bookoxygen is happy to launch a new kind of item, namely an extract from an unpublished novel. This site, devoted in particular to fiction and women writers, is happy to host new, unpublished material from writers of promise. Authors interested in sharing an extract from unreleased work on bookoxygen should follow the ‘contact’ link on the home page.
Vivian Glover is a freelance producer for NBC News and a contributing writer for MSNBC’s online journal, The Grio. She began an international career as a writer and television producer with NBC News in Washington, DC, before leaving to live abroad. In 1986, her fiction debut, The First Fig Tree, was published in England by Methuen and in the United States by St Martin’s Press. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection and a chapter was included in the international anthology, Daughters of Africa.
Vivian’s second novel is called Shades on a Dream. What follows is her introduction to the book and then an extract from it. Agents or publishers interested in contacting Vivian should follow the ‘contact’ link on the bookoxygen home page.
Near the end of writing my first novel, The First Fig Tree, set in the South during World War Two, I began to envision circumstances that characters, like the ones in the book, would face as the war’s end manifestly exposed Jim Crow in all its heinous realities. The protagonists in Shades on a Dream are the second generation of The Great Migration – the ones whose parents moved from the South, by the millions, shifting the country’s demographics as dramatically as did their ancestors hauled there, by the millions, off slave ships. Like the waves of overseas immigrants, the Southern migrants would become the urban masses hoping for a better life. They became the default beneficiaries of industrial legacies spawned for European laborers they would replace. The ‘second generation’s’ parents, lacking opportunities or access, stayed near the bottom of the economic ladder, as would some of that second generation, confined again. Others, climbing among the new influx of immigrants, aspire to achieve what their parents had not. Then others, desperate as runaway slaves, are intent on fleeing the present and severing the past. Aligned by the times and a mandated historic movement, the ‘second generation’ characters are also destined to be travelers into another great – this time the Great Society.
In this extract from Shades on a Dream, set in the early 1970s, eighteen-year-old student Vanessa, who has a budding career as a model, believes that, with her good looks and determination, once she makes the right connections she’ll sashay her way into a world of fame and glamor. Before her father Nathan’s sudden death, Vanessa supposed his brooding silences or sudden rages discouraged the kind of happy conversations she had seen families enjoying on weekly TV shows. After Nathan died, the spaces he had occupied were like cloudy voids that her family surrounded with their own heavy silences. Once she is successful, Vanessa tells herself, she is getting away from the mentality of people who work themselves so hard they die. When a photographer with impressive credentials in the fashion business notices her in a local show, his contacts and encouragement stoke her ambitions and his laid-back confidence lures her sexual curiosity.
Shades on a Dream is my second effort in the genre of literary fiction. The years I have spent in the news media, adhering to objectivity and perception to produce news of relevance, has been an influence on my approach to literary fiction. The inspiration continues to include my earliest observations regarding the social and emotional levies presented and paid for by each generation of African Americans. This theme is a collective molded from my experiences, individual experiences personally witnessed or told to me by men and women, the sons and daughters of the generation who migrated away from the South. It is largely unknown as a work of fiction, either as a personal or societal narrative. It is the great African-American adventure on an uncharted course. No other Americans set out, pre-destined by human factors, to fail or succeed – either way, inflicting radical, complex repercussions and perceptions on our familial culture and beyond and the cultures of the next generations, urban and beyond. My hope is that this extract entices readers and that the full manuscript captures the imagination of those willing to venture on an odyssey with characters traveling in mind and body to find their version of the American dream and a place that is home.
He told her to stay by the door. He lifted her chin with his palms, soothing her edgy expression before leaning his face close to hers, then disappeared into the room.
She heard the scratch of a match and watched as the flame moved down to a candle and then another. Luther picked one up and carried it behind a screen where the notes of a flute grew with the glow of the candle.
She was here for the promises. She wanted what Luther’s words were caressing into her, the promises he whispered above her head. She tried to see what he was saying, inhaling the sweet smoky aroma drifting around her as if it came from him.
She fingered his promises, stroking them like the smooth round beads he had placed around her neck. In reverence to the beauty she possessed, to the allure he knew was there. She was here because he divined to uncover her gifts and present them to her.
They were facing each other in a booth in the Indian restaurant. She was distracted by everything around and sat silently looking at nothing until he pointed to the female figure above their table. He took her hand, circling the tips of fingers. She could be any and all of the goddesses decorating these walls, he told her.
She stared at them, their large almond eyes indifferent to hers, their fingers, arms and feet, expressive of a poise she wanted for herself. Superiority shaped their lips.
‘There’s not a lot to their dresses.’ She wanted to make a fashion statement.
‘Saris,’ Luther informed her.
‘Sorries?’ She shrugged at the painting above their table.
He dropped his head. ‘The dress is called a sari. I see you have to be educated in more than one way.’
‘I might just educate myself.’ She turned away, dismissing him and their surroundings.
‘Maybe we’ll educate each other.’ He lifted his glass tilted it towards her. ‘Yes?’ He waited until she was facing him. ‘But first, we’ll discover the goddess in you.’
She picked at the leftover Indian food that her friends, Doreen and Wanda, backed away from the next day, telling them he was everything she wanted. He was sophisticated, thoughtful; he knew how to pay her compliments. He was so good looking.
