Note: I originally wrote this piece as a guest post for CummingLocal.com.
In my novel, Charlie Sherman learns that there are things people need to know about Forsyth County, Georgia, and he’s the one to tell them, despite facing overwhelming obstacles. This means there’s a book within the book—make that two.
First, there’s Forsyth County’s historic racial terrorism and ethnic cleansing. While this episode is well-known to some people, Atlanta is home to many relative newcomers. Most of the white people I’ve talked to didn’t know what happened in 1912. Others think Forsyth’s racial troubles began when Hosea Williams marched in 1987. African-Americans I’ve talked to have a different understanding, of course, along with a deeply-rooted aversion to the place.
Secondly, there’s a more recent crime that Charlie uncovers. (You’ll have to read Brambleman to find out about it.)
Of course, Forsyth today isn’t like it was in 1912—or even 1987. The new century has brought an influx of minority residents to the county, which is now more ethnically diverse than several of its neighbors. Forsyth County’s various people coexist in relative peace these days, as far as I can tell.
I started writing Brambleman in 1998, on the cusp of this change. It took me ten years to finish the book and another three to publish it. (Much of that time was spent raising kids and writing my other novel, Chain Gang Elementary.) Meanwhile, Williams (who died in 2000) and his marches faded to ancient history in many people’s minds. However, those civil rights protests provide a bridge between the horrors of 1912 and the forgetfulness of today. Consequently, the novel’s prologue begins on the morning of January 24, 1987, as 20,000 souls prepared to march into all-white Forsyth County. Then it jumps forward to the present day—or at least close to it.
Despite the premise, I wouldn’t call Brambleman a historical novel. Its setting is, after all, contemporary. I think of my Forsyth County saga as a novel about history. It also contains a strong supernatural element: While Charlie becomes convinced he’s been chosen by a Higher Power to complete a dangerous task, he’s never sure exactly who he’s working for. Along his spiritual journey (which he comes to see as a forced march), Charlie often wonders which side he’s on.
This is not a dry treatise. Many reviewers report a sense of constant surprise, of not knowing what will happen next; several readers call it a roller coaster.
I hope you’ll take the ride.
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