Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Get rid of AA imprints?

My friend Linda Chavis hipped me to this article on HuffPo, "Rejecting the Publishing Ghetto." Something tells me without African American imprints there are fewer African American books. But he makes lots of good points here. Publishers do tend to treat these imprints with less respect.

Hello 2010!


Goodbye to 2009 and hello 2010! Writers, editors, publishers and booksellers are all skittish about what the future holds for us. Will technology save the industry or be the death of it? With books digitized will people be willing to pay for them or snatch them free like they did with music? We're about to find out.

I'm choosing to focus on what I can control, which is letting people know about good books. And, of course, writing. Working on your next book is always the best medicine to worrying about your current one(s).

In addition, I'm lucky to have something special to look forward to next year. "Sins of the Mother" the TV movie version of my novel Orange Mint and Honey will air on LMN February 21st! Stay tuned for more details (a contest!)

Forgive my little personal commercial break. Back to doing what I do here. I'm also lucky to be able to come to this blog and hear from readers who are hungry for good books! Thank you for all your support last year!

Following are a few of the new books that I've heard about. Many more can be found on APOOO Book Club's site. Remember, pre-orders really help writers! And check the authors' websites for tour dates. They might be in your neck of the woods and you could meet them in person!

January


Searching for Tina Turner by Jacqueline E. Luckett. I'm currently reading the advance copy, and I sure hope this book makes a big splash. All those ladies who rushed out to see "It's Complicated:" you'll love this book too! Want a taste? Here's Chapter 1.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. This book is getting all kinds of advance pub (watch for it in the February issue of O Magazine!), and for good reason: it's about a resort (which actually existed) where slave-holders took their slave mistresses. Publishers' Weekly says: In her debut, Perkins-Valdez eloquently plunges into a dark period of American history . . . Heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful, this novel showcases Perkins-Valdez's ability to bring the unfortunate past to life." If you're on Facebook, join Dolen's fan page


February


The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow. This novel won the Bellwether Prize for "fiction for social change," which Barbara Kingsolver created. I've mentioned this here before, but soon it's out! Have you pre-ordered? DENVER FOLKS: Heidi will be at the Tattered Cover Colfax on March 11!


March


Uptown by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant. These ladies stay on the "ripped from the headlines" tip. Their last book was about a woman laid off from her job. This one is about "money, power and real estate" and I happen to know they had to deal with the crash of the real estate market. DENVER FOLKS: Donna and Virginia will be at Tattered Cover Colfax on March 12!


What Mother Never Told Me by Donna Hill. On Donna's website she calls this, "A story of healing, hope, love and forgiveness" and says "WHAT MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME is a book for every daughter, every mother, every family." News flash about Donna: she's celebrating 20 years of publishing in 2010. That's TWENTY YEARS! Congratulations Donna!

Author J.D. Mason is back with Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It, a story about three women who were friends in high school and meet again at their reunion thirty years later. Promises to be a great story about women's relationships, secrets and lies!

April

The great Pearl Cleage is back with Till You Hear From Me.

May

In May I'll be singing glory, glory because Glorious, Bernice McFadden's latest literary novel will be out! Author Susan Straight calls it "Intense and sweeping."

Not to jump too far ahead, but a couple of friends of the blog have pub dates in 2011 too. Look for The Silver Girl by Tayari Jones from Algonquin Books and Act of Grace by Karen Simpson from Plenary Publishing. Watch here for more about these and other upcoming releases!

Happy New Year everybody!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes and Ch-ch-ch-Christmas

As you can see, the place has a new look. I'm not exactly thrilled with it yet, but it's easier to read (I hope) and looks more of a piece with my personal blog (which I really like!) and my website (which I also like). It's hard being blogger, webmaster, book promoter, and oh yeah, a writer and promoter of my own books. I hope you will stick with me as this blog changes and grows into itself, and as I grow into all my roles.

Since this week is Christmas, I'm going to take some time off from blogging. If you're still shopping, you already know what to do, right? Just in case you don't, I will paraphrase Michael Pollan's "eaters' manifesto" from his book In Defense of Food. Here's my "readers' manifesto" that is in defense of writers:

Buy books. A great variety of them. When it comes to reading, there's no such thing as too much.


(Me as I was beginning to find my role in life)


Happy Holidays everybody! See you next week with a look at 2010--lots of books I'm excited about coming soon! I'll also announce who won a "I  black authors" T-shirt and who won a button!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guest blog: Stacy Hawkins Adams' Christian fiction recommendations


Journeys of faith are as unique as the individuals traveling them. 

