Nia’s January Must Read: ‘Love Is’ by Tia Kelly

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‘Love Is’ opens with the very ambitious, goal-oriented and purpose-driven Diane Collins in an airport, waiting for a flight after having just endured an interview for a job that is well beneath her abilities and her lofty expectations for herself. She’s got huge plans, but knows that the job, however lacking, could be a stepping stone to where she wants to go, so she’s willing to consider it. As fate would have it, also on that flight, and in need of a buffer between him and his over-exuberant fans, is Warren “the Warrior” Scott, an NBA player with the Boston Celtics. Warren and Diane strike up a conversation and shortly thereafter a friendship that will dramatically change the trajectory of her life.

Unbeknownst to Diane, she is meeting Warren at a pivotal moment in his life and career, and though he may be the biggest thing to happen to her in a long while, her significance (and certainly her value) in his life … well, that remains in question throughout most of the novel.

‘Love Is’ is notable for lots of reasons for me. First, it’s definitely genre-bending. Though there are certainly love affairs and ‘love dilemmas’ in the story, the big questions are raised by how much Diane may or may not love herself and how that self-love, or lack thereof, may lead her into making bad decisions. The love between parents and their children is also a theme that gets a lot of attention from the author and by the time the book is done, the choices parents make for the benefit of their kids, and sometimes to their kids’ detriment is also thoroughly and thoughtfully explored.

But let me get concrete. Here’s what made this book a ‘must-read’ for me:

The Maddening, but “Relatable” Imperfection of the Heroine–I wanted to choke her out a time or two, I can tell you that. I rarely agreed with her choices and a few of them made me want to scream. But here’s one thing I didn’t do: I didn’t doubt that those were choices a woman might make, choices women have made, or choices that even with her flawed reasoning made a certain kind of sense. It is almost the most important thing to me from the beginning of a novel to the end, that I am convinced. And I found Diane thoroughly convincing. She was the friend you know, who you watch make mistakes, but whose mistakes you are powerless to prevent her from making. At one point, I could almost weep for Diane, seeing how she far she had departed from the woman she was in that airport.

The Ambiguity of the Anti-Hero–so there’s a hint for you (and a mild spoiler) by calling him an Anti-Hero. Warren Scott (whose choices reverberate in the lives of characters in several other Tia Kelly novels) is a complicated man. He does incredibly romantic and thoughtful things, and then mind-blowingly despicable things. He is heart-meltingly tender, and then unbelievably callous. But like, Diane, he is real. The realistic nature of the character is only part of the appeal for me, though. I also loved that he was an enigma, not only to the reader, but you also got the sense that he was an enigma to himself–unable to explain his feelings, or process them, unable to discern his own wants and needs; unable to stop himself going down a path that could only lead to pain for himself and others.

The Familiarity of the Themes–the story is in some ways an old and familiar one. And in the traditional telling of this story, Diane could be seen as the villainess, or at a minimum, as being, well, not very smart. But the way the author had the story unfold, you realize the slow steps people sometimes take to almost certain ruin. Only from the distance of a reader are we able to see with clarity how ruinous their choices are, but at the same time, we understand why they the protagonists and participants in the story may not see it.

The Attention to Time and Place–if you were born in the 80’s, or a pre-teen or teenager then, you will recognize all of the cultural references–the clothes people wore, the shows on television, the happenings in the world’s of sports, entertainment, and politics— and you will delight in them. These details were unobtrusively sprinkled throughout, reminding us that the action doesn’t take place in an unspecified ‘modern America’ but in a very definite era. And that era, before social media made the details of everyone’s personal life a Google search away, is essential for understanding a key plot point.  Also, each chapter, rather than being numbered, is named after a song from that era with a title relevant to the unfolding of the action. This kind of thing sets a book apart, and makes it clear that it was the product of thought, rather than an impulsive regurgitation of ideas expressed in a million other books before.

