It was 2012 and I had just let loose into the world, my first self-published book, Commitment. It was a long book. Even after I’d edited it sixty million times, it was still kind of a tome. It was the kind of book that proved that I didn’t know anything about self-publishing, and knew even less about the dominant genre of romance. So, I released the book and y’know what happened? Basically NOTHING. Not for a long, long time. I think one of my first reviews was a two-star review that said the book was too long, and didn’t hold the reader’s interest, or something like that. I was disappointed, but not crushed, because they explained why they couldn’t get into it. And when I looked at Commitment‘s counterparts, I saw that it was indeed a lot longer than the genre where I’d classified it generally tolerated.
I decided my audience was probably not traditional romance readers, or maybe not exclusively so. So, I did a little research, and the advice was that I should “get out there” and not just wait for readers to “discover” me. Instead, I should review other books in similar genres to the one I was writing in, and make sure I added to my profile wherever I reviewed, that I was also a writer, and list my work. (I picked women’s fiction as the closest to what I saw myself doing.) Cool. Easy enough to write reviews, because I’m analytical by nature and like parsing the meaning of books almost as much as I like reading and writing them. I read a fair amount now, but back then was a much more voracious consumer of novels of all kinds, so I had plenty of books to choose from for my first review.
I found a book I’d read not too long prior, and reviewed it. It was a pretty popular book with a catchy title that had garnered a lot of interest among Black women and popped up on lots of recommended reading lists for Black chick lit, Black women’s fiction and the like. I wrote an honest review. I liked the story and the trajectory until the end, which I said felt like the author stepped up to the precipice of a really important statement about women, and then chickened out and retreated to a traditional girl-gets-boy ending. I’m telling you, I put a lot of thought into that review, as I do into every review I write. And I was honest, as I always am when talking about how other writers’ work made me feel. I posted my review, and went on about my life.
A couple days later, a new review popped up for my book after a long dry spell where there was nothing but crickets and tumbleweed. Yay, right? Maybe the strategy was working! My review of someone else’s work was getting my book some attention! Then I read it. It was my very first experience with a gratuitously unkind, calling-into-question-whether-they-read-the-book-at-all review. It said something like, ‘nothing to see here, same ol’ same ol’ … Boring.’ And it used a phrase that was suspiciously similar to one I’d used in my review of that popular chick lit book. Something felt disingenuous about it. So I looked up the reader’s other reviews, and discovered through a little amateur sleuthing (okay, no sleuthing was involved, it was right there on her profile) that the bad review had come from none other than the semi-famous author whose book I had reviewed unfavorably!
My mouth fell open.
I went back to read my review of her work and found that I was perfectly content with what I’d said, and willing to stand by it. I was stunned that she would care what completely unknown little ol’ me thought of her book. She was getting national accolades and attention after all. And what was more incredible was that she would care enough to write what definitely smelled like a revenge review. That’s when it occurred to me — some authors don’t want feedback. Not really. They want praise, accolades, adulation. Otherwise, they want you to just please STFU. That experience, and a few others since then, when other authors’ fans decided to take not so subtle digs when I gave their idol less than a stellar review finally made me stop writing reviews of books altogether for a time. I’ve only just begun to write them again, and still, only sparingly. Particularly if the writer is anywhere within six degrees of separation, I remain silent unless I can be complimentary.
But lately, I’ve come to regret this approach, and am pulling back from it. Not because I’m sooooo full of integrity, but some of it is for my own sake. Especially when I get five-star reviews that feel undeserved, or read a book that has only glowing reviews but turns out to be a lackluster read. I’m craving balance, and honesty. Because I “know” readers through social media and we shoot the breeze about tons of things besides books, they tend to send private messages when they’re disappointed in a book I wrote, rather than write a thoughtful, well-reasoned public review that other readers can assess and engage with. I think they believe I’ll get frosty or mean if criticized. Or send a bunch of rabid trolls their way. Or will resent the public airing of something other than compliments. And those fears are not unwarranted in this new world of reader/writer engagement.
But don’t get me wrong. ‘I hated it. Stupid book and waste of money.’ is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about using the time and space when you write a review to give authors actual data, information about where they grabbed you, where they lost you, what you felt. That stuff is gold. Seriously. Please do it. Write reviews that are meaningful, don’t just show up to join in the applause.
My take is this: write the review, make it honest, even if it’s less than complimentary . Even if it’s about my book. I, for one, appreciate it. And I know I’m not alone.
A marriage, a friendship, the fate of a missing child … All three hang in the balance.
Noah and Dana are already facing a difficult time in their short marriage when their daughter, Samara, is abducted. The fallout from friends and family, and the harsh judgment of the public, force them to face some difficult truths about their views on love, marriage, and race. As Dana reflects on the road leading to her and Noah’s union, she begins to examine her motives for getting married, consider whether they should go on, and most painfully, question whether she and her husband ever really knew each other at all.
A marriage, a friendship, a missing child … All three hang in the balance.
Noah and Dana are already facing a difficult time in their short marriage when their daughter, Samara is abducted. The fallout from friends and family, and the harsh judgment of the public, force them to face some difficult truths about their views on love, marriage, and race. As Dana reflects on the road leading to her and Noah’s union, she begins to examine her motives for getting married, consider whether they should go on, and most painfully, question whether they ever really knew each other at all.
1. THIS IS HOW I LOST YOU
There is a bird sitting in the tree beneath which the Audi is parked. Just as I am opening the rear passenger door to put Samara inside, it craps on the roof, and then begins to sing, a full-throated melody, as if in triumph.
I mutter a curse. I just got the darn thing washed
the day before, after a long winter when the effects of snow and salt and mud
were all too apparent, making my luxury SUV look more like a work truck. We
live in a neighborhood where people judge you for things like that, and one
where Samara and I have already become somewhat of a curiosity.
We have become a curiosity because this is very
much a two-parent family community and now there is just me and my daughter;
and because most of the children are tweens or teens. Only one couple on our
block has kids near Samara’s age, and they are, I think, three- and
five-years-old to Samara’s eighteen months. People with very young children,
like Samara tend to be somewhat young themselves, and younger people cannot
generally afford this neighborhood, so I am a curiosity for that reason as well.
As I strap her into her car seat, Samara smiles up
at me, and says, “Juice?”
Her tone is mildly inquisitive, and fully
expectant that I will be able to supply what she has asked for.
I look at the side-pocket of diaper bag next to
her on the seat and my shoulders sag when I realize I’ve left her cup inside.
Instead, I hand her her favorite little stuffed toy that she drags around
“When we get to grandma’s,” I say.
“Juice!” Samara insists. Her face crumples the way
it does when she is getting worked up to deliver a scream.
“Mama will get you juice,” I promise. “Just as
soon as we get to grandma’s.”
She stretches out in the car seat in that way she
has, making her body as straight and stiff as a board. She tosses her little
plush elephant aside in disgust. I can already picture how this will go. I will
climb into the driver’s seat and shut the door,
she will realize that there is no juice forthcoming, and will have an epic
meltdown lasting the entire drive to Noah’s mother’s house. And I will, once
again, deliver to my disapproving mother-in-law, a purple-faced, snotty-nosed,
This wasn’t the plan. Samara was supposed to stay
home today, but her sitter, Francine called late last night and said she
wouldn’t be able to make it this morning after all. I had to call Noah’s mother
to fill in at the last minute. But I knew that while she would judge me for
being a poor planner, she also wouldn’t be able to turn down the gift of almost
half a day spent alone with her granddaughter.
