Themes of History and Self-Discovery in Ghost Roast, a guest post by Shawneé Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs
One of the things we’re most proud of with our debut graphic novel Ghost Roast, is that we were able to write a meaningful and fun adventure centering a BIPOC girl that incorporated two themes we’re passionate about: history and self-discovery.
When the inspiration came to us to write a ghost story set in New Orleans, we relished the opportunity to explore the city’s rich cultural history, as we were simultaneously researching our own families’ genealogy, which has deep ties to the city and region. With its fusion of French, African-American, Indigenous and Spanish culture palpable in just about every corner of its borders, New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in America. However, like most of the Southern US, it also has a painful history of slavery and injustice that dates back before the Civil War, that many Americans still struggle to discuss (see: Presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s epic fumble about the subject earlier this week).
Our challenge was how to tell an engaging story about a contemporary teen confronting the dark past of her town in a way that didn’t feel like a trauma trap. It was quite the conundrum, but it didn’t take long for our answer to reveal itself. When we embark on a story, we know we’ve achieved a special kind of synergy when the storytelling building blocks fall – like magic – into place. Our first research trip to “The Big Easy” was like a neon sign that we were heading in the right direction.
Completely by chance, we booked a charming shotgun-style home in Algiers, a historic Parish of New Orleans, that as it turns out, was one block away from where our maternal grandfather’s family grew up (and where members of our family still live today). It felt like kismet, that we were uncovering information about our own history while beginning the first draft of our manuscript. We channeled that excited feeling of discovery directly into our main character, Chelsea Grant.
When we meet our protagonist, Chelsea, she’s struggling to balance her relationships at home and school. The furthest thing from her mind is doing a personal historical research project, but as her summer job at her dad’s ghost hunting company brings her closer to the past, history literally comes alive for her in the form of several mystifying ghosts.
When google searches, and old family archives fail her in her quest for answers, she turns to the big guns for help – her mom, Vicky, a character who was a real joy to write. She was inspired by real-life heroes including Mayme A. Clayton, a librarian in Los Angeles, and Ruth Lasartemay, a distant relative of ours, who co-founded the African American Museum & Library of Oakland, CA. It was a dream to honor these pioneering women and history keepers in the embodiment of Chelsea’s mother.
What we love about Vicky, is that in her professional life she works as an Archivist, and is able to support Chelsea in her quest for information about buried family secrets — both of the mystifying ghosts, and those of her own family. In one comical scene in the book, we get a chance to have some fun with the challenges of old research equipment. Remember the laborious microfilm machines we all had to use before the internet? Depending on what decade you were born in, maybe not… Well, Chelsea finds out in real-time just what kind of pain they are…and the joys they can bring when you actually discover a clue after days of sleuthing.
Research can be its own thrilling adventure and, as we examined New Orleans’ history, we made many great discoveries of our own. Not to give away any spoilers, but one of our best historical finds researching the book was a published group of free poets and writers of color who produced work in the city in the 1800’s. Their collective work was published in the 1845 Anthology Les Cenelles (The Holly Berries), a volume of lyric poems in French. Being able to fold this little-known discovery into our story allowed us to plant a special Easter egg about New Orleans’ hidden history. As writers who have benefited tremendously from workshopping with writers groups over the years, learning that the progressive Les Cenelles existed pre-20th century was exhilarating and also affirming. We felt even more empowered to share this nugget with readers. History can never get too old for us!
Simultaneously in Ghost Roast, as Chelsea puts together the puzzle pieces of the mysterious ghosts around her, she uncovers the origins of her own wholly unique talents, and their ability to help others.
We hope that through the lens of Chelsea’s story, readers walk away with an appreciation for the history of their own families, towns, and the larger world around them. Ghosts are frequently viewed as scary, but, in our experience, they are metaphorical echoes from the past that can help us connect to our present in meaningful (and profound) ways. The Southern American story, like all human tales, is a complex and interwoven narrative, full of opportunities for self-discovery… when we allow ourselves to look.
Meet the authors
The Gibbs Sisters (Shawneé Gibbs & Shawnelle Gibbs) are an award-winning writing team from Oakland, California with backgrounds in television, animation, and comics. They’ve served as Staff Writers for Warner Brothers Animation and have written for Dreamworks Animation, Cartoon Network and Marvel Comics.
Their adventure series, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker, a diverse re-imagining of the early 20th century, was published in 2018. Ghost Roast marks their YA graphic novel debut. The pair currently live, work and play in Los Angeles.
The Gibbs Sisters’ website: www.gibbssisters.com
Shawneé’s IG: @shawnee.gibbs Twitter: @shawneegibbs
Shawnelle’s IG: @nellethehelle Twitter: @nelletheelle
About Ghost Roast
Ghost Roast delivers a paranormal adventure full of first crushes, lost histories, and the impossible task of fitting in when your dad is a professional ghosthunter. A stand-alone YA graphic novel from authors Shawneé and Shawnelle Gibbs and artist Emily Cannon!
For as long as she can remember, Chelsea Grant has tried everything she can think of to distance herself from the disastrous damage her father does to her social life. It’s not easy to shake her reputation as Ghost Girl when Dad keeps advertising his business as a “paranormal removal expert” in big, bold, loud letters all over New Orleans!
This year, Chelsea’s all grown up, attending one of the most prestigious high schools in the city, and she’s finally made friends with the popular crowd. Things are looking up—until a night on the town backfires spectacularly, landing her in hot water at home. Her punishment? Working for her dad at Paranormal Removal Services. All. Summer.
Worst of all, her new job reveals an unexpected secret she has to keep: While Dad hunts ghosts with his own DIY tech, Chelsea can actually see them. And when she meets Oliver, a friendly spirit, at the fancy mansion her dad is getting a handsome fee to exorcize, she realizes she has to save his after-life, even if it risks everything her father’s worked for.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/02/2024
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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