SPOTLIGHT: ‘PUSHING THIRTY’ by NECOLE RYSE

29-year-old viral TV blogger Zaahira Ramsey has it all, except peace. She’s built a fortress of protection around her heart as big as her coily hair. But when Chris Samuels enters her life, ready to unpack everything she’s been carrying, will she put up a fight? Or will the scrappy know-it-all fold under the pressure?

Camille Downing has lived most of her 29 years in the shadows of other people. As a top-notch executive assistant, she makes the impossible possible while taking none of the credit. But when she meets flashy and outgoing Jemel Jones, he makes her question why she’s been constantly selling herself short. Can she let go? Or will he push her too far out of her comfort zone?

Terry Baldwin can’t even. With three kids under her belt at 29, and a husband who acts like child number four, she’s slowly losing her mind. With her family falling apart at the seams, Terry decides to get a job. Can she be a full-time employee and mother? Or will the weight of adulting finally send her over the edge?

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‘Pushing Thirty’ Author Necole Ryse

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘Rhyme & REASON’

“What?”

Deuce leaned in close, straining to hear over the din. Unless he was mistaken, Lloyd just said …

Zora. She’s supposed to be here, too. I thought you’d know.”

Lifting his glass to his lips, Deuce took a long sip, giving him just enough time to compose himself.

“Nah,” he said, swallowing. “I didn’t know.”

Lloyd squinted. “For real? So you …”

“This is so cool, you guys!”

Before Lloyd could finish his thought, Summer had thrown her arms around them both, having to reach up a little because she was so short. Summer Harris, the official organizer of the alumni mixer, had reached out a bunch of folks from Penn State, primarily on Facebook and Twitter and suggested the get-together in a Midtown bar. She had only given a couple of weeks’ notice, and Deuce stopped in only because he it was close to his apartment and he was slightly curious to see who else was in the city.

The turnout was surprisingly good. So far there were about twenty people there, most of them familiar, though none of them people Deuce had been particularly tight with. New York was a post-graduation mecca for lots of people, but most Penn State alums wound up in Philly. So, he stopped in just to see who else from the Black Caucus might be around.He already knew that most of his crew were spread far and wide, including his best friend, Kaleem who was back out west in an MBA program and training for the Summer Olympics.

“I never thought so many people would make it!”Summer sounded like she had to have been drinking well before anyone else showed up, because the mixer had only been underway for about an hour.

Early in, early out, that had been Deuce’s plan.

“Especially just one year after graduation,”Lloyd said, peeling Summer’s arm from around his neck. “I guess the real world ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and we’re just pining for the old days.”

“I know am,” Summer said, raising her voice a little more than was necessary to be heard. “My gig at HarperCollins is not what I thought it would be. I’m like a glorified … file clerk.”

“Bet you don’t have them kinda problems, huh?” Lloyd said, nudging Deuce in the ribs. “Workin’ with your Dad and all.”

“I don’t work with my Dad,” Deuce said.

He was looking at the entrance to Le Bar now, scanning the clusters of folks who walked in. The moment Lloyd said her name, his heartbeat had sped up. Just at the sound of her fucking name.

“You don’t?” Lloyd looked confused. “But I thought you were at …”

“Yeah, but my father isn’t there anymore. I work for the new CEO.”

Lloyd shrugged, and looked like he didn’t understand the distinction. Most people didn’t. They tended to think that because his last name was Scaife, he could walk up in that joint and start running shit. Knocking back the remains of his vodka tonic, Deuce extricated himself from Summer as well.

“Lemme go get another one of these,” he said. “Anybody want anything while I’m over …”

Thereshe is!” Summer shrieked. Shoving her way past Deuce and Lloyd, she plowed her way out of the reserved section and toward the front of the bar.

And yeah. There she was.

Zora looked a little disoriented when she first walked in, her eyes narrowing a little as they adjusted to the relative darkness of the bar. She stood still for a moment and pulled the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder, surveying the room before Summer accosted her with a hug.

Zora’s face lit up in a smile when she saw who it was and held Summer back at arms’ length to look her over. While she did, Deuce looked Zora over. She was wearing a canary-yellow blouse with long sleeves and a ruffled neck with skinny black pants. And her hair … damn, he’d always loved her hair … It was in neat, sleek, cornrows, and in her ears were medium-sized gold hoops. She wore vivid lipstick in a shade of purple that was like a bruise, but somehow made her lips look even fuller, even sexier. Sunglasses were pushed up atop her head, giving her an air of mature sophistication that was at odds with how Deuce was accustomed to seeing her.

He thought of Zora and the picture that came to mind was her in one of his sweatshirts, nothing underneath. Her hair messy as hell, her lips swollen from being kissed, curled in a smile her eyes sleepy,cloudy, and looking at him in the way only she did.

Deuce had not seen her in eight months, and they hadn’t spoken in six. And yet, he could already feel his body orienting itself in her direction, pulling him toward her.

She stood at the entrance for a few moments more,talking to Summer and Deuce stood watching her, not realizing he was staring until Lloyd spoke.

“So, I’m guessing y’all split up or somethin’, huh?”

Deuce looked at him.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Anyway. I’ma grab this drink. You want …?”

Zora was looking over at him now, as Summer pointed him out. The expression on her face robbed him of every coherent thought. Her lips trembled, like someone trying not to smile, or not to cry. And her eyes …

The moment their eyes met, she touched Summer on the shoulder, wordlessly excusing herself from their conversation and coming toward him. Deuce felt Lloyd take his glass.

“I’ll get this one,” he said, from what sounded like far away.

Fighting the urge to meet her halfway, Deuce stood still until Zora reached him. And when she did, he bit into his lower lip and looked down at her. She looked up at him, her long neck curving. Her lips finally parted in a smile, and her shoulders lifted and fell in an inaudible sigh.

Deuce.”

Out of nowhere there was a lump in the back of his throat, hard and immovable.

Zora’s shoulders sagged even further, and she shook her head.

“Deuce,” she said again.

And then she hugged him. Not like you hug a friend, putting your arms around their waist. But the way you hug a lover, her arms up and around his neck, pulling him down to her, so that her cheek was momentarily pressed against his.

Muscle-memory dictated that the next move was for him to turn his head and kiss her. Deuce fought it, and instead reached up and took her by the wrists, gently removing her arms from around his neck.

“Hey, Zee,” he said, keeping his voice level.

“Hey,” she said.

Though she had said relatively few words, her throaty, slightly husky voice just kept hitting him right in the center of his chest. He hadn’t heard it in so long, another muscle of his remembered and clenched. His heart.

COMING 2019.

Conversations with Creatives: An Evening with Diane McKinney-Whetstone & Reflections from Lily Java

Talking to creatives—no matter their medium—about their work is one of my favorite things to do. Every artist’s point-of-view is different, and looking at, reading, or hearing their creation is like a peek into their mind and the way they see the world. So, on the evening of November 14, when I got the chance to have a conversation with Diane McKinney-Whetstone and hear a little bit about her work and her process I knew it was going to be a highlight of my year. And it was.

Author, Diane McKinney-Whetstone

About 50 women (and a few intrepid men, including Ms. McKinney-Whetstone’s husband, Greg) gathered on a cold night in Germantown, Philadelphia at the Our House Culture Center to watch me interview her about her books, her inspiration and her process. It was an interestingly personal gathering, with a few of the women greeting the author like old friends, several of them having known or grown up with her in Philadelphia even though some hadn’t seen her in decades. Just happening by for the event, was the iconic author of ‘Black Ice’, Lorene Cary. She, and Diane McKinney-Whetstone greeted each other affectionately, and obviously know each other well.

