Behind the Book--'Jane Doe Black'
One of the most common questions writers get asked—and possibly the most perplexing for us—is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ It’s perplexing because if you’re a storyteller, you sometimes forget that not everyone walks around daydreaming about imaginary people, or foraging around (sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it) in the world, and in other people’s lives and experiences for something to write about.
And too often the answer to the question is, ‘I have no clue where I got that story from, it just ... came.’ As you might imagine, that’s not particularly satisfying for the person asking the question, and makes the writer who is unable to provide an answer feel a little silly. Because who wants to explain that they go through life hearing voices of people who don’t exist, and concocting ways that they might relate to each other?
This time though, I know exactly where this story came from. Two places, really. The first is from conversations with a friend of mine, jokingly talking about one of the ways Black folks warn women to be careful in the world. Like meeting a guy you barely know in a place you’ve never been, your bestie might say, ‘You better not mess around ... next thing you know you come up missing ...’ Come up missing. That’s how we say it. It sounds both comical and ominous. But there’s nothing comical about it. Especially since Black women, should they “come up missing” are less likely to garner the attention and resources that their white counterparts get under the same circumstances.
That plight has always been something I was aware of. Occasionally cases come to light, mostly talked about in the Black community of a particularly troubling situation, which we’re frustrated hasn’t gotten enough attention. I thought about that with more focus when I got a message from a reader, someone who wanted me to know she enjoyed my book, Snowflakeand my work in general. Her email signature identified her as being affiliated with the Black and Missing Foundation.
So, of course I did my research. And I saw what seemed at the time like a small, kitchen-table operation, doing the sometimes lonely and always difficult work of looking for and raising awareness about missing Black people who most other folks have forgotten. Over time, I forgot as well, (isn’t that the problem? How quickly we forget?) about the organization unless I saw their occasional social media posts. And then they got featured on an HBO documentary that really drove home how hard it is to get formal systems, and law enforcement to take seriously cases of Black people, but women especially, who “come up missing.”
That, and the work I’ve done adjacent to criminal justice led me to Jane Doe Black, the first book in a series born from the Black and Missing Foundation’s work, my tragicomic conversations with a friend, and my constantly reinforced belief that there are no Black insiders to the criminal justice system, however much they may want to believe themselves such.
This book, and the subsequent ones, follow Elaine “Lainey” Abbott a prosecutor whose personal tragedy leads her to the same belief—that whether you’re a victim or the accused, the criminal justice system often operates on dual tracks, sending you on one path if you’re Black, and another if you’re white, with additional complicating factors thrown in for gender and class. Jane Doe Black explores the beginning of that journey for Lainey, from true believer to something else entirely. Subsequent books will continue her journey but also see more cases and stories that will probably feel familiar, especially to Black women.
I’m going to try to make it an entertaining ride, but with some hopefully thought-provoking stuff as well. I’m glad you’re hanging in there with me for this, especially if you know me as someone who has her characters make love to each other, rather than go to war with a cruel world.
Jane Doe Black will be available as an ebook on February 14th, on Kindle Unlimited, and for purchase for $7.99. It will be available in paperback on February 28th.
To donate to the Black and Missing Foundation, go to: https://www.blackandmissinginc.com/donate/