Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Caste of Characters in My Novel Set in Rural America.

The canopy of trees also covers a diversity of wealth in rural America.

As a writer from the lower middle class, who has only peeked around the corner to catch glimpses of wealth, I do not wish to put wealth on a pedestal. In my novel, "Severed," I don't drop too many designer names and I purposefully stay away from the bling-bling trappings of so many contemporary American novelists, who place wealth as the real protagonist. However, the concept of wealth is a very important subtext to the novel. The lengths that people go through to become wealthy forms part of the mystery.

Set in a rural pocket of Northwestern Louisiana, Nakadee is a university town with a population of under 40,000.  Luscious in its comparison to swampy, crowded New Orleans and its northern neighbor, a complacently citified Shreveport, Nakadee is a fictional sleepy hollow that is likely to grow in leaps and bounds given a potential natural gas pipeline construction project which will change its economy.  Some Nakadee residents can't wait, while others don't care: the rich will only get richer, however, the lower classes might get some good jobs, for a change.

The citizens of Nakadee, whose ancestors have lived there for several hundred years, while trapped in its relative remoteness, are thankful for its refuge. They purposefully wish to live life in the slow lane.  The town is a mix of Americans, Black, European, Creole and Cajun, the latter two a melange resulting from questionable "hookups," over the centuries, between the first two racial groups, that defied racial sexual taboos back in the day. Nearly every native of Louisiana is a variation on that theme.  All citizens have their crosses to bear in living, out loud, the ancient roles of slaveholder, slave, today, as a Louisianan.

Even rural roads lead to power
The wealth of those groups is also relative of one's color. But there are exceptions, and my novel explores it through the eyes of the protagonist, Dr. Lula Logan, a Northerner Black woman who grew up solidly lower middle-class.  Hailing from California, her father had a secure job in the U.S. Postal Service, and scrimped and saved for his only child. He was frugal to a fault, and managed to handle his government benefits wisely enough to grow a trust for her that is worth several million dollars.  Lula's mother, his widow, is still alive and Lula is gainfully employed, with no need to draw upon her inheritance. 

Growing up, Lula lived on the periphery of the Black social circles of debutante balls and elite Black social clubs. Not prone to class-isms or people-pleasing, she is more intellectual than social. While no stranger to the good life, she knows she has to pay for it herself, so when the investigation in which she becomes involved relates to several wealthy individuals, she's intrigued by what she witnesses, and must, herself, decide whether she has any biases against the people she comes across as part of the investigation.

Mind you, the wealthy she's dealing with are not the nouveaux riches Kimyes and Jay-Zs of the world who sing about their acquisitions, but old money and old power, whose wealth is very much unseen, and more hidden in their closed door Congressional offices.  Lula must come to terms with her professed values and her feelings, which are muddled after meeting Congressman Girabeaux.

A Black Republican who is from a family of freeman who owned slaves in the antebellum South; the other, an older, more traditional White Congressman whose patted enough backs and greased enough palms to place him next to the highest players in Hollywood, his constituency.  Though they are rich, they are only bit players in a grand scheme. In fact, they are hired guns of the real power brokers of the uber wealthy--twelve degrees, instead of six degrees of separation. But they know that to stay in power they must do someone else's bidding, even if they never meet the person whose interests they represent.

When Lula meets the Black Congressman, despite her progressive politics, she finds herself falling under his spell.  Is it the limousine driver or his personal chef that makes him so appealing? And what does she truly feel about her ex-boyfriend, a Creole detective, the only one of color on the police force, who is comfortable with his place in town, but who, to Lula, manages to always play it safe?

In the U.S., we witness the lives of the rich and famous on television. But how do you handle it when you see it up close and personal? The cast of characters in the novel is large, and wide, intentionally so; any small town has its own variety. In this investigation, however, when severed fingers start to appear in different parts of the small town, Lula comes across some of the town's characters beneath the surface of notoriety, but characters just the same.

The South is one big caste system through which Lula must negotiate. Although never on the surface, her beliefs about race are a major factor in her own metamorphosis as she comes to terms with her new home in Nakadee, Louisiana.

No comments:

Why Reading Other Novelists Helps Improve One's Own Writing

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss My rating: 3 of 5 stars As someone who has written an in-depth novel with lots of characters and int...