Thursday, December 29, 2005

Run Lola Run... Into The New Year

Run Lola Run is one of my favorite films... right behind The Color Purple.

I find it kinda fitting this time of year as we head into the New Year and run toward something (a goal, a resolution, something we want to gain) or run away from something (an old habit, an ex, toxic situations).

The film itself has nothing to do with New Years or resolutions... but I know some of us are setting some goals we'd like to achieve. What are you thinking about?

I generally don't set New Year's resolutions, but I do have a particular theme I'd like to incorporate in my life gradually. It's centered on lifestyle and living as an adult -- I've been watching too much HGTV over vacation with my mom and sister, lol. It's about space, environment, people, all that kind of stuff... stuff I normally haven't given much attention and time to.

There are several specifics related to that theme I've written in my private journal and I'll need to think on and incorporate gradually into my life.

But that's me... What about you?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Detroit... This Used To Be My Playground

And soon, Detroit will be the playground for the world when the Super Bowl comes to the city in February 2006... just a few short weeks away. It must be exciting to have something like a Super Bowl to showcase your city to the world.

It's been a year since I last visited Detroit, but I can see that they've been busy prepping downtown and fixing those street potholes all over the city. It's a running joke around the world that Detroit is famous for its jacked up streets and freeways... but it's smooth driving since I got here.

Enjoying time with family. Hopefully will connect with friends here.

Favorites here:
Detroit Breakfast House
Detroit Pistons (those men are on FIRE!!!)
Somerset Mall (where on a good day, you might run into a Pistons player, since the stadium and mall are very close to each other)
Royal Oak, Michigan (trendy, progressive city outside Detroit, where rumor has it the next Real World MTV will be filmed)
The Scene tv show... ok, it's old school, but still a fave!

Anyway, back to the fam... Have no clue what's happening in the world... but sometimes it's nice to be a little clueless... just for a little while.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fred, Oskar, and Daniel wish you Happy Holidays!

And if you're in the NYC area, I'll be on OutFM with Peter Jonas on Monday, December 26 at 11 am. It's WBAI-FM, 99.5. I believe it'll stream online as well at that time.

We tried to do this during the summer when I was visiting the area, but couldn't schedule it... until a few weeks ago. See Readings and Signings link on left.

Gotta pack and get ready for the Midwest. But I'll be on now and then over the next week. I hope it's a good week and time off for you!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Get It In East L.A.: Club Chico

So one of the clubs mentioned in my novel is Club Chico. The character Rafael loves this place. I don't blame him. I love it too.

Sometimes I stop by Chico, which is a quick drive from my house for L.A. standards. Research, you know, is a necessary evil for writing sometimes... lol.

Especially on Wednesday nights, when it's hip hop night. Well, every night has some hip hop, but Wednesdays is exclusively hip hop, with a 30-minute 80s/90s hip hop interlude at midnight.

Most nights are pretty good... it's small... and like Cheers, everybody knows your name when you walk in. Or they'll know it by the time it's last call and you're walking to the parking lot.

And the crowd is black and brown, young and young at heart, hip and down to earth, a mixture of blue and white collars, college and working crowd, and... well, stroll around the site to see what else. And if you like dancers... well, um, you like dancers.

Next time you're in L.A., and not into the West Hollywood thing, but want a Brooklyn/D.C. basement feel, I'd totally suggest a visit to this place. Good crowd. Good drinks. Good staff, especially my favorite bartender, Julio!

There are some good things on the East Side!

College Deadlines Are Looming

If you've got a high school senior in your life, you might want to check in with them over the holidays about the state of their college applications.

Deadlines are looming. If they haven't passed, they'll be coming up right after the beginning of January. (Maybe instead of dropping cash on some material goods, pay for some college applications... those puppies are getting mightly expensive!... digression)

My friend and writing mentor,
Kerry Madden, wrote a great piece in today's L.A. Times about preparing your high school senior for college applications and deadlines.

And having worked at several campuses, I know how much we want your high school senior's attendance.

But, as a consumer, I'd suggest you ask some good questions... and not only the ones about costs, though money is very important to get straight before you sign on with a school. Many studies have shown money and social environment are leading causes of students leaving college, and not their ability to master their coursework. So it's all about finding the right match.

Questions you might ask:
1) How does the campus value differences and diversity? Ask for a specific example of a recent incident related to race, class, gender, sexual orientation bias... and how the campus dealt with the issue. Also ask how does the campus feel about the way the incident was handled.

