I've been spending lots of time over the last few years on a very different sort of writing project for me: my first novel. A lot different than writing about real food or starting a business, or the Holocaust. Now, at long last, after many stops and starts, hopeful progress and difficult frustration, it's finally going prime time.
With launch day finally at hand, I feel a little like I did as a reporter having his first bylined article published—proud and more than a little nervous. Like a lot of what I've written over the years, the novel is controversial—it's about race, and it's almost impossible to write about race these days without being seen as controversial, even if you didn't mean to be.
Anyway, the novel's title is Gouster Girl. To understand the meaning of the title, I'm afraid you're going to have to read the novel. I can tell you that it's a historical novel about an especially dark period in Chicago's racial history that foretells many of the difficulties burdening the city today.
The good news is that Gouster Girl is available in digital formats at a very low introductory price. The book is also available in paperback at a somewhat higher price (though still quite affordable).
The story is set in the early 1960s in the Chicago neighborhood of South Shore, made famous by Michelle Obama in her recent book "Becoming." She spends the opening 60 or so pages recalling her fond memories of this lakefront neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. She refers in passing to the "white flight" still ongoing when her family moved in during the late 1960s.
"Gouster Girl" is a love story. Nerdy white Jeff Stark falls in love with cute black Valerie Davis, except that on Chicago's South Side in 1963, that is a risky affair. At first, Valerie and Jeff help each other out of tough racial fixes—he saves her from attack at an all-white amusement park and she saves him from injury in a racial brawl at school. But as their romance becomes more serious, so do the racial dangers.
I've long appreciated that growing up on Chicago's South Side was an unusual experience. People would move out from one day to the next, without telling friends or neighbors, or sometimes even their own kids till the movers showed up. The white flight from South Shore was pretty much over and done in the 1960s, when Gouster Girl takes place; an astounding two-thirds of South Shore's 65,000 whites fled during that decade. During the 1970s and 1980s, many middle-class blacks departed as well, leaving much of South Shore and neighboring areas to the very tough black street gangs that rule today.
As the South Side of Chicago has evolved into something of a gang-dominated community on the order of Honduras or El Salvador , I decided to write "Gouster Girl" as a way of explaining how it all began going bad.
Part of what I wanted to get across is that the travails of the South Side are much more nuanced than either liberal or conservative political dogma would have us believe. Liberals tend to see it as an outgrowth mainly of systemic racism and police brutality. Conservatives often use it to "prove" their point that gun control laws can't work, since all the gang violence is happening despite tough Chicago gun-control laws.
If you decide to read it, please comment on Amazon. And thanks for your ongoing support.