Crossing the Color Line:
Unquietly Me chats with Beverly Jenkins
In Beverly Jenkins’ new release Forbidden, the hero Rhine Fontaine’s success depends upon him passing for White. I was very curious about what that meant. So, I reached out to Beverly Jenkins on Facebook to see if she was available for a couple follow-up questions to her book tour interview. Beverly kindly agreed.
1) Why does the hero’s success depend on him passing for white, and can you briefly explain the historical context behind his decision to pass as white?
- In the context of the history during that time white skin equaled privilege and power both of which were all but denied members of the race. By “passing” Rhine could live where he wanted, eat where he wanted, apply for any job he wanted, travel where he and how he wanted as opposed to having to travel in cattle cars as was very common in those days for members of the race.
- He would also be viewed by society as a “full” man and not the 3/5 as designated by the Constitution which is part of his reasoning in the conversation he has with his sister Sable in my novel Through the Storm when he tells her he plans to pass as White. Growing up in slavery he says he envied the privilege and power held by his slave master father Carson and Carson’s’ friends and he wanted that.
2) Was there a message you wanted to get across about the hero hiding his true self?
- Many mulattos chose to cross the color line for some of the reasons I stated above, while others simply wanted to have an easier life for themselves and their children and that has to be respected, too.
- But literature tends to portray them as tragic angst filled figures caught between two worlds. I wanted Rhine’s hidden self to be his true self and a self he fully embraces because he sees the subterfuge as a way to help the race. He also uses it to hide in plain sight while accomplishing his goal. Mulattos are hardly ever portrayed as being beneficial to the race and I do enjoy shattering stereotypes.
When I told Beverly Jenkins that I think it’s important to talk about the intersection of race and genre in romance, Beverly responded that “the genre is in good hands.”
“There are some very smart and astute WOC writing romance these days,” Beverly said, “especially the generation coming up behind me.”
It was an honor to chat with Beverly Jenkins, the pioneering, premiere author of African American historical romance! I am very grateful to Beverly Jenkins for taking the time to chat with Unquietly Me.
Interview with Beverly Jenkins
Q. Beverly, please tell us a bit about the New Book and Series.
- A. The book is titled: Forbidden and is set in 1875 Virginia City Nevada. Our hero, Rhine Fontaine is a saloon owner and a pillar of the community. Our heroine Eddy Carmichael is a cook from Denver and is traveling to California to fulfill a dream of opening her own restaurant when things go awry. She is robbed by a man impersonating a priest and left to die in the desert. Rhine finds her. Books 2 and 3 will focus on Eddy’s nieces Portia and Regan.
Q. Did you do anything different with your research this time around?
- A. I didn’t do anything out of the norm for me. A recently conducted archeological dig in Virginia City unearthed the remains of a high end 1870s saloon founded by a man of color. It, like many of the city’s other business establishments was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1875. I based Rhine’s saloon on that real saloon.
Q. What about the Wild West called you?
- A. Who doesn’t like the scope and sweep of the Wild West? I’ve written quite a few westerns. That I get to add to the standard lore stories about men and women who looked like me along with the Buffalo Soldiers, the all Black townships of Kansas and the black and the brown outlaws and lawmen of Indian Territory makes it even more of a blast.
Q. Who did you have more of a connection with while writing, the hero or the heroine?
- A. It depends on the story. Sometimes the story belongs to the hero and at other times the heroines. It can also belong to both. I let the characters decide.
Q. Can you share a small teaser from your favorite scene of the book, or describe your favorite scene?
Eddy awakened in a four-poster in a large room barely lit by a turned down lamp. Having no idea where she was or how she came to be there, she shook the cobwebs dulling her thinking and noticed she was wearing a man’s shirt! Perplexed, her eyes moved around the room to a well-appointed sitting area and then to the face of a White man watching her from one of the chairs. Panic flared. She snatched the blanket to her neck and she drew back fearfully.
“Don’t be afraid. You’re safe. I’m Rhine Fontaine. My friend Jim and I found you in the desert.”
Confused, she tried to force herself to calm down so she could make some sense of this, but she couldn’t. Watching him warily, she asked, “Where am I?” Her throat was dry as sand. She wanted water badly, but needed to solve the mystery of this first.
“And this place is?”
Her eyes went wide. “I need to go, I can’t stay here.”
“Maybe in a few days, but right now—”
Alarmed, she didn’t let him finish. She swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her mind was so foggy she wasn’t sure what was happening, but she knew she had to get away.
He stood and said urgently, “No! You’ll fall!”
He was right. The moment she stood, she was hit by a wave of weakness so strong her legs folded as if they were made of cards. She cried out involuntarily as she hit the floor.
