Today my guest is Piper Huguley, who was one of my team members in the NANO (National Novel Writing Month) Smackdown sponsored by Savvy Authors last November. Our team finished the challenge respectably in 9th position out of 27. Even better, we all gained valuable writing friends!
Welcome to Susana’s Morning Room, Piper!
Hello! I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my hero, Champion Bates.
1935 Pittsburgh: Aptly-named Champion Bates is an up and coming Negro contender who harbors a secret—he could lose his eyesight if he keeps boxing. He’s tormented by a love lost–at the moment of their elopement; he abandoned his childhood sweetheart, Cordelia “Delie” Bledsoe for his career. Ten years later, Delie needs financial help to sustain her orphans home, so to prove his love, he will fight one more time for her love and prove he has A Champion’s Heart.
Champion was named and modeled after two African American boxers. By fighting with their fists, Jack Johnson and Joe Louis made contributions to society and helped to establish the humanity of African Americans:
Jack Johnson: He was the swaggering, boasting, in-your-face African American boxer who became the world champion in 1908 and held the title until 1915. My hero, born in 1909, came from a long line of boxers who would fight for the slave master’s entertainment. Thus, my hero’s enterprising mother named him Champion Jack Bates in honor of Jack Johnson. Naming children in this “Born to win” way was a regular naming practice among African Americans—think Prince, Earl, Duke, Queen and the like. It forced people to pay respect to a child who might not get respect otherwise.
Joe Louis: Although the movie 42 is raking in big box office right now, Joe Louis, as a boxer, was an important precursor to Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball in 1947. In 1937, Americans of all races came together to cheer Joe Louis to victory as a heavyweight champion. He was the first African American to regain the heavyweight boxing title after Jack Johnson’s defeat in1915. In those twenty or so years, boxing was a segregated sport. In 1935, Champion is looking for the chance that Joe Louis ultimately got to fight in a major title fight with a white fighter. Champ’s problems with his eyesight stood in the way of that goal. Joe Louis appears as a character toward the end of A Champion’s Heart.
Before I even did the research necessary to write about Champion as a boxer, I knew that Negro boxers in the segregated era (post Jack Johnson and pre Joe Louis) had a difficult time. The boxers on the segregated circuit were mostly “ham and eggers.” They would fight for practically the next meal because fighting in the ring brought more dignity to their lives than the menial tasks that African American males were forced to endure in regular society. This repeated fighting, multiple times during the week, took a heavy toll on their bodies and minds. Some fighters, like Dixie Brown ended up going blind, so I constructed my story to allow Champ to gradually lose his sight after a doctor’s warning, which raises the stakes for him.
I was also inspired by the romances in two boxing movies, Cinderella Man and Rocky. Cinderella Man is based on a real life boxer and Rocky is fictitious, but I have always loved how completely these guys loved their women!
Boxing has lost a lot of interest these days due to the dangerous nature of the sport, but historically, they were rough and ready men who risked a lot, lived hard and built up great physiques at the same time.
Are women attracted to men who lead risky lives and who are “born to win”? What do you think?
Piper Huguley is an aspiring author pursuing publication for her inspirational historical romance fiction. She is a 2013 Golden Heart finalist for her novel, A Champion’s Heart—the fourth book in The Bledsoe Sisters series.