What does it take to find the motivation to put pen to paper and write a book? For self-published novelist Michael A. Davis, it takes commitment to dig deep and imagine a character whose world and life is as relevant as his own. Pursuing a goal to write a book can seem impossible, especially when one also bears responsibility for a family and a demanding, full-time profession. But Davis, 59, credits a lifetime of reading African-American history, folklore and literature for backing him up and spurring his desire to communicate creatively about the Black experience.
That experience is too rich and too meaningful to be dimmed with the passage of time. This deeply felt sentiment led Davis to self-publish his first novel, Tyme to Throw Stones. The story examines the life of an 11-year-old boy in a small Kansas town, at the forefront of race-based social change in the early 1960’s. It is the author’s aim with his book to show that even children played a role in the hard-won strides for racial justice in America.
First novels are often highly autobiographical. Like his title character, Spottswood “Tyme” Johnson, Michael Davis moved around a lot. He was born to a family of educators in Tuskegee, Alabama, and migrated with his parents to Missouri and to Kansas before the family moved to Staten Island and then Long Island, New York, where Davis finished high school.
“The journey is sometimes more important than the destination,” says Davis. Indeed, he never lost sight of his own struggles growing up black and adjusting to various environments during the pivotal 1950’s and 1960’s, and this informs his fictional work. He also undertook the journey to self-publish after “expending a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to go the traditional route,” he says. “I believed in my writing and decided to direct my energies more positively as a do-it-yourself publisher,” he adds. To accomplish this, he researched and located the online resource, Lulu.
A successful Harvard Law School–trained attorney, Davis could have been content with the rewards of his middle-class upbringing and outstanding legal career. But Tyme to Throw Stones grew from his awareness that the effects of racism always register in our collective consciousness.
A Young Boy’s Triumph Over Adversity Called Tyme to Throw Stones
In Tyme to Throw Stones Davis imaginatively bridges the gap between an inescapably harsh reality, and a quest for emotional and spiritual growth in the life of a pre-adolescent African-American boy in the Midwest.
As the novel unfolds, the title character Tyme, and his friends set out on a hot summer day to take advantage of their legal right to go swimming in the previously whites-only pool. Tyme is fairly new to the small town of Journey, Kansas, having been hurriedly dropped off at his grandmother’s house by his father Parmon, along with his mother and two brothers.
Because his own troubles with white law enforcement threaten his safety in the racially divided town, Parmon Johnson’s family must learn to endure his absence during the summer of 1960. And it isn’t easy for any of them. His wife Liza has to gingerly share authority over the children with her willful, though nurturing mother-in-law Mother Johnson, while Tyme, the sensitive, independent middle child, must balance competition for attention between himself, older brother Selman, and younger brother Duke.
The father has promised to return for the family after he’s settled back East with a job and better prospects for his sons’ education. Until then, Tyme—nicknamed Tyme by his mother to “signify Negroes’ time had finally come, in his lifetime”—confronts many challenges, some of which echo the dangerous circumstances previously encountered by his father.
Tackling Race Relations, Color Consciousness and Spirituality
Stories sustain us and add meaning to our lives, and reading a book like Tyme to Throw Stones does something significant. It connects the reader to an African-American past whose effects still reverberate. The book allows the reader see him or herself in the story. We keenly identify with the dilemmas confronting Tyme and the other Black characters, because their troubles reflect some of the injustices endured throughout our generations.
Being mindful of our past is crucial, Davis believes. “The history of race relations in this country shouldn’t be seen as a receding image in a rear view mirror,” he says. “Passing down our history and our culture allows us to continue to overcome and fight back.”
When and how to fight back defines the path on which young Tyme travels. Forewarned not to go by his mother and grandmother, Tyme and his friends are halted by white hostility and danger as they approach the pool.
Challenges based on skin color, outside of, as well as within his race, and a lock up in jail deepen the drama as the story progresses. The novel explores similarities between the father’s and son’s experience in the small town, including lies told about their interaction with white girls. The fiercely protective grandmother, Mother Johnson, contributes to a surprising twist to the tide of events surrounding the father’s return as the novel ends.
The story is also framed by the title character’s vivid dreams and his thirst for spirituality. Tyme searches for the presence and will of God in the verses of his grandmother’s Bible. And his secretive discovery of letters written in 1888 by his great-great grandfather, Zeeke, undergirds the young man’s nascent race consciousness and pride.
Bearing Witness to the Black Experience
There is a wealth of literature bearing powerful witness to the Black lives and experiences preceding our own. Davis leans on many literary works to encourage his creative efforts. In addition to the writings of America’s first Black woman published poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), and Harlem Renaissance authors Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Toomer, Davis’ recommended reading includes American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker.
“My aim with my book is to tell a story about growth, about searching to find your way in this world and overcome obstacles,” says Davis. “Even a child sometimes has to bear the burden and take risks to bring about change,” he adds. To purchase Tyme to Throw Stones, visit the author’s Web site, www.MADwritings.com.