Leanne W. Smith
Mimi, The Chosen, & Frederick Buechner
Blogging about unexpected roads traveled.
Seeking to keep my chin up, and to help lift yours.
As a writer I want to be honest in my depictions of human nature and to write viewpoints other than my own in the most appropriate way. While I would not feel comfortable seeking to tell a story from the viewpoint of someone very different from the white, heterosexual, conservatively religious world view that is all I've ever known, I do have side characters that differ. One such character is Mimi in Leaving Independence.
Mimi is the former slave of Abigail Baldwyn. It made me nervous to make Mimi the former slave of my heroine with slavery such a dark blight on our country's history, but that was the best way I knew to show how these two women might have developed a close relationship in a story set in the mid-1800s. They needed proximity and that scenario organically allowed it. I also wanted to show that even in the darkest of circumstances, people can choose to love and respect one another. The best way I know to illustrate what I'm talking about is to share a passage from the book:
Rascal peed on the floor.
Corrine thumped her younger brother on the head. "You were supposed to take him out an hour ago, Jacob."
From where he was hunched over a newspaper with Charlie, Jacob rubbed his head and called, "Mimi! Come clean this up."
Abigail, who was folding clothes into a trunk nearby, turned, grabbed Jacob's arm, sailed him back to her bedroom, grabbed his father's old belt and held it under his nose. "If you ever speak to Mimi that way again, I will have your hide, do you understand me? That woman loves you as much as I do. She was present for your birth and has fed you and cared for you every day of your life. You will respect her for it!"
Later, as Mimi comes to sit next to Abigail and Abigail confesses how afraid she is to leave all that she knows and travel into an unknown future, Abigail asks,
"How do you not hate us, Mimi? How do you not hate me?"
Mimi turned Abigail's hand over and opened hers beside it...pink and pale on the inside. "I could never hate you, Abigail Baldwyn. You didn't set up the way of things."
These women were born into circumstances they didn't have a choice about. But they had a choice in how they treated one another.
As I was going through the editorial process on this book, I had to tighten the introduction and remove some of the interactions Mimi and Abigail shared, which saddened me, because I wanted readers to know Mimi. I had planned for a while to have Abigail writing letters home to someone but didn't at first know who that would be. It thrilled me the day I realized it would be Mimi. Because those letters allow readers a glimpse into the backstory on these two women, things like how they used to lay their open palms together to compare the similarities.
As I pondered whether I should mention my book in this post or what's going on in America currently, I realized that what I would want to say about racial inequities I have already attempted to say as a writer through the depiction of characters like Abigail and Mimi. I love Mimi. She's deeply important to me. I know she's a fictional character, and that I likely didn't do her justice, and there is no way I could ever truly understand how it might have felt to be in a situation like hers, but my hope is that Mimi is depicted in a way that honors the many good people I have known who inspired her. And I don't want to fear leaning into opportunities to make a statement, like one of respect, about the human experience.
Which brings me to The Chosen. If you only get hooked on one series this pandemic, let it be this one.
As a Christian and an artist, I've wished all my life that someone would depict Christ on screen in a way that makes Him as believable and as compelling as I believe Him to have been...as I believe Him to still be. I have felt guilty for being disappointed in films with religious messages in the past because the acting, filmography, or special effects seemed lacking. But Dallas Jenkins and crew (and they don't deny God's influence on it) have done it, and my Greek and Hebrew scholar husband has said repeatedly, "Wow. They got that right."
I urge you to check out The Chosen. Watching it re-inspires me to lean into my own creative callings, and to give all I put my hand to my greatest effort.
In closing, I share a quote from the writings of Frederick Buechner.
“...humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling... As we move around this world...we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.”
As we each set our own sections of the web a-tremble, may it be in positive and healing directions.