Category Archives: Books & Writing
A Small Dark Place by Martin Schenk (1997) is a horror novel that is broken into two parts. In part one, Sandra and Peter Wiley are on the brink of financial ruin. They have been struggling for years and have enemies dedicated to seeing them suffer and fail. Then, Sandra remembers an event from her youth—the riveting rescue of Baby Carlotta. The country fell in love with Baby Carlotta when she fell into a dry well. The rescue took several days, but she was pulled out of the hole alive and (thanks to donations from well wishers) one hundred thousand dollars richer.
Desperate for cash, Sandra and Peter decide to create their own Baby Carlotta moment by having their son Will fall into a similar type of hole. They set a “trap” for their boy and wait for him to cry out. Unfortunately, it is their daughter Andromeda—a child who is frightfully afraid of the dark—that falls in.
Part two is set in the present, roughly 1997. Andromeda is all grown up and coming back home. The rescue had various affects on people and the prospect of her return is just as exciting/anxiety producing. While the town is ready to have a parade and herald the return of their favorite daughter, Andromeda is ready to settle some old scores. She learned a lot in that small, dark place and she’s ready to show the world.
The book does a great job with the parents. You really do understand how they got to a point where exploiting a child like this seems like a viable option. At the same time, the decision isn’t an easy one. If they don’t do it, how far down in metaphorical darkness will the family fall? Could the family even survive? If they do it (and they do), how will that change the relationship dynamics? Can you really justify endangering a child for the greater good of the family?
At the same time, this is a horror novel. So, plenty of one dimensional characters abound but they don’t need to be fleshed out beyond their relationship with the Wiley family. It was a fun read for me, especially since I remember the real-life Baby Jessica incident.
If you were born in the mid 80s or later, you probably don’t know anything about Baby Jessica. On October 14, 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure was playing in a backyard with other children when she fell down a dry well. It took rescuers two to three days to get her out. Thanks to round the clock cable news, the nation watched every step of the rescue.
There were images of her parents at the top of the hole talking to her, singing songs. Experts behind desks explained how the rescuers planned to drill a parallel tunnel so that an adult human can get down to her level set her free. There were interviews with neighbors, background pieces on the community—saving this little girl was an event.
To my memory, it was acknowledged as a freak accident. No one blamed the parents. There were no threats of taking the baby away. People sent prayers, cards and money – not death threats. This was pre-Internet, people with horrible thoughts didn’t have a venue to instantly and anonymously share their venom with the world.
Once Baby Jessica was pulled out of the hole, there were a few immediate follow up national stories to assure everyone that she was physically and mentally healthy. She met President Bush (the 1st one). Then, the news cycle moved on.
If you want to learn more about Baby Jessica, many stories about her are archived here: Baby Jessica Rescue Page
From Omnivore Bibliosaur:
Sexy, suspenseful, and full of surprises, The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales features an array of previously published short stories starring women of color. Tawanna Sullivan serves up a sampler platter of genres: erotica, horror, suspense, thriller, fantasy, and romance. This slender volume is the perfect companion for any spare moment or a leisurely morning.
-read the full review
Overall, I enjoyed this collection, and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a short, fun, Black lesbian read. Sullivan is good, and while the erotica is probably her best work, I’d love to see her do more with speculative fiction and horror.
-read the full review
Doublespeak, constant surveillance, alternative facts, the pursuit and maintenance of power at all cost… Of course, I’m talking about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. These books are just flying off of the shelves.
Animal Farm is one of my favorite books. It’s a tale about animals who revolt against the farmer who is oppressing them (forcing them into labor, killing them, etc) and what happens after they win. Driving off the humans is one thing, creating new rules to run the farm is another. In truth, it’s a story about the Russian Revolution (Lenin, Trotsky and the gang) but the allegory does not depend on your knowledge of Russian history to work.
If you are in an Orwellian frame of mind, here are some other media suggestions:
David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs and The 1980 Floor Show
At one time, David Bowie wanted to create a musical based on 1984 but the Orwell estate wasn’t interested. Those songs were incorporated into Diamond Dogs, an album that cast a very dark image of the future.
While the musical itself didn’t happen, you can get an idea of what Bowie was going for in The 1980 Floor Show (recorded over 3 days in October 1973):
Can you imagine what would happen if Monty Python got their hands on Orwell’s 1984 and made a movie? You don’t have to imagine–it kinda happened. In 1985, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame directed Brazil – a film that’s a spiritual cousin of 1984. See, a worker – a cog in the wheel of a totalitarian government tries to correct a mistake and all hell breaks loose:
*An alternative title for this post: They’ll Split Your Pretty Cranium And Fill It Full Of Air
Going into the school for the first time, Mary Jackson makes a shocking discovery…
Hampton High School was a dilapidated, musty old building.
A stunned Mary Jackson wondered: was this what she and the rest of the black children in the city had been denied all these years? This rundown, antiquated place? She had just assumed that if whites had worked so hard to deny her admission to the school, it must have been a wonderland. But this? Why not combine the resources to build a beautiful school for both black and white students? Throughout the South, municipalities maintained two parallel inefficient school systems, which gave the short end of the stick to the poorest whites as well as blacks. The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interest of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different.
–Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, p 145
A collection of previously published stories, The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales is an eclectic mix of black lesbian fiction. These are stories of love, lust, desire, mystery, and revenge—with a touch of humor here and there.
There are two stories of “pure” erotica; sex is the engine driving the plot. In The Souvenir, a woman riding the subway gets a front row seat to a live sex show. In Just Desserts, the erotic potential of chance comes into play when a couple is stranded at an airport.
Several tales delve into the up-and-down nature of relationships. When Narcia loses her lust interest to her best friend in The Next Girl, long held resentments rise to the surface. After a disastrous day, lovers in The Getaway take an impromptu trip and reaffirm their commitment to each other.
In Losing Michelle, a horror writer wishes her partner would leave her alone—until the woman goes missing. Originally published under the pseudonym Evelyn Foster, In Remembrance of Her finds a woman negotiating with dark forces in a quest to save her lover. Despite rumors, Chante is drawn to the mysterious Diana in The One Who Got Away.
Themes of community and forgiveness are also explored. In Operation Butch Ambush, rival factions come together to save women from a nefarious group that reprograms butch lesbians who have strayed from strict gender roles. Aria comes home from a hellish week at work to a nasty surprise in Cat and Mouse. In The Homecoming, it’s a funeral that prompts Melanie to revisit the past and her fractured relationship with her family.
Also included are flash fiction pieces with bite. Famished and Witness are about different forms of hunger.
Spanning a decade, these pieces reflect the political and social realities of their times. For example, before same sex marriage or civil unions, a lesbian couple who wanted their union recognized in some legal capacity could get into a domestic partnership (if their municipality offered it).
I enjoyed writing these stories; I hope you enjoy reading them.
My story, Karma Suture, is one of 13 horror tales in Forever Vacancy – a brand new horror anthology featuring characters of color – out today, Friday the 13th.
Get a taste of the terror in the excerpt below.
Karma Suture excerpt:
“No photography allowed.” The husky voice came from the tall woman behind the front desk. She polished the mahogany wood, pausing to admire her reflection.
“I’d just like to take a picture of the fountain,” Stephanie said. She was annoyed at herself for not noticing the clerk before.
Stephanie approached the desk, sizing up this new obstacle. Was this woman with warm, cinnamon-colored skin dressing too young or too old for her age? She imagined that the black head wrap concealed a tangled mass of unkempt curls. When the clerk tilted her head down to meet her gaze, the silver hoops lining her ears clashed and clinked against each other. Her eyes, black and pupil-less, revealed nothing.
Shaking off her discomfort, Stephanie focused on the woman’s t-shirt. “Dyke and The Blazers? Is that a movie?”
“Band. Way before your time.” The clerk’s smile had a touch of menace. “Can I help you?”
“My name is Stephanie Boston. I’m a location scout for Bombast Films.” She pulled a business card from her purse and motioned toward a door in the back. “May I speak to the manager?”
“You’re speaking to Sybline Kretcher. the owner.” She tapped the gold plate bearing her name.
“Is it possible for me to take a quick look at a couple of rooms, look around outside and take some pictures? Currently, we are producing a feature film and would like to consider the Kretcher for one of our sets.”
“Want a room? You have to pay for it.”
“Ms. Kretcher, I just need a few minutes.”
“Mmhmm. Get a room for a few minutes and call your boyfriend over to do your business. I know that scam. You want a room, you pay for the whole night.” She chuckled to herself. “Have as many friends over as you want.”
Rather than protest, Stephanie took note of the posted rates and took out her wallet. The misidentification amused her. When she got back to her real life, this was one of the stories she’d tell—how, despite her professional demeanor, the owner of a no-star motel thought she was a prostitute.
The reception had been more welcoming at the other motels she visited. Other managers had given her tours of the property. The men were eager to show off their southern charm to a Yankee.
Stephanie handed over cash and was presented with a guestbook. She signed it and received a silver key with the number 228 etched in it. Sybline leaned back, satisfied. “Elevator is to your right. Do enjoy your stay.”
While waiting for the elevator, Stephanie thought she could squeeze the front desk and the proprietor into a shot if she took a selfie. As she lifted her phone, Sybline appeared on screen directly behind her. She yelped and whirled around. Sybline was at the desk talking to another customer.
The elevator doors opened and Stephanie ran inside. The last picture taken was a blur of her palm.
Want to find our what surprises are waiting for Stephanie in room 228? Read Forever Vacancy.
Happy New Year! I hope you have a light-filled and prosperous 2017.
To start off the new year, I am publishing The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales. Here is where you can find most of my previously published short stories gathered together in one place.
This eclectic mix of black lesbian fiction includes erotica, mystery, suspense, new twists on old relationship drama and a bit humor.
In Pat Greene: Her Story by Anondra Williams, an elderly Pat looks back over her life and shares stories of love, loss, heartbreak and laughter.
