Dancing at The Orange Peel
My novel grew out of a short story I wrote over a decade ago entitled “For What Nate Did.” Over the past ten years or so, the story has gotten larger, it has developed a greater sense of time and place, the cast of characters and the complexity of their experiences have changed and grown, and hopefully, my writing has gotten much better. “For What Nate Did” earned honorable mention in a short story contest, but I can tell you that when I wrote it, I still had a LOT to learn about the art and craft of writing. And since Dancing at The Orange Peel deserves the very best I can give, I have taken my time with it.
It isn’t a pretty or an easy story. It is set in the South in the late 1960s and is populated by people you would not want in your family. Ten-year-old Libby Billings, one of my main characters, fully understands that. In fact, it was her voice, her recognition of the thorny family into which she was born, that woke me bolt upright one night when I first conceived of the story:
Naturally, nobody in the family looked kindly on Mama taking up with a colored man. I say naturally now, looking back, because I see what people I come from.
And so Libby sets the stage for the obstacles and pleasures, the prejudices and love that she, her mama Gwen, and Gwen’s new beau Nate Boniface will encounter and share. Nate is the manager of The Orange Peel, a nightclub in Kent Creek, NorthCarolina. He is also the first ‘colored’ member of the Kent Creek Chamber of Commerce where Gwen works.
I still have a very long way to go before the novel is finished. It is a big story that often feels much more important than anything I can handle. So I work carefully and slowly, hoping I can give the characters the respect they deserve and the space and time they need to fully live.
Writing this novel is truly a journey and a challenge for me. To see how it’s coming along, I invite you to join me on my blog whenever you can. Hopefully you will grow to care enough about Libby, Gwen, Nate, and the other residents of Kent Creek that when I finish with them, you will want to read their story.