Just as one style of worship and set of religious practices don’t resonate with every Christian, neither would one type of Christian fiction novel.

Since writers hail from all walks of life and varying connections to God, so do our expressions of that faith in our fictional work.

In fiction, few of us are trying to preach. We want our characters to “reveal” biblical truths or convey lessons simply by being and doing. Readers are invited to enjoy our stories and take whatever messages they will. Some novels will simply entertain while others may sear your soul.

The beauty of this genre is that rather than cookie-cutter stories that all end the same, readers who search hard enough can find writers whose books engage them and challenge them as much as books from any other genre.

Consider adding the Christian fiction novels below to your gift list this Christmas:

· The Ideal Wife by Jacquelin Thomas – Bestselling author Jacquelin Thomas pushes the envelope in this novel by addressing the swingers’ lifestyle and what happens when one woman casts aside her morals and faith for the sake of what she believes is love.

· Sins of the Father by Angela Benson - This compelling novel shares the story of a wealthy media mogul who has a secret second family. When Abraham Martin’s conscience gets the best of him, he – and his families – must face the consequences of his choices and learn to forgive.

· This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – This classic Christian thriller is an action-packed story of spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil. Readers will finish this book with a deeper understanding of the power and importance of prayer.

· Blessed Trinity by Vanessa Davis Griggs – In this novel, the oldest of three sisters perfects a fa├žade of success and happiness, when in reality she has spent her life guarding a terrible secret. Readers will keep turning pages to find out when and how she’ll handle the truth, and whether it will destroy her or strengthen her faith.

· Chosen by Patricia Haley – Sibling rivalry rears its head in this novel when the leader of a multi-million dollar ministry decides that his younger son rather than his firstborn should take the helm of the organization. The two half brothers and their mothers plot and scheme over who will have final control. Their actions remind readers that authentic faith in God doesn’t hinge on titles and power.

· The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella Giorello – In this Christian fiction mystery, a flawed FBI agent struggles to settle into a new assignment while dealing with a boss who dislikes her and while helping her mother through a personal crisis. Readers can relate to Raleigh Harmon’s imperfections yet still be intrigued by her work and her efforts to find a missing woman.

· The Bishop’s Daughter by Tiffany Warren – Bestselling author Tiffany Warren reflects our culture’s disdain for Christians through her journalist character Darrin Bainbridge, who decides to tell the “truth” about Hollywood ministers by exposing one bishop’s fraud. Darrin’s plans are complicated when he falls in love with the minister’s daughter.

· The Face by Angela Hunt – In this intriguing novel, a severely deformed woman who has been hidden in a CIA facility since birth and used to help the government accomplish certain goals, is discovered by a long-lost aunt. The aunt helps her reclaim her life and decide, for the first time ever, who she wants to be and for whom she wants to live.

· Lady Jasmine by Victoria Christopher Murray – The latest novel by Victoria Christopher Murray, who is credited with birthing the African American Christian fiction genre, tells the story of Jasmine, a character from Murray’s previous novels who has a history of scheming and lying. Jasmine has promised her minister husband she’ll keep no more secrets from him. She tells all but one horrible truth – the one that now leaves her facing blackmail.

There should be something in this eclectic mix of Christian fiction novels for most book lovers on your list. Some of the titles are overt in sharing messages of faith while others use Christianity as an undertone. Choose a genre –mystery, suspense or romance, for example - that your book lover already appreciates and you won’t go wrong.

Stacy Hawkins Adams is an Essence bestselling Christian fiction author, freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her sixth novel, Dreams That Won’t Let Go, will be released in January. Other titles include The Someday List, Watercolored Pearls and Worth a Thousand Words. Visit her website to read excerpts of her work: www.StacyHawkinsAdams.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

There can be only one



Reading some of the "best of 2009" book lists I'm starting to wonder if African American authors aren't Highlanders. It seems like there can be only one of us per list (that is, if any of us are allowed through the golden gates at all). I have to say I feel a little sorry for Colson Whitehead. If there can be only one black author standing at the end of the game, you know it's going to be Dr. Morrison! (Actually.... Could she be...? Naaah!)

