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CWatts
07-25-2013, 03:39 PM
Hello. Sorry to introduce myself here with something that may make people uncomfortable, but I have been struggling with this a lot in my current WIP which has race and racism at its very core. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=8321289&postcount=20

I am writing about Reconstruction, and my main character and about half my cast are African-American. I am getting a good response and a lot of constructive criticism from PoC in my writing group, but I would like to expand my reach and I will eventually need some betas who could say the sorts of things people might not be comfortable saying face-to-face.

A secondary goal of this novel is to call bullsh!t on those who romanticize/apologize for the Confederacy. This is something that, as a white liberal living in the South, I've observed is still badly needed...!

I worry sometimes that I make my heroine too full of self-doubt from internalized racism and sexism (amplifying my personal struggles with sexism for a big part of this), but she pushes past this. While none of us now living could really understand slavery, I'm looking to the psychology of domestic violence and Stockholm Syndrome for clues.

I am focusing a lot on the personal evolution of my white male lead. The fact that my heroine decides to leave him at the end of the war takes him by surprise, as he's been "good to her" (he is not her master but she's been 'hired out' to him) but he comes to realize that was not enough...

Cyia
07-25-2013, 04:31 PM
I've not read your work of course, but this:


A secondary goal of this novel is to call bullsh!t on those who romanticize/apologize for the Confederacy. This is something that, as a white liberal living in the South, I've observed is still badly needed...!

definitely makes me think you've got a lot of passion for your project and that can be both a help and a hindrance. You're going to have to take extra care with not falling into a "teaching pattern," or the tone will bury the story.

Kidd gloves, not boxing.

Another thing to remember, that I generally mention to anyone writing historical, is that you're not writing about people with your social context. A man, and in many ways more so for a woman, who reacted to 19th century life with a 21st century sensibility or morality would be seen as strange, if not a social pariah.

Good luck with it.

Rachel Udin
07-25-2013, 05:10 PM
Second on the possible soap box aspect. Another thing to look at is that people think it was the whites that rescued the African American slave population from itself. The truth is that African Americans did a lot of the work and it wasn't a single white man that saved everyone. (The great myth).

And they were treated like crap on both sides...

Plus you have the free black slaves and in some cases blacks did own slaves, though most of the time it was family members... but still, that's gotta be a little awkward.

In another words--from my light look into this topic, there was a lot of diversity within the community. It wasn't simply black slaves. It was also black soldiers fighting on different lines, being treated in different ways, so it must have been confusing.

And although this probably is inherent, there were by the civil war other groups coming into the country, starting to have contact, (Chinese immigrants, for example, minority within the majority white groups (Italians, Irish, etc.)) and also a variety of opinions among white people as well.

The women's movement was closely tied to the African American movement for a while too... (I'm not quite sure when it was divided and conquered attitude...)

Just pointing out the stuff that people tend to gloss over. Those little things can push on the stresses of the restoration.

Cranky1
07-25-2013, 09:41 PM
My grandmother will be 100 years old this year and she is the grand-daughter of slaves. I'm not sure that I can agree that none of us living can really understand slavery. :) She might not have lived the life of a slave, but she was raised by freed slaves.


Are you familiar with the Freedmen's Bureau? It's a great resource for records and accounts of Blacks during the period you are writing about.

http://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau/

I think the Library of Congress has interviews with former slaves that might be useful to you.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/

Kim Fierce
07-26-2013, 12:42 AM
Good luck. And Cranky1 I bet you learned a lot from your grandmother.

Two books that I own and have learned a lot from are Roots and Queen, both by Alex Haley. I have been researching off and on for my own novel idea-- which I don't know if it will ever be completed--- which takes place during the Civil War. To me, the children of white fathers and black mothers is my main focus, and their interaction with their white half-siblings. My idea is just so painful for me to write that I can't keep it up all the time.

I would definitely like to see the BS Confederacy romanticism squashed!

CWatts
07-26-2013, 02:12 AM
Wow Cranky1 I am sure you learned a lot from your grandmother too.

I've built up quite the resource library with some of the LoC slave narratives, current scholarship and of course primary sources.

@ Cyia - Yes I try to keep my characters from having anachronistic opinions or esp. behavior, often by researching real people who seem to sync with their worldview. For my heroine I'm drawing quite a bit from Frances E.W. Harper, for example.

As for the "teaching pattern" - I look out for it and have actually worked it into a character - based on a real woman from Massachusetts who was a teacher for the Freedman's Bureau for that area. She was well-meaning and progressive, but seems to have had the kind of abrasive personality that alienated pretty much everybody..."bless her heart."

