Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet: Zetta Elliot, author of A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT

This is Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate our right to read whatever we like in this country. Here's the tricky part: you can celebrate by reading say Beloved by Toni Morrison or Thong on Fire by Noire. I know lots of readers here dislike urban (or street) lit, but it's a slippery slope to start saying what belongs on a bookshelf and what doesn't. So while books like Thong on Fire aren't necessarily my cup of tea, I celebrate that those who want to read them can do so. After all, I don't want anyone else telling me what I can or cannot read.

Author Alisa Valdez writes about what she learned about "the rules" for writers of color after a trip to Borders. Don't know that I completely agree with her, but she's definitely got some points.

YA novelist Paula Chase Hyman guest blogs on Color Online about her literary influences and what she wishes for books for young people. An excerpt: "Does it matter that two of my literary influences are White and only one Black? That, other than writing for children, they hold nothing in common as writers? That they’re each from a totally different niche within YA…and actually Mildred D. Taylor is likely considered middle grade? No. None of it matters. Because, at the heart, a reader is drawn to what’s real in a book. "

Speaking of books for young people, I'm pleased now to introduce you to author Zetta Elliott, author of several books, including Bird and A Wish After Midnight. On her website Elliott notes, "Ultimately, I try to tell stories that give voice to the diverse realities of children. I write as much for parents as I do for their children, because sometimes adults need the simple instruction a picture book can provide. I write books my parents never had the chance to read to me. I write the books I wish I had had as a child."

I'm delighted that she agreed to an online conversation with me about her work.
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?

Zetta Elliott: I write for all ages, and across genres, so it can be hard to describe my work to others. I would say that everything I write is meant counter the various “types” that reduce complex human beings to two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. The men in my stories are often tender, thoughtful, and caring because I feel black men generally aren’t represented that way in our society. I’m also a feminist, however, so I’m realistic about the other kinds of men whose destructive behavior damages families and communities. I think my writing is somewhat cinematic—there’s a focus on dialogue because words are powerful, and yet we too often say to one another, “Don’t even go there!” Why not? With my writing I do go there, and I try to let the drama lead to greater openness and honesty.

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

ZE: I think with a lot of my work my intention is to provoke—not to shock or outrage or repulse the reader, but to push her or him into thinking of things from a different point of view. We cling to our comfort zones, and sometimes the safest way to approach a risky topic is through a story about someone else’s life; my picture book on addiction sometimes brings adults to tears, while children find the story uplifting and hopeful. So one of my goals is to reach as wide a swath of people as possible; I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. My main goal is to create characters that are compelling—whether you like them or not, you’re invested in what happens to them, and you keep thinking about them long after you’ve put the book down.

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

ZE: Playwriting is much easier in some ways because you don’t get bogged down with long descriptions of what people are wearing or eating or what the sky looks like. There are also limits to what you can do on a stage, and so the emphasis tends to be on action and dialogue. I really love dramatic writing, and so I try to give my novels a similar feeling of intimacy and immediacy; I want the reader to feel like she’s sitting in the front row, watching two people have an uncomfortable conversation about a problem they’re unable to solve. Some folks say “no more drama,” but exciting, heart-thumping dramatic writing is hard to put down...(and a lot of fun to write!)

WRMBA: What's next for you?

ZE: Right now I’m working on the sequel to my YA novel, A Wish After Midnight, and I’m sharing a new book of one-act plays with educators and librarians.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?
ZE: I’d say Gayl Jones because her first novel, Corregidora (which was edited by Toni Morrison and published in 1975) was brilliant and hasn’t been matched since. I also love If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, which I believe he intended for a YA audience. Fran Ross wrote a satirical novel in 1974, Oreo, which is brilliant; she was once a writer for Richard Pryor. In terms of contemporary writers, I think more people need to know about Percival Everett ~ Erasure is one of my favorite books, also satirical and brilliant!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's official: Edwidge Danticat is a genius!

Danticat is a winner of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant!

Celebrate E. Lynn Harris!

Readers, authors and booksellers around the country will celebrate the release of E. Lynn Harris' final novel, Mama Dearest, on September 25. Check to see if there's an event in your town. Whether there is one or not, pick up a copy of Mama Dearest and help make this a #1 national bestseller in honor of E. Lynn Harris' life.

For locations on tribute events go here.

As always, I encourage you to shop locally, but I will link to BN.com (which features a great article about Harris) on this post because purchases there count toward the NY Times bestsellers list.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Buy BEFORE I FORGET and if you hate it, I'll send you something else!

