Reading in Black and White

            As an author, I hesitate to share why I wrote my novel, Seen.

            As my longtime writing mentor and friend, John Boles, has taught me, “It doesn’t matter what you intend; what matters is what people get from the page.” His workshops have helped me get my pages much closer to what I want to bring into the world, which makes my next sentence most ironic.

            It’s a reader who misread me who is now grappling head-on with one of the major themes of my book: What happens when a well-respected, conscientious cop tries to do everything right, and everything goes to hell anyway?

            Does it matter whether that well-respected, conscientious cop is white? Or Black?

            According to one brutally honest reader of mine, yes. Yes, it does.

            I’ve promised to keep them anonymous, my reader, so I’m using the gender nonspecific pronoun “they.”

They are left-of-center in their politics. They have a compassionate heart and were considerably worried about my young protagonist, Jason, so they had to pause their reading after they started. They “cheated,” peeking into later chapters to make sure Jason didn’t die. (Jason lives.)

It’s a fast-paced book, I’m told, and this reader sped through it. They missed something that was there in the beginning—something they stumbled upon in the end.

The lead homicide detective in Seen, Detective Sergeant John Marshall, is Black.

My reader was honest enough to admit that learning the character is Black gave them pause. They had to stop and reevaluate how they felt about him.

They didn’t say it, but their implication was clear: As a liberal, they had an easier time disliking a white cop than they would have had they realized he was Black, all along.

As an author, I’ve been bowled over by the 4.99-star cumulative Amazon ratings from people I’ve never met. I’ve been overcome by the complimentary words of friends and acquaintances on social media, some of whom I know personally, others of whom I do not.

But the most powerful compliment I have gotten so far was from a reader who missed something, they admit, because of their own biases—a reader who is now grappling with one of my largest themes.

It’s easy to vilify others. It’s harder to look at a person in their complexity and understand how the culture we all grew up in, deep-dyed in our nation’s original sin, can subtly sweep things in the wrong direction.

How is it, we in our humanness, can truly believe we’re doing everything right, giving everything our best, moment by moment, and still have everything go so wrong? And what do we do when the truth of it all comes to light?

Thank you, reader, for your brutal honesty. These are exactly the conversations I would love for Seen to generate.

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