This is the first in a video series that will teach aspiring best-selling authors how to use the Hyde Method to turn their an idea into a published novel.
What is your book, Back to Dixie, about?
Back to Dixie explores how a government’s race policies can either uplift or oppress, as experienced through the lives of everyday Black people over 10 tumultuous years when the political pendulum swung far left to extreme right. In the early chapters of the book, the administration is unapologetically progressive, with some labeling them as liberal and even socialists. They were remembered for passing the SCALE Act for Social Justice in 2023, making good on a campaign promise to address systemic racism as a top priority.
SCALE was widely considered to be the most positively impactful laws for Black Americans since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Because of this, though, it had many passionate opponents who quickly repealed it when they came into power later on in the story. The new administration also passed laws removing key voting and civil rights from many Black and poor people, and in 2029, they signed the National Workfare Act into law.
Under the guise of job training, the government rounded up millions of the country’s citizens, stripping them of their freedom and forcing them to work long and hard only to survive – their lives demonstrated to mean little. Michael Dobson and his friends Devin Thomas and Odessa Bradford risk everything in an attempt to save their family and loved ones from the clutches of Workfare, and find a way to be free once more.
That is both frightening and intriguing. Where did you get the idea?
The idea of Back to Dixie came in the nineties when an urban legend ran rampant in Black communities. It said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only temporarily gave Black people the right to vote, and would need to be extended by Congress in 2008. If not extended, Black people would no longer enjoy the privilege of voting.
Though I found out that it was just a rumor, the story idea was so compelling that I knew I would have to write the book one day. I just didn’t know that it would be almost 25 years later!
Were you influenced by recent events in writing Back to Dixie?
Back to Dixie’s dedication reads, ‘For those with no voice, but truths to tell.’ That’s there because I didn’t have room on the page to list the names of all those whose voices are forever silenced by racism. The deaths, the marches, the arrests, the acquittals, and the reactions certainly influenced me to finally write a book I’ve only dreamt about for so long.
I hope the story serves as a reminder of the kind of damage that the disease of racism can cause if left to fester and grow. I would be thrilled if it becomes a part of a wakeup call for society, providing another reminder of the importance of valuing each other, especially those who are different—that is the way we all win.
Who is the book for?
The book is for everybody… Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, any race. Liberal, conservative, progressive, any political party. It’s for people who believe systemic racism is one of the country’s biggest problems, just as much as it is for those who don’t think it’s a real thing.
Ultimately, I want Back to Dixie to be part of a conversation on American race relations that needs to happen more and more throughout the country.
I recently decided to share the graphic that highlights some of the provisions from the SCALE Act from Back to Dixie with an online audience. Naturally, I expected a spirited discussion, but even I was surprised by the reaction. Watch my new Youtube video to find out why.
I posted a video where I pay tribute to the most influential writer in my life, Toni Morrison. She helped me find my authentic voice after it was misplaced for a bit. The video would be four hours long if I expressed all the ways her teachings have impacted me.
The climate described in the early chapters of Back to Dixie is strikingly similar to today’s America. In fact, the book mirrored our reality up until early 2021 when the first draft was completed. Consequently, the characters in Back to Dixie also experienced the rash of civil rights offenses and the meaningless deaths of so many innocent Black people—many by the hands of someone in a position of authority. They witnessed or participated in the marches and protests, as we did. They also waited for verdicts and sentencings, hoping that justice would prevail, but expecting the worse.
In the book, many were as fed up with the degree by which Black lives were devalued, as they were by the hesitance of the country’s leaders to acknowledge that systemic racism existed. So, it wasn’t a surprise that when democratic Pennsylvania Governor, Jim Weldon, announced his candidacy for president, vowing to purposefully address systemic racism, the Black community rallied behind him. In fact, if not for their overwhelming support, Weldon would have lost the 2020 elections to the incumbent Republican president. When the Democratic majority in the House grew in the 2022 elections, Weldon had the necessary support to pass the SCALE Act, signing it into law in February 2023. It became the single most impactful law for Black people since the Voting Rights in 1965.
