Saturday, November 19, 2011

My New Book Contract

An idea for a novel starts as a notion that becomes an obsession. Writing the novel is therefore obssessive compulsive behavior ~Sherryle Kiser Jackson

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An excerpt from Taylor Made

Pamela Jones Taylor was looking at a pitiful sight nestled in her lap. When she realized she wasn’t moving she turned her attention back to the road. She crept toward the exit of the Suburban Banking and Trust lot.
A drizzle was dampening the sign of a homeless man at the corner. It read, Hungary, please help. God Bless. The misspelling was compounding the effect of the man’s hopelessness.

“C’mon,” she groaned, out of exasperation a few moments later, as a new model Mercedes Benz switched over into the lane she was about to turn into, blocking her exit from the bank parking lot. Three more luxury cars whizzed by her before a soccer mom in a stereotypical minivan, distracted and obviously yelling at several kids, allowed her access to the main road where she sat with the rest of the speed demons at the red light.

The homeless guy could hardly be seen for the Korean man with a pail of roses working the same corner. The homeless man, a wiry dark-skinned man of fifty-something with few personal effects confined to a small duffel bag did have a rain poncho. It was the thin, clear plastic kind with a hood that anyone can buy from the dollar store that made them feel as if they were wearing a plastic bag.
Pam remembered being forced to go into a corner store by her older sister to buy one of those cheap shields herself years ago when she was crowned homecoming queen in her senior year of high school. She remembered how embarrassed she felt encased in plastic like a couch in her Aunt Agnes’ living room. She played it off by telling people that she still wanted her outfit to be seen through the transparent shield. Other girls in her homecoming court in anticipation of the rainy forecast went out and bought matching umbrellas and the pink polka dot rain slickers that were high-priced and in style then.

In her Cosmopolitan dreams, she would have done one better and gotten the complimentary designer boots. In reality though, her sister informed her that her homecoming attire was already a luxury they could not afford. Once again she was painfully aware that there was a wide gap between the have and the have nots. The latter was the story of their life with their momma. She decided then that she would not only be among the ones who have, but that she would have it all.

The memory made her sneer at the homeless man as he inched his way toward her car holding his sign at her car window. He had nothing coming. She put her hand up for added emphasis. She had her own problems. She flipped open her pink metallic razor cell phone and adjusted the ear piece. The round knob would not fit comfortably in her ear. She needed a Bluetooth in her life, like the girls at work. She also had her eye on the new iPhones with a built in Mp3 player and touchscreen for texting, like Carmen’s, the salon owner she worked for. Switching phones meant switching payment plans and since she was now married it would be something else she would have to negotiate with her husband, Corey.

She decided to call Corey and engage him in a little game of bait and catch. He was a ground deliveryman for UPS which made his cell phone his mobile office and made his talk time limited. When they first got married six months ago, she had to get use to their brief check –in calls at least once a day. She figured today it would give her opportunity to gage his mood.

“Everything all right?” Corey asked, after greeting her.

“I have to run into the drugstore. I was wondering do you need anything?”
He did that kind of half-sigh, half-chuckle he sometimes does that she had not quite distinguished between amusement and disgust. “Is that your way of telling me you’re going shopping? Knowing you, you’ll get to CVS via Macy’s, Ann Taylor and Abercrombie and Finch.”

At least he had gotten her stores right, she thought. “Excuse me for being considerate of my husband. Isn’t that what they tell us in Marriage Maintenance Class?”

“Yeah alright, Pill,” Corey said, calling her by her nickname. She could admit that she could be moody at times, add that to her confidence that some would mistake for arrogance and refer to her as ‘a trip.’ Ms. Tyler, her third grade teacher, trying her best to censor her comments about Pamela’s behavior simply wrote in the comment section of her report card, Pamela is quite a pill. Her outburst and overall off-task behavior is a little hard to swallow. The name stuck. She would put her own spin on it when having to explain the sometimes embarrassing nickname by saying, “Whether bitter or sweet, I’m good for ya.” Most people elected to call her primarily by her given name, Pamela, or a shortened version, Pam, when they first meet her. Like Corey, they soon switched off and used her nickname once they had ingested a taste of the Pill.

“Keep in mind your booth fee is due today. Don’t go spending any money,” Corey said.