But I’ve come to learn that Philadelphia is like that—a small town masquerading as a big city,with intricate intersections of place, and space and relationships. And that’s how Ms. McKinney-Whetstone writes as well—her stories are complicated but familiar, personal, warm, welcoming and with the hint of an inside joke, that you’re only in on if you come from Philly. We talked about Tumblin’ her first novel, and about Lazaretto, her most recent offering, and she read from both which was a rare treat. I asked questions about her work, about race, about the craft. I was inspired and rejuvenated just listening to her and even more than that, I was struck by the commonality of the creative struggle—the characters’ voices in your head that come unbidden day and night, the self-doubt that often accompanies them, the worry that you don’t have enough time, aren’t “doing it right”, or should be engaged in something much more important, especially in times like these.

A few of my own writer-friends were in the audience, one of them on the cusp of publishing for the first time (who would kill me if I outed her), and another who already has, my friend Lily Java. Since Lily is, like me, prone to analysis of just about everything, I thought it might be fun to interview her about the interview, so you can hear another point-of-view besides my own. So, here goes …

Diane McKinney-Whetstone talked about ‘writing as a Black woman’ versus ‘being a Black woman who writes’. What did you think about her response? It was a great question you asked because it seemed like a deceptively easy one to answer. It’s funny too, cause thinking back on it, my initial reaction to her answer was that it was safe.  She seemed to hint that she can’t help but write as a Black woman because that is who and what she is. In other words, it’s natural.

Did you relate? Of course. Absolutely. For me it’s sometimes difficult to extrapolate the difference between the two options given. Being a Black woman who writes and writing as a Black woman are, as a whole, the reasons I felt brave enough to publish my work to begin with.  Knowing that I hadn’t read or heard enough of my type of voice was a strong catalyst — but how could writing like that not also be tied to my identity? I’m empathetic by nature, but I’m not that good at experiencing life outside myself to write as anything other than a Black woman.

One of the more gratifying moments for me was hearing her reaffirm that we need to give ourselves permission to write. How do you interpret that? Yes, I loved that moment too.  And she was absolutely right.  You have to make and give yourself the time to write. And even though an enormous load of guilt, self-recrimination, and exhaustion might come your way when you do acquire that time, it still has to be sacrosanct — untouchable. 

What does that mean to you? The thing that resonated for me most was when she said that she needed to overcome the idea that what she’s doing is frivolous. Boy that statement rocked me. I was raised to fight my own inner demons early because there were plenty enough on the outside to fight. Consequently, I don’t always see myself as someone who is lacking in self-esteem or confidence but of course I am. And I especially am when it comes to writing. Also, the times we’re living in don’t help much. It’s easy to say you’re writing to entertain and allow people an escape but doing it while the world is fraught ain’t easy either. Yeah, I think it was during that part of the talk that I turned to the young writer next to me and whispered something unoriginal but apt, “If it were easy, everybody would do it.”

We also talked a little about writing ‘under the white gaze’. What were your thoughts on her response to that? You mean after I finished snickering and rolling my eyes that you asked it?  Hahahaha. Seriously though I thought she was practical on the subject. She’s a literary writer but she isn’t writing purely for white audiences. Her themes and subject matter tell you that. I also thought it was clear she wasn’t going to object to anyone of any shade reading her work.  I especially liked her encouragement of anyone writing in their own vernacular whatever that happened to be. 

Do you feel the‘white gaze’ as you write? Not at all. I do feel the gaze of my parents, grandparents and the rest of my family, as well as some of my teachers in the K-12 years. I especially feel the gaze of other writers of various hues, that I love and who have inspired me to read. Here’s the thing though. I think people are always trying to put Black people in a particular box.  As if because we’re Black what we do has to be, observed, managed, or judged through a certain lens in order for it to be called Black. It’s nonsensical. There’s good writing and there’s bad writing. Period. And not every story or voice is gonna resonate for everyone.

She had some interesting thoughts about the lack of differentiation among genres when authors are Black. Did you have thoughts on that as well?  Yeah, I do.  Can you tell?  So, here’s the thing I keep wondering, why DO we identify AA fiction in such limiting ways?  I suppose as a marginalized voice in publishing we feel as if that maybe the only way for our reading audience to find us but it does automatically keep us all in that same box I mentioned earlier. I’ve concluded that there’s no easy answer or solution except to have many more good AA writers who a rededicated to their craft and are writing out of the box that publishers as well as readers, black, white, or mauve, want to put us in. There’s a line in the movie “Legends of the Fall” where Anthony Hopkins plays an old man recovering from a stroke and he shakes his fist at the sky and says “Screw the government!”  I think of it when I think about this subject cause I always want to say “Screw the genre!”

It was surprising to hear that she doesn’t think the publishing industry has become significantly more competent in terms of decision-makers that promote the work of Black creatives.  I wasn’t surprised by that. I agree with her. There are still fairly poor hiring practices when it comes to broadening the employee demographics in traditional publishing and not nearly enough entrepreneurs of color jumping into the field of publishing either. I feel like we’re seeing a lot of placeholders in Black fiction right now, some quite brilliant, but not nearly enough to give us a true expansion of excellent diverse content in the publishing world. I think today the film and TV entertainment industry has in many ways done a better job of mixing it up and giving us that.

There was a minor skirmish during the conversation that seemed to indicate a divide between anew, younger generation of readers, and women who are Diane McKinney-Whetstone’s contemporaries, who read Bebe Moore Campbell, Terry MacMillan and the like. Do you think there is a real difference in the quality of Black fiction now than when those women were the household names for Black readers?  Sure, there is, but I guess I would take issue with the word quality. That word suggests there might be a superiority of one group over the other. I think there are huge differences in the circumstances and trends for those writing Black fiction now as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago. Those historical differences are often what makes the reader feel however they’re going to feelabout it. I imagine sometimes it’s hard to relate. That doesn’t make it better or worse writing though in the aggregate.  Does anyone want to compare the “quality” of Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen to Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou?  They’re about three decades apart. It might bean interesting thesis but for my money, I’d rather just read them and forget the comparisons.

What were your most important take-aways from the conversation? I had two. 1) I need to spend more time with writers. It always makes me feel better to be around my people. Hahaha.  Seriously though, I’ve gone to see a lot of writers talk about their craft and I always feel great afterwards. It’s such a niche profession, and there is much to learn from the others who do what you do too.  2) I saw a lot of familiar faces at this event, which made me happy.  All were readers, but many were writers too and that is what keeps me hopeful about this profession especially when it comes to Black fiction.  There are so many out there who want to take the plunge and eventually will. 

Thank you, Lily Java. Fun hanging with you, as usual!

In Medias Res–A Guide to ‘FOUR: STORIES OF MARRIAGE’

a 'Commitment' novelin me·di·as res
/in ˈmēdēəs ˈres,ˈmādēˌäs/
adverb
  1. into the middle of a narrative; without preamble.
    “having begun his story in medias res, he then interrupts it”
    • into the midst of things.

     

This one kicked my ass. Could you tell? (Here’s a hint: when a writer blogs to ‘explain’ their book before you’ve read it, they’re terrified of how it will be received). When I thought about writing the finale to the ‘Commitment’ couples, all I could think about was how much my readers wanted it. I was mildly curious about Shawn and Riley, Brendan and Tracy, Chris and Robyn, and Jayson and Keisha as well, but I have to admit, that the primary driving force was knowing how much you — the folks who even read my droning blogs about ‘process’–wanted to hear from them.

The dilemma I never considered was: what comes after the happily ever after? Where do you pick up a story that has ended conclusively, and happily? Where might we find those people? How do you write the beginning, middle and end to a story of people who have already had that? Then I remembered that true love stories never really end. There are ups and downs, things that send you spinning sideways, questioning and falling in and out of love, and then in love all over again. And I thought about how love stories are to be found in the mundane, day-to-day-ness of being in a couple. Raising kids, having meals, going to work, negotiating balance, growth … all of that.

