What I Learned at Wine with Writers ATL

 

iStock_000052910038_Medium-56b09b3f3df78cf772cffbb6What I Learned at Wine with Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to know why you came.

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

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

Love & light,

N.

 


 

Wine with Writers ATL

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

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

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

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

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

Love & light,

N.

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

Sticky Moon‘Sticky Moon’ by Lily Java

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

22’22’ by Rae Lamar

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

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

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

 

Keeping Willow‘Keeping Willow’ by Jacinta Howard

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“NOT ALL COPS…”

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

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

 

‘Brunch at Ruby’s’ by DL White

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

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

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

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

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

‘Women: Withstanding All’ is AVAILABLE NOW!

12821341_1536520193308506_1308045738074794702_n (1)So, it’s RELEASE DAY for ‘Women: Withstanding All’ the anthology developed for Women’s History Month that features 14 women writers of disparate genres, including me. Get your copy, and then please leave a review. But if you need persuading, read the excerpt below from my writer-friend Lily Java!


Excerpt from: ‘Lucky Penny’ by Lily Java
(Mother)

Letter No. 1
July 14, 1996

Dearest Penny,

I was sitting on the grass in Central Park, watching your daddy and your Uncle Marcus play the stupidest game of Frisbee I’ve ever seen. It involved one-handed play since the other hand had a Bud in it. They were both pretty drunk off the six pack they’d brought into the park and hidden under the carriage of your stroller, even though neither of them had drunk more than two beers a piece. Yeah they’re lightweights, and we’re lucky the cops didn’t spot them; but they were having fun so I didn’t mind. Your daddy works so hard; I like to see him let loose when he can.

12828418_1765381300350623_150603436990195949_oYou were there, lying on the blanket Grandma crocheted for you. I worried that the yarn she’d used was too scratchy, but you never seem to mind and always fall asleep on it like it’s the most comfortable thing in the world. Not this time though. This time you were wide awake. Your beautiful, expressive brown eyes were opened to their fullest and staring at me with such intensity, it startled me. It was like you could see right through the back of my head. It surprised me so, I said, “Oh!” Both my hands came up to my mouth to hold back all the other errant exclamations that wanted to come out of me.

Either your dad or your uncle must have seen the gesture because the next thing I know, they both came running. Your father knelt in front of me and said, “Honey, what’s wrong? And I blurted out the one thing that probably would succeed in doing nothing to ease his mind. Yes, your altogether ludicrous mother said, “We can’t die!” And then, your dad’s eyebrows shifted to a different height on his head very near his hairline. I’m going to digress here and say that’s the same exact look he gave me when I told him I was pregnant, but that’s a totally different story.

I could feel them, your dad and his brother exchanging looks, but I kept staring at you. See, it was in that moment approximately ten weeks after you were born that it hit me like a sledgehammer on the foot. You were so utterly beautiful lying there; truly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was the look on your face, I think; so innocent, such trust, such helplessness, and so much love all mixed together and confined in the face of an angel; and it was up to me and your father to protect you, cherish you, and love you. That meant we had to take care of ourselves until you weren’t helpless anymore. No, it wasn’t a sledgehammer, it was something larger—an anvil around my neck.

Your dad reached over to you then. “Lucky,” he said, easily getting your undivided attention in a way he often did with me too. “You really need to stop scaring Mommy.” And the spell you had me under was broken. Whatever you had communicated to me in that moment wasn’t gone, it was just released into the atmosphere and leaving me with only two thoughts: One, I need to join a gym, and two, I need to start writing you letters.

To connect with Lily Java:
Amazon: http://goo.gl/Wx0bkh
Email: lilyjavawrites@gmail.com
FB Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorLilyJava
Twitter: @lilyjavawrites
Website: www.lilyjava.com

Whet. The Sensuous Experience – Voice VII

Whet

For my final post on writers with a voice I found to be strong and impressive,  I thought I’d just reproduce in its entirety a review I did recently for a new writer I’ve met in the blogosphere. I think her work is amazing and would urge you to check it out. It’s not linear narrative so if that’s what you need in your reading, this probably won’t be for you but having said that, I generally like linear narratives and was still pretty blown away . . .

