Birth of a Dark Nation is the story of how African vampires came to America during the transatlantic slave trade.
That’s my elevator pitch for my first piece of speculative fiction. It is the first in a series and I’m working on the follow-up here in Conway, North Carolina.
Those of you who have read Birth of a Dark Nation know that it’s about a whole lot more than just how vampires hitched a ride to North America on a slave ship. My purpose was to ask a question:
How would the collective trauma of the middle passage, human bondage, reconstruction, and Jim Crow laws impact black people who lived through it all? We know the collective toll these atrocities take on contemporary black folks, but what if it was possible to witness it all?
I hope that Birth of a Dark Nation at least begins to address those answers. It’s speculative, of course, and not in any way definitive, but it’s interesting to think about how this collection of youthful black men would see America over time, only to continually be the target of state sanctioned violence against their bodies.
My follow-up, as yet untitled, also deals with trauma, but not so much the inter-generational kind.
One of my favorite novels is Push by Sapphire. I also happened to immensely enjoy its follow-up, The Kid, even though it was a challenge to read due to its subject matter. Having read both of those novels and then become a teacher of opportunity youth, I am here to tell you that the violence inflicted upon Precious in her life, and Abdul in his, is not an exaggeration.
Trauma is very real in our neediest students. Dead and absent parents, disease, incarceration, mental illness–all these are things students have experienced, either first-hand or second-hand, and work in tandem to prevent their success at diploma attainment and/or job attainment.
What happens, then, when we speak of the supernatural, to students with all this trauma who then experience magic or vampires or ghosts?
What would have happened to Justin Kena in Birth of a Dark Nation had he been poor or homeless instead of a middle class college graduate?
Rather than focusing solely on a particular supernatural plot, I want to investigate, through this new book, what happens when an unconventional person or group of people experiences horror and the supernatural.
It has been really fun to write so far, but I’m also writing myself into some secondary (or even tertiary) trauma.
For example, what if I decide to create a character named Mary Jane who is a survivor of familial sexual abuse. It’s already a “deep” topic to write about, but then I think of students who this has happened to, and I am impacted even further. I pressure myself to get the story right, and to ensure that it is told with authenticity as well as sophistication and respect.
Writing about people who may have been sexually assaulted also reminds me of the time a man tried to assault me. I think of how I dealt with it, how I didn’t deal with it, and how my character should deal with it. I struggle with making them the “perfect” survivor, as a way to inform readers how they can deal with the same trauma, or making them an imperfect survivor, because it makes for a more interesting story.
I always err on the side of the best possible story, but I also make sure to tell that story responsibly. And I take care of myself while writing–stopping for mental health breaks if I need it.
As of this moment, I have written over 71,000 words, which translates to over 275 pages, if the current formatting holds. I’d like to be done with a first draft in October and then begin edits and rewrites.
I’m learning to be proud of my writing and to trust in the story itself. And I’m grateful that I have reached a level of experience and maturity where I can tell another story of trauma without patronizing my readers.
I think this is going to be a good one, folks. A really good one. Keep me in your prayers!