Why does a writer suddenly get an idea for a specific novel? A difficult question to answer, because it subconsciously occurs on many levels. I’ve no idea why I decided to write a novel about the South of the 1970’s, and especially one involving anything to do with Vietnam. Even if it was a time I lived through as someone just out of college and observing it all (a total stranger actually proposed to me in the hopes I'd accept and he'd get a draft deferment as a married man), I don’t think I was at all interested in what was happening or seeing it as monumental in the general scheme of things, at least not at the time.
Truthfully, the thought of Vietnam and its unpleasant aftermath for many returning vets was a repulsive idea, as was the pain and loss I felt for those I knew who hadn’t returned. Even today, I don’t discuss this era unless forced. However, in the 1990’s, I suddenly found myself inspired to write this novel. I didn't want to. Knowing from past experience that the characters and the plot weren’t going to let me alone, I gave in, sat down and proceeded to do just that.
Jericho Road was the result.
The 1970’s were a time of change, especially in the South. As I said, I watched from the sidelines. I myself didn’t do anything so drastic during that period, except for three things. I married and gave birth to my only child. To me, that wasn’t so much drastic as a miracle. Also, I was involved in the auto accident which diverted my life from its expected path and put me on the road to become a writer. That was done out of necessity.
The characters in my new book are more or less guided to their destinies by an unrelenting and sometimes cruel Fate.
Wade Hampton Conyers IV is a returning Vietnam vet. His family proclaims him a “hero,” but Wade would just like to bury the entire last four years and forget them…if he could. Newly married, his experiences in the war now haunt him and his relationship with an African-American soldier who died saving his life cause a rift between him and his socialite bride who is unable to understand why the man she loves suddenly becomes a stranger.
His younger brother, Heath is trying to fit himself into the newly-evolving world where nothing seems to make sense anymore. Heath is a silent rebel, planning what he’s going to do when he hits 21 but telling no one, not even his best friend. He's a virgin, eager to become a man. What happens to him isn’t something he ever dreamed of and certainly nothing he planned.
Wade’s sister Lindsey was a typical Southern belle until her date decided to drink and drive and they both ended up in Temple General Hospital’s emergency room where she’s tended by new resident Dr. Logan Redhawk. Son of a Mohawk artist and a local girl who went North to school, Logan is an anomaly in more ways than one. Not particularly liking white women because he’s often been “used” by them, he’s attracted to Lindsey immediately and soon, the sparks fly. When he meets Lindsey’s father, even more sparks ignite, but of a different kind, because Wade Hampton Conyers III is a dyed-in-the-wool “Old South” bigot and he’s as unhappy as can be because his daughter dares date a man who’s biracial…and a Yankee to boot!
Oddly enough—or perhaps not so, considering the changing world into which they’re now thrust—neither Heath now Wade see anything wrong in Logan’s bicultural, double heritage.
Eventually, of course, the three men find themselves on a collision course as Logan’s presence strips away the mask of Southern gentility and reveals a hidden whirlpool of adultery, bigotry, and eventually murder.
Setting a story during a certain period takes more than just saying, “This is when it happened…” Though I lived in the era I was writing about, I admit my memory had dimmed a bit in the intervening years, so I did a tremendous amount of research, ranging from what the army slang term for a helicopter was to whether a specific song was released that year. I went over dates for events to be certain I wasn’t writing about something happening either before or after the time of the story. I wanted everything to be as authentic as I could get it and not simply claiming to be set in that time with nothing substantiating it. At that point, I wasn’t really into the Internet, so I spent days at the local library poring through histories, timeline books, and pictorial documentaries.
I will admit to throwing in a little “personal” information. Lindsey’s MG Magnette was mine. Heath’s problems with his MG were also ones I’d had, because foreign cars weren’t all that well-known in my home town during that period. In fact, I was only one of two people in town to own an MG, and when the clutch needed replacing, I had to write to London to get a mechanic’s manual (and then translate the British terms). Nevertheless, the mechanic put it in backwards because he’d never seen such a car before! I also patterned Lindsey’s choice of clothing after my own, and some of the outfits she wears were some I myself had worn.
Jericho Road is a bit of history, Southern in nature because that’s where it’s set, but also universal in the emotions its inhabitants experience. It's authored by my pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. The real Icy Snow lived during that period, so I think putting her name on the book is only appropriate.
There were two framed photographs on the tabletop and she picked up one. “Who’s this?”
It showed a dark man with an impassive, lined face framed by a pair of long braids. He was dressed in a tightly buttoned suit with a high, starched collar, and looked very stern and uncomfortable.
