BLOG STOP: a visit from Christina C. Jones, author of ‘A Crazy Thing Called Love’

When I started writing A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, the first book in this series, I had no idea it would become my (own) favorite project to date. It didn’t come to me in words at first, more like rich, warm colors and a feeling I wanted to create around it. It was the first time for me that the setting came first, and I was almost — ok, absolutely ­ — jealous that I didn’t live in this fictional neighborhood myself.

serendipitousloveIt’s a place that I dream of, but have never been, and certainly never visited. A thriving community of good neighbors, plenty to see and do, and a rich, vibrant scene of brown people in various shades unexpectedly finding love — that they may or may not have been looking for — as they work, run businesses, and just… thrive.

Because you don’t have to choose one or two out of three when it comes to being brown, being successful, and being in love. It’s not that extraordinary. It’s absolutely normal, and that’s what I love to see played out in front of me, so that’s what I wrote.

I mentioned it being a favorite project, but by no means does that it make it the easiest. I’m still finding my fearlessness as an author, while trying to present the characters in this project as they came to me — kinda… not perfect. The urge really, really is to write people who fall perfectly in love, no mistakes — especially not from our hero. Even as a reader, I want to love the hero, and his ass had better not mess up, or… he just might be human, and I’ll love him anyway, just like the heroine does.

That’s actually a lesson I can pretty strongly attribute to my gracious host for todays post. It’s okay, really, to present people as they are, flaws and all. It’s part of the human experience, and isn’t that what I’m supposed to be writing about? Even with that said… it’s hard. And I’ll admit that I’ve been resistant. I don’t want to have to step away from a scene for a moment to collect myself. I don’t want to be so angry with a character that I’m being a bitch to people in real life. But… hey, what’s the point of writing if I’m holding back? I want to put forth all of the emotion the characters are pushing on to — and pulling out of — me, and put that onto the page for the reader.

And… I’m veering off course, lol. So, back to the series. Here are my (very lightly spoiler-ish) descriptions of each book.

CLwalkyouhomeIn A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, we meet Simone. She’s been living in a rut without even realizing it, because she’s been so absorbed with the opening of her business. Then she meets coffee scented, dark-roasted, Roman, and becomes acutely aware that something in her life is missing. She overthinks everything, and sleeps with Roman too soon, and he has a little not-so-secret secret. Roman means what he says, and says what he means, but he’s kinda… let’s call him naïve. But they work it out.

didntaskIn Didn’t Mean To Love You, we enter Viv’s world when she’s fresh off finding out — pretty abruptly — that her boyfriend is engaged. Fun, right? Carter thinks so too, because he’s had his eye on her for months, and now he finally has his chance… to be her friend. Only, that doesn’t last long, because does it ever? Viv is big-hearted, and emotional, and willing to fall in love with her friend. Carter is big-hearted, and emotional, and… not willing to fall in love with his friend. He has reasons. Good reasons. But in the end, they work it out.

stillrememberIn the latest release, — Fall in Love Again — Charlie is trying to move on from a rebound marriage she never should have gotten her silly self into. But, heartbreak makes you a little crazy sometimes, and ish happens. She ends up back in the neighborhood, working again in the restaurant she co-owns with the guy that broke her heart — Nixon. Their relationship has been over for a while, but the feelings are still there. Nixon is eager to insinuate himself into Charlie’s life again, in the same role he previously held, but she’s not making that easy. Because he broke her heart. Like… seriously broke her heart. But — noticing a theme here? — they work it out.

Guess it’s no secret that I love a happy ending, huh?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post about the Serendipitous Love series! If you want to check them out, the first two books are on sale for $1.99, and also available on Kindle Unlimited. Each book follows a different couple, and they don’t have to be read in order to follow the story… but you’ll encounter major spoilers for the others if you read out of sequence.

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Mother’

Betty2flatFrom ‘Mother':

Jay turned in search of Rob again and instead his eyes met Betty’s. She was alone, so he went to her.

“You’re such a man,” she said when he was directly in front of her.

“Thank you?”

Betty laughed. “No, I mean you were standing there looking so oppressed for having to be here at this party in your honor. It’s funny.”

Jay grinned. “Yeah. This isn’t my thing.”

“What is your thing?” She let her head fall to one side.

Tonight she was in a white lace dress with long sleeves and wore small pearl earrings. Her makeup was scant, but she was wearing a very soft, pleasant scent that made Jay want to inhale deeply.

“Being outside, taking pictures, hanging out at home with my wife. I’m a simple kind of guy that way.”

“And your wife …” Betty shook her head. “She’s far from simple. She’s … stunning.”

“Thank you. I like her too.”

For a few beats, they both said nothing.

“So …” Jay broke the long silence. “Braxton …” He lowered his voice and mimicked her date’s baritone.

Betty smothered a giggle. “Yes. He’s very …”

“Braxton,” Jay supplied.

“It’s only our first date. I can’t decide whether there’ll be a second.”

“There shouldn’t be,” Jay said.

Betty’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh, is that right? And why not?”

“Because he left you all alone,” Jay said. “To be preyed on by other men.”

Betty stared at him, her smile slipping from her face. “But surely I’m safe with you,” she said.

Before he could formulate his response, there was a hand on Jay’s arm, the soft hold immediately familiar.

“Jay, Chloe and I need you over here for a moment,” Keisha said, gently tugging.

“Oh. Yeah … I’ll see you later, Betty.”