“Samara, please,” I say, putting the back of a
hand against my forehead. “Not this morning.”
“Juice!” she says yet again.
I realize I am trying to reason with someone who
is inherently unreasonable and take a deep breath, shutting my eyes
momentarily. I reach to unfasten her from the car seat and then exhale again.
Instead, I smile at her.
“Just a moment, okay? Mama’s going to get you your
I make sure I have the fob in hand, shut the door
with Samara inside and engage the locks. I have a moment’s pause, but only a
moment. I look up and down the tree-lined block, then make a mad dash back
toward the house, glancing over my shoulder while I unlock the front door, and
again when I pause at the panel that will disarm the home security system.
I run back to the kitchen and spot right away
Samara’s juice cup sitting on the center island. Grabbing it, I turn and trip
over one of her toys, a little supermarket cart, filled with plastic fruit and
vegetables, and little boxes printed with pictures to make them look like the
real ones of breakfast cereal, rice, and other dry goods.
“Shit!” I yell as my right knee crashes painfully
against the travertine floor.
The top snaps off the cup, sending a puddle of
apple juice across the floor along with the mass of fake groceries.
I right myself almost immediately and check my
pants and top. Thankfully, the juice is only on the floor and not on me. I take
a deep breath, blink back the reflexive tears that rise to my eyes from the
sharp pain in my knee and half-walk, half-limp over to the sink. I quickly
rinse the cup then go to the fridge and refill it.
Kicking aside some of the toys and stepping over
others, I head for the front door then remember my keys. Grabbing them,
avoiding the pool of apple juice that will no doubt be a sticky mess when I
return home that afternoon, I finally head out. I consider leaving without
rearming the security system, but then decide that I must. These tiny
omissions, because of the fear of a minor inconvenience are what lead to later
regret, I remind myself. I shut the door, only for as long as it takes to enter
the code to arm all the entry points to the house.
Finally, I am walking down the cobblestone path
from the front door and back to the Audi. I am only a few feet away when I
realize I can’t see the top of Samara’s head with the ash-blonde curls. I move
faster. I think only that she has managed to unfasten herself from the car
seat. Kids are smart, and at her age, little sponges. Having seen me do it a
million times, she has probably figured out how to do it on her own.
All these thoughts go through my mind in the mere
seconds it takes me to get to the car. All these thoughts immediately
disappear, replaced by other more panicked ones when I get to the car and realize
that Samara is not inside.
I drop the juice cup, and grab the door handle,
tugging frantically at it and not understanding why it won’t open. It is
locked. For a moment, I don’t know what the keys in my hand are for. I look at
them, uncomprehending. I hear nothing except for the blood rushing in my ears,
feel nothing except for my heart crashing in my chest. I yank the door one last
time, then remember. I use the fob to disengage the locks then practically dive
into the backseat.
Samara is gone.
Her car seat is empty.
I look—irrationally—under the seats, and in the
front, down at the passenger and driver’s side floorboards.
here! How could she not be here?
My mind splinters like that of a panicked animal.
My hands are shaking uncontrollably. I get out of the car and look under it. I
look up and down the street. And then, I begin to scream her name, over and
over again. I am still screaming her name when one of my neighbors comes out of
I don’t know her, but she is holding a coffee mug
and wearing a summer suit. Her eyes are wide in alarm. She can tell from the
sound of my wails that I am not just calling to my child in the way that
parents often do to get them to come. Her expression, which I register dimly,
tells me that she knows right away that something very, very bad has happened.
am sitting on the sofa in the living room and the house is crawling with
uniformed officers when Noah arrives. Next to me is the neighbor lady whose
name I should know since she told it to me at some point. But it flitted
immediately out of my head, and I would not be able to retrieve it if my life
depended on it. She is holding my hand and I am digging my fingernails into her
palms though she doesn’t complain.
I have stopped making any sound, at least
outwardly, but inside my soul is screaming like a banshee. Standing over me, is
Detective Lewis. I retained his name, because he is important. He is the man
who I need to believe will find my baby.
Noah’s suit-jacket is still on, but his tie looks
askew, like he’s tugged at it. His tan face is drawn into a worried and
horrified scowl. His sandy hair—always rakishly long in front—is disheveled.
“Dana!” he says again, shoving past the detective.
“What … what … where’s Samara? Where’s …”
The detective steps between us. He looks Noah
I see his eyes taking it all in—Noah’s thirtyish
all-American blonde and athletic good looks, and his frantic, frightened blue
eyes. If he is at all surprised that we are an interracial couple, it is not
apparent in Detective Lewis’ eyes. He probably guessed as much when he looked
at the picture of my blonde-haired girl with a complexion that is light
desert-sand, in contrast to my much tawnier brown.
“Yes.” Noah looks at the detective impatiently,
then back at me. “Dana …”
The neighbor lady releases my hand, and though I
am not looking at her, I can sense her watchfulness. I can almost feel her
holding her breath, waiting for what comes next.
“Noah,” I say, reaching for him. “She’s … she’s
My face begins to crumple just as his does. But
instead of crying, he raises his voice.
“What do you mean?” he demands, grabbing me by the
shoulders. “What do you mean?”
“I went … She was in the car, and …”
“Mr. Farris …”
Detective Lewis tries to interject, but Noah is
shaking me now, and I am flopping backward and forward as he does, unresisting.
Someone pulls us apart, and I don’t see Noah because I am sobbing and looking
“Mr. Farris.” The detective is speaking again. “It
appears … Your daughter is missing, and at least right now it seems as though
she may have been abducted.”
“How could that have happened?” Noah’s voice is
lower now, but not by much. “Dana! How the fuck …?”
“Your ex-wife was inside when …”
I look up, and Noah is staring at me in horror.
“How could you have been … Where was Samara when
you were inside, Dana?”
“Your daughter was in the car,” Detective Lewis
answers for me.
“In the car?” Noah repeats the words as though
he’ll need someone to translate them for him.
There is stony emphasis in the detective’s tone. “If we’re to find your
daughter, I’m going to need both you and your wife to answer some questions for
Noah finally tears his accusing gaze from me. His
face is almost blood-orange. I hear him breathing, labored and uneven breaths.
“What … what do you need to know?” he manages.
“You and your ex-wife have been …”
“My wife,” Noah says. “We’re just … we’re
separated, not divorced.”
“Your wife. Yes. You’ve been living apart for how
“What the fuck does that have to do with
anything?” Noah asks, looking pained. He glances at me again.
“I told him six months,” I offer.
“Six months, yes. Six months,” Noah says.
He glances up as a uniformed officer walks by, his
“What’re they looking for? Why are they even here
when Samara …?”
His voice cracks, and my heart does as well. He
looks at me. His eyes are brimming with
a look of betrayal.
he says, his face crumpling again. “You lost her? How could you do … how could
you lose her?”
Cassandra James thinks she has her place in the world all figured out. But an unexpected betrayal forces her to ask if her “free black girl” vibe is a myth, or worse, a mask to hide herself from the world.
Bam Mosley, keyboardist for the alt-soul band, the Prototype, knows who he is. He just wants to make good music and see the people he cares about win.
Then he meets her.