Here is a summary of the key provisions of the SCALE Act of 2023:
Employment and Income
- Employers must adhere to strict compliance ranges for hiring, promotion, and compensation data across racial and gender lines.
- Employers reporting ‘out-of-range’ data for two consecutive quarters were subject to substantial tax penalties.
- A one-time interest-free loan of $50,000 was available to each Black or impoverished citizen. Repayment may be deferred orforgiven based on income.
- Universities and professional schools could no longer require the use of standardized test scores for admission or placement purposes.
- Schools must report diversity data for admission, student retention, and graduation rates and ensure additional resources be made available to higher risk students. Schools reporting ‘out-of-range’ for extended periods no longer qualified for federal financial aid.
- New education grants covered all expenses for qualified full-time students from underrepresented groups, including those in graduate and professional schools.
- Zero-interest mortgages were available to applicants from underrepresented groups. In the case of hardship, loan payments may be paused indefinitely without penalty.
- Housing subsidies representing up to $2,000 per month were paid to those citizens that decided to rent instead of owning a home. Amounts depended on family size and cost of living.
- The cases of nonviolent offenders were reviewed for transfer to newly funded and built rehabilitation and job training centers.
- Independent peer reviews were completed for all sentencing decisions involving prison.
- Funding for mentorship, job placement, and counseling programs for newly released inmates was earmarked.
- Medical students from underrepresented groups became eligible for a $50,000 annual stipend in exchange for committing to work five years in the community after graduating.
- Doctors working in underrepresented communities also received a $50,000 annual stipend. Registered nurses and other medical professionals in these areas received a $25,000 payment.
- Hospitals and clinics in these communities were eligible for subsidized purchase of medical equipment and supplies.
- Universal affordable health care
In Back to Dixie, SCALE was received well by many people, as the nation was called into action against systemic racism, and most people and businesses committed to supporting the substantial change that SCALE promised. Of course, there were also many detractors, mostly across party lines. Most of the opposition to the laws felt that the cost was too high, while some never believed that there was ever an issue with systemic racism in the first place. Nevertheless, the changes had the desired impact. In the five years after the law went into effect, gaps between whites and Blacks in employment, income, education, home ownership, and arrests were closed more substantively than during any similar period in the country’s history.
A surprising and unexpected development was that the law had a net positive impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), with the economy fueled by the increased spending of the newly gainfully employed. More Black students were attending college and pursuing professional degrees than ever before, which directly increased the nation’s talent pool and intellectual property. More trained minds were working on the world’s problems like climate change and clean energy. By all objective assessments, the SCALE Act was a resounding success.
Could SCALE work just as well for real?
In this video, I share my inspiration for writing this book almost thirty years after originally coming up with the idea. I also share what I hope folks will leave with after reading.
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtEcqdhVWE&t=133s
Race, politics, and religion. As a young corporate worker in the 90’s, I learned early on to steer clear from those subjects at work—very little could be gained, while risks were high. Because many people have strong opinions on these topics, it was easy for casual discussions to escalate into full blown arguments. Many avoided conversations involving anyone of the protected classes altogether. It took a great deal of commitment and determination to view everyone as ageless, raceless, genderless, agnostics with no political leanings, but people became good at it.
That was the case in the workplace of the 90’s and most of the 2000’s—right up until when Barack Obama decided to run for president. As his candidacy gained momentum and the possibility that the country could elect its first Black president became a more likely scenario, it became extremely difficult to avoid the topic of race anywhere in America. Everyone had an opinion and many felt compelled to share it.
Most Black people were supporters of Obama, and many proudly admitted that the foundation of their support was the fact that he was Black—and how historic his victory would be for the country. And though many white people supported Obama, his most vocal detractors used terms like socialist, communist, or foreigner when attacking him. Although, in private, some would admit to just not being entirely comfortable with the idea of a Black person calling the White House home. It was unavoidable that these discussions began to trickle into the workplace.