It’s taken me awhile to write this review because I wanted to do it justice and thoroughly enjoy a well thought out review myself. So, where to begin. Whet. The Sensuous Experience is a collection of seven erotic shorts, and at the end there is an excerpt from a longer work by this author, which I look forward to reading. I should start by saying I generally don’t enjoy short stories unless you’re like, Ernest Hemingway or something. But in this case, I was pleasantly surprised and in some instances, blown away by how strong this author’s voice is. And what was more interesting, her voice varies from story to story.

In the first story, Sugarfoot Bricks we see the unconventional beginning of a relationship, written almost in the style of a screenplay, describing scene, characters and mood with vivid prose that puts you there. And because it’s erotic after all, a description of fellatio not easily forgotten. Beneath all that, there’s also a cleverly-placed subplot of betrayal.

The second story, Paid Strangers describes an encounter between a seasoned escort and one not quite as experienced as they service their clients. In relatively few words, I got a full sense of who this more experienced escort was – that she was funny, cynical, still enjoyed sex and even more than that, enjoyed the power she wields over her clients. I could see her.

In Bond 45 a female barber gives a client more than he bargained for. This story was my least favorite, because I felt like it was great sex with less character development than the previous.

Be Here is erotica told entirely by text messages. Yah. Amazing. I almost didn’t care about the story, because the concept was go great.

The Slor was my favorite story in the collection. It was about a woman who has a dual identity of sorts – committed girlfriend and sexual opportunist who plays (a lot) while her man is away. I love stories where the characters are layered and complicated and this story more than delivered in that regard. I wanted to know more about her and this was the only one where I wanted to read it as a novel, because I felt there was so much more I wanted to know about her.

In La Boom Suite we see a sexually-adventurous, but in all other respects conventional couple enjoy a night out – and each other – and indulge their penchant for semi-public sex. It’s the kind of story that makes you wonder what that nice couple with the two perfect kids next door are really doing with their free time.

The final short, Convince Me is also about a married couple, and parts of the story were almost stream of consciousness style. This was probably, of the entire collection, the most erotic (with Paid Strangers being a close second).

On the whole, what I loved most about this collection was that it explored people’s relationships with their sexuality in a manner that had not even a hint of judgment. Some of the erotica out there, including the BDSM romances, tend to bear tiny hints of . . . I dunno, shame or something. Like an undercurrent of the author’s sense that this is not exactly okay, even if it turns you on. And some of the characters inner dialogue will betray that. There was none of that nonsense here. It was straight-up, permission to enjoy your sexuality with complete freedom from society’s strictures.

Finally, The Elephant and the Butterfly. Edgy stuff, focused on an important subject – depression and mental illness and the potency of psychic pain. I want to read this book before I comment at length, but am almost afraid to read it because even this excerpt made me sad.

But all in all, I highly recommend this collection. Some writers are like plumbers – they know where to put each element of a good story, and at the end, everything functions as it should and you’re satisfied. But some writers are artists; they put things in places where you might think they shouldn’t go, use tools that you don’t always understand, but damned if they don’t create something that leaves you awestruck at the end. Ms. Fleming ain’t a plumber, she’s definitely an artist.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

Voice Part VI

Le Mariage

‘Le Mariage launched my phase of infatuation with Diane Johnson and her work about expats, a somewhat separatist culture with which I am very familiar. I still read snippets of this book and ‘Le Divorce’ (never, never, never see that movie, it was an awful adaptation) every once in awhile. The author has a wonderful eye and ear and attention for the detail that distinguishes one culture from another, and the idiosyncrasies of each. I think she’s influenced my writing tremendously because her voice is both dispassionate and intimate.

She seems to be hovering somewhat above and apart from her characters, and yet we learn very intimate things about them. We are privy to some of their thoughts but at the same time, we get the sense that we do not see everything, leaving room for the element of surprise.

I tried to do some of that in my book ‘Unsuitable Men’. We learn something about Brendan and Tracy and how they feel and see the world by getting into their heads, but there are still things that the reader learns that are not completely apparent, though hints were provided along the way. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m no Diane Johnson. At least not yet. 😉

Happy Reading.

-Nia-

Voice Part IV

ImageThe stories I like best are the ones where I feel as though what’s not being told is far more important than what is. ‘The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt is one such book. There is a subtlety about her voice in this book that you can’t help but admire if you’re a writer because you understand how irrepressible the “urge to tell” is, if you’re a storyteller. Another thing that makes this book incredible is that it has so many characters and yet each one is very much an individual, and their relationships with each other are so complex and well-developed.