Apparently she already had spent lots of money and just didn’t remember. Shopping gave Pill a high. Sometimes it was as if Pill blacked out after a shopping binge much like an alcoholic that had too much to drink. She couldn’t remember what she had bought, especially when trying to hide her purchases from Corey. He had asked her time and time again to write stuff down particularly when the money for those purchases came out of their joint account. In her mind that kind of documentation provided evidence to her husband about her spending that could easily go under the radar. Accounting for every belt, hat, purse, jacket and pocketbook to a man is what she refused to do.

“Well, I put in three hundred fifty for us on that mink coat my mom wanted. Although, I don’t know what a 65 year old needs with a fur coat. I didn’t look at the ATM receipt for a balance, but I know there should be enough left in the account,” Corey said.

Pill almost expelled a sigh of relief into the phone. She was so glad she hadn’t tampered with the money for her mother-in-law’s gift. Corey told her over a month ago that the two of them would go in with his dad and his only sibling, Danielle, to buy a mink jacket for their mother to show off in when she wore it to church. There was never any denying that Pam was not her mother-in-laws’s choice for Corey. Pill didn’t know what she had done to the woman, but the air of distrust was immediately apparent upon meeting her. She assumed it was just game recognizing game. Mrs. Jones was spoiled by Corey’s father and everyone else in the family. Obviously she didn’t want Pill to be the recipient of any generosity Corey may have inherited. Pill would have never been able to live it down if Corey’s mother couldn’t get her precious mink because they didn’t have their share of the money.
In this case, Pill happened to agree with her mother-in-law’s fashion sense. A mink coat meant she truly had it going on. Jet Black, she thought, Corey and Danny better had gotten her a black mink that would absolutely sizzle with her salt and pepper hair. Pill dreamed about flossin’ in her own mink coat one day, but for now she would settle for a short chinchilla coat with the matching headband.

Recollection of where some of the money went hit her like a thunderbolt. She could see eighty dollars change hands between her and Ahmad, the resident hustle man at Carmen’s Epic Beauty salon. He came in the shop twice a month with two large storage tubs and a rickety clothing rack filled with trendy apparel still tagged and on hangers that, “just came in.” From where was never questioned.

While her fellow stylists were devouring Baby Phat knock-offs, Pam spotted a camel colored sheerling poncho with the matching alpine boots. It wasn’t out for public display, but she had to have it. She remembered the supermodel, Gasselle wearing a similar poncho while riding a white stallion in an ad in the latest issue of Cosmo. Although she knew Ahmad’s version wasn’t designer, her knock off was definitely better than her co-worker’s knockoffs. She went into acquisition mode.

She waited until Ahmad went to the back to question him about his hidden stash. He explained that he had promised the ensemble to his lady friend, but assured her that he could get her one when his cousin went back to New York’s garment district. It was a lay-a-way of sorts, which was not their normal way of doing business. His policy when selling was cash-and-carry, and hers when purchasing was cash-on-delivery. She had made an exception that day as she dashed to the ATM, ordering the shampoo girl to put a heat activated conditioner in her next client’s hair and set her under a blow dryer to stall for time. She gave him the $80 plus another $ 100 from her smock. She figured since he was going to New York, he might find a pair of Seven jeans she had been wanting.

If Carmen wanted her money on time, she had to stop the vendors from soliciting in her shop, Pill reasoned.

“When I get paid tomorrow the cycle starts all over again.” Corey said, interrupting her thoughts.

The cycle he was referring to was their bare bones budget that delineates his first check of the month for the mortgage on their three bedroom townhouse and her earnings going to the other bills. They used his second check to pay the lease on her new Honda Accord and pay insurance, which included a policy on his Corolla that had been paid off long ago. They locked into this schedule during the last month of their marriage prep class and agreed to revisit it. Once a month they attended the Marriage Maintenance class for newlywed couples at church that focused on the emotional, physical and financial side of their relationship now that they have taken the plunge into matrimony.

“You’re saying that to say?” Pill said defensively, still trying to account for the extra money she had obviously spent.

“Don’t go spending any money. I gotta go. See you later,” Corey said. Good-byes were not necessary.

Money from Rosetta’s weave that she did on Saturday would give her a quarter of her monthly booth fee, but subtract from her bill money. She did at least call in the digits from her debit card to pay the gas and electric on Monday. Corey had warned her against debiting the account as opposed to taking the money directly to source or mailing it out on time. ‘You never knew when they would take their money out your account’. Gosh, she should write this stuff down.