He walked over to her. “As I said, maybe in a few days. Are you okay?”
Drawing away again, she looked up and recognized the face of the man from her dream. She stilled. Had it been a dream? “I’ll scream!”
He sighed. “If you feel that’s necessary, go right ahead, but I’m not going to hurt you—in any way. When you’re done, I can help you back into bed, or carry you to the facilities, whichever you’d prefer.”
Heated embarrassment burned her cheeks. Her needs were not something she talked about to a stranger, and especially not a White man stranger. “I can walk.”
“No, you can’t, but if you want to try, I’ll wait.”
At that moment she saw her bare legs sticking out from beneath the long-tailed shirt, and also realized she had on no underthings! Not drawers. No shift. As quickly as her weakened state allowed, she reached up and pulled the blanket down. Ignoring him as best she could, she covered her bare legs. This was getting worse and worse.
“As I said, my name’s Rhine. And yours?”
“Eddy. Eddy Carmichael.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Carmichael. You gave my partner Jim and me quite a scare out there in the desert, but I’m pleased to see you are recovering.”
Then her muddled brain remembered Jack Nash’s perfidy and her walk across the desert, but nothing else. “How long have I been here?”
“Four or five hours.”
Lord, she was thirsty. “May I have some water please?” she croaked. She felt so weak. It was not a state she was accustomed to.
He poured her a glass from a pitcher on the nightstand and handed it to her. “Slowly,” he advised softly. “Just a little for now.”
She nodded and took a few short swallows. The water tasted so good and she was so thirsty she wanted to down the entire offering, but heeding his advice, she took only a few more slow pulls. Done, she handed the glass back and her parched throat savored the relief. “Why am I so weak?”
“Walking the Forty Mile Desert under a full sun takes its toll. So, Miss Eddy—facilities or back to bed?”
She hated to admit it but she really needed choice number one. Thoroughly scandalized, she confessed softly, “The facilities, but I can walk. Just point me in the right direction.” Looking around, she didn’t see a screen of any kind.
“It’s at the end of the hallway.”
“Oh,” she said disappointedly. Still bent on getting there under her own power, though, she wrestled with the blanket in an attempt to fashion it around her waist. Trying to get it out from under her hips and secured without treating him to another show of her legs was a struggle, however. He’d seen more of them than any man ever before.
“Do you want to go today?” he asked in a tone of muted amusement.
She shot him a glare. Reasonably certain the blanket was secured, she said, “Yes.” Now she just had to get up. No small task. The fullness of the blanket made it difficult to get her feet planted so she could stand. She decided she’d use the side of the bed to give her the leverage she needed. She scooted closer.
“You always this stubborn, Miss Carmichael?”
“It’s called determination, Mr. Fontaine.”
“I stand corrected.”
Giving him another withering glare, she grabbed hold of the bed’s wooden side panel and began working herself to her knees. She made a bit of progress, but her weakened state conspired against her efforts. Refusing to surrender and breathing harshly, she slowly inched herself to a standing position, careful not to get her feet fouled by the swath of blanket, and promptly keeled face forward onto the mattress.
Chuckling softly, he picked her up from behind and placed her gently into the cradle of his strong arms. He smiled softly. “It’s called stubbornness.”
Rolling her eyes, she allowed herself to be carried from the room.
Q. What is next for you? What are you working on now?
- A. Next up for me is the June debut of the 7th book in my Blessings series which is women’s fiction. The title: Stepping To A New Day. I’m presently working on Portia’s story which I hope will be out in the fall.
Thank you for taking the time to talk about FORBIDDEN
- Thanks so much for this opportunity to meet you and your readers.
USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins returns with the first book in a breathtaking new series set in the Old West
Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.
Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .
Link to Follow Tour: http://www.tastybooktours.com/2015/12/forbidden-by-beverly-jenkins.html
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25760151-forbidden
Ms. Jenkins is the nation’s premier writer of African American historical romance fiction and specializes in 19th century African American life. She has over thirty published novels to date.
She has received numerous awards, including: five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards; two Career Achievement Awards and a Pioneer Award from Romantic Times Magazine; a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer’s Guild, and in 1999 was named one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th Century by AABLC, the nation’s largest on-line African-American book club.
She has also been featured in many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Dallas Morning News and Vibe Magazine. She has lectured and given talks at such prestigious universities as Oberlin University, the University of Illinois, and Princeton. She speaks widely on both romance and 19th century African-American history and was the 2014 featured speaker for the W.W. Law Lecture Series sponsored by the Savannah Black Heritage Festival.
