I’ve just finished my last books about slaves and slavery. Elysium, Book IV of the Plantation Series is now out, and in a few days, Orchid Island will be available too. And that’s it for me. I’ve written all I can about the injustice of racism and slavery.
In fact, Orchid Island was a step away in itself. I had been thinking and reading about happiness, and remembered Abraham Lincoln’s remark about most people being about as happy as they make up their minds to be. And as I had one more book in me about slaves, I asked myself whether – and how – slaves could have been happy. I don’t mean odd moments of happiness or joy – I’m sure those moments came to them, too. But every-day, pretty pleased with the world happiness? What would that look like for a slave?
And that’s when Zeb and Livy wiggled into my head. They’re both slaves working the fields on a cane plantation. Zeb is more than cheerful – he is genuinely glad to be alive and sees no point on dwelling on the unpleasant fact of being enslaved since there is nothing to be done about it. Livy, on the other hand, is brittle with rage and frustration and lives for the day she can break free. Of course two such opposite personalities are drawn to each other – this is fiction, after all.
So I ended up with Orchid Island, a novel about slaves, not about slavery. The whites in the book are hardly more than tertiary characters, though Livy’s desire for freedom certainly circles back to the whites who control her and Zeb’s lives.
I don’t think the distinction between writing about slaves and about slavery is too fine. What I wanted to think about was how slaves had full, rich lives of integrity, dignity, hope and purpose regardless of being enslaved persons. Life is too big, too rich, to define a character like Zeb so that he is “only” a slave.