Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Origins of The Dragon's Daughter

My book, The Dragon’s Daughter, has an unusual hook: the Ku Klux Klan. Are you wondering where I got the idea? I’ll tell you a little bit about the origin of the story.

A long time ago, let’s say 1996, I was taking a speech class to complete my bachelor’s degree. Speech 101. Very basic. One of the speeches I had to give was an informative one. At that time, the Skinhead movement was in the news a lot. Their numbers seemed to be growing and a Skinhead had just punched Geraldo Rivera and broken his nose. I got curious about these Neo-Nazis and decided to focus my speech on them.

During my research, I discovered that the kid who punched Geraldo was the son of the then-leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Further research provided me the man’s phone number in California, so I called him. It was a very disturbing conversation. Why? Not just because of his obvious racism, but also because he sounded so normal as he talked about it.

We talked about the beliefs that the WAR was founded on, most of which he tied to the Bible—in a very disingenuous, convoluted way. We talked about a recent murder of a homeless black man (in Seattle, I think) at the hands of two Skinheads, and he told me the only thing he regretted about that was that two white boys were sitting in jail for that crime. Reprehensible. Almost unbelievable.

And yet through that whole conversation, no matter how much my skin crawled, I couldn’t get over how normal he sounded. He didn’t talk like Darth Vader. He didn’t yell or swear at me. He just very calmly and matter-of-factly spewed his prejudice down the telephone line.

That’s what makes these people so dangerous. They don’t look like monsters. And they ground so much of what they believe in (again, their twisted take on) the Bible. For people who are searching for a group to belong to, for people who don’t question what they’re being told, the KKK and other white-supremacist groups can quickly feel like family. Their message is God, Family, Country. Oh … and with a healthy dose of racism.

This phone call in 1996(-ish) wasn’t my only encounter with people like this. Through my work as a reporter (way back in the late 1990s), I came into contact with members of the KKK. In those encounters, I was struck again by how very normal they look and seem. I wondered how these people with families—babies, toddlers, teenagers—could live such normal lives on one hand while they propagated intolerance and racism and prejudice on the other?

This is where and how The Dragon’s Daughter was born. I couldn’t stop thinking about the families of these men. I couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to be a child in a home like that—and what would happen if that child hated everything her father stood for? If she didn’t buy into it? If all she wanted was out and away?

That is what you get in Mariah. You get a 16-year-old girl who has known the Klan her whole life, who has been brought up in its realm, but who lives an otherwise very normal life. She has a brother who antagonizes her, a best friend she can’t live without, and a love of photography and volleyball. She just happens to be the dragons’ daughter.

And she wants out.

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