GODS OF OUR FATHERS sneak peek
Based on a real-life series of events, GODS OF OUR FATHERS asks the question of whether we can survive the deities of our ancestors and whether it's necessary to make new ones.
This is a novel on which I've been hard at work since just mid August and I'm already entering the home stretch in the first draft (almost 90,000 words). What you see above is the cover I had a graphic designer in Mobile, Alabama bang out from scratch in literally six hours flat (and if anyone wishes to help us defray the $98 cost of this excellent cover, we certainly wouldn't object). This ought to be up for sale just before Christmas this year. So, to give you a taste of what to expect, this is the 845 word prologue. I think you'll find Van Zant's prose as seductive as I do.
The Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Mississippi
August 6, 1834
King Neptune licked the Mississippi coastline like a predator, tasting his prey before swallowing them whole. I never did much like the water whether it be ocean, river or lake or any quantity larger than a copper tub, although my Mama and our Mistress, Mrs. Van Zant, took especial pains to ensure I could swim. But I never cottoned, pardon the pun, to the recreation myself and there the matter shall lie for now, a vicious sleeping dog better left not petted until such time as necessary.
I was perfectly happy making sandcastles roughly a furlong from shore while my Mama did her job shading or fanning Mistress Van Zant. It was a rare day at the beach for us, for all of us, truth be told. The sun blazed with the glory of young Apollo, the Zephyr from the west fair and cool. As far as plantation owners went, Mrs. Van Zant, I suppose, was better than most and always devised excuses to get us out of the cotton fields and engaged in more comfortable pursuits.
Mr. Van Zant was about as fair and decent as you could expect a Mississippi plantation owner to be in those days. But considering his wife’s increasingly delicate medical condition, he was of no mind to be telling her what she could not do. His character flaws aside, it could not be said Mr. Van Zant did not love and indulge his wife.
Aside from my Mama, two tall and strong bucks stood at either side of the Mistress like sentries, impassively staring at the shoreline. I do not know if their dread of the water matched mine but it was doubtful they’d been taught how to swim and therefore did not feel deprived to not be allowed in.
But they were not sentries. They’d been the ones who’d carried Mistress Van Zant in her reclining chair to the beach from the wagon. The poor woman could no longer walk, she was so frightfully weak. But her mind and heart were as good as ever so to the beach we went.
It was an odd experience, seeing for one of the few times the origin of the salt we’d smell in the air every day on the plantation. It was like finally seeing the face of a long distance correspondent who wrote sweet and coy letters about sweet and coy lands, although the beach was a mere five miles from the cotton fields.
“How old is he, Mizzie? Seven, eight?”
“Cornelius is but five years of age, Mistress,” she said. “I have said as much.” I continued building my sandcastle and pretended as if I didn’t know they were now speaking of me, a tack that has served me in good stead in my manhood.
“Of course, Mizzie. Forgive me,” she replied in a cultured voice as firm but fragile as glass. “He is such a tall, strapping lad for his age. I can tell by the hands and feet he will be well above a fathom in length when he attains his manhood.”
“You may be right ‘bout that, Ma’am,” my mother said, her constant fanning motion halting for just a fraction of a second as she gave me a look of adoration.
Their relationship was a queer if genteel one. A more poetic soul could even say “loving”, although that would’ve been audacious to even speculate aloud. But the genesis and reason for the cordiality between my Mama and Mistress Van Zant was an open secret in the plantation, like the scent of hothouse roses just out of sight in a greenhouse.
And the adults all knew why she was so indulgent of me but never spoke why. While there were other children younger than me toiling in the cotton fields, Mistress Van Zant always made sure I’d help Maizie in the kitchen either shucking corn or snapping sweet green beans for dinner and, on rarer occasions, setting the large table for three. This made me an object of scorn and envy among the other children both bigger and smaller than me. They could not see how one of their own who was perfectly capable of picking 50 pounds of cotton a day should be used as a house nigger.
But they too knew why. They all did, which made me more of a pariah than ever. It doesn’t require a soul-searching look into my eyes to tell you why.
“Mizzie, I do believe I have had enough sun for today. Gentlemen, if you please?”
The pair of strong young bucks effortlessly lifted Mistress Van Zant, who looked embarrassed to be carried on a makeshift litter as if she was the Empress of China. With considerable more difficulty, they valiantly fought the shifting sand beneath their feet and gently loaded her on the back of the wagon.
The cancer would take her before the summer was out. And with the death of this white woman, mine and my mother’s lives changed in ways we could not have anticipated.