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Page from a Tennessee Journal Kindle Edition

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Length: 288 pages
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Book Description: In Francine Howard’s stunning debut, Page from a Tennessee Journal, rural Tennessee of 1913 remains an unforgiving place for two couples--one black, the other white--who stumble against the rigid boundaries separating their worlds. When white farmer Alexander McNaughton falters into forbidden love with Annalaura Welles he discovers that he has much more to fear than the wrath of her returning gun-toting husband. Alexander’s wife – flinty and pragmatic Eula Mae –wages her own battle against the stoicism demanded of white women of her time and social standing. Former sharecropper John Welles, flush with cash from his year's sojourn working the poker tables in "the second best colored whorehouse in all of Nashville," wrestles with his devils as he struggles to assign blame for his wife's relationship with a white man. The convergence of the lives and choices of these fascinating characters– made from fear, pride, determination, spite, nobility and revenge –leads to a heart-pounding and heartbreaking climax that feels at once original, audacious and inevitable.

Amazon Exclusive: Zetta Elliot Interviews Francine Thomas Howard

In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together AmazonEncore authors Zetta Elliott and Francine Thomas Howard to discuss Francine's first novel, Page from a Tennessee Journal.

Zetta Elliott has spent the past 15 years studying, writing, and teaching. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from NYU in 2003 and has taught black feminist cultural criticism at Ohio University, Louisiana State University, and Mount Holyoke College. Her young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, which explores race relations through the eyes of a contemporary teen displaced in Civil War-era Brooklyn, was published in February 2010. Read her exclusive interview with Francine Thomas Howard:

Zetta Elliott: There was a point early in the novel when I felt a pang of dread: Annalaura is a vulnerable black woman alone in the South and Alex is a powerful white man. As a writer of historical fiction, how do you get people to keep on reading when they feel they already know how this story ends?

Francine Thomas Howard: It is my job as a writer to foreshadow for the reader that he or she does not know how the story ends. My most difficult challenge in writing Page from a Tennessee Journal was climbing inside the mind of a white man who had no hesitation about donning a bed sheet and sticking a pillowcase over his head to terrorize a black man. Very few of us see ourselves as evil, even when our actions are despicable. Everything Alexander McNaughton did made sense to him within the context of his world. Readers keep turning those pages because they want to know what will happen next. I believe it is the responsibility of the writer of historical fiction to challenge the reader to look beyond the stereotypes for the "rest of the story."

Zetta Elliott: As a black feminist, there were times when I found it hard to hear white and black women in your novel giving each other not-so-sound marital advice. How do you think contemporary women will relate to the female characters you've created?

Francine Thomas Howard: As much as we believe that contemporary women would think and choose differently from Aunt Becky and Fedora, I feel it’s important to remember that early 20th-century women were not privy to the array of options available to American women today. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were told often enough that men were the Bible-ordained heads of their households.

Transport yourself back to the South of 1913 when white husbands could bed a woman of color with abandon. That they were committing adultery never entered their heads. Their world even permitted them to house their black families on the same property--sometimes even in the family home with his white wife and children. Those women, like Eula Mae, had no soft place to cry out their humiliation. They were told to bury it, pretend interracial love could never happen. Sadly, a searing cut to the heart like Eula suffered is something with which contemporary women can strongly identify.

Zetta Elliott: What motivated you to make a white man--who is usually the villain in this kind of scenario--into a sympathetic character? Why should readers care about Alex McNaughton?

Francine Thomas Howard: Precisely because the white man is usually portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. While I don't think Alex is any more worthy of sympathy than John Welles, I found it important to portray him against stereotype. Alex, like John, is a flawed man. But even people with flaws have redeeming qualities. Alexander saw himself as nothing out of the ordinary in his world--maybe even a tad smarter and less harsh than most of his contemporaries. His world granted him the right to bed a "colored" woman any time he chose. Hadn't it always been so? Unlike his crass in-laws, Alex saw himself as a man with higher moral standards. He had never forced a woman into his bed and he wasn't about to start with Annalaura.

His trial came when that unexplainable spark flamed his heart into love for a black woman. The portrayal of Alexander McNaughton as a multi-faceted human being--the good and the bad--is critical to the reader's understanding that the Jim Crow rules laid down to keep blacks in our place also shackled whites.

Zetta Elliott: Did you have any concerns about your unfavorable representation of John Welles? Other black women writers once faced a backlash from those who felt black men ought to be portrayed in a "positive" light. Did John have to be "bad" in order for Alex to look "good"?

Francine Thomas Howard: I'm aware of the firestorm surrounding Alice Walker's The Color Purple and the character of Mister. But, of course, I don't see John Welles as "bad." Instead, I see him as a man of towering strength and determination. Early on, John declares that he cannot tolerate the indignity of reducing his family to life among the cows and pigs. He does everything in his power to provide a better existence for his family. His final sacrifice for the woman he loves and their children is the stuff of heroes. Is he flawed, and did he make bone-headed miscalculations in his goal to improve life for his family? You bet he did, but even heroes who float in the clouds have to put their feet on the ground sometimes.

Is John "bad" compared to Alex's "good"? I think the reader will see that each man acted out of what he believed to be right, not only for himself but for those he loved. Neither required the other to determine their level of virtue.

Zetta Elliott: Americans have varied experiences and attitudes about the past; we share a common history, yet everyone has a unique story to tell. What do you hope your novel will contribute to the American storytelling tradition?

Francine Thomas Howard: It is my fervent hope that stories like Page from a Tennessee Journal will prompt the reader to take a closer look into black/white issues. In the past few years, dramatic events--Katrina, prominent murder trials, Obama's presidential campaign and election--have moved the country to the edges of real dialogue about our racial past. Yet we always pull back. The topic hurts too much. The surface reality of misery and horror with which we are all familiar is not only painful, it has become polarizing. Some Americans feel re-victimized and demoralized. Others resent what they feel is misplaced guilt-by-association. Books that peel back that first ugly layer of our past to take a deeper look into the years of slavery and Jim Crow have the opportunity of inching the two sides toward sustained dialogue. I hope that stories like the intertwined lives of Annalaura, John, Alex, and Eula can push that agenda forward.

Read more of the conversation between Zetta and Francine on Omnivoracious, the Amazon books blog.

From Booklist

Set on a tobacco farm in 1913 Tennessee, this historical novel explores the intimate and troubled family relationships between a black sharecropping family and the white family that owns the farm. Secrets and tensions reach back for generations and explode when the white farmer fathers a child and believes he has fallen in love with the abandoned wife of one of his tenants. Based on a true family story, this haunting first novel admirably revisits a painful time in history. Too often historical novels about women indulge in anachronistic explorations of feminism, but this novel admirably avoids that trap and instead portrays realistic characters dealing with their difficult lot in life. --Marta Segal Block

Product Details

  • File Size: 440 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0982555067
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (February 11, 2010)
  • Publication Date: March 16, 2010
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002XA6INS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,250 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Francine Thomas Howard resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally from Illinois, she has lived in the Bay Area since childhood. Howard left a rewarding career in pediatric occupational therapy to pursue her first love, writing.
Howard's 3rd book Paris Noire is coming soon From Amazon Publishing.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Dana Y. Bowles VINE VOICE on February 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The year is 1913, and young AnnaLaura Welles has again been abandoned by her philandering husband John. Left to fend for herself and her four young children, AnnaLaura struggles to keep her childrens' hunger pangs at bay. Worse yet, their life as tenant farmers is completely dependent on their ability to "bring in" a productive tobacco crop for their employer. And though AnnaLaura and all of her children--even the youngest, three-year-old Henry--toil from sunup to sundown, it soon becomes very apparent that the family will not be able to do it on their own...even though the very roof over their heads depends on it. When employer Alexander McNaughton visits the mid-forty, sensing something's amiss, it doesn't take him long to see the dire circumstances that the family is in...nor does it take him long to notice AnnaLaura. McNaughton realizes that AnnaLaura, though married, has no husband around. Soon all he can think about is his desire for AnnaLaura...and he acts on that. And he couples that with food, clothes, and other things for Anna (or Laurie, as he soon affectionately calls her) and her children. Of note is that this arrangement, at least initially, cannot be called a "relationship." To quote AnnaLaura's Aunt Becky: "Ain't never been a brown-skinned woman who had any say over what a Tennessee white man can do with her body." Eventually, however, AnnaLaura develops feelings for Alex...he is tender, loving, and provides for both her and her children. Soon AnnaLaura becomes pregnant with his child, and Alex is thrilled although AnnaLaura is horrified. She knows all too well the horrors that could befall her family under circumstances such as these...but Alex has visions of them living together as a family (despite the fact that he himself is married).Read more ›
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By L.C. Evans VINE VOICE on February 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a must read. Author Francine Thomas Howard has done a superb job in crafting this story.

The year is 1913. The place is rural Tennessee. White farmers rule, despite the fact that the Civil War has been over for nearly 50 years. White women have little if any say in the day to day running of their households and if their men decide to stray, they are supposed to look the other way and pretend it never happened. Even worse are the lives of the black sharecroppers who make the farms profitable for the white owners. They struggle, barely earning enough to feed themselves and their families, though they are working long days in the fields. At times, even children as young as five help their parents tend the crops.

This harsh reality is the backdrop for the story of two families--those of John Welles, a black sharecropper, and Alexander McNaughton, a white farmer. All is well until John disappears, leaving his wife and four children to struggle. Soon the family is on the edge of starvation and John's wife Annalaura fears that they will be thrown off the farm because she and her children do not have the strength to bring in the tobacco crop. Then Annalaura catches the eye of Alexander. To say more about the plot would be a spoiler. But to find out what happens to the two families as a result of Welles' leaving and Alexander's actions, readers will keep turning pages far into the night.

Ms. Howard has depicted the customs and the mores of the times and made them seem real. She has entered her characters and stripped their souls bare.

Highly recommended.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By S. Al-Amri VINE VOICE on February 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a very readable and interesting tale of race relations in the United States in 1913/14. The rules and realities of black/white interactions are defined through the main story and several side stories.

The success of The Help might have helped promote the reissue of this book and wisely so. It is an engrossing read and really hard to put down. Anyone interested in the subject of race relations in the US, or anyone looking for a really good novel, will find this of interest.

John Welles, a poor sharecropper black man with a wife and four small children, leaves unexpectedly and doesn't return for many months. His wife has great difficulty feeding her children and doing the work required to keep their home. She catches the eye of the white owner of the farm . . . Don't want to give away more of the story than is obvious but will say that the ending is a surprise and makes a hero out of an unlikely character in a very satisfying way.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Addison Dewitt on February 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Page From A Tennessee Journal", by Francine Howard tells the story of a black sharecropping woman, her family and the white family that owns the land they help farm. The white farmer, who's own wife is barren, uses the recently-absent black sharecropper's wife for his pleasure but ends up in love with her... and then the story gets complicated. Throw in some cards and whiskey, a brujo-mammy in a cabin by the river, a few wilting belle family relations arguing in a hot kitchen at canning time and you have the recipe for either a Nobel Prize or a near-disaster. But it's not 1949 and that Nobel was already handed out. This reader's opinion leans toward the latter for reasons I will elucidate below.

For me, this book read like an unedited rough draft. The pacing was slow enough to cause a lack of interest. I don't need an action-packed, explosion-filled action thriller, but Howard's story of bi-racial, southern intermingling, racism and share-cropping during the early 1900s could use a flood, tornado or some other calamity to occasionally jolt the reader into consciousness. It's as if the author thought that the forbidden sex of a bi-racial one-sided romance between a farmer and his sharecropper's wife would be tawdry enough to make her book a page-turner. For me, it was not and did not show me anything new. This story line, a well-intended but lengthy cliché, has been done more than a few times before and by much better authors than Ms. Howard.

Ultimately, Howard's "Page" is a fairly good effort, but will take some patience for those used to breezier story arcs. It is written an antique style and has a rural (some might say southern/ethnic) vernacular throughout.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews


Topic From this Discussion
Page From a Tennessee Journal Discussion
Hi Onyx,

After following the discussion on The Help, I purchased this book and am so glad I did. I finished it less than an hour ago, as a matter of fact, and had to jump right on Amazon to see what other people said about it.

I liked that the author didn't rely on stereotypes (i.e. Tragic... Read More
Jan 19, 2011 by Dead Kennedys |  See all 6 posts
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