I am very pleased to introduce yet another new feature for Books and Beyond Reviews – the all-new An Interview With… segment. Here, I hope to bring you short Q and A-style interviews with authors of books featured and reviewed here on the blog.
And I am very lucky to have the author of The Last Town on Earth, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, The Revisionists and the upcoming Darktown. Darktown comes out on 13th September 2016, when you’ll also be able to read my review for this dark, brooding and thought-provoking story.
Until then, let’s get to know a little more about the man behind the words, Thomas Mullen.
Books and Beyond Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. First off, we’d like to learn a little more about you. Do you write in silence or prefer to have background music/sound?
Thomas Mullen: Silence is best. That said, I do have two little boys, so it’s not always so quiet at Casa Mullen. I venture at least weekly to work in a coffeeshop as a change of pace, which is a risk, as I’m subjected to whatever they’re playing. I’ve learned to be able to write in pretty much any environment, although there was this one time when a coffeeshop played hair metal bands from the ‘80s, and outside the window a construction crew was jackhammering the sidewalk—I didn’t get much done that time.
BaBR: When writing which do you prefer to use: pen, typewriter or computer?
TM: Computer. C’mon, it’s 2016.
BaBR: What is your personal preference when reading: a print book or eBook?
BaBR: Many “purists” feel eReaders are detrimental to the world of books and writing. Where do you sit on this debate?
TM: I’ve decided to stop worrying about this. I myself read a lot on my phone, but only newspapers and online stories, never a book. But if it’s what some people prefer, and it helps them read, then go for it.
BaBR: Tell us one unusual fact or talent about yourself that not many people know.
TM: I can travel through time.
BaBR: Now, onto the matter in hand – Darktown, your new book comes out on September 13th. It seems a very apt book to have written given recent issues around the world involving race and police. Was this ever a factor in your mind when you came up with the idea for this story, or is it a subject you have wanted to explore for some time?
TM: I actually started writing this book about four years ago, and I was finishing the first draft when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to days of mass protests and cops massing in armored gear and military weapons. That summer is when the issue of race and policing truly grabbed the national spotlight in the US, a hold it maintained for most of that year and again this summer with more tragedies. So I can’t say that this is in any way an allegory about or a response to what happened in the summer of ’14, in Ferguson and Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement, since that all occurred after I’d finished a draft.
At the same time, police brutality and racially motivated attacks and racial disparities with our legal system have been a part of this country’s history since its founding. The book is about a much earlier and very different time, but hopefully it gives readers a new lens through which they can view events that are still occurring today. Our fraught past informs our present.
BaBR: Was there an independant black police force in Atlanta around 1948 that you drew upon for inspiration and if so how much of how the were restricted is true? Or was this a total work of the imagination that came to your mind?
TM: Yes. Though my characters are fictional and the central mystery is invented, all the circumstances describing their world and its rules are historically accurate. Atlanta hired its first 8 black officers in April 1948. They could only patrol black neighborhoods, they could only arrest blacks, they couldn’t drive squad cars. And they couldn’t even set foot in the white headquarters—they had to operate out of the basement of Atlanta’s black YMCA, because city leaders were afraid if black men in uniform dared show their faces at headquarters, the white officers—many of them members of the racist Ku Klux Klan—would riot and attack them.
BaBR: Where the scenarios and crimes based on real crimes that took place around the time, or are they made up from the kind of crimes that may have occurred?
TM: Again, it’s a mix of historical research and imagination. For example, the 8 black cops did have a white sergeant, and there had indeed been a crackdown on police-abetted illegal gambling a few years earlier, so I used those ingredients to come up with the character of Sgt. McInnis.
BaBR: With Jamie Foxx set to bring Darktown to the small screen with Sony Pictures, are you able to tell us if we will see him on screen, or any big names that will be in the show?
TM: It’s still an ongoing process so I can’t comment too much about it yet. But I’m thrilled that such talented people are involved in bringing this story to the screen. I had a long talk with the screenwriter the other day and we had a blast kicking ideas around.
BaBR: Your key characters like Boggs, Smith, Dunlow and Rakestraw come across really well throughout the book. Their roles are well-defined, and are written in a way I found myself rooting for, empathising with or hating as the book went along. Were any of them based on real people you found in researching ideas for Darktown?
TM: I mentioned McInnis above. And yes, though I’ve never modeled a particular character on a particular real-life person, any time you write historical fiction you need to do a lot of research to figure out: what were people like then? What were the issues and debates of the day? What did they argue about? What were their various life stories? Where had they come from, what were they worried about, where were they going? I couldn’t have written that without doing years of research into the time period.
BaBR: When researching for this book, did you discover anything genuinely interesting, or conversely, anything that was particularly dark?
TM: I think the most striking thing to me was the first thing I heard about the first black cops, which launched me on this project: the fact that they were both second-class citizens and authority figures, cops who operated under so many Jim Crow restrictions. I already had a fairly good grasp of this era of US history, so nothing else truly shocked me as much as that, the initial shock that sent me on this four-year project (and counting, as book two is well underway!).
Thanks very much to Thomas for taking time out this close to book launch to answer these questions for me. I hope you all enjoy this new feature at Books and Beyond Reviews, and lookout for my Darktown review which will be up on the blog on Tuesday 13th September!
In the meantime, you can also connect with Thomas via his website, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads pages.