ReShonda Tate Billingsley On Stereotypes, Violence and Mama's Boy
ReShonda Tate Billingsley's latest, Mama's Boy, is a timely story about a mother searching to find her son after he becomes a murder suspect in the shooting of a white police officer in a small Texas town. Today ReShonda shares what motivated her to write the story and how her personal experience with the law had an impact.
Imagine this: Your 16 year-old-son is filming a confrontation between his friends and a police officer ... He's ordered to stop .... He doesn't and a scuffle ensues. The cop (who is white) ends up getting killed by your son (who is black). Terrified, your son takes off and you know where he's hiding. Do you turn him to a police force out for blood, or help him run?
That's the premise of my new novel, Mama's Boy, an engaging look at an issue no mother ever hopes to face. This is a multi-layered story that blurs the line between what's right and what's wrong, and how far a mother will go to protect her son.
As the mother of a young son, I like to think I will always do what’s right, but this book had me asking the question, “Right for whom?” This story takes place in Jasper, Texas, a town ripe with racial tension. When you insert that dynamic the ‘what would you do’ question takes a conflicting turn.
Although timely, there was no case in particular that sparked the idea for this story. As a longtime member of the media, I was faced with the issue of recording all the day. My photographer and I would get the ‘you can’t film us’ from law enforcement. We knew our rights and knew that legally, as long as we weren’t interfering, we had a right to record. The rise in people recording run-ins with police just got me to thinking of how many people don’t know their rights. So that was the nugget that started this story brewing. From there, I threw in the ‘what if’ dynamic.
What I didn’t want to do was vilify police, or perpetuate stereotypes. On the contrary, I wanted to show how preconceived notions — on both sides — could lead to disastrous results. I wanted to show how someone who tries to always do right, could be swayed to do wrong. I wanted to show how things aren’t always what they seem and why you shouldn’t judge people based on your preconceived notions. I believe I’ve done all of that and more with Mama’s Boy.
Of course, no Billingsley book would be complete without my trademark twists and turns, complex drama, and thought-provoking circumstances. As one reader said, “There are too many layers to these characters to just feel one emotion.” That statement alone, let’s me know that as an author, I’ve done my job.
— ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Mama's Boy is available digitally and in print now. For more genre coverage visit our Everything Mainstream page.