She nodded, and smiled at Keisha before turning away.

“Chloe wants to know whether you want to say something,” Keisha said as they walked. “Like give a toast or anything during dinner. I told her I don’t want to, so if you don’t …”

“Yeah, I’ll give a toast to my wife. Of course I will,” Jay said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Rob had arrived with his wife Allison.

“You will?”

Keisha sounded so surprised he stopped walking and looked at her. She gazed up at him, her large doe-eyes liquid and full of feeling.

“Baby,” he said, putting a hand at the nape of her neck and pulling her closer. “C’mere.”

Keisha leaned into his chest. He didn’t know what else to say. Sometimes he was so focused on how much he loved her, he forgot how much she loved him. He’d never really doubted it. Even with the tough things they’d been through, the tough time they were having now over this baby business, he didn’t doubt for a moment that Keisha loved him.

She loved him like a flower turning toward the sun—naturally, instinctively and without reason. Of all the dumb-ass things they would each say and do to each other—and had—that truth remained immutable: she loved him, and he damn sure loved her back.

“So I can tell her that. You’re sure?” she asked, looking up at him. “That you want to give a toast.”

“Yeah. You want to go ahead and do that? Tell her I said it’s fine. It’s just that …” He pointed in Rob’s direction. “I got something I gotta take care of right away.”

“Okay.” Keisha moved out of his arms and gave him one last smile, her head falling back.

Recognizing that look, Jay absentmindedly leaned in to receive her kiss just before she headed off to find Chloe. When he raised his head, looking in Rob’s direction once again, he instead met Betty’s gaze. She quickly smiled at him, and took a sip of her wine. It was a wry smile, not a seductive or inviting one; but it seemed to be saying something to him, sending Jay a message that he knew he was better off not receiving.

To read ‘Mother': 

On Kindle

On Nook

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“Where you goin’, shorty?” — a Brief Outtake from ‘Mother’

Mother outtake image2The truest thing I ever heard about writing is how hard it is to self-edit. Not just from a copy-editing perspective, but from a content perspective. Everything you write or think about your characters feels important and essential, and cutting part of it out is so difficult. But once in awhile, even when you like what you’ve written and how you expressed it, you have to acknowledge that it does little or nothing to move your story along, or develop your characters.

In ‘Mother’ I wanted to show Keisha’s journey toward readiness for motherhood, and once of the ways to do that was to show where she was coming from, which included her days when she was ‘That Girl’–promiscuous, self-serving, and immature. So I wrote this scene. It didn’t make it into the book because while I was content-editing, I couldn’t recall why the scene was important to include. I heard the voice of my college writing teacher in my head. Once when he urged me to edit a scene out of a short story, I balked and asked why.

He said, “Because it doesn’t mean anything.”

But I liked that scene and thought I’d written it really well. He didn’t disagree but still thought I should exclude it.

“Does every scene have to mean something?” I challenged.

And I recall that he thought for a moment while looking up at the ceiling. “Yeah,” he said finally, as though breaking bad news. “It kinda does.”

And that’s always stuck with me since. Whenever I edit for content, I ask myself, “does this scene mean anything?”

So this very short scene wound up on the cutting room floor because I couldn’t recall what it was meant to show. Now, much later, I think I remember. Part of what I wanted to show with Keisha’s character was that she tended to think of her days when she was promiscuous as her being in control of her destiny and using men. But in fact, she was never in control and the men were using her. This scene was one where I wanted to show just how powerless she was, and how she often wasn’t in control of her circumstances, and how terribly it could have gone wrong for her.

Outtake from ‘Mother’:

Keisha didn’t really like hanging out with rappers all that much.

Unless her cousin Mike was there, it was too easy to lose control of the situation, especially if there was drinking involved. A couple times, she’d found herself alone in a room with three or four dudes, low men on the totem pole, hangers-on—most of them not even in the music business, but friends of people who were. They were, like her, hitching a ride to something bigger and better. And most of them saw girls like her as one of the perks of hitching that ride, and thought nothing of grabbing her ass and trying to pull her into corners to get her to suck them off or something.

Only when Mike was around did they treat her like a human being. But one time, Mike wasn’t around and there were drinks on the table—rum and tequila, beer, champagne. There had been a show in a nightclub and Keisha had gone along as part of Mike’s entourage; these guys were strangers to her, friends of the guy who made up the other half of Mike’s rap duo, Darrell. For a while, Keisha was part of the crowd, partaking of the drinking, getting a nice little buzz of her own, shooting the breeze with Darrell’s friends, not even noticing at first that neither Mike nor Darrell were in sight. Then her head started to get fuzzy and the guy next to her reached out and rubbed against her breast. No conversation, nothing. Just reached out and touched her as casually as brushing up against a piece of furniture, except this touch was definitely intentional.

One of the other dudes laughed and said something about his boy not having any game, then he reached out and touched Keisha’s breast too. And suddenly, she became aware of where she was, and who she was with. Four men, two of them on the burly side, all of them drunk, herself included. Their voices were getting louder the more they drank, their laughter bordering on uncontrolled.

And they were starting to gain awareness of her as the only female in the room. Granted, it was a very nice room in the Grand Hyatt, paid for by the label that Mike said was courting him and Darrell. But it was a hotel room nonetheless, and she was defenseless and alone with a bunch of drunk men she didn’t know, and there was a very large, unused bed nearby.

