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Racial Accuracy in Literature and Genre Fiction

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The Bad Death is my historic paranormal novel with interracial romance. The protagonist is Anika, a slave woman. She’s attracted to her master’s brother, Julian. She becomes attracted to Marcus, an enslaved man who is a slave driver. A modern woman’s spirit takes refuge in Anika’s body and influences her mind. In adventure stories the hero prevails through gumption and daring. But how does The Bad Death align with historic reality? As Americans attend and react to 12 Years a Slave, a a new film based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, it seems a good time to examine the treatment of slavery in genre fiction and literature, particularly as it relates to autobiographies written by slaves.

 

 

Consider the critically acclaimed novel, Kindred by Octavia Butler. The heroine, Dana, is a modern African-American. She is repeatedly pulled through time to the antebellum south in order to protect the white boy destined to father the Caucasian side of her family. There (and then) Dana’s treated as a slave. Kindred is a good book. I’m glad I read it. I can’t say I enjoyed it. Why not? It’s grueling. She’s victimized relentlessly. She and her fellow slaves endure terrible conditions. The antebellum interracial liaisons are exploitative and cruel. Kindred isn’t an adventure story. It is a historically accurate novel in the literary tradition.

 

 

Because the slave woman was chattel, she had no power to resist her master’s advances. Even relationships based on affection and mutual attraction exploited her. Also, the environment of slavery varied from benign to brutal. Two autobiographies from that period recount the harshest conditions explicitly: The History of Mary Prince and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Mary Prince and Linda Brent worked on West Indies’ plantations in conditions that injured and sickened them. When this affected their productivity, they were beaten and whipped till they couldn’t stand and then made to somehow continue working. They were hounded sexually by their masters. They were unable to live healthy married lives to the free black men who courted them. Both women learned to read and write. Both escaped and became outspoken abolitionists. Both autobiographies are in The Classic Slave Narratives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Slaves on South Carolina Lowcountry rice plantations worked under better conditions, as described in Charles Joyner’s history Down by the Riverside: a South Carolina Slave Community. Anika’s story is set in a South Carolina slave community like that documented by Joyner.

 

I wanted to write a paranormal historical with sexy romance and a crossbow-wielding adventuress. I could have written The Bad Death more realistically, but then it would be a book in a different genre. Due to the novel’s setting, even the most benevolent white characters have racist viewpoints. I hope readers understand that these views belong to the characters – not to me. And I hope readers are moved to explore libraries and bookstores. There’s great literature out there and inspiring nonfiction accounts of history’s real heroes and heroines.

 


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