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In recent readings, I read Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever, and chose to answer the questions she offerered at the close of her novel. Over the coming weeks, I will offer my answers to her questions (some tailored to address my manuscript) in respect to work, Blue Lines. These questions were answered some time ago, earlier this year. I am providing them in that form.
1. Why did you choose to focus on your book subject?
2. Is Blue Lines a true story?
3. How did you write the story so authentically?
4. Did you, and if so, why did you decide to include yourself as a character?
5. Where we’re you when you first started writing Blue Lines?
6. Which character did you create first?
7. How did you write the manuscript, what method?
8. Why aren’t all of your characters Black?
9. What were you trying to achieve with the novel Blue Lines?
10. Will there be a sequel novel?
6. Which character did you create first?
The first character that I created in what became the final versions was Keypsiia Yemaya Walker. Originally simply named “L,” when I first began writing, Keypsiia (Key, Key-Key, or Keep) Walker began to take shape during the first rewrite when the protagonist had migrated from the young male character, Blue Hurt, to a manuscript being written about a young woman from Sacramento, California of Black and Filipino heritage.
We first meet her on a solemn morning standing in the rain outside a San Francisco Starbucks on 3rd and Mission across from the Moscone Center. These thoughts that created the scene were the first that I committed to paper/computer to open the story. Certain facts were given: 1) she was born in Sacramento, California in September/October 1978; 2) she was the daughter of a Black father and Filipino mother; 3) her parents were divorced at that time, with her father remarried, her mother not; 4) she smoked Black & Mild cigars, and was a coffee aficionado; 5) she had a light complexion and had brown hair with naturally occurring highlights that ultimately had a reddish or auburn hue; 6) her best friend was a fellow student from Brooklyn, New York whom she met on her college visit to UNC Chapel Hill on her orientation visit; 7)she had a small feminine frame with wide “baby making” hips, as her mother would say.
I also knew coming into her creation that Keypsiia was a good person with a good heart, but her youth allowed her to come off as abrasive in some situations. She had a mouth that sometimes boredered on foul, and hid her feelings well but if irritated had little to no filter. I also was tasked with developing her characteristics to be evidenced to the reader cupled with making her a sympathetic and likeable young woman, though at times she could be annoyingly petulant to an outsider. Keypsiia is also fiercly independent, she does not need to be flashy or noticed to prove her self worth, thus she limits her close relationships.
In creating Keypsiia’s character first, it was also understood that the character central to her story was Blue Hurt.
I stepped to the challenge of authentically writing from the aspect of the female experience, I took the direction when Arthur Golden completed his work, Memoirs of a Geisha. By interviewing current female classmates, and incorporating the aspects and behaviors on the person on which my fictional character is based, I developed her over time. As with a personal story, there are elements of myself which also live within both my protagonist, Keypsiia Walker, and Blue Hurt.
Her name came from a legendary local artist, originally from Tennessee, Joi Gilliam. Though a staple of the Atlanta music scene, and the predecessor of what became known as Neo-Soul, Joi’s music was the catalyst for artists such as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Lauren Hill. In the manuscript, the name means “Blue Daydream.” Keypsiia’s middle name, Yemaya, is a tribute to both the tone of the book, and my Cuban heritage. In the practice of Santeria, the goddess Yemaya represents the color blue, and all of its shades. She is also representative of the number 7 and water.
In creating Keypsiia’s character first, it was important to capture many of the traits of the subject she was loosly based on, while the memories were still fresh. Her manner of speaking, style of dress, happiness, anger, attitude as well as grabbing the essence of a young woman, a college freshman with a sound prepatory education, ad California base. From there it was the job of my imagination to fill in the blanks and provide an accurate depiction of this young woman. It was also important to capture the time period of her socialization.
Being that my inspiration was at a high, and I had inspiration internal and external to draw from, I used that in creating her character first.
7. How did you write the manuscript, what method?
Blue Lines is written from the first person aspect of Keypsiia Walker. Throughout the pages of my work, we experience life through her worldview, thus her slant is evident in the dissemination of her story. I stress this, because taking into account her limited 18 years at the open of the manuscript, her wide-eyed idealism is apparent to this telling. She is less than a few months removed from high school and out on her own for the first time on the opposite side of the United States in the south. Though humble, she is stepping into a new world with a view based primarily on a liberal California upbringing from a state with a rich history of vocal opposition. Though from a city that is more “small town,” Sacramento, that the instate siblings of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland, the history and influence is far more vast than a Chapel Hill or Charlotte where she currently resides in North Carolina. The goal was to narrate her growth through the eyes of this growing young woman through her idealistic yet ungrounded and inexperienced perspective while accurately allowing her to grow up on the pages of Blue Lines. I knew her limited world view needed to be shattered and through the learning process her naivety would give way to her normal evolution into womanhood. But, it was important to insure that her slant was the narration of the story allowing for devices such as dialog and her reading letters or messages from others to introduce different points of view to Blue Lines. All events take place with her as the participant, or the retellings of outside events come directly from her view or through developmental devices placed within her grasp. Keypsiia Walker’s life encompasses the pages. If she learns that an ideal she held dear, has been brought into question, the manuscript shows her dealing with it, accepting it, learning from it, or rejecting it based on her childlike outlook that happened to so many not simply with their naiveté in college, but in relation to events that were either ideals, or never in question until that point.