What books or authors would be on your Best of 2009 list? On your list there can be as many authors of color as you want! And let's show 'em how it's done: we'll even let white writers on our lists too. Of course, their books have to be really, really good. *wink*

My "Notable Books of 2009" include:

Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts Jr.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Big Machine by Victor LaValle
Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I Am Not Sydney Portier by Percival Everett
The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis
Jailbait Zombies by Mario Acevedo
Kiss the Sky by Farai Chideya
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen


While I was feeling like a list-making fool, I created a list of 50 Black Book Gift Ideas at IndieBound. Fiction & nonfiction; a little something for almost everybody. I didn't include kids' books. If you want kids' books suggestions check out The Brown Book Shelf and Happy Nappy Bookseller. They know their stuff!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meet: Erica Kennedy

Erica Kennedy is the author of the novels Bling and Feminista (both of which are great reads and would make great gifts for someone who can't get enough of People, US Weekly, and Vanity Fair and appreciates witty writing and meaty ideas). She blogs at The Feminista Files and you can also follow her on Twitter.

Erica was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and her views of the biz....

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Erica Kennedy: I tackle most things with humor and that's how I think of myself: as a humorist. Sometimes I think that comes out of the fact that I had a very dysfunctional childhood and I have suffered from depression so it's a "tears of a clown" thing. You need to find the humor in everything just to survive. Like if I were ever to write an Augusten Burroughs-style memoir of dysfunction -- and I could -- it would still be funny like his always are.

I read somewhere that writers are always telling the same story in different ways. And I think I'm always telling the story of the haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders. I'm very interested in the idea of social hierarchies -- who is revered and why. In Bling, there was a cast of rich, powerful or famous people and then others who wanted that power. Also the women in Bling got to tell most of the story which is not how it is in the real hip-hop industry where women are mostly objectified. My new book, FEMINISTA, is class warfare wrapped up in a romantic comedy. In both of my books I write in multiple POV because I've felt like both the have and have-not. Haven't we all? There's always someone who has more, always someone who has less than you.

WRMBA: Tell us about your latest novel.

EK: FEMINISTA is a romantic comedy with edge. Sydney Zamora, the heroine is aggressive, she's angry and that was a conscious decision. I think a woman showing her anger is a feminist act as is writing a chick lit about one! I hate when the heroine in chick lit/flicks is this infantilized klutz who just wants to find a man to save her. Sydney goes on a very active, misguided quest to find a mate but it's really about her figuring out her own shit.

I wanted to play with the idea of masculine and feminine because we've reached a time when men and women don't have such defined gender roles. Sydney is very aggressive and Max, the love interest, is very passive. That doesn't have to do with their gender, that's just who they are. Sydney's sister, Liz, is very passive but her wife, Joyce, is aggressive. Again, not really about gender but rather their personalities. So I think it's great that both men and women have more leeway to be uniquely themselves but it also creates confusion when it comes to dating because we're still not sure who should, say, pick up the check. That's why the book starts off with that situation going very awry!

WRMBA: How do you feel about the "bitch lit" tag?

EK: That came out of an early Publisher's Weekly review and I embraced it. It signals to people that this is not your typical fluffy chick lit. I know people will receive that label differently depending on what they are projecting onto the word "bitch" but I think the same could be said for Sydney. Some people say they love her, some people say they can't stand her -- and I love both reactions equally. When a character that I dreamed up in my head can provoke such a visceral reaction, I'm happy.

Funny thing is I read a non-fiction book called "Am-bitch-ous" while I was writing this and that was something I really wanted to touch on in the book: female ambition. In 2009, there are so many women who are not comfortable being the boss, making a lot of money, or saying "I got where I am because I work hard and I'm good at what I do".

I think everyone loves Beyonce, this global superstar who literally has it all at 27, because she always takes the "I'm so blessed just to be here" road and shunts all of her aggression and ambition off on an ALTER EGO. I swear I could write a whole DISSERTATION on the meaning of Sasha Fierce which is at once totally brilliant and totally terrifying that you have to go to that extent to be wildly successful and still be liked if you are a woman. Meanwhile, her husband, the former drug dealer who once shot his brother, stabbed a record executive, brags endlessly, like all male rappers, about how much dough he makes, can let everyone know exactly who he is. The difference in what they each had to do to get and maintain their success is ASTOUNDING.

But I totally get why women do that. Because when you don't humble yourself and play the good girl, you become labeled a diva or a bitch or an ice queen. You become Anna Wintour or Hillary Clinton or J. Lo in the early years before she learned the Hollywood game and realized she needed to tone down her badass Bronx swagger to keep getting cast in romantic comedies. *sigh*

WRMBA: Sydney is a feisty character, but she's also damn funny. Where forms your sense of humor?

EK: I always go for the joke. Sometimes I wish I could not go for it but that's my natural instinct. And I think sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the funniest. But we can't see that while we're in it. What's that saying? Comedy is tragedy plus time. So when I'm writing a book or screenplay, sometimes I'll ask myself, "What is the worst possible thing that can happen to this character right now?" And that will yield something funny. But since I am not that character, I have the perspective to see the humor. And the worse it is for them, the funnier it is to us.

