The Blue Zone (Author Interview)

Your novel, "The Blue Zone," captures the essence of a decaying American city once known for its blues music. What inspired you to set the story against this musical backdrop?

I wanted the reader to feel like the city is a character in the story, a presence that would permeate on each page, and I thought music was a way to bring that out.

Mayor Candace Washington is an intriguing character - young, ambitious, and gifted in so many ways. What were the influences behind crafting such a multi-dimensional protagonist?

The image of a strong, African American woman having to go head-to-head in a world of men pulling the strings was one of the first I had when thinking about the book. I kept picturing someone like Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State. Someone tough as nails, resourceful, and perhaps does not always play by everyone else’s rules.

The idea of creating a ten-block square area, The Blue Zone, where crime is virtually non-existent is an ambitious vision. Is this concept rooted in any real-life initiatives, or is it purely a work of fiction?

It’s loosely based on the campaign to lower crime in New York City in the 1990s. Of course, nothing like the Blue Zone was tried back then, but the idea of trying to deter any and all crimes in a given area was an intriguing one. But the actual concept of the Blue Zone in the book is entirely from my imagination.

Through your book, you touch upon issues of urban decay, racial dynamics, politics, and the healing power of music. What do you hope readers will take away from these intertwined themes?

That there is hope for American cities. The problems in the book can be found in many cities across the United States. So much division. I needed something that could unite people beyond politics and racial issues. Music is something everyone can relate to.

Blues music plays a significant role in the backdrop of the city’s revival. Why did you choose the blues specifically, and how do you see it resonating with the larger themes of the book?

Blues is the root of American music in the twentieth century, and it still resonates today. It speaks of pain, life’s difficulties and challenges. Not all the problems are solvable, much like the problems facing the characters in the book, but through the words and the music, there can be healing.

In your novel, Mayor Washington faces both political and societal challenges. In your research or imaginings, what do you think are the most daunting challenges for a real-life leader in similar circumstances?

Drugs, crime, poverty, all are problems facing so many American cities today. I think as a leader of a city, you have to give people options, choices, a means to better themselves. But you also need a way to bring people together, and I think music can do that.

Without giving too much away, the success of The Blue Zone is a central mystery in the book. How did you go about creating this enigma, and what do you think it says about the potential for change in cities facing similar issues?

I’m not sure anyone could realistically create The Blue Zone, but the idea of starting small, taking the neighborhoods back one block at a time appealed to me. It took many years for the cities to fall into decline, and it will take many more to bring them out. It can’t be done all at once, so try for small victories and build from there.

Given the complexities in the story – the decay, the resurgence, politics, and music – how did you go about weaving these elements together? Did you start with an endpoint in mind, or did the story evolve as you wrote?

It started with the characters and what they wanted. The first was Red Bone, the bluesman who is looking for a fresh start. Then Mayor Washington, also looking for a fresh start, but not for just herself, but for the whole city. As these characters developed in my mind, I started to think about the forces against them, about the people who would try to thwart their efforts, impede them from realizing their goal, and what they would have to do to fight back. And the story evolved from there.

At the end of the novel, how do you envision the future for the city outside The Blue Zone? Do you see Mayor Washington's efforts as a sustainable model?

Who can say? I don’t want to give away too much, but as I mentioned earlier, small victories, taking the city back one block at a time. That’s what I’m hoping for Mayor Washington.

For readers who were captivated by the world of blues music and its significance in your book, do you have any real-life blues music or artists you'd recommend they explore?

There is so much good blues music to choose from, but I’d start at the beginning with some of the original blues pioneers: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, B.B. King, Little Walter, Etta James. Anyone interested in blues artists of today, check out Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Beth Hart, Robert Cray, Shemekia Copeland, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.



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