The Bold Conclusion–Around 80 percent into ‘Love Is’, you’re pretty sure you know what’s going to happen. Well, you’re wrong. And that’s all I’m saying.

Disclaimer: the author is a friend and someone I often have conversations with about writing, characters and popular culture and how that impacts what writers write, and what people read. She co-hosted an event with me in Washington DC called ‘Wine with Writers’ which gave us, as well as writers Xyla Turner and Lily Java, a rare opportunity to have face-to-face time with readers and talk about the theme of African American women in fiction, and hear their impressions of our work and characters. It was a super-fun, interesting and eye-opening afternoon and gave us a new perspective on the ways that the things we can write affect real people with real lives. That’s an awesome amount of power and responsibility to have. It still amazes me that anyone would even want to meet writers, just because of our fanciful scribblings about imagined people and their imagined lives. But I don’t think my friend and fellow-writer Tia Kelly would mind my saying that she takes that power and responsibility really seriously.

The seriousness with which she treats that responsibility is clear in ‘Love Is’. Having read everything she’s released, I have to say that this is, hands-down, her very best work.


 

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About the novel:

It took a once-in-a-lifetime bond to teach her what love is, and a once-in-a-lifetime betrayal to show her what love is not… Love Is. A different kind of love story.

Diane Collins had big plans for her life, and hoops star Warren Scott was not among them. He doesn’t want to be the face of the NBA, and she doesn’t care that he is. His reluctance to be part of the limelight disarms her and the two embark on an unlikely friendship that becomes an even unlikelier romance.

Soon, his life is her life – filled with VIP treatment, parties and luxuries beyond Diane’s wildest imagination. But Warren is harboring a secret, and once it’s revealed Diane’s decision to stay or go could change the very fabric of who she thought she was.

From ‘Love Is’:

“I wish you would have rescued me tonight,” he said in a quiet voice.

Diane kept her eyes focused on the rising moon. “I feel like that’s all I’m worth to you.”

“No.” They returned to silence, but several minutes later he added, “I never meant to make you feel like that.”

“I know… sometimes, at least.”

He moved his feet in the water, and it splashed against their calves.

“I just don’t know what this is with you. Between us,” she explained. She inhaled the night air and released it, hoping to let all the bottled-up emotion that was building up out with it. “I can’t do another trip… All of this is lovely, and I know I probably sound ungrateful for saying this after you picked me to be here with you, but… Warren, I can’t keep doing this. Not when I don’t know how you feel. Or maybe I know and refuse to accept it.”

Cada dia que passa eu me apaixono mais por você.”

“Spanish?”

He laughed. “No… Portuguese.”

“Interesting,” Diane said, her voice trailing off, blending with the lapping of water hitting the wall of the pool.

“I probably butchered it a little. Still not always the best at speaking in Portuguese.”

“Planning a trip to Brazil?”

“No. I learned it once trying to impress a girl.”

“Did it work?”

Warren closed his eyes and shook his head. “No.”

Diane stared down at the water, looking at their feet beneath the surface. “What does it mean?”

“It basically means with every day that passes, I fall in love with you more.”

Diane looked up and caught him staring at her.

“I know one thing,” she said, looking into his eyes—a crazy hazel so intense that the color transformed into a bright green within the warm gold and brown iris she was used to seeing. The bold transformation was hypnotic.

“And what’s that?”

“It worked on me.”


 

Read ‘Love Is’ today: on Amazon, on Nook, on Google or on Kobo

Don’t Tie Me Up – A Review of ‘Black Satin’ by The Black

Black SatinThis may be TMI, but here it is: I like vanilla sex. No, love. I love vanilla sex. I don’t need you to tie me up, attach clamps to my naughty bits or whip me with anything. With a partner to whom I feel connected in the head and (sometimes) heart, I’m apt to enjoy and enthusiastically participate, even with no accessories required.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m all for consenting adults doing whatever they want to get their rocks off.  And ever the adventurous one, I’ll try just about anything at least once given the right kind of persuasion. But having said that, I don’t get particularly hot and bothered at the idea of restraints, submitting to anything or anyone, or watching others get it on.