Pill laid her hand on the horn to join in with those cars in front of her showing their displeasure at an eighteen wheeler who was unsuccessful at making a u-turn and was blocking their lanes when the light turned green. Now she would be late for the staff meeting at the salon on top of being late with her booth rental.
The rain hadn’t let up and there she sat. The rose man had long since taken cover, leaving the homeless guy with a now drenched cardboard sign in position at the base of the intersection. Pill looked down in her lap. She was indeed witnessing a pitiful sight. Her bank receipt read -$152.00.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Underside of an Uprooted Tree

Have you ever seen the underside of an up-rooted tree? Not a bush, not a stump, but a tree- a hundred foot solid oak. I have. There it was a toppled tree. I’m not really the off-road type, so I can’t recall the circumstances of where I was or where I was in route to when I saw it. I distinctively remember I was troubled by the sight. Maybe the tree was a casualty after a storm. What got me was that I could see its roots. They were so solid and strong and thick in its appearance that it reminded me of the tentacles of a mature size octopus. What force could unearth a tree at its roots? A tree that had been snapped in half would have made more sense to me. I remember wanting to contact the Audubon or Arbor Day Society to rite the downed pillar. There was nothing I could do on my own to return its boughs and branches to the skyline among it lofty counterparts. I was helpless.

I can’t help but equate the fall of that tree to the fall of our neighborhood institutions. I’ve seen them topple as well. I’m talking about neighborhood hallmarks like the bookstores that service our community. As a young writer I had seen the closing of Yawa Books and Sisterspace and Books down the historic U Street and Adams Morgan corridor where I spent my formative writing years in a biweekly writer’s critique group at the latter. One of my favorite local music fusion groups, formerly known as Fertile Ground has a song called “Broken Branches” that posed the question, “What about leaves on trees with broken branches? Where will they go after they had their dances in the wind?” I was a by product of that dynamic and eclectic synergy now I had no place to go. Gentrification had cut my tree at the roots before I was able to bear fruit, publish and have a book signing there.

I saw that actual collapsed tree about the same time one of the Maryland, DC Metro area brands, Karibu Books announced it was closing. It immediately reminded me of the void we would all surely feel when they closed for good. I felt that same helplessness. I loved that place. It was everything a bookstore should be - a cultural hub, meeting place, and resource center. It was vibrant in its color, clean, classic and celebratory of our culture.

I had been a patron and fan, standing in line to see so many talented authors of color to come through their more than four locations. I longed to have my books shelved somewhere between Brenda and Sheneska Jackson. It was like a venue all the stars traveled up Interstate 95 to make an appearance at. I was proud to be a writer and Prince Georgian when Karibu was open, knowing its Essence reporting bookstore status would elevate me to the bestseller list. I at least had a signing on the books for my debut release in 2007. To my chagrin, the chain closed before that dream could be realized. I knew I would write about the loss someday after lamenting, and mourn I did. I went into a funk.

I felt I was owed an explanation. There was no explanation good enough to explain why this institution crumbled or imploded the way it did so I concocted a tale. I wanted to believe the major bookstore chains like Barnes and Nobles, Borders or supercenters that now carried books like Walmart were driving out the mom and pop stores. In my mind it was like a sapling being denied the necessary nourishing light or water amongst the true giants. Maybe we weren’t doing enough as a community to feed the starving chain.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Karibu had matured and grown to a mighty oak. Reverberations and shockwaves could definitely be heard and felt after it closed. Now my question became could we find a home and could our audience find our books in a larger chain? Would they find value in the works of African American authors, shelve our books, comply with our need to be communal and host the type of events that led to sales even if our names aren’t on the bestseller list? The answer – some stores are better than others. It depends greatly on management and literary advocates. I imagine it is more difficult for my self-published counterparts.

