Elizabeth City County Courthouse, 1913. (Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum, Hampton, Va. Cheyne Collection 2009.15.1998)

April 8

On this day in 1912 at 10 o’clock in the morning, the murder trial of sixteen-year-old Virginia Christian opened in the Elizabeth City County Courthouse, Hampton, Virginia.

An African-American girl, “Virgie,” as she was called, was convicted of killing her white employer, Ida Belote, a fifty-one-year-old widow.

Virgie died in the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Richmond the day after her seventeenth birthday. She is the only female juvenile executed in Virginia history.

In February 2016 NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Alabama, will publish Forsaken, my first novel, which opens with the trial and execution of this girl and dives deep into the poisonous waters of Jim Crow Virginia.

For me, the publication of the book will be the fulfillment of a dream born when I was Virgie’s age. But like the novel, the achievement is bittersweet.

I’ll be sixty-five years old when Forsaken is released. I’ll be a debut novelist who just enrolled with Medicare. Many of the family members, school teachers, and college professors I most would have wanted to see its publication are long since gone.

What’s more, any sensible reader might reasonably inquire, “What could a sixty-five-year old white man have to say about a sixteen-year-old black girl who lived during the rise of racial segregation in Progressive-era Virginia?”

In the weeks ahead, please return to this site. I’ll do my best to answer that question and others. I’ll tell you about the creative process I followed to research and write the book and provide background on the history and politics of the times, times fraught with wrenching change, blighted hope, and sometimes brutal cruelty.

I’ll fill in the lives of the historical figures I came across in my research, figures who absolutely would not let me turn away, figures I wanted to bring to life in hopes they might help us today live lives of understanding, tolerance, and empathy. The events in Forsaken are tragic, but the story is one of redemption and hope.

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13 Comments

  1. It’s an extraordinary book and I hope it finds a huge readership. It deserves to be noted by any who care about the history of race relations and especially those who relish fine writing.

    • Sabrina, good to hear from you, and thanks for your comment. I think you’ll enjoy the story. Sad as it is, it’s also uplifting. Tell your friends about it, and be sure to come back to the site, which I’ll be updating regularly. Take care, Ross

  2. I have such supreme confidence in this book, Ross. I know the integrity with which you must have wrought every page, the meticulous attention to voice and syntax and pacing—all the elements of your craft. Rarely have I anticipated a publication more. Can’t wait to promote it!

    • Cheryl, thank you so much. Most recently, North Carolina writer Fred Chappell, who gave me a blurb, also helped me adjust some of the language to make sure the usage would be current with the period, so yes, it’s put together pretty carefully. I’m anxious for you to see it. Ross

    • Kim, great to hear from you. The book was scheduled for release earlier, but some of the dates for advance materials were missed, and I asked the publisher to move the pub date back. Hope I live that long! I’m going to see if I can get signed up for something with the Virginia Festival of the Book in March. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll be updating the site periodically, so please come back for a visit. Best, Ross

  3. Ross,
    I’m so pleased to hear of your debut novel. It sounds captivating. I look forward to reading it, and the answers and background information you post here while I wait for it to appear in bookstores. I hope you are thriving in every other aspect of your life as well!
    Cindy

  4. Ross, Congratulations on the impending publication of your book. I’m really eager to reading it. Please let me know if you’re coming to Virginia for the festival.

  5. All: I had the good fortune to read Forsaken before publication. I read it in two sittings. Couldn’t put it down. If you like Truman Capote, Dennis Lehane, Erik Larsen, Laura Hillenbrand or anyone who writes good narrative non-fiction, you’ll love this. It is effortless to read. In addition to a great “straight ahead” coming-of-age historical thriller, Ross says a lot about love, loss, injustice and the everyday joys of living as you keep peeling back the onion.

    Can’t wait until February!

    Chris

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