2) Are students and parents happy with the Financial Aid department? If you're in a financial bind, will the school help you out or cut you some slack now and then?

3) What is it like to be a _________ student on the campus or in the town the college is located? Fill in the blank with whatever categories you belong to. You also might ask the whole "where to get hair done" questions too.

4) Is it easy to get in touch with faculty and administrators? Do they have open-door policies? How do students perceive campus administration? Are there faculty, staff, or administrators who are known to be student friendly? Get specific names and departments if possible. If I'm struggling academically or personally, who can I reach out to... or who will reach out to me?

5) What do students do for fun? Is the campus strict or not strict on issues such as alcohol, drugs, hazing, racism, sexism, heterosexism?

6) What are ways I can get involved and contribute to campus life? (Because school is more than going to class and going home... students who get involved on campus are more likely to stay and graduate).

Those are some I can think of now... if you have others, based on your experience, please add them to the comments.

For the record, I loved all my alma maters: University of Missouri (Missouri School of Journalism) for undergrad and Loyola University Chicago for grad. Even enjoyed my few post-masters classes at University of San Francisco (also my first professional job location).
If anything I would have done differently, I would have done private school for undergrad and public for grad school. I think I would have benefitted from the smaller classes, personalized attention, and the social justice values in undergrad and right out of high school. But it's ancient history now... and my life turned out well.

But it's totally up to you as students, parents, and consumers. What other advice would you offer to high school seniors? Or how do you feel about the colleges and universities you've attended?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Is This The Life?

I'm sitting on the patio at this little coffeehouse/cafe in Pasadena, just off Colorado Blvd., where there's tons of chain and independent stores, movie theatres, bars, the bleachers are being assembled for the Rose Bowl Parade, and...

Tons of people who, apparently, have nothing to do this week... Like me.

Well, I'm "writing," but doing more people watching than anything today. It's like 75 in L.A. so it's almost like summer. Big shades, shorts, shopping bags, etc...

There's a place a few buildings away where a group is having a party, complete with what looks like Pomegranate Martinis. Yeah, I can spot 'em a mile away, lol.

I'll be visiting my parents and sister later this week, and this week I've had it off. I've watched movies, shopped, lounged and lunched with buddies, driven around town looking at big houses and spectacular light shows on display. It's cool.

But then I wonder... is this the life? I look at the "desperate housewife/househusband" types who seemingly have nothing to do but buy sweater sets, drink cafe lattes, lunch with friends leading similar lives, and then pick up the kids from the daycare at three, dinner on by four.

I think it could be nice-- if it's your life by choice, not by circumstance (lots of race, class, gender issues at play in Pasadena and the choice/circumstance dynamic...) I think it could be boring at times. I'm concluding they haven't a care in the world, except for the family life they've created. Maybe I'm stereotyping. I've found that unless I plan what I'm doing during these free days I have, I just wander and wonder about.

What do you think? Could you live a "desperate housewife/househusband" life? Or a life where you don't punch in for a 9 to 5... of course if money were no object...

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Buzz on Brokeback Mountain. The Buzz on Shady.

I told you that I'd read Brokeback Mountain, the short story by Annie Proulx, back in November (Brokeback Mountain entry). I finally saw it and it lives up to the awards hype. Great acting. Great cinematography. All that.

Some hope the film will finally get us off the "Down Low" media myth thrown upon black men (Keith Boykin's piece).

Some hope we'll examine Hollywood's casting practices as they relate to Brokeback Mountain (Alisa Valdes Rodriguez's piece).

I'm glad to see folks are doing some critical thinking on a movie that is bound to shape pop culture and conversation around the water cooler.

On another note, I've never had three folks recommend the same book to me in one night. Three separate folks, separate conversations... all recommended a book called "Shady" by Blaine Teamer. All three said it was the funniest book they'd EVER read... had them laughing out loud... and that I should pick it up. Apparently, it's about three women and their crazy antics in a small town called Shady.

If you've read it, what's the buzz on this book Shady by Blaine Teamer? (of course, without giving away ANY plot points, lol)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Eye Candy Friday

Image from my photographer friend, Kurt Brown, and his site.

It's Friday. A restless Friday. The mind wanders. The mouse clicks. And where do you end up?

Hoodsworld. A fun photolog of eye candy. Work-friendly eye candy.

