Linda Williams Jackson is the author of Midnight Without a Moon, a novel for kids, and its sequel, A Sky Full of Stars. They focus on a girl named Rose Lee Carter who is growing up in Mississippi in the 1950s. Jackson is based in Mississippi.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Midnight Without a Moon, and for your character Rose Lee Carter?
A: I have always wanted to write a story about a sharecropping family in the Mississippi Delta because of the stories I heard about my own sharecropping family from that area.
Rose’s character is inspired by a cousin who was indeed left in Mississippi to be raised by my grandparents when her mother migrated to Chicago (the true story is VERY different, by the way).
Of course, children being left behind during this period was quite common, so Rose could have been any young girl who was raised in the South while her parents sought job opportunities up north.
Q: The book includes the story of Emmett Till. What did you see as the right blend of history and fiction as you were writing your novel?
A: I tried to make the story as historically accurate as possible. So for the tie-in, I fictionalized Rose’s grandfather as an “old friend” of Emmett Till’s great-uncle Mose Wright. Since Mose Wright was a tenant farmer in the Mississippi Delta, it is not too far-fetched to blend that fiction with fact.
What I did not want to do, however, is bring a “living” Emmett Till into the story and attempt to fictionalize his life in any shape, form, or fashion. I wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?
A: Most of my research was done on the Internet. I read tons of articles, including archived copies of Jet magazine (which was quite fun actually). I did have to buy a few books, but most of what I needed was on the World Wide Web. I watched YouTube videos in addition to reading articles.
The thing that surprised me was how little I actually knew about the history of the Mississippi Delta and about my own African-American history.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers will grasp an understanding of what type of environment Emmett Till stepped into when he got off that train and traveled to Money, MS.
Emmett Till’s death wasn’t just about a wolf whistle. It was about Brown versus Board of Education. It was about voting rights. It was about Jim Crow. It was about the White Citizens’ Council.
All of those things encompass “keeping people in their proper place,” and that is what the Emmett Till murder was all about—not a wolf whistle.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Truthfully, I’m not working like I should be. But when I do, I will find myself telling the rest of Rose’s story, plus telling a story of about happenings in the Mississippi Delta during the ‘70s.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Hmmm. Nothing that I can think of except, thanks for the interview!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb