Libby Ware

Author

ALA Stonewall Honor Book Award

Lum has been awarded the American Library Association’s 2016 Stonewall Book Award, being named one of the Barbara Gittings Literature Award Honor Books

 

Writing about Race in Historical Fiction

I have a guest post on Reading the Past’s website. I write about the difficulties of writing about race in historical fiction.

http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/2015/11/race-in-historical-fiction-guest-post.html

Race in historical fiction: a guest post by Libby Ware, author of Lum

Libby Ware, author of Lum (reviewed this past Sunday), is here today with an essay on an important but complex and sensitive topic in historical fiction: writing about race in historical times.
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Race in Historical Fiction
By Libby Ware

As W. E. B. DuBois said, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” I’d like to add that the problem was central to the nineteenth century and still is in the twenty-first century, as well. The problem for white writers is how to accurately portray African American characters within the context of the times in which the novel is set. Three things that are hard are: dialect; terminology; and the strictures that white supremacy placed on whites and Blacks.

I do not like the use of dialect when used to misspell every other word, for example, “dem” for them, “I gwine” for I’m going, etc. I like to give a flavor of speech patterns, for example, using one colloquial word in a sentence or dropping a g off of a word, but not all words. And white Southerners have dialect, too, for example, “I’m fixin’ to go.” My book Lum is set in Appalachia in the 1930s, so I flavor all of the characters’ speech with words or sentences appropriate for the time. By researching diaries or novels written in the time period I’m writing about, I can get an idea of colloquialism to sprinkle into characters’ speech without going overboard.

A writer may need to use slurs as well as historically accurate names for other races. I hate the n-word, but since it was in use during the time I’m writing about, I used it when it suited the character and situation, as it does once or twice in my book. Another word that I can remember hearing when I was growing up is “nigra,” considered a slightly more genteel version of the n-word. I also used that word once or twice. Generally I used the term “colored.”

It is also important, but can be personally hard, to show how white supremacy is prevalent, even in sympathetic white characters. To write about a white person who always treats Black people equally in the time of slavery or Jim Crow is just not accurate. Degrees of individual racism existed, but remember that the whole of society was racist. Certainly some characters are less racist than others, but that line of division is still there.

One of the most informative books I have read wasGrowing up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race, by Jennifer Ritterhouse. The author points out how differently these two races learned about what is and isn’t permitted at the time of Jim Crow. White children were often told “it just isn’t done” or “they know their place.” Black children were taught that to act in a way that wasn’t sanctioned by white society is very dangerous. For example, often young Black and white children played together until a certain age. For Black children, caution was drilled into them. If a Black boy and a white boy rough-housed and the white child came home with a black eye, the Black boy could be punished by whites. An unspoken reason for taboos was often the underlying threat of interracial dating, or what was called “race mixing.” So, I had to make sure characters don’t cross those lines without showing either reprisal or the threat of punishment.

While I want to be accurate about the period we are portraying, I often have to write things that are not comfortable. But using language, attitudes, and social customs appropriate to the social mores of the time makes a novel more true to the time period.

 

Self-interview on Nervous Breakdown Blog

I had a self-interview on Nervous Breakdown’s site:

Have you wondered: Why the book is named Lum? What is intersex and is it different from trans*? What the heck are Melungeons?

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tnbfiction/2015/10/libby-ware-the-tnb-self-interview/#more-123099

Atlanta Magazine Highlights Lum

The October issue of  Atlanta Magazine includes Lum on their page of books by Atlanta authors. In addition, right under Elvis Costello, is Lum’s release date. They say, “Pick up this startling good debut novel.”

Atlanta mag. Lum.2

How I Trimmed A Ms. From 150k words to fewer than 70k

I wrote a guest blog on the Reality Check Blog on Shewrites.com. I include tips on shortening a manuscript that results in clearer writing.

Here’s the link:   http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/reality-check-shaping-the-novel-how-i-trimmed-a-manuscript-from

Book Release

11/17/15 She Writes Press Fall Tour–Eagle Eye Books, Decatur, GA 7:00

12/3/15    She Writes Press Fall Tour–Books and Books, Miami, Florida 6:30 pm

12/5/15   Okeechobee County Public Library, Okeechobee, Florida 2;00 pm

12/6/15   Wild Iris Books Annex, 6:00 pm

1/13/16   She Writes Fall Tour–San Francisco, California

4/12/16   Village Writers Club, Eagle Eye Books, Decatur, GA

 

Lum will be published in October 2015

LUM3In 1933 in the Shenandoah Valley, there isn’t a place for Lum, a 33-year-old intersex woman. She travels by schedule from one branch of the family to another, assisting with cooking, child care and housework. Always an outsider, even in her own family, Lum secretly collects postcards of people like the Dog-faced Girl, imagining their stories, and nurtures her lifelong friendship with Smiley, an African American man who sells furniture, odds-and-ends, and a little moonshine.

But Lum’s world changes when a local banker becomes ill and needs care. Sent to assist, she forms an unlikely friendship with the curmudgeonly old man. At the same time, the federal highway administration comes scouting land, wanting to buy the family farm for a new scenic highway. Lum’s brothers don’t want to sell, and they’re not alone. But the Blue Ridge Parkway brings not only loss, but offers an opportunity for Lum.

My release party will be at Charis Books and More in November.

Please support independent bookstores.

