Lori Stephens, lecturer in the Department of English, was recently featured in LitTalk: A DFW Author Panel Series to discuss her new novel, Blue Running.
Describe Blue Running and a bit of the creative process and inspiration.
Fourteen-year-old Bluebonnet Andrews is on the run across the Republic of Texas. A gun accident killed her best friend, but in the small town of Blessing, Blue is suspected of murder. Even her father – plagued by alcoholism – is not capable of protecting her from the death penalty.
Blue’s mother left the state on the last flight to America before the borders closed, and although Blue has fuzzy memories of her, she’s convinced her mother can help. But first she has to get across the lawless Republic and over the border wall that keeps everyone out and in.
On the road she meets Jet, a young immigrant woman. Jet is secretive about her past but she’s just as determined as Blue to get out of Texas before she’s caught and arrested. Together, the two form an unlikely kinship as they make their way past marauding motorcycle gangs, the ever-watchful Texas Rangers, and armed strangers intent on abducting them – or worse. When Blue and Jet finally reach the wall, they’ll either cross the border or be shot down trying like thousands who have gone before them. One of the main themes in Blue Running and other coming-of-age stories is the journey to self-discovery, but it’s also about empathy and maturity. Like many other novels, my stories begin with the everyday-normal-but-not-quite-right. As a Texan who mostly writes about Southerners, “not quite right” covers a lot of ground, and in this case, it’s the Secession and the political tension that divides people.
Texas has seceded from the United States in the novel. Why did you choose this as the backdrop for the narrative?
Over the last few decades — often with changes in political control — it seems the faint cries for secession get louder. I imagined a Texas Republic spun from the dreams of some of those “idealists” who believe that our biggest problems are the absence of the (Protestant) church from state decisions. Of course, seceding from the US would cause massive problems to any organization that relies on federal funds, so much of the infrastructure in Texas would suffer along with its citizens. It’s a setting filled with corruption and naïveté, but also hope and friendship. Like many other dystopian novels, my plot takes off when the main character is betrayed by the rules of her own world (“all hell breaks loose”), and her redemption is in her ability to find a way to right a moral wrong. At the root of all of my stories are those confusing formative years, when desire and betrayal and defeat are excruciatingly intense and seemingly never-ending. Many character flaws, I believe, have roots in these early traumas. And of course, environmental trauma can also carry a storyline through to many self-discoveries.
Are there any other contemporary issues explored in the novel? If so, please describe.
Gun rights, LGTBQ+ rights, and abortion rights have been fairly constantly in the news, but they weren’t as much so when I started writing the novel several years ago. I thought it was dystopian, but some reviewers now call it “predictive.” In Blue’s world, the Republic of Texas has won its unfettered second amendment rights to guns, but now everyone is required to carry a gun because of the crumbling infrastructure and lack of police protection. A culture of fear and survival permeates the Republic, where being LGBTQ is outlawed, gangs terrorize towns, a wall keeps people out of Texas (and in), and abortion and murder are punishable by death. Of course, this is just the world Blue must navigate, but this environment forces her to make important life-or-death decisions on her journey, and especially in the page-turning ending.
What makes the dystopian genre appealing to you?
I think we all love dystopian books and films because they’re essentially about survival. About hope against all hope. We want to be survivors, too; living vicariously through fictional characters forces us to see what’s really important when everything is stripped away. And that’s love. It’s a connection with other humans. It’s seeing the common humanity in other people, no matter how different they seem. Maybe that’s where hope is. Read the full article.