@ Rachel - I'm working with a lot of this diversity as well. My MC's brother ran away to join the Union Army. (He nearly gets killed at the Crater, being shot at by *both* sides.) A planned follow-up novel partly set in New York City has several immigrant characters and gets into the labor movement.

I think one of the most difficult things for me as I try to get this project un-stalled is that I need to find a way to work in some humor. All the drama gets exhausting sometimes, and it's a very human thing to laugh as a coping mechanism. But I worry it may come across as disrespectful or something... And I will take a lot of artistic license to make it funny rather than offensive to the modern reader - probably more filth than they'd get by with at the time ;) However there's plenty of opportunity just in the inherent absurdity of a time when an innocent word like "leg" could give Southern ladies "the vapors", yet those same women could spout off the n-word without a thought...!

Speaking of the "troublesome word", it *only* occurs in dialogue and as a sign the speaker is an a-hole. I've also made no attempt at dialect other than a few very subtle speech patterns that are still commonplace (and this includes the white characters' dialogue).

Kim Fierce
07-26-2013, 02:27 AM
That's the one thing I couldn't do, my book is YA so that also influenced my decision, but even though I knew it would be more "authentic" to use the n word in every day conversation, I just can't do it. So if I ever do finish my own WIP on that topic it isn't going to be 100 per cent authentic in that regard. I might make an author's note about it though.

Rachel Udin
07-26-2013, 04:12 AM
That's the one thing I couldn't do, my book is YA so that also influenced my decision, but even though I knew it would be more "authentic" to use the n word in every day conversation, I just can't do it. So if I ever do finish my own WIP on that topic it isn't going to be 100 per cent authentic in that regard. I might make an author's note about it though.
I ran into this issue too... using the N word. I was trying to write something on the Battle of the Bulge because that's when African American troops and White troops were made to fight along side each other (also when racial boundaries broke down)... but the project collapsed at that point since I got far too emotional about it and couldn't clear my head. I knew how charged the N word was and couldn't move forward.

@OP, Did you know about the battle where they put black soldiers on the front line, but no white soldiers? I believe it was the union side to boot. I felt sick.

Kim Fierce
07-26-2013, 04:38 AM
I first got the idea for my project in high school (now I'm 32). At first it was a white girl who becomes friends with a slave girl and then as I grew older and learned more, it turned into a story about the two finding out they are half-sisters. I have done quite a lot of research on the time period anyway just because, and was making notes on it a couple years ago, but I always get to a certain point and have to stop because the whole thing gets too difficult. I sort of know where I want to take it next but I don't know if I ever will or if there is an interest in that kind of thing. But learning about the real history and not just the things they gloss over in class is definitely a heartbreaker.

CWatts
07-26-2013, 05:19 AM
I do have a lot of trepidation about putting the n word in it, and should I ever be so fortunate as to give readings I can't bring myself to say it.

@ Rachel - The Battle of the Crater at Petersburg had black troops not only being deliberately targeted by the Confederates, then in response some white Union troops who were also caught in the big pit of death turned on their black comrades in what essentially turned into a race riot. IIRC the black troops had specifically trained for the mission, then at the last minute a white unit went in first, botched it, then the blacks were sent in once it had gone sideways. Also one of the Union commanders was drunk off his butt at the time. (One source I haven't consulted is that one Newt Gingrich wrote...because he's Newt friggin Gingrich. I need to keep reminding myself when writing that in the 1860s, the GOP were liberals....)

Rachel Udin
07-26-2013, 04:59 PM
But learning about the real history and not just the things they gloss over in class is definitely a heartbreaker.
http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi1821484313/

I learned that in that documentary--a lot of stuff was glossed over... stay around for the rap song. And my school was liberal. I feel a bit on edge celebrating Labor Day now...

Also gives you references you might need...


(One source I haven't consulted is that one Newt Gingrich wrote...because he's Newt friggin Gingrich.)
:thumbs:

I was thinking of Fort Pillow... that was sick, sick, sick. Also a forgotten chapter in history.

CWatts
07-26-2013, 07:52 PM
Yes. Even at the time, the Fort Pillow massacre of hundreds of black Union POWs horrified the North...it was basically the Civil War's My Lai. I do wonder sometimes what effext it would have had on history if Nathan Bedford Forrest (who was in command of the troops who did it) had been hanged for war crimes (like the commander of Andersonville was). But then I guess some other sicko would've founded the Klan instead.