I just reread Under the Western Sky and fell in love with it all over again. I wrote it almost seven years ago, for NaNoWriMo, but it still feels fresh and new when I read it. I think books should do that, even for the people who write them. If I can’t go back to a book years later and enjoy reading, how can I expect my readers to enjoy my books over and over?
It started like any other book, with a first line, a scene and no notion where it was going. It developed quickly, gaining speed and momentum as I continued to write. I didn’t start out having a message to tell, but it turned out that way. Along the way, I produced a story I’m really proud of.
Under the Western Sky is about friendship. It’s about learning to love someone for who they are, not for the color of their skin. It’s about ending prejudice one person at a time. My cast of characters really represents diversity—that, too, was unintentional.
Libby Marshall is white, Scotch and Irish girl, and falls for a Mexican boy, Bobby, in a time when such relationships were rare. Her best friend, Toni, is part Native American and half Italian. Toni’s boyfriend, Danny, is blond and blue eyed—like Libby, another of the whitest kids you know.
These teenagers from diverse backgrounds, have one thing in common. They see past the skin color and look at the person within. Sadly, it’s not a characteristic that everyone shares—which they find out the hard way. Shortly after Bobby and Libby start dating, their world is upended by racial hatred. They and their friends band together to save themselves and their families, from being victims of this hate.
As I said, I hadn’t planned that message at all. I didn’t start writing with the intention of teaching a lesson or pointing out a wrong, it just happened. I hope that I managed to keep it from being too smarmy or preachy. I dislike that sort of thing intensely. I wanted a good story about friends who help one another, and I decidedly feel that I accomplished that. I tried to make the characters believable and well rounded, avoiding typical stereotypes that I find terribly annoying.
Libby very much reflects my own attitudes about pigmentation differences. She sees beyond skin tone and looks inside, revealing the personality within. I was raised that way, and so was she. When I was in school, my friends were a mix of Mexican, white, Native American and Asian. When I got to college, I had a lot of black and Indian friends, too. I didn’t care, and still don’t care, about superficial things like race. Sadly, not enough people share this attitude.
Bobby and Danny have a friendship that is more like brothers. They have always been there, supporting each other in times of trouble. As the story progresses, circumstances drive a wedge between them, but their unyielding belief in one another makes them strong. Instead of giving up on years of friendship, they work together to protect the ones they love.
I’m immensely proud of this book and delighted that the folks at Tirgearr Publishing saw its merit. I hope that each of you will take a few moments to look it over, maybe buy a copy. I know you won’t regret it.
© 2015 Dellani Oakes
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