Silent Nights: Chapter 1 Sneak Peek

About the book:

It’s a career-making opportunity.

Summer has an invitation to ‘Black America’s Wedding of the Decade’ and wouldn’t miss it for the world. Deuce Scaife is finally marrying his college sweetheart Zora Diallo (an outcome that was never in doubt, by the way, except maybe to the two people getting married) and since there’ll be celebrities all over the event, it’s in an expensive, remote location and all very hush-hush.

As an up and coming blogger and YouTuber for a series called ‘The Black Girls’ Guide to Slaying at Absolutely Everything’ Summer’s stock will increase considerably if she documents her experience at the wedding celebrations.

But when an unforeseen obstacle presents itself, Summer realizes she can only go to the most exclusive of the wedding events if she shares accommodations with the insufferable Lloyd Winston. Lloyd is a conservative, stuffy wannabe politico who Summer is shocked even got an invite.

But whatever … she can tolerate him for one winter weekend, right?

Summer smiled when her cellphone rang and reached for it. Waiting through three more rings, she answered, taking a deep, silent breath and struggling to keep a neutral tone.

“What’s up, girl?”

“Don’t play with me, Summer. You picked up your mail yet?”

“Claudia, I had a long day,” she drawled. “I haven’t been back down to the mailbox. Why? Am I supposed to be getting something?”

Yes!” Claudia’s voice on the other end of the line was a shriek. “Are you serious? You didn’t get one?”

Summer squealed at a soprano pitch matching her best friend’s.

“I’m just messin’ with you! Yes! I got my invitation! I got my invitation …” She sang as she jumped onto her bed, bouncing up and down like it was a trampoline, even while the springs squeaked and protested. “We’re going to the wedding! We’re going to the wedding!”

Summer stopped screaming and jumping as a thought occurred to her.

“Wait. You did get one as well, right?”

“Yes! Thank god!” Claudia groaned. “Because you know only certain people got a plus-one and we are just not that important.”

“I’m not mad,” Summer said kissing her teeth. “I was never that tight with neither Deuce nor Zora, so if they want me at their wedding … I will go however they want me. Even if it means leaving you behind.”

“Who you think gon’ be there?” Claudia asked, taking on a conspiratorial tone. “You think K Smooth and Devin Parks …”

“Oh definitely. But I’m curious who else from Black Caucus might’ve gotten an invitation. I bet all the Penn State folks be stalkin’ their mail carriers this week.”

Claudia laughed. “Who cares about them? I’m just tryna meet me a rapper or a baller and have him take me away from this lower middle-class life.”

“Probably all Zora’s Black Lives Matter comrades will be there, huh?” Summer said, her mind beginning to whir. “Like Rashad Dixon maybe?”

“Deuce will not let Rashad Dixon within one hundred miles of his woman, dummy. Of course he’s not invited!”

Rashad Dixon, Zora’s ex-boyfriend, notoriously caused Deuce Scaife to lose his cool at some party and someone got beaten up, though Summer didn’t remember which of them it had been. The rumor at the time was that Deuce stole Zora from Rashad, but it was all very fuzzy now.

“I don’t know. Deuce doesn’t strike me as that petty. And also, he’s the one marrying her. I’m sure he’s unbothered by Rashad by now. But you’re right about all the stars …” Summer’s voice trailed off.

“Summer. No,” Claudia said. “I know what you’re thinkin’. Mess around and get that invitation revoked!”

“I would ask them first, obviously.”

“I don’t know. That’s kinda tacky. ‘Can I vlog about y’all’s wedding? Even though I don’t know why y’all invited me in the first place?’

“They invited me because I’m practically the reason they got back together.”

Claudia laughed. “Okay, Summer. Delusional much?”

“No, seriously. Deuce Scaife is big-time now. But when he was just …”

“When he was just … what? Chris Scaife’s son? He’s always been big-time, sis.”

