Category Archives: Books & Writing
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.
I was cleaning up files on my computer and came across notes that I took for a potential blog post on the Charlie Chan mystery novels and racism.
I had a grand plan – I would read all of the books and discuss the race issues. Reading all of the books wasn’t a problem. When I sat down to write about them, it felt more like an academic research paper (ie work) than a pop-culture blog post and all of the enthusiasm went out of the window.
Putting a research paper online that I wrote for school? Not a problem. Writing one for the heck of it? Nope.
From the notes:
- I am NOT the audience this book was written for—and neither are you. At a time when Chinese characters in fiction were villains, Charlie Chan would be seen as a big change.
- real world: anti Chinese immigration, etc
- CC is “safe” and uses his cunning/etc in the course of justice; he is a former houseboy who worked for a wealthy family (before joining police force)
- CC cast against “lazy” native Hawaiians and treacherous Japanese
- In the novels, upperclass people tend to be “liberal” but a subtle bias shows through.
- Wealthy/affluent characters don’t express anti-Chinese at all; they are more than welcoming to the detective.
- occasionally, a woman from the elite class breaks into a monologue about her knowledge of “orientals”
- Still, they don’t quite give him the respect they give other policemen
- Overt racism is reserved for the lower classes (servants, occasionally a policeman)
- A butler challenges Charlie Chan because he’s not accustomed to having a Chinese gentleman walk throught the front door instead of the service entrance.
- In “The Chinese Parrot” – it’s the sheriff who instantly wants to arrest CC for the murder of another Chinese because, “I know these Chinks. They think nothing of sticking knives in each other.”
- In The Chinese Parrot, CC has to go undercover as a houseboy and must play to stereotype.
- narrative the pain of having to debase himself in pretending to be ignorant/uneducated
- this also underscores the idea that his normal (“safe”) disposition is real and he’s not
And at that point, I started to have academic flashbacks and stopped.
Tracking down the country home of reclusive actress Monica Little hadn’t been easy, but Longworth wanted the money shot. As darkness settled over the isolated estate, he crept along the bushes with his lens trained on the back of the house.
Waiting for the star to appear, Longworth was startled by a gunshot. Henri, Monica’s latest lover, emerged from the woods dragging a sack behind him. He stopped next to a freshly dug hole—a grave—and fell to his knees.
The bag stirred.
Fueled by terror, the paparazzo rushed Henri from the side and smashed his camera into the Frenchman’s jaw. Reaching for the bag, Longworth felt warmth…flesh and bone. Tearing apart the plastic, he finds—a deer.
Henri struggled to his feet. “Idiot,” he hissed through a bloody mouth. “I don’t bury her! I dig her up!”
The rejuvenated woman ascended from her retreat. Lose bits of earth fell from her brown, ethereal frame as she bathed in moonlight. The smile she graced Henri with turned vicious when her gaze fell upon the interloper. A tongue flickered over jagged teeth.
Monica Little was hungry.
*You can find an explanation and flash fiction #1 here.
About this time last year, I had two flash fiction pieces accepted into an anthology…that has now been officially cancelled.
So, what the heck, I’ve decided to share them here. Story #1:
It started when I let Tim have a taste of the chicken cordon blue. He talked about how lucky I was to have a woman who could cook. His old lady didn’t know how to crack an egg. I had to chuckle at that.
It wasn’t so funny when he became obsessed with my lunch. Every day, salivating over my beef wellington or eggplant towers—the man was a nuisance.
One day, Lauren stopped by to drop off my wallet and love hit Tim like a cast iron skillet. He grumbled ’bout how a beautiful woman like that deserved better than an old bulldagger.
First came the late night phone calls. Then, Lauren began going out with “friends” I’d never met. Tim stopped looking me in the eye.
When she moved in with him, Tim thought he had scored a coup. Fool maxed out his credit to give Lauren the kitchen of her dreams. Come lunch time, though, all he has to show for it is watery tuna salad on stale bread.
My ex can’t cook worth shit.
Conversations with Nikki Giovanni
Edited by Virginia C. Fowler
The is a collection of interviews with and articles about Nikki Giovanni from 1969 to 1992. The pieces are in chronological order and it’s interesting to see how her views on a host of subjects (writing, poetry, racism, sexism, revolutions, movements etc) shifted over the years. At the same time, the “Nikki” that we “see” is also influenced by the point of view of the interviewer–through the questions they ask and their additional commentary.
It’s hard to pick out highlights, but you absolutely have to read the pieces where Ms. Giovanni is in conversation with older civil rights/black lit icons:
*an excerpt from A Dialogue (1973), where a “young” NG talks with James Baldwin about “the black male” and responsibility
*an excerpt from A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (1974), a “hot” conversation about generational differences in response to violence, individuality vs community responsibility, etc.
I am tempted to pull out quotes–there are some great zingers here (especially in regards to her early 70’s views about the feminist and unisex movements)–but I really think they should be read in context.
Okay, maybe a couple of quotes. This is from a 1983 interview with Claudia Tate where Nikki Giovanni explaining why she doesn’t read her older prose pieces (p 145):
“But I’m very much afraid to be trapped by what I’ve said. I don’t think life is inherently coherent. I thing what Emerson said about consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds is true. The more you reread your prose the more likely your’re going to try to justify what you’ve said.”
