Local Author Fabienne Josaphat on Her Debut Novel: "I Have an Obligation to Tell the Truth"

If you attended author Fabienne Josaphat's panel at the Miami Book Fair last November, then you heard her read a small sampling from her debut novel, Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow. As she read, you could feel the tension in the room, notice the silence, and hear a collective murmur when she finished. The author shared a moment with her audience back then and is preparing to share another this week. 

On Friday at Books & Books, Josaphat will celebrate the launch of her book, which will be available for purchase starting February 23. The novel is set in Haiti in 1965 when Francois Duvalier (also known as Papa Doc) was the country’s brutal dictator. It was a time of curfews and the horrific Tonton Machetes militia. The protagonist is Raymond L’Eveillé, is a struggling taxi driver who ends up trying to help his brother, Nicolas, escape from jail. New Times spoke with Josephat ahead of her appearance. 

New Times: Did you start writing Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow while completing your MFA?
Fabienne Josaphat: Yes, I did. It started out as a screenplay, an assignment for one of my classes. I had so much fun writing it that when I finished I wanted to keep going and it felt like I had an outline for the novel. I had the bone and all I had to do was add the meat.

Why choose the time period that you did as opposed to the present?
I started with the characters. I knew that I wanted the book to be about the conflict between two brothers who were very different from each other. After that, all I needed to add was the backdrop. I started thinking a lot about the history of Haiti, especially the 1960s, that era that’s long gone but people still can’t get rid of. It’s a period that fascinates a lot of people.

How did you conduct research for the novel?
Research was interesting. I knew a little about the time period but not a lot, so I read many books on the history of Haiti and then I interviewed people who survived that time. I sort of became obsessed with the 1960s for a couple of years. I had interned at the Miami Herald and done feature writing before, so I was comfortable with conducting interviews, which is something that helped me a lot.

When you write, do you think about how your role as a writer can impact Haiti or is that something more subconscious?
I suppose I feel pressure toward the history of Haiti in that I need to present the facts correctly. I think I have an obligation to tell the truth and decide what parts will be fictionalized, and a responsibility to paint a picture of the real Haiti, to give readers an accurate portrayal of the country and its people. But at the end of the day, I mostly just want to entertain people.

What plans do you have for the future in terms of your writing? Are you working on a new book?
I have some short stories that I’m trying to put together for a collection but it’s difficult—I find short stories to be really challenging, much more so than novels. I also have an idea for another novel, but it’s so early I can’t even really articulate what it is.

Fabienne Josephat at Books & Books
On Friday, February 12, starting at 8 p.m., Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Josaphat will read from her debut novel,
Dancing in the Baron's Shadow. Visit booksandbooks.com

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