How did this story come about?
I was living in rural Virginia, where the fragments of slavery and interracial breeding were still swirling around — one of the people I knew was a guy whose male ancestor was either R.J. or Hardin Reynolds — [of the] Reynolds Tobacco family. We saw what had happened, but didn’t always understand why things had happened. The Reynolds family sold a slave, apparently because the other slaves hated him, and bought a piano with the money. I don’t know if that’s a true narrative or not, or whether the slave was sold for any number of other reasons.
The Cotton Kingdom — who knew Olmsted had all that rattling around in his head?
Olmsted wrote this very interesting “tour through the Upper South,” which I’d read. A lot of the same cultural patterns still existed, plus I found Olmsted’s account of the white Tennessee farm owner who collected unruly blacks at auctions and let them teach each other how to read (he himself was illiterate).
Pantser or plotter?
I’ve done both — but do keep a tactical notebook for things for a project, especially novels.
“The brain always interprets” — is that a concept you revisit in other stories?
Yes. In Time’s Child (Harper Collins), it’s a minor aspect of the story, also in the Alien Trilogy, my first books. Since I wrote the story, I’ve seen the Harvard Unconscious Biases test.
Any new projects you want to tell us about?
Currently learning Spanish and have done one story for Big Click on the ways expats can screw up here by not realizing what they’re seeing (so, yeah, that’s another “the brain always interprets” — and can get things horribly wrong, too). The Nicaraguan saying is “each mind is a world of its own.”
Spread the word!