Sure, Cassandra is gorgeous and smart, with hypnotic eyes, but his bandmate’s sister wasn’t supposed to be this…disruptive and break down all his defenses.
She sees what he hides from everyone else. He allows her to take off her mask.
But is their connection powerful enough to survive life’s low notes? Or maybe the true test of love is knowing when to let go…
Settle in, folks. This is going to be a long one. I am ridiculously excited about this release. Jacinta Howard is one of my favorite authors. And I’ll tell you why in a minute, but let me just start with my review of ‘Loving Cassie’.
book, like all this author’s books,
has a mood and rhythm all its own, that reminds me of the music that her characters
in The Prototype Series
create—deep, soulful, incredibly memorable. And Bam and Cassie’s story
continues that trend. Bam is the percussionist in the soul band The Prototype, who
we met in previous novels as the loveable, comic relief, the counterpoint to all
of the angst that seems to swirl around his friends. But in this story, his
story, we learn that Bam is just as focused on his craft as the other members
of the band, just as steadfast underneath all the jokes. Like his bandmates, he
also has some pretty complicated stuff to contend with, including the difficult
family histories or distant parents that seem to typify the experience of almost
all the band members in one way or another. The members of The Prototype understand
each other in ways that their families of birth don’t always understand them,
and Bam’s experience is no different.
despite his frivolous façade, Bam actually has things pretty well under control—he
has a lover who he enjoys, and who enjoys him, and who understands his limits
where commitment of time and emotion are concerned; and he has a fatalistic
attitude about his distant relationship with his mother, and his almost
non-existent one with his father. He doesn’t agonize about much of anything, he
just gets on with it, recognizing that if he puts the time and work in with the
band, he’s going to wind up in a different place from where he is now as a
struggling college student.
an aside, I never hesitate to say this about Jacinta Howard’s characters: they
are not frivolous. Young, yes, but
frivolous, no. And I don’t mean they don’t display frivolity in their behavior,
what I mean is, as an author Howard respects them, even though they’re young. Their
feelings, experiences and aspirations are not portrayed in a way that’s too …
cute, or too precious. The significance of their story is never minimized because
they’re just on the cusp of embarking on more adult lives. Some writers write
new adult characters with a tone that’s almost glib, as though they’re patting
them on the head and going, ‘Isn’t that
sweet? You think you’re in love!’ or,
‘Aw! You crazy kids!’ With that approach, you feel the writer’s outsider perspective in their tone and so what
should be earnest comes across as disingenuous. Jacinta Howard doesn’t do that.
She pulls you back to that time in your life, if you’ve already passed it; or
she roots you in it, if you’re currently there. She empathizes with her
characters in a way that is clearly genuine.
to the review: so Bam is, despite the joking around, a young man on very firm
footing. Knows who he is, and where he’s going. Enter Cassie, his bandmate Kennedy’s
Kennedy’) somewhat flighty sister, who is like a whirlwind in more ways
than one. She’s rebounding from the end of a long relationship and doing her “free
Black girl” thing, rolling where the wind takes her and trying to temper her penchant
for occasionally causing “drama.” This time, she tells herself, she’s going to straighten
out, starting with putting a codependent relationship behind her. But … then
comes (as Cassie later reflects on their connection): Bam:A sudden impact or
she and he are combustible, something neither of them wants, but both are powerless
to resist. Their respective plans, resolutions and routines are up-ended by
their connection. Bam has to learn to deal with Cassie’s changeable, volatile
and unpredictable nature; and she must learn to trust that Bam’s steadfastness is
not a mirage, and that he will not fail her. What one has, the other lacks, but
together, there is balance. Watching them go through the process of trying to
reach balance was fun, nerve-wracking in a way only passionate people can be,
and all kinds of sexy. That’s all I’m
gonna say, other than READ THE BOOK.
back to why I love this author. I feel like she’s not just entertaining us, but
documenting a time. A kind of revolution in Black creativity. I feel like we
lost it for a while behind a focus on flashy commercialism, but things are
changing and Black creatives are more mindful of their place in our story. For
sure, there have always been young Black artists who are in it for the artistry,
and not for the glory. We don’t hear about them much, because … again, they’re
not in it for the glory. In the past decade we’ve heard more about stars, and glamor
and bling … and a fair amount of contemporary romance focuses on that as well. But
the tide is shifting. Even the biggest commercially successful female performer
on the planet is beginning to lead with a mindfulness of her place in the cycle
and history of Black artistic expression. Still, far fewer books—especially contemporary
relationship-focused fiction, or romance—look at the grit, the struggle, the
sacrifice, the determination and the pure love of an art (in this case, music) in
the way Jacinta Howard does. And fewer still allude to the existence of a quiet
tribe of young Black creatives who do it #ForTheCulture; the ones for whom,
maybe the fame comes, maybe it doesn’t, but they press on because the work
itself has inherent value.
I feel like that about this author’s work. I know that out there, there’s a reader who wants to see a dimension of us that’s not as frequently portrayed in modern Black romance. So I think it’s pretty cool that Jacinta Howard is giving us other stories, not as frequently told stories about Black people, Black love, and Black art. You know … for the culture.
ABOUT JACINTA HOWARD
A longtime journalist and lifelong music lover, Jacinta Howard lives in the Atlanta area. She is the author of new adult, women’s fiction, and contemporary romance, a USA TODAY HEA Must-Read Author and a two-time RONE Award nominee.
I really need to
blog more. I used to do it weekly, then stopped when I realized it was interfering
with the books I wanted to write. But lately, I’ve been finding that I want to
say stuff, and rather than pick fights on social media with people I otherwise
like very much, I thought blogging would be a good idea. Because what is a blog
if not an unanswerable, inarguable assertion by someone who wants to talk smack,
and not subject their arguments to analysis or criticism?
I’m only sort of
kidding. These are the times we’re in. Battle lines are easily drawn and not so
easily erased. There’s no, ‘let’s just agree to disagree’ these days. It’s more
like ‘let’s fight to the death, preferably yours.’ So now you know why I’m blogging.
Here’s what I want to say: this ghostwriter, plagiarism debate that’s been
throwing the writing world into a tailspin lately is cray-cray. I mean, writers
are out there using their keyboards as swords and are on a search-and-destroy
mission to ferret out those who are not true to “the craft” either because they’re
thieves or because they crank out hackneyed, formulaic stories and stuff
e-books for profit, or they don’t write their own stuff but use ghosts who help
them gain notoriety and a few more bucks.
It’s worth a moment
to uncouple some of those things. The thieves are plagiarists. That’s a whole
separate, unambiguously dishonest breed who deliberately steal the words or
ideas of others and repackage them as their own. I think anyone who writes honestly
is united with other writers in their condemnation of those folks.
And as for the scammers
and book-stuffers; once a cottage industry, it’s now become big business for
writers, and some non-writers to create very little new content and then pad
their e-books with samples, teasers or previously released material, just to
game Amazon’s system. Most writers decry this as well, and no one seriously
argues that this practice should be allowed to continue though we may disagree
about how much energy honest writers should give to that crusade.
What’s not as clear
is where the writing world stands on the increased use of ghosts, people who do
the writing for someone else who has maybe no will, acumen, or time to write
their own stories. Ghosts are not a new phenomenon. And in point of fact, never
used to be quite so ghostly. The most reputable folks who use ghosts say so,
and put their ghost’s name right there on the cover, or in the credits or acknowledgments.
