Happy Monday, Diverse Reader friends!
Today I’m sharing an interview with Jacqueline freeman Wheelock. She’s stopped by to talk about her upcoming release, In Pursuit of an Emerald. Let’s get started!
About the Book
The Blurb: “All ex-slave Violette McMillan ever wanted was to see her troubled daughter Emerald grow up to be a better person than Violette has been, so when Benjamin Catlett, an old acquaintance, asks her to become his bookkeeper in 1869, in a business that is sinking due to southern backlash during the Reconstruction era, she agrees. But when his arrogance surfaces, their goals collide, and Violette wonders if she might be forced to renege at the expense of her daughter’s future education.
Benjamin Catlett is plagued by his past as a free man of color whose African American father was a slaveholder. Renouncing his father’s way of life, he moves to Natchez hoping to quietly atone. But his new hire, Violette McMillan, and her flirtatious teenage daughter, Emerald, test the limits of his good intentions one time too many, offending his straight-laced upbringing and tempting him to fire Violette.
Will the Lord who tugs at the heart of both Benjamin and Violette prevail in solidifying their efforts to tolerate each other and finally affirm the love already blossoming in their hearts?”
Toni: Thank you for joining me today on Diversity Between the Pages. Tell us, what inspired you to write In Pursuit of an Emerald?
Jacqueline: I love wandering in and out of the antebellum homes of Natchez, Mississippi, and as an African American, it is impossible for me not to wonder what the lives of the house slaves of those home were like. What were their hopes? Their latent dreams? Their flaws? Their squabbles among themselves? Those were the questions that pricked my curiosity about Violette, the main character in In Pursuit of an Emerald, as she emerged significantly in my debut novel, A Most Precious Gift. Subsequently, those questions about Violette are pursued and answered in In Pursuit of an Emerald.
Unlike A Most Precious Gift, its sequel, Emerald, is set several years after the Civil War, but I think the idea of Violette, the “bad girl” in A Most Precious Gift, having her own story was always embedded in my subconscious. Although she was villainous in MPG, there were sympathetic reasons for her schemes, and since God is in the business of turning villains into Christ-followers, I never totally gave up on her. I think I always needed to try to vindicate her.
Toni: I love when a character can be redeemed. What made you decide to visit the Reconstruction era?
Jacqueline: For many African Americans of the mid-to-late 19th century, the huge sigh of relief after the war turned into a gasp of horror as certain embittered members of the Confederacy set out to revoke the rights of ex-slaves through terrorism and unconscionable legislation. I thought it might be interesting to pursue a character who—recent freedom and its attendant perils notwithstanding—could never truly accept her liberation based on the assumption that her past sins preempted her right to emancipation.
Toni: Wow! I couldn’t imagine thinking like that. What kind of research did you have to do, to ensure the novel was authentic?
Jacqueline: Due to research for A Most Precious Gift, much of the Emerald, as relates to setting, was already in place. But as the story evolved, I had to augment what I knew about blacks who owned slaves during the antebellum period, and I had to refresh my knowledge of the origins and spread of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the opportunists (carpetbaggers) collapsing upon the South after the war.
Toni: What message do you hope your readers will leave with after reading In Pursuit of an Emerald?
Jacqueline: Violette’s guilt centers on the lie she is living insofar as her daughter Emerald is concerned, a lie which has resulted in producing a troubled adolescent. I want to leave an impression of the importance of godly parenting with its attendant call for rules, love, and truth as the ultimate foundation for daily living. I also, via the hero, try to restate the depth of harm slaveholding inflicts not only on the slave but the slaveholder as well, no matter his or her color. Finally, though Violette thinks her goal is to gain the respect of Emerald, it is the priceless jewel of self-worth, so often lacking in the slave mentality, that she is searching for. This inner search for one’s value is what I hope to emphasize—a jewel which slave descendants still pursue today.
Toni: Yes! The jewl of self-worth is priceless. As you may know, there has been recent talk about adding diversity to the reading culture. How do you think In Pursuit of an Emerald will impact this discussion?
Jacqueline: Too often, I believe, people think of slaves as slavery itself, that is, a collapsing of all its victims into one abused body. Hopefully, the book underscores not only the general and collective struggle of ex-slaves during the Reconstruction era but the predicaments which they as individual people with individual problems incurred, including the so-called free man of color who often found himself enslaved to one degree or another.
Toni: Oh, this sounds like it’ll be an excellent read! How about some personal questions? What is the first book that made you cry?
Jacqueline: That’s a hard one, but I think it was The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Growing up is an unavoidable experience, and unto this day, I recall the pain of the child in that book as he struggled toward the realities of life in his coming of age.
Toni: Coming of age books can often be tear jerkers. Who are your three must-read authors, and why do you read their works?
Jacqueline: Another hard one, but I’m going to narrow it to Christian fiction writers I’ve read during the last decade. I have thoroughly enjoyed Ginny Dye, especially her Bregdan Chronicles that dare to tackle the racial history of America with both gentleness and truth. Also, I am a fan of Laura Frantz and B. J. Hoff. All three ladies have forever impressed me with their talent for weaving history into a riveting fictional narrative that stirs the heart and makes one want to do something worthwhile.
Toni: I’ve read Laura Frantz. Her writing is poetic. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Jacqueline: Both. In the back of my mind, I am always writing, and when I get a chance to put what I’m thinking about on paper, it is nothing short of exhilarating. But after several hours, I start to feel exhausted. Depleted. Brain-busted! At that point, no matter that I would like to continue, I must stop and do something “other than”—usually read someone else’s fiction.
Toni: Reading is my go to as well. And last, do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Jacqueline: Love what you write. Believe in its message, and make sure it indeed has a message no matter how lighthearted or poignant. For whatever period of time readers gives to your book, that’s time gone from them forever. I feel they are owed some takeaway.
Toni: Beautifully stated. Readers, do you have any questions for Ms. Wheelock?
About the Author
Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock is a multi-published author whose works range from short stories to a memoir of growing up during and after integration. Wheelock has been a member of several writers and critique groups and is currently a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, an organization which has afforded her valuable instruction and opportunity toward publication. An avid reader and former high school and college English teacher, her first novel, A Most Precious Gift, debuted in 2014 via Mantle Rock Publishers. The sequel, In Pursuit of an Emerald, debuts in August of 2017. Jacqueline and her husband Donald reside in Madison, Mississippi and have two adult children and two beloved granddaughters.
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Interview conducted by Toni Shiloh