Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Choosing the Setting-Hang My Head & Cry

The historical part of each of my first 3 books takes place near or at the end of a major American war. By Blood Possessed was set in 1864, after Virginia had already been torn apart by years of battles. I chose 1783 for Poison to Purge Melancholy, when America was first experiencing its newfound freedom. No one was quite sure what to do next and England, with all its trade embargoes, wasn't making the birth of our new nation easy. I suppose I settle into late and post-war eras for my stories because those times are rife with conflicting emotions and motives, and with people simply trying to reorganize their disrupted lives.

Few places and times were in as much upheaval as the post Civil War American South, where my second novel HANG MY HEAD & CRY was set. I chose early July of 1871. Here was America celebrating Independence Day only 5 years before the 1876 Centennial, yet with the strongest polarity of opinion about who should get what rights. Former Confederate soldiers who refused to take a loyalty oath lost their right to vote. Freed male slaves who were of age gained that right. Former politicians, other leaders of the Confederacy were forbidden to serve in any position where they were required to take an oath to defend the Constitution. Some of these vacancies in legislatures and local governing bodies were filled by former slaves. The white South saw their power slipping into the hands of the very people they'd held dominion over for so long. The hatred born of this overturn of power would have developed even if everyone had been the same race. The physical difference only served to build higher walls between the factions.

Women, of course, had no voting rights at all. Black women in particular were on the bottom rung of society's ladder. Most still worked at whatever jobs they'd done as slaves, for very little pay, while trying to hold together what families they had left. Many tried to find children traded before the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a writer, I'm a sucker for this sort of drama. Hatred, helplessness, frustration, vengeance, and pure stubborn heroic determination all make great mystery book fodder. Since the point of my Possessed series is to juxtapose historical conflict with modern day issues, a book set in this era was just asking to be written.

I should mention that in 1872, confederate soldiers and leaders were given their rights back, and after 1876, despite Rutherford Hayes' platform supporting black equality, his administration allowed the South to pass one loophole law after another to take voting and other rights away from former slaves. Took us until the 1960s to fix the damage with the Voting Rights Amendment, but, even now, every federal election has had reports of people trying to deny voters their rights.

Edmund Burke said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." In the case of any kind of intolerance, though, simply knowing history isn't enough. You have to want to learn from it.

Peace, Elena

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