A black lesbian in 1950’s rural Mississippi, Pat was kicked out of the house at 17 because her mamma disapproved of her nasty ways. She started out as a naive country girl trying to survive on her own. She searched for community, a family and a girlfriend. Pat talks about everything.
From the cramped house parties where you had to know somebody who knew somebody to get in–to being in relationships long after they’ve soured. Sometimes, Pat didn’t feel safe anywhere–not at home, not at work, not in her own skin. (If you are a black and/or lgbtq reader, it won’t be lost on you how some of those struggles are still present–marriage equality aside.)
Pat has a down-home, tell it like it is kind of voice. Her stories are peppered with side-tales and funny observations about life. If you are looking for a voice and perspective usually missing from lgbtq literature, you should check it out.
You can hear this review on Anchor.
Over the past week, I’ve been reading I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi and Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack.
I’ve been a fan of Luvvie’s blog, awesomelyluvvie.com, for a while; she’s a fun, witty writer. Even when she’s tackling hard and potentially draining subjects like racism, sexism, homophobia etc – she releases some tension with a zinger or two. The essays cover everything from hygiene to culture to social media etiquette and beyond.
The chapters on social media and internet fame should be required reading for teens/young adults before they are given free reign to interface with the internet. They would probably discard these words of wisdom at first–because, no matter how many signs, some people don’t know the stove is hot before getting burned–but it would be nice to have it to come back to after a troll is gloating and gleeful about their trauma.
Ytasha L. Womack’s Afrofuturism is a great introduction to the subject. It’s written for a general audience and covers the history and development of Afrofuturism in the US. It explores the concept through art/music/literature and cultural thought. This book isn’t an end–it’s a beginning. With every chapter, I’m jotting down notes about artists/thinkers/past conferences etc that I need to learn more about.
It also introduces ideas and questions that I’m still turning over in my mind. For example, the challenge of creating and envisioning a future in a world/society that wants desperately to erase your (and it’s own) past…
Both books highly recommended.
I read a good chunk of About Writing by Samuel R. Delany on my morning commute. I borrowed the ebook from the library; there are no page numbers for the quotes but I did reference the part of the book it was found in. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but highlighting and bookmarking passages on the iPhone is a trial. I need to buy a physical copy that I can mark up accordingly.
*In talking about the writing process, teaching writing, talent and (or vs) skill, etc – SRD touches on a lot of other topics.
*While I love these quotes and love that they “stand on their own”, I would encourage you to borrow/grab a copy of About Writing and read them in context.
*Also, in one of the letters he criticizes heavily The Bluest Eye. He “went all the way in” on it–made me want to re-read the book with his pov in mind.
An Introduction: Emblems of Talent
“To learn anything worth knowing requires that you learn as well how pathetic you were when you were ignorant of it.”
“A reason knowledge/learning in general is so unpopular with so many people is because very early we all learn there is a phenomenologically unpleasant side to it: to learn anything entails the fact that there is no way to escape learning that you were formerly ignorant, to learn that you were a fool, that you have already lost irretrievable opportunities, that you have made wrong choices, that you were silly and limited. These lessons are not pleasant.”
“Older children tease us for what we con’t know. Teachers condescend to usas they instruct us. (Long ago, they beat us for forgetting.) In the school yard we overhear the third graders talking about how dumb the first graders are. When we reach the third grade, we ourselves contribute to such discussions. Thus most people soon actively desire to stay clear of the whole process, because by the time we are seven or eight we know exactly what the repercussions and reactions will be.”
“We say we are weeping for lost innocence. More truthfully, we are weeping for the lost pleasure of unchallenged ignorance.”
A Black Clock Interview
“Every era’s art is constrained by that era’s concept of vulgarity. The artistic is precisely what is not vulgar. (Until Dante, the language the people actually spoke was outside the precinct of art.) Vast areas of experience always remain outside the literary precincts.”
“More accurately, literature (in its largest meaning) might be seen as the battle of the unsaid to enter the precincts of the articulate.”
A Poetry Project Newsletter Interview: A Silent Interview
Now people desperately love all that wonderful-sounding ambiguity–just as I desperately desired it when I was beaten and confused and exhausted by life and overwork. “I belong to me category; I straddle them all …” It sounds romantic-decadent, but somehow still transcendent. When we pursue such ambiguity, mistakenly we feel it’s a way to escapte social accountability. That we crave such ambiguity is the sign of just how wounding the categories can be or have been. Still, espousing that ambiguity was and is a way of saying: “Not me…I’m above all that, outside of it, not a part of it.”
What I learned is that precisely when one says, “I’m not a part,” one is most trapped by one’s identity, most paralyzed and most limited by the greater society, and that is the sign one has given up, given in; that one is precisely not in a condition of freedom–but of entrapment. Saying, “I am not a part” is very different from saying, “Because I am a part, I will not participate in that manner.” The first is delusion. The second is power–which is inimical to the cry of powerlessness that you quote–and is the other way discourses are changed.