“Stop him!” Eddy Carmichael screamed, scrambling to her feet from the mud. The man who’d snatched her purse and shoved her down was now running away down the dark Denver street. Taking off in pursuit, she called for help, but there were no policemen about and the few people on the walks nearby gave her no more than a passing glance. Up ahead, the thief turned a corner. Not wanting to lose him, she ran faster, but by the time she reached the spot, he’d disappeared. Frantically casting about for clues as to his whereabouts, she saw nothing. Anger turned to frustration and then to despair. Inside the purse had been her paltry month’s pay and the train ticket to California she’d purchased less than an hour ago. She’d been saving for the passage for months in hopes of starting a new life in San Francisco.
Now, penniless, angry, her skirts and cloak covered with mud, she set out for home.
Eddy dreamed of owning her own restaurant. It was a common belief that women like her, the descendant of slaves, had no right to dream. Yet, she knew from the articles she’d read in the newspapers that members of the race were pursuing theirs in spite of the disenfranchisement being ignored by Congress and the bloody lawlessness of Redemption ravaging the South. Colleges were being built, land was being purchased, and across the nation Black owned businesses were springing up like columbines in the spring. At the age of twenty- seven and unmarried, Eddy saw no such opportunities for herself in Denver, and now thanks to the thief those dreams were in peril.
Her home was a room she rented above a laundry owned by her landlady, Mrs. Lucretia Hampton. Eddy had been so sure of leaving town, she’d already given the woman notice and the new tenant was due to move in tomorrow afternoon. Although Mrs. Hampton would show concern over Eddy being robbed, the laundress was first and foremost a businesswoman and would likely not alter the agreement.
Putting her key into the door lock of her room, Eddy stepped into the darkness. As always, the acrid scent of lye wafting up from the laundry below filled the air. The room was so tiny even a mouse would have difficulty turning around, but on her meager salary it was all she could afford. Having worn the mantle of poverty since the death of her parents twelve years ago, she was grateful to have it. Making her way through the shadows over to the pallet that served as her bed, she struck a match and set the flame against the stub of candle in the old tin saucer that sat atop a battered wooden crate. While the wavering light filled the room, she removed her mud- stained cloak. Rather than attempt to clean it with the small bit of water in her basin, she hung it on the nail protruding from the back of the door with the hope that once the mud dried it would be easier to remove. She put her last pieces of kindling into the hearth. The resulting heat would be minimal but at least the flames held beauty, another element her life lacked. Warming her hands, she thought about her plight. She supposed she could remain in Denver and start saving again. Choosing that route meant finding another room to rent and a new job, because she’d given her employer notice, too. Six months ago, the hotel where she’d worked for the past three years as a cook had been purchased by a new owner whose first act had been to remove Eddy and every other person of color from the kitchen. He offered her a new job scrubbing floors for less money. The demotion was both infuriating and humiliating, but knowing how blessed she was to still have employment, she’d swallowed her anger and scrubbed the floors until they shone. Even then, he constantly found fault with her work and routinely docked her pay for what he termed inferior effort. She knew for a fact he’d never offer her the job back, and there was no way she’d be able to rent another room without one.
She ran her hands over her eyes and sighed. She didn’t want to stay in Denver, not even for another day. Her future lay elsewhere and she knew that as sure as she knew her name, but how could she could get the money for another ticket? Mrs. Hampton didn’t give loans. The Colored community was small and most were as pinched by poverty as she. Those who weren’t certainly wouldn’t loan her money even if she had the gall to ask. Her only relative in the city was her younger sister Corinne, and asking her for money made about as much as sense as asking the new owner of the hotel. After the deaths of their mother Constance and teamster father Ben in a blizzard, Eddy did everything she could to provide for herself and sister; she took in laundry, cooked for the wealthy, looked after their children, and swept their floors. But her beautiful baby sister chose to fall back on her looks and figure and took up with a pimp in the city’s red- light district. Although the pimp was long gone, Corinne still resided there along with her two young daughters. Eddy knew her sister would laugh in her face for having the audacity to ask for money. Corinne had nothing but derision for Eddy’s desire to better her life, but Corinne was her last resort. It was too late to pay her a visit at the moment, but she’d planned to stop by on her way to the station in the morning to say good- bye to her nieces anyway. Now, her visit would be about something different entirely.
“At least I won’t have much to pack,” she said softly. She’d sold what little possessions she’d had in order to help pay her rent and purchase the train ticket. What remained was her mother’s locket, a cast iron skillet, her small cookstove brazier, and a few meager changes of clothing. She had nothing else. Were she not so accustomed to having to claw her way through life, she might have collapsed and wept, but being made of sterner stuff, she’d learned long ago that weeping changed nothing.