Thomas next to her book. (featured image: Lake Union Publishing, Trisha R. Thomas and Alyssa Shotwell.)

We. Us. Her. Him: Searching For a New Chapter in a Dire Part of History

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Contemporary ambitious and resilient women have always been at the center of my stories. I wanted to go deeper and write about self-reliance and self-discovery in one of the most challenging settings, the South during the slavery of African-Americans, a horrific period of American history.

I wanted to write about more than the brutal treatment of the enslaved people, the existence of an entire group seen only as chattel to serve another group. I wanted to write about a character overcoming the odds placed in front of her and an entire group of human beings. This would be my challenge. Along with my characters, I would have to gather the fortitude to move past the obstacles. Because. Well. As many representatives of the great publishing gatekeepers reminded me, no one wants to read about slavery.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this truth so eloquently in an essay years ago; Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War? I read the essay and realized I was indeed moving up a hill with a boulder on my back. I should shelve this book and stick with Venus (Venus is my very much-loved heroine in the Nappily Ever After books). As a tester, I finished my first draft and sent it to my secure audience, mother, sister, and my assistant; all three of them told me point blank — I can’t read this. Slavery hurts our feelings and drags us down. Can’t we all just move on?

I know this sentiment. I understood it quite well. I felt this exact way in sixth grade sitting in Mr. McDowell’s class as we watched Roots — the televised mini-series — for a straight week. Me and the other five or six Black kids in the class cringed and sat gripping the sides of our desks to get through it two hours at a time. Then came the follow-up lessons. A written paper on the book edition. There’s a book? Yes. Roots by Alex Haley. So, now we must read about the whippings? Yes. Anything you say, massuh. Oh yes. Endless. Punishment.

Yet, infinite years later, here I was craving to read, see, feel anything I could get my hands on that would explain this horrible legacy of Black trauma and abuse. There was no getting away from it. Every news station, media site, and paper illustrated the reverberation of a life-long legacy that Black lives don’t matter.

I couldn’t walk away from the book I started. One of those quotes on one of those timelines on one of those social media sites stuck in my brain. Write the impossible. Write what makes you uncomfortable. Write like no one is watching. As much as I was hurting, truly hurt from my beta readers rejection, I had to go back to the writing-table. I couldn’t turn my back on my characters who I felt wholly responsible for. Their lives were in my hands and I wanted to speak for them, for we, us, her, him. I wanted to write more than whippings, beatings, savagery and torture.

This was the very reason we never wanted to read or watch these reenactments. They were usually filled with pure unadulterated evil. The scene was always set to show us being beaten, killed, raped, or simply running for our lives. We. Us. Her. Him. Never having a chance to be seen standing upright, straight, head held high. We. Us. Her. Him. Never having the chance to be joyful and hopeful. In love. Families intact.

Enter 2020 and the brutal death of George Floyd. We. Us. Her. Him. The veil of invisibility finally being lifted. Do you see? We? Us? Her? Him? Real lives. Human beings. We are real and valuable. Our history is real. Our futures hang in the balance. This new urgency revived my determination to tell this story.

My character Dahlia doesn’t see herself as having no way out. She wants to believe in taking chances and stepping beyond the walls built around her. She had dreams. Hope. Faith. We. Us. Her. Him. Moving in the face of adversity.

Though my story is fiction, the realistic trauma of the past is told with researched accuracy. The theme throughout the story of rebuilding and searching with the constant threat of risk for taking chances is what I feel as a writer. Without risks, there are no gains. What Passes as Love is about searching for a new chapter in a dire part of history that I hope it will open up conversations about what the possibilities are for a new future. We. Us. Her. Him. Our history deserves new light, new promise, and new hope.

Bookcover for "What Passes As Love." (Image: Lake Union Publishing.)

(Image: Lake Union Publishing.)

About the author:

Trisha R. Thomas has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine’s Books That Made a Difference. Her work has been featured and reviewed in Cosmopolitan, the Washington PostPublishers WeeklyKirkus ReviewsEssence, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Her debut novel, Nappily Ever After, is now a popular Netflix original film. She is also a reviewer for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Trisha is a recipient of the Literary Lion Award from the King County Library System Foundation, was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, and was voted Best New Writer by the Black Writers Collective. For more information visit www.trisharthomas.com.

(featured image: Lake Union Publishing, Trisha R. Thomas, and Alyssa Shotwell.)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.