Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest blog post by Trisha R. Thomas

Last week's essay from Margaret Johnson-Hodge sparked this response from Trisha R. Thomas. (Thank you Margaret! That is a first here on the blog!) Thomas is author of the "Nappily" series of books. The first of which, Nappily Ever After, was optioned for a feature film by Halle Berry. The latest Un-Nappily In Love is available for pre-order and will be out in May.

Everything below is from Thomas:

Since we're on the subject...I've become weary. I know this sounds incredibly silly. Who wouldn't want my job? I'm a published author of several novels that have done quite well with a few awards under my belt.

Yet, every year, I go through the melt down of having to market myself. Time to contact the media, magazines, radio shows, news outlets, and booksellers with hopes of being featured so my book will rise to the top of the very large pile of newly released choices for readers. It's time for me to announce who I am, what I've written and why they should be interested in reviewing my latest great work of art, which inevitably boils down to the color of my skin.

In this day and age, one would think we are past color coding, but it's more prevalent than ever. I've thought about displaying my multi-racial plaque. It seems to be popular and a quick area to move ahead of the pile since President Obama became our leader. But I have too much pride for shuffling race cards. Once that's established I quickly get tossed onto the African American pile, skipping the women's fiction, romance-comedy, and long running series pile. I skip the area of live and laugh out loud characters and become the black author whose subject matter doesn't matter at all. I was asked by a white associate if my next book would still be about black characters. When I told her yes, she seemed disappointed, like she would love to support me, "but ummm, sorry, it's out of my hands."

That's when I realized that it was out of my hands too. I've written characters, with a strong vivid plot whose race didn't matter. Something in the style of Barbara Delinsky, Jude Deveraux, or Susan Elizabeth Phillips who get to write without announcing the color of their character's skin. These manuscripts lay in stacks in my closet. In the past, even to mention that my characters were less than a deep shade of beige, I would be struck down by the all mighty publishing manifesto. Black writers must only and always write about black characters. Please leave my sight until you have repeated this one hundred times. And while you're out, write it down so you won't come back with that foolishness again.

Occasionally, one exception will get past the powers that be. Jericho's Fall by Stephen L. Carter would be a fine example. I'm sure he's also proof that it cannot ever, ever, ever, work, no matter how many degrees you have or what Ivy League institution is your employer. This is the proverbial ONE-WAY street.

Hats off to books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Help, Secret Life of Bees, and James Patterson's Alex Cross series. Hats off to their publishers who thought nothing of it to publish these black stories by white writers. My only question:

Why aren't these black character driven books sequestered to the African-American section in the bookstores? Why do they get a pass to freely roam about the cabin skipping the colored-only signs entirely? Why do they get to skip the pile?

Don't get me wrong, I am comfortable in my skin. I find it pleasing to the eye and extremely desirable proven by the constant new tanning products introduced every year. But that's only skin. On the inside, we are the same. We experience hurt, rejection, awareness, hope, faith, and rebirth, all the same. The human experience we write about surpasses skin deep motivation. I don't make a judgment whether to buy a book based on the color of the characters on the cover. Is it a good story? Is it recommended? I'm good as long as the lead character doesn't die in the end. That's where I draw the line. I don't discriminate. I read because I love to read. On my bookshelf it's about fifty-fifty of black and non-black writers. There are few white readers who can say the same. I am a black writer hear me roar, or sigh as the case may be.

Signed Trisha R. Thomas

Aka, Weary in Publishing

March 23, 2010 1:52 PM

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest blog post by Margaret Johnson-Hodge

FYI, Good story in today's NY Times about black writers.

This week, we have a guest blog from Margaret Johnson-Hodge, author of Red Light, Green Light. Everything below is from her.

As a young girl, there were a few things I knew for certain. I knew my father was named Jesse and my mother was named Alma. I knew I was the youngest of three children and that I was named after my grandmother. And I knew that I would stay black and die (an old black saying). But I didn’t know that one day I would become a writer and I certainly didn’t know that when I did, my stories would be limited because of the color of my skin. When I became a “National Bestselling” author, I found out my stories were only ‘suited’ for a black audience. I wasn’t told this directly, but it was shouted to me by the places that the publisher sent me to on book tour and the type of ‘media coverage’ I received. I was able to secure mention in Ebony and Essence, but never made it to “People Magazine” I did a ton of book signings in black areas, but the ‘white’ ones were too far and few between. While I appreciated and understood being featured prominently within the black community, by my seventh book, I was hungry for something other, something more. I dreamed of being on “The Today Show”, but would have settled for “Good Day Atlanta”, but it never happened. The closest thing I got was community cable TV.

