Previously, I'd never put much thought into how important the main character's reaction to a mystery, one that impacted them in some way, could be to a story. It was only when I'd received a phone call from a friend with a mystery of her own, that I stopped to consider it's effect. Does it change how the reader feels about the mystery? Is it relevant? Does it give the reader insight into the protagonist's personality? Does it help the reader care about the mystery?
If you are an author, see if the following mystery compels you to take a closer look at the reaction of your MC to the presenting mystery. As a reader, did the author of the current book you're reading make the emotional impact and connection between the MC, the mystery, and yourself?
* * *
Recently, a friend phoned me, the sound of her normally calm voice shaking over an incident that she couldn't explain. Since I knew her to be a logical person, I could see where the unexplained didn't fit into her world. I asked her to start at the beginning and tell me what had happened. In short, breathless sentences she relayed a benign beginning to her morning.
After other family members had left for work and school, she'd gone outside to shovel a fresh inch of powdery snow from her driveway, sidewalk, porch, and even the welcome matt. Wonderful, I thought, knowing that mine hadn't been cleared yet, but odd that she'd mentioned the matt. I encouraged her to go on.
When she'd finished shoveling, she went inside to take a quick shower before heading out to buy groceries. As she opened the front door, though, an icy blast of wind blew black bird feathers at her and into her home. She fought to brush them out of her face and hair, and off her clothes. They were everywhere. Startled, she tried to see where they'd come from, totally expecting to see a dead bird somewhere. Instead, she saw more dark feathers of different sizes covering her welcome matt, as though frozen to it. Her voice went up a notch as she explained that they hadn't been there when she'd come in from shoveling, so how'd they get there so fast? She'd slammed the door shut before more could fly inside. Gasping, she described to me the sight of the ragged black feathers scattered haphazardly on her light hardwood floor. Never before had she experienced anything like it. She still had goosebumps.
She didn't know why her hands had shook when she picked up the mess inside, but she'd decided whatever the reason, it might help to find an explanation. She'd walked outside through the garage to examine the scene where she then searched the protected porch area and along the front of her home. She couldn't find anything - no bird or animal tracks from a possible fox or coyote. Strangely, there was no blood either. It was creepy. It made no sense. Her voice was even higher as she asked me what I thought could have happened, repeating that she didn't understand how those feathers got there. I'd considered a hawk, but with the porch covering, it seemed unlikely. Her Ring camera hadn't captured any activity either. Finally, after hearing the continued panic from her, I acknowledged that we might never know and changed the subject. Her voice eventually came down to her normal pitch, and her sentences returned to her typical slower cadence.
* * *
I now realize that if my friend had not been so obviously upset about the feathers and how they'd mysteriously appeared, I might not have cared about the mystery as much. Because it upset her enough to be able to detect it over the phone, I cared as well. It made me wonder what else she was thinking. Did she think it was a curse? Did she think someone was messing with her, either as a funny prank or some cruel joke? The possibilities are endless. I can only conclude that, yes, the main character's reaction to the mystery is vitally important, providing numerous possible connections between the MC and reader.
-- M.A. Koontz
First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a "Happy New Year," and let's hope 2021 proves to be a far better year. The bar has been set rather low, so I'm feeling optimistic about that success.
I couldn't think of a better way to begin the new year than to do a "Reader's Chat" with my niece, Brecken Branstrator. Brecken is the Senior Editor with Gemstones at National Jeweler, and besides being a writer and editor for a national magazine, she's also an avid reader. Of course, I was beyond thrilled that Brecken was able to take time out of her busy schedule, especially over the holidays, to chat with me.
ME: As an avid reader, how do you think your passion for reading started?
BRECKEN: I think it was probably a mixture of things, starting with a love of reading I think I inherited from my mother, and my parents always making sure I had good reading material available. It doesn't sound like it was an easy feat — they've told me I used to tear through books even at an early age. I used to love checking things out from the library, and the Scholastic Book Fair was like little Brecken's Super Bowl. I suppose, as shown by my career choice, I just have a natural love for words and storytelling.
