FRANCESCA DUMAS FINDS HER PLACE IN CIVIL WAR ERA NEW ORLEANS SOCIETY

I am thrilled to introduce you to an author you may not have read, but once you do, you will want more. Bob Rogers writes historical fiction. His novels are so authentic and rich in history, you will feel like a time traveler. Today, I will be highlighting his novel, The Laced Chameleon. The story takes place during the Civil War era. It features a beautiful, young woman named Francesca Dumas and her determination to see justice. The following is my interview with Bob.

Susan: Your novel, The Laced Chameleon, is the first book I have encountered centered around a race, caste, and class system in New Orleans society during the Civil War era. This practice is called plaçage. I had never heard of this and probably most readers haven’t either. Please explain what it is.

Bob: In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, plaçage was a contractual relationship between young beautiful mixed-race women and white men. The white men married white women to produce heirs. Sometimes they kept their placées as concubines.

Susan: Francesca Dumas is a strong, independent woman who is willing to participate in the plaçage arrangement. As someone who can pass for white and is accepted by both races, she seems to suffer an identity crisis, not knowing where she fits in. Why was it important for you to include this in your story?

Bob: My research turned up a treasure named Henriette Delille, the founder and Mother Superior of the Sisters of The Holy Family Order of Nuns. Born a quadroon, but because of her light complexion and European-like features, Mother Delille was once courted by a white man to enter a plaçage relationship. The story of conflict within her spirit led me to want to understand and reveal the limited life options available to women in Antebellum New Orleans—especially, the even fewer options open to women of color. I felt I had to attempt to communicate how Francesca and her friends saw and rationalized their life choices.

Susan: Speaking of Francesca’s life choices, why did a woman of her complexion compel you to write about how she was affected by her perception of the thoughts of her male prospects?

Bob: The phenomenon of caste and class is a matter that I grappled with beginning in my teenage years and into my mid-twenties during the 1950s and 1960s in South Carolina. It was a central focus for me because it played a major role in deciding which girls I thought I could date. Skin color or hair texture or the occupation of her parents could signal that she was “off-limits.” I wondered how the girls that I didn’t date felt. I invented Francesca to explore the minds of those girls that I decided not to pursue.

Susan: In the novel, you mix real historical figures with fictional ones. You have spent many hours researching this novel as evident by the bibliography and list of nonfiction characters included at the end of the book. Is it a challenge for you to mix fiction with factual events and real people?

Bob: The research required to keep the dialogue of non-fictional characters “in-character” is both time-consuming and fun. An example is a passage where I “channeled” advice from Mother Delille to Francesca. One painful example was Judge Cocks’ daughter, who gave birth to her father’s grandson.

Susan: In The Laced Chameleon, you paint a clear picture of New Orleans as it was during the Civil War era. You mention streets and places that existed at that time. Did you make a point of traveling to New Orleans to get a feel for the setting?

Bob: Oh, yes! Indeed, I did. I would use any excuse to return to New Orleans. My bride and I spent part of our honeymoon in New Orleans. Over the years, I have returned many times. During my research trips for The Laced Chameleon, I met many new people who volunteered to help me in any way they could to make my research trips successful—from university librarians granting access to archived rare books to strangers inviting me in to tour their 1830-era home. Instead of renting a car, I walked, used a bicycle, and rode the same streetcar lines that Francesca rode. I saw what she saw.

Susan: Are any of the actual historical figures from The Laced Chameleon mentioned in any of your other books?

Bob: Yes. Of the twenty-three nonfiction figures mentioned or who played a role in The Laced Chameleon, only Confederate Sergeant William H. Tunnard, Third Louisiana Infantry Regiment appears as a character in my novel, First Dark. Alexander H. Stevens, Vice-President of the Confederacy is quoted in both books for his cornerstone speech.

Susan: The novel seems to be more than just historical fiction. It is also a “whodunit” mystery. Why is it important to Francesca to find out who killed her “husband” in the plaçage arrangement?

Bob: I imagined Francesca to be strong-willed and determined. I salute women with “spine and strength of character.” Francesca was the same self-possessed character when I invented her in a previous novel (First Dark). I brought her back for the plaçage relationship role. Francesca illustrates, though grief-stricken and angry, what a determined woman of her time could do in the face of adversity.

Susan: According to your most recent blog posting, you have a great love for New Orleans. Is the city itself what inspired you? What is it about New Orleans that draws you in?

Bob: I was all-in because of New Orleans’ antebellum history. She was the crown jewel and largest and richest city in the South. A gold mine of untold stories lurks in such a place!

Susan: Will there be a sequel to The Laced Chameleon?

Bob: Yes. Francesca’s third appearance in one of my novels will bring her back to New Orleans at the behest of her “friend,” Madame Buisson.

Susan: What does the title mean?

Bob: In her murder investigation and subsequent spying for the Union Army, Francesca used various disguises—from elegant gowns and lace to that of a teenage slave boy in tatters and blackface. Hence, she was a chameleon who sometimes wore lace.

Susan: What was your hardest scene to write?

Bob: Writing the scene where Francesca’s friend Emily told her the story of how she was sold away from her small daughters and husband. That dialogue caused me to stop several times as Emily poured out her soul to Francesca about the depth of her hurt from seeing her youngest daughter run stumbling after her as she was led away in chains.

Susan: Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Bob: Family and extra-marital relations will be the connecting thread from Isaac and Francesca in First Dark in the nineteenth century to Isaac’s great-grandson in the 1940s in Hitting Life’s Curveballs.

You can get your copy of The Laced Chameleon on Amazon. It is available as a Kindle e-book or hardcover. 

If you really want something special, you can purchase a signed copy of the hardcover by going to Bob’s website/bookshop.

Want to hear a news report for New Orleans on April 25, 1862? Click here to learn the happenings in New Orleans on this day.

Who is Bob Rogers? Bob Rogers, a retired businessman with a career at IBM for thirty-three years, is also an author, playwright, entrepreneur, and speaker. He is a former US Army captain, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and was a charter member of the Baltimore, Maryland chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association. Bob lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Visit his website.    

About Susan MIlls Wilson

Susan Mills Wilson is a native of North Carolina where she writes romantic suspense. She is the leader of the Charlotte Writers Club Mystery Critique Group and a member of Charlotte Writers Club. Subscribe to Susan’s blog at www.susanmillswilson.com.
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