“Fine. But he’s bigger time now. When I invited him to that mixer is when him and Zora reconnected. So …”

Christopher Scaife, Jr., aka “Deuce” was the eldest son of entertainment mogul, Chris Scaife, hitmaker and star-maker extraordinaire of the early 2000s. Not too many people had outlasted Chris Scaife’s game and now, his son was getting in on the business himself. Last year he had launched Gollum, a ragtag label that was beginning to make its name by signing African and European acts who had solid overseas fan bases, but little U.S. exposure. People were already beginning to use words like “inspired” and “genius in its simplicity” to describe Deuce Scaife’s approach to getting hits right out the gate for a fledgling company.

And now, Deuce was at long last marrying his college sweetheart Zora Diallo. Their unexpected love story had transfixed the Black community on their university campus while it was going on, because it was so darn unlikely. Not to mention filled with lots of college drama.

Zora was a modern-day, Senegalese American activist and Deuce had been, well, a hoe until she worked some kind of African juju on him. Whatever it was, homeboy was so obviously sprung that a wedding never seemed to be in doubt, except possibly to the two people who were now getting married.

Anyway, Deuce and Zora’s engagement had never even been announced because they weren’t those types of people who would assume the world needed to know. But the great big honker of a diamond ring that appeared on Zora’s left index finger about six months ago while Deuce squired her around town to his various industry events had attracted the attention of all the Black entertainment blogs.

Since then folks had been on watch for what was being dubbed Black America’s Wedding of the Decade.

In closer circles, among the Black Penn State alums, rumors had begun to circulate about six weeks ago that the big date was close. Word was, they wanted to do it during the holidays, because the press wasn’t as on top of things then, and most of the outlets would be preoccupied with compiling those lists of celebrities who had croaked during the year, or in pre-production hell for their glitzy Christmas specials.

Final confirmation came about two months ago when someone who knew someone who was kind of friendly with Asha Carter, Zora Diallo’s bestie and wife of Kal Carter, Deuce Scaife’s bestie, happened to have spoken to Asha who said she was coming East near the end of the year for an occasion she couldn’t miss. Now that in and of itself probably wasn’t that big a deal since Asha Carter was originally from New York and might have been coming to visit family, but then, according to this person, she said something like: God, I don’t know if I’m up to getting my picture taken and being all over blogs and stuff when I’m going to be one-hundred years pregnant and big as a barn.

And boom! That was it. The news spread like wildfire: Deuce and Zora were getting married and it was likely happening in December. Everyone who knew them even casually, and definitely all the Penn State alums in New York had been on the lookout for their invitation.

Summer didn’t know for sure she would be getting one, because while in university, Deuce had a tight circle or basically … one: Kaleem Carter. And the girls who penetrated that circle only had one way in. They were screwing either Kal or Deuce. Summer had done neither. And Zora she knew from having once been in a class with her. They had shared notes and chitchatted occasionally, but they weren’t exactly close.

But what Summer had done, was organize the alumni mixer where Deuce and Zora reconciled after a breakup.

Claudia knew Zora because she had once been roommates in a triple with Zora’s good friend Mia and attended a few of Zora’s Black Lives Matter events. Getting invitations to the wedding had been a longshot for them both, but apparently miracles did happen.

And if there was one miracle, why not press for two?

“Who wouldn’t want to be featured on my vlog?” Summer said almost to herself.

“They’re having a winter wedding because they want to maintain their privacy,” Claudia enunciated. “Why would they consent to be on your vlog?”

“I wouldn’t have them come on personally—unless they wanted to, which I seriously doubt they would—I would just sort of … document my prep for their wedding, and maybe do a couple recordings while I’m there …”

“Summer. Do not ask them that,” Claudia warned.

“I have to …”

Summer …”

“I have to, Claudia! How am I going to ever be successful at this business if I don’t want to take risks?”

“Okay, do you. But do not put my name in it. If they take away your invitation, I’m pretending I don’t know you.”

“They’re not going to take away my invitation,” Summer said laughing.