So when The Black told me about his new book, ‘Black Satin’ a compilation of BDSM shorts, I very politely expressed my interest but didn’t immediately put it on my TBR (“to be read”) list. Still, having become well-acquainted with his writing style even to the point of enjoying a novella he wrote called ‘The Axe’ (yeah, the thing you use to chop things . . . or people, with) I decided to see what he would do with this still somewhat taboo, though increasingly mainstreamed content.

The result? I read ‘Black Satin’ in one sitting.

To limit this book to the now trendy BDSM genre-fiction is to do it an injustice. For one thing, there’s not a whole lot of B,D, S or M, at least not in the way that purists and practitioners of that lifestyle would see it. Instead, The Black takes us on a journey with several couples experimenting with physical and emotional limits in their relationships.

My favorite story by far in the compilation is the very first one, ‘OPP’ (and if you don’t know what that means you better ask somebody). In ‘OPP’, we see Baron, a character who appears in ‘With Benefits’ and ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ engage in a sexy power-struggle with his neighbor that is a scarily accurate portrayal of how some women wield their sexuality as a weapon and how men may respond to that show of force. Someone reaches the point of submission for sure in this story, though not in the way you might expect given the BDSM label. In fact, if you’re not nearly as adventurous as some people, and believe that BDSM is code for cringe-worthy, risktaking bedroom behavior, there is nothing to fear in this book — almost all of the bondage, domination, submission, etc. is to be found in the psychological rather than the sexual elements of these stories.

My second favorite story in the compilation would be very difficult to pick, honestly, because they each had something that piqued and kept my interest. And for lovers of romance, there’s plenty for you to sink your teeth into as well.  But on the whole, here’s what I loved about this book. It was not a cobbled-together series of overblown sexual situations masquerading as fiction. As is always the case with The Black’s work, the characterization was thorough, the situations believable, the stories engaging, and most were vaguely reminiscent of some situation in our own life or those of people we know.

What I liked most about ‘Black Satin’ was that in almost every story, there was a full, detailed back-story that made the sexual situations make perfect sense. At no point while reading these shorts did I roll my eyes and say, ‘Yeah, like that would happen in real life.’ It was sexy, it was arousing but it was intelligent erotica. So if like me, you like realism with your fantasy and believe that the biggest aphrodisiac is what you have between your ears and not between your legs, ‘Black Satin’ is one you’re sure to enjoy.

Happy Reading!

-N-

Nia Plays Nice

play niceI’ve never taken a poll or anything, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most writers are solitary creatures. We spend a lot of time inside our own heads to get our work done, so (speaking for myself here) conversations with real, live human beings can sometimes feel burdensome. Imagine for a moment what it might take to actually open up enough to work with another writer. Collaborating on a creative process is not something I’ve ever been particularly eager to do. I like tunneling in and blocking out the world, and at those times when I’m in that smooth, easy writing space, it feels almost meditative. So to invite someone into that space is a huge deal. And to be invited by someone else to enter their space, an even bigger deal.

When The Black invited me into his sanctum sanctorum, I couldn’t refuse. I enjoy his work immensely and respect the way he has with words so this opportunity was too big to pass up. The opportunity is this: write a series of shorts with him over a period yet to be determined, with him handling the male point of view, and me handling the female perspective.

The result — our collaboration — is Duets, a new section on both our blogs consisting of short, sensual pieces that we think will resonate with both our core audiences.

The first collaborative piece, Lovers, begins on his blog here, and continues on mine, here. We’ll do a chapter at a time until the story is complete, and then we’ll move on to the next story. It requires you to do some blog-hopping, but we promise it will be worth the while. Leave us comments, and let us know what you think, both about the story as it evolves, and about this experiment in literary à deux.

Happy Reading!

