When I wrote my first published novel, The Man Who Fell From the Sky, I encountered considerable skepticism from a number of friends and colleagues. Why, they asked, was Bill Fletcher writing fiction? Given that I mainly write and speak about non-fiction-related issues, turning to fiction seemed to several people - though they would not come out in say it - frivolous. Upon the publication of the book, however, many of those views changed.

Writers are frequently put into a ‘box’ when it comes to what they are expected to write. You see it all the time. Non-fiction writers can be viewed with a jaundiced eye when they delve into fiction. Fiction writers can be dismissed when they engage in non-fiction. It is as if there is an assumption that writers can only follow one track.

I have been dreaming up stories since my childhood. When I was in middle school (what we called “Intermediate School” in New York at the time), I wrote a short story for the student newspaper. That said, I never seriously engaged in writing fiction until 2008, following the publication of the non-fiction book I co-authored with Dr. Fernando Gapasin titled, Solidarity Divided. At that moment I decided that I wanted to try writing a political murder mystery. I worked on a story that I had been thinking about for years and completed a manuscript. I asked an agent, to whom I had been introduced, if she would consider reading the manuscript, and she agreed.

The response from the agent was precisely what a writer never wishes to hear and never should hear: she ridiculed the manuscript. She had no constructive suggestions and absolutely no encouragement. In fact, her final words were: “When you return to writing non-fiction, call me.” Had I not enjoyed writing that manuscript, I would have been crushed.

Several years later, after running a different idea for a novel by my wife and daughter, and with their full support and encouragement, I took the plunge into writing a new manuscript. The result, ultimately, was The Man Who Fell From the Sky, which received great praise. After publishing that first novel and watching the sorts of responses that I received, I decided that I needed to write a sequel. That resulted in The Man Who Changed Colors published by Hardball Press in April of this year.

I write fiction (and have not given up on non-fiction!) because there are stories that I wish to tell about complicated issues, stories that can convey matters in a very different manner than in non-fiction. Both of my novels deal with race, justice, revenge, and Cape Verdean Americans, but they deal with these issues in different time periods and in different settings. The Man Who Fell From the Sky takes place in 1970 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and revolves around a Cape Verdean American journalist who explores the circumstances surrounding the murder of a white construction contractor/World War II veteran. In this search, the journalist explores issues relative to the history and culture of Cape Verdeans, the first post-1492 African population to come to the USA voluntarily. The investigation also takes him back to an incident in World War II.

The Man Who Changed Colors takes place in 1978, though the story starts in 2004 with the discovery of a grave for two unidentified individuals. The story then jumps back to 1978 and the death of a Cape Verdean immigrant welder at a shipyard in Massachusetts. The same main character from the first novel - David Gomes - is called upon to write an article about the immense dangers faced by workers in shipyards. In the course of his investigation, he uncovers evidence that the death may not have been an accident. This leads Gomes to dig into how and why this person might have been killed and, at the same time, who actually was the victim?

Both novels confront issues of basic politics, by which I do not mean electoral politics, but the politics of our lives, including the struggles that we face as individuals and as groups for justice. I especially wanted to pay attention to, and respect, the experiences of Cape Verdean Americans, a population frequently ignored, even within Black America. But I also wanted to take a look at matters of race, though in a manner a bit different from how it is often treated.

Cape Verdeans came to the USA beginning in the 19th century, voluntarily, primarily as whalers and fisherman. They came from a Portuguese colony where they experienced a different form of white supremacist oppression than those of us who were under the British whip. The Portuguese, like the Spanish, played to color shades as a central means of social control using divide and conquer. Thus, Cape Verdean immigrants encountered an African descendent population in the USA that had largely been enslaved or were the descendants of slaves, spoke English, and was overwhelmingly Protestant. Those who experienced the British whip, and the whip of the “American” masters after 1783, also lived the so-called one-drop rule, i.e., one drop of African blood made someone “black” and thereby eligible for slavery.

I wanted to tap into the Cape Verdean experience to show the expansive and complicated nature of racism and that the experience with British and “American” oppression in North America was not the only experience of racism, a fact that has become much clearer over the years as African descendant immigrants from Latin America have increased in numbers.

Could I have presented this ‘case’ through non-fiction? Obviously. But it is just as likely that many people who read and eat up fiction would not have been among my readership. Perhaps, through these two novels, some will become more curious and seek to investigate. And when they do, they not only may find out more about Cape Verdean Americans, but also about the struggles that took place against Portuguese colonialism; the 1974 Portuguese Revolution; and many other items of great significance.

And just maybe, they will also have a good time reading the books.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a past executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, a past president of TransAfrica Forum, and a regular writer of fiction and nonfiction. He is also the executive editor of globalafricanworker.com, and a lifetime trade unionist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the author of They’re Bankrupting Us - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions and the novels The Man Who Changed Colors and The Man Who Fell From the Sky. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward SocialJustice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at billfletcherjr.comContact Mr. Fletcher and BC.

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