The current spate of voting rights legislation sent my mother into a meltdown. Every time she speaks to me about it, she gets agitated and starts telling me things she's never brought up before. I have no idea if she had forgotten the things she was telling me until the latest news about voter suppression started happening, or if she just chose not to tell me things she found disturbing. Either way, lots of stories have started percolating out of her.
I've always known some of the stories that shaped her life. She told me about the time she and her grandmother were on a bus and the 'white's only' section got full, and the bus driver moved the black section to the back of the bus and she and my great grandmother were forced to get up and move. She was little, but she's always felt embarrassed by that event. So much so that she has never, in her 67 years on this planet, ever gotten onto another city bus.
I've also known stories about the discrimination she had to deal with living in segregated Texas in the 50's and 60's. What i didn't know about was the voter suppression tactics practiced throughout the community.
When North Carolina, the state where I reside, began scaling back access to blocks of voters that would most likely vote for Democrats, my mother was furious. She called me to demand an answer to how any of this was in the least bit Constitutional. She talked about watching her grandparents scrape together the money for poll taxes. She told me about something they called 'white riots' where white men would ride through the black neighborhoods breaking windows, burning crosses, going into people's house and stealing their food, putting holes in their walls, killing their chickens and doing other bouts of damage to intimidate blacks so they wouldn't register to vote. People were beaten and all manner of violence was an ever present threat during these times. These 'white riots' had another purpose. Blacks had to choose between paying the poll tax, or use the money to fix your home and replace food and clothing that had been stolen or destroyed. It also kept the black population in a perpetual state of privation, their properties in a state of dilapidation, and promoted a sense of despair.
The more I heard about the events of her childhood surrounding voting, and the more I spoke to my uncle, the more amazing I found the parallels between some of the things going on today and some of the things that happened in the 50's to discourage black voting.
I decided I needed to try to tell this story.
I've spent the last three months neck deep in the characters, personality, and perceptions of the world of Beaumont, Texas in 1954. When I'm not writing on the project, I'm thinking about it or contemplating how best to capture the feel of the place. I've google mapped the entire area of the book and spent an hour virtually walking through the four blocks in which this story takes place. I've gone by the site where my great grandparents used to live and stood in front of the lot that is now empty, remembering my own visits there when I was a child and the house was still standing.
Last night I finally finished my first draft. Now, the editing. I will be asking a few of my friends to give me a first reading over the next couple of weeks. My hope is to get the book to some agents by October of this year.
My writing energy has been poured into this project more than anything else this summer, and I expect it will continue to be so for the next few weeks.
Getting lost in a writing project is a lovely thing to do. I'm glad to be here, but I will be happy when I can leave this world which has as many loving moments in it as horrifyingly dark ones, and go get lost in some other place. Preferably one that has lots of actual dragons instead of the much more terrifying human ones.
Be Well and Happy Writing