Lately though, a new breed seems to be proliferating – let’s for the sake of distinguishing
them, call them ‘ghouls.’ Ghouls are one-hundred percent invisible. We don’t
know who they are because the named “author” does not even acknowledge their
existence. This is where things have begun to get a little murky, ethically
who use neither ghosts nor ghouls are wondering whether it’s “fair” to the rest
of us, and to the reader for them to be sold a bale of goods of dubious origin.
Today, in the digital age, you don’t just sell books (electronic or otherwise).
For good or ill, you sell yourself. The accessibility of the writer to today’s
readership is unprecedented. We send and receive direct messages from readers,
answer questions in real-time, and even form actual friendships with them in
the real world. They are attracted to the written word, but often to the writer
of it. Some writers are trendy, funny, hipsters, cool professionals, elusive
introverts, boisterous extroverts, nervous strivers … and readers sometimes attach
to them accordingly.
So, the question is, what if that persona to which a reader attaches is itself fiction? Is that ethical? Sounds like many writers are beginning to say not. It sounds like many in the writing community are growing increasingly uncomfortable with writers who may gain what they see as an unfair advantage by creating fake personas and selling that along with their books. Honestly, I don’t know what’s “fair” or not, and if writers are out there selling fake or amplified personas to move units, more power to you. I guess. I think it’s a broader cultural phenomenon. People do that every day on Instagram, even when they’re not selling a doggone thing except the illusion that they have a perfect life.
So, I’ll just talk
about me and my deal. I write under a pseudonym. When I first started self-publishing,
I was in a higher-profile job than I am now, and didn’t want my 9—5 profession
to be affected by my writing life, or vice versa. I also like the anonymity.
But I’m not completely anonymous. I
don’t share personal pictures or details, but I do share almost everything else
– embarrassing moments, stories about my day-job, my family, my neighbors and even,
occasionally, the person I’m in a relationship with. I share it and it’s all
For me, the truth of
it is important because here’s how I see it: when a writer’s words speak deeply
to a reader, the reader feels kinship with them, and they feel understood. They
feel it so much they write notes, emails, and send DMs, not as “fans” but as
one human to another human saying ‘God, I
didn’t think anyone felt this, saw this, understood this.’ And when you get
one of those notes, it is hella-cool.
It is, I kid you not, way cooler than
when someone writes just to say, ‘You’re a
very good writer.’ And for angsty, in-your-head types like writers often
are, those notes also mean that not only did you understand them, they may understand
something of you. I may not tell you
where I live, but I do want what you know and understand of me to be real and
true, just like I want the characters I write to be real and true.
Now, I know there’s
going to be the “it’s just a business” crew and a “you-take-this-too-seriously”
crew. Yeah. Both those things may be true. But I’m just here repping for the
writers for whom it isn’t just a business, but a gift that allows us to see
other people, and be seen by other people, and yet still hide behind the safety
of our pen.
An unedited excerpt from Chapter 1 of ‘Rhyme & Reason’, from the new generation of ‘Afterwards’ novels, coming 2019.
She had fallen asleep while watching The Best Man and woke up to the sound of her phone ringing. On
television, the Netflix home-screen was scrolling through programming options.
Grappling for her phone, expecting to see either her brother’s name or Asif’s,
Zora sat upright when she saw the initials DS.
you have my whole name in your contacts?
you’re kind of famous.
Deuce had twisted his lips and narrowed his eyes
we can do to fix that, he said. Just
change it to ‘My Man’. I can live with that. So, whenever you see it, you know.
know, she’d said, trying not to blush.
“Hello?” Her voice sounded gravelly, so she
cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello.”
“Hey. I wake you?”
“No. I mean, yeah, but it’s fine. I was …” She
didn’t finish her sentence, imagining how pathetic it might sound.
watching Netflix all on my own. On a Friday night. Yes, I was.
Zora thought for a moment, wondering why he would think … Oh, yes. Asif. He hadn’t allowed her to explain earlier. One would have thought he would figure it out. Asif and she could have passed for siblings.
“Yes. I’m alone. And Deuce …”
“I just … I wanted to say I was sorry,” he said.
“For speaking to you the way I did.”
Zora felt her throat tighten.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said.
“Springing up on you. I mean … it wasn’t fair. I
On the other end of the line, Deuce sighed. “I
don’t know that it would have made a difference anyway,” he said.
“Zee, you know when it comes to you …”
She held her breath.
“Anyway. I’m just sorry I came off like that,” he
said in a rush.
The silence stretched.
“How … how are you?” she asked finally. “Lately. How
have you been? With work and everything. And that plan you had.”
The last time they spoke he mentioned he was
about to make a pitch for a special project with an artist his father’s company
had high hopes for. But after the way the rest of that conversation went, they
hadn’t spoken since.
“You mean with Devin Parks?” Deuce asked.
“Yes. Did Jamal ever give you the go-ahead to
have him as the first …”
“Nah. He shot it down. Said he couldn’t give me an
artist of Devin Parks’ caliber right out the gate. Told me to work with the
team to find my own people.”
“Ouch. That’s harsh,” Zora said, settling back
into her pillows again.
“Not really. He was right. Devin Parks is going
to be huge. He is huge. Lettin’ me
have him for this new label would have been giving me something I didn’t earn.
Hell, I didn’t even earn the right to develop a new label.”
“Don’t say that …”
“It’s true though. Who graduates from undergrad
and gets that kind of opportunity from jump? I mean, if I was just some regular
dude, I would be an intern at SE for real.”
Zora had heard him speak this way about himself
before, but it hurt her every time.
“You’re always underestimating yourself,” she
said. “So what if you’re not ‘some regular dude’? So what if you got a foot in
the door because of your father? Now that you’re in, you just have to prove you
deserve to be there.”
“Tryin’,” he said.
“It’s goin’ okay, I guess. Mostly I’m learning
the business, y’know?”
“Does your father help?”
“I don’t ask him.”
“That’s such a wasted opportunity. Your father
probably has an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about how to develop a record
label. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”
“So he can get confirmation that I’m just fakin’ through
it right now?”
“Are you?” she asked.
Deuce said nothing for a few beats.
“Not really. I mean, I did my homework. I’ma have
to take a couple risks, but I feel good about where things are at,
“Okay, so where are they?”
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean, tell me where things are. What stage are
you at in developing the label?”
Deuce didn’t realize this about himself, but Zora
knew he needed to process things aloud. To talk them over with a
thought-partner, and problem-solve through conversation. When he did, his
confidence strengthened. Deuce was not short on confidence by any means, but
Chris Scaife Sr. was a formidable yardstick to measure oneself by.
“You won’t be bored by all that?”
“Have I ever been?” she asked, before she caught
Then they both laughed at the same time.
“Okay, fine,” she said. “There were moments, I
Deuce echoed, laughter still in his voice. “You fell asleep on me, Zee. When I
was talking about …”
“In my defense, it was right after …” She broke
Right after they’d made love. Made love. That’s what it was with him.
Every time, maybe even including the very first time.
After lovemaking, Deuce was wide open. He talked.
Told her his greatest fears, his biggest dreams. He talked until he was
exhausted, and sometimes until she was, as well.
