In the new Republic of Texas, open-carry gun ownership is mandatory, fundamentalist religion is the norm, violent motorcycle gangs terrorise the towns, the police are corrupted, and vigilantes guard the Wall that keeps people out and in. It is in this setting that Bluebonnet Andrews has grown up in the small town of Blessing with her alcoholic deputy father, her mother had fled the country just before Texas’ borders were closed to the rest of the world.
When a firearm accident kills Blue’s best friend, the Texas Rangers accuse her of murder. The penalty for murder is death, regardless of your age. Terrified, Blue goes on the run. In this journey away from the only home she has ever known, Blue joins up with a Latin American teenager named Jet, who is also on the run. Blue’s vague plans of crossing the border and finding her mother are galvanized by Jet’s situation: the 16-year-old is pregnant. She needs to cross the Wall into America, where abortion is still legal. But is freedom of choice worth dying for?
Blue Running addresses issues of feminism, nationalism, women’s rights, racial injustice, immigration, and gun ownership, framed through the intimate tale of two young women from different backgrounds reacting to the system. Underlying these surface issues are their own personal struggles: histories of abandonment, abuse, sexual assault, racism, and individual agency.
Lori Stephens is a massive new talent in the literary fiction thriller scene. Her writing is sparse, fearless, and real. Blue Running pulls no punches. A fast-paced, page-turning, chilling book that looks unflinchingly at what the future could hold, Blue Running is unforgettable and important. This is her first book to be published in the UK.
Guest Post: Writing Forgiveness By Lori Ann Stephens
It’s been a year. I live in Texas, where it’s not unusual to be stopped dead in your tracks by an astonishing pink and gold sunset or a melodramatic moon. But under this wide Texas sky, I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks by some equally astonishing headlines. It seems that the pandemic wasn’t quite shocking enough for our Texas legislators. From the “heartbeat law” abortion ban to the new gun law that allows adults without a permit or training to openly carry a gun, millions of Texans feel a blend of betrayal, anger, and trepidation. Over the past few weeks (because 2021 isn’t over yet, and it wants to deliver one final punch), a growing number of conservative groups have pressured school administrations to ban – and even burn – books that don’t align with their personal (religious) ideologies. It’s not surprising that most of the books are written by or about the minority and LGBTQ experience. It’s easy to get angry and demonize those who want to restrict freedom of expression, limit others’ civil rights, and endanger lives with intolerant ideologies.
How do writers write under such heavy emotional burdens of recent headlines? It’s easy to turn those forces into antagonists, to cast them as the evil characters in stories and watch them wreak havoc and suffer the consequences. But then you get cardboard stock characters who are two-dimensional and unrewarding for readers. I’ve found that writing about oppressive situations (and oppressive people) helps me better understand what it means to be human. I try to create complex characters who are flawed, but I also have to remind myself that even the deeply flawed antagonists are grappling with insurmountable fear or anger. And that fear or anger can be 1) infectious, and 2) calamitous.
From the initial drafting process of Blue Running, I knew that my main character, a naïve girl named Bluebonnet, would suffer from an unhealthy home environment. Her father, whom she calls “Daw,” is an alcoholic who slipped into depression and addiction after his wife left the Republic of Texas when borders closed. Daw loves Blue, but his addiction chips away at his ability to empathize with Blue’s increasingly dire situation. He’s guided by his fear that his daughter will turn out like her mother. And his bigotry has poisoned his critical thinking: he bases his beliefs and his reason on gut feelings. I guess that creating Daw was my way of exploring my frustration with the increasing number of people who spread disinformation, who think compassion is for the weak, and who force narrow ideologies onto others’ private lives.
In the end, as a writer, I needed to find forgiveness for Daw so that I could write him as a three-dimensional character. I needed to be reminded that he was a human capable of love, even if the other parts of him did not add up to love for humanity. In the process, I found that humans, like ideologies, are messy and boggling and complex, but love (yes, it’s cheesy and clichéd) love and empathy could mend a lot of the messes we’ve made.
Lori Ann Stephens is an award-winning author whose American published novels include Novalee and the Spider Secret, Some Act of Vision, and Song of the Orange Moons. Her short stories have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories and other literary presses. She is also the winner of The Chicago Tribune’s “Nelson Algren Awards.” A lifelong Texan, she’s seen the best and worst of her home state and has come to the conclusion that Texans are truly fabulous at heart. She teaches creative writing and critical reasoning at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“Having grown up in Texas, I’ve experienced the threat of various freedoms, a fundamentalist past, and the paradox of living in “the Friendly State.” It is both terribly friendly and deeply terrifying. In creating Blue Andrews, I wanted to peel back the layers of my own childhood, rife with hope and the naïve perceptions of right and wrong and justice. Of course, Blue is a product of a patriarchal and racist system, but she’s also sceptical and curious—always watching and listening and figuring out her world. Beyond our state borders, I’ve also seen my world become more xenophobic and less compassionate, and this is my response. I don’t know that it’s an activist or political response, but this girl certainly must face her own demons as well as the demons that far-right politics have unleashed. At heart, it’s a tale of humanity.”
“I began writing the novel in 2018, after I started mentally collecting snippets of heated conversations about gun rights. Usually it was the Second Amendment defenders who were worked up to a heightened state of pathos, which is much more common now than the stoic Texan of the past. I straddle two worlds – the world of my gun-toting brother who lives in the countryside and encounters rattlesnakes and wild boars on a regular basis, and the world of my university colleagues who live in the city and overwhelmingly support stronger gun control laws.”Author of Blue Running – Lori Ann Stephens