My writing is typically set in a historical time period not my own, and my characters are from different races, classes, sexes, and sexual orientation. They are an ensemble, all parts of a whole. Together, they fight injustice, give voice to the voiceless, share one’s worth, and savor a hard fought victory. And…there’s bound to be at least a little bit of baseball. I like baseball a lot.
The narrator of my book is Socrates Bravo, a thirteen-year-old African-American boy. He is smart and compassionate but also naïve and a bit distant from his family. Readers ask why I chose a black teenager to tell the story, and I reply, this is a story of a family living in the South in 1928. Socrates Bravo chose me, and together we wrote the history of his family and together we solved problems that only a character and an author can solve. Socrates Bravo is my hero. He wasn’t afraid to tell his stories, listen to the stories of others, and he has the character to keep the stories alive for the future generations.
My favorite authors growing up were Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. I have a lifelong interest in African-American literature, and in the 1990s, I wrote a dissertation titled The Role of the Engaging Narrator in Four Nineteenth-Century American Slave Narratives. The idea of a narrator speaking directly to her readers intrigues me. When a narrator engages with the reader, she leaps off the page, shakes the reader by the shoulders, and insists that the reader tell the story to others in order to further a cause.
Opening to How Socrates Bravo Got His Name:
I grew up on a cotton farm in northeastern Alabama where three generations of Jeffersons and Ashbys considered the land their own. I was young enough to believe that, although there was a wrinkled, paper deed to the farm in an old drawer somewhere, the fact that the Jeffersons were Negro and the Ashbys were white did not impact the entwining of our families or the yield of rows of cotton planted to the horizon. A day came, however, when the story of how I came to inherit the name of a Greek philosopher—who lived his life questioning others—pulled us out of the shadows of ignorance and into the harsh light of truth.
Author: Klenk, Lesley
Publisher: Eld Inlet Press
Size: 8.00h x 5.00w x 0.78d
Back Cover Summary of How Socrates Bravo Got His Name…
Socrates Bravo Jefferson, a young Negro scholar in 1928 Alabama, dreads leaving his family to attend college preparatory school. Through a particularly arduous cotton season in which the ownership of the farm hangs in the balance, Socrates’s family struggles to keep their land, while a Farm Bureau Agent, a depraved Northern outsider, and a drove of wild hogs threaten to destroy them, the farm’s pickers, and the way they have lived for the last hundred years.
Socrates despairs that all is lost. But when a painful story from the farm’s past brings the families together, the magic of baseball played under the lights, a plot of vibrant dahlias protected by parasols, and a loved one’s calculated sacrifice all lead to new beginnings for the individuals in How Socrates Bravo Got His Name.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful original story! Reviewed in the United States on April 29, 2021
This book was a wonderfully written original story. I started reading this when I woke one Saturday morning and knew that I would have to finish it before bedtime that night. I couldn’t put it down! I didn’t stop thinking about the characters for days after I completed the story. I highly recommend this book. Enjoy!
This would be a great choice for a book club.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
Reviewed in the United States on May 20, 2021
This is a well written story. I didn’t want to put it down, and can’t wait to read her next book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved getting to know the characters in this book
Reviewed in the United States on May 2, 2021
I loved the way this book was written, and how it provided the opportunity to get to know and feel what the characters experiences were like.
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
Reviewed in the United States on May 8, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written Book
Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2021
‘How Socrates Bravo Got His Name’ is a beautifully written tale about a young man and his journey. The story circles around his family and experiences that shape him to become the man he is.
Behind the title, this book holds heart ache, adventure, and love.
This is a feel good book that engulfs you back in time.
4.0 out of 5 stars Socrates Bravo is a fresh new character.
Reviewed in the United States on June 7, 2021
Lesley Klenk takes her time introducing new characters and develops each one so that you feel you know them. Her descriptions sometimes had me laughing out loud and sometimes gripping my chair. I can’t wait to read her next book!
Kristin Collins rated it it was amazing
This is a well written story. I didn’t want to put it down, and can’t wait to read her next book
Writing Historical fiction is about AUTHENTICITY, ACCURACY, AND RELEVANCY
Writing historical fiction offers the writer and the reader a compelling opportunity— “what if MY event had happened back then? What COULD have been the result? The best part of squeezing into a moment in history, using your pen to give life to an idea, and working with your characters to make it happen, is a writer can make the historically improbable possible just by telling a story that resonates with truth.
Authors have to justify decisions involving historical fiction. I chose to use the term Negro in the book because it was the most historically accurate term, and I chose not to include the n-word because its omission left no trace. I chose not to include violence that would only cause a reaction of horror for the reader. The moment of cruelty central to the story is a heartache for its betrayal.
I researched the time period by reading Library of Congress holdings, newspapers on microfiche, almanacs for the weather, 1920s women’s beauty magazines and advertisements, academic articles and dissertations, first-person narratives and interviews, genealogy websites, state and local histories, novels from the same time period and setting, and—of all things—Pinterest for its collection of vintage photos.
I felt I had to own the research and use it to make a story, I wrote a 5-page biography for every major character, developed timelines of events and family trees going back to pre-Civil War, researched every year from 1890 to 1928 looking for unusual occurrences for plot transitions, used anecdotes, events, idioms, and examples from the 1920s including famous people, inventions, and social and cultural development to flesh out the theme, characters and plot.
Accuracy is critical. During the writing of the book, I had to develop a working knowledge of: dahlia hybridization, sharecropping, Negro baseball, ancient Greek scholars, wild hogs, cotton farming, inventions, gardening, Babe Ruth, Jubilee Singers, Satchel Paige, school for orphans, running whiskey, college prep school for Negro students, the furnish/settle of a pickers’ life, farm bureau loans, heterochromia, ruby port-wine stains, turpentine camps, Alabama football, horse behavior, biscuit making, Lady Macbeth, traveling musicians, barnstorming baseball, dirt eaters in Appalachia…and other topics.
Secrets about writing How Socrates Bravo Got His Name: Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird partly inspired the character of Socrates. I decided Socrates needed glasses just prior to going to print and pulled the book back to add it in; it just about gave my husband a heart attack. I didn’t speak for two days after I killed Claire Ashby. I made Trask the most despicable character until the day I sobbed over his lost love. Timothy was a difficult character to write; the cruel Southerner stereotype was hard to overcome. I had Walker die in one draft and someone asked me, “what fun is there in that?” I re-wrote the final page over twenty times because I knew I was saying goodbye to someone I loved and might never meet again. People ask me if the novel is about racism. I always answer, “It’s about a family living in a racist world.”