“Yeah,” he said now. “I’ll give you that. The
moment wasn’t … opportune.”
of a female voice, interrupting their conversation was so unexpected that Zora
for a moment didn’t know where it was coming from. Her eyes instinctively
shifted to her tv even though the sound was clearly coming from her phone.
She heard shuffling, and the muffled sound of Deuce talking to someone. To the someone who had called him ‘baby.’
Chelsea Olson has always been a rebel. Growing up as the daughter of a conservative southern preacher, she never accepted his narrow-minded views, especially those about interracial dating and marriage. In fact, since high school her preference has been black men. But she’s never had a serious relationship with anyone. Then she meets Isaac “Ike” Sloane.
Ike is handsome, successful and family-oriented, everything Chelsea has ever imagined in a man, and she wants him. Will outside forces and attitudes stop them from experiencing the love they have both wanted?
Contemporary women’s fiction/romance author Chicki Brown has been featured twice in USAToday. She was honored in 2014 and 2011 by B.R.A.B. (Building Relationships Around Books) Book Club and SORMAG (Shades of Romance Magazine). Chicki was also a contributing author to the Gumbo for the Soul: Men of Honor (Special Cancer Awareness Edition).
Before she started writing romance, she worked as a secretary, typesetter, daycare provider, and executive assistant. Now she does her favorite job as a full-time romance author. Her goal as an author is to entertain readers and provide an escape from their daily routine into the lives of her characters.
In 1994 Brown relocated from New Jersey, the land of the world’s best pizza and hot dogs to Atlanta, Georgia, the home of the world’s best shrimp and grits and hot wings.
If you only follow my blog, you may not have realized that ‘Snowflake’ the latest in the ‘Afterwards’ novels series is here! The ‘Afterwards’ series will be a collection of standalones featuring the extended friends and family of Chris and Robyn Scaife. The novels cover occurrences either concurrent with, or following the ‘Afterwards’ and ‘Afterburn’ novels chronologically-speaking. ‘Young, Rich & Black’ was Chris Scaife’s son, Deuce’s story and ‘Snowflake’ features Kaleem, Deuce’s best friend. Later this year, if all goes according to plan, I will release two more books in the series, ‘Rhyme & Reason’ which is the continuation of Deuce and Zora’s story, with some more about Kaleem; and then ‘On the Other Side’ which will delve into Damon, Jamal Turner’s (from ‘The Come Up’ and ‘The Takedown’) brother’s story.
I released ‘Snowflake’ just after Christmas, so it already feels like yesterday’s news but I am so pleased by how it’s been received so far. It’s been the #1 New Release on Amazon’s African American Women’s Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, and African American Literary Fiction lists for about a week now which is so humbling, and also very surprising. It’s so weird how, when you’re writing it, it’s tough to figure out whether a book will land, or completely fail. I didn’t think this one would fail, but I certainly thought it would go largely unnoticed because it features a subsidiary character among a group of much more well-known characters. I hope you enjoy ‘Snowflake’ and if you do, tell a friend and write a review. I read them. I read them all.
Also, in case you’re interested, and are a fast reader, there’ll be an online book chat about ‘Snowflake’ tomorrow at 7PM ET in the Facebook group ‘Because My Heart Said So …’ You have to be a member of the group to join the chat, so you can take care of that here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BecauseMyHeartSaidSo/
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?
Grab your copy of Pushing Thirty today for only $1.99!
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 I 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’,
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.
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.
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.
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 fictionin 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, butI 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!
“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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
I 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.
Sometimes 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.
So … 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 ….
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.
Here’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:
They’re projecting confidence they don’t entirely feel (i.e., they lyin’); or
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
“Okay, go ahead. Was I what?”
Colt blinked and swallowed back the instinctive denial.
“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.
“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.
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,
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.
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?
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…
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?
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?”
Ruby’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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been looking forward to these books for a long time. Lily Java has been in her writer’s lab for over a year, only allowing very brief peeks into what she was working on. Then, late this summer, I got more than a brief peek and was blown away. I always knew she was a great writer, but a double-release, where the story spans a couple of decades is also ambitious, and somewhat risky. But she pulled it off.
Not only did she pull it off, she pulled me in … Into 1970s and early 1980s New York when the city looked and felt very different from it does today, and when gentrification wasn’t even a thing. But that’s just the backdrop, and however well-drawn and integral to the story the time and place may be, the characters are still the stars of this duo of books. Ethan Vance, and Serena Clay are two college kids who fall deeply in love, and learn very quickly that sometimes love isn’t all that matters. There’s almost nothing else I can tell you without ruining it, and I definitely don’t want to ruin it. BUY these books! Read them. You won’t regret it.
Still, since Lily has had some of us on tenterhooks awaiting these releases, I wanted to hear from her about what it her creative process was like this time around, where she’s going next.
Read the interview below. Take it from me, she’s just as interesting as her books …
You’ve taken a fairly long hiatus from releasing, though clearly not from writing since you’re giving us two full-length novels in quick succession. Tell us a little bit about what your process was to create ‘Ethan’s Choice’ and ‘Serena’s Vow’. Where did the idea come from, and how did these novels come about?
Hiatus. Great word. Makes it sound like my being away so long was all part of some grand design. It wasn’t. LOL. The idea for these two books came initially from one troublesome little scene in my last book, Blackbirds. In that book, my hero Elliott is having a pleasant Thanksgiving with his mother, his girlfriend, and his young daughter when his father Ethan Vance, a man he’s never met shows up. It’s an explosive encounter and from it we learn that Ethan had what seems like a good reason for his initial abandonment of his family, but it left a lot of open-ended questions. Then Ethan is only mentioned once more in the epilogue of that book, saying that he’s a guest at his son’s wedding. But, that’s it.
readers being a curious bunch said “Hey Lily, what about that guy Ethan? Will
we ever find out more about him and Ell’s mother Serena?” And that was it. I
couldn’t get the two characters out of my mind.
I thought Serena and Ethan’s story would be one book. I was so cocksure of it I wrote six chapters and gave the book a title: Blank Pages. But conceptually I wanted to show a fully realized love story—a relationship that spanned many years. The idea of writing about a young couple in love, then tearing them apart for a long time, then showing them again mature and in love was intriguing to me. It was a theme I experimented with in Blackbirdsbut not to such an extreme. When we meet Ethan and Serena initially this time, they are only 18 and 19, then when we see them really come together as couple again it’s that fateful Thanksgiving when they’re in their 50’s, and they both have done a whole lot of living in between. I could have squeezed all that into one book, but it would have either compromised the story OR been something like 600 or 700 pages. Heck, that’s a Marlon James or a J.K. Rowling novel, not women’s fiction.
So, two books it became. Ethan’s Choicegives us a lot of, I hope fascinating, backstory on Ethan and covers our couple falling hopelessly head over heels gaga for each other before life forcefully intrudes on them. Serena’s Vow shares everything that comes after, including when love resurfaces for two people who it’s been lying dormant in for a very long time.
These books span over a couple of decades, including a very interesting time in New York. What was it like to write about a different era?
was not as challenging as you might think because I was actually alive and
living in New York in every decade I wrote about, so I had many personal
experiences to work with. Still there were a few moments when I felt like I was
in over my head. So, I did some research too. Honestly it was an amazing time
to reexamine after having lived in it. New York City in the seventies was a
scary, turbulent place but as a young kid I didn’t see it that way at all. It
was all just normal to me.
some serious admiration for actual historical fiction writers who do this kind
of thing all the time and have to write about bygone eras that require a lot of
research. Then they have to take that research and turn it into an engrossing
narrative with fleshed out characters who see their world very differently than
someone looking years later with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. It’s an
intense enterprise for a writer mostly cause it’s fairly easy to screw it up.
