the writing world, an entire load came off of my shoulders.  It freed me and I wasn’t inclined to despair any more.

However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the expectation that, because I write about African American people, that I would be expected to show them having sex. My sister-in-law is one of my biggest supporters, but she shocked me one day when she said, “I don’t read books by African Americans.”  Stunned, I asked her why not.  She said, “There’s a lot of cursing, sex, drugs, and violence in books by African Americans.”

I don’t agree.  The selection of books by African Americans today is more varied than ever, and her statement conveyed to me that she was not looking hard enough for the books she wanted. (I despise the term clean—so I’m not using it—on purpose.  It strikes me as judgmental.) Her view did let me know, that from a marketing stand point, I could use a different kind of approach to signal to readers that certain elements would not be found in my stories. So I was grateful for her statement because it let me be more deliberate about how I would package my stores with the covers, descriptions, etc.

But I still got the question.

So now you have the answers as to why. I hope that people who read my stories don’t structure it as “something is missing.”  My characters will struggle with their decision making process as a part of their faith story arc.  My decision not to show lovemaking scenes, but to “close the door” should not characterize me as a prude.  As a reader, I still enjoy stories with organic, well-conveyed lovemaking scenes. A good story is a good story.  (Just don’t tell my father.) For me and my stories, I will do a lot with tension and conflict about those stories, but that won’t be  part of my brand.  I recognize that there will be readers who won’t ever want to read my stories because of that.  I’ve made my decision and I’m at peace with that possibility.

Sexual activity is about making choices.  Characters choose about whether or not to have sex. I, as the writer with my ability and view, feel happy that I am able to choose what goes into my story and what doesn’t and how.  I hope and pray readers still give me a chance, but if my “closed door decision is a deal breaker for a reader, that was my choice.

Fair warning:  people who know me know –I’m always doing something different.  If you are a wonderful someone who chooses to read my stories, thank you!   However, please know that I have some projects/approaches in the works that will be different.  I hope and pray you stick around.

Thank you one and all

Standard

breakthrough-headshot-21.jpgSoon, I will complete the process to make myself ineligible for next year’s Golden Heart contest.  Once I click on the button to publish The Preacher’s Promise, I will be the author of a full-length novel.  It’s an exciting step, one that I’ve looked forward to for all of my life.  I did not know this time last year that I would have to rely on my own strengths, decisions and money to make it all happen, but I have. Now the moment is here.

So instead of getting all historical on you today, I would like to say thank you to those who made this moment happen.  This means that instead of giving my prepared acceptance speech at RWA, I will put it on this blog—with some slight modifications.

Thank you to my family. They have been a great source of support to me, always.  My mother and father always believed in me.  My guys, DH and DS who don’t always know what I’m up to, but generously give me the space and time to do it. For my sister, who slipped in some promo on the plane ride home to the poor dude sitting next to her and my brother-in-law El, who has done the same on Facebook.  Thank you to my brother-in-law, Kenny who thought I should have published this first (I think he wanted to know what would happen to Amanda) and my sister-in-law who wanted “the whole book” (which will take some time). Thank you to my grandmother, Uncle Johnnie and Aunt Jean, the large Holt clan—especially Lynnie.

Thank you to Julie Hilton Steele, Vanessa Riley, the Masterminds, who told me to indie publish and I listened, Barb Andrews and the History Lovers, all of my Savvy NaNao partners, The Lucky 13s, the Dreamweavers, the kind and lovely folks at Romance Slam Jam, anyone who has signed on to the Home to Milford College Facebook page,  my author page, read this blog or followed me on twitter.   A big thank you to Spelman College, and my students who have long inspired me to take this particular journey.

The people of the past deserve to have their stories to be told and when JShan designed his covers, for me, it is as if he’s brought them alive to help me tell their stories.  Thank you.

It’s a whole new world. A whole new day for me. I’m delighted that you’ve chosen to take the journey with me. Thank you for doing so.

More inspiration for the Hero of The Preacher’s Promise–William Golden(ing)

Standard
There are no pictures of William Golden, so I'll just put Virgil here instead....:)

There are no pictures of William Golden, so I’ll just put Virgil here instead….:)

At various times since last October, I’ve spoken about my various inspirations for Virgil Smithson (the hero of The Preacher’s Promise).   Another real life figure that inspired my character (blacksmith, preacher and emerging political figure) is William Golden (also known as Golding). After the Civil War, in Liberty County, he inspired the formerly enslaved, to believe that gaining an education meant everything to the forwarding of the race, even as he himself, Golden, was illiterate. This desire to encourage others  has always been an interesting phenomenon since I’ve known several illiterate individuals  across my life.  How does an individual like Golden still encourage people to attain the the education that he didn’t?

Golden was a member of the constitutional convention of 1867-68, where measures befitting the Radical Reconstruction were written into a new constitution after the war. He was also a member of the Georgia House of Representatives between 1867-70. In 1870, he transcribed a letter to the American Missionary Association to ask them for a teacher. They sent Eliza Ann Ward, a New England teacher who had previous teaching experience in Savannah and Hilton Head. He, along with his family, donated land to the building of a school– Dorchester Academy– on the grounds of the old family plantation. They were willing to share the land that had been deeded to them by relatives of the Gaulding family–the former people who had owned them.

His few years of political power meant that the academy had a solid basis from which to grow on in the early years. Ward left within a few years’ time, due to poor health. In 1874, they attempted to get her back but although she showed a fondness for the people in the area (she sent clothes), she did not return. The AMA arranged for a minister-principal to show up and take Golden’s place. Even after the replacement came, Golden did continue to obtain extra resources for the school. Golden was willing to go the extra mile for education for others.

The political machinations of expelling African Americans from the Georgia State House began after 1870, and he was no longer in office. Golding fades from history after that, unfortunately. I suspect that when the tides of Reconstruction changed back to favor Democrat rule, there was some kind of campaign to omit the histories of the short-lived political careers of Negro men who tried to bring some order to the lives of the formerly enslaved. Dorchester Academy, built in Golden’s Grove,  existed as an educationalentity into the 1940’s.  The buildings still exist as a museum and community service centers.

One biographer, according to the Liberty County History Society, has Golden working as a janitor in Savannah toward the end of his life. Is that a defeat or did Golden have the ultimate victory of making a stand for education? The website says he almost certainly has descendants in Liberty County. Does Golding’s legacy in the insistence of education live on in them? I hope so.