FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jazz, grief, and love converge as two women’s stories are fatefully intertwined in “Blackbird Blues” releasing in October
CHICAGO, Illinois – The height of the Civil Rights era merges with the hauntingly beautiful swinging sounds of Chicago jazz in award-winning reporter and psychologist Jean K. Carney’s debut novel, “Blackbird Blues” (Oct. 1, 2019, Bedazzled Ink Publishing). Macintosh
Following the death of her teacher and mentor Sister Michaeline, aspiring jazz singer Mary Kaye meets Lucius, Sister’s former love and father of their estranged son, Benny. The two unite to bond over their mutual loss, with Mary Kaye helping Lucius and Benny mend their fractured relationship. Decades of secrets lie behind the heartache as Mary Kaye struggles with an unwanted pregnancy that could derail her dreams.
Carney’s work as a reporter covering Roe v. Wade, her extensive research, and decades of experience as a psychologist helped her write this stunning piece of fiction with historically accurate characters so realistic it’s as if they were pulled right off the streets of Chicago during the Civil Rights era. Behind its themes of racism, abortion, and child abandonment, this heartbreaking and timely novel ponders two pressing issues of human existence: What do we owe our children? What do we owe ourselves?
From Sister Michaeline’s 1940’s diary:
“The best gift you can give a child is your own happiness. Otherwise, the little muffin is always worrying what has he done to make Mommy unhappy. A mother should do everything she can to please herself and to avoid doing things she does not want to do. If she is happy, the little one may have a fighting chance.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JEAN K. CARNEY is the author of “Blackbird Blues” (Oct. 1, 2019, Bedazzled Ink Publishing). She spent eight years as an award-winning reporter and editorial writer at the Milwaukee Journal, covering Children’s Court, City Hall, and Roe v. Wade. She earned a Ph.D. in Human Development at the University of Chicago and trained at a large Chicago inner-city psychiatric hospital. She taught psychology at St. Xavier University, was director of a clinic that provided low-cost psychoanalytic treatment, and supervised psychologists in training for 13 years. In full-time private practice as a psychologist for 30 years in the Chicago Loop, she saw patients from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. After her husband died of ALS, she edited his last book, “Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination,” stopped publishing in professional psychoanalytic venues, and turned to fiction. She has since remarried and is the mother of a son and a son and daughter by marriage.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Jean K. Carney | Oct. 1, 2019 | Bedazzled Ink Publishing
Paperback | 978-1-949290-22-6
In an interview, Jean K. Carney can discuss:
* Her background as a psychologist and a journalist covering Roe v.Wade, and how those professions helped shape the story and its characters in “Blackbird Blues”
* How different historical eras figure in the lives of the characters in the novel
* “Blackbird Blues” is both a coming-of-age story and a historical novel – The natural audience for the book spans generations: from young adults to older men and women who lived through the Civil Rights movement and grew up with family stories of the World Wars
* How to research to create culturally and historically accurate character depictions
* Some authors write from an outline, some make it up as they go along. Did she know how “Blackbird Blues” was going to end when she started the novel?
* Which character in the novel came to life first? How did that happen?
* She is a white woman of Irish-American and German-American descent. Did she get any help creating the characters of Lucius and Benny, who are African-American men?
* What, if anything, does she read while she is writing fiction?
* Did she read anything in particular while writing “Blackbird Blues?”
* What is she reading now?
* Does she see a connection in the careers of her life: journalist, psychologist, novelist?
An Interview with Jean K. Carney
Where do you think your novel fits in the conversation regarding controversial topics like abortion and racial inequality?
It is possible that “Blackbird Blues” may become part of the public conversation about abortion and racial inequality, but I did not write it for that purpose. The novel is fiction. I wrote it as a work of art. It is a product of my imagination. People will have whatever reactions they have to it.
You previously worked as a journalist, most notably covering the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. How did that experience play a role in writing “Blackbird Blues?”