When I moved south, my world widened and I made all types of friends. I became best friends with Tara, an Irish-Italian, and fast friends with Liz, a white woman who had been born in Iowa. I also got to know a few of my white neighbors. They all bought my books and read them because they knew me personally. These white people were buying my books, reading them and enjoying them. But my publishers had convinced me that they were the ‘exception’. That only black people really read ‘Margaret Johnson-Hodge.’

So you could imagine my surprise and delight when recently I attended a book club meeting held in my honor and there, in the room, sat an older white woman who had not only read my book, but loved it. I tried not to stare at her, but I found my eyes looking her over closely, tying to determine how it came to be? How had she, an older white woman, not only found my book, but managed to ‘love it?’ Did she know that she wasn’t supposed to, that my books were for black folks only? And more importantly, were there more like her out there, somewhere?

The answer—Yes—came to me swiftly. I did have White readers and probably Asian readers, Hispanic readers and readers on the planet Mars. After years of being told it wasn’t it so, I now know that I do. This has become my newest ‘certainty’ in life. It is my goal to make it yours too…

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Black authors live and in person!

Some friends and I had the opportunity to meet Heidi Durrow and Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant when they visited Denver last week. Unfortunately, I spent a quick minute with Heidi before I had to dash to my own book club event and didn't get pictures! But I did get pictures of Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant's visit.

Not many authors get tours from their publishers these days and fewer still can afford to send themselves around the country. So when they do show up at a book store in your city, please collect a friend or two and go out and support them. For writers, attending signings is a great opportunity to ask questions about craft and the biz.

Besides asking at your bookstore, looking in the paper and checking the website of your favorite authors to see if they're coming to your city, you can also meet authors at conferences and book festivals. Here are just a few opportunities to meet some of your favorites or learn about writers new to you:

The National Black Book Festival is May 21-23 in Houston.
NAACP Authors' Pavilion at the NAACP conference is July 10-15 in Kansas City, MO.
The California Book Club Summit is September 9-12 in San Ramon.
The Congressional Black Caucus hosts its Authors Pavilion September 15-18 in Washington, DC.

I'm heading to the Virginia Festival of the Book this weekend where I'll be on panels with Heidi, Adam Bradley, Major Jackson and others. Look for pictures next week!

Authors, if you're on tour and want to let readers know about your dates, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


J.D. Mason is a friend of mine. We've both lived in Colorado forever, but we didn't meet until she read about me in Essence Magazine and emailed me. Proving that writers need to get out of the house more! Especially me.

So, full disclosure. She's my friend, but I'm hosting her here because she's a good writer. If you like women's fiction, I really do encourage you to check her out. Publisher's Weekly raved about her latest saying, "The day of reckoning is unavoidable for all four women in this fast-moving and fascinating look at friendship, the repercussions of keeping secrets, and the power of forgiveness."

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Tell us about your latest novel.

J.D. Mason: Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It is about three friends, who, growing up, were closer than sisters. Renetta, Phyllis and Freddie had each other’s backs, and if one of them had a problem, all of them had a problem and they all took care of it, together. During their senior year in high school, they faced the most horrendous challenge they’d ever encountered, and it took its toll on their friendship. As a result, they each went their separate ways. Thirty years later, they see each other at their high school reunion and are forced to finally come to terms with what happened back then, to each other and, most importantly, to themselves.

WRMBA: How would you describe your body of work? Your themes, tone, style? Why do you write about the topics you write about?

JDM: I’m all about the “thought-provoking-ism”. I don’t think that’s a word (Ha), but that’s what I strive for when writing stories. I want to give people something that sticks with them after they close the book. I want to give them characters that challenge their emotions, and storylines that leave them with a sense of, “hmmm…I never quite thought of it that way” or “I never would’ve looked at it like that.”