Excusing herself to go find her cousin, Keisha casually stood, when the first guy, the one who touched her breast, stood with her. When he did, he towered over her, his chest almost in her face. For one panicked moment, Keisha thought he was going to block her from leaving the room.

“Sorry,” he said, just as she was preparing to try to shove him aside. “I need to go take a piss.”

Then he stumbled by her, heading for the bathroom.

Taking that opportunity, Keisha headed for the door.

“Where you goin’ shorty?” one of the other guys called. “We ain’t even started to get it poppin’ yet.”

“I can’t hang wit’ y’all,” Keisha said, trying to sound casual as she opened the door out into the hallway. “I need to get me some sleep.”

On the other side, she took a deep breath and leaned against it. She didn’t know where her cousin was, but she needed to find him, or take her butt back on the train and to her father’s house in Brooklyn. Just as she’d begun walking down toward the elevators, Mike came into view. He was with Darrell and they were talking excitedly to the man walking between them.

Keisha missed a step, stunned for a moment.

It was him. It was Chris Scaife.

Read the entire book on  Kindle.

 

 

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Afterwards’

Afterwards new coverThis is where we first meet Jamal Turner, the hero in my next book, ‘The Come Up’.

From ‘Afterwards':

Jamal Turner tapped more ass than Usher.

Scaife Enterprises’ resident Casanova stood about six-one and had a dark coffee complexion and thick, dark eyebrows that women around the office seemed to like for some reason. That, the fact that he was built like a beast, and to top it off was a silver-tongued bastard seemed to keep him up to his neck in female company.

Every week or so, there was some minor office drama where Turner’s various women got into it with him or each other, but as long as it wasn’t too disruptive of the esprit de corps, Chris didn’t care, because Turner was also a genius at identifying, securing and developing talent. While he preferred the development side of things, his law degree also made him a crack negotiator. His specialty, unsurprisingly, was female talent. They loved him, and he’d been known to ‘love’ a few of them as well.

Heading to the conference room to meet with her, Frank and the R&D folks, Chris almost ran into Turner standing at the elevator, deep in conversation with Robyn. Chris had done a double-take when he spotted her, and not just because she looked outstanding in a cream suit pantsuit and nude pumps, but because of the way Turner was leaning in as he spoke to her. It was his Mack Daddy pose, his head leaning to one side, his body angled toward the woman in question, those eyebrows of his arched for maximum effect. It was the stance Chris had seen him adopt at the party where he’d bagged one of the foremost female recording artists in the world. And word on the street was, she’d been sweating him ever since.

When he walked past them into the conference room, all he heard was snippet of conversation.

I’ll definitely wait for the call, Turner said. And then he smiled.

Robyn was about to say something in response when Turner spotted him and grinned.

‘Sup, Boss-Man, he said.

Chris nodded in response and headed into the meeting where Frank the R&D guys were already waiting. Robyn was the last to arrive, when she was done with her business with Turner, and had absently smiled at everyone before taking her seat, opening her notebook.

Apparently, she chewed on things when she was concentrating. As the meeting commenced, Chris watched her across the conference room table, just masticating the hell out of a pencil she had between her teeth. Everyone else was taking notes on a tablet or laptop, but Robyn was the only one who had a notebook in front of her. One of those with covers in speckled black-and-white, like a high school student might use to take notes in Trigonometry. While he spoke, everyone had their head buried in some form of technology and Robyn wrote longhand, intermittently looking up at him, scribbling a few things then chewing on her pencil some more. A little smear of her lipstick got on the pencil and she reached for a tissue in her suit jacket and wiped it off, looking at it as though perplexed about how it got there.

Though completely neutral, and purely professional, whenever her gaze met his, Chris thought he could see behind it, a teeny-tiny hint of the other thing that was going on between them.

The Other Thing.

The thing where she came over on Saturdays and had motorcycle riding lessons with Jon, while he sat in his office, more aware of her presence than he wanted to admit to himself.

The thing where, after her lessons, she showed up at his office door, ebullient, and babbling about how much better she was getting; then sometimes sitting on the edge of his desk and asking whether she was keeping him from his work, when clearly she knew that she was.

The thing that made him believe that all his efforts at restraint where she was concerned were pointless, because surely, it more distracting not to sleep with her than it would be to just give in.

She was distracting him now, too, looking so damn cute in that cream pantsuit . . . and because she had been, just minutes earlier in conversation with a man who had no reason to exercise the same restraint Chris was imposing on himself.

“Honestly, the guys at Pouvoir Noir are little more than a bunch of twenty-somethings who got lucky,” Frank was saying. “Y’know like the dotcom assholes who were getting rich in Silicon Valley about a decade ago? Like that. Not a lick of business sense among them. But what they do have, which we don’t, is an instinct about their market. The European market.”

“I would argue that the European market is very much like the U.S. market,” Chris said, his attention returning to the matter at hand once again.

“And you would be wrong,” Frank said flatly.

“Are you going to tell me about the music business, Frank?”

Frank Casey smiled. “Chris, no one’s questioning your instincts . . . in the States. But I think even you would agree that just because K Smooth sells out in twenty minutes in New York City doesn’t mean the same will be true in Paris.”

“Bad example,” Chris said. “As a matter of fact, he does sell out in Paris in twenty minutes.”

“Fine,” Frank leaned back in his chair. “We can quibble over details, or you can concede the point that there are distinctions between the U.S. . . .”

