Although the official launch date for What Came Before
hardcover gift edition is Monday, April 7, both Barnes and Noble
have it posted for sale on their respective sites. You can also read it online at Every Day Novels
How What Came Before Came to Be
was conceived as a comedy with lots of broad humor and exaggerated
characters, but as I began to work, I realized I needed to write about
something I cared about, that there had to be a reason beyond car chases for a
piece of writing to exist. I rethought the whole thing, asking myself, what
would be interesting to me, important for me to say. Stories--good stories--had
to be about something that mattered, either to me and/or to others.
In the beginning, Abbie's
missing half-sister was white, like Abbie and like me, and I kept running up
against my own question, "so what?" “Where’s the tension?” I reached into my own life, my own experiences,
my own childhood.
I grew up in California,
but my mom came from a little town in Louisiana and my dad from Iowa. Since my dad was a teacher, we climbed into our
old Pontiac as soon as school was out and headed east to corn country, then down to Terrebonne parish. That’s where
I ran smack dab into Jim Crow laws.
I loved going to the
grocery store with my grandpa. He was a sunburned
Santa Claus who smelled of figs and cigars, filling our cart with rolls and rolls
of toilet paper, paper towels, cans of tomato sauce and bottles of soda pop. I liked to hold onto the front and ride while
he pushed through the aisle. Then at some point when I was four or five – I don’t
really remember exactly when – he let me go in search of a drink of water by
I stood in front of two
water fountains instead of one wondering which one I wanted. I’d never had a
choice like this before. Not in California.
One was labeled “white” and
one was labeled “colored.” What would
most little kids chose? I chose “colored,” of course, because to my mind that
meant the water would come out like a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue,
purple. When it didn’t, I was disappointed. I tried the white one. The two
sprays of water were exactly the same. I
was confused and angry.
I ran back to my grandpa. He
said one was for white people, the other was for "colored" people. When I asked
why, he just shrugged. I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was my father
who explained it to me, that this kind of thing existed in the world.
And I wish I could say I
knew instinctively at that young age the wrongness of it, but I didn’t. It’s
something I have learned as I’ve grown into myself, through reading, through
the experiences of the growing up in the fifties and sixties, through watching the news filled with civil rights marches, the Watts riots, and assassinations (MLK, Medgar Evers, Malcom X), how human beings tend
to exist in a real world. “What Came Before” springs from a desire to show that
people are more alike than different and that our differences enrich us.