I believe it to be kind of a treacherous river. There are times when it looks pretty calm on the surface, but you know it's not calm. It's got a lot of undercurrent. It's a real river. You know, it's really bold. We used to take car trips. We'd drive down to Haynes Point and through Rock Creek Park and spots along the river. And you'd look out at it and sometimes it would look very calm and sweet. Then other times it would be roiling.
So it's a river, I think, that has a lot of character. And that's one of the reasons that I felt it, too, was a character in the novel. That it had an identity.
I describe it as being as duplicitous as a $2 whore, and I kind of like that. I think that works. Sometimes it seems very placid. And at other times, you know, very turbulent.
And, of course, the City of Washington itself was built around the banks of the Potomac for obvious reasons. At one time it was used for transportation. Then it was — well, I think it lost out to train travel and other things because it doesn't have the port that, say, Baltimore has. But it was at one time a viable port for transportation, tobacco, and that sort of thing.
I decided to have the girls swimming in the Potomac because my mother had talked about the Potomac and swimming in it, and we knew that it was dangerous. We knew that you were really taking your life in your hands if you got into the Potomac.
One of the things I wanted to do with Johnnie Mae, the protagonist, was to show that she was adventurous. That she had — the word I like to use is moxie. She had a lot of moxie. I
think that's important in terms of her development throughout the novel because I believe that in order to survive this life, and to do well in life, you've got to have moxie. And unfortunately, Clara Bynum, her younger sister, didn't have as much moxie. She was kind of going along — now, she was young, it's true, and the accident that happened to her was purely that, an accident. But she didn't have as much boldness and moxie as Johnnie Mae. The comment that I'm making is that it's harder for someone to survive if they don't have that — that intestinal fortitude.