Sunday, February 28, 2010

House business

I have a big post on Tuesday, a Q&A with Jabari Asim, author of A Taste of Honey. In the meantime, a few things to get caught up on:

Just posted a poll over on the right. Check it out. I recently received an email from a white woman who said she feels like black people glare at her when she ventures over to look at African American fiction. I really need to know if this is true for some of y'all or if the myriad people who report this phenomenon are projecting their own discomfort. If the poll's answers aren't nuanced enough or if you have something else to say on the matter, please leave a comment or email me.

Don't forget tomorrow is the last day to enter the giveaway for a copy of Uptown! See below if you haven't entered.

Heidi Durrow's novel was reviewed in the Sunday NY Times!

What Mother Never Told Me by Donna Hill just pubbed. This great book trailer gives a little insight into the book. If you like mother-daughter stories, heads up! Authors like Jennifer Weiner can do very well with stories that feature one black character (I really enjoyed Little Earthquakes and am not trying to put it down by mentioning it here). I hope Donna's book can do the same.

Congratulations to the 2010 winners of the Black Caucus of the American Library Awards and to winners in the literary categories of the 2010 NAACP Image Awards!

Bernice McFadden's got a great offer for book bloggers. Get a copy of her latest novel and get a chance to win $50!

I am so thrilled I also have to report that "Sins of the Mother" did really, really well. Thanks to everybody who blogged, Facebooked and tweeted about it!

Remember, I'm always posting links on the White Readers Meet Black Authors Facebook page. If you want news, you don't need to wait till Tuesdays.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book giveaway!

Donna and Virginia are giving away 2 copies of their latest novel Uptown! What you have to do to win: Link to their guest post below and leave a comment letting me know. You have until 5 pm MST Monday, March 1. Winners will be announced Tuesday, March 2 the day of the release!

Guest post by authors Donna Grant and Virginia Deberry

The dynamic duo (as I like to call them) discuss ideas in this guest post. Readers, you should enjoy getting a little insight into the writer's craft. And writers, you should take notes. Everything below is by Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant. I'm really excited that Virginia and Donna will be kicking off their book tour for Uptown in Denver at the Tattered Cover on March 12!


A question we are asked all the time, maybe second only to, “How do you write TOGETHER?” is “Where do you get your ideas?” We suspect ours come from the same place most writers mine for story—EVERYWHERE. Inspiration can begin with a conversation overheard in line at the supermarket, observing a couple in a restaurant, recalling a childhood experience, watching a news story where you know there’s another side—maybe even three or four that are not being told. Wherever you have people interacting, or not interacting, the potential for plot lines and characters exists. Everyday circumstances become a jumping off point and when we leap we don’t always know where we’ll land. Often not where we expected.

We enjoy stretching ourselves in our writing—working a new muscle group. So we aim to do a little of that in every book. For example, What Doesn’t Kill You, our last novel, was our first attempt at writing in first person. We had a ball and will undoubtedly do it again—hopefully with Tee. Readers got Thomasina Hodges, our heroine, and she has much more to say. And although we didn’t plan it—we started writing What Doesn’t Kill You back in 2005—Tee’s economic woes ended up being ripped-from-the-headlines current—like those “straight from the news to your TV screen” episodes of Law & Order, only we added humor instead of guns and handcuffs.

Ideas come from letting ourselves slow down, inhale the air around us—to really pay attention and absorb life. During our twenty year writing partnership we have both started many a conversation with, “What if. . .” It’s the signal for the other one to start listening and opening up to the possibilities. So when we were what-iffing our next book into existence, we knew we wanted the story to have the kind of immediacy we brought to WDKY, but to also have a twist, elements that stretched us.