My Sh**ty First Draft*

*Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Novel #1: Overlook

For my first novel, I revised as I went along.  I was taking Carol Lee Lorenzo’s Fiction Workshop at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center as well as going to another writer’s group.  I would revise based on my writer’s group’s suggestions, then turn in to Carol Lee, make her suggested revisions, read to the Workshop, and revise again according to their comments.  After a while I would stack up the pages with suggested revisions and tackle them all at once at the Hambidge Center.  All in all, this took fifteen, yes, fifteen years to finish the novel, including reducing it from 592 manuscript pages to the recommended 400.  And I revised and revised and revised and revised—you get the picture.

Enter novel #2: The Cedars

Following Anne Lamott’s advice, to write a sh**ty first draft, I decided to write my second novel differently than I did my first one.  I was also influenced by Architecture of the Novel: A Writer’s Handbook by Jane Vandenburgh. Her advice is also to write a first draft and that the story will find its own shape. So I just wrote it through without any revising.  Much of it was written at Hambidge. At home, however, I was not as disciplined about writing every day.  Recently, I pledged to write every day in December.  Each chapter was in its own file, so I had no idea of my total word count, so I added it up.  Yikes, I had nearly 110,000 words and I wasn’t even through.  I decided to write the end, or should I say, ends.  With two point of view characters, I had to wrap up each one’s story.  It took me over a week to do so, and one of their endings came to me in a half-waking realization.  That end was written in dialogue, no setting, no description, but it was done.

It’s done!!

Yes, it’s sh**ty, but only I can say that.  Now for the revising–cutting, adding descriptions, shaping, all those parts of revising that are essential to writing.  The thrilling part of learning my story is over for now.  The hard work of deciding which scenes to cut, which to expand, which to shorten.  Where are there repetitions?  Where do I need to add setting?  How can I improve my language?  My character’s motivations?  Moods?

But–I’ve finished my first draft. Last night, Charlene Ball, my partner and fellow writer, Carol Lee, my instructor and fellow writer, and I toasted my accomplishment.  Now, back to my pledge of writing every day.

Stumped? Stymied? Anything but Writers Block

I used to say that I don’t believe in writers block, that if I just starting writing, that the writing would come.  My initial writing can be, as one of my former writers group members said, just “warming up.”  Dialog comes easily to me so that is how chapters often begin, with a character’s voice, and then I discover, by writing, what comes next.  Plot can develop out of dialog.

Recently I felt stymied, stuck, not knowing what to write next, and a lot of this feeling came from not wanting to write what I felt I must.

For a long time, I’ve had in mind what would happen a certain way, resulting in a major turning point.  But the closer I came to that section, the more reluctant I was to write it.  When I anticipate plot, in the actual writing it may come out differently than I had planned.  In this instance, I realized that for the good of the plot that one of my point of view characters, instead of being a victim, would do something unethical.  But I didn’t want her to.  The challenge would be to have her do it, then not lose the sympathy of the reader.  My reluctance kept me from writing until I forced myself to sit down and write it.  Then what happens next?  Another point of stuckness, styminess (ok, I’m making up words now).  Would it happen the way I had it planned or another way?  I tried writing it both ways then settled on one.  So I worked my way through it, proving once again, that I just need to write.  Nothing is set in stone and if it doesn’t work, try another way.

My Literary Mount Rushmore

One of my favorite podcasts is “Books on the Nightstand,” by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, sales reps from Random House.  One of their listeners suggested the topic: Who would be on your literary Mount Rushmore?  He specified “No qualifiers.”

Since it is Mount Rushmore, I decided that my list of four authors would be limited to Americans, and I’ve come up with the following: (1) Mark Twain–who chronicled 19th century America when we still had a wilderness with wit and satire, and for creating Huckleberry Finn, a boy who smoked a pipe, cussed, narrowly escaped death at the hand of a drunken father, and risked eternal damnation by following his own ethics, by recognizing the humanity of Jim, the escaped slave.

(2) Louisa May Alcott: “Little Women” has been read avidly by generations of girls, and I hope it is read by contemporary girls.  Jo was the character who many of us identified with, the no nonsense tom boy who wanted to be a writer, didn’t marry the one we thought she would, but instead a bear of a man with whom she would have a school for wayward boys.  As a young girl, I loved “Little Men,” with the boys who were more rambunctious than the March girls.  “Little Women” is also significant because it depicted a Northern family who suffered deprivation while their father was away in the Civil War.  This aspect of the Civil War is usually shown in literature about the Southern.

(3) W. E. B. DuBois: “Souls of Black Folk” states that the issue of the 20th century is the color line.  DuBois traveled through Georgia showing the impact of Reconstruction and Jim Crow on the lives of Blacks and on the ruin of white Southerners.  His tale of the death of his baby son is some of the most lyrical writing on such a loss.  In addition to his and his wife’s grief, he writes of how the young boy didn’t know color and responded to white and black people equally, and he escaped ever having to bow down due to his color.

(4) Flannery O’Connor: Our Anton Chekhov, the marvelous short story writer, writing as an outsider, a Catholic in the Bible Belt of Protestantism; an educated woman who lived in New York amongst folks who never left home.  One of my favorite characters is Hulga, who changed her name from Joy, wore a faded Roy Rogers sweat shirt and lost her leg to a traveling Bible salesman who believed in nothing.  Knowing she had a limited lifetime to write, she finished a tremendous amount of fiction, essays, book reviews for Catholic magazines, and had a lively correspondence with other writers, many of whom found their way through back roads to Millegeville, Georgia to visit the ailing O’Connor.

Who would be on your literary Mount Rushmore?

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