Julia Franks is the founder of loosecanon.com, a Goodreads-style social media site for schools. Her debut novel, Over the Plain Houses, was named an NPR best book in 2016 and received the 2018 Townsend Prize for best Georgia fiction. (Photo by Holly Sasnett Photography)
For me, the summer of 2020 was about feeling powerless in the face of the burgeoning virus and glaring racial injustices. I was restless. I wanted to protest in the streets, sign up as a poll worker, do something. But my husband and I usually make decisions like that together, especially now. We’re both self-employed, without a corporate safety net, and a sustained illness could threaten both our livelihoods. For weeks we couldn’t come to an agreement about safe levels of exposure.
It was also the summer of weird and vivid dreams. The one I remember most was a nightmare about a haunted house. I was still a little kid, running with a group of friends, and of course we all wanted to go into this haunted house. But what started off as a fun adventure quickly turned terrifying. The house morphed into a maze of rooms through which a deadly monster chased us. The only chance we had of surviving was a safe room, a sort of “home base” that would give us asylum from the beast. But we couldn’t find it, couldn’t get there and this creature was right at our backs. We ran and ran and finally found the door to the safe room, and with a wash of relief my brother and I started to cross the threshold. There was some kind of gatekeeper there, and he congratulated the two of us for being members of one of the families that was allowed in. Then we realized what he was saying: that there were families banned from the safe room, that some of our friends were members of those families and that some of them were being turned away. My brother and I were stunned, outraged and paralyzed with indecision: Should we go into the safe room or die with our friends?
The dilemma woke me up, and I knew right away that the dream was about race. I told my husband about it over coffee. And here’s the thing about my husband and me: We both read a lot of novels, but not the same kind. I tend to read realistic fiction, and I saw the story as one that had a tragic ending either way. It was a choice between dying of violence or living in shame. But my husband likes to read science fiction and fantasy, and he saw the situation as a winnable fight. “It’s obvious what the answer is,” he said. “You have to fight the monster.” Right away I saw my opportunity and jumped on it shamelessly. “So would you be OK with me working at the polls this year?” He paused for a long time and then sighed. “Yeah. OK. Sure.” So, you see, I kind of tricked him. But in the end he gave me a little of his action/adventure optimism. It’s obvious what the answer is. Fight the monster.