ME: Did your love of reading lead to other interests? How so?
BRECKEN: Absolutely! So many. When I was little, it encouraged me to attempt writing my own fiction stories; they were short, and I'd draw my own covers (yikes, I was never meant to be an artist). And I think just in general, my love of reading helped me do so well in school. Even to this day, it's leading to stuff, including a book club I was involved with in New York City (we've been on hiatus for a while for obvious reasons), which is such a great way to make new friends.
ME: I know this is a cruel question to ask someone who enjoys reading, but do you have a favorite book? (Even a few recent favorites will do.) What did you like about it (them)?
BRECKEN: I don't know why I struggle to pick one book overall so much, because it feels like an answer everyone should have, and yet I don't. Since you mentioned recent favorites, I'm going to cheat and go that route. This year, I found myself wanting to read more than watch TV with all that spare time as we were quarantined, so I joined Book of the Month. It gives you the option of 5 books every month; you pick one and they ship it to you. I am so glad I did because they have picked some great ones, and I've really enjoyed it. My favorite from 2020 came out of it — it's called "Anxious People" by Fredrik Backman, and I cannot recommend it enough. It's about a bank robbery that never happened and a bank robber that disappeared. It's great storytelling as you figure out exactly what happened, and the characters are brought to life in the most spectacular manner. Also, it's hilarious.
ME: When you select a book, do you stay within a particular genre, or branch out to other genres as well? If you've branched out, were you happy or disappointed you did?
BRECKEN: I have the genres I tend to gravitate towards, but I love branching out — I think it helps keep me interested and reading. You never know what great books are waiting for you in other sections!
ME: Since you are both a writer and an editor, do you find that you are a critical reader, even when reading for pleasure?
BRECKEN: Unfortunately, yes, I do think that's true. I find I most often notice things like grammar, syntax and editing. I tend to get really frustrated if I think there are parts that do nothing to move the story along, that could've been edited down or cut, or if they're just taking too long to tell a story.
ME: If you could have lunch with any author, who would you choose, and why?
BRECKEN: I'd choose you! I promise. Book publishing is such a different world from mine, and I'd love to hear about it from someone I know well. Also, I just miss all you guys a lot.
ME: Aw. I would love that! Lunch with you is officially added to my bucket list this year (if the pandemic cooperates).
ME: How do you usually find books — recommendations from friends, social media, book stores, or other?
BRECKEN: All of these! I get them from Goodreads, but also use it to keep track as I gather them elsewhere. If anyone tells me about a book, I add it there. If I see an article about the year's top books, I go to Goodreads and add to my list. If my friends who I'm connected to on Goodreads add something, and I trust their opinion, I will also add it. I also just love going into bookstores and strolling the shelves. But I'm surrounded by people who are big readers, so I feel like I get a lot of recommendations straight from them.
ME: Do you prefer to read fiction or non-fiction?
BRECKEN: Fiction. It might be because it's so different from the writing I do, and also because I really admire people who can pull a story from their imagination and make it come to life (this is only partly meant to be flattery to the fiction author who asked me to be a part of this), but I find myself flocking to and enjoying those most.
ME: When reading fiction, which draws you in more, first- or third-person person point-of-view?
BRECKEN: I love a first-hand point-of-view. I love the insight it gives you into a character, and I love the way it can be used to build false trust in them.
ME: Do you prefer character-driven or plot-driven stories?
BRECKEN: I'd say character-driven; I tend to have strong reactions to the people in stories one way or another.
ME: More description or more action?
BRECKEN: Action. Too much description and . . . well, let me just revert back to No. 5. :)
ME: How likely are you to review a book you've read, and which online site would you choose to do so?
BRECKEN: Not very likely. I mentioned I use Goodreads, and when I do reviews, it's usually there. It's more because I like to keep track of what I read and move things off my list, so rating the book feels like a natural part of that process.
ME: Where's your favorite place to read?