I had to
caution myself often that even though I was familiar with many of the settings
and types of people I was describing from the past I wasn’t writing history per
se; I was writing a fictional love story. Eventually I decided to make it a
little easy on myself and start deep writing where I usually do, thinking about
the music my characters listen too. From the beginning that was a joy and super
everyone born after 1986, but music in the seventies and early eighties was
freaking amazing. My playlists for these books were AWESOME. Doing that also
provided me with some sense memories about the current events of the time, the
clothes, the devices that were used, the spaces and neighborhoods the
characters lived in. It helped me reflect and create a nuanced vibration for
the times I was writing about.
In reading these books, the first thing that struck me is that they’re not romance novels, though much of your readership are diehard romance readers. How would you categorize this work? And is this the voice we should come to expect from you in the future?
From the beginning, I have always prayed for my writing to do two things for people reading it: give them joyful satisfaction on completion and help to heal whatever ails them, even things they didn’t necessarily know they needed healing for. Anyone who really knows my work knows I am a romantic with a capital R. I write complex, entertaining, and evocative love stories. However, true love stories featuring human beings anyway, are fraught with minor and major complications, so I write about that too. I think writing about those parts of a love story is exploring “the negative space” Walter Mosley is always talking about. The things that are unseen that make us think and react the way we do are important to consider and talk about. Cause let’s face it that’s where we’re all living our life, right? I’ve heard a term used lately called Romantic Realism and I think I fit quite nicely between that R and R. And yes, I expect I’ll write more of it but I bore easy so there are many different ways that kind of writing will manifest itself for me, I think.
It’s always interesting to hear what writers read. What are you reading these days, and who are some of the writers who influence you, or who you are inspired by?
I’m influenced/inspired by so many writers, including you. This past spring, I made a promise to myself that I’d finish writing these books this year. That commitment changed my reading habits a lot. I couldn’t read anything romantic for a long time. I also couldn’t read any super emotional women’s fiction. I’d start books like the lastTayari Jones that everyone devoured when it came out, and I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I finished it finally last month and loved it but glad I didn’t read it while writing about Ethan. That book put me in such a mood there’s no telling what might have happened to him. Instead I inhaled Lisa Regan’s detective novels over the summer, which were great but as far from what I was writing as I could get. In between to prep for the next Wine With Writers event, I read most of the catalogues of Piper Huguley and Joan Vassar, which blew me away and let me know unequivocally that I was not writing historical fiction. Right now, I’m still reading Regina Porter’s The Travelers, which has grown on me. What a massive undertaking that was. I really want to know how long that took her to write. Her vision boards must have looked like police procedural or army war maps. I just started books by two favorites Stephen King’s The Instituteand an Alice Hoffmann novel I somehow missed called Faithful.
What is your ‘dream novel’? By that I mean, what’s the novel you desperately want to write? And why is it your ‘dream novel’?
I have several
dream novels actually, but I’ll tell you about one. It’s about the struggles of
two married soldiers having to live apart while one is on tour. There’s a lot
of nefarious outside forces complicating their lives and they don’t have each
other to fall back on. It’s a suspense novel with a little law of attraction
spirituality thrown in for good measure and a love story too, of course. I’d
like it to part of it take place in what I see as the most wildly polemic and
problematic part of this country right now. The so-called heartland. I don’t
know why it’s my dream novel other than the fact that it comes to me often in
daydreams and sleep dreams too. I haven’t got much of a frame of personal
reference for any of it, which makes it feel like an audacious idea. That’s also
what makes it somewhat exciting for me to think about.
What’s a trend in publishing or self-publishing you’re happy to see lately? What’s a trend you’re less excited about, or don’t like?
I don’t talk a lot about this because it gives me a headache but since you
asked. LOL. I’m happy to see that content is flourishing. There seems to be an
endless supply and it seems to have a never-ending number of forums where it’s
featured. It’s creating this ripple effect that encourages the diverse voices
of the young and socially conscious. It also means that reading has a lot more
competition so shorter books are preferable to go along with the shorter
attention spans. That’s disheartening but it may also be why poetry, which I
love is having a resurgence. It’s really short. LOL. Book quality is back in
vogue. That’s great. Marketing earlier is a necessity for success. That’s a
pain in the neck for indie writers especially. Hopefully it will mean there are
more opportunities for how you can market. Best of all, independent
bookstores didn’t disappear entirely. Love that story about the only
indie bookstore opening in the Bronx recently. It serves wine so I’m making a
special trip to that one very soon.
Now that you’ve completed two very ambitious books, what’s your next project?
I have one last project in the Blackbirdssaga to do. I wrote and shared some excerpts of it over the Xmas holidays under the working title ‘Home At Last’. It was well received but I doubt that many knew who I was writing about. The main female character features a young woman named Laura. She happens to be none other than Laura Vance, daughter to Elliott and granddaughter to Ethan and Serena. She was seen as a child in two of the books in the Blackbirds series and she’s always been a super interesting character to so many people, including me. Her backstory is charged like every lead in this series, but I wanted to explore what that would do to her little psyche when she grew up and tried to navigate her own love life and relationships. I’m planning on an early 2020 release for that book. There are some other surprises you can expect from me in 2020 but I’m not letting that cat out of the bag just yet.
Both books are AVAILABLE ON AMAZON! ‘Ethan’s Choice’ you can read right now, and ‘Serena’s Vow’ is available for PRE-ORDER with an October 25 release date!
Go to the African American Literary top 100 list on Amazon today. Go there any day. And I promise you, out of the top 20 books, sometimes half of them, and occasionally even more than that will be about some of the most difficult periods in Black history and contemporary Black life– enslavement, Jim Crow, incarceration, addiction. It’s all there. For some reason, Black pain is more … literary, i.e., artistic. People are winning awards for their most authentic portrayals of how we suffer and bleed. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t blame the artists. I’m pretty preoccupied with Black trauma myself. I find it difficult to look away from it, and have to remind myself that that isn’t all there is to us.
Alice Walker did that, didn’t she? She said that Black people, possess the “secret of joy.” I remember buying her book ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’ almost entirely because of that title, because it sounded both true of us, and counter-intuitive. Because of the depth of our lows, our highs are so much more heady. We revel in them, we languish in them, and we celebrate the hell out of our celebrations, grabbing our joy where we find it and holding on as tight and for as long as we can. Well, the joke was on me, because that book, too, is not about joy at all, but about enduring pain.
After an emotionally exhausting week of anticipating and then finally getting up the guts to watch Ava Duvernay’s ‘When They See Us’, I honestly don’t have the stamina to begin to truly examine what all this means — that we, too, see high art in our own pain, and render it painstakingly, and over and over again, re-traumatizing ourselves and each other. I think part of it is the artist’s essential role as town-crier, helping the rest of us to bear witness, and make sure we never forget. But I don’t know … I’m starting to wonder whether we also have another responsibility, to portray ourselves as healthy, happy and whole. Can’t that be high art, too?
