This week’s topic is “The Manuscript in the Drawer.” But I have no manuscript in the drawer. The Talking Drum was my first manuscript, and thank goodness I got it published. For this week’s blog post I am interviewing one of my characters. Sydney was in my head for such a long time and is finally on the printed page. She’s been itching for an interview since The Talking Drum’s publication. Here I give a short synopsis of the novel and Sydney her moment in the spotlight.
The fiery issue of urban gentrification is the steady beat thrumming beneath the surface of the novel, The Talking Drum.
In 1972 the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon that promises to transform the dying factory town. Sydney Stallworth steps away from her law studies to support her husband’s dream of opening a cultural center and bookstore in the heart of their black community. The author, Lisa Braxton, interviews Sydney.
Lisa Braxton: Sydney, thank you for being with us today. I know you’re busy with packing up the apartment and moving to the other side of the state.
Sydney: My pleasure. You have no idea how much you have until you start packing. It’s a relief to take a little break from it.
LB: What’s your full name?
Sydney: My full name is Sydney Doucette Stallworth. Doucette is my step-dad’s last name. I took it when he adopted me. “Stallworth” is my new last name. I’m a newlywed and my husband’s name is Malachi Stallworth. Just about everyone calls me “Syd” for short.
LB: Where and when were you born?
Sydney: I was born in Old Prescott, Massachusetts, a little town in the Berkshires, in 1950, which makes me 22 because the current year is 1972.
LB: Describe any influences that led you to do the things you do today.
Sydney: When I was really little, my dad, [biological dad] who died when I was 4, gave me a Fisher Price camera. It didn’t take real pictures, obviously, but after he passed away, I wouldn’t part with it. When I got a little older, my mother got me a real camera, a Kodak Instamatic. When I was a teenager, I graduated to a Konica 35 millimeter. I’ve had many cameras over the year, but the Konica is my favorite. I minored in photography in college and for a time considered either becoming a photojournalist or a commercial photographer. My dad was an attorney, a civil rights attorney, which led to my interest in both law and journalism.
LB: Who has had the most influence on you?
Sydney: My mother is my greatest influence. My father was sick with cancer for years. She had been a housewife, but went to work full-time and worked on getting her degree in speech therapy at the same time. I know Mom grieved hard when Dad died—she still grieves at times—but she had to be strong for me. She found a good-paying job with the Old Prescott school system. The father of one of the students she worked with would wait in the hallway for his son’s after-school therapy sessions to be over and would strike up conversations with Mom. Eventually, the two became friends and then more. That’s my step-dad, Martin Doucette. My mother’s strength through adversity has had such an influence on me and also her determination to marry the man she loved, even though her family and his family were against it. You see, my mom is black and my step-dad is white.
LB: You’re halfway to your law degree?
Sydney: I left law school because my husband has decided to open up a bookstore on the other side of the state, 30 miles north of Boston along the coast. He was a professor at the University—Whittington University—that’s where we met, but after he didn’t get tenure, he decided to quit. He thinks he can have more of an influence on people through the bookstore and cultural center. He also thinks we can benefit from the urban redevelopment project coming to the city that should revitalize it.
LB: Was your romance with your husband one of those “professor-student” relationships?
Sydney: Oh no! I was NOT his student. My photography was on display in an exhibit at the university museum and he came to see the show opening night. We got to talking and when the exhibit shut down for the evening, we realized we wanted to talk more. We went to a coffee shop and talked until that closed down too. Pretty soon we were inseparable. But I made it clear to Malachi that he had to be respectful. I would be waiting until our wedding night! And he agreed to that.
LB: What will you do with your time while your husband is operating the bookstore?
Sydney: I plan to work with him, to help him fulfill his dream. If I have time, I may do a little photography for fun. I’m not dismissing the idea of becoming an attorney. I’ll put in for a leave of absence. That way I can go back to law school if I want.
LB: Old Prescott is so different from the urban community of Bellport that you’re moving to. Do you think you’ll be able to adjust?
Sydney: I knew you were going to ask me that! You’re right. Old Prescott is horse country. I grew up taking horseback riding lessons and private ice-skating lessons. Mom and I loved to go into town on weekends to the day spa. I have been pampered and sheltered, but I think it will do me good to get out of my cocoon.
LB: Anything you’d like to add?
Sydney: There have been some suspicious fires in Bellport. I can’t help but wonder if Malachi and I should be concerned about that.