I got a nasty surprise yesterday when, idly browsing my sales, I decided to see if any new reviews had been submitted for my books on Barnes and Noble. Lo and behold, I got a one star rating for Catching the Rose and the title of the comment was “Racist?”
Believe me, when you see that word, in bold, associated with your book, especially when that was not the intent of it, you are fully aware of how silly you sound when you say “…whoa” while blinking at your computer screen.
The comment went on to say,
I’m sure “SLAVES” had a name so pray tell why didn’t this writer choose to use one. I couldn’t believe how many times the word was used. It really ruined the storyline.
Rather than taking this comment personally, I’m now trying to see it from the reader’s perspective. Yes, I do use the word “slave” multiple times in the first chapters of the book as a stylistic choice. I don’t name any of the main characters until they begin to meet one another:
- Amy Williams is the “young woman in the blue bonnet.”
- Veronica Vernon is the “blonde southern belle” with Nan, her quietly disapproving slave.
- Mrs. Beaumont is the “woman sleeping upstairs” while her “housekeeper slave” Maum Sukie throws open the parlor drapes to the morning sun.
I’ve gotten comments on both sides about whether this nameless introduction was a good decision. The book, especially by today’s reading standards, begins very slowly, and I’ve been accused of being long-winded in my description. Obviously, the opening offended one reader, for which I am sorry. Surely that wasn’t my intent. However, I feel as though the reader should realize that Catching the Rose is set in the Confederacy during the opening months of the Civil War. Slaves were slaves. They didn’t have names. Not ones their masters would bother remembering should the slave, for whatever reason, no longer be there. At least, the masters I was writing about acted that way.
Hell, in one account I found during my research, there was a woman who named all the female slaves one name and all the male slaves another just to make it easy to remember. I know people who treat their dogs like that. The family dog Bingo dies, they buy another dog of the exact same breed, and name it Bingo. Not Bingo the Second, because that acknowledges that there was a precursor Bingo. No, just Bingo. As if Bingo had never left.
I know I will never have a chance to discuss this issue with the reader I offended. I doubt they will ever read another of my books, which is a shame, and the risk one takes when deciding to become an author. But I do want to make it clear that I’m not a racist. If anything, I wanted to be true to the era.
I would like to mention that I am, according to the US Census, a black woman. Well, I’m mixed race, but if you were to see me walking down the street, your gut reaction, if you were thinking about the race of a woman walking past you, would be, “Now that’s one nerdy black woman. But man, has she got a quirky style.”
Ok, maybe not the nerdy part, or the quirky part. Though I will say my plastic-framed glasses are pretty awesome. But the point is, I am a woman of mixed race who is acutely aware of the way in which strangers perceive me. It isn’t a big deal, it’s happened my entire life whether I pay attention to it or not.
I understand that one could argue that simply because I’m this mixed race doesn’t mean that by default, I am not racist against one half of me. I could very well be a black woman racist against black people. It happens.
But if that is all you got out of Catching the Rose, then I’m guessing you didn’t read past the first two chapters. That’s ok, that’s your prerogative.
Just so you know, Nan, Veronica’s slave, plays an important supportive role when Veronica feels like she has been cut off from the world. One which enables Veronica to take an important, decisive action.
The fact is, I am disappointed that one reader felt so strongly that they wrote this comment in a public arena. I have had readers compliment this book for close to ten years; the re-release last year has been slow, but steady. How disheartening, to have someone accuse me of racism, when the point of the book is how important it is to fight for freedom of choice, whether it is in love, occupation, or simply living.
There is nothing I can do to prove I’m not racist. By saying I’m not, I come off as defensive, and if I don’t say anything, it’s seems as though I’m guilty by staying silent. So I come here to my blog to have a public record of my concerns on the matter, for better or worse.
All the best,
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This is part of the ROW80 blog hop. I’m keeping my goals (750 words per week), are you? I’ve sucked at being a sponsor, though. Haven’t been leaving comments like I should. Will try to do better!