Less than a decade later, the climate has changed. Today, companies are expected to invest resources on diversity programs and employee forums to encourage dialogue around racism and equity issues, among other best practices. You might ask how did the thinking shift so dramatically and so quickly? My answer—politics and the power of social media. During this time, more Americans identified social media as their main source of news and information, and politicians and their support networks began to utilize it as a tool.
Fake and rented accounts, unsubstantiated ‘news’ reports, and Big Tech algorithms all contributed to a viral spread of misinformation. There have been many studies that show how negative articles and postings are much more widely forwarded and reposted than positive pieces. This results in volumes of negative articles and postings, most unfounded or inaccurate, flooding America’s feeds and inboxes. There are often so many instances of unsubstantiated reports being published by independent sources that they seem to corroborate with each other.
Previously marginalized extremists suddenly had a platform and a reach that never existed before. Their messages were fueled by social media misinformation intended to politically mobilize people with historically low voting rates. Though politicians have historically used America’s views on race to their benefit, the evolution of politics on social media brought it to a whole other level. The wheels were turned by the political machines, but things went further than most intended.
The steady stream of scenes and images of hate filling the television screen, newspapers, and social media feeds demonstrated just how racially charged the country had become. The solution, in my opinion, is for us to openly discuss our differences, so we can better understand each other. Because only then can we achieve the degree of empathy that this nation needs to get through these unprecedented times and come away better than ever.
When I first came up with the idea of Back to Dixie, I planned to publish it under the pen name, Nigel Light. I don’t recall exactly how I came up with that name, but with me just embarking in the corporate world, in the culture that existed at the time, I didn’t feel that I could write freely under my real name. I felt at the time that I would have subconsciously self-censored my writing to make it HR-safe in the event it was discovered by workfolk. Writing the book through that filter would have been very limiting. Instead, I decided that I would write under a pen name so I could maintain my artistic freedom.
I can’t say for sure why it took me so long to finally write the book. Work responsibilities and family commitments certainly played a role, but deep down there was also concern that readers would find the events creating the Back to Dixie world unrealistic and not feasible. Unfortunately, with everything we have witnessed in recent years, that is no longer a concern.
Someone recently read the book’s synopsis and reached out to tell me that he was tired of stories that emphasize our differences, and wants instead to read more stories where no one sees race, gender, sexual orientation, disability—where everyone is treated equally. I explained to him that I shared that dream, but it will only be a dream until we all can see, discuss, and respect our differences. I believe Back to Dixie is my contribution to that discussion.
To the mountaintop and back down again. We all know that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 freed millions of slaves. But then it took almost 100 years before anything notable was done to address the cultural, economic, and psychological impact of the institution of slavery.
Pressure from the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s led to the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, in 1964 and 1965. It would be another half century before the SCALE Act is passed in 2023. I will detail the provisions of the SCALE Act in another post. Just know that it will be huge, effectively closing existing economic and societal gaps between the races.
After 2023, the underrepresented in America became more represented in all the right ways. Many others, though, were not happy that gaps that existed for centuries were being closed. To them, it was a loss of privilege. That resentment led to sweeping changes in voting rights, making millions of Black and brown people ineligible. In 2028, the newly elected leaders immediately repealed the SCALE Act, and then passed the most damning law ever written, the Workfare Act, in 2029.
Can the country recover?
In this excerpt from Chapter 16, Richie Amente finds out that he is the lucky recipient of two Blacks, courtesy of the Workfare Administration.
“We got two!” Richie Amente excitedly ran into the kitchen where his wife was making dinner. “Sherry, we got two Blacks!”
Sherry didn’t know what her husband was talking about at first. “Blacks? Wha?”
“The Workfare thing. They accepted our application, and we qualified for the new business subsidy. We get two of them 24 hours per day, seven days a week for a $1,000 a month!”
Sherry was surprised at the terms. “What do you mean 24/7? Where are they going to live? Here?”