Covering Roe v. Wade for the Milwaukee Journal involved interviewing many women for what are called “reaction stories.” The women I spoke with came from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. What struck me was that, whether they had had an illegal abortion, wished abortion had been an option for them earlier, or felt that they would never have an abortion, most were pleased that abortion was now legal. As a group, they did not want other women to risk their lives getting illegal abortions. The gravity of that risk and how it weighed on those women stayed with me and emerged years later in my imagination as a potentially powerful undercurrent for a novel.
You also had a career as a psychologist. How did your background in that field assist you in writing this novel?
My work as a psychologist listening to patients in psychotherapy doesn’t translate directly into my work as a novelist in the sense that I do not get ideas from former patients or use material I heard from patients. It’s a different kind of influence. Listening carefully and letting myself feel whatever I feel as I’m listening has expanded my capacity for feeling and imagining. As a therapist I had to imagine my way into each person’s life and experience. Doing that greatly opened up my own personal ability to imagine and to feel. I am grateful to my former patients because I don’t think I would have had the capacity to feel my way into the characters in “Blackbird Blues” or imagine their lives had I not been tutored, so to speak, by my patients.
What kind of research did you do to help you portray the characters in the book as historically and culturally accurate as possible?
I’m 70 years old. I’ve been reading at least two newspapers a day most years since 1955. I was a news junkie as a child, which is why I became a newspaper reporter. So I remember the Civil Rights Movement and the 1960s vividly. However, I needed to do a good bit of research for my character Lucius, who is 60 and a jazz man. He was one of the black Americans who served under French military command during World War I because the American military didn’t mix the races. Lucius’ mentor was French. He returned to Chicago in time for the 1919 race riot, memorialized in Carl Sandburg’s classic “Chicago Race Riots”. I relied on many sources on the web and from the library. Among the most important were: Louis Rosen’s “The South Side: The Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood, Adam Green’s “Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago 1940-1955,” Le Roi Jones’ “Blues People: Negro Music in White America,” Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens’ “Jazz,” and Gunther Schuller’s “The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945.”
On the subject of abortion, I found the following books most helpful: “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service” (which took place in Chicago) by Laura Kaplan, “Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America” by Marvin Olasky, and “Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era” by Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May.
After researching, how has society’s thinking changed regarding abortion since the 1960s? How is it still similar?
In the 1960s, people didn’t talk about abortion. The subject was strictly taboo. I think anyone who would say they knew what people were thinking would only be guessing.
Tell us about the title of your book, “Blackbird Blues.”
In the decades in which the novel is set—Sister Michaeline’s 1940s diary and Mary Kaye’s 1963—nuns were dressed head to toe in black garments. So nuns were often called “blackbirds,” sometimes as a term of endearment, sometimes as a slur. When the Catholic Church’s Vatican Council ended in 1965, most religious orders made many changes in their rules, including modifications in clothing, so “blackbird” no longer applied. “Blues,” of course, refers to the music, as well as the sorrows in the novel, many of which revolved around Sister Michaeline, who is Mary Kaye’s mentor, Lucius’ lover and Benny’s mother.
While reading “Blackbird Blues,” it becomes very clear how vital music is to everyone, how it can cross cultural, religious and socioeconomic lines. How did music become so important in your own life?
In grade school I was tapped to sing in the adult choir at church because my voice had a range from alto to soprano. I also took piano lessons in grade school. But singing was my forte. I was in a glee club in high school and a church choir in college.
Do you listen to music while you write?
Never. I let whatever is within me bubble up without direction. That requires silence, which I treasure. But I made a point of often listening to jazz and blues during the time when I wasn’t actually sitting at my desk writing. I especially listened to Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis because they figure in the novel.
Nuns are prominently featured in your novel. Did you have nuns as teachers when you were growing up?
I am the oldest of five children born in six years. My family moved 10 times before I was 9 years old. Every time but once there was a nun there who swooped me up, took me under her wings, and looked out for me. They were from different religious orders, but what they had in common was a tenderness and generosity that prompted them to give me not just the education I needed, but the extra mothering after school. I spent my high school years in a convent, and they are among the happiest years of my life.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
A new thought. And perhaps a new question.