I don’t know how to describe my style of writing, but I know that I have one, and when I look back through my books, I see it, and I feel it when I read through a few chapters. Readers that like my books like my style. And then there are those who don’t like it at all. I sure wish they did, though. LOL

I choose topics that fuel conversations, opinions, and debates. I choose topics far removed from my own life because it challenges me as a writer and as a person, to think outside myself and consider how other people’s points of view can be different from my own. That’s the fun part. That’s the growing part for me.

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

JDM: I’m an entertainer, first and foremost. And I love being an entertainer. If I could sing, dance, or act, I would, but as it turns out, I write. When I was a kid, I used to entertain myself for hours, making up stories with my dolls and I loved it. Now I get to do it for other people and I am just giddy when I write a story that people enjoy reading. I don’t set out to necessarily educate, but if it happens, then that’s icing on the cake. I do know that have an underlying goal to illuminate; to shine light on a situation or a type of character, or an attitude about something that maybe readers didn’t quite expect, but can appreciate by the end of the book.

WRMBA: You self-published first, right? How was that experience different from being published? Would you ever consider self-publishing again?

JDM: I was clueless the first time I self published and it was definitely not for the sheepish, but I’ve learned a great deal since then. It takes a lot of effort, time, energy and devotion to being a good business person, and the work involved with running your own publishing business can definitely overshadow the writing aspect. I don’t know if I’d ever be good at self publishing, because I’m not a good business woman. There, I admitted it. And the reason I love having a publisher is because I can spend more time focusing on the writing part. But if I couldn’t land another contract from a publisher, and if I weren’t ready to give up being a writer, yes. I’d publish myself again in a heartbeat.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

JDM: I’ve just finished up the very last book in the One Day I Saw A Black King series, called Somebody Pick Up My Pieces, and I finally feel confident that this one is definitely the end of these wonderful characters. I feel a bit saddened by it, but also, I know that it’s time to finally say goodbye—on a good note.

I’ve also just turned in my very first science fiction novel to my editor. It’s the first in a brand new series I’m working on, and I am very excited to see how this adventure works out. If it does well, I’ll probably continue writing in that genre, but if it doesn’t, well…that’ll be the end of that and I can at least say I gave it a shot.

My teenage daughter recently helped me to map out a story idea for a sci-fi/fantasy young adult novel, which I think I’ll seriously consider shopping in the very near future. First I’ll have to search my soul, and be honest with myself about whether or not I can actually pull something like that off. I typically can’t relate to anyone under the age of 37 1/2, but we’ll see.

And finally, I’ve started my first book in a new series about a prominent black family in the south that will encompass the kinds of issues and dilemma’s prominent families tend to have. The family has a rich history, tons of relatives and money, and lots of shenanigans to fill volumes, and I’m looking forward rolling up my sleeves and to getting down to the nitty gritty of telling these people’s stories. The first book in the series is called Beautiful, Dirty, Rich. My editor came up with the title, and I just fell in love with it.

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

JDM: Sandra Jackson-Opoku is, to me, one of the most brilliant and talented writers and under-appreciated writers that I have ever read. I think she only has two works of fiction out: The River Where Blood is Born and Hot Johnny and the Women Who Loved Him, and I loved them both. She has a way of mixing contemporary drama with African folklore and black American history in a way that is absolute magic to me, and it takes a real wordsmith to weave it all together the way she does.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meet: Jabari Asim, author of A TASTE OF HONEY

Note: The winners of Uptown are Dani and Ellie. Congratulations ladies!

Count on me to do things backwards. I'm starting out Women's History Month with a profile of a male author. But I'm actually excited because this blog is a little too female-oriented. I try to keep a balance. But just so's you knows: not everybody I approach wants to be profiled or is interested in online promotion. Anyway, I am thrilled to introduce you to Jabari Asim. You gotta love a guy who wrote Who's Toes are Those AND The N Word!

He is also editor-in-chief of The Crisis—the magazine of the NAACP—and former editor at and frequent contributor to the Washington Post. His writing has appeared on Salon.com and in Essence, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications.

