To Debra Bradley, marriage is being with the man you've always loved--despite the odds. Despite what other people think. And marriage is about family, about protecting your children from a sometimes hostile world.***
To her husband, Will Bradley, family is about creating a safe haven. Where it doesn't matter that one of you is white, the other black. Where it's never mattered...
All these years later Will and Debra are still in love, still each other's best friend. They've made a good life for themselves and their children. But their daughter, Angie-pregnant and estranged from the husband she loves-has to discover for herself what family means...
What about your background lends itself to your historical voice?
I grew up in a post-WWII neighborhood in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Our neighborhood was a mix of various European ethnicities. I didn't know it at the time, but this served as the catalyst for my yearning to not just learn a foreign language, but to travel the world to see where these languages had come from. To witness the culture that had "crossed the pond" to North America, in essence. In my own extended family I heard Polish. On the street where I lived just a short walk and my ear would catch phrases in German, Italian, and also Polish.
I studied Spanish throughout school and college, which gave me a foundation to learn Italian when our family was stationed there a few years back, and then French when we lived in Belgium. I'm currently studying my fourth foreign language in preparation for our next overseas assignment.
For college, I attended the U.S. Naval Academy, a site entrenched in history and tradition. Once commissioned into the Fleet, I lived and breathed the Navy tradition for nine years until I resigned to pursue a writing career. It seems that history has always had a hold on my life.
What is the connection between language and history?
For me, language is the passport to a culture, and that culture's history. What was boring to me in a classroom became alive as I walked ancient Naples and Rome, Italy, or wandered over the beaches at Normandy.
Do you write straight historical?
No. I love to read stories that intertwine past and present, and when Harlequin opened up the Everlasting line in 2006 I jumped at the chance to write about a period I'd always been fascinated by--World War II--and anchored it in a contemporary story that very much benefited from the lessons of yesterday. While my first book, A RENDEZVOUS TO REMEMBER, was published under Harlequin Everlasting in 2007, my second book is being published this month under Harlequin SuperRomance. WHAT FAMILY MEANS is a contemporary romance, but as with all Everlasting stories it examines the entire lifetime of a romance. The romance in WHAT FAMILY MEANS is between a lower-economic-class white woman and affluent African-American man who first meet as children in Buffalo, New York in the 1950s. I have plenty of flashbacks that give the historical story a stage.
How much research do you do?
As much as possible! My first book involved hours and hours of internet research to get the latest numbers and analysis on World War II and the Holocaust. This second novel found me researching African American history. I was fortunate that I met a woman in Belgium, another American, who happens to be a professor at Hampton Roads University in Norfolk, Va. Professor Martha Hall gave me a stack of books to peruse. It would have been impossible to read them all, but I learned enough to give my hero and his family as much authenticity as I could.
How do you avoid "revisionist" history, even in a novel?
I'm not sure I do, entirely. The present is the only time period I'm intimately familiar with! But just as my characters show up in my consciousness, so does their setting. I research and educate myself on their era as much as I can, and then I let my fingers fly over the keyboard and allow the story to spin.
Have you always wanted to write historical fiction?
While I've always considered myself a novelist, I honestly thought I was solely contemporary. But several different sources have commented that I have a strong historical voice, and of course, I love to read historical fiction of any kind, especially romance. It makes sense to me today that I was meant to write both, but it took a while to shake it out in the reality of getting published and pursuing this dream we all have of telling the perfect story.
Buffalo, New York
"You've never believed me about this the whole time we've been married. Why should I expect you to change now?"
Will Bradley, my husband of thirty-five years, stared at me with an intensity that made my hands clench on the shirt I was putting in his suitcase. His charcoal eyes sparked with annoyance. Will was never one to get easily worked up, but judging by the twitch over his left eyebrow, my latest obsession with our grown children's lives had sent him over the edge.
Or at least very close to it.
"I hear you, Will, you know I do. But the kids, especially Angie, haven't had the smoothest path."
I tried to keep the "look" off my face--the expression Will and our children said I'd mastered. The "I'm right so don't even bother to argue" look.
Apparently I didn't succeed in keeping my face blank. Will's nostrils flared as he drew a deep breath.
"Dammit, Debra, you go back to this every time." Will referred to my long-held belief--and, okay, guilt--that our interracial marriage had placed undue burden on our children.
He glanced up from packing.
"What do you always say to me, Deb? 'It's the twenty-first century. The new generation doesn't see us in terms of skin color. We don't get a fraction of the stares we used to draw.'"
"Give me some credit, Will. I know that times have changed, and the kids are all doing great--better than a lot of our friends' children."
I stood up from the bed to make my point.
"Angie's always had it the toughest. She's older than the twins and remembers the more-blatant prejudice in high school and college. Jesse's family wasn't immediately supportive of their white son marrying our biracial daughter."
Will didn't respond as he packed his socks and underwear. I hated when he went all quiet like this.
"Why did Angie move back to Buffalo while Jesse's away? Why didn't she wait for him to return from his mission?"
I knew I wasn't the only one worried about Jesse's safety in Iraq, where he'd gone for humanitarian reasons. He was there to use his surgical skills, working as a government contractor. The military was grateful for civilian talent such as Jesse's.
Will ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. His fingers caught my eyes. I was always a sucker for his hands--chocolate-brown skin stretched over the most elegant fingers, the most sensual hands, I've ever seen. He could have been a doctor like his father if he'd wanted to. But his passion was architecture. He'd used those fingers to produce beautiful buildings instead.
"This is what I've never understood, Will. How can you be angry with me for caring about our children?"
"There's a big difference between caring and care-taking, Debra."
"Don't I know it." As soon as the words slipped out, I realized they would've been better kept unspoken.
I sounded like a first-class martyr.
Will's hands rested on his still-slim hips, his stance combative.
"Is that what this is about? Do you need a break? I know it's been a long year for you, Deb." Will referred to my looking after his elderly mother, Violet. She'd become more dependent on us the past nine months.
He didn't give me a chance to answer.
"I'd be home more if I could," he went on, "but I need to take care of these last projects, then I'll go down to just a few a year, let Blair and my associates run things." Will zipped up his suitcase as I watched from my perch on our bed.
It was a ritual we'd shared since the early days of our marriage. I brought in the piles of clean laundry, he chose what he needed for his business trips, and we talked while he packed.
We usually didn't fight.
"Honey," I said now, "I don't want to argue. I just want to be here for Angie. And I'd love to have your support."
"I know, baby, she's your only daughter." Will smiled at me despite his anger at my too-familiar behavior.
Will walked around to my side of the bed.
"The twins were much more difficult when they were younger," I said. "Now that they're grown, it's as though they don't need their mama so much. They're men. But Angie--a daughter always needs her mother." I couldn't help the tear that slid out from under my closed lid as Will pulled me into his embrace.
"Honey, I'm just asking you to focus more on yourself, on us. You've given Angie and the boys the childhood, the family, you never had and we're richer for it."
I soaked up his love, but the question that wouldn't die nagged at my conscience.
Had it really been enough?
You can read the rest of chapter one here Find out more about Geri at her website and blog.
Cover and excerpt with permission of Harlequin Enterprises, LTD Copyright 2009 by Geri Krotow.
Thanks for sharing with us today, Geri, and best of luck with your newest release!
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