Novelist and book marketer M.J. Rose has a brilliant idea. Today is the day Dan Brown's new novel is out. Rose has started "buy+Brown" which suggests other books that you could buy in addition to Dan Brown's while you're in the bookstore (because why only buy one book?). My buy+brown suggestion is BEFORE I FORGET by Leonard Pitts Jr. I really loved this novel. I gobbled it up like turkey and dressing and greens and sweet potato pie (weather has turned fallish here in Colorado, which makes me think Thanksgiving). This book has so many great characters that you will root for and laugh with and cry over. Buy it. Buy it today even if you're planning to skip THE LOST SYMBOL. If you buy it and hate it, send me your receipt and I'll send you a copy of something else. How's that for a recommendation?

Leonard Pitts Jr. is also the next author I want you to meet. But before I introduce you to Pitts, what would you suggest for buy+Brown?

About Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. is already a major voice in contemporary journalism, as his column (which won the 2004 Pulitzer for commentary) is syndicated to more than 200 papers. His writing is clear, simple, and direct, accessible but also engaged with truly urgent and substantive concerns. Both Jamie Foxx and Don Cheadle have expressed interest in bringing this work to the screen.


Before I Forget is the story of Mo Johnson, a faded soul star of the ’70s who learns he’s developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. Taking stock of his life, he’s overwhelmed with regrets. Most have to do with his 19-year-old son, Trey, who’s been involved in a stickup gone bad, and with his own father, Jack. When Mo learns Jack is dying, he takes Trey on a cross-country road trip to L.A., where Mo grew up and Jack still lives. As Mo tries to connect with the increasingly tuned-out Trey, he realizes that the grief and anger he carries over his own father have everything to do with his struggles with his son. Before I Forget is both an in-depth anatomy of fatherhood and an absorbing, brilliantly plotted piece of fiction—a multigenerational road story that spans rural Mississippi in the ’40s, swinging South Central L.A. in the ’50s, the soul music scene of the ’70s, right up to present-day L.A., Vegas, and Baltimore. In this sweeping, ambitious yet accessible first novel, Leonard Pitts, Jr. steps forward as a major new voice in American fiction. His writing reveals a profound understanding of the difficulties facing black men as they grapple with their role as fathers—as well as the crucial importance of fulfilling that role.

My Q&A with Leonard Pitts Jr.

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?

Leonard Pitts Jr.: I think good writing is analogous to good jazz: rhythmic, spontaneous and improvisatory. That’s usually what I’m going for. And I tend to write about a lot of things, but probably the theme that fascinates me most is prejudice in its many forms (e.g., anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny).

WRMBA: What's your latest novel about? What inspired this story?

LP: “Before I Forget” is the story of a dying man attempting to connect with the father he hates and the son he barely knows before time runs out. The story was inspired out of my own questions/concerns over how well or poorly I was doing as a father to my own kids. I think every conscientious parent goes through second (and third) thoughts. I wanted to toy with that theme and take it to an extreme.

WRMBA: You write a lot about fathers and sons. Why?

LP: I think the relationship of fathers to their children (not just their sons) is one of the great unexplored issues of American culture in general and African-American culture in particular. Writing my previous book, “Become Dad,” left me convinced that much of the dysfunction that we see in our children these days is directly traceable to the fact that we have by and large written fathers out of the family picture.

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

LP: Assuming we’re talking about fiction, the primary goal is always to entertain. It’s fine to want to educate and illuminate, but if you’re not entertaining first and foremost, readers won’t stick around for the rest.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

LP: I am about two thirds of the way through the first draft of my next novel. It’s called “Freeman’s Walk” and it’s about a freeman’s cross-country journey at the end of the Civil War to find the woman he loves.

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

LP: Easy. “Song Yet Sung” by James McBride. I read it earlier this year and it absolutely blew me away. I’d probably place it Top Five on the list of my favorite books of all time.

Separate but Equal: African American Authors in Today's Bookstores

C. A. Webb host of Conversations LIVE recently broadcast an important two-part conversation with authors about their thoughts about the African American section of the bookstore. Authors Bernice McFadden, Gloria Mallette and Margaret Johnson Hodge gave their opinions in the first conversation.

Authors Evie Rhodes, Roy Glenn, Tony Lindsay and I, and blogger Joey Pinkney participated in part two of the discussion.

I encourage you to listen to them online (you'll need an hour for each program). I learned of a few authors I was unfamiliar with, and was referred to this 2006 article called "Why book industry still sees world as split by race" that y'all should read.