“What are your thoughts, Robyn?” he interrupted.

Robyn sat up straighter, and Chris could see that she was surprised to have been called on, as was Frank and just about everyone else in the room. The “everyone else” was the team from Research and Development. DeJuan Stokes was a twenty-something hotshot himself, who would go far in the business if he didn’t let his considerable ego get in his way; Dean Olsen, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn who grew up listening to the Beastie Boys; and Harper Bailey, a Long Island sister who had a fetish for young rappers that was going to get her ass in trouble one day.

All very talented in their field, the R&D team had one key weakness; unlike Frank, they were sometimes afraid to tell him things he didn’t want to hear. They knew he wanted to acquire Pouvoir Noir, so their inclination was always going to be to cast their findings in a way that would enable him to do just that. Frank on the other hand, was unburdened by such concerns, which Chris thought explained his dispatching Robyn weeks ago to get him to agree to go to Paris and investigate the other option—investment, rather than acquisition.

Since that first conversation in his kitchen, Robyn had stopped lobbying him on the Paris trip. In fact, she’d been really careful never to mention work during personal time; and now during work time, she was careful to behave in such a manner that gave no hint whatsoever that there was personal time between them.

Now, she looked up from her notebook and seemed to be thinking about a response.

“I’m not sure I have enough information to make a judgment,” she said finally.

“Really? Then why are you even in this meeting?”

A flash of mild surprise crossed her features, and she straightened her back even more, becoming almost rigid in her seat.

“What I mean is,” she said slowly, “that I have no information about the similarities between the U.S. and European market. But I do know enough about the planned acquisition of Pouvoir to know that Frank’s recommendation is sound.”

“But his recommendation is based on an assumption. An assumption that I don’t know squat about the European music market and these, I think he called them ‘lucky’ twenty-somethings know more than I do.”

“I don’t think I would have put it quite that way,” Frank interjected, shaking his head. “That you don’t know ‘squat’ about . . .”

“I’m asking Robyn.” Chris cut him off.

“Look, Chris, there’s no need to turn this into a pissing match,” Frank interrupted once again. His face had grown somewhat red, and he was leaning forward, his elbows on the conference table. “Do the Paris meeting and assess for yourself what they do and don’t know. But their performance speaks for itself. They pick winners in their artists. All I’m saying is that they’ve reached the limits of their potential on the business management side, and so that’s where we go in. We leave the rest to them and take over the business operations.”

“Robyn?” Chris looked at her again. “Is that your recommendation as well?”

“It’s been my consistent recommendation,” she said. “And frankly, we’ve spent so much time debating the Paris trip, you could practically have flown there and back by now.”

Harper Bailey snickered into her hand and tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise it with a cough. Everyone else seemed to be waiting in stunned surprise for Chris to deliver a smackdown. And he wanted to; damn did he want to. But instead, he contented himself with the knowledge that he’d succeeded in ticking her off.

Only once it had been accomplished did he realize that that had been his mission all along.

___________________

After the meeting, when she left with Frank, Robyn avoided his eyes, deliberately keeping her head down as she walked by, and Chris left the conference room, feeling the shallowness of his victory.

Sitting in his office, he considered calling her back up to his office. But what the hell was he planning to say? Don’t talk to Jamal Turner?  Reaching for his phone, Chris instead buzzed Turner.

“Yo, Boss-Man . . .”

“C’mon up lemme holla at you a minute,” Chris said, just as Chastity and Stephen walked into his office, looking like they were on some essential mission.

“You don’t really have time to be hollerin’ at anybody right now,” Chastity said. “You’re supposed to be in a car heading uptown.”

“How much time do I have?” Chris asked.

Chastity looked up at the ceiling and pretended to think. “Let’s see. Ahm . . . none? You’re already late, isn’t he Stephen?”

“Yeah. You’re about fifteen minutes late now, and with traffic . . .”

Stephen still didn’t feel empowered enough to come in by himself and keep him on task, always roping Chas in when he had to deliver a difficult message. Chris made a mental note to ask her whether she thought Stephen could cut it. He needed someone who would keep the trains running, not look to someone else to tell them which track.

“Okay, call them and tell him I’ll be forty minutes late. This thing shouldn’t take but a minute.”

“I’ll get the car to pull around front so you can get going right away once you’re done,” Stephen said, happy to have a manageable mission.

When he left the room, Chris looked at Chastity.

“It takes two of you to do his job? Is that what’s going on?”

“He’s still learning, Chris. Cut the kid a break.”

“I don’t cut breaks. Get him with the program or replace him.”

“You can’t fire everyone. And I can’t keep up with your schedule on my own. We discussed this.”

“Then maybe you should look into replacing yourself as well,” he said, not meaning a word of it. If he lost Chastity, he wouldn’t know his ass from his elbow.

And she knew it, too. She blinked impassively, and pretended he hadn’t said anything at all.

“Look, if you need to do this quick meeting, fine. But I’m going back to the system we had last year of building in at least a half hour between every appointment for unanticipated interruptions.”

“No. We talked about that. I could lose about four hours a day of productive time if you do that. I can’t afford it.”

“You can,” Chastity said. “You just tell yourself you can’t. One of these days it’s going to catch up with you, and it won’t be pretty.”

It had already caught up with him. Chris could feel it catching up with him right now in fact; the first tiny bloom of pain, like a houseguest who’d never left.