So, in ‘Four: Stories of Marriage’, there is a lot of mundanity. I drop you in the middle of an ongoing narrative of four marriages, not at a beginning place, but smack-dab in the middle. And the ‘endings’ of these four stories are the same way … inconclusive, but a stepping away from action at a place where you don’t necessarily know what will come next, though you think you have an inkling. The other thing I thought about as I wrote ‘Four’ was the complexity of coupledom, and my belief that relationships are often about repeating the same dynamic, making the same mistakes, and negotiating the same tensions often without resolution. Not in a bad way, but in the push-and-pull way that keep people interested in and learning from each other, maybe over a lifetime.

I can’t give you a lifetime of reading about these couples. You wouldn’t want to read that, and I wouldn’t want to write it. But I leave you with them now, to rest, just as they are.

Love & Light,

Nia

P.S. Buy it, here.

 

 

Blog Stop: ‘The Breakup Plan’ by Tia Kelly

breakup+plan+2000x3000meet drew.

Drew Wilkerson is a dangerous man. Not in the physical sense. Well, yeah, technically it could be related to something physical, but he’s the type of man that could get away with the most ratchet of offenses and walk away from the incident both unscathed and with two more women fighting to give him some.

Six three. Runner’s build. Colgate megawatt smile with the charm to match. Can wear the heck out of a suit, jeans, basketball shorts… damn near anything and everything. After-hours radio voice. Hell, any time is the right time for that voice. And did I mention the brother has blue eyes? Drew says they’re hazel, but if that’s the case, it’s not the usual green-meets-brown version. When he wakes in the morning, all you see in them is a sea of crystal-blue depth. Piss him off and they remind me of steel. Whether you want to say they’re hazel, blue, gray-blue, or whatever, those bad boys are intense. Staring into them for more than five seconds will pin your ass to a wall so fast you’ll want to cosign turning over all your good credit for anything he could ask for. Although that wouldn’t be necessary.

Did I mention he’s loaded? Just dropped seven figures on his crib in Philly (and before you assume, I’m not talking about low, barely-reaching-million-dollar-status numbers, either), and that’s before the contractors were instructed to turn it into the home of his dreams.

– Avery Coleman


meet avery.

My Avery. I turn around to see her standing in the entry to my room, but she brings a smile to my face simply from the sound of her voice and the warm vanilla bean and coconut scent filling the air. She never can decide which is her favorite smell, and to be honest, I like the combination on her.

The smile on my face is there because I haven’t hugged my girl in weeks, and I’ve missed her, but it doesn’t take long for it to slip off.

“Hey.” She pauses mid-stride toward my open arms and frowns. “You okay?”

I should probably explain. I didn’t expect to see Avery looking the way she does. I’ve seen her hair in countless ways, from her usual Freddie on A Different World go-to style, to weaves, to bohemian braids hanging past her ass, to the small cornrows on the side with a mass of curls piled high on top vibe she’s going for now, so her curly ’hawk look doesn’t surprise me.

It’s seeing the roundness of her adorable caramel apple cheeks slimmed out and revealing a hint of cheekbones, making the diamond and pearl studs I gave her stand out a little more. Hell, it makes even her mouth look…

Sh*t, I don’t have time for a sexual harassment lawsuit, so I better not say. But what I can mention is the mustard tank she has on shows off shoulder blades that are more defined than the last time I saw them, when she wore a single-shoulder gown to a fundraiser a few months back.

And her waist. Jeans hug curves, but these curves aren’t hers. She still has one of those asses folks sing about, saying a beat was made for, but that’s not why I sometimes catch myself staring at her.

I do just because she’s Avery.

– Drew Wilkerson


REVIEW:

Avery Coleman and Drew Wilkerson have been best friends for a long time. And she’s also his personal assistant, and a friend-of-the-family. They’re so close that she is privy to just about all the parts of his life that would normally remain private – his email account, his residences, his charge cards and even gifts sent to him from his lady-of-the-moment. Still, as tight as they are, Drew is not necessarily as up-to-speed on what’s happening in Avery’s private life as he might believe he is.

Ahm … he has no clue that she is about to get married. And soon.

The news throws self-assured Drew for a loop and after a brief period of being a supportive best friend, he decides that what he needs to do is break up the wedding. But in doing so, will he also break up this friendship that has lasted more than a decade and been a cornerstone of his life?

While both Drew and Avery are flailing about and struggling with their obvious-to-all-but-them emotions, we slowly learn that there are a million tiny pieces from their past that help explain why their bond as strong as it is. Drew was with Avery during the lowest point in her life, and she has been with him since well before he was the handsome and in-demand playboy that he now is. The wedding, we realize, is just a catalyst for the inevitable reckoning with their pasts and their feelings that Drew and Avery were always going to have to do.

‘The Breakup Plan’ was on the one hand a lighthearted and humorous look at two people bumbling their way toward admitting a love that has always been there; and on the other, it was a glimpse of some of the darker and deeper things that might prevent someone from asking for and getting the love they want.

I especially liked the backdrop of the complicated and sometimes messy extended family dynamics—the sibling rivalry, the differences in relationships with parents and friends, the blurry boundaries, and the undercurrent of shared history. All of that made it believable that Avery and Drew could go so long having said so little about how they truly felt. Although there were some moments when I might have wanted to know more about Avery and Drew’s journeys—separate and together—at the end of the day, I enjoyed them and felt invested in seeing them find their way toward each other. I think you will too.

THE BREAKUP PLAN is available NOW!

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‘The Breakup Plan’ by Tia Kelly

breakup+plan+2000x3000

A man without a plan is a shell without purpose.

Which is why I sat down almost nine years ago and put pen to paper mapping out my ten-year plan. I meant business. Everything that could set me up for a lifetime of joy had to go down on the list, and every day I worked my ass off to fulfill it.

Open my own sports agency. Check.

Earn first million by my thirtieth birthday. I did that a week before I turned 26.

Negotiate the most lucrative contract in Major League’s history. Did that, too. Then went and broke my own record. (Thanks big bro!)

I could go on, but this isn’t about bragging. It’s me admitting in the midst of drafting something that helps shape and mold much of my success, I made a costly mistake.

One day I realized all those entries with corresponding checkmarks are pointless if I never factored into the equation the most important goal of all. Avery.

Perhaps way back then I wasn’t ready to see how much my best friend of fifteen years deserved that number one spot in my life. Maybe I was blind since the whole settle down and get married scenario wasn’t my thing since, well, forever. But now that I’m aware of the role I need her to fill in my life, there’s no such thing as letting go until I can convince her to be mine.

Considering she’s about to marry someone else does make winning her heart a little bit dicey. But if there’s anything you should ever know about me is that I always play to win. And losing Avery is non-negotiable.

The Breakup Plan.

A best friends to enemies romance.

He ruined her wedding day and he’ll do it again until she’s his..

The Breakup Plan by Tia Kelly – On Sale TODAY at 10 PM (EST)!!

tia+kelly-watercolor+copy

Tia Kelly is the author of contemporary and women’s fiction. She is known for her candid way of capturing life, love and relationships… one story at a time.

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‘Behind the Pen’ is back!

Behind the Pen 2018 FlyerI only started doing book signings and public appearances about three years ago. The first one I did was my own, ‘Wine with Writers’. After that, I tested the waters with a couple others, and once I realized that I would not spontaneously combust from all that … interaction, I was all in. To my neverending surprise, meeting people who read my books is not at all like most social interaction. Large groups of people can be draining for me. Meeting readers is by contrast, energizing, inspiring, and a great motivator. Not to mention talking to people who remember details about your characters and stories that you’ve long forgotten, and who took even the smallest bit of encouragement, or found empathy for different points of view just because of something you’ve written … there’s nothing like it. It makes me humble, and grateful that I write.