In the 2nd conversation Webb wondered if creating subsections for romance, mystery, literary, urban lit, religious, etc. would help encourage readers into the section? What do you think? Black readers who are turned off by street lit, would it help if you could go to a literary AA section? White readers, would it make you feel more welcome if there were genre subsections? Latino, Native American and Asian readers, what say you?

Of course, not all book stores are shelved this way. But for stores that are, in 2009 race still matters.

Argh! It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week

That's my attempt at pirate talk. Why? Because as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I've been matched with The Book Pirate. We interviewed each other and today I'm running his interview.

Congratulations to all the BBAW Award winners! Please go over to see which of your favorite book bloggers won.

White Readers Meet Black Authors: What’s with the pirates?

The Book Pirate: I think the pirates mythology is pretty neat. The whole adventure seeking, treasure finding, swashbuckling to me seems like a pretty good time. I also one time dressed up like a pirate while working at Borders which lead to the creation of The Book Pirate persona.

WRMBA: Why do you blog about books? Does your blog have a mission or goal?

TBP: I blog about books because I find them interesting. I tend to read a wide range of books that a lot of readers may not have heard about. So one of the things I like to do is make others more aware of lesser known authors while at the same time, having fun with maintaining a blog. If I were to create a mission statement for my blog it would probably be something that states I blog about three things: Books, Pirates, and Writing.

WRMBA: What kinds of books do you blog about?

TBP: All kinds. I'm a big fan of satire novels so I am mainly drawn to those types of books. I like to keep an eye on smaller presses and see what books they have to offer. I tend to stay away from bestsellers. Also, as of late, I have been reading more graphic novels.

WRMBA: Who’s the audience for your blog?

TBP: In all honesty I have no clue. Ideally my audience would be people who like to read books similar to the ones that I do. Realistically, the people who visit my blog are probably my mom and a few other bloggers that I get along with. If I have other people out there reading, then they have not let me know they are.

WRMBA: You’re a book blogger and a book seller? You also write? What do you write and what’s going on in your writing career?

TBP: I use to work at Borders back in the day. Working there started my love of both books and pirates. After that it was a slippery slope and my degree in Video Game Art and Design changed to a degree in English. At the moment I am a senior at Portland State. If I have free time in between all my class work, I work on what every writer calls "my first novel". It's a slow process because I don't devote that much time to it at the moment.

WRMBA: What social media (if any) do you recommend? Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.?

TBP: Twitter and Facebook are a must in my opinion. They are useful tools for social networking and getting to know fellow readers/writers. I think every author should at least attempt to connect with their readers through at least one of these outlets. Goodreads I think is pretty neat but not essential. Recently I discovered Shelfari which I think it a pretty nifty site that can be used to display your book collection.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meet: Connie Briscoe, author of SISTERS AND HUSBANDS

Before we get to the next author for me to introduce you to, please head over to Zetta Elliott's blog and read her open letter to the publishing industry. Powerful stuff! (And look for a Q&A with Zetta here soon.)

Also, please take a quick second to vote for book bloggers you may have met here or seen commenting here including Color Online and the Bottom of Heaven. Both are shortlisted for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards! Voting continues until this weekend.

Okay, on to introducing you to another excellent novelist! Connie Briscoe is author of many novels with her most recent being Sisters and Husbands.

According to Connie:
I’ve been a full-time published author for more than 10 years, with five novels, one photo-essay book and one novella published to date. I’ve worked with HarperCollins, Doubleday, Ballentine, and Harlequin. My work has hit many major best-seller lists, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today Weekend, and Essence magazine.

My sixth novel, a sequel to the novel that started it all, Sisters and Lovers, which sold more than 750,000 copies has recently been published. Sisters and Husbands was published by Grand Central Publishing in June 2009.

Ten years have passed since Sisters and Lovers, and Beverly, now 39, is engaged to Julian, a man her family and friends agree is the epitome of a great catch: he's gorgeous, loyal, trustworthy, successful, and very much in love with her. Since this is Beverly's third engagement in the past five years, after breaking off the previous two at the last moment, everyone's happy that she's finally settling down. For Beverly and Julian, nothing could be better than being in love and planning their wedding. That is until Beverly's oldest sister's marriage falls apart and dampens the mood of what should have been the happiest time in Beverly's life. Now, second-guessing her impending nuptials, Beverly is forced to wonder if marriage really works. Will she stick it out? Or will her fears cloud her judgment once again?

