After the Tree book project / Journal / On Writing

In the Company of Writers

*Note: I have changed the working title(again) to Seed of Strange Fruit.

I am honored to join a circuit of writers in The Next Big Thing, a blog-tag of writers answering 10 questions about their next book project.

Thanks to poet and novelist Kaaren Kitchell for tagging me this week. Kaaren is the author of a lush and gorgeous Greek myth-inspired novel about individual members of a Berkeley commune in the 1960s—friends, artists and lovers—whose lives become wildly intertwined. http://parisplay.squarespace.com/journal/2013/2/12/the-next-big-thing.html#.USVuraUUub8

Through her roles as a friend and consummate workshop facilitator, Kaaren has been a key player in nurturing my manuscript through its growing pains.

What is the title of your book?

Seed of Strange Fruit

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What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Seed of Strange Fruit examines the psychological, emotional and spiritual impact that a 1904 lynching has upon four generations of marriages.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

This book idea sprang from an essay I wrote about a racially tense experience in my first marriage—an outburst of insecurity and rage that erupted from me, shocking and paralyzing me with its rawness and intensity. I wrote the essay upon beginning the MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

At 30, I had just left my home state, Louisiana, and life was going fairly well, but something was haunting me. To explore the root of that first glimpse of strife in my marriage (and inside me), I kept digging, kept writing, kept asking questions. I learned that in a culture where 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, 100 percent of the marriages in the generation that preceded me (my mother and her seven brothers) had ended in divorce, often multiple divorces. Digging deeper, I became obsessed with the legacy of my great-grandfather, Burt Bridges, who was lynched in Mississippi circa 1904.

My great-grandmother Mary Magdalene was, most likely, still pregnant with my mother’s father, Houston, when Burt was lynched. When my mother left my father (I was 5), we lived with her parents, Houston and Avis, and great-grandma Mary, who was in her 90s. I remember my elders—their wrinkles, their grunts and groans, their songs—vividly. As an adult probing into the past, I wanted to know: What does such a violent act of racism do to a family? How long and deep is its impact?

I remember reading a scripture in Deuteronomy that talks about how a man who is hanged on a tree must be buried quickly, or else the land is defiled, for such a man is cursed. I looked at the four generations of my family tree—branch after broken branch of divorces and separations—and wondered whether, because of the horror that befell Burt, Mary and Houston, we were a cursed people, doomed to a legacy of fractured families and psyches. As a woman in love with romance, with the idea of love and marriage, I could not reconcile my family’s ancestry and recent history with my deepest longings.

Not realizing that no man, no marriage, could fill the well of emptiness inside me, I destroyed my first marriage. As I continued to write, I realized my thesis had been drastically altered: I was no longer the victim of a broken family; I was the cause of one. My journey evolved into a search for grace, a struggle for salvation from the most unlikely suspect, and the painful necessity of offering redemption in my second marriage.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two years. However, I have been working on subsequent drafts on and off for nearly 10 years. This December will mark that 10th anniversary.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Initially, I believed that Burt Bridges was my inspiration. However, as this story has come to be one about my own need for redemption, what keeps me going is my restored Christian faith, which carries the greatest story of redemptive power ever told. I was so focused on romance and death, but I knew nothing of real love and life. My late uncle, Cricket, urged me to write this book. My son—getting down a written story for him—also inspires me to write.

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Who will publish your book?

Only time—and persistence—will tell.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

Some of my models for various aspects of the book are:

1)      James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain

2)      Jennifer Lauck’s Found 

3)      Dana Johnson’s Break Any Woman Down

4)      Wendy Plump’s Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)

5)      Brenda Miller’s Season of the Body

6)      James H. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree

7)      Sharon Olds’ The Father

8)      Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother

9)      Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak!

10)   Dany Laferrière’s An Aroma of Coffee

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a hard one, but I’ll give it a stab for some of the characters:

Narrator: Kimberly Elise or Tracie Thoms

Narrator’s first husband: Don Cheadle

Burt Bridges: Isaiah Washington

Young Mary: Aissa Maiga

Older Mary: Cicely Tyson

Houston: He looked like Red Foxx, but I know John Amos could capture Houston’s spirit and demeanor.

Houston’s wife, Avis: Mary Alice

Narrator’s mother: Phylicia Rashad

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My hope is that Seed of Strange Fruit is an all-American story of seeking relevance, love and redemption.

***

Thanks, again, Kaaren, for tagging me. And here are my tags (all beautiful writers) for Friday, March 1, 2013:

·      Ryane Nicole Granados (whose forthcoming novel, Plunge, tells of August Asher’s life altering season at a Children’s Hospital that includes: healing from the death of her fiancé, discovering the dying children have mysteriously curative powers and rediscovering her own gifted ability to connect with these children because of her near death experience as a child.) Her blog: http://ryanenicole.blogspot.com/

·      Mike Sonksen, aka Mike the Poet (whose forthcoming Slices of Los Angeles is a multimedia collaboration of prose and poetry accompanied by annotations and images in order to stretch the message.) His literary blog is http://mikethepoetla.tumblr.com/

·      Andi Cumbo (whose forthcoming book, You Will Not Be Forgotten, tells the stories of the people who were enslaved on the Central Virginia plantation where she was raised and her journey to get to know them.) Check out her awesome writing blog: http://www.andilit.com

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5 thoughts on “In the Company of Writers

  1. I can’t wait to read this book. A former history teacher and now counselor,I’m a firm believer that our history does not return void but shapes us in ways we need to understand. May God bless you in your efforts.

    • Hi Brenda,

      Yes, yes– you are so right. They must coexist: examining our history and moving forward into our future. I know that as a counselor and teacher, you have seen the negative impacts of neglecting one or both. Thanks so much for your comments and for stopping by. May God continue to bless you as well.

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