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NaNoWriMo Day #15: Half-way to the finish line

Reporting my National Novel Writing Month total at the halfway mark of this 30-day exercise of writing abandon: I’m at 37,901 words, ahead of the 25,000 word pace. Knock on wood that the dreaded writer’s block will continue to stay cooped up.

Dixieland could be even longer at this point except for my habit of writing dialogue without attribution, movement or other scene-building verbiage. I make up for that, I believe, with my ALL CAPS THINKING AS I WRITE, I NEED A REFERENCE HERE TO FORESHADOW A CHARACTER’S APPEARANCE IN THE NEXT SCENE.

That’s how I write when I’m on a roll. I know what I want to say, but I don’t want to get hung up on a detail that might derail that roll. I’m not sure how many ALL CAPS BURSTS OF INDECISION I will have come Nov. 30, but those SHOUTS are my cue to reach into my mental queue for something more meaningful.

Meanwhile, I’m offering another conversation between my main male protagonist, Alvie Ferguson, and little 11-year-old racist Ladd Miller. Remember, it’s during World War II, just before Alvie goes off to join a flight crew for bombing runs over Germany. His young bride, Edna Mae — the main character in Dixieland — eventually joins them.

There’s no attribution for some of the dialogue. Alvie speaks first, followed by Ladd …

“You boys savin’ the foil from your gum wrappers?”

“Ain’t got no gum, Mr. Alvie.”

“Well, let’s say you erase ‘ain’t’ from the dictionary in your head and I’ll give you a few sticks.”

“That’d be swell, but I don’t see how sayin’ ‘ain’t’ is so bad. Everybody knows what it means.”

“True. But your talkin’ could mean the difference between working the shipyard or bein’ one of the slick lawyers on Lawyers Row.” REMEMBER: EDNA MAE IS A STENOGRAPHER FOR ONE OF THE SLICK LAWYERS, AND HE’LL LET HER GO WHEN HE DISCOVERS THE FERGUSONS ALLOWED DIXIE AND LEWIS KING TO MOVE IN WITH THEM, AFTER ALVIE GETS HIS ORDERS TO DEPLOY.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, when you go to look for work, they might say, ‘This chap sounds like a shipyard scrub,’ and you’ll get your job there.”

“Well, I kinda like that idea. Them fellers are some tough crackers.”

“Oh, yeah, and nice, nice guys. Not saying anything about their character. But their education has ‘em working in the shipyard today, which is where they’ll be workin’ the day they retire. You wanna work that hard for that long?”

“But I ain’t – well, I don’t gots much up here.” Ladd pointed to his noggin. “I might just be shipyard material.”

“Well, Mr. Crosby says if you don’t work hard in school and get your lessons and graduate, you may grow up to be a mule. Or a pig.”

 Edna Mae spoke as she gently shut the screen door behind her. “Or a fish.”

ANOTHER REFERENCE TO MUSIC OF THE ERA. ‘SWINGIN’ ON A STAR’ WAS A BING CROSBY HIT, AND ITS MESSAGE WAS “STAY IN SCHOOL.” BE SURE TO INCLUDE OCCASIONAL REFERENCES TO THE RADIO SHOWS, MOVIES AND MUSIC, JUST ENOUGH TO KEEP THAT MID-40’S, WW2-ERA AURA.

Alvie gave her a peck on the cheek.

“Eww! Yuck!” the little imp Ladd retorted. Edna Mae ignored the boy’s reaction and swept a lock of her husband’s white hair off his forehead.

“Alvie, I declare you will have your own little army of boys to do all of your bidding. Maybe you should own a shipyard. You’ll have reliable, loyal hands.”

“Reliable?” He pointed toward Ladd.

“Have you conducted all your business with Mr. Ferguson here?” she asked the boy.

Ladd crossed his arms, cocked his head and cleared his throat.

 “My daddy says he heard you got a colored livin’ with you. In the same house.”

 “I am not aware of any reason why my living arrangements are any of your business, young man.”

Ladd looked away and kept his gaze fixed on the horizon.

“Well, if’n that’s true, I just know you got more sense than to let them coloreds use your indoor commode, the same one y’all use.” He shook his head and turned to face the other direction, never making eye contact. “That’s just plain nasty.”

Alvie waved the boy away. “You run along, Ladd. We treat people like people, no matter who they are or where they’re from.”

Ladd Miller walked away. “Everybody’s gots their place is all.”

Alvie wrapped an arm around his bride’s delicate waist and shot back. “And from the sound of it, your place should be in school.”

Let me hear (read) what you think. C’mon, now. Just a brief comment will make my day.

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NaNoWriMo Day #5: Taking in strays …

Here’s another excerpt from “Dixieland,” my National Novel Writing Month project that has reached 14,676 words. Tonight I wrote a scene that is, so far, the most difficult scene I’ve ever written. Unfortunately, that’s both a confession and a tease, because I can’t reveal that scene until the novel is finished.

I followed that challenging effort with something more light-hearted, and I have to admit that I’m having a blast making light of Sondra Ramsey’s pretentiousness. Sondra is Edna Mae Ferguson’s mother, and after Edna Mae’s hubby, Alvie, goes off to war, Edna Mae begins taking in strays. Her mother is present when the menagerie of cats and children begins.

In this excerpt, three of the children living in sharecropper shacks on the Ferguson Homestead have shown up at Edna Mae’s front door with a momma cat and two kittens. I realize I’ve referred to her mother as Sondra Ramsey AND Mrs. Ramsey. These inconsistencies will live at least until Dec. 1. (Inner editor, bound and gagged with duct tape, is going mad). Keep in mind: it’s an unedited work-in-progress. Comments, critiques, questions are not only welcomed but encouraged.

