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CORNISH: Author James Hannaham had an idea for a book that would start with the kind of character most often seen in movies or TV. Critics call this character the Magical Negro.
HANNAHAM: The negro who has, you know, incredible abilities and has been through some kind of hardship, but it's usually a little vague as to what the exact, you know...
CORNISH: And he teaches the main character how to, like, love their family, friends, children.
HANNAHAM: Right, right. Right, and whenever I see that character, I want the book or the movie or the TV show to take a detour and tell me that story.
CORNISH: In the story "Delicious Foods," James Hannaham gives that character a name - Eddie. Eddie is missing both hands, and yet we meet him in chapter one, driving, escaping actually, in the middle the night. He arrives safely in St. Cloud, Minn., and then becomes a cheerful and popular handyman with no hands that everyone knows - but no one really knows.
HANNAHAM: And starting it backwards that way was one way of kind of I guess easing people into some of the material, which is, you know, sort of disturbing, let's be frank.
CORNISH: So the title of the book, "Delicious Foods," comes from the name of this farm from which Eddie has escaped. His mother is a drug addict and a prostitute, and she gets recruited off the street to work there. Tell us about the recruitment. I mean, essentially, what's the sales pitch?
HANNAHAM: People from a corrupt farm will drive a van or a bus way far away to an urban center where they're looking for people they think will not be missed, like drug addicts and homeless people. And they pitch to them that there's this wonderful place, you know, where you can - they'll give you a job, and you can pick fruit, and nobody will interfere with you and your drug habit. And of course, you know, once you get there, they tell you, oh, you know, you owe us for the ride, and, you know, it costs money to stay here. And the accommodations that they told you you were going to be in are a lot worse than the ones that you are actually in.
CORNISH: There is a third character in this book, and that is, I guess, Darlene's addiction - a character that is so strong it actually narrates some of the chapters. What characteristics do give a literal voice of addiction?
HANNAHAM: It came about rather naturally for something that seems so odd. And then I messed around with it a little bit because at a certain point I said to myself, hey, well, you know, why is crack speaking in a black vernacular kind of voice? Is that kosher? Can I do that? Is that - you know, is the NAACP going to, like, run me out of town on a rail because I did that? Like - and then - so I messed around with it. I thought maybe, at one point, oh, maybe crack is pretentious and wants to be, you know, like, more like cocaine. And I did this - you know, I re-wrote the voice for a little while, and it was just so bad that I had to go back. And it was so much fun, really, to write that voice.
CORNISH: This character is, like, it's a crack that is kind of a needy friend who kind of has expectations about how much time you're going to spend with them and is dismissive of you when you say that you don't have time to spend with them.
CORNISH: It was a very - it took me a minute to realize that it was the drug talking.
HANNAHAM: Well, there are - I dropped a couple of very important clues at the very beginning because it never felt right for me to be like, hi, I'm Scotty (ph) and I'm a drug. You know what I mean? Like, it just - I didn't think that was really...
CORNISH: It's a little 70s. (Laughter) It's a little 70s PSA.
HANNAHAM: Yeah, I just didn't think that that was the way to approach it.
CORNISH: In a sense, what did you want to explore about addiction?
HANNAHAM: In a strange way it's a lot like having that relationship with Scotty. Like, there's this other entity, this other person, this other thing that seems to be coming between you and the relationship with your friend or your relative. And it's really that they're having this intense relationship that is keeping you from having a relationship with them. And if they can stop that relationship from happening, then, you know, perhaps you can continue the relationship you are having with them.
CORNISH: Well, James Hannaham, thank you so much for talking about your story. I mean, this is really fascinating. It went someplace I didn't expect.
HANNAHAM: Well, I hope the book does that for people, too.
CORNISH: James Hannaham, he is the author of "Delicious Foods."