Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meet: Angela Benson, author of SINS OF THE FATHER

Like Christian fiction? You need to know Angela Benson. Her new novel (her 12th!) Sins of the Father hits stores today. After reading about Benson and her writing, I hope you will go out and buy it! (After this post are links to interesting stories in the media about black authors.)

About Angela Benson

Though Angela Benson began writing fiction in Miss Milizo's fifth grade English class, her first book was not published until 1994, more than thirty years later! Since then, Angela has published eleven novels, one novella, and a nonfiction writing book. Her books have appeared on national, regional and local bestseller lists, and she has won several writing awards, including Best Multicultural Romance from Romantic Times magazine, and Best Contemporary Ethnic Romance from Affaire de Coeur magazine. She was a finalist for the 2000 Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award in Multicultural Romance.

Angela made a faith move to Christian fiction in 2000 with the publication of Awakening Mercy, the first book in her Genesis House series from Tyndale House Publishers. Awakening Mercy was a finalist for both the RITA Award given by Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction. The second book in the Genesis House series, Abiding Hope, was published in September 2001. Abiding Hope was awarded the Emma Award for Best Inspirational Romance presented by the Romance Slam Jam. The third book and final book of the series, Enduring Love, is not yet scheduled.

BET Books, now Harlequin's Kimani Press purchased the mass market rights to Awakening Mercy and Abiding Hope in 2000 and released mass market editions of the titles in June 2002 and June 2003, respectively. Angela's first hardcover title, The Amen Sisters, was released in September 2005 by Walk Worthy Press. The Essence bestselling title won the Emma Award for Best Inspirational Romance. The trade paperback edition was released in November 2007. Up Pops the Devil, published by HarperCollins (Avon A) in August 2008, was Angela's eleventh novel. It was selected the November 2008 African-American Book Club Pick at Books-A-Million and was featured in the September-October 2008 issue of UPSCALE Magazine.
March 2010 will see the publication of her second novella, Showers of Blessings, in the A Million Blessings (Dafina) anthology. Angela has a diverse education and work history. She majored in mathematics at Spelman College and Industrial Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), and worked for fifteen years as an engineer in the telecommunications industry. She holds Masters degrees in operations research and human resources development. Her most recent degree is a doctorate in instructional technology from the University of Georgia. Dr. Benson is now an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Alabama.

About Sins of the Father
Booklist Magazine said, "Benson’s newest inspirational family drama raises more issues than it resolves, but the themes will resound with many readers and her portrayal of a newly reformed, albeit occasionally backsliding, sinner is masterful."

You can read an excerpt here.

Now to our Q&A!

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?

Angela Benson: I consider my stories inspirational family dramas. The main characters are related, the story problem threatens to break the family bonds in some way, and the faith of one or more characters is challenged. In The Amen Sisters, twin sisters are at odds because one joins a cult. In Up Pops the Devil, a drug dealer becomes a Christian while in prison and decides to leave the drug business that he ran with his sister. In Sins of the Father, a man with two families attempts to bring them together. My stories also have ensemble casts, with 3-5 point-of-view characters.

WRMBA: What's your latest novel about?

AB: At its simplest, Sins of the Father is about an absentee father who tries to make amends with the two children he has ignored for almost thirty years. His decision strains his marriage and his relationship with the son he did raise. In addition, he finds winning over his two adult outside children difficult as one doesn't trust him and the other only wants revenge.

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

AB: My goal as a writer is to encourage. I want folks to feel better about themselves and their situations after reading my books. I don't attempt to answer life's problems, but I do try to show that we can meet that challenges that face us and, not only survive, but grow and flourish.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

AB: My contract with Avon/HarperCollins ends with Sins of the Father. I recently submitted a proposal to them for my next book. I hope to have some good news in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I have a novella in the upcoming Millions of Blessings anthology being published by Dafina in March 2010. Marilynn Griffith and Tia McCollors, two wonderful people and great authors, have novellas in it as well.

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

AB: Sharon Ewell Foster's Passing by Samaria. This book touched me deeply. If I had to explain racism to someone, I would use this book to do it. The book not only presents the problem eloquently, but it also provides the solution. It's not an easy book to read (from the heart's perspective) but I highly recommend it.

Thank you Angela and best wishes on your latest novel!

In the news

Some interesting links:

Tieffa Harper, talks about why she started recently Plenary Publishing, which will publish its first books in 2010. From the article: Harper’s philosophy is “there are many voices missing from the marketplace, but particularly from writers of color…We are not one dimensional people, and publishing shouldn’t reflect that…Yet when you walk into the black section of the bookstore, you see that the industry at large thinks that we only want to read about gangsters, side chicks, ride or die wifeys and scheming preacher’s wives.”

Doug Seibold, the founder of Agate Publishing, talks about why he focuses on books by African-American authors, including Leonard Pitts, Jr.

The Guardian, in England, is on the search for good popular fiction for black men. (Trust me: black American writers are still hearing that our work won't sell overseas.)

School Library Journal is running a cool series, Writers Against Racism: interviews with different writers and how racism impacted them.

After hearing me on Tavis Smiley, a reader started a discussion on Yahoo Answers. Her question: do you read books written by authors who are black, Latin, female, etc.?

See what's coming up on Conversations Live: a book radio show with C.A. Webb.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meet: Attica Locke, author of BLACK WATER RISING

I'm delighted to announce that my new "White Readers Meet...." feature begins with Attica Locke.

