I’m frequently asked why I chose to write about the Loving v. Virginia case. Actually, it chose me.
Before my book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle 2014) came out, my publisher asked if I’d be interested in writing about the Loving v. Virginia case. I did a bit of research and on the U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of interracial marriage. My parents had brought us up to care about people and fight injustice. This was a perfect fit.
My editor, Melissa Manlove, said she would try to get me a contract if I’d write three chapters and an outline of the nonfiction book for teens.
So I set off to Virginia to start researching (more about the research in another post). I submitted those nonfiction chapters and shortly after Melissa called to chat.
Melissa: Would you be willing to write this story as a documentary novel?
Me: Sure. What’s a documentary novel?
(In my early writing career I had frequently and politely refused to change my approach to a book when an editor asked for a rewrite. As a dancer/choreographer I’d been chief cook and bottle washer and was accustomed to doing exactly what I wanted. It took me awhile to learn how brilliant a brilliant editor is; and there’s no editor more brilliant than Melissa.)
Illustrated by Shadra Strickland
So, What is a documentary novel? It’s creative nonfiction. It is factual, but there’s a hitch. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was a documentary novel. He interviewed the killer, but the victims weren’t around to talk. He created the scenes to create his thriller. Where Loving vs. Virginia is concerned, it is factual but I write in the voices of (African American/Indian) Mildred Jeter Loving alternating with “chapters” from the voice of (white) Richard Loving.
Whew, what a gift—to write this story as a documentary novel. Now I could write scenes. Rather than say, the two grew up in an integrated neighborhood where the black, white, and Indian neighbors supported each other and partied together, I could show teenaged Mildred dancing at one of their intergenerational interracial parties with her brother Otha, with Richard looking on. Then Richard offers to drive the family home. In other words, I could show Richard and Mildred falling in love.
Because this is a book for young adults (twelve and up) we decided it should be a love and courtship story, first. (More about researching that in another post).
So, yep, I did more research, more interviews, and I submitted the first several chapters of my creative nonfiction and an outline. Chronicle contracted the book. What a lovely situation to be writing a book that you know will be published!
I have some early copies of Loving vs. Virginia in hand (not ARCs, but the real book, in color ;-). I’m offering 3 giveaways before the book comes out—one for October, one for November, one for December. To be eligible, please subscribe to my blog, and leave a comment saying you’d like a book—you’ll be eligible for all 3 drawings. Enter the Book Giveaway here.