Interviewer Luan Gaines:In the Dark of the Moon speaks to the years before the Freedom Marches in the South and the radical changes they wrought, as well as the shocking murder of Emmit Till in 1955. What is the Velvet Corridor and how do the Lacey's reflect this way of life?
Suzanne Hudson:The Velvet Corridor refers to that part of southwest GA that has rich, black dirt and was dotted with plantations and slave cabins (to become sharecropper cabins post Civil War)--it's an agricultural center; the Lacey's are town folks, but both the matriarch and her daughter-in-law are descendents of that aristocratic farming class that would have owned slaves.
Campbell Lacey is markedly different from his son, Jack. Camp is clearly racist, with absolute beliefs about color and place. Why doesn't Jack embrace the same prejudices as his father?
In contrast to his father, Campbell, Jack is much more rational, kind, even-tempered, and of a bent to move with the times--not completely, of course, but I hope the book leaves the reader thinking that perhaps through his connection with his granddaughter, Kansas, he will soften even more.
Elizabeth is a rich character, for her aberrant behavior as much as her impetuosity. Isn't this character perfect for exposing the hypocrisy of the Lacey family?
I wanted Elizabeth to be a thoroughly honest character, and the only way I could get her honest in the face of the society she inhabits was to make her, frankly, crazy. She is motivated by a crazy kind of honesty that folks have no answer for, other than "that's just Crazy Lizzy." The irony is that it was/is the societal codes and superficial preenings that were/are crazy.
Elizabeth is also an anomaly because she befriends unlikely people, using her instincts as a barometer. She takes Hotshot under her wing, befriends Chen Ling, even tolerates Royce, resisting the natural prejudices of family and position. How does Elizabeth’s easy acceptance of others work against her?
Elizabeth's easy acceptance of others is just another aspect of what the society sees as "crazy"--and it usually works in her favor. She is generally happy (as a teenager) and it is only when she meets an "old friend"--Ned--on the river bank that it begins to turn on her, in the form of an incident that will eventually drive her to suicide.
Elizabeth gathers images in her mind like a series of snapshots. How does her practice of sorting through these moments define her actions, especially as she matures?
Maybe it's not a collection of snapshots as much as it is a series of inputs which she processes--as if she's creating her own composition of reality--and, while as a young girl it's a unique, defining characteristic of her personality, it is unusual because no one else understands. As she grows older that uniqueness turns into something more like an abnormality. Those compositions become, more and more, something only she understands and seems to experience, therefore taking direct personal responsibility for the resulting pictures she sees. Hence, she could believe she is responsible for Ned's death, and for Emmitt Till's, and for Campbell's.
As the “family emergency”, Elizabeth is relegated to a niche where her eccentricities are accepted but never confronted. What statement does this make about the Lacey’s unwillingness to face their own demons?
The Laceys are completely dysfunctional as a family, so Elizabeth's crises, in a way, enable them to avoid looking at themselves too closely; they shift their focus on prettying up, if just in their own minds, the mess Elizabeth is becoming. The emphasis is on sanitizing the hard reality of having a daughter who is, to those outside the family circle, obviously mentally ill. Even Frances, though she means well, is not able to gather the strength it would take to be more confrontational with her parents, perhaps fearing that if the dominoes of truth start to fall, then she will be forced to reveal the truth about herself.
Emmit Till’s death seems to be a catalyst for Elizabeth’s suicide, but she has suffered internal agonies for years over anything troubling, all it devastating to her fragile state of mind. Is Elizabeth destined to crumble under the weight of these burdens?
I think, given her emotional instability and her family's ingrained denial, that, yes, she is too honest and too sensitive to survive on her own.
Miss Pearl, Elizabeth’s mother, barely has time for her daughter. Why is Pearl virtually immobilized by grief after her daughter's death and for years afterwards? Is this compensation or another excuse to avoid responsibility? Why/why not?
Miss Pearl, like her daughter, fights her own battle with depression, but unlike Elizabeth, she is too entrenched in the determination to appear to be a "lady" (with all the Velvet Corridor expectations that entails) to be able to gather any kind of strength of character.
Both mother and daughter suffer mental disorders, Pearl more of a depressive and Elizabeth a combination of manic and depressive. Why is Elizabeth ultimately more vulnerable to the course of her disease?
I don't know that Elizabeth is really more vulnerable than her mother. More dramatic, maybe. But Miss Pearl has all but disappeared, really; she has completely lost herself, a kind of death. Elizabeth, in a way, takes control of her own death, by committing suicide.
Jack Lacey is an honorable man who loves his wife, daughter and granddaughter. But why is he so ineffectual with the women in his life?
Each family member acts out his/her denial in individual ways. Maybe, because Jack's father was so tyrannical, Jack's role has always been that of peacemaker, compromiser, so he seems to be more ineffectual than he really is. For example, his ability to bend helps him to be a more effective law enforcement officer in later years.
Campbell Lacey is frequently cruel, but never more so than when playing Russian roulette in front of his granddaughter. How significant is this violence in Elizabeth’s young life?
Nothing is crueler than the tormenting of a small child, and I think this is pure trauma for Elizabeth, and surely feeds her desperation to take control, through sexuality and the flouting of convention, as she grows into adolescence.
Royce is an unusual character, essentially brutalized by his father from childhood. Why does Royce hold back with Elizabeth for so many years? Is his obsession finally more psychological than physical?