His answers here sealed my interest in his latest work, a collection of interlocking short stories. Please read our Q&A and then go get the book. It's out today! Pick it up at your local indie, if you're lucky enough to still have one. Or you can get it everywhere: at Barnes and Noble or Borders or Amazon.

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Describe your work for someone unfamiliar with it. You've done nonfiction, fiction and children's books, right? Wow! What's your writing style like? What subjects/themes do you explore?

Jabari Asim: I’ve done three nonfiction books for adults, all of which address themes of race and American culture in some way. Not Guilty, an anthology I edited in 2000, collected the thoughts of a select group of black male intellectuals on matters of law and justice. That book was inspired by the 1999 acquittal of the police officers who shot Amadou Diallo to death. I followed that with The N Word, which traced the epithet through American popular culture from roughly 1619 to 2007. I wanted to explore the relationship between language and white supremacy and also look at the effect of racist ideas on blacks, whites and other Americans. What Obama Means attempts to look at ways in which our popular culture (books, movies, newspapers, music, sports, etc.) prepared for us a moment in which we could even take seriously the idea of a black presidential candidacy. (Check out his interview with Stephen Colbert.)

My first children’s book, The Road to Freedom, was a novel for middle-schoolers about a boy and his father trying to reunite their family after Emancipation. I’ve also done a picture book called Daddy Goes To Work, in which a little African-American girl accompanies her father to his job, and four board books for babies. My most popular book is called Whose Toes Are Those? Many people don’t connect it with the man who wrote The N Word, which occasionally leads to some amusing encounters.

A Taste Of Honey, my latest, is fiction written for an adult audience. Set in a small Midwestern city in the sixties, it looks at the effect of social and political change on a somewhat insular black community.

I strive for the qualities Edmund Wilson once called for in good writing: cleanliness, precision, ease and force. Like most writers, my success rate varies. I’m fond of lyricism because I started out as a poet. As I’ve progressed, I’ve worked increasingly toward a leaner, simpler aesthetic. I’m not there yet. As for subjects/themes, everything I write—and I do mean everything—is inevitably shaped by my experiences as a husband and father. Those are the only things I wanted to be even more than I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been fortunate to experience both.

WRMBA: I'm curious, why did you choose interrelated short stories instead of a novel?

JA: I originally started writing the stories as a diversion while working on The N Word. That book took me six years and often required immersing myself in some depressing, hateful stuff. A Taste Of Honey allowed me to cleanse my palate if you will, while exercising my writing muscles. Janet Hill, who was then an editor at Doubleday, purchased the book based on a few of the stories. The idea of linking the stories emerged during conversations with her.

WRMBA: People ask me this question a lot, so I will pass it on: What was it like transitioning from nonfiction to fiction? Will you continue writing both?

I don’t really consider myself as someone who transitioned from nonfiction to fiction. My first appearances in major publications were short stories. I had one in In The Tradition, a 1992 anthology of young black writers edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka, and another in Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America, edited by Herb Boyd and Robert Allen. The nonfiction actually came a little later. I’m committed to continuing to do both while dipping my toes into poetry every once in a while.

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

JA: I do feel an obligation to inform when I write, although the information I convey can be as simple as “this is how it was” or “this is how a particular group of people lived at a certain point in time.” In A Taste of Honey, for example, I wanted to examine black love (I’m very much a romantic) as I have often perceived it. My parents have been happily married for more than 60 years, and I’ve been ecstatically married for almost 25. That may be why I tried occasionally to function as a fly on the wall in A Taste Of Honey, providing intimate glimpses of domestic life both happy and horrific. For me, the larger motive also reflected a desire to offer snapshots of black family life in an urban community during the dawn of the civil rights revolution. Of course, no reader is going to stick around long enough to glean any lessons if the material isn’t entertaining. I tried to leaven my stories with humor wherever possible.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

JA: I’m at work on a couple of nonfiction projects that are too shapeless to describe in detail yet. I have a picture-book under contract with Little Brown. I’m also working on a novel that again looks at black romantic love during a specific historical period. I suppose I will always focus on love in some fashion.

WRMBA: Where can people find you online?

JA: I blog at Amazon.com and Goodreads.com, and folks can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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

A wonderful question. My answer is a tie: Mat Johnson and Ricardo Cortez Cruz. Both are terrific writers with unique styles.