Ultimately, our subject found us. We heard the hissing of the air rushing out of the real estate bubble—delinquent mortgages, foreclosures, speculation, bankrupt developers—the news was inescapable. Whether you live in a big city, like Donna or in the ‘burbs, like Virginia, the fallout has affected lots of us. But in New York City, before the fizzle, Harlem properties, old and new, were especially hot. We couldn’t pickup the real estate section of the Times without some kind of story about the residential market north of Central Park. These stories, however, were fraught with controversy because Harlem has held a seminal place in our history and cultural heritage since the turn of the twentieth century as a Mecca for African Americans. Now the population uptown is changing fast, too fast for some, not fast enough for others. Who were the people involved in this real estate revolution in Harlem and where did they come from? What did these changes mean for long time residents and building owners? Who would benefit? Who would profit? Who would lose?

In some ways the idea is the easy part, but that’s not what makes a story memorable. Our experience is that readers get attached to characters who make them care and situations that keep them needing to know what happens next. How would we make a story that was as big as New York, also be the intimate saga of a family? So we let all of our questions lead us to early sketches of a story centered around a family real estate business which was rooted in Harlem. We had started fleshing out characters when we realized we already knew these people. We met the Dixons in Better Than I Know Myself. The cold, manipulative Dwight and the overbearing King made a strong impression with readers. They were juicy for us to write back then and we realized that the moment for their story was now. So this time the men came first, definitely a new approach for us.

We knew Dwight needed a foil—a female character with Dixon family history. We had already introduced his favorite Aunt Forestina, when we met Dwight and King. That gave us the opportunity to bring her daughter, Avery, into the picture. Then we needed to figure out how Dwight could be so close to his aunt, but make no reference to his cousin. Sounded like a family secret—maybe a scandal that caused a rift and resulted in Avery’s estrangement. This was getting juicy. And because we needed someone who would recognize how Avery had changed through the years, she needed an old friend, to challenge her, to bring her out, even when that was uncomfortable. Straight talking Alicia showed up to fill that role.

Situation can lead to character or vice versa, but once the plot and the people are in place, we take some time to really get to know who we’re dealing with—give them history, personality, quirks. We start to know the way they speak, and why. Both Avery and Dwight are complex, personalities. What you see on the outside, even the way they perceive themselves, is not necessarily who they really are. Getting at all those layers was a little like excavation, but it helped us bring their past into their current situation. The story in Uptown takes place in a matter of months, but what goes down in the course of those few short months, was years in the making.

Often our ideas lead us to circumstances we don’t know first hand. Whether it’s the doll business in Gotta Keep on Tryin’ or the cosmetics industry in What Doesn’t Kill You, we always research our background subject. In the case of Uptown, that was Manhattan real estate development, and we don’t have an uncle in the biz, so we gathered as much info as we could. Thanks to the internet, it’s much easier now than it was back when we were researching the railroad and airline industries and Swedish immigrants, for our first novel, Exposures.

Once we start to write, our original kernel of an idea has gone through many transformations—sometimes we look at our first story notes and they crack us up because so much has changed. There are always alterations that happen as we write too. In the case of Uptown, last year’s bank and brokerage firm meltdowns occurred as we were working and kept us scrambling to stay current. But it was also an indication that the story was right where we wanted it to be.

After eight months hunkered down, we emerged from the writing cave with a manuscript! Then came the holding our breath period—waiting to hear what our agent and editor thought of Uptown. Both of them gave it thumbs way up, and so far the reviews have been good—great even, which had been comforting—until now. Tuesday, March 2, the pub date for the next book, our seventh “What If,” that’s the real test. We have this sense of accomplishment, and feeling of terror with every book release, and this time is no different. And experience tells us next time won’t be either, but that hasn’t stopped us from starting on the next idea.

Virginia and Donna can be found online at: DeBerryandGrant, Facebook, Twitter and on their blog Twomindsfull.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blatant self-promotion

Update: My essay is now up!

