By Sarah Chain
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
If you asked C. James Gilbert Jr. what he likes best about writing, he’d tell you about his characters. Specifically, he might tell you about James Langdon, the son of a cotton plantation owner in Macon, Ga., who has a difficult secret to hide once the Civil War comes to an end.
Langdon leads in “A Darker Shade of Freedom,” the second novel in Gilbert’s trilogy that follows the civil rights struggle of African Americans from the Civil War through the 1960s. It was published May 29 by Sunbury Press in Mechanicsburg.
“I like to create characters, that’s the fun part about writing,” Gilbert said. “You create people and you bring them to life. It’s fun, it’s like you get to know these people.”
“A Darker Shade of Freedom” follows Langdon as he returns to his family’s plantation after fighting for the Union Army and helping slaves to escape. When his loyalty is found out and it becomes clear that Langdon is committed to securing equal rights for former slaves, the Ku Klux Klan threatens to run him out of Georgia.
“His character stays true,” Gilbert said. “He takes it on the chin in a lot of different ways, but his character stays true right till the very end. As much as he was interested in seeing slavery end (in the first novel), he’s just as interested in the second book to see slaves gain equal rights.”
The trilogy, which began with “A Deeper Sense of Loyalty” released in December 2012, was a way for Gilbert to unite the historical plight of African Americans in the United States – from the Civil War through Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws to the rise of the KKK and through the civil rights movement – with a parallel story that shows the effects these events had on individual men and women.
Gilbert calls the writing the joyful part, and the research the “working part” of his process.
“The biggest challenge is the research, because you have to get that correct,” he said. A longtime history buff, Gilbert, now 59, dates his interest back to primary school.
Before writing “A Darker Shade of Freedom,” which took him just more than a year’s time, he read extensively on the background of the Ku Klux Klan and its rise to fame, about black codes enacted by Southern states in the late-19th century, and on the political environment that Langdon later becomes involved in in the General Assembly. But once he began to write, Gilbert says he never encountered writers block.
“When I get to the end of a chapter, my mind is well into the next chapter,” he said.
And, well into the next book – Gilbert has already planned the third and final novel, which will focus on Langdon’s son and grandson as Martin Luther King Jr., the Freedom Riders and Rosa Parks make history during the civil rights movement.
With book signings planned this month in Gettysburg, Gilbert is hopeful sales of the second novel will help his first book, as well.
“When you’re unknown… it’s really hard to get the word out,” Gilbert said. “It’s difficult to measure the success of something new like that, with an unknown author.”
But Gilbert says he’s not discouraged. Several people he’s talked to at book signings and other events during the Gettysburg 150th anniversary last summer enjoyed his first novel, he said, and have been after him for a year seeking the sequel.
“They say Stephen King, the manuscript for ‘Carrie,’ he threw it in the trash and his wife pulled it out,” he said. “Everybody has to start somewhere.
“I’m not ready to call it quits just yet.”
About C. James Gilbert Jr.
Lives in: Littlestown, Adams County
Family: Wife; two sons, James and Jeremy; daughter, Sarah
Occupation: Residential electrician
To purchase: “A Darker Shade of Freedom” is available at The Book Warehouse in the Gettysburg Outlets and online through amazon.com, www.sunburypress.com and www.thebookdepository.com
If you go: Gilbert will sign copies of his novel from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, July 6, at the Gettysburg Heritage Center (formerly the Wax Museum), 297 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg; and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 26, at the Book Warehouse in the Gettysburg Outlets.