The Black is the author of Dream Girl, A Southern Belle: Forbidden, Elle (Insatiable: Book One), Golden (Insatiable: Book Two), the Passion series, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, The Rock and many other novels and novellas.

Visit The Black’s Amazon Author Page here.

Unbridled Romance

Delaney CoverSome writers elevate the romance novel to a form that makes you eschew gritty reality in favor of something so much sweeter . . .

Now I’m not your romantic type. Honest, I’m not. I still stifle the urge to correct people when they refer to my work as romance novels. Not that I’ve got anything against romance novels (as this post is shortly about to explain) but I never set out to write something “romantic”, I just want to write something ‘real’. But some writers elevate the romance novel to a form that makes you eschew gritty reality in favor of something so much sweeter . . .

On Monday, I had the honor of being interviewed on Delaney Diamond’s blog; and because I anticipated the post, I went there to check it out. If you read my blog, you’re used to me spilling my guts, but if you want, you can read the interview here.  And when you get there, explore a little bit. I did. I read all of Delaney’s free reads and bought yet another one of her books. Having already read ‘Second Chances‘, ‘The Arrangement‘ and ‘The Ultimate Merger‘, but written reviews for only one of the three, I wasn’t planning to read or buy anything more for now.

But I couldn’t help it. I immediately left her site and bought ‘Here Comes Trouble‘ and when I got home, read the already-purchased ‘A Hard Man to Love‘. Now I can’t afford to be reading anything, being behind (again) on a writing deadline, but my appetite was whetted and had to be satisfied.

Delaney’s reads are quick, and in many ways the antithesis of mine. She writes briskly, in crisp, clever prose that tells you a great deal in very few words. There is an underpinning to each and every character, the hint of so much more than is told. But what she does tell is all you need to know to be intrigued.  And here’s another thing: Delaney Diamond writes pure romance. The sweep-you-off-your-feet, swooning, bite-your-knuckles kind where painfully handsome dark-haired men-of-means sweep women away to nights of untold pleasure. Her worlds are those where money is no object for the male protagonist and the women are often relatively ill-matched, at least financially. Her stories are those where money and power are their own aphrodisiacs. For the reader at least, but hardly ever for the female protagonist.

Rather, Delaney takes us through a maddening mating dance where men who have everything are befuddled by their desire for the one thing they cannot summon: the heart of a woman. In her books, women are driven to irrational behavior by love. This is the kind of stuff you tell yourself could be corny, but when Delaney writes it, for some reason, it just isn’t. You feel the mutual push and pull of lust and love, the angst, the longing, the ache of wanting someone so badly it would crush you to learn that they don’t want you.

As I sat down to write my reviews, I decided that a review of each book would not be enough. What readers need to get a sense of is the body of her work. This stuff is what you should read when you’ve had a crappy day at work, when your mate pissed you off so much you could scream, when your car got a flat tire as you drove home in the rain and the tow-truck took 45 minutes showing up while you sweated it out inside without air-conditioning. Delaney’s work is escapism of the most satisfying kind. And what’s best about it is that it has no pretensions whatsoever. Great writing, great books that are intensely, unapologetically, unbridled romance.

Happy Reading.

N.

Oh, and I’m not a Nookie, but if you are, it’s not your fault and you can still get Delaney’s books, here.

Off the Grid

otgI’ve been a little quieter than usual lately, and have been trying to diagnose why. Could it be the weather, a new person in my life, or the mild writing slump I’ve been feeling? But whatever the reason, it got me thinking about whether it might not be better for writers to sometimes go off the grid.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, “off the grid” used to refer to living off the electrical grid, not connected to any man-made power source. Nowadays it’s broader and means that you’re living a post-consumer lifestyle, largely untouched by a culture that drives us to acquire more, and newer and bigger ‘things’, and to voraciously reach for information in real time, ever-connected and plugged in. Y’know that mild sense of panic you get when you realize you’ve left your smartphone at home? It means you’re plugged in and very invested in that grid for your emotional well-being.

