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PHYLLIS WHEELER SHINES A LIGHT ON HER TEEN NOVEL: ‘THE LONG SHADOW,’ FROM ELK LAKE PUBLISHING, INC. (INTERVIEW) ·

In her second interview for Stage Voices, Phyllis Wheeler talks race in America, during three different time periods; stranger danger and comfort zones; and walking a mile–in someone else’s shoes.

Author Phyllis Wheeler tells stories that encourage us to step outside our comfort zones. She’s done it—she and her husband spent twenty years raising their family in a black neighborhood in segregated St. Louis. She’s been a journalist, an engineer, and a homeschooling mom. Now she’s thrilled to be following her dream of becoming an author for young people. Find out more and get a free short story at phylliswheeler.com .

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Visit Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.  

 

Photo by Arpit Mehta

Without giving too much away, tell us about your novel.

The Long Shadow is a racial reconciliation novel featuring time travel. Fourteen-year-old Richie, from white suburbia, thinks it is a good idea to run away from his guardian – until he finds himself whisked back 50 years, fighting to survive a freak storm, afraid to accept help from a black man.

As Morris mentors him in woodsman skills, a friendship develops. Richie wants to repay his life-debt to Morris and embarks on another trip in time, to 1923 in Missouri.  Can he prevent the lynching of Morris’s grandfather?

Why do you think The Long Shadow stands out in the youth market?

First of all, it’s on the topic of our times, racial reconciliation. Many people want to know more. Secondly, it faces a hitherto-taboo topic head-on. That topic is lynching. Our nation’s sad history of lynching and terrorism against Black people has been ignored or avoided in the past, but it’s high time we pulled it out and dealt with it, in my opinion. Thirdly, the book carries an emotional punch that’s unusual in middle grade fiction.

What seems to be important in writing for young readers (ages 10-14)?

  • Young people find role models when they read, so it’s important to have characters in your story readers want to emulate.
  • Personally I think a happy or mostly happy ending is important. Who wants to read a book and get depressed by it?
  • Beyond that, kids are looking for the same story elements as everyone else: relatable characters, strong plots that keep moving, a satisfying resolution.

All ages might notice your ability with structuring the novel, which takes place in three different times.  Why did you think you could make that work–and, for writers, how do you think and work with structure?

I worked with the basic three-act structure for starters, and then added a sub plot that has its own three act structure. I guess I thought I could make it work because I got positive responses from people who read the manuscript.

More details, if you are interested:

There’s a story setup in Act 1, present day. At the beginning of Act 2, Richie embarks on a journey to find independence, running off to the woods.  Richie eventually realizes he has been sent back fifty years somehow. Act 2 contains various setbacks and consequences as Richie, in the woods in 1969, interacts with a person of a different race, Morris, whom he fears. They begin to build a friendship.  Richie urges Morris to return to his family in town, but Morris has fears related to his grandfather’s lynching. And now the sub plot: Richie takes off for 1923 to try to prevent the lynching. That story contains three acts as well. After that sub plot finishes, we return to the main story, coming to resolution in 1969 and then the present day.

What kinds of research did the book involve?

I set the present-day sequences in Webster Groves, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where I live, so researching that was easy. The 1969 sequences were mostly set in a wooded area of my state where my husband and I have spent a lot of time, near Farmington, Missouri.  And, in 1969, I was 17 years old. I remember it so clearly. So the part I had to research was 1923 in Columbia, Missouri. I dramatized an actual lynching, that of James T. Scott. This took several days of research in libraries in Columbia.

Now, Columbia happens to be the home of a big university: Mizzou, the University of Missouri.  This had two beneficial effects for me:

  • Grad students over the years analyzed the town history, including Jason Jindrich in 2002 researching how Black people lived in Columbia in the 1920s.
  • Mizzou journalism school student journalist Charles Nutter was present at the mob scene and wrote extensive eyewitness reports.

If the lynching had been in a different town, I wouldn’t have had these resources. I chose that lynching to base my story on not because of that, though. It was simply the most recent one in Missouri on record at the time I checked, and I needed a recent one in order to make the time line work.

The Long Shadow has characters of different races.  As a white writer, what are the traps and issues you faced not being limited by only working with your own race? 