“Where the fuck is Jamal Turner? I called him . . .”

“Right here, Boss.”

Turner came sauntering into the room and collapsed in the chair opposite Chris’ desk. Few were as relaxed as he was when he entered this office.

“Jamal, don’t sit,” Chastity said, sounding exhausted. “He has somewhere to be. So please, please don’t take more than five minutes.”

Jamal shrugged and looked back at Chastity over his shoulder, his eyes scanning her from head to toe, lingering momentarily at her ample bosom. “Hey, I didn’t call the meeting, so it ain’t on me.”

Making an impatient sound, she left them alone and Turner looked at Chris once again, a question in his eyes.

“Robyn Crandall,” Chris said. “What’s your business with her?”

Turner took a minute and then shrugged. “None. None that I know of.”

Chris waited, and when he didn’t elaborate, leaned back in his chair. “Personal business?”

For a moment Turner looked confused then realization dawned in his eyes.

“Oh! You mean from before when we were . . . . nah, no personal business. I mean, not yet. Because . . . well, hell, you’ve seen her, but nah, she was just asking me to return a phone call.”

“What phone call?”

“From her man. Or her ex man. Some cat named Curtis? I told her I get like a dozen messages a day from folks looking to have me meet with their client, so . . .” Turner shrugged. “Anyway, I told her to tell him holla at me again tomorrow and I’ll see what’s up.”

Chris nodded and stood, looking around for his iPad and taking a quick look at the time. “Okay.”

Turner looked confused. “So . . . was there something you wanted me to do about this dude? Or not do about this dude?”

“Nope. Just do whatever,” Chris said, not meeting his gaze.

“Okay?” Turner didn’t move from his seat. “I don’t under . . .”

Chris stopped and looked at him. “Turner,” he said. “Don’t you have shit to do?”

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NOT-SUNDAY SAMPLE: From ‘In the Nothing’

In the Nothing blog2This is my new adult offering, that I’ve been working on for what seems like AGES. It’s about a young woman struggling to find her place in the world after her mother dies, and she is faced with the prospect of being kicked out of the home of her her aunt, who is her reluctant caregiver. In her quest to find a new job, she stumbles across what seems to her like another world, or privileged young people whose lives and prospects could not be more different from her own. Her name is Trinity, and her story is called, ‘In the Nothing’. Release Date: whenever.

Unedited Excerpt From ‘In the Nothing':

Opening the store with Skylar every morning wasn’t a chore; it was a blessing. Waking up at dawn and getting dressed before anyone else was awake; walking out onto H Street where the traffic was still light and muted and standing on the almost deserted Metro platform – it was all good.  When she got uptown, Skylar was usually in a bad mood and barked out orders at Trinity as they got the store ready to open for business.  They alternated on the chore of walking a couple blocks down around eight a.m. to get coffee and pumpkin bread from a nearby coffeehouse by which time Skylar’s mood had improved and she became chirpy and chatty again.

It was on these mornings that Trinity learned about her life which sounded almost too good to be true.  As Skylar babbled in almost stream-of-consciousness fashion, Trinity discovered the following: Both Skylar’s parents were attorneys. They lived in Potomac, Maryland with Skylar’s younger sister whose name was Madison. Since they’d both her parents had gone to Ivy League schools, they expected Skylar to do the same.  She’d gotten into Dartmouth and Vassar, and was hoping that by the time the year had passed and her deferral period was over, she would be able to convince her parents that she needn’t go to either.  Because, you see, what Skylar really wanted to do was go to New York and live with her best friend who had an artist’s loft in SoHo, which was incredible since SoHo was now ridiculously expensive and who could afford to live there anymore even though it was supposed to be the kind of community for artsy types.  But her parents didn’t like her best friend and made disapproving faces when she even mentioned her name, which was Stella, a name Skylar thought was wonderfully old-fashioned and so not what Stella was really like so it was kind of ironic and the only reason her parents hated Stella was because when they were in the ninth grade Stella had been involved in a huge scandal that involved Francie’s father. Francie, whose real name was Francesca, was a girl they went to school with, and the only reason her Dad hadn’t gone to jail was because Stella shocked them all and told her parents she would lie if anyone went to the police because everything that happened with Francie’s Dad, she wanted it.

The constant chatter was Skylar’s singularly most noticeable trait. That and her beauty. Every single time Trinity saw her, she was struck anew by how effortlessly incredible-looking Skylar was.  No, it wasn’t just effortless, it was careless. She wore ugly clothes and no make-up and seemed to barely care about her disheveled natural, but still managed to look like something someone had dreamed up as the ideal Black woman. Though small-waisted, she was curvaceous in all the right places and had long limbs that she moved with the grace of a dancer. Trinity wasn’t gay, but decided that she was a little in love with Skylar nevertheless.

This morning, she waited outside, glancing at her phone to check the time.  Skylar was almost twenty minutes late. Even though she projected an air of indifference about almost everything, Skylar had always been punctual and businesslike when it came to opening the store, so Trinity was on the verge of worry when a gray Land Rover pulled up and Skylar spilled out.  She looked like she’d just woken up and was wearing jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt so large it clearly didn’t belong to her.

“Trinity,” she said. “Ohmigod I am so sorry. I overslept. Let me let you in. I’m going to have to run home and change. You’ll be okay?”

“Sure,” Trinity said.