Dixieland, from Chapter 3 …

The raggedy little children kept their heads down but their eyes raised toward Mrs. Ramsey, who had called on her daughter in a in a tightly-wrapped, floor-length white dress. She wore a cream-colored hat – sort of resembled a nurse’s cap – on her head and two-inch high heels on her feet.

“I’m sure you were expecting guests, Edna Mae, because, I declare, it would be positively rude –indeed – to just show up uninvited.” She crossed her arms and looked down at the children. The momma cat was trying to get free. “Positively rude.” Mrs. Ramsey raised her eyebrows with the last “rude.”

Gertie Leeper, the middle child, finally spoke, never taking her eyes off Mrs. Ramsey.

“Miss Ellie, who is this lady?”

Edna Mae grinned to herself.

“I’m going to look at these poor felines,” she injected, completely dismissing her mother’s lesson in Southern etiquette and disarming her unapproving gaze.

“But, dear, you must give a reply to the invitation.” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped the Leeper children and handed Edna Mae a press-printed, personally signed invitation to the Natchez Garden Club’s spring pilgrimage tour planning social. In addition to the where, when and what time neatly arranged on a pink-tinted card, it also bore the signature: “Dear Edna Mae, please come. Respectfully, Sondra (Mrs. G.E.) Ferguson.”

The momma cat jumped from the oldest child’s arms and dashed up the stairs.

“What impudence, Edna Mae. Really!”

Edna Mae just shook her head. “Really, mother? You couldn’t have just signed it, ‘Mom?’”

“Well it’s quite the social event, and requires …” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped again to avoid stepping on a kitten. “It requires a formal request and a formal response.”

Edna Mae patted the youngest child’s head and thumbed the invitation. She gently directed the oldest child to go retrieve the momma cat.

“Well, they’ll just meddle in your bedroom, I just know it …” Mrs. Ramsey’s indignation grew. Edna Mae whispered to Gertie, “Go and help your sister find the momma cat,” again dismissing her mother’s haughty words.

“Mother, could you be a dear and help me make some lemonade for these children?” Edna Mae reached down and scooped up one of the scrawny kittens. She held its nose to her nose then handed it to the youngest Leeper lad.

Sondra Ramsey stomped her foot, barely making a “clink” with a high heel on the hardwood floor.

“Do you not detect the slightest bit of boorish, disrespectful incivility?” She stomped the other foot. “All this carrying on.” Edna Mae headed toward the kitchen.

“Come on, mother, let’s squeeze some lemons.”

“Well, I declare!” Mrs. Ramsey was shouting. “I don’t know how to tell your father how you’ve let this get so out of hand. Wild animals in the house – IN the house! – and colored children coming and going …”

In a flash, Edna Mae turned and was nose to nose with her mother.

“They are children, mother. Children.” She wanted so badly to put a finger in her mother’s face, in the same way she’d been raised. Edna Mae stepped back and Sondra Ramsey began to speak.

“Ah!” Edna Mae raised one hand, just above waist-level. “You, mother, are the only one who has crossed a line here today.”

Incidentally, I realize I’ve now made reference to “sidestepping” at least a half-dozen times. I take that as a sign that I’m not subconsciously making sure that my theme of racial tension is included in the fabric of the story. (The white folks in “Dixieland” sure do a lot of sidestepping.)

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NaNoWriMo: “Dixieland” Day 1

Putting a wrap on Day 1 of National Novel Writing Month, the daily word-count goal is 1,667, which will produce just over 50,000 words for the 30-day NaNoWriMo. Two years ago I hit 50,014 words — whew! — just enough to be considered a “winner” of the month of literary abandon. Unfortunately, “Gone” remains unfinished, a work-in-progress. (Most novels — the ones that are actually published — are typically between 80,000 and 100,000 words, although I’m told that some Harry Potter books are about a million words. Or something like that). Last year I cranked out 64,000 words on “Chasing The Devil,” which also remains a WIP.

That brings us to “Dixieland” — already at 4,695 words. This story is actually the first in the series with the other two unfinished novels. I’ll share this scene from the opening pages of the story where I’m trying to establish the pervasive, yet mostly unacknowledged tones of racial tension through the words of little boys who have come to tell Billy Blanchard’s Uncle Alvie — a soon-to-be-deployed World War II airman — that his nephew is “fixin’ to get tore up” by the local bully. The dialogue picks up here where Ladd Miller, whose daddy is a school teacher and head of the local KKK, expresses complete disdain for black people.

Unedited, of course. (My inner editor is under a strict gag order, which will lifted on Dec. 1, except for work release for my day job at the Columbia Daily Tribune).

Dixie walked past the little boy on the sidewalk and stepped into the yard to speak to Edna Mae. The little imp snorted loudly, spat a nasty wad of phlegm near Dixie’s feet, and announced, “Daddy says coloreds are s’posed to halt to the white folks.”

Alvie made one long stride, squatted in front of Ladd Miller, and hovered over the boy even in a catcher’s crouch. “Tell you what, buddy, you need to step over there and run your foot through that snot, and apologize to Miss Dixie.” His firm voice was just above a whisper.

Ladd stepped back, shrinking. “And if I don’t?”

“If you don’t mop your foot through the snot, I’ll use your shirt collar to sop it up.”

The little boy tugged at his collar with balled-up fists. “You not gettin’ my shirt off me.”

“I won’t take your shirt off,” Alvie said, leaning toward the cowering boy. “I’ll sop up that snot with you still wearin’ the shirt.”

Ladd’s lips trembled. “I’ll tell my daddy.” He was about to cry.

Alvie leaned closer and his shadow swallowed the boy. “Well, your daddy will already know, ‘cause I’m tellin’ him first.”

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