Because I’ve had so many Black friends and neighbors, I think I can walk a mile in their shoes, but I really can’t, I have discovered. I learned to lean heavily on feedback from Black people who read my work. They point out where I am off, and I tear things up if needed and fix it. It’s a humbling experience.

As a homeschooling parent, in the past, what kinds of learning materials did you look for–and how would you envision The Long Shadow being used in homeschooling and schools?

When homeschooling, I looked for materials that I could hand my students and they could do on their own. So I am working on a homeschool “unit study” of at least 20 pages that will serve as a literature study, covering some Missouri history and geography, learning to write haiku, and more. I’m going to put it up on my website at PhyllisWheeler.com/the-long-shadow .

For regular schools, I also have some free classroom discussion questions available. This book should generate some deep discussions on the topic of racism.

What is racism? In my mind, it comes from fear. We are all wired for stranger danger. So we all need to be aware of the negative aspects of that and be willing to reach out, reach beyond our comfort zones.

What did you find yourself learning, as you wrote? 

I learned a lot about the sordid history of the treatment of Black people in Missouri. I was shocked to discover that after emancipation their settlements were sometimes relegated to edges of creeks, which flooded, and without proper sewers, so the water was contaminated.  This happened both in Columbia and in the St. Louis suburb where I live. Even in the nicer Black neighborhoods, there was no paving or street lights.

I also did some introspection about my feelings on the subject of race and racism. That was an eye opener too.

Because of its setting, are you finding Missouri is becoming key to your sales?  To what extent do you think this is a national or international book and why?

Local Missourians seem very interested in a racial reconciliation book, and it’s selling well here. But it’s also doing well online. I believe the book speaks to anyone who has experienced a segregated environment. That’s a lot of people! It’s not just a kids’ book. I am finding that adults are reading the book and recommending it to each other. The reconciliation theme can speak into our divided culture.

How do you think your personal experience prepared you to write this novel?

I lived as a child in Jim Crow Mississippi. There were laws about segregation. There were whites-only bathrooms and water fountains. The schools were separate. The only time I saw Black people was in a store—and in my home. My mother hired a maid to clean our house once a week. The maid lived in a row of shacks just a stone’s throw from our middle class house in a subdivision. Those shacks must have had no plumbing and just some kind of stove for heat. They were primitive. The contrast was so great in my young eyes.

As I grew up I lived in many places. In St. Louis I got married, and we decided to raise our family in a Black neighborhood. We had some wonderful, welcoming neighbors who showed us the warm heart of the Black community, which most white people in St. Louis never see.

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More about The Long Shadow:

Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable. A well done and powerful story. It is certainly stuck in my head.—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis

I loved this book. I could not stop reading it once I had begun. It is a delightful story, as well as a very painful one, told very well without a wasted word. I gladly recommend it to anyone. —Jerram Barrs, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts

I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author

Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.—Elsie G, age 13.

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

 

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (120) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

When . . . somebody advised Chekhov to write a play about the [Russo-Japanese] war, the great writer was insulted:

“Listen,” he said, “it is necessary that twenty years should pass. It is impossible to speak of it now. It is necessary that the world should be in repose. Only then can an author be unprejudiced.” (MLIA)

HARMONY RULES IN “IN THE HEIGHTS” ·

(Anthony Lane’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 6/11; PHOTO: Anthony Ramos stars in Jon M. Chu’s film of the Broadway musical.Illustration by Katty Huertas.)

Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical presents an uplifting portrait of a Dominican neighborhood in New York where political strife rarely intrudes.

Morning in America, not yet six o’clock, and a couple of working stiffs, in the bright early glare of New York, are finding it hard to make a start. One of them is a crane operator, down at the docks, beside a U.S. Navy vessel. “I feel like I’m not out of bed yet,” he says—or sings, in a baritone as slow as a bear. Way uptown, close to the 181st Street subway stop, someone else has the same problem. “Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day, I wake up, and I got this little punk I gotta chase away,” he says—or raps, in a voice as crisp as an apple. The first man, who is unnamed, initiates “On the Town” (1949), and the second is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the likable hero of “In the Heights.” Two guys, two movies, seventy-two years apart, both springing from stage musicals. Oh, and Usnavi is so called because his father, arriving from the Dominican Republic, saw a ship marked “U.S. Navy.” How much is truly new, under the sun?

