Interview with B. Lynn Carter, author of speculative women’s fiction Jus Breathe
Their seesaw love affair started when she was five, even though they didn’t meet until she was eighteen. It started the day she heard Daddy slur, “She ain’t mine. You had the nerve to name her Dawn. Look at her! You shudda named her Midnight!” Then Daddy left . . . for good. And the loving music that had filled Dawn’s life went silent.
That was the day that a “Midnight” Duckling invaded the mirror, took up residence in her chest, and controlled her ability to breathe. That was the day she learned to recognize “leaving time” . . . her superpower.
Couched in speculation, Jus Breathe is the tale of a young Black woman’s struggle to defy her inner “Duckling” and embrace her true self. Set in New York City during the turbulent sixties, it’s an improbable love story with precarious impulses, secret pasts, and inner demons.
Dawn, a survivor, flees her stepfather’s violent home. While struggling to attend college, she perfects sofa-surfing and hones her superpower, her ability to leave a situation in an instant.
But in the mist of the chaotic uprising that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, serendipity spins Dawn into beautiful Danny’s rollercoaster world.
Toxically in love, no longer a “leaver,” Dawn realizes that in order to survive, she must break free of Danny’s dominance. But that Duckling, who has allied with Danny, threatens to squeeze the life-breath from her if she dares to leave . . . that ugly, midnight-black Duckling, she has to kill.
Excerpt from Jus Breathe
There was pain. It shot up from my jaw to my brain and back down again. Ghostly figures were, moving fast, a blur of white overalls, the smell of wall paint, shuffling feet, a scuffle.
That voice was rolling through my brain—one word, an echo from far away.
“Attack . . .”
It’s summer. It’s always summer when I slip into those childhood days. The boys have hijacked my Spalding ball, again. I chase them. I sic Sigfried on them. She does her most ferocious growl and a playful tug of war on their shoestrings as I yell, “Attack!! Attack!!”
A voice was shrieking that word. It occurred to me that it was my own voice, gradually returning me to the stark reality of the situation; back to ‘moving-in day,’ to what just happened, to the moment that my mother’s new husband’s fist impacted my face; back to Sigfreid lunging at his neck, taking him down, to the painters trying to free him from her grip, trying to get me to call her off.
Dazed, I remained in my head, lingered in the fantasy that my big-boned shepherd could take a man down like that, fascinated that she even had it in her. I think I did call her off or maybe she relented of her own accord. That’s when “that thing” took possession of my lungs, again. Gasping for air, I think maybe all of them, the painters . . . my mother’s husband, were franticly yelling.
An Interview with B. Lynn Carter
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I wrote one of my first stories at five years old. I began my tale writing from the bottom right corner of the page, on up to the top left corner of the page. To this day my mother proclaims that I was writing before I even knew how it was done.
So, I think I’ve always been a writer.
For a while I dabbled in graphic art. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But the ability to capture the stories that are all around you, stories that invade your head and your heart, and project those stories on to the page, is like magic. It is my superpower. I found that I could ramble through my character’s heads and bring forth their thoughts and emotions. I found that I could paint pictures and scenarios, using words as my pixels. The musicality of words is very appealing to me. So, I opted for writing over art.
-If you could visit your book’s world for a day, what one thing would you do?
Visiting my book’s world would be easy for me because it was my world. It is my world as I choose to recall it through the haze of time. The book is not a memoir, but the story is shaped by the bones of my own experiences. It is set in NYC during the turbulent 60’s. Dawn, my main character, having left home at sixteen, manages to get into college (CCNY) through the SEEK program ( a program that helped poor and minority students with college) All of this is true of my own life.
Perhaps the thing that I would do is spend the day warning Dawn about the pitfalls that await her, try to warn her about Danny. Actually, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be doing anything different from what her character-friends were trying so unsuccessfully to do. And thinking about it now, if I did get her to change her course, it would be a very dull book.
So perhaps it would be best if I just drifted through the day, revisited the scenes, smelled the smells and let nostalgia wash over me.
-It’s two in the morning. What does your protagonist reveal in confidence? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell.)
At two in the morning, after a few tokes on a joint, bathed in the covert ambience of the blacklight, Dawn might bust out,
“Okay … okay…I did it! At least I think I did it. Yes It was me. It must have been me. But it was just a wish, I think. Yes, it was a silly little wish. It wasn’t a prayer. I had no idea it would be granted. I didn’t mean for it to happen. Well I did, but that ‘midnight black thing’ was screaming at me from the mirror. “Do it! Do it!” Its voice was grating on my brain. Then she was there, that light-skinned “outside me.” She was the one who actually did it. But I let her . . . I let her”
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?
I would go out for a drink with Ralfie. I would love to sit across a table and stare into Ralfie’s sincere coffee brown, puppy dog eyes. And because everyone calls him the ‘little padre,’ seeing as he’d once studied for the priesthood, I’d be hard-pressed not to enter into his confessional. Instead, I’d smile and flirt and try to reassure Ralphie that he is valued, that good guys do not always have to finish last.
-You’re in a tavern, and a dwarf challenges you to a duel. What do you do?
I’d fall off my seat laughing and hope the little sucker doesn’t stab me while I’m down.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
I don’t think I’d ever write hard porn. I’ve been told that I write good love scenes. I think love scenes should be just that, about love. Though I know that this is not always the case, but in the moment I like to make it something magical and mysterious, hot but not nasty.
And what would my children think?
About B. Lynn Carter
Born and raised in the Bronx, NYC, B. Lynn Carter graduated The City College of New York with a degree in creative writing. She’s also studied at the Writing Institute of Sarah Lawrence College.
Her short story “One Wild Ride,” published in Aaduna magazine, was nominated for the Pushcart Award in 2014. She’s had short stories and poetry published in the Blue Lake Review, Drunk Monkeys, Ascent Aspirations, Enhance Magazine, The Story Shack and the Bronx Memoir Project, among others. Besides “Jus Breathe,” Ms. Carter has written two additional full-length novels. She is also listed in Poets & Writers directory of writers.
B. Lynn Carter will be awarding $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.