So, this year, I’m doing it again, at ‘Behind the Pen’ in New York, on Saturday, August 11. Organized by the Sistah Girls Book Club. Behind the Pen was created by Sistah Girls founder, Sharee Hereford, to celebrate black independent authors and the readers who love their work. What started out as a small digital conversation has turned into a growing community (over two thousand members now!) of authors and readers who enjoy literature.

Last year, my author besties Rae Lamar, Jacinta Howard, Lily Java, and Tia Kelly were there, which made it super-fun. After the event our little band of writer-friends had dinner afterwards, and dissected everything (as writers are prone to do) with a motley crew of moms and daughters, friends and one very special reader; and the main thing we talked about was how amazing it was that people even gave a crap about meeting us. Then we moved on to how incredibly well-organized ‘Behind the Pen’ was. For a maiden voyage, they thought of just about everything, and there were no glitches that I could see. Every writer was treated like a VIP, and every reader had the time and space to interact with us in a meaningful way. There was food, drinks, music, fun and a great view of Lower Manhattan. It fueled the work that I did for the rest of the year. I think, for sure, it made me write more … and better.

This year, I think you still might be able to make it. Tickets for Behind the Pen are still available here for a mere $25. But if you can’t make it, you can order signed copies of some of my favorite books, below.

I hope you see you at Behind the Pen, but even, if not …

Happy Reading!

~N~

 

Freeform

Just WriteSometimes I overshare about what I’m working on. And it’s kind of cool because the responses to the sharing are always positive, and motivating and reassuring. But there’s the other side. Sharing also leads to requests for timelines–which I then provide but rarely keep–then there’s disappointment from readers, and contrition from me because the last thing I want is for readers to be disappointed, even when in disappointing you, I may be satisfying myself. So, I tried, and continue to try to plan my releases, and have at least somewhat of an idea of when something I promised might be available.

This year, I have some ‘Have-To-Write’ books in my head, and God willing, they’ll get written. But I’m finding that the timeline I’ve set isn’t working. And that’s because something else is going on with me. I’ve been freeform writing a lot lately. Characters, stories and ideas are coming out of nowhere, and I’m just letting them come, not asking them to wait in line behind others, and not censoring them in any way. Most have been unusual, unformed, even unlikable and in a lot of ways uncharacteristic of what I’ve done in the past, and that’s been incredibly exciting. At least for me.

Writing evolves. I don’t want to write the way I wrote two, or three, or five years ago. For readers of romance, relationship-focused or women’s fiction, that can be scary, or even irritating when their writers change course. And I think many writers know this, so they disappear into their writing labs, and experiment in isolation, and agonize over hundreds of pages before they feel confident enough to release something that first and foremost satisfies them, but also satisfies their target readers. (I don’t believe for a second when writers say they write only for themselves. That’s what journals are for, not novels.)

But that’s a delicate and sometimes impossible balance. To satisfy your personal creative growth impulse and that of an audience who wants most of all, for you to give them what they know they will love. Imagine for a moment that you make a delicious pot roast with fingerling potatoes and a side of wild rice. Your family tells you it was the perfect meal. And then, every day, for the rest of your life, they demand that you make pot roast with fingerling potatoes and a side of wild rice. As delicious as you found that meal, as proud as you are of having made it, one day, you begin to loathe pot roast, cringe at the sight of fingerling potatoes and vomit if you have to eat wild rice. So it is with writing; at least for me.

The only cure is to step away from the pot roast, at least for a while, and experiment with, say, chicken marsala. That’s what I’m doing for now.

And I realize that produces some disappointment. The dread of your disappointment made me even consider, for a hot minute inventing a second pen name, something to hide behind so that I could keep the expectations and positive equity intact with the other things I write. But y’know what? I’m not going to go that route. I’m going to trust you to hang with me while I write stories that surprise you, or shake you up, or make you mad, or frustrated, or sad.

Wanderer - High ResolutionSo … what that means is that before I return to pot roast–which I have no doubt I will do from time to time–I’m doing chicken. And lamb. Pork even. You don’t have to like them. I mean it, you don’t. But do this for me? Judge them on their own merits. Don’t expect them to taste like pot roast.

And you know me … I’ll tell you everything as I go along this journey; probably more than you care to know about ‘process’. That’s all for now. Back to cooking ….

~N~

P.S. You know I have an online book chat about ‘The Wanderer’ coming up in a couple of days, right? Join the online book club ‘Because My Heart Said So’ here, to participate in the chat THIS WEDNESDAY, May 30th at 7 PM.

New Release! The Wanderer

Wanderer - High ResolutionHere’s the deal with 2018. I decided to write with no fear. You ever meet a writer who says they know their stuff is really good, then one of two things is almost certain to be true:

  1. They’re projecting confidence they don’t entirely feel (i.e., they lyin’); or
  2. they’re not as good as they think they are

Writing is a fearful, fetal-position-at-3am-sobbing-into-your-pillow kind of thing, believe me. Sometimes I write a paragraph I love. Sometimes I write a book I like a lot. I have never, never, ever written an entire book I loved. That’s the high I’m chasing. I feel like it might take me a lifetime to get there.

The fear is what makes me write slower than I might otherwise write, and also, strangely, release things on impulse, almost to purge them from my head and set them out into the world where, occasionally people will validate how terrible I thought they were to begin with. And sometimes people will tell me I was mistaken, and it wasn’t terrible after all. Of course, the latter is by far the preferred outcome. Fear of the former stunts you. I think you have to fail a lot in order to succeed.

So, this year , I made myself a promise. I would write more, write more carefully, and write without fear. By that I mean, I’m going to write entirely what I feel, and just let it go. I think, I’ve done that periodically, but not nearly as often as I would have liked to. So this novella, one of my ‘Shorts’ is where I’m marking time with that. If things I release, sound and feel different, if you sense I’m going someplace really different for a minute with a book, or series of books it’s probably true. But ride it out with me … I think we’re going to have fun.

Oh, and ‘The Wanderer’ is available now! Check it out, exclusively on Amazon.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘The Broken’ COMING SUMMER 2018

THEtakedown (1)

A lot of folks have reached out to ask me about Devin’s story. You may have met him in ‘The Takedown’. So I thought I’d give you a sample to let you know I’m working on it. This one is actually super-important to me, and I want to get it right. So, I’m projecting a late summer-early fall release. I work on it every now and then, when something strikes me about Devin. His story is not unlike that of someone I know and love very much, so I can’t screw it up. It will be a love story, of course, but with elements of two people learning to love themselves just as they learn to love each other. At the moment, I think I’m going to call it ‘The Broken’. Here’s a sample. Enjoy.

N.

From ‘The Broken’:

Half past midnight and well past drunk, Harper was sitting on the floor of her living room, pretending it didn’t matter that Matt and his boyfriend were cuddling on the sofa; and near her on the floor, his sister Sloan and her boyfriend, Ross were doing the same. They were watching a soulful French film that was non-linear and not at all conducive to getting drunk and high. The last thing one wanted to do when they had been drinking and smoking was read. And the second to last thing one wanted to do was feel like the fifth wheel. Harper was doing both.

All evening, she had been reaching for her phone, pretending to check iMessage, as though she had other options. But the truth was, she had imagined a very different kind of evening. She, Matt and his boyfriend had done the whole movies and chill routine many times, but it was easier with them, and more raucous. People stopped in at odd hours, bringing more drinks, more weed, and once in a while, even some harder stuff. And it would be fun and diverting, and Harper wouldn’t think, or even feel much of anything. The music would be loud, the television would be turned up to compete with the music and everyone would be practically shouting to be heard above it all. But this time, Matt had toned things down for his sister who was younger, and went to an artsy college. The French movie was her idea.

“Harper!”

She looked over her shoulder. Matt was talking to her, and she’d missed whatever it was he said. “Huh?”

“The door. Didn’t you hear it?”