The movie "Sins of the Mother" on LMN THIS SUNDAY, Feb. 21st (8 pm EST, 7 pm CST, 6 pm MST, and 5 pm PST) is based on my first novel Orange Mint and Honey. Months ago I visited the set and met some of the cast, including Jill Scott and Nicole Beharie. I wrote an essay for The Defenders Online describing that experience. Here's an excerpt:

"While I wait for my husband, I turn on my iPod, select Jill Scott, and press shuffle. “Try” comes on and I begin to sob. Time loops in on itself. I remember all those days I cried, fretted, worried and prayed over my first novel. I remember Jill’s mama’s advice to her buoying me too, encouraging me to keep trying. And now Jill is playing the role of Nona, the mother, in my story."

If you go on The Defenders Online to read it, check out the rave review they gave Zetta Elliott's A Wish After Midnight, which pubs today. Happy Pub Day Zetta! Also, Happy Pub Day to Heidi Durrow, whose The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is also out today!

On this blog I encourage you to support authors. Now I'm asking for your support for my work. If you have cable (or know someone who does), please tune in to the movie. If you're planning to watch, consider joining in my watch party contest. You could win signed books from so many cool authors!

I'm also asking you to read my book, Orange Mint and Honey, if you haven't. If you like it, please check out this list I created on Indiebound of other books you might also enjoy.

Thanks for allowing me this commercial time! Next week, we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming with a guest blog post from Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant!

“…With great acting all around, including Mimi Rogers as Nona’s sponsor, this adaptation of Carleen Brice’s novel, Orange Mint and Honey is one dramatic powerhouse of a TV movie. It’d be a sin to miss it!“—NATIONAL ENQUIRER, Best Bets on TV

"As a reformed alcoholic mother trying to reconnect with her tightly wound, emotionally stunted daughter, Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) delivers a performance that makes you forget you knew her as a singer first." — ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“The magnificent Jill Scott shines as a former mess of a mother struggling to make amends to the daughter she abused…“—TV GUIDE, Hot List

Saturday, February 13, 2010

RIP Lucille Clifton

  1. Poet Lucille Clifton has died.
    In memory
    New Bones by Lucille Clifton
    we will wearnew bones again. we will leavethese rainy days. break out through another mouthinto sun and honey timeworlds buzz over us like bees,we be splendid in new bones.other people think they knowhow long life ishow strong life iswe know.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guest post by author Donna Hill

The Beat Goes On

I want to clarify one thing before I get started so that there is no question or confusion. When I started my writing career twenty years ago I was a mere child! With that being said, I still find it amazing to realize that I have been blessed to be able to do what I love and remain in print for twenty years.

What is equally amazing to see is how the literary world has changed. When I began in 1990 with my debut novel Rooms of the Heart, there may have been six African American romances ever published up to that time. I had thought that the reason why I didn’t see romances with black faces on the cover was because black writers were not writing them. That wasn’t the case. The publishing industry was not publishing our stories. And it was a small black publishing company, Odyssey Books that changed the face of publishing when they published Rooms. They published many of the authors who became household names today such as Francis Ray, Rochelle Alers, Eboni Snoe, Sandra Kitt and others. The line of black romances from this small company put the industry on notice and in 1994 Kensington Publishing launched the Arabesque line, which began the flagship for African American romance. And the rest they say is history. We finally were on the map and the success of black romance opened the doors for publishers to begin looking at and publishing commercial black fiction.

I was fortunate to be able to publish in several genres, romance, women’s fiction, mystery & suspense, a little erotica and a paranormal or two, even got three television movies out of the deal. But many of my colleagues discouraged by the marginalization that black authors experience gave up, others were let go from contracts or didn’t get them renewed when some publishing houses wanted more sex, more drama, more pathology from black authors.

While it’s true that there are more black books being published, the success came with its own set of restrictions. Mainly that black books, black authors and the stories that we wanted to tell were only being marketed to black readers—no matter what the content or message and relegated to a certain section of the store. Separate but equal? And with so many writers vying for the same pool of readers it is inevitable that the well began to run dry. There is only so much sex, violence, drugs, drama and pathology that readers can take.