No doubt we live in a society where things happen at lightning speed. Whether it’s the Kimye pregnancy news or the resignation of the Pope, if you look away for a moment, you’ll miss it, and folks will be talking about something else. Consider for instance the whole notion of what’s “trending”. “Trend’ used to be a noun, a static thing; now it’s a verb, something active, moving, changing at any given moment in time. For a writer of contemporary fiction, that means that there is an incredible amount of stimuli to take in and process in order to be effective at your craft. Your fiction is only contemporary if you are. I like to tell my friends–and it’s absolutely true–that I need to know everything. Not in the sense of being nosy, but in the sense of being socially and intellectually inquisitive and always up-to-date. If there is some new way of living, dressing, communicating I want to know about it. If there’s a new slang word I don’t know the meaning of, I make damn sure I investigate. And honestly, it’s exhausting. The volume of stuff to know and keep abreast of has grown exponentially just in the last three years alone.

So for the past several weeks, I’ve weaned myself of some aspects of the grid, even though I’m not sure that I knew at the time that that’s what I was doing. I can’t completely get off it because for someone like me, it would be the equivalent of starving my brain. I need that kind of stimuli just to . . .  be who I am. But what I have done is get down to the basics–responding only to absolutely essential email and communications, reading very little, watching very little television, talking to very few people. And writing practically nothing. The only part that’s been painful is the not-writing part. The rest of it has been liberating. And to my surprise, I don’t feel as starved as I might have expected. Being off the grid for me once seemed risky–how would I know what’s going on? How could I write about modern women and modern concerns if I’m not ALWAYS on top of what’s happening in the modern world?  But y’know what? I’m over it.

Turns out, when you’re off the grid you miss some things, but generally only the inconsequential ones. The constant need to see what other people are doing gives way for introspection, reflection, and even greater creative thinking than you might imagine. So I don’t know what the gender is of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s kid in utero, but that’s information that would only take up valuable space in my head anyway. Having gone through the withdrawal symptoms of someone who generally overloads herself with information, I am now comfortable with the idea of going off the grid once in awhile as a way to rejuvenate, recharge and remember what’s important.

I’m curious . . . is going off the grid something you could see yourself doing?

-Nia-

Messy Love

cheating heartWe say we want our love ‘clean’ and ‘drama-free’,  but I’m not sure I buy it. The big loves, the intense loves, the messy loves. Those are the ones we remember . . .

This month in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m going to be posting about messy love – you know the kind I mean. The love you have usually when you were somewhere between 16 and 25 and you do the sloppiest, dumbest shit, the kind of shit that makes you cringe when you later remember it. Feel free to post your messy love stories as a comment to this post. The messier the better. But to be fair, I should start us off by posting one of mine.

I was sixteen, and had a male best friend. We were tight, I mean really, really close. We talked on the phone for hours every day. He was the first person I thought about when I woke up, the last person I talked to every night. While I was quiet and pensive, he was outgoing and expressive. He was super-cute, like one of the DeBarges in the time when we still thought the DeBarges were cute. And it was clear to anyone who knew him that I was the most important girl in his life.

But for me, that wasn’t enough – I was “just a friend” albeit his best friend. I wanted more. He was oblivious – as most boys and men are when they think they have a female best friend when in fact they have someone who’s in love with them and just doesn’t want to ruin it by reaching for more. Anyway, this friend of mine was a bit of a bad-boy. He smoked weed, he skipped school, he hung out with dodgy characters, and my parents hated him. He got into scrapes a lot and then told me about them later, which I loved. He told me everything, in unvarnished language – all about the girls he bedded, the scams he pulled, the lies he told. To me, he was the most amazing person ever in the history of . . . amazing-ness.