The car still idled at the curb but because of the tinted windows it was impossible to see in. Trinity waited as Skylar unlocked the front door and they both went in. Skylar disarmed the night security system and flipped on the lights.

“You’ll be okay for the next hour or so?” she asked.

“I think I can handle it,” Trinity said.

“Brad won’t be here till about ten and I’ll be back long before then. D’you want me to bring you a coffee and pastry on my way back?” Skylar’s words came out in a rush. Despite her careful I-don’t-give-a shit mask, it was clear that being late had unsettled her.

“That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Okay. Thank you so much.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  She gave Trinity’s shoulder a brief squeeze before running out the door.

Trinity locked the door after Skylar left and began the process of opening the store; logging into the computer, turning on the lights and doing a walkthrough.  It felt good being there alone.  She had a book in her backpack that she was trying to get done so she fished it out and sat at the register.  If only she could leave for her coffee, but it was too risky.  Besides, if she waited, it would be on Skylar.  She only ever got the coffee and pumpkin bread every morning because she didn’t want to look like what she was – someone for whom every penny mattered.  Skylar got coffee and pumpkin bread, so she did too.  It was funny how Skylar seemed to assume that Trinity was just like her – that she would understand about choosing between colleges and parents who were pushing you to do and be more, and friends who lived in tony parts of New York City.  It created a strange sense of inclusion. Skylar’s ignorance and her utter lack of interest in anyone but herself made it easy for Trinity to conceal the grim details of her own life.

Skylar was back before nine, this time dressed in her own clothes and followed by a tall, blonde young man carrying a tray with three coffees and bags with pastry.  He set them down on the counter in front of Trinity and turned to Skylar who tilted her head back to gaze up at him flirtatiously.

“Thank you, Carey,” she said.  Her voice was different, a little more high-pitched and girlish.

“Anytime,” Carey leaned in and kissed Skylar, a deep, open-mouthed kiss of the kind generally reserved for when you were in the act of lovemaking, or about to be. When they were done kissing, Skylar turned.

“This is Trinity,” she said.  “We love her.”  The last three words were directive rather than descriptive.

“Hey Trinity,” Carey grinned at her.  “You mind if I join you girls for breakfast?”

Trinity offered him a thin smile and watched as he grabbed the second stool next to her and perched on it, reaching for one of the coffees.  Skylar leaned between his open legs as they all ate and described how she’d run into Carey the night before at a pub off Dupont Circle.

“We haven’t seen each other since junior high school,” she told Trinity.  “He never gave me the time of day then.”

Carey laughed.  “I was dating Hayley then,” he said.  “And she was your friend.”

“Oh bullshit,” Skylar said.  “You weren’t enlightened enough to date a Black chick, that’s all.”

“Oh but I am now,” Carey said.

As he and Skylar gave each other significant looks and nuzzled, Trinity pretended to be engrossed in something on the computer in front of her.  One week.  It had been one week since she’d started working here.  She stole glances at Carey’s hair when he was distracted.  It was so fair, it was almost white.  His skin was a strange bronze that more likely came from a bottle than from exposure to the sun.  Along his arms, there were fine hairs like peach fuzz.  He was well-built, athletic and probably good-looking. Trinity didn’t feel qualified to judge since she’d never been attracted to white guys.

Carey slipped out just after Brad showed up and the workday began.  There was generally very little to do in the store, just as Brad had warned the day she hired.  Most of Trinity’s time was spent examining the items on the shelves, reading the labels and marveling at the prices.  Everything was either organic, all-natural, or chemical-free.  There were essene breads, almond flour, psyllium husk fiber, and oils of various types.  Then there were the protein powders and weight-loss shakes, coconut milk and water and grains that weren’t identifiable just by sight.  She tried to learn the names and purposes of everything, studying each item just as she’d studied in school.  Occasionally, Skylar or Brad would try to draw her into their conversations, but generally, they talked on their cell phones, or slipped into the storeroom to watch television on the 20-inch set that was hooked up with cable.

“Rick’s back tomorrow,” Brad said almost to himself as they were eating lunch.  “So we’re going to want to make sure we clean up thoroughly at closing tonight.”

“I could stay and help,” Trinity offered.

“Don’t be a suck-up,” Skylar said.  “Brad has plenty of help with Jenny and Paul.  He’s just being a drama-queen.”

Jenny and Paul were the high school students who came in after five.  Trinity had never met them.

“You’re going to love Rick,” Brad said to Trinity.

“He’s an over-the-hill hippie,” Skylar said dismissively.

“Ohmigod, he’s only thirty-five,” Brad protested.

Skylar laughed.  “I knew you’d defend your little secret crush,” she said.  She made kissing noises and only laughed harder as Brad turned beet-red.

Just then the door opened and they all looked up.  Skylar shoved aside her sandwich and jumped up.

“Baby!”  She stood on her toes and threw her arms around the neck of their visitor.

He was about six feet tall and looked Middle-Eastern or Latino, with dark olive-toned skin and thick jet black wavy hair that was long enough to permit him to pull it back into a short ponytail at his nape.  He had formidable eyebrows and eyes that were dark and intense.  A neat moustache and about a day’s worth of hair shadowing his jaw didn’t quite succeed in disguising his good looks.

“Hey Ethan,” Brad said.

“Hey, how’re you doin’ Brad?”  Ethan hugged Skylar back but looked over her shoulder with curiosity at Trinity. “Who’s this?”