“Nuh uh. Is someone out there?”

Matt looked at her with wide eyes. “Yeah. I guess. And I didn’t invite anyone else, so …”

Harper sat upright. Alert suddenly.

Please, she thought. Please. Please. Please.

Standing, she shook her head a little to clear it. It was almost one in the morning. She hadn’t even given it a thought that he might …

Devin was standing there when she opened the door. He was in jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt. He looked lean and rangy. And as always, he looked good. So, so good.

And Harper was surprised that she had the urge to hug him. If she did, he would probably recoil in shock. As it was, he was looking at her as though his being there was as unexpected to him as it was to her.

“Hey,” he said. He didn’t smile.

The corners of her mouth twitched as she tried not to do so herself.

“Hey.”

~~~~~~

Devin was up before anyone else.

Harper was still asleep next to him. Her apartment, her neighborhood, were so quiet, it was almost unnerving. Even though he had much nicer digs himself now, he still remembered what it was like to live in Brownsville, where he was accustomed to noise all night, just outside his window. Baseheads and other junkies wandering the street, shouting expletives at each other, sometimes getting high in the tiny alleyway just behind the building. Sometimes, he heard people having transactional sex, the grunts and groans cursory, sad, and sometimes theatrical, because the pleasure was being faked.

Harper’s bedroom was like sleeping in a cocoon. Twice he’d woken up, reminding himself of where he was by looking around. She had posters on the walls, like a teenager might. Of Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and OutKast. And framed LP covers, from eighties artists like MC Lyte and Chubb Rock; artists who had been talented enough, famous enough, but who were mismatched and counter-intuitive. Devin had a feeling that if he asked her, she would have very specific reasons for why she liked each one, and maybe even specific memories associated with them.

She was an interesting, and strange chick. When she talked about music, it was with a light in her eyes that made him want to smile, because it was something he almost never saw in people who weren’t themselves musicians. That light—the way she looked when she talked about music—was what made him want to sleep with her that first time. He noticed that she was pretty, probably even beautiful, but he noticed that as an afterthought. The exteriors of people were sometimes the least interesting parts of them. Inside was where all the action happened; and in some people, it was where the darkness lived. You couldn’t trust anything that was on the outside.

But still, Harper’s outside appealed to him. He reached beneath the sheets and touched her. She moaned in her sleep and opened her legs a little wider. Watching her face, Devin stroked her. Her eyelids fluttered as she came awake, and finally her hazel eyes were visible, clouded over and unfocused. He kept his gaze fixed on them, moving his fingers in slow and then faster circles, feeling as she grew moist, then slippery, then sopping wet. Harper’s lips parted and she moaned, her hips lifting off the bed.

“Devin,” she said. She bit into her lower lip, and all the while, her eyes remained open, and she stared right into his. “Devin,” she said again.

He had the sudden and surprising urge to kiss her mouth. He still wasn’t used to kissing on the mouth when he was fucking. He had kissed Kay, when they had that kind of relationship, a long time ago, but no one since, except now, Harper. But with Kay it was because he had never just fucked her. What they had done was about love, and after her, he had loved no one else. Kissing was too intimate to do with just anyone.

He had been mindlessly stimulating Harper while his mind drifted, so Devin was almost startled when she lifted her hips even higher off the bed, and emitted a low, deep cry as she came. Then she was limp again, still looking at him, her eyes lazy and half-shut. She smiled.

“Good morning,” she said.

One corner of Devin’s mouth lifted at the unexpectedness of the greeting, at the irrelevance of it. Just as their greeting at her front door the evening before had been irrelevant. In the things they didn’t say, sometimes it felt as though he and Harper actually said a great deal.

~~~~~~

“Did you find an apartment?”

Harper was sitting opposite him in the diner down the block from her house. It was a faux-diner, really. Decorated to look old-fashioned, but in reality, brand spanking new. A breakfast of two eggs, home-fries and bacon cost fifteen dollars. Devin shook his head in disbelief and put down the menu.

“No?”

He looked up at Harper. “No, I mean, yes, I found one.”

“Where is it?”

“Couple stops from here. Near the bridge.”

Harper looked surprised. “Oh. Wow. Cool.”

She was wondering, as Makayla had, how he could afford it. But unlike Makayla, Harper wouldn’t ask.

The waitress showed up and Devin ordered the expensive two-egg breakfast, after Harper had ordered her own. And once their coffees were refreshed, their server left them alone again. The only other people in the diner were young families, couples with kids, cajoling them through waffles and pancakes, trying to keep their little hands away from the syrup.

“You want to come see it?” Devin asked, on a whim.

“You have the keys and everything already?” Harper asked. “You signed a lease?”

He nodded, and shrugged. “I’m not picky.”

Harper laughed. “I know. I’ve seen the place you have now, remember? Are you going to be able to get out of that lease?”

“Lease?” Devin laughed. “That place is barely habitable. They’re lucky I don’t report them for all the code violations.”

“I do want to come see it,” Harper said. She moved the salt and pepper shakers back and forth, like someone playing a game of chess and contemplating her next move. “But I have to … I’ve got someplace to be today.”

Devin leaned back, studying her. This was the first time in ages he could remember seeing her outside of his apartment in the cold light of day. Her eyes looked more amber than hazel. Her lips were pink. It was like she was suddenly in technicolor.

“What?” she asked.

He had been staring, and it embarrassed her.

“I was just wondering what it is you’re doing today that makes you not want to come see my new crib,” he lied.

“I do want to see it. This is just … it’s something I can’t get out of. Again.”

“So you’ve gotten out of it in the past?”

“Many times. But my chits have all been used up.” She shrugged.

“What is it?” he asked. “This thing you’ve gotten out of many times before.”

“I’d rather not say.”

Devin didn’t press. Because if it were him, he would not want to be pressed.

“But maybe after?” Harper asked.

Devin shrugged. “Maybe,” he said.

 

COMING SUMMER 2018

NEW RELEASE! ‘THE MAKEOVER’

This is my first release of 2018, y’all! It was a really fun but in some ways tough one to write. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to do a book (that isn’t a sequel), where the couple is very much in love from page one, and have a long, rich, shared history. They’re also just regular people in that they had happy home lives, no deep, dark secret or significant trauma to work through, but just usual ‘couple-stuff’ — information that shouldn’t have been withheld, feelings that they don’t fully understand or explain, and a litany of advice from various friends and family, sometimes sending them off course. That was the fun part of writing ‘The Makeover’.

Writing un-tortured souls is new for me, so that was the tough part. But I thought I’d give it a shot, especially as a counterpoint to all the negativity that seems to be out there in the world lately. I wanted to do something fun, and light and easy to digest. I hope I succeeded, and I hope you check out — and enjoy–‘The Makeover’.

Here’s a sample, to whet your appetite!

Happy Reading!

N.

A Modern Love Story

From ‘The Makeover’:

“So,” Sam began. She had taken her favorite spot in her large brown suede armchair that had seen better days, and curled her legs beneath her. “What was all the cock-blocking about?”

Colt almost tripped over the coffee table, before sinking onto the sofa. “What?

“I wanted to stay, Colton. And you just barged into my conversation and …”

“Wait. Hold up. When you say cock-blockin’ you mean you were about to go home with that nigga?”

“Don’t say that word.” Sam closed her eyes and shook her head. “You know I hate it when you use that word.”

“Okay, fine. Lemme rephrase that. You were about to go home with that knocka? That clown. That …”

“I get your point. And probably not, but you didn’t know that! What if I were to come up to you and Bambi and drag on your shirttail and mess things up for you?”

“I wouldn’t have thought about it that way. If you wanted to jet, that would be the move. Plain and simple.”

Sam shook her head again, clearly disbelieving.

