New Novel Excerpt!
Time for some new material!
Writers will commonly work on multiple projects at once. It's almost impossible to resist pursuing a brilliant idea when it hits you (especially if it's 3 a.m. and you have to wake up early the next morning!) We Are Eternal is my main squeeze at the moment, but I've been having affairs with other projects.
"Honey... there are others."
Next in line as a publication hopeful is Way Down Low (a working title). The tone of this work is different from the manic-pixie-dreamboy vibe of my first novel, reading instead as more matter-of-fact. And the subject matter is... risqué, so much so that I'm not sure if it should be marketed as YA; despite the high school setting, I think we're going the New Adult route with this one.
Here is a quick summary:
For thirteen years, the school board of Pecan Ridge has hosted Project Advantages for the Disadvantaged (PAD), a program that allows poor, urban, African-American students ages 5 through eighteen to attend the town's prestigious, private elementary and high schools. Gerald and Kathleen Tuttle are among a large group of parents fighting to get the program shut down. And they have no idea their eighteen-year-old son -- handsome, popular star pupil named Christian -- has gotten one of the program's students pregnant.
Way Down Low follows and weaves together the lives of four families in and around the affluent, predominately white town of Pecan Ridge. Christian Tuttle and Olivia Harrison carry on a secret affair until Olivia's unexpected pregnancy threatens Christian's secure, cushy future. Senior Jackson Culpepper is sent against his will by his prejudiced parents to go to school in safe, lily-white Pecan Ridge and finds himself falling for one of the program's students, Charlotte Watkins. Another program student, pianist London McClure, is lucky enough to land a spot in the high school's illustrious orchestra, but she's convinced first-chair cellist Russell Scott hates her... until he kisses her. Elementary school teacher William Reader Jr. and former PAD student Leda Thompson meet for the second time when Will realizes Leda is the mother of his favorite student, Benjamin, and Will soon discovers their intense affair years prior has connected them in a way that's deeper and more complicated than he ever thought.
I wrote Way Down Low in July of 2014, right after I completed We Are Eternal in June. Though the work as a whole was a new idea, the stories it contains had been written up to 3 years beforehand. Once I realized that over the years the short stories I'd written followed a pattern -- all of them centering on race relations and the torrid romances of four black girls with four white boys in the present-day American South -- I conceived a way to present them in one narrative.
I was born in 1989, so I was raised in what you would call a relatively modern time in the South. Even so, I've witnessed levels of racism that would put me as someone living decades earlier. These stories were inspired by events I experienced and saw happen to friends when I was in high school and college.
None of these stories are pretty -- wrought with tension, angst, and drama -- but I love Way Down Low. It shows the destructive power of prevalent social and racial prejudice in a small southern town. With all of the political, socio-economic, and relational issues our country has seen over the past 5 years, I think it's important to highlight the fact that these problems still exist and are affecting young people. Teens and young adults are less afraid than ever to speak out about injustice. I want to contribute to their voice.
Below is the first page of Way Down Low. Happy reading, and feel free to critique!
“Thom. Please. Can’t you see we’re all just concerned?”
Mrs. Kathleen Tuttle pours on the saccharine. She’s good at that – saccharine. She softens honey brown eyes that can scorch as quick as a skip, and she tilts her head so that her blonde hair with the honey-colored highlights moves like it’s been kissed by a breeze.
“Of course I can. I can understand everyone’s frustration,” says Superintendent Thomas White. Thom White is a true Southern man – able to consume an entire slice of double pecan pie without making a face. Able to stomach saccharine.
“You don’t seem to understand the statistics, Mr. White,” says a male citizen with slow emphasis on every syllable of the word ‘statistics’. “The level of disruption caused by the program every year outweighs the good it does. I’m all for people getting a quality education, but doesn’t sacrificing the well-being of our own children seem kind of backwards to you?”
“These kids can learn from our children,” says Superintendent White. “Our children can make them better, make them think differently.”
“They’ve lived in that environment for too long,” insists Mrs. Tuttle. “They’re in high school. What’s that saying about old dogs and new tricks? Bringing in children from the projects -- I mean, we’ve barely run background checks on them. Putting them in a uniform does not make them model citizens.”
“Your efforts are admirable, but this isn’t the way to go about it,” says her husband, Gerald. “We understand you’re holding onto this program to save face, or to prove a point, or both --”
“Mr. Tuttle --” White tries to interject.
“-- and we’re willing to compromise,” he continues. “We’re just asking you to abandon the program at the secondary level. Don’t put our daughters in harm’s way by forcing them into the same hallways, the same classrooms, the same cafeteria with those young men. Keep the focus on the elementary school. Bring up those young’uns in our system. Don’t focus on the unmoldables.”
“If you have any trust in Morgan’s teachers – the ones who teach your children every day –” Superintendent White reminds them all, “then you know that everyone can be molded into what we want them to be. And Morgan Preparatory School is just the right mold.”
“But what about our children? How have they been prepared?” Mrs. Tuttle is speaking again. Her husband looks on, his expression a mixture of pride and apprehension; he knows the smell of scorched sugar.
“Pecan Ridge is a good community,” says the superintendent. “We are a beacon of clean living in the midst of all the crime and disorder around us. Our children are the example to the inner city children of how to be and live and learn. What a real education is. They’ll hold themselves up against the influence because they know what they represent.”
“You really think it’s fair to put that kind of pressure on our kids?” another male citizen asks.
“No pressure. All we ask is that they go about their daily lives in school, learning and enjoying themselves. There’s nothing saying they have to make friends with these people.”
“What if that becomes an issue too?” says one impeccably dressed mother. “My daughter comes home every day with stories about those black students, how they always look like they’re up to something. It makes her and her friends uncomfortable.”
“One thing I’ve seen of this program over the years,” says Superintendent White, “is that if you don’t provoke them, they’ll contain themselves. Aside from that, you’ve got our strong, brave boys to defend your daughters. They’ll do what’s right.”
“It seems then like we’re just prepping our children for inevitable confrontation,” Mrs. Tuttle points out. “Tell us the truth – is that really what this is all about, Thom?”
“This is about showing our children what they’ll have to face as adults. The world is not Pecan Ridge. We can’t keep them cocooned forever, much as we’d like. They’ll come out of this much stronger than they already are. That’s another statistic for you,” he says, pointing to the man who spoke earlier.
“Honestly? No one’s ever said the disruption ruined their high school experience?” the man counters.
“Students surveyed have reported a broader outlook on life, as well as a greater appreciation for what they have and the opportunities their position in society has afforded them. Think of it like making a small child eat vegetables. They may dislike it, but they’re better for it down the line. Yes?”
The adults in the room grumble, swallowing their own mouthful of vegetables.
“All right? It's settled, then. Project Advantages for the Disadvantaged resumes for another year. Additional questions and suggestions can be posed after the meeting adjourns.”