“So you’re really gon’…”

“Yes. I think I might have Zora’s number around here somewhere, otherwise I’ll hit her up on Facebook. I’ll just ask her to coffee and make my pitch.”

“Okay. Well, lemme leave you to your self-destructive behavior. I’m about to go online and start looking for dresses.”

Zora came striding in, pausing at the door for a moment to shake some of the wet off her coat. She was wearing a gray beanie, pulled down over her ears from which long braids escaped, trailing down her shoulders and back. She stood, looking around for a moment, then spotted Summer and waved, coming toward her.

“I went to the wrong one,” Zora said, sounding slightly breathless. She rolled her eyes. “Did you know there’s another Starbucks just four blocks from here? Who does that?”

Summer laughed and stood to hug her briefly. “Well, New Yorkers need their caffeine, I guess. Want to go get something before you sit?”

“Yes. Definitely,” Zora said. “Back in a sec.”

As she shed her shearling coat and draped it over the back of the other chair at the table, Summer couldn’t help but notice The Ring.

“You want anything else?” Zora indicated Summer’s coffee cup.

“Nope. All good.”

Pear-shaped, brilliant, and two-and-a-half carats, Summer estimated.

Jeez, how did a Columbia Law student walk around all day wearing that? Wasn’t she afraid of getting robbed? Not that she was likely to be taking the number 1 Local anymore these days.

Watching Zora stand in line, Summer wondered whether she had any clue how much her life was about to change. Of course she did. It had already changed probably.

She and Deuce were practically joined at the hip. Zora was in just about every picture of him online, and if not, his arm was extended and holding a woman’s hand, darker in complexion that his which meant Zora was probably there, just out of frame. Seeing those pictures—and in fairness, not just pictures of Deuce and Zora, but pictures of all happy Black couples—Summer felt a deep gnawing in the pit of her stomach. She wanted that. For half a minute, she thought she had that.

With Aiden. That asshole, Aiden who had crushed her so badly, she quit her gig at HarperCollins to avoid seeing him every day. He was still there, still working his hustle, trying to discover the next big deal young adult author of color. And she had retreated, tail between her legs and pretended that starting her YouTube series and blog was a long-planned dream finally, joyfully coming to fruition.

The truth was, if she didn’t seriously monetize both the blog and online series in the next four months, she was going to have to move home to Queens. And if there was something she didn’t want to do, it was move home to Queens. Her mother still had her bedroom waiting. That’s how confident she was that Summer didn’t know what the heck she was doing with her life.

“Okay. I’m back.”

Zora sat down across from her, and Summer smelled the scent of pumpkin spice wafting in her direction. She loved fall. But winter was going to be so much more exciting if she could pull this off. Exclusive background on the Zora Diallo-Deuce Scaife wedding would easily double her subscribers.

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Summer said, assuming her businesslike, student council president mien. “I was beyond shocked to get an invitation to your wedding.”

Zora looked surprised, widening her catlike brown eyes.

They made her look—there was no way around the use of the word—exotic. And add to that, those high, sharp, enviable cheekbones and pouty, plum-colored lips? She looked like the freaking Princess of Wakanda. No wonder Deuce was so obsessed with her.

That was how everyone described it when they were all back at school: He’s obsessed with her. There’d been a little undercurrent of jealousy, of course.

“You helped get me and Deuce back together,” Zora said matter-of-factly. “Of course we’d invite you.”

Summer tried not to give a smug smile. Wait till she told Claudia. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

“Well I’m flattered you did,” she said. “But there’s something I want to run by you.”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“I don’t know if you know I have a YouTube channel. And a blog.”

Zora shook her head. “I didn’t know that. Cool. What’re they about?”

“It’s lifestyle stuff mostly. They’re called, The Black Girls’ Guide to Slaying at Absolutely Everything.”

Zora laughed. Not as ridicule but in delight. “That’s perfect! Oh my god, that’s completely you. How many subscribers so far?”

“Almost three-hundred thousand. Not great, but I started only four months ago.” Summer shrugged.

“That’s pretty cool.”