In a way I see Royce's willingness to hold back with Elizabeth as a kind of fear. Because he senses that she is probably the only one who might break through his emotional barrier, he plays a manipulative sort of waiting game, perhaps hoping that she will finally offer herself to him, giving him power and control over her--ludicrous, of course, but maybe a part of Royce's own lack of insight.
Comparing mother and daughter, what Elizabeth discovers for herself about the world and sexuality, Kansas learns through Roxy’s experimentation. Can you speak to this basic difference between mother and daughter?
Kansas is the light part of the novel (as opposed to the "dark" of Elizabeth's moon). Kansas lives in an era of expanding promise and exploration. She is level-headed, but intensely curious, and her fragility is born out of typical adolescent insecurities. She is going to be fine because she has inherited the best of the family traits. Elizabeth was, as she pronounced Royce to be, "doomed," and she knew it.
For me, the real substance of In the Dark of the Moon is centered in Pinky and Eula Lura. No matter what the Lacey’s do, the blacks know exactly what is happening and what to expect. How do these women find the generosity to rescue Elizabeth and Kansas?
I am so glad you see that! Pinky and especially Eula Lura are the heart of the story. Like Elizabeth and Kansas, they, too, represent Old South-New South transitions. They know what to expect because they live in a threatening society and must develop a kind of sixth sense about the white people who control almost every aspect of their lives. I think Pinky's generosity is by now ingrained; she doesn't think twice about caring for Kansas; it is simply what she does, provide nurturing for children; she is consummately empathetic, and she knows how desolate a place the Lacey family is in that regard.
Eula Lura, though, determined as she is to get at the truth, however long it takes, does not allow Kansas to get close to her until Eula Lura can no longer deny the bond. That this comes as a result of the two of them putting the pieces together--coming to the truth of what happened to Eula Lura's murdered husband and how it impacted Kansas's mother's run at death--is too powerful for Eula Lura to continue to deny; she and Kansas can finally move forward with their lives.
After Ned's lynching, Eula Lura bears a terrible burden, knowing her husband's murderer. How does she endure this secret for so long? Does her strength come from what Ned would want her to do?
Eula Lura's strength comes from her determination to make it right, and, ultimately, from her ability to finally love Kansas. Eula Lura is patient and able to wait for the perfect moment to set up Campbell's execution; she knows she cannot count on white society to do it for her, so she does it herself, much like Emmitt Till's mother did when she forced the world to look at her son's body. Eula Lura's strength comes from a lifetime of waiting for her one chance to get revenge on Campell, for scattered chances to collect evidence, for her final chance to migrate north, where she will maybe wait for the chance to return and have her remaining questions answered, to see justice done, something that is happening more and more in the South as old cases are re-opened, bodies exhumed, old men going on trial.
Why is Ned’s murderer compelled to hoard souvenirs of the killing? What does this say about such a man?
It was not uncommon for Klansmen to hoard "souvenirs" of lynchings. Just as deer heads and trophy fish gave status to members of the hunt-and-kill culture, so did certain of the body parts of lynching victims. Royce, who also steals a war medal to achieve false status, takes Campbell's hoarded souvenir (the thumb) and uses it to stake out some false status with the KKK leaders he so desperately needs to impress.
By the same token, why do the others involved, especially the Ku Klux Klan members, covet such souvenirs?
In a subculture of bullies and killers, I guess, such things matter. And it goes also to how confident they were in never being prosecuted for such acts. Of course, their "invulnerability" is being challenged now, in real life, forty years later, as old cases are re-opened.
Emmit Till’s murder draws the notice of the nation, but lynching is common in Southern Georgia, as in other states. There has to be a mutual consent of silence by the whites, protecting the Klan. How does Sheriff Jack Lacey fit into this picture?
I think Jack Lacey is a product of the times, even though he does resist direct involvement with the Klan. And, gradually, over time, he pushes Klan activity out of the county so that by the time he becomes aware of Royce's involvement, he can tell him unequivocally that he will not tolerate it.
The silence of the society was there, for certain, even in the African-American community. And it was there because of intimidation and fear. Now that the silence and intimidation have eroded, I believe we will see more and more cases of lynching being re-opened.
What do you most want readers to learn from reading In the Dark of the Moon?
I hope they will at least take away an understanding of the characters, and, beyond that, will find their own levels of appreciation. I think there are more than a few layers here, but I wouldn't want to mess with a reader's take on any of them.
In your opinion, what is the most profound legacy of desegregation as it affects the characters in your novel?
Well, it highlighted Martin Luther King's belief that yes, you can pass laws to alter the makeup or stratification of society, but you can't really change society except by one human heart at a time. For example, Royce Fitzhugh is never going to change his attitude, but somebody like Elizabeth or Kansas Lacey are examples of the truth to King's idea: revolutionize one person at a time if you are going to revolutionize society.
Are you working on another project? If so, can you share something about it with us?
I hope to begin a third novel soon. I have a short story called "The Fall of the Nixon Administration" that is full of crazy, eccentric, sad, funny characters--I think I see a way to take off with them in a comic novel. Of course my last novel (Moon) was supposed to be a sweet little coming of age novella, and it turned into an intergenerational coming of age of the region.
Any advice for would-be writers?
Just to keep writing, talk to other writers, create a community of writers. Unless you are able to quit, which I hear is the real test--whether or not you can kick the habit. I managed to do that for 20 years or so, but ultimately could not not write.
Contributing reviewer Luan Gaines
conducted her interview with Suzanne Hudson via email for curledup.com.
Click here to read her review of In the Dark of the Moon.