Skylar turned.  “This is Trinity.  Trinity, my boyfriend Ethan.”  She looked at Trinity evenly, the memory of that morning hanging in the air between them.

“Hey Trinity,” Ethan reached over and briefly took her hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

Trinity smiled.  “Hi,” she said.

“What’re you doing here?” asked Skylar.  “We don’t have plans till later.”

“I tried to reach you last night.  Your housemates were all squirrelly.  And you didn’t answer your phone, so . . .”

“It died on me,” Skylar said breezily.  “I went out with Max and we got so wasted . . .”

“Well, I need to change our plan for tonight and I was up here getting some paints so I figured I’d stop by.”

“And I’m glad you did,” Skylar looped an arm through his and led him to the back of the store.

Brad and Trinity watched them walk away.

“Now you’re part of the conspiracy,” Brad said dryly.

Trinity looked at him.

“That boy she had in here this morning wasn’t the first.  Our Skylar’s a total slut, I’m afraid,” he said matter-of-factly.

Posted in Books, Free reads, In the Nothing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Come Up’

Jamal Turnercolor coverflatMakayla Hughes watched from across the club as Jamal Turner glanced at his watch for the third time in as many minutes. In fact, she’d been watching him ever since he entered. It hadn’t been difficult to do since he was about a head taller than most of the other men there. And the way he carried himself, with such obvious self-assurance was an attention-getter as well. Not that she didn’t already know who he was—everyone at Scaife did.

Jamal Turner was SE’s rainmaker. He secured big names and closed deals, and was known to be in the innermost of inner circles of the big boss himself; sought after by headhunters from Sony, Virgin and just about every other entertainment conglomerate on the planet. But Jamal Turner was almost as emblematic of Scaife Enterprises as the man himself. Not too many people could boast of being practical besties with Robyn Scaife, invited to every single family event and able to get on Chris Scaife’s calendar whenever they wanted; but Jamal Turner could.

Rumor had it he could waltz into Chris Scaife’s office at will, sitting on the edge of his desk and taking the kind of liberties no one else would dare, like calling him “Boss Man” with a mixture of deference and irony that was hard to question. Makayla herself had once heard him do it, when at a company party she was standing just five feet away from Chris Scaife and his pretty wife and Jamal Turner approached them both. Robyn Scaife’s eyes lit up at the sight of him and the boss had looked on with barely concealed amusement as his wife and friend embraced.

To say that Turner’s reputation preceded him would have been an understatement, but precede him it did. Long before she even scored the job in the PR department, Makayla had heard of him, back when she was at CUNY-Brooklyn, scouring the internet for leads on internships in the entertainment industry. Partly because he was known to have forged-in-steel friendships with some of the artists he helped develop, and partly because he was just so damned photogenic.

Jamal Turner was a photographer’s dream. With the dark chocolate complexion, erect, hard-body posture and winning smile, he just begged to be memorialized in photographs. And somewhere along the line, he’d learned the colors that accentuated his rich darkness—orange, white, yellows and occasionally a powder blue. He was gorgeous, there was no getting around that—the kind of gorgeous that could make a girl just the tiniest bit pissed off.

Makayla was a little pissed off now as a matter of fact. Because Turner had called her boss, not her, when he’d requested the meeting with Devin. And because he was standing at the other side of the club, near the stage like he had better places to be, and a better class of people to be with. But she happened to know that he was homegrown, a kid from uptown who’d managed to make good. No matter how many recording superstars he was pictured with in the blogs, he shouldn’t be standing there like this dingy little nightclub was beneath him, because she happened to know it wasn’t.

And finally, Makayla was pissed off because she was nervous, and she never got nervous. Not about anyone. But she was nervous and just a little intimidated, to tell the truth, by Jamal Turner. He had walked by her countless times in the office, usually accompanied by someone else closer to his pay-grade, looking all confident and larger-than-life and just … delicious as all get-out.

She hated to admit it to herself, but the fact that he’d never once turned in her direction with anything approaching interest irked her somewhat. True, she was just an admin assistant, but it wasn’t like she was ugly or anything, and rumor had it that he was one of those men who didn’t even have a “type.” When it came to women, he appeared to like them all. He dated lots of famous and beautiful women, but there were also a fair number of regular girls from around the office who he’d been with as well, some model-like and slender, others heavyset and buxom. Some white chicks, and a few sisters as dark as he was. But while they didn’t seem to fit a certain type, they all had one thing in common—if their post-Jamal behavior was any indication, they mourned the passing of their time with him and would have all loved a reprise of their role as woman on his arm.

Looking down at her jeans and black batwing blouse, she wished she’d dressed up just a little more. Not because she was hoping to capture his eye—or so she told herself—but because she didn’t want to come across as dowdy, either.

But being in a nightclub tonight hadn’t been in Makayla’s plans and so the time had simply gotten away from her. She’d been trying to get some more studying done before heading out for this “quick meet-up.” That was what her boss Serena had called it anyway. Serena was one of five deputy communication directors at Scaife, and handled community relations, doing the PR for anything related to Scaife’s charities. Rarely if ever did she deal with the more glamorous stuff unless there was a celebrity in need of a little image rehab by visiting a children’s cancer ward, or donating money to a school music program. But from the sound of things, she knew Jamal Turner quite well; she certainly seemed eager to help him get to Devin.

