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Valerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was five. When she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. She wrote her first play at the age of ten. In 1966, when she was twelve, she and her mother moved to a small town in Florida where they lived for a year. During this time, Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, tried a Seventh Day Adventist school briefly, and then dropped out altogether. It was her experiences during this year that inspired The Promised Land. Later, she would finish high school, graduate from college and earn a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from NYU.
For nearly 30 years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. She wrote nearly 20 full-length and one act plays over a ten year period, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over 100 novels in a 6-year period. In 2010, she published her first novel, A Touch of Murder, which is the first of what will become the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a Global eBook Award in 2011 for Best Mystery.
Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel.
You can visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com.
About The Promised Land
It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida, to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.
Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.
An absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, Stocking’s blend of historical fact and fiction is as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era. Probing the human psyche for the deep-seated fears that fuel the fires of racism and bigotry, she expertly builds characters who feel their very lives are at stake by the changing times. Full of insight and intensity, The Promised Land is a spellbinding journey you won’t want to miss.
Welcome to Between the Covers, Valerie. Why was writing The Promised Land so important to you?
Certain things happened to me in a small town on the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1966-67 that I thought were important to talk about. Specifically, those things pertaining to the education system in Florida at that time, as well as alcohol and drug abuse among adolescents. I also wanted to reveal some of the “characters” in my life at that time for what they were. My main goal was to tell the truth, even about the parts that are fiction, if that makes sense
What was the experience like writing The Promised Land?
It was the easiest thing I have ever written. I knew most of the characters in the story, and those that are fictitious seemed to just come out wholly formed. I didn’t do any character synopses or anything like that, which is very unusual for me. I wrote this book out of sequence, and the hardest part was putting it together in the right order. I knew certain things that actually happened at certain times, but there were other things I made up that had to be interwoven in there. Altogether, it was a very satisfying experience, writing this book.
You lived in Florida in 1966, which provided you the background for writing The Promised Land. Can you tell us what that was like?
It was very similar to the way I described it in the book. It was a small town that smelled like algae, with palm trees that were all on the verge of dying. We lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, in a seedy little house that was decaying, and I went to a terrible school. I would like to say positive things about this place, but I just can’t. It was a very negative experience for me, the year that I lived there.
Can you tell us more about 12-year-old Joy Bradford?
She is a misfit. She looks differently, acts differently, and thinks differently from her peers. She has always been a square peg in a round hole, and accepts the fact. The few friends she’s had have also been outcasts. As the story opens, she is traveling to a place where she knows no one, aside from her family, with whom she basically does not get along. She yearns to find a friend, someone she can confide in. When Clay approaches her, she realizes he is the one.
Her mother has quite a few emotional and mental problems. What happened to her to get that way?
Her mother has undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Actually, the character of Jessica is based on my own mother, who was originally classified as schizophrenic. But that was during the time when anyone with unusual behavior was called schizophrenic. It was a kind of catch-all for people with mental illness. In reality, my mother was bipolar. She came from a very violent household, and she propagated this violence when she became a wife and parent. She had everything she could possibly want materially from the time she was 16, and went to live with her aunt and uncle, which is documented in the book. As a result, she expected to be given nice things for the rest of her life. The idea of her working and earning money to buy these things was completely foreign to her. She would cajole, bully, and if necessary, physically fight to get what she wanted. Her identity as a woman was completely wrapped up in being sexually attractive to men. When she lost this masculine approval, she fell apart, which is also documented in the book.
Can you tell us about Clay Dooley?
He is basically a very nice kid, a bit on the cynical side based on all that has happened to him, being biracial. He desperately wants Joy’s friendship. In a sense, he is anxious to please, because like Joy, he doesn’t fit in and wants to find friends. Like Joy, he is also advanced for his age, but in different ways. They compliment each other very well.
Can you open to page 25 and tell us what’s happening?
Aunt Margaret has told Jessica, Joy’s mother, that Jessica and Joy will have to leave Margaret’s house and find their own place to stay. Jessica is hurt and outraged. Margaret has tons of room, she’s a millionaire, she can certainly afford to let them live with her. But Margaret makes up a lame excuse about needing the space in her house for clients who are coming from Europe. Jessica stumbles into her suite, reaching for the ever-present bottle of antacid, which she chugs down as she thinks some pretty strong thoughts about her aunt. She knows Margaret is doing this because she disapproves of Jessica’s divorcing Joy’s father. Margaret thinks this will drive Jessica back to Mike. Well, Jessica thinks, Margaret has another think coming, because that will never happen.
What about page 65?
Joy and Jessica are house hunting, since they are being kicked out of Aunt Margaret’s home. They are in a lower-middle-class house with a broken front door, cigarette scarred and scratched furniture, a leaking sink, a wheezing toilet, and stains on the refrigerator door. Joy is silently begging her mother to turn the house down so they can leave. The realtor with them, however, tells Jessica she won’t find a rent this cheap that is this close to the junior high that Joy will be attending. Jessica agrees, and rents the house.
Now that The Promised Land has been published, what’s your next project?
I have a completed draft of “Seen of the Crime,” which is the sequel to my first published book, “A Touch of Murder.” I need to do one more rewrite on it before it goes off to an editor. Next up will be a ghost story.
Thanks, Valerie, for this wonderful interview. Do you have anything you’d like to tell our readers that hasn’t been discussed?
Yes, just one more thing. You can find out more about my plays, my books and me at my website, http://www.valeriestocking.com. I publish 2 blogs a week: Mondays is nonfiction, and the subjects range from writing/publishing/marketing, to 1960′s memories, to paranormal experiences. Thursdays is fiction. Right now it’s a serialized story featuring the detective in “A Touch of Murder,” Samantha Kern. This novel is called “Color Me Dead,” and you can read it for free from the beginning on the blog at http://www.valeriestocking.com/blog/.