Logan took the picture from her, studying it a moment before replacing it beside the other. “John Red Hawk. My grandfather. First one in his family to attend any kind of institute of higher education, an art school. He’s an original American Success Story. And these…” He nodded at the other photograph, which showed a tall, smiling man, his long unbound hair blown by the wind against the throat of the brilliantly blond woman whose arms were around his waist. “Are my parents, Richard and Carleen. Dad was the one who ran the name together and made it one word.”
He picked up the photograph, looking at it with affection. “He was a friend of Uncle Sam’s, one of his students, in fact. When Mom came to New York to go to school, Uncle Sam wrote Dad and asked him to look her up. Guess he kind of played long-distance Cupid. Dad’s an artist, too.” He returned the picture to the sideboard. “Landscapes, mostly.” He gestured at the painting over the cabinet. “He did that.” In the lower right-hand corner in large precise lettering was the name Redhawk and directly under it the stylized figure of a bird in flight. “They live in an artist’s colony in northwestern New York. Place called Nissekequoqua Village.”
Lindsey studied the two faces in the photograph. Slowly, she touched one finger to his father’s sweep of dark hair. “You look like him,” she decided. “Except for the hair, of course.”
Logan smiled. He didn’t tell her that until he’d entered medical school, he’d worn his hair in two waist-length braids. His first-year roommate had been the most totally conservative, uptight, anal-retentive white man in captivity, and the long hair had been a bone of contention between them. One morning, he’d awakened to find his hair swinging about his ears and the controversial braids burning in the bathroom sink. His roomie thought he was actually going to be scalped before their suite-mates got Logan under control. He’d worn his hair short ever since, a concession to the white man’s world of acceptance.
“I’ve got a sister who’s a teacher in Auburn, New York, and a brother who lives across the border in Canada. He’s a guide.” Both were married to fellow Mohawks, neither feeling any need to try to enter the other world, nor understanding their younger brother’s striving for a balance of both.
“How’d your mother feel about you coming down here?”
“Typically mother-like. Worried, of course. Wrote Uncle Sam and asked him to look out for me. As if he’d be any help, living sixty miles away in Brunswick.”
“And your father?”
“Dad sees it as a rite of passage. A test of manhood. If I can survive here, I can make it anywhere.”
Lindsey looked up at him. “Is it true your mother’s folks don’t speak to her just because she married an Indian?”
“Of course not, and it’s Native American,” he corrected. “Not Indian.”
“What’s the difference?” She frowned and he thought it the most endearing little expression he’d ever seen.
“A lot. Indians are from India. The people of the Six Nations aren’t.”
“The Six Nations. Is that what they call themselves?”
“That’s what we call ourselves. We’re the Kanienhehaka.” He expected her to make some other comment, about his siding himself with just one people when he was part of both, but she didn’t.
Instead, she shrugged and looked at the photo again and said, “Well, I think it’d be a stupid way to act. Why, I’d be proud if someone in my family married an Ind--a Native American. Or if I were mar…” She stopped and looked up at him and blushed slightly, “I mean…” and stopped again.
Neither of them said anything, just stood there, looking at each other.
Logan was standing too close to her, and knew he ought to move away. He could see the quick rise and fall of the tiny breasts, realized one hand was even with her hip. He looked down at her, thinking how utterly small and innocent she looked. And white.
“Well?” Lindsey said softly. “Aren’t you going to kiss me?” Logan didn’t move. “You’ve been wanting to do it for about three hours now, haven’t you?”
Logan shook his head. “Four.”
He put his arms around her, pulling her slight body against his, almost lifting her off the floor. He felt her rise onto tiptoe and waver toward him before she regained her balance and then the slender arms were around his neck and she was pressing against him, mouth touching his in a very childish, very chaste closed-lip kiss.
He pulled away long enough to mutter, “Lindsey, maybe we’d better…” and she touched his cheek and whispered, “Shh,” and he kissed her again, thrusting his tongue against her lips, feeling them part and welcome his invasion eagerly. One hand moved to touch one tiny breast, feeling the nipple quiver into tautness against his fingers. She made a little protesting sound and raised her hand to push against his wrist but as it met resistance let it drop again. Logan’s fingers encircled the soft little mound.
He couldn’t know what she was thinking, that abruptly Lindsey realized that here was a man and not one of those silly awkward boys who were all gropings and heavy breathing. Here was someone who knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted and frighteningly, he wanted her. She knew she ought to stop him. She could stop him with one word, but his hands felt so good touching her, making hot little shivers generate inside her in places she’d never felt them before.
Just a little longer. I’ll let him touch me just a little longer and then I’ll tell him to stop. But she never said the words, not even when Logan picked her up and without taking his mouth from hers, carried her into the bedroom.
(Jericho Road will be released by Class Act Books, www.classactbooks.com, this month.)