One summer day I was home and bored and he called me from a pizza restaurant about three miles away. He’d been smoking weed with friends. They were hungry, and now they were broke. Could I bring him twenty bucks?  My mother disapproved of our friendship and was suspicious of it’s all-consuming nature (of course she was!) and so I couldn’t get her to take me to see him. I didn’t yet drive, so I couldn’t go on my own. So what did I do, desperately-in-love-with-my-best-friend sixteen year old nincompoop that I was? I couldn’t stand that he was stranded and hungry, couldn’t bear that he would experience a moment’s discomfort if I had the power to alleviate it.  So I walked- yes, walked– the three miles to hand him twenty dollars so he and his friends could be relieved of the munchies. And then I walked back home. And just like some John Hughes movie, on the way, as I walked, clothed in shame for being such a pushover, it began to rain. Served me right.

Now that was pretty ugly, so c’mon . . . tell me your messy love story . . . And remember to change names (including your own if you must) to protect the innocent.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

Being Earnest

honesty-sincerity-integrityLast weekend, I went to a very interesting gathering of women to discuss themes that appear in my books, and other issues of concern . . .

I wanted to title this blog ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as a play on Oscar Wilde’s great work of that name but then I realized that may mislead people into thinking I’d actually read it, when in fact I only ever watched the movie, which starred the wonderful Rupert Everett and incomparable Colin Firth, two of my favorite British actors.

Still, this is a blog about being earnest, in the sense of “showing depth and sincerity of feeling” but also about being authentic, which is a close cousin but not the same thing  as being earnest. Just this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a gathering of women in Northern Virginia, having been invited by one of my readers (and now cyber-pal) to join a discussion about some of the themes in my books, and issues that modern and progressive women face in general. We sat around with wine and finger foods in an informal setting, talking about love, life, relationships and of course, those mysterious creatures, men. After the discussion, as I headed for home, I thought about the various strands of the conversation we had and realized that a topic I had been contemplating blogging about anyway – authenticity- was actually at the heart of our discussion.

Here’s how:

As we talked well into the evening, we gradually got to a central question which dominated the latter hour and a half of our discussion. The question was basically this: can women be our authentic selves in relationships with men and still have those relationships survive?

And as a corollary to that, can the progressive, independent women of today find fulfilling relationships with men while still being their authentic selves?

Well let me end the suspense: we did not find answers to those questions.

But what I heard, as the conversation unfolded organically, was that the women present  were in one of two ‘camps’. In the first camp which I’ll call the Purists, were the women who believe that the prospects of having a relationship survive our being our true selves are dim, either because men have bought into a feminine ideal that does not exist or because we as women help perpetuate an ideal that we cannot possibly live up to. Though their point of view sounds quite jaded, at the heart of their views, they still by and large seemed to yearn for authentic relationships with men, relationships that are unfettered by the need to pretend to be something that we aren’t, be that a certain physical type, or of a certain temperament, etc.  So in other words, these women want to achieve the “pure” romantic notion of relationships where you and your guy don’t just love each other, you get each other as well.

The second camp, I call the Realists. These were the women who seem to accept the whole “women are from Venus, men are from Mars” philosophy and believe that the only way to maintain relationships with men is with a certain degree of gamesmanship – like learning how to provide all those things the masculine ego needs to survive (praise, reinforcement and recognition) and making adjustments to find your personal fulfillment elsewhere because we understand and accept that the men in our lives will never fully get us though they may love us.

At the heart of those strands of thinking were different approaches to the question of being authentic. The Purists seemed to find something inauthentic about the Realists’ approach, and the Realists believed that the authenticity of the connection between women and their mates is not at all compromised by the need to make course adjustments just to keep the road to a long relationship primarily smooth and less fraught with conflict.

There was plenty of food for thought after this conversation, and as always, being in a place where I got to hear women sharing openly, frankly and earnestly about their needs, their wants, and their fears moved me and opened my mind. I don’t know if I will see these women again, but I know for sure that you will – as parts of them will appear in my work, and undoubtedly make it richer.

What do you think? Is it possible to be truly authentic in our relationships with men?

Happy Reading!

-Nia-