BookLife Talks with Kevin Brown
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Kindred Spirits'A lucky coincidence jump-started Brown’s interest in Black Seminoles and, after a massive amount of research, led to the creation of not only a book but also a screenplay.
What inspired this piece of historical fiction?
Kindred Spirits was originally a screenplay. I was on a bus reading a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre when a gentleman noticed and started talking to me about Black Seminoles. I was captivated by what he was telling me about a virtually unknown part of U.S. history. My plan was threefold: 1) write a screenplay about this fascinating but untold story, 2) create dignified roles for African- and Native-American actors, and 3) break what I saw as a creative drought in Hollywood. I had grown tired of all the remakes, lampoons, and sequels and thought I could do better. Not satisfied watching my story wither and die on the desk of some movie agent, I also decided to write Kindred Spirits as a novel that I could share with the world.
How was writing fiction different from your previous nonfiction work?
I found writing nonfiction much easier in the sense that I was writing about my own experiences in college. I’m an expert on my own life! My nonfiction book, Stupid Sh*t We Did in College... (and stuff) had essentially written itself. I just needed to give it a voice and put it all down on paper. Having said that, writing fiction allowed for more freedom and creativity with the story and characters. I wasn’t bound by my own experiences.
What kind of research did you do to ensure cultural authenticity?I did a lot of reading. I read books about slavery, black “Indians,” Native-American and African-American culture, mid-19th-century history, the Seminole Wars, you name it. I read slave and freedmen narratives, watched movies and documentaries, literally anything I could get my hands on to ensure the book would be authentic and accurate, both culturally and historically. I even took a tour of the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, La., to get a feel for plantation life. I think that amount of research comes across in the level of detail in the book. Because Kindred Spirits is a fictional story based around historical events, I had to make sure that elements in the story were true to the period. Had certain things been invented yet? How did language and dialogue differ? I had originally written a crucial scene with a Colt .45 pistol, but because the scene takes place in 1853 and the Colt .45 wasn’t invented until 1873, I had to change the gun to a Colt Walker, which was invented in 1847. More than a few things changed in the story as a result of research.
How do you imagine readers will connect to Kindred Spirits?
Kindred Spirits is really about the human spirit and our inherent quest for freedom, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise. It’s about perseverance and compassion in the face of insurmountable odds. And it’s about redemption. We’ve all faced hardships and triumphs in our lives, and I think this story and the characters in it are something everyone can relate to and connect with.
What’s next for you?
A few things have been percolating: a sequel to Kindred Spirits, or maybe a nonfiction book about a dive bar I used to frequent in Oakland, Calif. The one thing that’s risen to the top is a memoir. Growing up in the military and moving so often, I experienced many challenges to my sense of belonging. I’d like to explore questions of identity and place, my military upbringing, and being a black child in the South in the early years of racial integration. The richness of black culture is rooted in the diversity of our experiences, and my unusual upbringing has no bearing on my blackness. It took me a long time to understand this, and it’s something into which I’d like to delve deeper.