BRECKEN: Curled up in a comfy chair or on the couch with a cup of coffee in my lap. I like to be able to totally absorb myself into whatever I'm reading, and I want a cozy place to do it because I'm likely to be there for a while.
ME: Do you prefer paperback or ebook format, and why?
BRECKEN: Paperback all the way! Though much of what I do now is online — I saw the road journalism was heading and knew I should follow — I will always have a love for a hard cop of anything. What originally drew me to journalism was the glossy magazines, and how much fun they were to read. I just feel like I connect with print so much better, and a story comes to life on a page better than it does a web screen.
ME: How much weight can you bench press? LOL! Just checking to see if you're awake! I feel like I've drilled you with enough questions, and have enjoyed all your responses!
BRECKEN: Thank you for including me! I'm so honored. It's nice to connect with a fellow writer in the family. :)
On an unusually warm fall day, I sat outside Hyde Brothers Booksellers in Fort Wayne, Indiana with its manager Tasha, who had graciously agreed to an interview with me. Wearing masks and social distancing, we occasionally had to repeat ourselves, but the fantastic weather made it seem like a minor inconvenience.
Tasha has been working at Hyde Brothers for about twenty-one years, and has become skilled at wearing many hats when necessary. That can include everything from shelving books, to buying books from customers, or placing merchandise orders. (Be sure to check out their totes and mugs for Christmas gifts.)
When asked about the store's history, Tasha informed me that the Hyde brothers, Sam and Joel, began the business in 1992. Then in 2006 the brothers parted ways in business, with Sam remaining at the current Wells Street location. However, Joel still frequents the store on a regular basis.
I was fortunate to have met Sam and found him to be a warm, welcoming individual. His stories were probably what I enjoyed the most whenever I stopped in to either buy or sell books. He hosted my first book signing, then followed it up by purchasing several copies for his store. An entire family of book lovers, myself included, were saddened to hear of Sam's passing on July 9, 2019. Thankfully, his wife, Marilyn, chose not to sell the store.
A small dedicated staff with years of experience at Hyde Brothers, kept the business running smoothly. Tasha took over as manager around this time. Her love for this family-owned business and the local community is obvious through her dedication to helping the store survive the corona virus pandemic and all the challenges it has brought with it.
One such challenge was the need to cancel an entire 2020 summer series of book and author events that had been planned for Sundays at the new Promenade Park Pavillion. As the in-store business was temporarily shut down, Tasha turned to encouraging customers to make purchases online, which had actually been available since 1996. However, new offers such as "bundling" gave customers the opportunity to order a select number of books ("bundles") in their favorite genres. That is likely to continue due to its success. Other community outreach events through social media will be revealed in the near future, and I, for one, look forward to hearing more about it.
Though 99% of the books that Hyde Brothers carries are used, there's a small selection of new books as well, including books by local authors. When asked why they've continued to show such support, when chain stores do not, Tasha explained that they are a vested part of the community, so it only makes sense that they would support authors from within that community. Those same individuals, in turn, support Hyde Brothers as well.
When asked if Tasha has had any unusual requests for a book, she replied, "Not really." Since Hyde Brothers carries a vast array of books in every genre, even though a customer might think their request is odd, it's often easily found among their shelves. Tasha added that the majority of their books in stock come from customers, which again demonstrates how Hyde Brothers and the local community rely on each other.
Sometimes book lovers from other countries have searched out their store when in the area. One such customer was from Australia, probably the furthest. Personally, I once encountered someone from Germany while browsing the book shelves.
I was also curious to know if anyone had ever gotten lost in the maze of book shelves that cover a main floor and a basement level. (Full disclosure, yours truly nearly did once.) Tasha laughed and said no one had, but at one of their big events, a mom and child had gotten separated in the large crowd. It was a bit of a scare, but fortunately staff were able to reunite the two after a joint effort.