Fortunately, as with everything, publishing too is cyclical. And on the horizon is what could very well be the new black renaissance with novels by black authors that once again paint us on a global scale. Television and films featuring our books: Sins of the Mother [based on Orange Mint and Honey] by Carleen Brice, Joy by Victoria Christopher Murray, One in A Million by Kimberla Lawson Roby, and literary works such as Glorious by Bernice McFadden, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Precious by London author Precious Williams [The U.S. version coming this summer will be called Color Blind], Uptown by Donna Grant and Virginia Deberry among others.
This is the kind of energy and movement I experienced twenty years ago. There was an excitement in the air and literary stars were being born, with the skill and talent to tell our stories in all of its glory and dimensions. But the future of this renaissance is up to the reader. Without reader support and word of mouth, this exciting time in our history will be no more than a blip on the screen.

Donna Hill celebrating 20 years with the release of WHAT MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME (March 1, 2010) the long-awaited follow-up to RHYTHMS. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Meet: Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of WENCH

I finished reading Wench last night and I still feel shaken. The language is spare, the characters hop off the page and live with you, and the story is powerful, powerful stuff. I definitely recommend it!

I'm delighted to introduce you now to the author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who was kind enough to answer some questions for the blog.

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Tell us about Wench. How did you come to write this story? What subjects/themes do you explore? What's your writing style like?

Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Wench began when I stumbled upon a fascinating footnote of history. While reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois, I learned that during the 1850s, there was a summer resort near Xenia, Ohio notorious for its popularity among slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I was stunned to learn this little-known historical fact. I decided to do a bit of historical excavation and learn more. At the time, it was very popular among the country's elite to visit natural springs. This particular resort opened in 1852, and became popular among southern slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I knew that Ohio was a free state and many of the northerners were abolitionists. Yet I was fascinated to learn that because they did not enjoy vacationing with the southerners and their slave entourages, they stopped coming and business declined. The place closed in 1855. I began by asking myself: If the women entered free territory, why wouldn't they attempt to escape? Is it possible that they actually loved the men? As I made my way through draft after draft, I discovered that these were not questions easily answered. Even the answers I thought I would find turned out to be much more complicated than I'd imagined. (You can learn more in this NPR interview.)

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

DPV: Of course I set out to entertain. Always. I come to writing as a reader first. I judge any book by whether or not I am able to lose myself in it. I have a reading chair at home. With a good book and a stretch of time, I can disappear into that chair. I hope my book does the same for other readers.

WRMBA: What's your biggest surprise-good or bad- (so far) about the publishing biz?

DPV: My biggest surprise has been how nice other writers are. I was always a bit frightened by published writers. Yet I have met so many who are just the nicest people you'll ever meet. I suppose my fear was all in my head. There is a lot of love among writers in this industry, especially among women writers. It's a beautiful thing.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

DPV: At the moment I am concentrating on promoting Wench. Once things slow down a bit, I'll get started on the next one. By summer, I hope to be deep into my next project.

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

DPV: There are so many!!! You are one, Carleen! I'm always telling people about you. Also, I am a huge fan of Tayari Jones. I hope people recognize her brilliance. [For Black History Month, I'm blogging about other writers you should know about over at The Divining Wand. Please stop in.]

WRMBA: Thank you!  Any advice for aspiring novelists? Someone asked me the other night how do you maintain some confidence through the long process of writing a novel. How did you do it?

DPV: So far, I have answered this question by saying "keep the faith" to every interviewer who asks it. But how does one keep the faith? There is no easy answer to that. I am driven by a passion for reading and the act of writing. Find what drives you. Gain energy from that. It is all that matters.

WRMBA: What else do you do with your time besides write--work? family? hobbies? Anything you want to share with readers?

DPV: When I'm not working/writing, I am spending time with my husband and daughter. That's about all I can handle.

Thanks Dolen and continued success with this book and all the ones to come! See you in April!