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NATO, EU POWERS TALK TOUGH OVER BELARUS BUT CAN’T PROTECT EXILED DISSIDENTS ·

(David Brennan’s article appeared in Newsweek, 5/28; Photo: Newsweek.)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shocked the world when a fake bomb threat forced a passenger plane to divert to Minsk where security forces arrested prominent dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner.

The operation was shocking in its brazenness, prompting condemnation from the international community and threats of additional sanctions against Lukashenko and his authoritarian regime, clinging to power in spite of mass protests that erupted after last year’s disputed presidential election.

Lukashenko has retained power through brutality and fear. Security forces, keen to suppress the simmering revolution, arrested and tortured thousands. Backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko has resisted calls for fresh elections and dialogue and is now intensifying an assault on the country’s surviving free media.

But for all the harsh words, the European UnionNATO, and the U.S. have so far hesitated to apply the most stringent sanctions demanded by Belarusian dissidents and human rights groups. Lukashenko’s vicious reprisals saved his regime last year, and appear to have at least bought him some time in power.

Pro-democracy campaigners and dissidents told Newsweek that Lukashenko’s latest authoritarian stunt could act as a model for other dictators worldwide unless democracies take meaningful action.

“You are not safe anywhere,” said Natalia Kaliada, a Belarusian dissident and pro-democracy campaigner who has been living in exile in the U.K. for a decade.

Kaliada and her husband, Nikolai Khalezin, fled Belarus on New Year’s Eve in 2010, soon after Kaliada was accidentally released from prison by security services thanks to a clerical error.

The couple—who now run the Belarus Free Theater in London—still regularly receive death threats, including those published in the main Belarusian government newspaper, Sovietska Belarus.

Death threats have increased since the recent protests, Kaliada told Newsweek. Asked whether she felt more in danger after Protasevich’s arrest, she replied: “I never felt safe.”

Kaliada recalled how in the past, Belarusian protesters and dissidents would be arrested, abused, and killed “behind closed doors.” But Lukashenko has seemingly unleashed his security apparatus in the wake of the recent unrest.

“They are open to killing in front of the whole world,” Kaliada said. “They are open to hijacking an airplane in front of the whole world. They’ve been badly scared.”

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NATALIA KALIADA, BELARUS FREE THEATRE: ‘THAT’S A HOSTAGE VIDEO’–BELARUSAN EXILE CLAIMS JOURNALIST ‘TORTURED’ AFTER PLANE ARREST ·

(Alastair Lockhart’s article appeared on Express, 5/25.)

The video released of arrested Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich is a “hostage video,” a Belarusian exile has said.

View: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1440783/Belarus-news-journalist-tortured-hostage-video-vn?jwsource=cl

The video released of arrested Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich is a “hostage video,” a Belarusian exile has said. Natalia Kaliada, co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre, told BBC Breakfast that the video also showed clear signs of torture. Mr Protasevich was due to meet Ms Kaliada when his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was “hijacked” and diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities where he was arrested on his arrival.

(Read more)

DANCING THROUGH DARK TIMES: THE RETURN OF LIVE PERFORMANCES IN FRANCE ·

 

As a storytelling tool, a ritual or a release, dance has been with us since our earliest days as humans. As live performances start up again here in France, we discuss some of the challenges faced by the sector. Sociologist and journalist Laura Cappelle joins us along with Allister Madin, principal dancer and choreographer.

From online dance festivals to home videos of rehearsals, we highlight some of the more innovative solutions staged while dance venues were shuttered.

Allister tells us about a professional year like no other, which took him from New Zealand to France via Spain, resulting in a creative collaboration with Ruben Molina inspired by the Flamenco traditions of Cordoba.

We also delve into dance’s deep roots and the vocabulary of movement that Laura examined while editing her recent book, “Nouvelle Histoire de la Danse en Occident”.

JEREMY IRONS AND STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: ‘WE EVEN PERFORMED IT IN FRONT OF THE POPE!’ – HOW WE MADE GODSPELL ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/10. Photo: ‘I dance like a duck’ … Jeremy Irons, right, as Judas in London; the musical’s first commercial staging in New York was 50 years ago this month. Photograph: Reg Wilson/Rex/Shutterstock.)