At this point, I'd be remiss not to ask about the store's guardians and greeters. Of course, I'm referring to the cats. From Katie and Smokey to the current beloved Sherlock and Scout, a number of cats have been privileged to have become a part of the Hyde Brothers' family over the years. Each cat, with their own personality, has called the store their home. On any given visit to the store, you might find one such cat following you as you browse books, while you might not initially spot the other cat, who can choose to remain aloof, curled up cozily on a shelf. (I'll let you figure out which is which on your next visit.) They're one more example of what makes a trip to Hyde Brothers such a unique experience.
Speaking of unique, I asked Tasha if she could think of something most people don't know about Hyde Brothers Booksellers, and she did not disappoint. It might come as a surprise to some that book shelves and the vintage card catalogue behind the front desk once were owned by the Allen County Public Library. Although the card catalogue no longer organizes book titles, it still contains some of the original cards once used for that purpose. Other favorite items include the rolling ladders used to acquire that special book found on a shelf beyond reach.
Finally, I'd like to thank Tasha again for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with me, although it never once felt that the interview was rushed. I've no doubt that Tasha and the rest of the staff at Hyde Brothers will continue to make adjustments where necessary in order to provide customers access to their abundant selection of books throughout the duration of this pandemic, all the while retaining the charm and friendly service that defines this unique book store. For that, the community and myself are grateful, and I wish them all the best.
-- M.A. Koontz
After writing two books that were in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres, the last thing I expected to write next was a children's chapter book, and to co-author it with my granddaughter, Hailey. It started with an adventure in Illinois one day, as we were trying to find new and different places to explore. Our searches that day constantly included the phrase, "maybe, just maybe." Somehow it evolved into the idea of turning it into a book. Since Hailey was entering third grade that year, we thought it would be fun to create a character who had a lot of questions about this, but one who struggles with asking one at a time. Hence, Kaylee Ann Dean was born in Maybe, Just Maybe.
Since Hailey and I both love a bit of mystery, we created a rather bizarre sequence of events. Kaylee's third grade teacher begins turning greener every day, but doesn't seem to notice. The children are puzzled, and take turns coming up with possible reasons for this sudden change in their teacher.
When I surprised Hailey as the "mystery reader" for her class, I read our story up to this point. I loved the imaginative guesses her classmates made as to what was causing the teacher to turn green, and Hailey loved the attention of her peers begging for the ending of the book. Surprisingly, she refused to tell any of them!
Our dilemma with our joint venture, was how best to communicate since I live in Indiana, and Hailey lives in Illinois. In the end, we discovered there was no one right way, and trying different methods of sharing ideas actually kept us from getting stuck in a rut. We began with snail mail, which I enjoy as a keepsake. Going back and looking at her ideas on paper is priceless. Other times, we utilized Skype or Zoom, video chatted on the phone (my daughter's), texted, and emailed. There were also the occasional visits. We took our time, especially once school started (who knew third graders could be so busy?). However, we both had a desire to see our project through to the end. It was a great way to stay connected.
For me, the most difficult part was the publishing. I'd agreed, along with my daughter, that we would use KDP to keep cost down. The only problem was that this was my first experience with them. Although it was a bit of a struggle, the book finally became a reality. Hailey was flung into celebrity status among her peers at school, and of course was encouraged by her teachers and staff as well. Her grandparents and parents couldn't be prouder (myself included), and she even learned to write her name in cursive in order to autograph her books!
This adventure taught us both an extremely valuable lesson. It involves an inspirational quote we'd heard before, but now had new meaning. "You are never too old or too young to follow your dream." How true! Keep inspiring others, Hailey. I believe in you!
You can find Maybe, Just Maybe on Amazon.com
Since I started the "Reader's Chat" posts in my blog, I discovered that I can't wait to get responses to my questions. To me, it's similar to the anticipation of a mystery to be solved, and wondering if I will come anywhere close to guessing the answer. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised by readers' answers. After all, who wants to always solve the mystery, without the preferred plot twist and an element of surprise?
This interview is with Haddie, who you'll soon learn, has grown to love reading from an early age. See which of her responses reveal reading preferences similar to yours, and which ones differ.
* * *
Me: How do you think you developed a love for reading?
