I was trying to make sense of people who live innocuous lives on one plane and yet do really horrible things on another. I’m not talking about the Ted Bundy types who know they’re doing evil. I mean the ones who think they’re pretty fine folks and who have no trouble justifying the evil they do.
So I read a book about Nazi doctors (I think it was The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killers and the Psychology of Genocide), but I didn’t feel any closer to grasping that peculiar mindset. (Besides doctors, I also included camp officers who lived just outside the barbed wire with their wives and children and read to the kids, made love to their wives, and felt quite smug about being pretty special fellows.) (I should probably include my second cousin, a deacon in the church, who joked about running over little nigger girls on the side of the road. Chilling.)
Closer to home, we had generations of people who owned other people and thought that was just fine. For example: the white owner’s child, let’s call him Henry, played with the slave children, but when Henry grew up and lost too much money gambling, he’d have few qualms about selling off a former playmate to pay his debts. Henry’s mama might nurse the slaves and help cure them of their ailments, but she might also turn around and have an offending slave whipped. I can’t quite grasp the conviction these owners had that they were good people.
Instead of the old saw, write what you know, I like the new saw, write what you want to know. And I want to understand this type of mind. I want to explore not only what being enslaved does to a person but also what being a slave owner must do to a person’s mind and soul.
This is what I was thinking about when I wrote my first novels. Not that I claim to have figured anything out, really, but I hope I made the slave owners real people in all their contradictions and complexities. And I surely hope I portrayed the complexity of thought and feeling among the enslaved.
I just got my rights back from the publisher of my first two books, and have written the third book in my Plantation Series. They are now up as e-books. Evermore, never before published, takes the saga of slave and Creole families into the Yankee occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. If you’re interested, you can buy Evermore as an ebook right now – the paper will be out shortly. Buy Evermore.