I’ve taken some time off from blogging to work on my third novel. It’s set in the early 1960’s, and is about a preacher’s kid whose family moves to Alabama, into the affluent and highly segregated neighborhood of Mountain Brook. The story plays out against the backdrop of the Cold War and the American Civil Rights movement, which comes to a head in 1963, just across the mountain in downtown Birmingham.
The main character Harriet Elizabeth Oechsner, is the granddaughter and namesake of the protagonist in my first two novels. A high school junior whose family is relocating for the second time in two years, Harriet must once again assume the role of the outsider adapting to another new school. Her encounters with her new teachers and peers lead her into situations that are at times painful, lonely, embarrassing, shocking, and often humorous.
Her father Erik’s liberal theology and commitment to social justice angered his parishioners, and he is forced by his principles to resign from his church in Jacksonville after only a year as their pastor. The resulting move to Mountain Brook thrusts the five members of the close knit Oeschner family into a community bathed in privilege, steeped in tradition, and staunchly resistant to change–a community separated only by the ridge of a mountain from the struggle for human rights being waged on the other side. And yet, it’s a community so distanced by privilege and color from its parent city and the needs of the poor and disenfranchised within, that it may as well be on the other side of the world.
Erik struggles to find an authentic ministry amidst the polarity and injustice, and it is this struggle that provides a major conflict in the story, not only for him but especially for Harriet. Harriet’s lives with the dread that her efforts to make new friends and adjust to her new surroundings will be undermined if Erik finds things intolerable and says or does something that will provoke yet another move. “If only he will make it until I graduate and go to college; then, he can go wherever he wants to.”
The story touches on universal themes of injustice, separation, teenage angst and emotion. But as in my first two novels, the plot is interwoven with themes of inclusiveness, loyalty, friendship, and reconciliation.
I’ve named the manuscript Mountain Brook Memories: 1960-1963. However, I’ll definitely need to come up with a more engaging title before I publish. I’ve entertained the idea of calling it something like Mountain of Separation or The Mountain that Divides Us, but that also sounds a bit bland and lacking.
If you have any clever ideas for a good title, dear readers, please send them my way. I could certainly use your creative inspiration. #AmWriting and #NeedReaderSuggestions.