Haddie: My mother used to read to my brother and I every night, great stories like the Narnia series and Tolkein. I I think because of that I was eager to learn to read and discover other magical worlds in books.
Me: Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how often you read, or your ability to focus on a story?
Haddie: I've really been enjoying the extra time to find new, exciting books. Friends have been sharing what they are reading and I have used our LIbraries Overdrive account to check them out, as well as placing a few curbside pickup orders to support our local bookshops. Having a young child means there isn't a ton of time to sit and read my own books but I sneak in chapters here and there. Having such heavy things happening in the world also means I am drawn more to lighthearted novels for escape, rather than heavier pieces of literature. I've also been reading even more with my daughter, we're participating in the 1000 books before kindergarten program through our local library and have already surpassed that! It's also fun to revisit the classics with her like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Winnie the Pooh, I hope to pass along a love of literature to her like my mom did for me.
Me: What is your favorite time of day to read?
Haddie: Whenever I can sneak it in! If I can find a few moments in the morning before my daughter wakes up, or I sometimes stay up too late if I have a good book and can't put it down.
Me: What genre do you enjoy the most? Can you name any authors you like to follow in this genre?
Haddie: I like a wide range of genres (is that like saying you like all music?!) I enjoy biographies about unique childhoods and overcoming adversity, like Glass Castles, Educated, and Chasing Space. I also enjoy a good suspense novel, some science fiction and even the occasional young adult dystopian novel. I don't necessarily follow individual authors, but if I enjoy their writing style I will check to see what else they have written.
Me: How would you rank the following in importance when you read?
Me: How do you feel about humor in a novel?
Haddie: I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, or a character that has a great sense of humor. I am always impressed with how authors can create characters with such a great sense of humor that you would want to befriend them in real life.
Me: Is it important to you if a book is traditionally published or self-published? Why or why not?
Haddie: If I can find it and I like the writing style I will read it! I don't even normally check to see the publisher information.
Me: What is the first thing that piques your interest when browsing for a book?
Me: Since a reader is required to have purchased their book on Amazon in order to leave a review for that book, where else might you consider leaving a review?
Me: If you could play the part of a character in a book you've read, who would you choose and why?
Haddie: I never have a good answer for these types of questions! I've read so many great books I would like to dive into but they all flee my mind when asked a question like this!
Me: Is there anything you would like to add?
Haddie: When is the next M.A. Koontz novel coming out?!
Me: Thanks for asking, Haddie, and way to turn the questions back on me! How about a short story? My story, "The 20/20 Club," was published this summer in an anthology titled MURDER 20/20. It includes stories from seventeen Indiana authors, and is available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats.
* * *
Thank you, Haddie, for your input on both your tastes in reading, as well as insite into how you still manage to fit reading in during these difficult times. It's not an easy task for many parents who are home with their kids 24/7. It seems to be that necessary escape, which is one of the main reasons many of us enjoy reading. It stretches our imaginations, which is my kind of exercise! Thanks again, Haddie, for your candid replies. Stay safe, and keep reading!
Once again, I have interviewed another avid reader to get her thoughts on a popular pastime, reading, of course. As both a writer and someone who loves to read, myself, I'm always excited to talk with other readers. It's always fun to find a common thread, or a surprising difference. Many thanks to Rachael for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat with me via email for this post.
Me: On average, how many books do you read each month?
Rachael: I used to read about 1-2 per month. Lately, I have not been reading as often. Especially with the library closest to me only recently re-opening due to COVID-19.
Me: Hopefully, you'll be able to select your favorite books from the library once again. Do you belong to a book club?
Rachael: No book clubs.
Me: Where's the strangest place you've read a book? Be honest!
Rachael: Nothing too crazy. I don't get motion sickness, so I always take advantage when traveling -- whether a passenger in a car or on a long flight.
Me: Where's your favorite reading spot?
Rachael: In bed, with my back pillow behind me, and a fuzzy blanket.
Me: That sounds cozy. What's your favorite genre, and why?
Rachael: Mystery novels. I like to see if I can guess the ending.
