Voices in the Walls 4

I don’t like dealing with the Civil War. I understand its pivotal role in American history, but I have no understanding of those who spend their career studying it or writing about so repulsive an event.

In Voices in the Wall I’m telling the story of one young man’s coming to terms with race, and with the way in which his understanding of the world has been wrong. If I were to set that during the Civil War, the blood and guts would get in the way. Voices is actually a hopeful story, and nothing hopeful came out of the Civil War. Slavery was ended, of course, but only at the cost of hardening the attitudes of the South and bringing about a hundred plus years of Jim Crow.

The novelist’s solution is to set Voices close to, but not during the Civil War. This was also a practical necessity, since the “voices” of the title are the voices of slaves escaping via the underground railway. So Voices is set in that brief period between Lincoln’s election and the attack on Ft. Sumter.

Unless you completely compartmentalize your visits to this website, you know by now that over in A Writing Life I am doing about six weeks on the subject of race. It is the American preoccupation, and my early rejection of racism set the tone for the rest of my life. I owe a lot to the people of the Civil Rights movement. I have said that repeatedly, and I will continue to do so.

Voices was my way of coming to terms with the racism of my childhood, just as A Fond Farewell to Dying was my way of coming to terms with religion. The fact that Voices stalled when it did, tells me I have some work left to do, on myself as well as on the novel.

I am sharing this for a number of reasons: 

  • Although it is not finished, even this fragment is worth reading for it’s own sake.
  • It will become a tutorial on planning a novel. I taught middle school for twenty-seven years, and I can’t shake the habit of teaching.
  • It will serve as a companion piece and counterbalance for the posts on race which are occurring over in A Writing Life.
  • It will serve as a forum on the moral responsibilities of writing, including getting your facts right and not shooting your mouth off about things you don’t understand.

more tomorrow as we begin Chapter one


In about a month, you will get to the end of the fragment. You will not get to read the rest of the novel until I finish it – and I have half a dozen novels in the queue waiting to be written – and I’m 68 years old . . .


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