“But let’s get back to this whole cock-blockin’ comment. I mean, you do that shit, Sam?” He leaned forward. “Meet dudes in bars and then just … what? Let them …” He broke off, finding himself unable to even voice the thought let alone imagine the pictures that went along with it.

“I have … experiences,” she said vaguely, not meeting his gaze. “I mean, I’ve done some things. Haven’t you? I mean, I know you have.”

“It’s different.”

“How’s it different, Sir Sexist?”

“If I go home with a woman, I don’t worry about my safety. I don’t worry that she might overpower me, rape me and then slit my damn throat in the middle of the night.”

Sam pulled back. “God. Graphic much?”

“Because that’s the kind of shit that happens out here. To dumb-ass chicks who meet strangers in bars and take them home.”

“Why’re you getting so heated? It’s not like I’m a virgin.”

“I know. But I …” He stopped.

But he just didn’t think about it. The idea of Sam having actual, real-ass sex with some dude, the idea of her fucking some dude, he had avoided by not thinking about it. It was like a literal black hole in his consciousness—a sensory deprivation chamber, thankfully devoid of sight, sound, and everything else.

In college, she lost her virginity to some kid in one of her study groups. A nerdy dude who wore khakis and top-siders. When she told him—or rather when he pried it out of her—Sam hadn’t given any details, thank God, other than that she had finally “done it.” He’d seen the difference in her for weeks; a new awareness of her body, and sensuality in her movement. The kinds of changes that happen when a woman discovers her sexual power.

Colt remembered going out and shooting hoops till he was exhausted, and then calling a girl, whose name he didn’t even remember now, to come over so he could exhaust himself another way. He remembered eyeing the dude Sam told him she’d slept with and considering backing him up and telling him to leave her alone, except that everything he might say would be such a cliché: ‘you leave her alone, she’s a nice girl,’ or ‘you better not hurt her, or I’ll kick your ass.’

None of that seemed to apply, because he saw Sam with dude, and how he treated her like a queen. If he treated her right, then Colt had no cause to complain.

And if they were having sex, well … Colt would just not think about that part.

That had been his habit since, when men would enter and leave Sam’s life. And it was easy most of the time, because he wasn’t around for much of it, and the men were always temporary. There had been the one knucklehead who had lasted almost two years. Some dude she didn’t talk about much, who’d been around during Colt’s rookie year.

Other than that, if there were men in Sam’s life, they were like ghosts, a series of names that meant little: Eric, Jeff, Daniel, Jerome … whatever. Dudes who remained vague and whose stints in Sam’s life were briefer than the length of a basketball season.

“I mean … how many dudes we talkin’ ‘bout?” he asked now.

“How many women have you slept with?” Sam challenged. “And if you say it’s not the same, I will throw this wineglass at your head.”

“Well it’s not.” He sat back again. “But for real. How many?”

Sam stared at him. She downed the rest of her wine, and her eyes seemed to pierce right into his, behind his, and deep into his confused mind. She chewed on the corner of her bottom lip.

“Colton.” Her voice was quiet, and her expression suddenly solemn.

“What?”

“If I ask you something, will you promise to tell me the truth?”

“Of course. Always.”

“Okay, but this time you might be tempted not to. So, I want you to promise.”

He shrugged. “I promise.”

“Were you …” She looked down at her lap then up at him again. “Tonight, when you saw me with Aidan …”

“Was that his name? The joker with the ugly-ass watch?”

“Colton.”

“Okay, go ahead. Was I what?”

“Jealous.”

Colt blinked and swallowed back the instinctive denial.

Fuck it.

“Yeah,” he said, finally, looking off to an area just above her head. “Little bit.”

Sam stood and came toward him.

Colt froze when she stopped, standing between his legs. She straddled him. Her knees on either side of his thighs. She lowered her weight, so she was on his lap.

Sam.”

“What?”

“We can’t …”

“I was jealous too,” she said, talking over him, her words tumbling forward in a rush.

Colt looked up at her and she gave a little one-shouldered shrug.

Available now, exclusively on Amazon.


 

What I Learned at Wine with Writers ATL

 

iStock_000052910038_Medium-56b09b3f3df78cf772cffbb6What I Learned at Wine with Writers

I’m not good at personal appearances. I only started doing them about a year and a half ago and remember thinking—with exhaustion—about how stressful it is to stand in front of a room of people and to … speak. I think my best voice comes through in writing, so speaking feels like a chore, especially since I do it so much in my other job.

This weekend, at Wine with Writers, something occurred to me as I was waiting—with a fair amount of terror—for my turn to read aloud to roll around. Here’s what I learned. I didn’t start Wine with Writers so that you could see writers.

I started Wine with Writers, so I could that I, and other writers could see you.

Writing is quiet. For me, it’s often silent. I don’t like being spoken to when I write, and I definitely won’t be speaking to anyone. But once the words are on the page, and set free into the world, I want to hear what you thought of them. Did they move you? Did they anger you? Did you get me? Do you understand?

That’s why writers clamor for reviews, or at least that’s why this writer does. So I can listen. So I can hear you. But I find that some of the most thoughtful readers, the people who are most moved by books, sometimes freeze at the task of writing a review. It feels daunting to them, like being asked to submit an essay to a judgy teacher. And more than that, it requires them to do that which they most admire in writers—it requires that they choose the right words to portray feelings. And I know from experience that that is hard work.

So, this weekend at Wine with Writers, surrounded by my old writer friends the quietly funny Rae Lamar, the lyrical Lily Java, the dopest of the dope Jacinta Howard, and my new writer friends the exuberant Tasha L. Harrison and she of the silky, sultry written and spoken voice DL White, I realized something. I realized that I wanted to hear more from the women in the audience than I did from any of us.

I wanted to know what moves, frustrates, thrills and inspires you.

I wanted to know why you came.

I wanted to see, and listen to you, the largely hidden tribe of women who find life and sustenance in books.

I got that this weekend. I saw you, I heard why you came, listened to you. And it ended far too soon. Thank you. We will do it again.

Love & light,

N.

 


 

Wine with Writers ATL

I love writers. I really, really do. They’re such rare breeds. Most of those I’ve met (either IRL or in online spaces) tend to be gems, who on the outside are quiet, and unassuming but once unwrapped … whoa! And I feel privileged whenever I get a chance to participate in some of that unwrapping, by talking about their books, their philosophy of writing, and some of the big questions in life.

In Atlanta, on March 10, I get to do that with my sister-writers Rae Lamar, Jacinta Howard and Lily Java. Just like we did in the Philadelphia area last year, we’re getting together at Wine with Writers with a fairly small group of readers, some wine and delectables, to talk about art, and life and how the two often become intertwined. What’s even more exciting, is that this year we are joined by Tasha L. Harrison and DL White, one of whom I discovered late last year, and the other whose work I began to read just weeks ago.

They’re very different types of writers, but both have this thing I love — realism. So we’re going to talk to them about that in Atlanta, sip some wine, chill with good music, meet  readers, give away some stuff, and sell some books. And of course, Lily, Rae, Jacinta and I will join the conversation, and answer whatever questions you want to ask.

If you’re in the area, drop by and join us. This isn’t a book fair. It’s smaller, more intimate and leaves lots of time for conversation; for you to get to know us, and for us to get to know you. This time, the theme is ‘Identity & Individuality: The Movement Toward Issue-Based Black Women’s Fiction.’  These days, personally, I’m finding it harder than it used to be to create escapist fiction. And it made me curious what other authors are feeling, especially those who–even in the best of times–find it difficult to not include issues they care about as part of their narrative thread.

If this sounds like your vibe, register for the event, and see you in ATL!

Love & light,

N.