Once the extensive framework of the manuscript was created and worked through several revisions and upates, I took specific scenes and identified individual songs or built music playlists that spoke directly to the evets of certains scenes and created a motion picture production in my mind’s eye to expound upon and develop a more elaborate telling of Keypsiia’s story. In Chapter 26: Clearing For Revelations, when Keypsiia sits on the stairs of her dorm mindlessly daydreaming and is approached by Gerald Milson, Tori Amos’ “Butterflies,” perfectly fit the mood of the scene, echoing the scattered raindrops and the overcast setting of the present locale. It also provided the hopeful element of the scene as Keypsiia beamed through the seemingly dreary morning. Years later in her story again Amos’ “Gold Dust” (in writing I only list 2 Amos songs, though there were others) provided the perfect soundtrack to the prologue of Blue Lines. The song, tone, and actual lyrics paint Keypssia’s state of mind, as again, we find her in the rain, standing in front of the aforementioned Starbucks in San Francisco. It was uncanny how I stumbled upon this work after writing the piece, and the time of its release matched. Cassandra Wilson’s “You Move Me,” almost speaks the scene to life between she and Blue Hurt in Chapter 17: Discovery, as they run back to the car in the rain at Discovery Park in Sacramento, California. “Rain falls down on me / I can hardly see / for the water in my eyes / love comes down on me / I can hardly breath…you mve me.” In the writing process, Kelis’ album Kaleidoscope, Monica’s “Missing You,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and “In a Sentimental Mood,” Joi’s album The Pendulum Vibe, Staind’s Aaron Lewis and Fred Durst’s “Outside,” instrumental pieces from Eric Serra’s score or The Fifth Element and The Professional, Keypsiia’s favorites Lysette Titi’s “Young, Sad & Blue,” and Jay-Z’s rookie “Reasonble Doubt,” among others helped provide a playlist used to sculpt a landscape used during general writing. I would also hear new music that would inspire additional scene development like Dru Hill’s “Beauty (Remix),” Bjork’s “Joga,” which both led to writing several pages of content as a passenger riding from Seattle to San Francisco, respectively, based solely on the ideas spurred by these songs. In many cases music is inserted into scenes, as evidenced by a cover band at the Worldwide Lounge (fictional poetry club) playing Pearl Jam’s “Black” as Keypsiia and Blue confront each other in a conversation crucial to the developing story. It was with this music, that I could sit back and watch this film unfold and then transcribe the vivid events to create and elaborate upon this story to build a substantive narrative that I held, and sill hold close to my heart as a piece of myself.
No different that the change when one, moves away from home, has a child, or in our recent past, lives through the events of September 11th.
I also looked back at something that I listened to Chris Carter of the television show, The X-Files fame, stated in relation to the story telling of his show. When asked about whether the television show would go forward solely on the aliens angle since certain episodes confirmed their existence, his response was that the show was written and told from the aspect of the main protagonist, Fox Mulder, and the series would always skew toward what his beliefs were, and that he wanted to find aliens. His experiences would be biased by those wants to believe, and find what is out there, therefore in the end, we as the viewer could never truly “know” whether he had actually discover aliens, due to his telling of the story. That same concept applies to Keypsiia’s story. If she’s mad at a character, in some aspect, her personal bias plays into the events that led her to attribute those adverse feelings to the situation. I always want that known going into reading my work, due to the culmination of all of the works story, taking into consideration these nuances.
Therefore, my goal was to convey not just a story, but Keypsiia’s story. In many ways unique and genuine, however universal in its themes regarding love and interpersonal relationships, experiences, and growth.
Part III next week.
The manuscript Blue Lines is the fictional coming of age narrative of a young California woman Key Yemaya Walker, and her 2 year growing journey through school, love, and life period piece, written by Kenneth Suffern, Jr., taking place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between the years of 1997 – 1998. Loosely based on true events, and experiences during that time, told through the eyes and voice of the main female protagonist, a freshman first attending the school.