Orlando Smart's book, Folsom on Fire is on my to-read list, and sadly thanks to my hectic life and as it is a longer book, I won't be able to get to it for awhile. In the meantime, I wanted to interview him and learn more about his work.
I felt that this was an important book to showcase, as obviously racism and homophobia is something our society continues to struggle with until this day. As a minority myself, this is something I have experienced on occasion, but as I belong to what is known as the "model minority" group, my road has been a little easier. I do feel that these issues are often brushed under the rug, and people like to claim that we live in a post-racial society, with the election of President Obama, but it is plain to see that this is not really the case.
The book is set in the small town of Folsom, Mississippi after the Civil War, and revolves around Mary Cole, a former slave, as well as Paul, a white teenage boy who she has raised since birth, who is coming to terms with being gay.
From the Synopsis: "...Dissecting events in our present day by peeking into the window of the past, Folsom on Fire delves into the psyche of Racism, Coming out as Gay, Gender Roles, Self-Hate and Self-Love. What would you do to remain true to who you are? How far would you go to protect those you love? Folsom on Fire will make you question and strengthen the unconditional love you hold for those closest to your heart."
Read on to learn more about Folsom on Fire. You can also check out the author's website here.
1. Tell me a little about yourself, and how you got interested in writing?
Well, during the day, I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist and special needs app developer by profession, and a novelist at night. I live with my partner and three children (two boys and a girl) in rural Wisconsin. I became interested in writing during my tour in the army while in Germany. While out on multi-month long exercises, during down times, I spent most of my time reading. I decided then that I wanted to put my own pen to paper and craft my own stories.
2. What made you decide to write this novel?
A few years back I was going through an online museum on lynching. It was grotesque to say the least. But no matter how revolting it was, I reminded myself that it is our American history nonetheless. With my novel Folsom on Fire, I wanted to explore that time in our history when lynchings were not only common, but also approved by our government by their silence on the matter.
Lynchings are America’s own Holocaust, though it is rarely, if ever, given the attention it deserves. Putting people into a gas chamber or oven is beyond imagination, yes? But as Americans, we must ask ourselves, is the gathering of a crowd of hundreds and thousands of men, women and children to watch men being castrated, torn apart by horses that are attached to their limbs, skinned alive, doused with oil and set on fire—is that any less beyond the pale? It is indeed America’s nightmare that I felt necessary to bring into the light.
3. What sort of research did you need to do while writing this novel? Tell me about your experience writing this novel.
This novel is set a few years after the end of the Civil War. Though for research, I had to go back even further. During the South’s heyday, when slavery was legal, slave owners enjoyed a quality of life better than the noble classes of Europe. They were actually the envy of the world at that time. Cotton was indeed king of the world. That assisted me in getting into the heads of the white characters in Folsom on Fire. I wanted to know how they felt during those prosperous times, and later, to see it fall into ruin during and after the war. There was a level of resentment that was planted and nurtured during that time that still resides in many areas of our nation today.
To get to the minds of the black and gay characters, and their lives during that time was far harder, as there is still not much written about the fear they lived in. I was fortunate to have family members who could tell me stories about growing up in Mississippi, which was known as the lynching capital during those times. Being gay did help with the gay characters and the research required much more time.
This was a difficult novel to write, as the characters' emotions I had to convey were never ones of peace. It was a very dangerous time for blacks and for gays. Nothing was certain. Your life could become forfeit at any moment, depending on if a white person had a beef with you or just didn't like the way you looked at them . . . that is, if you even dared to look them in the eye.
4. I have read other novels set in this time period, or revolving around the issues of race relations or sexuality. Tell me what sets your novel apart.
How about this statement: ‘African Americans would not look the way they do were it not for a white man raping one of their female relatives.” That statement probably will make many cringe, but again I say, it is our American history. Pedophilia and the rape of black women and children by white men were permitted by our own government. Just by looking at African Americans of today who vary greatly in skin tone and facial features, that ugly truth cannot be denied.
Folsom on Fire differs from other novels during that same time, as you can easily transport the characters and their motivations into our present day and have the same story. What is relevant about racism, sexism and homophobia in the novel Folsom on Fire back then is what we now face as a nation today. Some things have changed. Unfortunately, many have not. If you are black (or another minority), gay, and especially a black woman, in America, your road up is longer and harder, though not impossible. Folsom on Fire, besides being a novel, is also a mirror for us all . . . black, white, gay, straight, religious. It makes us confront not “what” we have done, but “why” we did it.
5. What’s next on your plate?
Something completely different from Folsom on Fire. Whereas Folsom on Fire was of the literary sort, my next novel, Gods of Egypt, is a supernatural tale of horrors and wonder. Demons are poised to claim the earth for their own, for the balance of good and evil is upset by the birth of the powerful demoness, Bazeek. In order to right it, Tamen—an immortal god of Egypt, is tasked by the Christ himself to find one who can balance the darkness. But all is not what it seems. There is an ancient pact between Lucifer and God that must be maintained. In heaven, the angels stand guard and ready themselves for the last battle, while the demons in hell fight amongst one another for supremacy. From the dawn of Creation itself to the present day, where teenaged Jared, who just wants out of his small town and away from his hawkish mother, realizes the fate of earth, heaven and hell now rests upon him.