In the meantime, check some of the work I personally enjoyed very much by the featured authors:

Sticky Moon‘Sticky Moon’ by Lily Java

Someone very close to Myra Lambert has been brutally murdered. It’s commonly believed that her longtime stalker is the person responsible. Troubled ex-cop Glenn Sparrow was hired to play bodyguard for the vulnerable real estate heiress, while his best friend NYC Homicide Detective Lt. Max Harper solves the case. After a foiled abduction, Glenn and Myra retreat to the Catskills and the Lambert family farm, where they hope she’ll be safer and harder to find. In this remote, secluded refuge time seems to stop for Myra and Glenn, offering them an open window into each others world. What they find may be what they both have been searching for, but with a killer on the loose and Myra his possible prey, time may also run out. Are there limits to the lasting happiness a couple under siege might find with each other?

22’22’ by Rae Lamar

Having suffered the loss of her fiance, cushy job and luxury Midtown Atlanta condo at the height of the U.S. recession, Nina Drake packed up and left the ruins behind to start anew in sunny South Florida.

With no life and no friends, Nina settles in and resigns herself to the simple existence of a gift shop attendant where she passively observes the scores of colorful clientele living in the five-star resort where she works. After a few random run-ins with a peculiar resident, Nina’s boredom gives way to curiosity and she blindly steps out of her dull routine into someone else’s shoes…and the arms of an irresistible stranger. But it’s only a matter of days before Nina goes from dreaming of romantic possibilities to realizing that this tawdry hookup can never evolve into something real…

In spite of Nina’s aversion to his sordid past, Dean Whitmore is determined to make her believe that his intentions are as real as their instant connection. And the fact that he only has a few weeks to prove it to her before life leads them in different directions just makes the challenge that much more appealing…

 

Keeping Willow‘Keeping Willow’ by Jacinta Howard

Devin Walker, drummer for The Prototype, has one priority: turning his alt-soul band into the superstar act it’s destined to become. Singularly focused on his music, his creative passion is all-consuming—that is, until he crosses paths with his best friend’s college roommate, Willow Harden.

Willow was drawn to Devin from the moment she first saw him. And when Devin does, finally look Willow’s way, she’s easily seduced from her protective bubble into the lure of his fast-paced ambitions, though at times, she wonders if she can handle it.

Unable to resist their potent chemistry, Devin and Willow free fall into a relationship that makes them question each other and doubt themselves. Devin knows he should probably leave her alone; Willow knows life for her might not be any good without him. Can they possibly make their love work? And if so, at what cost?

 

Truth of All Things‘The Truth of All Things’ by Tasha L. Harrison

WHERE I COME FROM, COPS AREN’T SUPERHEROES.”

Photojournalist and wedding photographer Ava Greene has been unlucky in love, and even though she calls herself a hopeless romantic, she is more than a little bitter about it. The only attention she seems to get is from the men she has absolutely no interest in and has become unintentionally celibate in her effort to avoid “trash ass dudes” and has officially given up on the idea “the one” when Officer Friendly rolls up on her block.

“NOT ALL COPS…”

Arrogant and just shy of being a cornball with his bad-dad jokes, she knows that this stocky cop might just be the one to make her second-guess every thought she ever had about cops.

Ava tries to make it clear to Levi that she doesn’t need saving, that she doesn’t need to be worshiped, but he is convinced that is exactly she needs. But when Ava finds herself on the wrong side of the law, will he be the hero she needs or toe the “thin blue line?”

 

‘Brunch at Ruby’s’ by DL White

Brunch at Ruby'sRuby’s Soul Food Cafe has been the neighborhood hot spot their whole lives, so it’s only fitting that Ruby’s is where Debra, Maxine and Renee meet monthly to do what girlfriends do– eat, drink and offer unsolicited advice on life and love.

Debra Macklin has it all: a successful career, a long marriage and a happy 12 year old daughter. But she’s hiding a secret that could not only shatter her perfect image, but destroy her marriage and career. When her secret is spilled, Debra is poised to lose everything she holds dear.

Maxine Donovan is a self made woman but despite all she earns and owns, she’s on a constant quest for Mr. Right. Handsome, aloof Malcolm Brooks might just be The One, but when Malcolm’s attention turns toward her friend instead, Maxine is ready to risk a strong bond to fight for him.

Renee Gladwell left a lucrative job and a handsome boyfriend to nurse her father and Gladwell Books back to health. A temporary stay has turned into four years of struggling with Alzheimer’s and a family owned bookstore that is in no shape to sell. Renee is in limbo, caring for a man who is slowly forgetting his past—including her. When she meets Malcolm Brooks, her life brightens, but is love worth risking a friendship?

Brunch at Ruby’s is a funny, inspiring, soulful look into a lifelong friendship where bonds are bent, but never broken.

#HolidayShorts are Back!

Ice Cream PartyThe holidays are upon us, and strangely, during this hectic time of year I am more likely to want to write, even as I have less time to do it.

So, along with my sister-writers Lily Java, Jacinta Howard and Rae Lamar, I’ll be writing short pieces to celebrate the season. Mine will be available here on my blog, and on Facebook. And, like last year, the pieces may introduce you to new characters that you’ll hopefully get to know in 2018, and perhaps even some updates on old favorites. 

I hope you enjoy. And Happy Holidays!

~N~


 

Funny Seeing You

Damon hoped it wasn’t her. But the way the woman turned, the lean of her head, the slightly buoyant gait, as if she was walking on the balls of her feet, and he knew.

It was Noelle.

Of all the people, and of all the times of year …

He made to turn away, and head in the opposite direction, but wasn’t quick enough. At that exact moment, she glanced back, over her right shoulder and caught sight of him. For a moment, the smile on her face—clearly intended for the man standing next to her—froze, and slipped a little. Then, she refreshed it, smiling again and lifting a hand in a graceful flutter, to offer him a wave.

In the near distance, there was the rhythmic sound of a bell—the Salvation Army asking for donations just outside the doors—and overlaying that, the determined cheerfulness of the piped in Christmas music.

Damon waved back, and tried to smile. He saw in her eyes that Noelle was weighing whether to come over. And he saw a little resignation in them, as she relented, and decided that she supposed she would have to. After all, he was the man she was once engaged to marry.

So … this was it. The moment he knew would come, when he would run into her out in the world; and see her smiling, looking happy again, and getting on with her life without him. He had imagined he would feel something. But not this.

As Noelle crossed the crowded store, dodging the people in her path, he saw the changes. The shorter hair—formerly past her shoulders, now cut just below her ears—and her slightly fuller, curvier frame though her face, interestingly, looked more angular, and her jaw and chin more defined.

The closer she got, the more Damon’s heartbeat sped up.

“Damon.”

She stopped when she was directly in front of him. Then they had one of those awkward moments where one person leans in, then slightly away, while the other leans in … neither of them sure how intimate a greeting was warranted.

“Elle,” he said. His voice was slightly hoarse. He hoped she didn’t detect as much, and that the din in the crowded store had covered his nervousness.

“How are you?” She asked, like she really did want to know.

They finally navigated a brief kiss on the cheek. She smelled the way she always did—fresh, and brand new. A million memories rushed through his mind all in an instant.

Elle standing in front of him in line at the movies, then turning to ask him a question, her ponytail swishing, and brushing his chin, the summery scent of it, surrounding him for a nanosecond.

Elle straddling him on a Saturday morning, leaning forward, kissing his neck, and urging him to “get up, wake up, get out of bed,” so they could “play.”

And Elle when it ended, turning away from him abruptly, her long hair fanning in an arc, as she hid her face, so he wouldn’t see the tears.

The tears.

But she was smiling now, even as her companion, the stocky brother in the tweed jacket (what the hell was Noelle doing with a brother wore tweed?) waited a respectful distance away, containing his impatience.

“I’m good,” Damon lied. “You?”

“Excellent,” she said. And she sounded like she meant it. “You remember, this is my favorite time of year.”

Remember? How could he forget. It was one of the first things she told him about herself when they met. Her name, Noelle, was because she was born on Christmas Day.