“And …” she drawled, then bit her lower lip. “Here’s the thing. The crux of it is documenting my life, talking about just daily stuff, like where to get the best purses, when cool sample sales are happening … how to make your blowout last longer …”

“Sounds like fun. I’m gonna look you up,” Zora said, sipping her drink.

“And I also talk about parties and events I go to,” she added.

Zora looked at her blankly for a few seconds then leaned back in her chair. “Oh.”

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m exploiting our …” She hesitated to say ‘friendship’. All that would do was draw Zora’s attention to the fact that what they had wasn’t precisely that. “I don’t want to exploit the access I have …”

“But …?” Zora prompted.

“I’d like your permission to talk about your wedding on my vlog. And write about it on my blog.”

Zora was already shaking her head. “Summer. I don’t know. Deuce really hates hype. I mean, really hates it. And we want the wedding to be … personal, y’know? It’s bad enough we have like two hundred people coming.”

“I’m shocked you were able to keep it that small,” Summer said. “Especially since you invited randos like me and …”

She stopped, remembering Claudia’s admonition to not mention her name.

Zora laughed. “You hardly a rando. Penn State is where Deuce and I met, where we fell in love … You, and a whole bunch of other people were part of that tableau. So …” She shrugged. “We want you there.”

That description—of her and others being part of their relationship tableau—almost made Summer feel badly about pressing her point.

“This wouldn’t be hype, Zora. I promise. It would be talking about how to prepare for a celebrity event …”

“Celebrity.” Zora rolled her eyes.

“I can guess at some of your guest list. Let’s not be in denial about the fact that this is going to be an A-list event.”

Zora sighed. “I guess. But Deuce and I … We just want to be married already. And all of this is for other people to begin with, so … And also, you know who his father is, Summer. I mean, I just don’t …”

“Okay, how about if I write up some parameters for what I plan to talk about? And then you can run it by Deuce. And you two can talk to your publicists or whatever, and …”

“Our publicists?” Zora almost spat her latte across the table. “We don’t have a publicist.”

“Then better yet. If you want to get some lower key buzz, what better way than to use an unknown vlogger?”

Zora shook her head and smiled. “You’re persuasive, I’ll give you that.”

Summer said nothing, knowing to leave well enough alone when Zora was actually smiling at her.

“Email me your … parameters,” Zora said finally. “And I’ll talk to Deuce. I mean, there’ll be all these other people there, Summer. People who want their privacy maintained. Not just me and Deuce. So, I think he’s going to have to make that call.”

“I understand. And I respect that. I’ll take that into consideration when I draw up the guidelines.”

Sighing, Zora reached for her cup again and clasped it in both hands. She nodded.


“Cool,” Summer echoed, trying not to look too pleased with herself. “Now tell me … besides being the bride in Black America’s Wedding of the Decade, what else is new?”

Zora made a gagging sound.

“Well, parameter number one? Please do not call it that.”

Summer shrugged. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”


Lily Java Talks about her October Double Release!

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.

Naturally, 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 Blackbirds but 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 Choice gives 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?

Well, it 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.

I have 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 helpful.

Sorry for 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 last Tayari 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 Institute and 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?

Honestly, 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 Blackbirds saga 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!

My Revenge Review and What it Taught Me

So here’s how it went down:

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.

Love & Light,


NEW RELEASE: ‘In Black & White’

About the book:

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.


Coming Soon!

About the book:

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.



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 everywhere.

“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, hollering child.

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 juice.”

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.

She isn’t 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 her house.

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.


I 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 …”

“Mr. Farris?”

The detective steps between us. He looks Noah over.

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 gone.”

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 down.

“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.

“Mr. Farris.”  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 me.”

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 long now?”

“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 radio squawking.

“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.  “Dana,” he says, his face crumpling again. “You lost her? How could you do … how could you lose her?”

Why is Black Pain High Art?

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?

That’s all I got. 

Love & Light,

“Loving Cassie” by Jacinta Howard

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.