Thursday, October 28, 2021

Go There

In my Type M entry of Sept 30, I wrote about a new monthly feature on my own website I'm trying called “Tell Me Your Story”. Thus far I've hosted five authors who have told us about pivotal events in their lives which have shaped their writing and their careers. One of my guests sent me her story to look over before posting because she felt a bit nervous about putting herself out there so openly. I'm not telling which author it was, because they've all been amazingly courageous. 

It was a wonderful, mind-blowing tale, and I told her she shouldn't worry about what some random stranger thinks she should have done. I really wanted to publish it, because I thought it would help and inspire someone who probably needed to hear it. It did, too, judging by the comments we got on social media.

Well, now the time has come for me to decide whether I'm going to follow my own advice and go there myself. It's not so easy when you're the one in the hot seat. I've spent much of my life trying to do the brave thing, and I wimp out most of the time and regret it. Maybe it's time to go there myself.

My “go there” is  less brave than hers, since I'm using my work-in-progress to fictionalize a really problematic theme that has run through my life – racism. The new book is the eleventh Alafair Tucker mystery, my long-running series set in Oklahoma, with established characters and situations. The series began in 1912 and moved forward year by year, and  I've now reached 1921, the year of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It's also the year that the KKK had a horrifying resurgence in Oklahoma. I can't pretend like nothing happened.

I grew up in Tulsa, a little girl in the 1950s and a teen in the 1960s. I grew up in a segregated world. I knew nothing about anything. My parents were liberal for the time and I never heard anything untoward from them, but some of my other relatives...  Suffice it to say I heard things said that shocked me even then, and some of these things were said by people I loved.

In the intervening years, I've thought about those days a lot and wondered. Did any of them ever go beyond words and do something unthinkable? I hope not. What would it be like for someone who found out their jolly, much beloved uncle or father or grandfather had been a member of the Nazi party? Or a stormtrooper? Or a guard at a concentration camp? People are a mix of wonderful and horrible. If you discover that your loved one did the unthinkable could you instantly stop loving them?  Or would it just be profound disappointment and grief? How could you love a Nazi?

How am I going to handle this? What do people of good will do when they realize they've been blind and ignorant? In doing the research for this era I've discovered nothing has changed all that much in 100 years. It's depressing.

All I can do if forge ahead and pray I can pull it off in a way that isn't offensive and honors the trials so many have endured. I want to be brave and finally go there. Somebody needs to hear it. 


Barbara Fradkin said...

That's a powerful, and for you, personal tale, and I look forward to reading the book, Donis. Doing the victims justice has always been important to me too.

Donis Casey said...

Thanks, Barbara. If I can pull it off, I'll be so happy!

Wendall Thomas said...

Donis, knowing your writing and you, I can only imagine that you will handle it with truth and grace. I can't wait to read what you wind up with. xxx

Karen said...

It takes courage to go there … to tackle the hard topics. Not just because it’s deeply personal but also because highly sensitive topics often elicit criticism from people ready to pounce. Dialog is important, absolutely, but sometimes what claims to be dialog is undertaken without a sincere desire to understand, to allow space for restating or amendment or discovery. That discourages me sometimes.