About the author
Attica Locke is a writer who has worked in both film and television for over ten years. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has written movie scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox and Jerry Bruckheimer films, as well as television pilots for HBO, Dreamworks and Silver Pictures. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab and most recently completed an adaptation of Stephen Carter’s The Emperor of Ocean Park. She is member of the Writers Guild of America, west, and is currently at work on an HBO miniseries about the civil rights movement, based on the writings of historian Taylor Branch. A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

About the book
Black Water Rising was Booklist's Best Debut Crime Novel 2009 and a July Indie Next Great Read. Just some of the smashing reviews it has received:

"...[Locke] is able to write with a serious, stirring moral urgency akin to that of George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane."– New York Times
"...a strong and whip-smart debut..." – Seattle Times
"Black Water Rising is a near-perfect balance of trenchant social commentary, rich characterizations and an action-oriented plot..." – Los Angeles Times
Following is my conversation with Locke. After you read it, please go to your favorite bookstore or online site and buy it!

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?

Attica Locke: I once described my work as a cross between John Grisham and the filmmaker John Sayles. I appreciate the forward moving engine of a good plot (and am drawn to stories about lawyers), but I also like telling stories set against the backdrop of larger socio-political themes.

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

AL: My first goal is to entertain, always. It’s the gateway to everything else. My ultimate hope is that people come to love the characters they read about, especially characters they may have the least in common with. That feeling of love and fellowship – for a stranger, no less – is one of the ways we are able to survive as a species on this planet. I am deeply interested in love.

WRMBA: You're a screenwriter too. How is writing a book different or similar to writing a script for a movie?

AL: I have pointedly made the two experiences different. As a paid screenwriter, I am often asked to stick closely to an approved outline. But I wrote Black Water Rising without a clear outline at all. I had a very strong sense of the opening and only a vague sense of the ending. I would plot just enough to get me through the next few chapters, knowing that I could always circle back and rewrite if I hit a wall (which I did, many times). Staying open about the story and its structure left room for many surprises. It made the writing experience feel almost like reading.

WRMBA: What's next for you? Would you consider a series based on Jay Porter?

AL: I definitely think about writing about Jay again. I, like a lot of readers, want to know how he’s doing, or if he’s managed to get himself in any more trouble. Right now, though, I am writing a mystery that takes place in Louisiana. There’s a woman at the center.

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

AL: Fay by Larry Brown – a hauntingly beautiful book with a character at its center who is from a world most of us know nothing about.

Thanks Attica!

Statements I have never made nor will ever make

Read books by black authors even if they're bad.
Only read books by black authors.
White people do not read books by black authors.
Black people only read books by black authors.
If you haven't read a book by a black author, you are racist.
If you disagree with this blog, you are a moron.*

For the record.

*Though, let's face it: you probably are.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter was at the Tattered Cover in Denver last week to promote his latest, Jericho's Fall. He gave a great talk, funny and interesting, about his background and his work.

If you'd like to win a Jericho's Fall t-shirt, enter contest in post below.

Here are a few of the quotes I jotted down:

"I always begin with the characters I want to write about."

Then he picks the setting. Then he writes the last chapter of the book first and goes back to figure out how those characters in that setting came to that ending.

"My writing is largely about the abuse of power. Though first and foremost I'm trying to entertain and have fun."

On the subject of the protagonist's unspecified race: "In the age of Obama, what difference does it really make [what race she is]?" However, he said he has given enough clues in this book and previous work that readers could figure it out if they cared to. He also talked about how maddening it is that authors (white usually) have white people as the default and only describe race if a character is something other than white.

On writing a woman's point of view: "Of course it was hard to write a woman's point of view, but it's always hard to sustain a character's voice and point of view."

Carter said he always has 5 or 6 projects going at once (!) so he's never bored. And when he hits a rough spot in one project or needs a break, he opens another file and works on something else. He writes nonfiction and fiction and believes they use different parts of the brain.

On why so many lawyers write thrillers: "In law school you're trained to think about contingencies. That's what a thriller is, what if after what if after what if." Carter said the thriller writer owes his reader constant run of surprises. I'd continue the thought and say any type of novelist owes his reader twists in the story.

Carter's hoping to write a book about why books (physical, real books) are important to democracy. Here he is giving a lecture at Yale on the topic.

April Sinclair

April Sinclair, author of Coffee Will Make You Black and other novels, has a heartbreaking, but very familiar-sounding essay up at Red Room. She's struggling to make it as so many others of us are. But the good news is she's still writing!

If you haven't read Sinclair's work, you're missing out. Coffee Will Make You Black has been mentioned here before because it's a well-written, funny, charming and heartfelt coming of age story. I have a copy with Sinclair's signature bought at Denver's (now-Harlem's) Hue-Man Experience Book Store, that I cherish. And am looking forward to her fourth novel!

Thanks to author Bernice McFadden for the link to Sinclair's essay. (And look for an upcoming Q&A with McFadden here soon.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buy gear!

The White Readers Meet Black Authors store is open at Cafe Press. Each item has a small mark-up to help fund this blog (without advertisements). Get t-shirts, buttons, mugs, tote bags and more and help spread the word that you black authors.
Tweet this, link to it on your blog, or post it on your Facebook page and let me know in the comments. You'll be entered to win a copy of Stephen Carter's Jericho's Fall t-shirt (supplied by his publisher) and a free I ♥ black authors coffee mug! Leave comment about how you shared this link with friends by midnight Mountain Time August 31st. Winner will be chosen at random.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Author profiles and POTUS' birthday

I'm getting ready to begin a new series here called "White Readers Meet...." in which I'll profile different writers.

In the meantime, here are some links to interviews I ran on my other blog with authors Pearl Cleage, Elyse Singleton, Stephanie Rose Bird, and Kim Reid.

In other news, today is President Obama's birthday. Happy Birthday Mr. President! We know he likes to read. What book would you give him for his birthday, and why?