Me: Solving that who-dun-it puzzle seems to be a big draw for mystery lovers. How do you prefer to discover new books to read?
Rachael: A few ways -- mostly through Google -- looking up best summer reads, and page through different years. Or looking up books I've already read and enjoyed, and seeing what is recommended based on my choices.
Me: Or sometimes Amazon sends you recommendations, without the reader asking or looking for them. Funny thing -- the last two days Amazon recommended two books for me that I might be interested in: SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR. Hmmm . . . I think I've read those! Ha!
What do you think is the best way for authors to connect with their readers?
Rachael: Social media?
Me: As an avid reader, what advice would you give authors in your favorite genre? Any author?
Rachael: Oh man, no clue!
Me: Was that a mystery pun??? Where are you most likely to leave a book review: Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble?
Me: How many times have you read the Harry Potter series? Is there another book or series you've read repeatedly?
Rachael: Too many to count! This summer I actually decided to re-read the series for the umpteenth time (currently on the third book).
Me: You're definitely in the company of many other fans who enjoy re-reading that series. Rachael, I truly appreciate your willingness to participate in the "Reader's Chat" portion of Mark My Words, all while social distancing. Thank you. Be well, and keep reading!
Author of SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR
Ever feel like you want to celebrate your birthday for the entire month? That's exactly how I feel this year, and I want to share a little of that excitement with my readers.
For the month of July 2020, you can get $2 off SHARDS OF TRUST and $3 off THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR in paperback. Follow the links below, then type in BDAYBONUS at checkout.
Have a wonderful month of July!
If you're one of the many readers who've been waiting for MURDER 20/20, the anthology is now available on Amazon in both print and ebook. (I'll post the links below.) With seventeen Indiana authors, myself included, the book includes stories that connect to the "2020" theme. Within these stories, you'll find a variety of futuristic, past, and current-day sleuths who try to solve puzzling crimes of murders, revenge, and malice.
This is the seventh anthology from the Speed City Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization of crime writers. It was founded in 1986 by NY Times bestselling author, Sara Peretsky, to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. I am currently a member of both the national organization and its Speed City Chapter of Indianapolis. All three editors and seventeen authors are also members.
My short story, "The 20/20 Club," is among this collection. As with my other short stories, it is written under the name Mary Ann Koontz. Follow Detective Wayne Nelson as he tries to solve a mysterious murder with an even more mysterious calling card. Here's a brief excerpt from my story:
"At first she thought he was a drunk who'd wandered into the cemetery and thought it a good place to sleep it off, undisturbed. But when her eyes traveled up his body, she knew otherwise."
I won't leave you hanging. That would be cruel. Instead, I'll provide you with the links for your choice of purchase.
Enjoy, and please leave a review when you've finished.
Readers are the ultimate necessity for authors who write to entertain them. As much as I enjoy writing, I can't imagine doing so without the readers who are willing to invest their time to cozy up to one of my stories. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to interview one of these readers and get some insight into their favorite past-time. Today, I'm chatting with Ann, who graciously volunteered for my first "reader's chat."
Me: Would you consider yourself an occasional reader or an avid reader?
Me: Do you have a favorite genre?
Ann: I love mysteries, with a little bit of love sprinkled in throughout the story line.
Me: I think you just answered my next question. When you read a mystery or thriller, what is your favorite subplot? For example, romance, personal struggles, family conflict, employment issues, etc.
Me: What time of day do you usually find time to read?
Ann: First thing in the morning, generally when the kids aren't up and asking for this or that!
Me: Since I know that you have a full time job, that's a definite commitment. Are you a fan of series or stand-alone novels?
Ann: Both, honestly. I enjoy series that are well written as such that they could be read as a stand alone novel as well.
Me: What do you crave most in a story?
Ann: Well developed characters and story lines.
Me: Do you prefer a great deal of description, action, or dialogue? Why or why not?
Ann: Description, because I feel like it allows me to imagine the scene better. I get very vested in my books, and try to picture the scene in my head.
Me: As someone who enjoys reading, what would you like to see less of in current books? More of?