Settle in, folks. This is going to be a long one. I am ridiculously excited about this release. Jacinta Howard is one of my favorite authors. And I’ll tell you why in a minute, but let me just start with my review of ‘Loving Cassie’. This book, like all this author’s books, has a mood and rhythm all its own, that reminds me of the music that her characters in The Prototype Series create—deep, soulful, incredibly memorable. And Bam and Cassie’s story continues that trend.
Bam is the percussionist in the soul band The Prototype, who we met in previous novels as the loveable comic relief, the counterpoint to all of the angst that seems to swirl around his friends. But in this story, his story, we learn that Bam is just as focused on his craft as the other members of the band, just as steadfast underneath all the jokes. Like his bandmates, he also has some pretty complicated stuff to contend with, including the difficult family histories or distant parents that seem to typify the experience of almost all the band members in one way or another. The members of The Prototype understand each other in ways that their families of birth don’t always understand them, and Bam’s experience is no different.
Still, despite his frivolous façade, Bam actually has things pretty well under control—he has a lover who he enjoys, and who enjoys him, and who understands his limits where commitment of time and emotion are concerned; and he has a fatalistic attitude about his distant relationship with his mother, and his almost non-existent one with his father. He doesn’t agonize about much of anything, he just gets on with it, recognizing that if he puts the time and work in with the band, he’s going to wind up in a different place from where he is now as a struggling college student.
As an aside, I never hesitate to say this about Jacinta Howard’s characters: they are not frivolous. Young, yes, but frivolous, no. And I don’t mean they don’t display frivolity in their behavior, what I mean is, as an author Howard respects them, even though they’re young. Their feelings, experiences and aspirations are not portrayed in a way that’s too … cute, or too precious. The significance of their story is never minimized because they’re just on the cusp of embarking on more adult lives. Some writers write new adult characters with a tone that’s almost glib, as though they’re patting them on the head and going, ‘Isn’t that sweet? You think you’re in love!’ or, ‘Aw! You crazy kids!’ With that approach, you feel the writer’s outsider perspective in their tone and so what should be earnest comes across as disingenuous. Jacinta Howard doesn’t do that. She pulls you back to that time in your life, if you’ve already passed it; or she roots you in it, if you’re currently there. She empathizes with her characters in a way that is clearly genuine.
Back to the review: so Bam is, despite the joking around, a young man on very firm footing. Knows who he is, and where he’s going. Enter Cassie, his bandmate Kennedy’s (from ‘Finding Kennedy’) somewhat flighty sister, who is like a whirlwind in more ways than one. She’s rebounding from the end of a long relationship and doing her “free Black girl” thing, rolling where the wind takes her and trying to temper her penchant for occasionally causing “drama.” This time, she tells herself, she’s going to straighten out, starting with putting a codependent relationship behind her. But … then comes (as Cassie later reflects on their connection): Bam:A sudden impact or occurrence.
Together, she and he are combustible, something neither of them wants, but both are powerless to resist. Their respective plans, resolutions and routines are up-ended by their connection. Bam has to learn to deal with Cassie’s changeable, volatile and unpredictable nature; and she must learn to trust that Bam’s steadfastness is not a mirage, and that he will not fail her. What one has, the other lacks, but together, there is balance. Watching them go through the process of trying to reach balance was fun, nerve-wracking in a way only passionate people can be, and all kinds of sexy. That’s all I’m gonna say, other than READ THE BOOK.
Back to why I love this author. I feel like she’s not just entertaining us, but documenting a time. A kind of revolution in Black creativity. I feel like we lost it for a while behind a focus on flashy commercialism, but things are changing and Black creatives are more mindful of their place in our story. For sure, there have always been young Black artists who are in it for the artistry, and not for the glory. We don’t hear about them much, because … again, they’re not in it for the glory. Still, far fewer books—especially contemporary relationship-focused fiction, or romance—look at the grit, the struggle, the sacrifice, the determination and the pure love of an art (in this case, music) in the way Jacinta Howard does. And fewer still allude to the existence of a quiet tribe of young Black creatives who do it #ForTheCulture; the ones for whom,maybe the fame comes, maybe it doesn’t, but they press on because the work itself has inherent value. I feel like that about this author’s work. I know that out there, there’s a reader who wants to see a dimension of us that’s not as frequently portrayed in modern Black romance. So I think it’s pretty cool that Jacinta Howard is giving us other stories, not as frequently told stories about Black people, Black love, and Black art. You know … for the culture.
Ibrahim’s eyes open around four in the morning, as always. He sits up, and next to him, Jada mumbles in her sleep, turning over onto her side and away from him. Lowering his feet to the floor, he slips out of the room and into the hallway. He showers then dresses quietly in the next room, not wanting to wake his wife. When he leaves the house, it is still dark outside. He shoves open the front gate and steps onto the sidewalk, and his mind is drawn to his son, about an hour away.
Kaleem will be already be up and training with his coach. It
is mere weeks from the 2020 Olympic Trials and the pressure is up, especially
since now Kaleem is a father—and Ibrahim a grandfather—to a six-month-old baby
His name is Anwar.
It means, ‘light’,
Kaleem explained, his voice filled with pride. Anwar Ibrahim Carter.
And Ibrahim smiled.
Anwar looks like both his parents. His complexion, currently
that of a lightly-roasted peanut, will ripen slightly to a richer, darker hue,
but his eyes are the same hazel as those of his mother, Asha, with her dense,
spiky eyelashes. Anwar has her disposition as well. He is often still, smiles
easily, and is content to lie quietly in his crib or play alone. Occasionally he
gurgles to himself, or bursts into loud, high-pitched shrieks as if testing to
make sure he still has a voice in this world. He rarely cries. His nose, his
lips, his ears are Kaleem’s, and he reminds Ibrahim of what his son looked like
as an infant.
Like I spat him out,
Kaleem likes to say when he picks Anwar up, holding him above his head like
Mufasa did Simba in ‘The Lion King’. We gotta make some more, babe. Two
more. Or three. Let’s make three more just like this one.
Whenever he does this, and says this, Asha rolls her eyes
but Ibrahim can see the deep feeling in them, and the indulgence. Kaleem will
no doubt get three more babies out of that girl. He will get whatever he
About two months after Anwar was born, Ibrahim spent a
weekend with his son and daughter-in-law. In the morning, when Kaleem woke up
to run, Asha was up as well, and breastfed their son, sitting on the sofa next
to him while Kaleem put his runners on and prepared to leave the house. Walking
in on the moment, Ibrahim apologized and retreated to the second bedroom listening
to their voices trailing behind him.
Kaleem and Asha talk all the time, their apartment filled
with the sound of their voices, of them narrating to each other details of
their days and the hours they were apart.
Bruh peeled out of the
parking lot at like, ninety, I’m tellin’ you …
… She is the meanest
teacher in the whole school, and I kind of hope they fire her before I get back
… I guess that makes me mean?
I was so high offa
that run, babe, I almost jumped over
the car instead of getting into it …
… Wonder if I’ll
always have this little pooch now. Will you still love me if I’m fat?
Kaleem makes Asha laugh, and when Ibrahim looks at her with
his son, he sees a light in Kaleem’s eyes that no one else—except now, Anwar—can
ignite with the same ease.
Ibrahim found himself wishing that he and his wife talked as
much. They used to, but not now. Now, there is often silence in their house.
When he first came home, they talked. Well into the night,
and for weeks afterwards, they had long, winding conversations and frantic
bouts of spontaneous lovemaking. But that, too, has slowed and almost stopped.