“If I never contradict myself then I’m either not not thinking or I’m conciliating positions and, therefore, not growing. There has to be a contradiction.”
The Devil Finds Work
This is a book length essay in which James Baldwin talks about his relationship with movies/film. It’s personal reflections and autobiographical bits filtered in with observations about movies and, to a smaller degree, theater.
Seeing “classic” movies through the eyes of Baldwin was really eye opening for me. For example, I’d never thought about how a black person who lived through the 40s, 50s and 60s would view the (race fantasies?) In The Heat Of The Night (1967) or Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967). I felt a powerful “yeah!” is the scene where Endicot and Mr. Virgil Tibbs exchange slaps:
But in 1967 would a black audience have rolled their eyes at this? Would the reality of life hinder a suspension of disbelief. Heat and Dinner were written for mainstream audiences, feel good movies about progress. Well meaning, but for Baldwin, missing the mark in so many places…
He talks about Lady Sings The Blues in contrast and comparison to Billy Holiday’s real life–as well as his own adventure as the writer a biographical screenplay in Holiday. Basically, never forget that every biography you see on screen has been crafted for entertainment and not truth.
Another great thing about this book is that it introduced me to several movies that I’d never never heard of. Before the 70’s horror movie with a similar title, there was I Spit On Your Graves (1959). According to Mr. Baldwin, the film version (like most adaptations) veers away from Boris Vian’s 1946 novel–which I’ve put on my reading list.
Let’s have a quote from this one, too. In discussing the the superiority of theater (not the sanitized, Broadway version) over movies (p 35):
“Here [the theater], nothing corroborated any of my fantasies: flesh and blood was being challenged by flesh and blood. It is said that the camera cannot lie, but rarely do we allow it to do anything else, since the camera sees what you point it at: the camera sees what you want it to see. The language of the camera is the language of our dreams.”
The Golem of Hollywood
Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
Pub Date: 9/16/2014
Picture it: you are a Jewish police detective suddenly assigned to a special, secret division that handles particularly unusual murders. You get to a crime scene and find clues that suggest that this strange, new killer appears to have ties to the Jewish community. The more you delve into the investigation, it becomes clear that this murder is not a singular event. In the midst of the human carnage, could there be a supernatural force for Justice muddying the waters?
This book is over 500 pages but it’s a fast paced and action packed. There’s a likeable but flawed detective, a mysterious woman and an intriguing case that incorporates Jewish culture and mythology.
Don’t know what a Golem is – it’s a man-made creature made of clay created to serve a master. Think of it like Frankenstein but powerful Rabbi and clay–not mad scientist and stitched up body parts. Actually, the concept pre-dates Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and it’s thought that she was inspired by Golem mythology.
For me, reading Joyland was like buying a bag of regular potato chips and finding a baked, “healthy” alternative version inside. The new chips may technically be better, but If it’s not what you are looking for, they won’t satisfy.
Joyland is a coming of age novel. A young man is heartbroken when his girlfriend (who, goshdarnit, would never have sex with him) leaves him. To get over it, he takes a summer job at an amusement park – Joyland. While there he makes friends and thrills the hearts of children. Oh, by the way, a woman was murdered in Joyland some time ago–and it’s rumored that her ghost makes random appearances in the haunted house ride.
Will the young man get over his (ex)girlfriend? Will he ever get laid? Will he ever see the ghost? Will he give up the normal life and go full time as a carnival man? Will he figure out who turned the ghost into a ghost?
The problem for me is that the murder mystery takes a big back seat in the story. It’s almost an afterthought–with the solving of the crime coming to a rush at the end.
Joyland is written in first person, from the point of view of a middle aged man looking back on his young adult years. Great for a coming of age tale. Not so good for a mystery, since the narrator casually reveals the fate of his friends (they survive the summer) before getting around to solving the crime. It’s a suspense killer.
Joyland was published under the Hard Case Crime imprint which, according to its website, “brings you the best in hardboiled crime fiction, ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels by today’s most powerful writers, featuring stunning original cover art in the grand pulp style.”
Joyland definitely has the cover of an old fashioned, hardboiled crime novel but everything else…
Stephen King has written a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep.
A middle aged Dan Torrance has to use what’s left of his Shining abilities to save a young girl from a tribe of old, vampire-like being who travel the US in RVs and wear lots of polyester.
Yes, I will be pre-ordering this 544 page hardcover novel – even though it won’t be published until September. (I may have to pre-order King’s new Hardcase Crime mystery – Joyland – too.)
I. Am. Here. For. This.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros may travel into the past and do a prequel: The Overlook Hotel
You have seen The Shining–right?
Another book I’m looking forward to is Sidney Poitier’s Montaro Caine, which comes out in May.
Random House is categorizing this novel as Fiction – Visionary & Metaphysical:
A baby is born with a coin in her hand. An orphan crafts a mysterious wooden object. The CEO of a large corporation finds himself under extraordinary pressure at work and at home. And on a remote hilltop on a Caribbean island, a medicine man seems to understand the meaning of all these events and to hold the key to the future.