Ann: Too many characters. Often a story can get lost when a writer incorporates too many characters in the story. Develop only the main characters to allow for a reader to connect at a deeper level.
Me: Do you think most readers are willing to review a book they've read? Why or why not?
Ann: Avid readers, yes. I feel like we use the reviews to help us decide if this book is one we would enjoy or not.
Me: One last question. If you were a character in my next novel, what type of character would you be, and what name would you give yourself?
Ann: I would likely be a crazy sister-in-law named Jade, haha!
Me: Love the name. Now I'm wondering if she could be the killer, or the character who gets killed? Hmmmm . . . I make no promises! Ha! Thank you, Ann, for your candid answers, and for taking precious moments out of your day to chat. Stay well, and keep reading.
Author of SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR.
My heart goes out to the grieving family of George Floyd, following his senseless murder. The family has pushed for communication and change through peaceful methods, in hopes that there will be a solution this time. I share their hope that it can become a reality.
Unfortunately, the recent protests and unrest take me back to the seventies, and it saddens me to realize how much and how little civil rights have progressed. In my own little bubble, I've been able to convince myself from time to time that it had indeed progressed, but headlines and news insist otherwise. Past injustices of racism continue to rear its ugly head.
As a naive high school student, my first day began with riots. Inner city students had been bused to our new school with little to no say in the matter. Lock-downs were commonplace that first week of school. I had been bused the previous year and hated it, so I empathized. I knew that the long bus ride made extra-curricular activities difficult unless you had a car. But I hadn't realized that the rebellion went so much deeper.
Sitting in class one day, a fellow classmate gave a speech that I had difficulty wrapping my head around. She literally shook as she told about her uncle getting stopped for a crime he didn't commit. He was the same dark color as the assailant, and was in the vicinity of where the crime had taken place. When her uncle insisted he was innocent, he was beaten severely then held in custody without any legal counsel. He was only released when the assailant attacked again and was captured. There were no apologies or offers to cover her uncle's medical bills. Enraged family members tried to help him financially, but felt helpless going against the system that repeatedly abused its power. Even the best law enforcement were seen as threats, and back then, cameras did not exist on every street corner, place of business, or on the police officers themselves. When she finished her speech, you could hear a pin drop. That classmate is now a judge, making changes to that very system in her own way.
A year later, as I walked to class with a friend who shared the same schedule as me, we found ourselves cornered in a stairwell. I don't remember all of the insults thrown our way by a kid, who I didn't even know, but I'll never forget the words he spat at my friend, "You're nothing but an Uncle Tom." It felt as though I'd been punched in the gut, but the hit landed harder with my friend. The words had put an ugly spin on a friendship, and in a split second, had moved us from laughter to tears. We were so shocked, we couldn't speak, couldn't defend ourselves. It was as though the wind had been knocked out of us. When I later reflected on the incident, I tried to understand what had happened. I wondered if some members of the Black community were so immersed in years of anger from oppression, that they couldn't let it go , couldn't move toward change. Instead, they lashed out at those who tried.
Years later, when my children had grown, I was once again taught another lesson by my neighbor. She explained to me one day, when I'd been complaining about the difficulties of raising teenagers, that it's much more difficult for parents of black teenage boys. For example, she refused to let her son wear a hoodie for fear that he'd automatically be seen as a thug when walking down the street. She and her husband, as many black parents did, felt it necessary to drill their son on how to act if he was approached by a police officer. There was a whole list of behaviors he needed to learn from them, so they could keep him safe from those who were supposed to be protecting him. The injustice of a classmate"s uncle in the seventies still existed.
Don't get me wrong, there has been progress, but when another black man lies dead, I have to realize the progress hasn't been nearly enough. There have been many lessons this naive individual has learned about the Black community's struggle for civil rights, but I've learned those lessons only because someone was willing to teach me. It scares me, though, to know how much I still have to learn about social injustices. I can only hope that there will always be a brave individual who is willing to patiently talk with me so that I can understand.
- M.A. Koontz