‘He is a lot older than you,’ Doreen said quietly, ignoring the curious glances at Vanessa’s food from the other students at the lunch table.
‘So when is he going to do your portfolio?’ Wanda suspected Luther as much as she did his food.
‘He’s taken some really good pictures of himself. Luther could be a male model if he wanted to. He says I need to be a lot more relaxed around him, trust him to capture my essence.’
‘Your what?’ Wanda stretched back to look at Vanessa. ‘What’s your essence got to do with a portfolio?’
‘It’s her inner self. Her enigma,’ Doreen explained. ‘That’s probably a good thing, Vanessa.’
Wanda dismissed Luther with her hand, looking askance at Vanessa swallowing forkfuls of the cold Indian food.
‘We’re dating,’ Vanessa announced, confronting Wanda’s raised eyebrows and Doreen’s clasped hands.
Luther guided her to the bed, then moved silently into another room. She told herself he was the real part of her fantasy, more incredible than anyone who had come into her dreams. She had caught his attention without even realizing it. He knew women more sophisticated and better dressed than her. But Luther was attracted by whatever she had projected at the fashion show and the more she was aware of it, the more she would be noticed. He wanted to help her. He was confident she would get to the top. She imagined stepping into a room with flashes going off from every direction. Photographers rushing each other for a shot of her, asking her to pause, to pose, to smile. She would be generous with her time. It was good for her career, her pictures appearing in newspapers and magazines. And then one man would step out from the crowd. She would smile, take his arm and keep going, ignoring the pleas for just one more pose.
The candle flickered erratically into a long flame, burning from deep within its center. Aroma from incense spread in a thin trail of smoke. She inhaled it, as the silence behind the flute was slowly occupied by rhythms from gentle drums, the blending of soft, unhurried, hypnotic melodies. Luther returned and undressed her as she listened to what might have been the flutter of a melting candle, felt hot liquid around a burning wick. She became aware of the pulsating shadows moving over the wall, shapes stretching and coiling in a wavering light. She heard the Asian goddesses dancing on the ceiling, witnessing what they had seen so many times before. They flitted over her, defining her, whispering to her from behind the screen. And she obeyed holding his body when she wanted to touch the shadow of herself moving on the wall.
Luther’s hand, relaxed, impassive, stroked her body.
‘A little virgin.’ His voice teased her.
‘I told you I was.’ She tried to draw her legs together but they were shaking so much Luther would notice, maybe laugh.
‘It’ll be different next time.’ He brushed the top of her shoulder as if that was a promise too, then fell away from her into sleep.
She had been waiting, not for him not to touch her again, but for the burning sensation to end or make her cry She did not want to explain Luther and the stinging to each other or breathe in the smells of his bed, which she wanted to get out of but did not want to look down at.
Lying near the edge of the mattress, she stared into the shapes playing with each other on the bedroom wall. They sharpened, then faded, swayed by the flame that suddenly sputtered and blurred through the water in her eyes.
He was there, her father, sitting on the steps in their backyard, as alone as she was when she ran and played a children’s game. Her eyes moved to him, seeing the hands she was afraid of, open and stiff unless they had to grip something.
There she was, wanting to impress him, afraid she would do something wrong and he would know it before she did. Risking his anger, she ran faster than the others, up and down the alleyway, wanting to see his head move in her direction until she lost herself or felt she was in two places at once, where she wanted to be and where she was.
She gripped the rim of the mattress, blinking, the side of her face as damp as the sheet. She wasn’t anywhere, that time she was fighting to breath, to see where she was running, if his hands were close enough to suddenly grab her because she had done something wrong. Fear tangled her feet. Her face and hands slid across cement and dirt. Winded, she was staring into bright yellow blurs. She felt his eyes on her, waiting for her to move. When she could sit up, she picked the heads off the dandelions, ran in his direction, dropping the flowers into the hands he rested on his knees.
She nodded, remembering, turning her face into the wet sheet.
He never moved. Never looked down. She ran back to the other children, her body shaking. The dandelions in his palms tumbled to the ground when he stood up to go inside.
The candlelight glowed into the deep creases in his hands, revealing the grime embedded in each joint of his fingers and the yellow flower heads cupped, for a while, in his palms. They could not scrub off the stains from work or the line of dirt from underneath his fingernails. They put white gloves on his hands to dignify them in the coffin.
Luther’s hands cupped her shoulders. ‘You alright?’
‘Yeah.’ She didn’t want to look at him because he wasn’t looking at her.
‘It’s just that it’s not a good idea for you to spend the night here.’
She nodded. ‘I was planning to stay with a girlfriend.’
‘And she’s cool with that? I mean ’cause it’s late.’
‘Yeah. I know. It’s fine.’
‘I just want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘Yeah. I’m okay.’
‘We’ll do some shooting next week. It’s going to be a dynamite portfolio.’
He walked ahead as they left his apartment for the car.
‘I learned a lot about you tonight, Vanessa. You are something.’ He looked over at her before backing the car out of the parking space.
‘I just want a good portfolio.’ Her hands were clasped between her trembling thighs.
‘Oh, you got that.’ He smiled in her direction before accelerating onto the freeway.