I have since published three novels and done a good many book signings at a fair share of major bookstores and literary festivals. Life goes on and the publishing industry keeps changing. Even Borders has had to shout timber in recent years and close a couple hundred stores. Just when I felt my funk returning, the doom and gloom of a literary career cut down in its prime, I remember we’ve been here before. It was time to update the literary navigational system. Readers will always be there. It’s just that the route to find and retain those readers have changed. Where once you depended on knee cap to knee cap meet-ups the landscape has been cleared for virtual encounters and social media marketing.
I applaud the efforts of a good many African American bestsellers and literary pioneers that have forged their way into the innovative land of digital publishing. One group in particular has started A Chapter a Month (dot) com. These authors are literarily taking their readers on a literary ride as they craft their novels in real time, feeding them a chapter a month. Chapters can be downloaded to your PC or sent to your digital reader or mobile device. It shows the devotion to their readers and overall moxie of a group that refuses to be intimidated by the grim statistics of the industry right now.

So what have I learned from downed trees and publishing powerlines? Where there is a will there is a way. Cliché, I know, but where a need drives a demand. I shake off my funk with the realization that I wasn’t taken out by any fallen trees. I am not out of the ranking. Words continue to be my fascination, and storylines keep coming just like new saplings continue to be planted and will grow into our next literary institutions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pray it Forward

I like to spend the beginning of each year looking through an old journal of mine. You could call it a vision journal- one that is not likely to run out of room for it has 384 pages of 81/2 x11 acid free pages. Nothing I'll be carrying around with me on my daily travels. Got everything from letters to my then unborn children to a bucket list to pictured prayers. It blesses me to see that I can check off some entries as I've accomplished them. Go to the Oprah show - Check!

There are a few entries that are recurring year after year. I ask myself as I prepare to list them again in 2011, what's up with that? Why haven't I made any headway?In general, they are goals pertaining to preparing TV and movie treatments, perfecting my pitch should the opportunity arise to pitch my ideas and building a speaking platform. To me those were too lofty-too pie in the sky.

2011 could be the year of Big Dreams- for you too. I realized I needed some sort of motivational propulsion unit to push me past fear, discouragement and stagnation. In the 2000 movie sensation, 'Pay it Forward", the main character comes up with a plan to do good deeds for other people who then by way of payment each must do good turns for other people they meet. To play off that idea, my mantra for this year has become Pray it Forward. Think about it. What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn't fail. Just like Random Acts of Kindness becomes contagious in the movie, what if we all looked at our goals as a "can't lose" situation.

I am of the opinion that this is part of the reason our saviour was born and died for He is by no means small. Dream Big. The push I need- that push, for me, will be prayer. I figure if I beat the drum of Pray it Forward, it will become contagious. Hopefully when I get stuck, you'll remind me to see my dreams through with prayer.

Don't sit on a dream. Pray it Forward

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here’s wishing you a captivating year of reading.

Since my debut novel, Soon and Very Soon hit the shelves in 2007, I have been blessed to live my dreams. The impending year is no exception. My fourth novel, Taylor-Made about a young couple forced to face their past through the mirror of marriage comes out in August 2011. I realize in this economy that your entertainment budget can be stretched to capacity. I do not take it for granted when a reader picks up a book. So as you set your reading calendar for 2011, allow me to introduce you to my works of fiction for your consideration. I love opportunities to meet readers, donate books and join book club discussions.
Soon and Very Soon (2007) Two pastors marry and combine congregations, but everyone is not feeling the love. Two Pastors, One ‘I Do’, Sundays will never be the same. Soon and Very Soon is now sold in mass market paperback where books are sold.
The Manual (2009) Two former high school sweethearts must reconcile their past to ensure their son’s future that is making all the mistakes that they made. Who said that there isn’t a manual for love, relationships and raising kids? The Manual will be reprinted in mass market paperback in July 2011 and made available wherever books are sold. Ask me about the ministry activity that goes along with this novel.
Soon After (2010) This is the stand alone sequel to my debut novel. Now that the congregations have combined over at Pleasant Harvest, the other church burns down. An overzealous reporter and staunch fire chief draw Pastor Green into the fire investigations as they look at those who chose to stay behind for the arsonist. The mystery is not that which has be burned, broken or stolen, but what lies in the hearts of men. This book is available in trade paperback and digital format for Kindle. I also had a Mystery Game similar to a Murder Mystery to accompany this book. The possibilities for an unforgettable event are endless. Evidence files and video can be emailed, snail mailed or Skyped to your group before, during or after the reading of this novel. So if your reading group or bookclub is looking for an exciting change of pace to your regular discussions consider a mystery event as you read this book.

Soon and Very Soon Book Trailer