I hate to capitalize on a personal relationship, Kay, she’d said, toying with one of her rather large earrings. But it would be a huge deal if you could just arrange this meet-up. Believe me, Jamal knows how to take it from there. All we’re talking about is an hour out of your Saturday night.

And since Makayla pretty much wanted to be Serena one day, she’d agreed. She’d only been working for her for six months, and had yet to find a way to distinguish herself, so this seemed as good a way to do it as any. And if Scaife actually signed Devin because of her intro, there was no telling what that might do for her prospects at the company. Not that signing Devin was anything even approaching likely.

Sighing, Makayla began making her way toward Jamal Turner. She only hoped Devin wasn’t in one of his moods tonight and wouldn’t embarrass her. On her way over to the club, she’d texted him to let him know what was up and he’d promised to be on his best behavior. But Devin was temperamental and always had been, with moods as changeable as the weather. If sound-check hadn’t gone well, or if he got his sneakers scuffed on the subway ride over; if there was someone on drums tonight other than his regular guy, or he’d slept a half hour less than usual the night before … there was no telling how he might show out.

When she was about a foot away from Jamal Turner, Makayla smelled him. She didn’t know how she knew it was him, she just did. It was an unidentified musk, an earthy, sexy, manly scent that had a richness to it that reeked its expense. Walking toward him, he seemed even taller, her head would just about reach his chest; the chest that was accentuated in that bright-white long-sleeved shirt in a clingy fabric. Not too many men could pull off a shirt like that without looking cheesy. Tucked into an army-green tailored pant, he looked … perfect.

Scowling, he reached up and ran a large hand over his closely-shorn head and sighed, taking one last look at his watch. Finally, he pushed himself up and away from the wall where he’d been leaning, with the apparent intention of leaving.

Makayla cleared her throat. “Jamal,” she said. And when he didn’t hear her over the din, she tried again, speaking much louder this time. “Jamal.”

He looked about for a moment, not sure who had spoken his name until finally his eyes rested on her. Jamal Turner smiled.

“You must be …”

“Makayla,” she said extending a hand. “Makayla Hughes.”

Posted in The Come Up, Writing | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Evolution & Completion

mistresscover4I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Letting a character go, ‘finishing’ their story and moving on to the next is usually every easy for me. By the time I kick them out of my head and write ‘THE END’ I’m a little bit glad to see them go. Like a parent sending their kid off to college (which I’ve not yet done, so there is a strong possibility I don’t know what I’m talking about) there is sadness, but also eagerness to see what the next phase will bring.

This week, I finished my journey with Keisha, my main character in ‘Mother’, and I didn’t expect to feel so terrible about saying goodbye. I think it’s fair to say she’s my least-liked character. The backstory is, she did something in my book ‘Commitment’ that by some standards would make her an irredeemable human being. I’ve gotten numerous emails from readers saying some variation of, ‘I really love your work, but I can’t read about Keisha; I just can’t. I don’t even think she deserves a happy ending and I’m scared you’ll give her one.’

In ‘Mistress’, we see that there might be some merit to those strong emotions because Keisha has apparently learned nothing from prior experience and has gone on to live a life that other people would say only confirmed that she was “a bad person.” But I happen to believe that are very few “bad people” in the world. They do exist, I just don’t believe there are very many.

Wife Cover1f2In my other line of work as a lawyer, I often say about the people whose interests I represent (most of whom have broken some law, some of them in very hard-to-defend circumstances), “would you like to be judged in your totality as a human being on the basis of the very worst thing you ever did?” That question often causes people to become very pensive, thinking back to the time they, let’s say, told a vicious lie about someone, stole something, or committed some other act about which they are now very ashamed. And after thinking about it, they say something like, ‘no, I wouldn’t. I’m a better person than that act would indicate.”

And see, that is why I wanted to write about Keisha. In ‘Mistress’, ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother’ I wanted to write about the evolution of a woman who must learn not to judge herself on the basis of the worst thing she ever did, and not to define herself on that basis. She has to learn self-acceptance and self-love. And of course, there’s a little romance thrown in there as well, but Keisha’s romance is also about learning to love yourself enough to believe you deserve love from someone else; someone worthy. So for me, the more important love story is that which Keisha begins to have with herself.

How does a ‘mistress’ learn she can be more?

How does a woman who was a ‘mistress’ embrace the role of ‘wife’?

How does a wife who has no recollection of being mothered decide to become one herself?

Mother cover mistress FINALThat was what the ‘Mistress trilogy’ was really about for me. And so it stood to reason that once I had written ‘Mother’ I should be glad to let her go because from the standpoint of a writer, she has ‘evolved’ and is now ‘complete’. But Keisha’s complexity made it hard for me to end her story. And in fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to write the words ‘THE END’ as I customarily do.

Like that parent sending their kid off to college, I know they may never live with me again, but find myself thinking, ‘would it be so bad to just drop in for a visit?’ But that’s as far as I can go with that analogy because it would be a very bad parent indeed who never did drop in for a visit to their college-age kid. And sadly, in this case, I would be a very bad writer indeed if I could not simply let Keisha be … complete.

Happy Reading.

N.

The Mistress Trilogy (based on the Commitment Series)

Mistress (Book One) On Kindle & Nook

Wife (Book Two) On Kindle & Nook

Mother (Book Three) On Kindle & Nook

Posted in Commitment, Inspiration, Jayson, Keisha, Mistress, Mistress part 2, Mistress Trilogy, Mother, nia forrester | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments