Rhyme & Reason — COMING 2019

An unedited excerpt from Chapter 1 of ‘Rhyme & Reason’, from the new generation of ‘Afterwards’ novels, coming 2019.

Happy Friday.

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.

Why don’t you have my whole name in your contacts?

Because you’re kind of famous.

Deuce had twisted his lips and narrowed his eyes skeptically.

Here’s what 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.

I already 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.

I was watching Netflix all on my own. On a Friday night. Yes, I was.

“You alone?”

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.

“What’re you sorry for?”

“Springing up on you. I mean … it wasn’t fair. I should’ve …”

On the other end of the line, Deuce sighed. “I don’t know that it would have made a difference anyway,” he said.

“Why?”

“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.

“And?”

“It’s goin’ okay, I guess. Mostly I’m learning the business, y’know?”

“Does your father help?”

“Nah.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t ask him.”

Deuce.”

“What?”

“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, considering.”

“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 herself.

Then they both laughed at the same time.

“Okay, fine,” she said. “There were moments, I admit …”

Moments?” 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 off.

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.”

“Baby?”

 The sound 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.’

From ‘Rhyme & Reason’ COMING 2019

Before ‘Rhyme & Reason’ gets here, make sure you’re caught up, by first reading ‘Young, Rich & Black’ and ‘Snowflake’.

‘You Know How to Love Me’

You Know How to Love Me by Chicki Brown

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?

AVAILABLE ON:

AMAZON – US | AMAZON – UK

 ENTER TO WIN

Chicki Brown is giving away a copy of You Know How to Love Me (eBook).
Click here to enter.

About Chicki Brown

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’d like to find out about Chicki’s next book, please visit her blog at http://sisterscribbler.blogspot.com, or her Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/ChickiBrownNovels/

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‘SNOWFLAKE’ is here!

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/

Here’s to 2019!

Love & Light,
Nia

SPOTLIGHT: ‘PUSHING THIRTY’ by NECOLE RYSE

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

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

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

Grab your copy of Pushing Thirty today for only $1.99!

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‘Pushing Thirty’ Author Necole Ryse

Playlist: http://bit.ly/PushingThirtyPlaylist

Author Website: https://necolerysewrites.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NecoleRyse

Twitter: www.twitter.com/necoleryse

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SAMPLE SUNDAY:SNOWFLAKE

“I have a proposition.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

“You know Deuce Scaife?” he asked.

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

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

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

Asha nodded, wondering where this was headed.

“Deuce invited us to come stay with them.”

“Wait. What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You looked after me when I was sick.”

“I gave you two Advil and some soup.”

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

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

“You know Zora Diallo?”

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

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

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

Asha said nothing.

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

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

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

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know how I know. I just do.”

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

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

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

Did he know he was beautiful?

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

COMING IN 2018.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘Rhyme & Reason’

“What?”

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

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

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

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

Lloyd squinted. “For real? So you …”

“This is so cool, you guys!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah. There she was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuce looked at him.

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

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

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

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

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

Deuce.”

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

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

“Deuce,” she said again.

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

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

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

“Hey,” she said.

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

COMING 2019.

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

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

Author, Diane McKinney-Whetstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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