Author Tuesday returns, as it always, eventually does. I am delighted to have Andi Cumbo-Floyd, author of Steele Secrets with us today. Andi and I are on the same page about a lot of things, and it’s been heart-endearing to connect with her as a writer. So, enjoy what she has to say today, and then leave a comment at the end to win a copy of her book!
Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? My name is Andi Cumbo-Floyd, and I’m a writer, editor, and farmer. Mostly, I write about three things: writing, the history and legacy of enslavement in Virginia, and the life of a not-born-to-it farmer. My husband and I live at the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where we have a small farm with 6 goats, 38 chickens, 3 rabbits, 4 dogs, and 4 cats. In these summer days, I am splitting my time between trying to keep the weeds under control in my garden, doing the beloved work of reading books for a living, and trying to manage the grief and hope of infertility and miscarriage.
Let’s talk about your book: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? Steele Secrets is a young adult novel about a teenage bookworm named Mary Steele. One day, Mary finds mysteriously finds herself in an abandoned cemetery, and while she’s there, she meets the ghost of one of the residents, Moses. From there, Mary and Moses begin a historical quest to find out the story of this place, of the people buried there, and about the town that Mary thought she knew.
Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? The inspiration came from my father-in-law Galen and a story he told me about his childhood. When he was a child, he and his friend Bryan were up in the woods in Buena Vista, Virginia (the town that inspired the fictional town in the book), and they had just caught a guinea hen. They got the idea that they wanted to cook this bird and eat it, so Galen went down the mountain to get a pot and water to cook the bird in. While Galen was gone, Bryan saw the figure of a man, and he knew it was a ghost, a ghost of a slave. He was so scared that he took off running and passed Galen on his way down the hill. Galen got back to the bird, and he saw the same figure.
It turns out they were in an old cemetery, a rare tri-racial cemetery called Greenwood, where white people, black people, and American Indian people were buried.
I heard that story and combined it with my experience of growing up on a slave plantation, just down the road from a slave cemetery, and Mary Steele and her journey came to life.
How do you hope readers will be changed by your words? When I’m really optimistic, I hope the story of Mary’s journey and Moses’ life will inspire people to learn our history as a people in the U.S., particularly as a people with our roots firmly in slavery and racism. I hope we’ll learn to accept this history and understand how it shapes us today instead of wanting to glorify a time period (or a specific war) without being willing to look honestly at the ugliness behind the glory. I hope that, in some small way, the book might help us all to heal.
I also hope people just enjoy reading it and find that they love the characters as much as I do.
Lest we forget to ask, how have YOU been changed by writing the book? When I did the first draft of the book, I wanted a happy ending, so I wrote one. But my friends who do the work around our history of racism challenged me to be more honest, to not tie everything up neatly. So I did, and the book is better for it. . . and so am I? I have a tendency to want only the ideal, and if I can’t have the ideal, I don’t want anything. Writing this book helped me to take hope from small changes, to see potential healing in the way someone shows up even if they still don’t really “get it” the way I want them too.
Mary’s journey is much like my own, and like her, I still get frustrated and angry with the work of healing and finding equality. So when I think about her, I remind myself to give myself a little grace – both as I continue to heal and find hope and as I walk with others on their journeys.
How and where can we find you on the internet? I write regularly about writing and my life as a writer at Andilit.com. I also write regularly about life on the farm at GodsWhisperFarm.com. Finally, I write less regularly but no less enthusiasticly about African American history and genealogy at OurFolksTales.com.
Does she have a story to tell or what?! I’ve really loved getting to know Andi through this post alone, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Also, fiction writers AMAZE me. So, if you’d like to win a copy of Steele Secrets, leave an encouraging comment for Andi below. Winner will be drawn on Sunday, July 16th. Good luck!
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