If I had to think of one word to describe the voice in this book, it would be ‘disciplined’, or perhaps ‘controlled’. It doesn’t sound complimentary, but I definitely mean it as a compliment, because I think that’s the hardest thing to develop as a writer – control and discipline in how you use your voice. Lots of reviews say the writing is overwrought, but I disagree. I think they’re just a teensy bit envious, frankly. Her choice of language seemed to me to be very deliberate given the setting and characters. And oh yeah, great plot as well. Read it.

-Nia-

Tell Me You Love Me . . . (or that you don’t)

I don’t know any writers who do it for the money. Not one.

I’m definitely one of those who write for other reasons. Now if the money you get through sales is in some way a reflection of how many people were moved by your work then perhaps it becomes important. Still, when I check online to “see how I’m doing”, I hardly ever check my sales. I check for reviews. And when I do check my sales, it’s only so I can see how many people may have read my work and might leave a review. Each royalty payment I get deposited into my account perplexes me each month. There’s always a moment of, ‘what is this? oh yeah, for the books.’ The sums have been larger lately so there’s a brief moment of exhilaration but only because it helps me envision that one day I might be able to pass on the day job altogether and only write, all day, every day. And what bliss that would be.

Still, it’s all about the reviews for me. Good or bad, the feedback you get as a writer feeds your creativity and pushes you to do and be better. I was having a little bit of a block a few evenings ago, and had that moment of desperation that almost every writer experiences, where you wonder whether the angst is worth it, whether you might not be better off spending your time doing something more ‘practical’ than writing fiction. And then I read two of the most complimentary comments on my blog about how a couple of my readers felt about my work. That quickly, and blockage was gone. It was like a well-timed gift, and I was able to write another 100 or so pages that night.

Writing, I’ve said many times before, is the most solitary of pursuits. It isn’t like many other arts (music or visual art, for instance) where the reactions are immediate and apparent. When you write fiction you go into a secret place in your mind and you sequester yourself there, tunneling in, listening only to the voices of your characters and living only their lives, finding everything else to be an irritant. And then you emerge sometime later, squinting against the bright lights of reality and wondering whether the journey was worth it. The process alone justifies some of it: I like writing just because I do and would do so regardless of whether anyone else cared what I wrote. But there is no denying that the greater reward, the better prize is hear that my writing meant something to someone other than me. That it aroused curiosity, interest, passion or even anger and dismay.

So if you’ve read anything at all recently (not just my stuff, anything) take a moment to go to Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari or whatever your preferred site may be and tell that writer you loved them . . . or not.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-

Secret – Coming Soon!

I recently “outed” myself to a friend as a writer of contemporary romance. To date, very few people I know are aware that I have this other persona who writes women’s fiction by night and is tortured during business meetings because she would rather be thinking about the fictional characters rattling around in her brain. Anyway, I shared my work with this friend and she read one of my books and came back with a favorable review. Kind of.

“I liked it a lot,” she said. “But nothing actually happens.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Nothing happens,” she reiterated. “It’s just about the ups and downs of this relationship.”

So I mulled that over for awhile and decided that she was right. And she was also wrong.

While I’m still in the process of finding my voice and perfecting my craft, I know one thing for certain. I am not the kind of writer who cares much for action and intrigue. I don’t need there to be a murder, or a stalker or anything of the sort in my novels. In fact, I prefer that there not be any of those devices because in most of our lives, none of that stuff happens, and yet our lives are not static or boring, they are filled with intriguing occurrences that might at first blush appear to be of not much importance at all. What I try to do in my work is examine the progression of relationships through everyday occurrences.

Nights out with friends.

Parties.

Interactions with family.

All of those situations are to me ripe with possibilities for characters to learn and grow. So I use a lot of inner dialogue and write from multiple (usually two) points of view.

In the book I’m working on now, ‘Secret’ – the main characters are in a relationship that they keep secret from others, and one of them has a secret from the other. I explore what it’s like to live with secrets and how that can color how we see the world and interact with others. The secret itself is somewhat explosive, but it isn’t the point of the story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out because at this point I honestly have no clue. That’s one of the main joys of writing for me.

The outcome itself is secret, even from you, the writer.

Happy Reading!

-Nia-