My turn in The Brightest Day–“A Sweet Way to Freedom”

The esteemed Beverly Jenkins wrote the forward and she tells you all about Juneteenth!

The esteemed Beverly Jenkins wrote the forward and she tells you all about Juneteenth!

So excited to bring you a sneak peek of my story in The Brightest Day anthology, “A Sweet Way to Freedom” This anthology, featuring novellas centered the Juneteenth holiday, allowed for writers of African American historical romance come together to commemorate the occasion when the word of emancipation reached the last group of the formerly enslaved in Texas.  My story, “A Sweet Way to Freedom” introduces readers to Winslow, Georgia, the setting of my Migrations of the Heart series.  The romance is between Arlo Tucker, the town’s musician and bad boy, and the school teacher (who went to school at Milford College), Missouri Baxter.  Here’s a blurb and excerpt:

Blurb:

When Arlo Tucker stepped foot into the holier-than-thou Georgia hamlet of Winslow, all he wanted to do was profit from those who might want to have a drink in his good-time place. He did not imagine that, in their mutual loneliness, he would get all tied up with the new schoolteacher Missouri Baxter. He had a run of bad luck with women. They had some fun, but he surely didn’t mean to get her caught up in the family way.

In 1910, schoolteacher Missouri Baxter will not go back to her home town with a big belly all by herself. Arlo needs to come with her– as her husband. With God on her side, she’s got nine months to teach a most reluctant student an important lesson about what marriage meant to their people and show him “A Sweet Way to Freedom.”

Excerpt:

Arlo ran as fast as he could to the school house after Ruby and her sister came to his place in the woods to tell him what their mother had done. His vision of two women with big bellies fighting did not come to fruition though. He panted with relief when he reached the door of the schoolhouse and saw them in civil conversation with one another. Whew. But then Missy called him a nasty name.

Not like her at all, but not entirely unexpected. He had been down this pathway before, and always managed to negotiate his way away. Only this time, he didn’t want to be away. What could he do to help her to see that he was here now, even if he had been away for a while before?

Arlo moved to her side, to be right there for her but she backed off from him as if he were made of fire. Made sense now that he had burned her. That’s what happened to his women, no matter what his intentions. But he couldn’t stay away from her. He wouldn’t. “Missy, there’s no need for name calling. Ruby and them told me what was happening and I came to see what I could do.”

“Oh, Arlo.” The words of disappointment came from his big sister, filling the space between him and Missy.

Why were the two women he loved most in the world coming together? “Sissy. You should be at home resting. Really. Why are you here?”

“I got up from my bed of affliction to tell Miss Baxter of the board’s decision. We, we have to let her go when this school year is done.” His heart lurched in his chest at this news.

“Is there no end of foolishness in this town? You all are going to fire her for something that’s my fault?”

“I was there too, Arlo.” He loved that she gave him a slight smile. Not all her memories of him were bad. That was quite a change. For him.

“Really. This is just disgraceful. What’re you going to do about this?” Lona made it clear she didn’t care for their exchange just now. But Arlo wasn’t sure. Maybe the thing to do would be to take Missy somewhere away from this backwater gossipy town and set up his place somewhere else where folks weren’t so full of judgment.

“Do?” Missy shifted from one foot to another. “I don’t know if there is anything for him to do, Mrs. Bledsoe. You just fired me from my job.”

Ahh. He had to give Missy that. She was not only the most beautiful woman he had ever met; she could use her mind quick enough as a counterpoint. The feeling of her curves responding to him made him want to go back to those passionate times. She confirmed everything he thought about her when he first laid eyes on the schoolteacher last year. She was something amazing, like a bright star in the heavens.

“You paining me, Miss Baxter.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Tucker.”

“Anything? Nothing?”

She folded her arms, making her burden much more apparent. “For you to do.”

Yes, the women always got like that. Eyes narrowed, arms folded, mouth all twisted up in disarray. They always started one way with him, with willing smiles and stolen kisses. Only later did they have narrowed eyes when things got too rough …and complicated. “I don’t know about that, now. I may have a say or two in these things.”

“Oh, Arlo,” Lona said, a familiar refrain he had been hearing since he was knee high, “are you going to stand by this woman? Please say yes. I don’t want her to lose her only source of employment.”

“Stand by her? As I am now?”

“No, Arlo.” Lona stamped a thick ankle on the ground. She really should be at home, not here getting up into affairs that were no concern of hers. “You know what I mean. I mean marry her.”

“Marry her?” he echoed. He stood next to Missy, as his sister requested, not even realizing how tall she was next to him. Yes, something about her schoolteacher veneer made him want to take her by her thickened waist and…marry her. Right now.

Except her eyes, those dark eyes in her sweet, smooth brown skin—those eyes had already skewered him for a roast.

“I’m not looking to marry anybody.”

Wait. Had he said the words or had she said them? The words in his mind came out from between her lusciously pink, teasing lips. The lips of a Nubian goddess.

“What did you say?” His sister’s attention turned to the teacher now. Yes, Missy had spoken the words in his mind. Out loud. For his sister to hear.

What wounded more, that she knew what was in his mind already—even before he could think it—or that she didn’t want to marry him? Was it possible for one thing to wound more than another?

The  Brightest Day will be available on June 1 in as an e-book on Kindle, Nook and itunes.

The Brightest Day will be available in print in late summer 2015.

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

 

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.