Tackling Racism in Fiction

I feel an enormous amount of responsibility in dealing with stories on race, even in a historical context.

We’re living in a very divisive world. Of course, it’s not the most divisive time. The U.S. hasn’t gotten to the point where we declare full-on Civil War, so that’s a plus. Though many of the characters from the Nameless series would love to be in 2019, the beauty of these characters is they’d never settle. Thank God for progress, but they would always ask: what now?

I’m particularly proud of the Song on the Devil’s Lips because of the strength and journey of these characters. Joseph Cooper—Charlotte’s mentor and suitor—is a bit of a love letter from the past and to the future. He knows the world isn’t fair. It’s cruel and it’s terrible, but he’s determined to do the best with it. He’s never bitter. He’s the type of guy if given a sliver of an opportunity, he’s gonna take it and run.

We have too many people who want to ignore racial division or make light of it, but you also have people on the opposite end who thrive in the negativity.

To solve problems, you have to acknowledge them, but then you have to plan a productive and positive action to counter. Otherwise, nothing gets solved. You have to find a way to move forward. At the core, this is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and how it can progress positively, even after staring in the mirror and seeing evil.

There’s a great scene where Cooper mouths off his expectations of black progress. Cooper remarks how he doesn’t need to see the future if he can make it happen. The ideas seem radical, looking back to 1863, but the abolitionists were wildly optimistic and hungry. It’s remarkable that by 1870, the U.S. had black congressmen. With that in mind, it makes you wonder why we’re not further along today.

There’s also a scene in the book where society retaliates against Cooper’s dreams. It may be fiction, but it’s a strong representation of the push and pull of progress. No matter how good you are or how hard you work, life will cut you down. Humans are terribly disappointing, but they can surprise you.

I want to remind people of our strengths. I’m very proud to be a Black American. I feel like the history of my ancestors is the ultimate underdog story. The more I study history, the more patriotic I am. There were so many people who stared into the ugliness of the world and said, “I’m still gonna fight.” They still clung onto the faith in a better world. I have heard and read many things that have pierced my heart, yet they persisted.

How can I not do the same? I’ve had my struggles and hurts, but how can I have any less courage than people who literally risk their lives to be free? It’s their spirits and their hearts, along with the people who stood by them, that embody American Exceptionalism.

I’m in awe of their strength. I’m grateful about fought to get me to where I am today, and I only pray that I can push another generation forward.

In the Color of God’s Eyes, Charlotte is very content with having a small world with her love. Reality shatters those expectations quite violently, and it’s Cooper who encourages Charlotte to see outside of her bubble. He’s the one who lights a fire under her feet to give back with what she has.

I hope Charlotte’s journey is one people find inspiring, especially her true revelation of “freedom” discussed in the Song on the Devil’s Lips.

Truly though, my pride is in Cooper, and I feel honored to have written such a character. If he can inspire someone half as much as I felt inspired by creating his story, I’ll feel like I did a great job.

I did a ton of research on the Draft Riots, and it’s such an interesting setting for the climax of the story. I want people to know about the sort of horrors committed during those three days due to racism and classism. Black Americans and Irish immigrants were treated poorly, and it’s a perfect eruption of hatred.

We’ve had some terrible eruptions of hate recently, but nothing on this level. Hopefully, learning a little bit more about the past can help prevent it on this scale.

Humanity is capable of being horrid, but we’re capable of surprising one another. My wish is that my work leads to positive surprises, despite the darkness.