Friday, March 26, 2021

Q&A with Brenda Sparks Prescott, Author of Home Front Lines

Please join me in welcoming Brenda Sparks Prescott to Let Them Read Books! Brenda is celebrating the release of her debut historical novel, Home Front Lines, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a Q&A!

In 1962 tensions are rising between the United States and the Soviet Union. But it is the everyday tensions of home, family, and military life that are top of mind for military spouse and African American Betty Ann Johnson in D.C. and Cuban Lola Montero who is asked to cook for the Soviet troops amassing on her island. At a time when many Americans feel unsettled and fearful of nuclear war, these women harness their agency to prepare their families for the worst in Home Front Lines by Brenda Sparks Prescott.

When Betty Ann catches wind that military preparations are being made for something more than just practice drills, she gathers a small band of military spouses to develop an evacuation plan for their children. Across the Florida Straits, Lola accidentally witnesses the installation of a Soviet missile. She and her sisters secretly make plans to send their children to Florida without their husbands’ knowledge. The two women are on opposing sides of the conflict, but they share the same fierce determination in protecting their children.

Home Front Lines is a story of strong and determined women. It is a story of BIPOC historical fiction in the 20th century, a genre that too often leaves out narratives not directly tied to the World Wars, the Great Migration, or Civil Rights movement. But these communities existed in every time and place, and their stories deserve to be told. 

Hi Brenda! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

You've had short fiction published in a variety of literary magazines - why the switch to writing a novel?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: I have always been interested in long form fiction. My initial story ideas are often too complex for a short form, especially when coupled with my habit of asking “what if” while building the world in which each story lives. In fact, the original take on what is now Home Front Lines was a triptych story that was about 40 pages long. One of my mentors who was also an editor of a literary journal said it was too long for a short story and too short for a novella. He suggested I get rid of one or two of the three primary elements and make it into a short story. Instead, I kept asking “what if,” which took my original exploration deeper and eventually resulted in this novel. The short form wasn’t completely lost, though, as chapters from an earlier version of the novel were published as stand-alone short stories in literary journals.

How has your experience with Solstice Literary Magazine and the MFA program informed your writing?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: Solstice Literary Magazine and the Solstice MFA program have a common origin in terms of their visionary founders, but they are separate entities that involve overlapping communities. It has been immensely nourishing to be part of these communities, which embody the concept of inclusive excellence through their intentional actions to support diverse voices. I can’t imagine getting this project to publication without their support.

You write from the perspective of both a Black woman and a Cuban woman in Home Front Lines. You are Black, but what tools did you use to ensure you accurately portrayed the Cuban cultural experience?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: I did the kind of extensive research that one would expect of a conscientious writer, which included sources on the cultures of Cuba and its early post-revolutionary era. Histories and memoirs I found particularly useful included Matanzas by Miguel Bretos; Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire; and A Cuban Story by Marcia Del Mar. Equally or more important was the vision that led me to write this story the way that I did. I wanted to start with the assumption that mothers would act to protect their children from a threat and examine how identical impulses can lead to very different life outcomes when clothed in different cultural circumstances. I’m always intrigued by the difference paradox. Instead of seeking to express the humanity of the other, I was exploring the other expressions of humanity. This was uppermost in my mind as I worked with each character. 

Why do you think it's important to see Black stories in historical fiction that does not center around the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: Black people have a rich history encompassing the many heritages of the African diaspora. We need tales that reinforce the idea that Black norms include prosperity, strong work ethics, intellectualism, and creativity to help counteract unconscious bias and illustrate for younger generations that their people have always been a positive part of the American story. As someone said this week, Amanda Gorman didn’t come from nowhere. She’s been here all along, as long as Black people have been on this continent. It’s time to really get to know her and her people.

What books or authors inspired you when writing Home Front Lines?

Brenda Sparks Prescott: I was inspired by Love Stories by Louise Erdrich for its nonlinear story construction and for its indigenous (other than white) protagonists. I was also greatly influenced by Toni Morrison’s Jazz, with its story structures and rhythms that echo the elements of jazz or blues songs. Both of these books are brilliantly out of my league, but in a way that encourages me to strive to be the best I can be.

About the Author:

Brenda Sparks Prescott lives and writes in Eastern Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. Prescott is the co-editor of Solstice Literary Magazine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The Louisville Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Portland Magazine. She also serves on the advisory board for the Solstice MFA in creative writing program, and is a founding member of Simply Not Done – a women’s writing collaborative. Brenda’s Family has a long history of military service, with records stretching back to the Civil War.

Connect with Brenda Sparks Prescott at @bsparksprescott on Instagram, @bsprescott on Twitter, and BrendaSparksPrescott on Facebook.

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