Happy Friday, book folks! If you’re feeling that afternoon slump, I hope this helps!
Today I’m pleased to have fellow Inanna Publications author, WFWA member and 2020debuts Lisa Braxton on the blog chatting about her recently released book, The Talking Drum. I hope you enjoy getting to know about Lisa and the story behind her novel!
Thanks for visiting, Lisa, and congratulation on your release!
AK: Tell us a little about yourself.
LB: I was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, an East Coast industrial city whose claim to fame is the fact that circus showman P.T. Barnum was at one time the mayor. Barnum is never far you’re your mind if you grow up in Bridgeport. There is a statue in his honor at Seaside Park. Barnum Avenue is a major thoroughfare in the city and there are streets named after Barnum’s family members. Helen Street: Helen was Barnum’s second daughter. Iranistan Avenue is where he had one of his mansions built. As a Girl Scout and later as a high school highstepper cheerleader I marched in the annual Barnum Festival Street Parade held each year in early July.
I attended a Lutheran elementary school from kindergarten through 8th grade. My sister went there as well. Obviously, religious instruction was a big part of our education. I sang in the choir during Wednesday chapel, participated in spelling bees, Girl Scouts, as mentioned, and many other activities. Because of Bridgeport’s proximity to New York City there was ample opportunity to travel there and see the sights and soak up the culture. In addition to attending Lutheran Church on Sundays, my sister and I would attend the Baptist church with our parents, attend Sunday School, participate in church pageants and other activities. I believe that small classroom sizes made a difference in my education.
AK: What’s the premise of your book?
LB: The story is about three young couples and how they’re affected when an urban redevelopment project comes to their city and takes over an immigrant neighborhood in the process. The story takes place in the fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, on the eastern seaboard about 20 minutes north of Boston.
AK: What inspired you to write it?
LB: It just evolved. I was writing a story about a man and woman who owned a bookstore in the 1970s and eventually, gentrification entered the story. I supposed it was in my subconscious. My parents owned and operated a clothing store in Bridgeport, Connecticut, beginning in 1969 and going into the 2000s. This was an urban, working class neighborhood. As time went on my parents had fewer and fewer customers because the homes along the waterfront area were being taken by eminent domain for upscale housing and entertainment venues. A lot of their customers were pushed out. Also, the church I attend currently has been affected by gentrification or urban redevelopment. A mostly African American neighborhood near the church was cut in half in the late 1960s to make way for an expansion of the Mass Pike. People lost their homes and also their sense of community. So, I think it was in the back of my mind as I was developing the story. So many people I know have been affected by urban redevelopment. If they haven’t been affected directly, a family member has or someone in their social circle, or their hometown is now so different from the way it was when they were growing up because of urban redevelopment.
AK: What are you most looking forward to this debut year? And conversely, what are you most nervous about?
LB: I was most looking forward to handing a copy of my book to my mother. It was because of her that I developed a love of reading, which led to a love of writing. She read to me when I was a baby. I’ll never forget the day when I was a little girl and she took me to the library to sign me up for my first library card. That’s where it all began. I was thrilled to be able to hand her a copy of The Talking Drum on Mother’s Day, even though because of the pandemic, we both wore masks and talked through the front storm door of my parents’ house. She continues to be my cheerleader, calling up friends, asking them to purchase the book. Several people have.
I’m not nervous about anything, really, but I am curious as to how sales of the book are going. There’s no pressure to move a certain number of books, but I am wondering how it’s doing. I believe it’s too early still to get figures from the publisher.
AK: What authors do you admire and/or have influenced your development as a writer? Please feel free to add specific books, we love recommendations!
LB: The Street by Ann Petry was the last book that thoroughly moved me. I had not experienced what Petry’s main character, Lutie Johnson, went through but from the beginning I understood what was at stake for Lutie. She wanted to provide a good and safe home for her son and become more upwardly mobile. Whenever a female character is striving for better, whether depicted in a movie or book, I’m there with the character urging them on. I know what it’s like to have ambition that you feel so strongly that you won’t let anything or anyone stop you. Petry’s novel had me on the edge of my seat as a read through pages that were filled with suspense and tension. All the while I was hoping for the character Lutie Johnson to beat the odds. I hope that I can get my readers as emotionally involved in my works.
AK: What are you working on now?
LB: I’m working on a historical novel set in Boston in the mid-1850s
AK: What question do you wish I had asked and answer it!
LB: Why did you place your story in the 1970s?
I grew up during that era so I know it pretty well. It was a time when the Black Power movement was pretty strong, so I thought that was a very interesting time to have in my story. It wasn’t many years after Dr. King was shot. It was also around the time that the Festival of the Black Arts took place in Dakar, Senegal, and I wanted to place one of my characters at that festival. Also, during the 1970s, when people’s homes and businesses were taken for development projects there weren’t as many safeguards in place for them. (Waiving legal safeguards for homeowners, abusing power to take land, offering vouchers to move people into other properties only to have the vouchers run out, moving people into public housing, into inferior structures, rundown places.)
Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington—orchestra leaders, composer, pianist was at the Festival of the Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal and plays a pivotal role in the life of one of my characters.
Release dates by country:
Canada: April 29, 2020
U.S. May 30th, 2020
It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place. Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi’s dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.
For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage. Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.
Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.
The Talking Drum explores intra-racial, class, and cross-cultural tensions, along with the meaning of community and belonging. Examining the profound impact gentrification has on people in many neighborhoods, and the way in which being uprooted affects the fabric of their families, friendships, and emotional well-being, the novel not only focuses on the immigrant experience, but the way in which the immigrant/African American neighborhood interface leads to friction and tension. This book thus provides a springboard to important discussions on race and class differences, on the treatment of immigrants, as well as the government’s relationship and responsibility to society
Where To Get Your Copy: https://www.inanna.ca/product/the-talking-drum/
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Publisher’s website: https://www.inanna.ca/product/the-talking-drum/