In my novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, I tried to capture the real world — the nonfiction world of the main character — from her earliest memories to the day she is shot by police and lays bleeding in her driveway. It’s a short novel. I tried to capture what she remembered, what she lived through — it was a pleasure to include such iconic moments as Woodstock and NASA’s Mars landing. I also found that it was necessary for me to include moments of national mourning, such as the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas; and of course, the September 11 attacks. Politics and government and cultural clues, I think, make the broth of a story richer. Since I’m writing about modern American life, I’m forced to “keep it real” and can’t cheat and plop down a Star Trek moment, and create a break in the time-space continuum. I have always enjoyed the news, and current events — not just because I’m a former reporter, but also because one of my earliest memories of TV watching is of President Nixon resigning and leaving the White House and the looks on my family’s faces. I wanted to understand why and how it happened, what the significance was; I wanted to understand the context. And it was such a pleasure to add the time markers and build the cultural backstory for the Mother character in my novel. Originally, I had placed the time markers as dates at the start of each chapter. But my wonderful editor at Counterpoint Press said “not so fast.” She felt the dates were too easy for the reader, and that it spoon fed a central question of the book, whether the racism had abated in the span of Mother’s life. I was given the task of taking away all of the dates and incorporating them in to the bodies of the chapters. It was a pleasure to to write those two-hundred sentences and force the reader to think about the events and incidents and determine whether these moments were happening in the present or the past, or both.
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