I also think Mitzi the matchmaker is really funny because she was inspired by a real-life matchmaker who is hysterical! But one of the things that makes this woman really funny is that she's a truth-teller. And that's how I think of Mitzi. She tells it like it is and never sugarcoats anything.

WRMBA: Feminista features an interracial love story and multiracial characters. Do you think of yourself as a "black writer"? Have any strong opinions about how so-called black books are promoted?


EK: Do I think of myself as a "black writer"? Wait, is that a trick question?! lol I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, I went to Sarah Lawrence which was a school filled with privileged white kids but where my core crew was black, I knew a lot of people in the hip-hop world who were very rich, self-made black people, I've dated men of different races. I've grown up in a very multicultural world, in all these different social milieus so that's the kind of world I depict in my books. Even with Bling where most of the characters were black because it was set in the hip-hop world, you had people from different social classes and backgrounds because that's interesting and creates conflict for the story.

But it's interesting that when I wrote this book about the hip-hop world, I got this big push from the publisher. But I didn't get that with FEMINISTA which has now been covered in Essence and Latina and Disgrasian because it's a story that all these different woman can relate to. I attribute that, in part, to how much the publishing industry has kamikazed itself in the last 5 years but also I think it has more to do with gender than race. It's fine for all these rich, powerful men in Bling to do the most scandalous things but it's not okay for a woman like Sydney to be aggressive and not know her place.

Most of the female editors who read the manuscript were afraid Sydney would be read as unlikable and you know what? Some people don't like her! Hell, I don't at times in the book. But that's that good girl complex I'm talking about. Who says everyone has to like her? Isn't the bitch often the most interesting character? Some people don't like Sydney and there are other people who totally identify with her or say "I know someone JUST like her." Even last night on Twitter this whole convo started about who should play Sydney in the movie. (It's being shopped right now.) And it was so interesting for me to hear everyone's different ideas of what she looked like and WHY they thought that.

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?


EK: I definitely want to entertain but you can always say something while being funny and that "something" will likely be received better. Even with Bling which was a campy satire, I still tried to address the power hip-hop music has on the culture. As absurd as the habits of that world can be, I also wanted to respect the influence it's had.

With FEMINISTA, there were some anonymous commenters on my blog early on who were sort of like, "How dare you talk about or trivialize feminism!" The best, now oft-repeated for laughs comment was "For are disgrace!" But why the hell shouldn't I talk about it?!

I think if you asked 5 different women to define "feminism" or "feminist" you'd get 5 different answers because it's something that is always evolving with the culture as it should. I'm part of that evolution, you're part of it, women who make movies or appear on magazine covers or run companies are part of it, women choosing to leave the workforce to raise families, Serena Williams nude on the cover of ESPN magazine, looking sexy and strong by revealing an awe-inspiring body made of muscle SHE built...

Feminism is not this highbrow subject only to be discussed by academia. I think it's all of our lives as we're living it.


WRMBA: We've had lots of discussions around here about whether or not putting people of color on the cover of a book harms the ability to sell the book to people of no color. The cover of Feminista seems to show only white people, and gives the impression the protagonist is white. Do you agree with that assessment? What do you think of the book cover?


EK: I had a big fight with Miramax Books over the Bling cover because they shot a giant necklace that said BLING on some model's sweaty chest. It looked pornographic! The cover we used was one of FIVE different options that I designed myself. So when I saw the FEMINISTA cover it didn't look so bad to me compared to that first Bling craziness.

The FEM cover was also just a black and white sketch at first so I thought of it as race-neutral. My main problem with it was that it seemed limp. It felt very chick lit and I wanted something stronger that telegraphed the edgier tone of the book. But oddly, I never really thought of it depicting a white woman until people started saying that to me! I just thought of it as a sketch. And in a weird way, I liked that the men in the window were different colors because that was a graphic way of showing the multicultural aspect of it. Or something. At this point, it is what it is.

WRMBA: What's next for you?


EK: I'm polishing the FEM screenplay and working on some others. Dealing with the publishing industry (both experiences) has really soured me on books. Publishers are so woefully out of step. I can't imagine writing another novel until I can publish myself on Amazon.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?


EK: Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs. That's his first novel that I don't think a lot of people know about. Not sure if he ever wrote another novel after that. But it's funny as shit!

WRMBA: Thanks Erica! Personally, I hope you keep writing novels, but I'd go see a movie written by you too.