“Honey, I told you. I am going to clean out the garage. Better yet, we will get them to clean out the garage and fix the place up for themselves. They can take some pride in it!” Richie didn’t care where or how they slept. He only cared about the dollars he could make with this cheap around the clock labor.
“How does it even work?” Sherry recalled her husband mentioning something about Workfare and labor, but it didn’t register with her. Richie always had the next great business idea every day, and she lost track years before.
“It’s simple. Think of the Blacks as cars… cars that we are leasing. The leasing company still owns them. We get to drive the shit out of them, especially if we get unlimited miles, and then turn them in for new model when the term runs out!”
“Richie, these are people we are talking about.” Sherry did not understand how such a thing could even be legal.
“Of course, I know that, Sherry. It’s an analogy. Now, if a car gets stolen or breaks down, they must give us a temporary replacement. Same thing here. Except, they don’t get stolen, they run away.”
“Yeah, they have this whole government division that tracks them down and retrains them if they skip out. If they run, they guarantee a replacement within five business days.”
“Richie, I don’t know… I don’t like it.” Sherry could not get over the fact that these were human beings being forced to live somewhere and do work that they did not choose to do.
“Sherry, I am maxed out as a one-man operation, and we can barely cover monthly expenses with my income. With the cheap labor, we can expand and really start to make some money. We can have the family we’ve always talked about. I… we deserve this break.” Richie pleaded.
When Richie submitted the Workfare application a month prior, he was not expecting to hear back so quickly, at least not with any good news. He felt it was too good to be true, but figured he would try anyway.
“Those poor people,” Sherry whispered, shaking her head.
The next morning, Richie and Sherry drove to the Fort David training center in Arlington, Virginia. They planned to be there the entire day. The email they received from the Workfare Administration Office included a detailed agenda. The day would begin with a compatibility consultation designed to match employers with the ward that best fit. When they arrived that morning, they waited in a line that was at least 20 people long, and that was just to wait for a meeting.
They finally called their names after about an hour and a half. They were escorted to an empty meeting room where they were seated and waited for the counselor to join them. The counselor, a young lady in her late twenties, joined them momentarily.
She walked in and introduced herself. “Hi. My name is Karen Phelps. I am your job match counselor.”
Richie was smiling ear to ear. “So glad to meet you. I am Richie Amente, and this is my wife, Sherry.” He shook her hand firmly and vigorously.
“Good to meet you, Ms. Phelps.” Sherry chimed in.
Karen connected her laptop to the projector and opened a file called, ‘Amente’. “Well, first, I think congratulations are in order. You are amongst the first group of private Workfare employers.”
“Thank you,” Richie said proudly. “We are really excited.”
“Excellent! Well, let’s get right down to business then, shall we?” She said as she opened the skill requirements form from Richie’s application. “You wanted two people to handle physical landscaping work, with good communication and customer service skills.”
“Yes, to work with clients and telephone work,” Richie added.
“Okay, this is Garth Johnson.” She brings up a picture of a Black man in his early forties. It is a full body shot, and he is only wearing his underwear.
Sherry gasped. “Where are his clothes.”
“They can wear anything you want them to. With these full body shots, you can get a better idea of their physical condition and strength. We find it very helpful for positions requiring physical exertion as yours does.”
“Makes sense to me. I can see this one is strong enough to do anything we would need. What else can you tell us about him?” Richie stared at the man who would live at his home and work with him all day.
“This is why this is a great match. Garth was the groundskeeper for a public golf course for the past ten years.”
“That’s great. How is he personality-wise?” Richie loved what he heard so far, but was cautious to not just accept anyone. After all, they would be living with him and his wife.
“He is a quiet, but serious man. He is mature, so less chance of any shenanigans. He wants to do a good job, complete his Workfare training, and move on. He isn’t the type to cause trouble.”
“Has he been in trouble with the law? Any criminal record we should know about?” Richie was going through the mental checklist he made.
“No, no criminal record. Stable employment and no trouble. We feel he is a perfect fit.”
“Okay, I like what I have heard and agree. What about the second one?” He asked.