‘Other kids might have felt like they got shafted,’ she’d told him. ‘But I was a late-in-life baby, and the only one. My parents celebrated my birthday all month in December. And Christmas Day? They made it … magical.’

Damon—who was accustomed to professional, polished, and much harder women—didn’t even know what to make of someone so guileless, that they’d start gushing about their ‘magical’ childhood when clearly, he was just trying to get into her panties.

“Yeah,” he said now. “Of course, I remember.”

“You look good, Damon.” She looked him over, up and down. And smiled again.

“You do, too.” He glanced over her shoulder, in the direction of the man waiting for her. “So, who …?”

“Michael,” she said. “His name is Michael.”

“Is he …?”

Elle’s smile faltered a little, and she gave a little shake of the head as if to say, ‘no, please, let’s not.’

“I have so much more shopping to do,” she said, talking over the rest of his question. “And if I don’t do it all this weekend, I’ll give up in defeat. I avoided all that Black Friday madness, but it’s still so crazy out here. But you know my family …” She rolled her eyes.

Christmas was a big deal in the Cooper family. Huge, in fact. Though she was an only child there were cousins aplenty, so the big day was quite the event. Church, first thing, then a huge breakfast awaiting their return. Following that, everyone would retreat to bedrooms for naps (though he and Noelle found other, more enjoyable ways to use that time); and when they woke, coffee, gift exchange, and finally a large dinner later in the evening during which they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Noelle.

She was never far from Damon’s side the entire time, exchanging looks and smiles with him, because like she’d told him, it was “all so corny, and all so amazing at the same time”.

Damon wondered if ‘Michael’ would be taking his place this year. Sitting in Mr. and Mrs. Cooper’s living room, surrounded by the smells of cinnamon, and pine, baking hams, and roasting turkey. Children squealing, adults laughing, and Noelle’s hand resting lightly on the back of his neck.

It had only been six months … He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to hear her say that, yes, Michael would be there.

“Elle,” he said. He put a hand on her arm and she withdrew it. Her withdrawal, strangely, gave him the confidence to go on. It meant she wasn’t as unaffected as she seemed. “Elle, I’d love to … If we could talk, I think …”

“Damon,” she said, sounding almost sad. “It’s …” She shook her head.

Too late. That’s what he knew she meant. Those were the words unsaid. But he didn’t believe it. The lie of those words, was in her eyes.

Before he could say anything more, Michael had approached and was standing just behind Noelle. He put a hand at her elbow.

“Hey,” he said to her, not looking at Damon. “We should probably get a move on. We have that thing, so …”

“Yes. Right. Of course,” Elle said briskly.

Damon watched as Michael’s hand slid easily down Elle’s arm, and his fingers wrapped around hers. She accepted the hold easily, like she had done so many times before. Michael took a step away and Elle turned a little, her body oriented toward Michael, but still looking at Damon.

“Happy Holidays, Damon,” she said, with a sad smile. “It was so … funny seeing you.”

Yeah, Damon thought ruefully as she walked away. Funny seeing you, too.

~~~

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY:SNOWFLAKE

“I have a proposition.”

Asha opened the door and smiled. “He lives.”

“Barely. But yeah. Got some rest and now I feel much better.” Kal moved around her and entered the apartment without waiting for an invitation.

She hadn’t seen him in a day and a half and more than once, wondered whether she should go over to knock on his door just to check that he was okay.

But that would have felt pushy. Kaleem Carter did not need her to be his babysitter, and as it was, she was getting too used to his face, too excited at the thought of just being in his presence. It was ridiculous.

“Good. Glad to hear it,” she said. “And the ankle?”

“Still sore. But getting better. Since I was on my back all day yesterday, that helped.” He collapsed on her sofa.

He was getting super well-acquainted with that particular piece of furniture. Like it was his spot whenever he came over. Asha wondered whether he would come over once school started again, and once his regular female visitors resumed. More likely, she would recede into the back of his mind—as if she had ever been in the forefront—and they would wave from their front doors or say a brief hello on the stairs when they ran into each other.

“You said you had a proposition?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Yeah.”

He said the word in a slow drawl, and was eyeing her from where he sat, his gaze running over her from head to toe. Asha took mental stock of her appearance— her hair was in a ponytail, and she was wearing tattered cut-off denim shorts frayed at the hems and a grey NY Giants baby-tee.Nothing remarkable, but Kaleem sure seemed to find it interesting. It was probably just his way, making girls feel so visible. Like he missed nothing about them and liked it all.

Asha felt her skin flush and damned her fair complexion. Every tiny blush was visible.

“You know Deuce Scaife?” he asked.

“Not personally, but I know who he is,” she said.

She wanted to sit, so he wouldn’t be on eye-level with her bare legs. She didn’t hate her legs, but sometimes wished they were less gamine, and had more muscle-tone. She looked great in jeans, she knew, but sometimes, unclothed, Asha wished there was more there for a man to appreciate.And a man to appreciate it.

“His father has a place in Jersey and every Thanksgiving the whole family is there, some friends … a whole mess of folks.”

Asha nodded, wondering where this was headed.

“Deuce invited us to come stay with them.”

“Wait. What?

She shook her head, wondering if somewhere along the line, while she’d been distracted she had missed a step in their conversation.

“Deuce wants us to come to Jersey for Thanksgiving.”

“Why would he want me to come to his house for Thanksgiving? He’s never spoken a single word to me. I don’t even think he knows my name.”

“He knows my name. And he knows that I’m not leaving you here.”

Asha opened her mouth but didn’t know what to say. She took a step back and lowered herself into the armchair opposite Kaleem. Biting her lower lip, she chewed on it for a few moments, buying time.

“Ahm … You … Why would you …? We don’t even know each other,” she said.

“You looked after me when I was sick.”

“I gave you two Advil and some soup.”

FourAdvil. And you let me sleep off my fever, and drool on your sofa,” Kaleem corrected her. “In my book, that means you don’t get to claim to be a stranger.Not anymore.”

Asha was touched. But she shook her head. “I can’t. It would be …”

“You know Zora Diallo?”

Asha nodded. “Yeah. I used to be a member of the BLM chapter, before … Before.”

A question flickered in Kaleem’s eyes. The obvious question. Asha hoped he wouldn’t ask it aloud.

“Zora is Deuce’s girl. She’ll be there, too. So,if you’re worried about being a third wheel, don’t. You’d be saving me from being the third wheel, for real.”

Asha said nothing.

“And you have a more than fair chance of meeting a couple of celebrities.” Kal squinted, as if making a last-ditch selling point.

“I’d be terrified to meet any celebrities,” Asha said quietly.

“Bullshit,” Kal said, just as quietly. “You don’t scare easy.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know how I know. I just do.”

Their eyes met, and Asha didn’t want to look away. His were an impenetrable shade of brown that was almost black, and their shape when he squinted a little, as he was doing now, was almost feline.

There was a time when Asha had been obsessed with ethnicity. It was the kind of obsession a kid with no idea of who her father might be developed. She searched faces on the street for clues, thinking, ‘That woman looks like me. She looks like we could come from the same place … And him … And her … and him.’ It was futile, and exhausting, and she had eventually given it up, but now she had a largely useless stockpile of information, and the uncanny ability to identify people as Haitian versus Jamaican, Argentinian versus Colombian. She was practically an Ethnic Studies savant.

Kaleem reminded Asha of pictures she had once pored over, of Fulani men, long, but strong neck, narrow nose-bridge with flared nostrils, and thick lips, balanced by a strong, square jaw. And the body. Coiled strength, in a deceptively long and lean frame.

Did he know he was beautiful?

“Come on, go with me,Snowflake,” Kaleem said, his voice low and hoarse. “Let’s you and me have a winter adventure.”

COMING IN 2018.