My conversation with Connie:
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?

Connie Briscoe: I've written novels, a novella and a nonfiction book. The bulk of my work would probably be considered "women's fiction." It is centered around women overcoming challenges and obstacles, whether professional, romantic or otherwise. How can we make ourselves better, stronger, wiser?

WRMBA: What's your latest novel about?

CB: Sisters and Husbands is a sequel to my very first novel, Sisters and Lovers, which sold three-quarters of a million copies. Sisters and Husbands takes place ten years later, and it centers around Beverly, the youngest of three sisters. She's never been married and her challenge is to overcome a fear of commitment to marriage after having been burned or disappointed repeatedly by the men in her life.

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

CB: All three actually. I believe that learning about ourselves can also be fun.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

CB: I'm exploring different ideas, some outside of writing. The real estate market fascinates me, as do many other things. I'll always write or somehow be involved in publishing. I'm just not sure how after my next novel comes out in a year or two. And that's not all because of me. The publishing market is changing so much, and I don't think we can be sure what it will look like a year or two from now.

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

CB: You, Carleen. I really believe that. But I also see that that is changing, fortunately, as you become better known and appreciated.

WRMBA: Connie, Thank you so much! I'm touched that you mentioned me. And a little saddened and scared by your answer about how publishing is changing. If someone who can sell a million books isn't confident...? It's scary times!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Meet: Brandon Massey, author of CORNERED

I recently declined an opportunity to review a book for another website because I'm not really a reviewer. I'm a booster, a cheerleader. I shake my pompoms and yell "Yay books!" Some genres aren't my cup of tea, but they may be yours. Consider me a matchmaker. Here to introduce good writers to readers who might dig them.

So I link to reviews by others. Like this one of BEFORE I FORGET by Leonard Pitts Jr., which I loved! (Look for Pitts to do a Q&A here soon.)

And link to conversations about issues affecting black authors (and readers) and suggest lists of books. Lately, I'm running a series of Q&A's with various authors. Today, I'm thrilled to introduce you all to thriller writer Brandon Massey.

About Massey (from his website):
I was born June 9, 1973, in Waukegan, Illinois. I grew up in Zion, a suburb north of Chicago.I originally self-published THUNDERLAND, my first novel, in 1999. After managing to sell a few thousand copies on my own, Kensington Publishing Corp. in New York offered me a two-book contract, and published a new, revised edition of THUNDERLAND in December 2002. Since then, I've published up to three books a year, ranging from thriller novels such as THE OTHER BROTHER, to short story collections such as TWISTED TALES, and anthologies such as DARK DREAMS. My newest thriller, CORNERED, will hit stores in August 2009. I currently reside with my wife and our three dogs near Atlanta, GA. Want to know more? Check out my Frequently Asked Questions page.


With Nowhere To Run…Corey Webb is living the American dream—successful business, beautiful wife, gifted daughter—but the dream he worked so hard to achieve is about to become a nightmare. When a chance encounter brings him face to face with the dark past he’d long since left behind, Corey knows the threat to his life and family could be deadly.

Unpredictable, intelligent, and terrifyingly ruthless, Corey’s stalker will settle for nothing less than complete submission. He’ll stop at nothing, and sacrifice anyone, to get what he wants. There’s no point in running, no chance of hiding, and no hope for Corey and his family to escape unscathed.

On to my Q&A with Massey:
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?

Brandon Massey: I write suspense thrillers about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Most of my work tends to revolve around families in danger. For most of us, the family unit is the foundation of our lives, and when it’s placed in jeopardy, we will do virtually anything to preserve it.

WRMBA: What's your latest thriller about?

BM: I like to think of CORNERED as my ultimate, family-in-jeopardy thriller. It’s about a family man who has some very dangerous secrets in his past . . . and those secrets suddenly come back to haunt him and his wife and daughter. I’ve always strived to write a fast-paced thriller, but in CORNERED, I wanted to pull out all of the stops and write a story that was impossible to put down. We’ll see if I succeeded.

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

BM: First and foremost for me, a thriller novel must always entertain. Beyond that, I like to shed light on various themes, to give the reader something to think about after they’ve turned the last page.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

BM: I’m working on a series that will follow the adventures of an intriguing new character. No publication date yet, though.

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

BM: Steven Barnes is one of my favorites. He’s written a slew of sci-fi thrillers that haven’t gotten the audience they deserve. Check out CHARISMA and BLOOD BROTHERS for starters.