‘Religious groups didn’t like Jesus wearing a Superman shirt or the lack of a resurrection. So we told them the curtain call was the resurrection – when Jesus runs on and takes a bow’

Jeremy Irons, actor

Godspell opened in London in November 1971 and ran at the same time as Jesus Christ Superstar. It was the Rolls-Royce to our Ford Fiesta. I was 23, had just left the Bristol Old Vic company and was auditioning for everything. There were 30 of us lined up along the stage for the audition. I was on the end and taller than everyone else. I knew the Americans loved a level chorus line so I kept trying to sink down. I’d already done a few musicals including The Boy Friend and Oh What a Lovely War. But I’ve always said I sing like an actor and dance like a duck.

I knew Godspell was St Matthew’s Gospel told by a company of clowns. That was enough for me. I was cast in the dual role of Judas and John the Baptist. David Essex was Jesus. He was the variety boy, the lovable, cheeky one. As usual, I was the chap you’re not quite sure about. On the first day John-Michael Tebelak, the writer, asked all the actors to write a list of everything we could do – play the guitar, juggle, whatever. He took the lists and said he’d try to get it all in the show. That meant we all looked amazingly talented. I played my fiddle and planned to ride the unicycle, but when I found out we had a raked stage I wasn’t too keen.

There was a wonderful freedom. My understudy went on one night so he could have a crack while I went out into the audience to make notes on the show. We were a very democratic company and would give each other notes in the interval – sadly, that is unusual in theatre, that actors have the trust of each other like that. During Godspell I realised, on the stage, that this was a business I’d sort of wandered into instinctively and put on like a glove – and it fitted completely.

John-Michael was a great big cuddly teddy bear – a sort of hippy, bearded, fuzzy guy. We weren’t particularly religious but every night before curtain-up we’d do a huddle and say the Lord’s Prayer. If you do that show without a real respect for God and for Christianity, it doesn’t work. You have to imbue yourself with that spirit – and that’s what John-Michael gave us.

Stephen Schwartz, composer and lyricist

John-Michael Tebelak was a drama student at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh who had thought of becoming an Episcopal minister. He went to a service one Easter and felt it missed the joy, energy and revolutionary quality of Jesus’s teachings. So he married theatre and theology together with the first version of Godspell in 1970. It had a book – based on the Gospel According to St Matthew – by him, songs by cast members and music from a student band. Students from Carnegie Mellon performed it, then took it to fringe venue La MaMa in New York.

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“SIX GUN JUSTICE” WITH PAUL BISHOP PODCAST: ROBERT DWYER & AUSTIN WRIGHT ON THEIR BOOK: ‘THE SHERIFF’ (FROM TWODOT BOOKS) ·

Listen

Hang out around the Six-Gun Justice water cooler for another Six-Gun Justice Conversation segment.  Co-host Paul Bishop talks with Western writers Austin Wright & Robert Dwyer, whose debut Western novel, The Sheriff, was released in April.

 

View The Sheriff on Amazon 

Reviews

I think that THE SHERIFF by Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright has a chance to be judged one of those rare modern Western fiction classics. The authors somehow manage to be both traditional and surprising on every page. … The town of Three Chop, grizzled Sheriff John Donovan, assorted outlaws radiating real menace, women just as desperate and cunning as any of the menfolk—there’s damned fine storytelling here.– Jeff Guinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral―And How It Changed the American West

THE SHERIFF is the debut novel from authors Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright, and a strong debut it is. There are definite echoes of the traditional Western here but a more literary sensibility to the writing and plotting. It’s a bleak but impressive yarn and well worth reading if you’re looking for a Western that’s a bit offbeat while retaining a fondness for what’s gone before.– James Reasoner, New York Times bestselling author

About the Authors

Robert Dwyer is a history buff with an abiding interest in the West, which looms large in the American psyche–a canvas for big stories and big ideas. He lives with his wife and dog in Alexandria, Virginia.

Austin Wright started watching John Wayne movies with his dad before he was old enough to talk–and he’s been hooked on Westerns ever since. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in Annandale, Virginia.

Read their interviews on Stage Voices:

Part 1 

Part 2