The very first time he touched Jada, after he came home from
prison, Ibrahim was hesitant, slow, and embarrassed that his hands trembled. He
was afraid of the strength of his need, and that he might hurt her. Jada was
patient, and kept saying that it was okay, that he could go slow, that it was okay
… okay … okay.
Her saying that had an effect that was opposite of what she
probably intended. He was not reassured. It made him worry that prison had not
only stripped them of their easy intimacy, but of her belief that he could
please her as a man. And if she doubted his manhood, he wasn’t sure what he had
They managed it that night, though the first time had been
fast, and no doubt unsatisfactory for her. He waited until he was ready again,
and the second time had been better, but still, not good enough. He wanted to
try again, but Jada said it was okay … okay … okay. And so he just held
her until she fell asleep.
He did not sleep as easily. Or, really, at all, until early
the next morning after he was finally able to make her pant and perspire and
moan out his name the way she used to before his own foolish actions and the
State of California had splintered his family, and separated him from his wife.
Making his way down the block to Free Range, the newest
hipster café in the neighborhood, Ibrahim notes that the streets are quiet,
deserted, and clean. All the gangbangers are gone these days and in their place
are signs on almost every block about city council meetings, and block parties,
farmers’ markets and garage sales. Free Range is open twenty-four hours because
the couple who owns it, lives in the upper level and have a rotating cast of
characters who staff it around the clock. They are young, this couple, and
friendly, and fair-haired and perpetually suntanned. The dude wears flip flops
all the time no matter his attire, and occasionally he wears skirts, which bear
It’s called an ie
lavalava, he told Ibrahim
when he caught him looking.
And then he
launched into a soliloquy about how he didn’t really buy into the whole “gender
binary thing” especially when it came to something as meaningless as the
garments one put on their body.
That’s cool, Ibrahim told him, though really he was just
hoping he would stop talking.
His name is
Martin, and his partner’s name is Thea. That’s what he calls her, his
“partner.” Funny, the changes in meaning that words have gone through in
Ibrahim’s lifetime. While he was in prison, ‘partner’ also came to mean ‘life
partner’ or ‘domestic partner.’ Apparently heterosexual people used those terms
now as well and it wasn’t just the inadequate subsitute that gay people had to
adopt when they couldn’t get married.
streets are quiet, and it would be an ideal morning for it, Ibrahim no
longer runs as often. He lost the habit when he was in prison, and afterward, found
that he did not enjoy it as much as he used to. When he started, many years
ago, it was because it gave him an outlet for the urge he had to move, to get
things moving, to get ahead. Now, he has a different impulse – to sit still, to
contemplate, to enjoy details, and to appreciate. He is not as hungry as he
once was. This lack of hunger and the absence of a fire in his belly concerns
Sometimes, he still runs with Kaleem; though not lately now
that his son has had to train harder. Now, Kaleem can run circles around him.
Ibrahim approaches Free Range and finds the front door open,
and Thea on her knees wiping the glass with a cheesecloth, holding a bottle of
She stands upright and smiles at him, wiping her hands on
the thighs of her jeans and setting aside the cleaning tools to take one of his
hands in both of hers. She does a little bow when she greets him, a habit she
says she picked up in India, where she once lived on an ashram.
Although he is aware she’s a cliché, Ibrahim likes her. She has that kind of blonde hair that always looks frizzy and dry, and out of control that she doesn’t do much with, except pull it back with a scarf once in a while. Stray strands are always wafting out of nowhere into her greenish eyes, upon which she will swat them away impatiently. She reminds Ibrahim of someone. He can’t remember who.
There is no one else in sight, either inside the café, or on the street. Ibrahim wonders at Thea’s comfort being this alone with him, a tall, brawny Black man. Over the years, Ibrahim met a few white kids like this—the ones in whose eyes he detected no awareness of his being different from them. The ones who he believed truly did not attach any consequence to him being Black and them being white. To whom their difference was a matter of descriptive significance only.
Obama Babies was how Ibrahim thought of them – young people
who were in middle school when the Black President was elected, and who grew up
in uber-liberal enclaves where it was so accepted it didn’t even merit
discussion. Some of those young, white Obama Babies used to come into San
Quentin as volunteers. Some of them looked truly surprised at what prison was
like. Some of them even cried while they were there, or as they left. Many of
them didn’t come back.
“Lemme guess,” Thea says. “Spinach omelet with egg whites
“You got it.” Ibrahim nods. “I’ll help out while you’re
doing that … put these …” He indicates the umbrellas for the outdoor seating,
still folded, and stacked in a corner.
“Yeah, thanks. That’d be cool. It’s going to be a real
scorcher today, apparently.”
While Thea goes in to make his breakfast, Ibrahim unfolds
the umbrellas one by one and chooses a place to sit. When he sits, he takes the
time to look around and sees that the neighborhood is still quiet. He realizes that
he has left his phone at home. Having a cell phone with him all the time is
something he still hasn’t become accustomed to, so he often leaves it places.
You can’t do that, Ibrahim! Jada said to him once, when she returned from work and found his phone sitting on the entryway table.
He discovered her sitting on the sofa, his phone clutched
tightly in both her hands, still wearing her scrubs from work, eyes rimmed in
I didn’t know what to think! she continued, her eyes still
a little wild.
You should think I
forgot my phone, he told her, calmly.
And then she dropped it to the carpeted floor beneath her
feet, put her face in her hands and began to cry.
It was like that at first, after he came out. Like she wasn’t sure she knew him anymore, and didn’t know what to expect. It stung that she thought there was any scenario, any circumstance that would have him walking out on her without even a word. Walking out on her at all. Before prison, she knew that there was no way he would ever leave her unless he didn’t have a choice. Now, he was constantly reassuring her and she was constantly reassuring him when before, no reassurance was necessary.
When Jada works a long shift, as she did last night, his
wakefulness unsettles her and that is why Ibrahim leaves the house. She sleeps
better, he thinks, when he is not there. And yet, paradoxically, his absence
also makes her uneasy.
“Here we go!”
Thea returns, bearing a tray, but on it are three plates. One with Ibrahim’s omelet, another with scrambled egg whites and avocado, and another with whole grain toast. There is also a decorative teapot, and two teacups.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Thea asks.
“Of course not.
Please.” Ibrahim gives a brief nod.
Thea sits in the chair opposite him. She has pulled her hair
back more securely, and is now wearing sunglasses atop her head. She pours them
Ibrahim smiles at her and then shuts his eyes to say a
brief, silent blessing over their meal. When he opens them, Thea is staring at him.
“Were you praying?” she asks.
“To whom?” Thea’s head falls to one side.
Ibrahim’s eyebrows involuntarily lift.
“I mean … what religion are you?” she amends.
“I believe in the existence of the Divine, the Most Holy.”
Thea smiles. “That’s not really an answer though, is it?”
“I don’t believe in God,” Thea says conversationally.
“No.” Thea picks up her fork. “The world is just a random,
violent place. And we have to take from it whatever joy we can find.”
Staring at her for a moment, Ibrahim feels a sudden sadness.
“You’re really young to have such a grim outlook,” he said.
“You don’t think it’s random and violent?” Thea asks. “The
“Sometimes violent. But not random.”
“If you really believe that, Mr. Carter, then you must have
been a lucky, lucky man.”