Most Proper. Another fun photolog of eye candy. Work-friendly eye candy.

LA Foto Boy. Ibarionex Perello site. He took the photos for my book and website. Great photographer! (And you gotta scroll down to see his Soul Train reunion photos-- his wife, Cynthia, was a Soul Train dancer).

Just My Cup of Tea. If you're into some trendy/fashion stuff, a blog for you to see. Work-friendly... you're researching what to buy for the boss.

Tyson Chandler. Yeah, I blogged about the Chicago Bulls player the other day. But... uh, what can I say? He got injured the other day.

Wa-Wa-Wa you say...

Made in Brazil. Another fun site with the latest and greatest views of things Brazilian... or something like that. Research for the next office retreat.

OK. Hope you have a happy Friday... and that you've got some eye candy within reach this weekend.

For me... it's the beginning of a two-week sabbatical. Lounging/Writing the first week. Got a huge list of movies to go see: Brokeback, Narnia, all the Golden Globe nominees (I'm an award season groupie!!!) Visiting family in the Midwest the second week.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jervey Tervalon on His Beloved New Orleans

Jervey Tervalon is a name that is known to many in the literary world. And hopefully he will become one of your favorite authors as well.

I asked him earlier this week if I could interview him on his New Orleans heritage and the future of the arts and culture of the great city. But that was after he'd already turned in this great piece in this week's L.A. Weekly about saving New Orleans. So just read his L.A. Weekly piece instead. :-)

I dig Jervey for a number of reasons. One, he's written some great novels, among them -- Dead Above Ground (set in New Orleans, about a woman who chooses bad men), Understand This (set in L.A., about teens growing up amidst violence, uncaring teachers, family drama).

Next, he was one of the first authors in the industry to take me under his wing and support my aspirations -- whether it was a PEN Emerging Voices application recommendation, writing a blurb for my novel Down For Whatever, critiquing my early work, or telling me to think about a M.F.A. or suggesting I participate in Squaw Valley Writers Retreat.

Finally, because Jervey speaks his mind and is totally uncensored in his thoughts and words. I wish I had that quality sometimes. And he turns out great books, mentors tons of young writers (no ego here!), and maintains a busy family and teaching life in L.A. He's a literary superman!

So I was surprised to find that Jervey, once again, had given my novel a shout out on the L.A. Times Literary Blog earlier this week. Very cool.

And he's doing an event that I'm helping to coordinate in L.A. in January -- January 12 at 6:30 pm to be exact. Location details coming soon.

New Orleans Reconsidered: Artists Reflect on Culture and Catastrophe
Hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the United States. In response to this disaster, several Los Angeles-based writers and artists from the New Orleans Diaspora will come together to reconsider and celebrate the city and culture of New Orleans. Panelists include Jervey Tervalon, author of several books including Dead Above Ground; Erin Aubry Kaplan, writer for the LA Weekly; and performance artist Mark Broyard.

In the meantime, check out Jervey's New Orleans commentary in the latest L.A. Weekly.

And let's keep New Orleans in the news... because I just had some students return from a Service Learning project in N.O., and their take is that "the powers that be" want to turn New Orleans into the next Disneyland or Las Vegas of the South... basically a vacation playland for the rich and the white, and never returning that land to the long-time residents.

I'm sure that's not what Jervey would want his beloved city to become.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Infidelity is best served in a nice book of fiction, rather than in real life.

Right now I'm reading Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan. A story featuring a woman who finds herself figuring out life after 25+ years of marriage, the kids are gone, and the husband takes up with... someone she never expected. It's a great book so far. This one takes place in London.

About a year ago I read The Other Woman by Eric Jerome Dickey. I loved, loved, LOVED this novel... and I highly recommend it. Another story of a woman who finds her marriage isn't all she thought it was. This one takes place in Los Angeles. And it's so full of unexpected twists and turns... oooh, won't say anything more. Okay, this... there's this list of questions the wife wants answers to from her husband. This list of questions I've found can be a valuable resource when you want ANSWERS! You gotta read it to get what I'm talking about.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

Okay... just one more thing, while we're talking infidelity.

Set the DVR to tape the Knots Landing reunion a couple weeks ago. Finally watched it. That show had some great writing and storylines.

But one line that just cracked me up... when (poor) Val (tan dress center) confronted (eye-shadow loving) Abby (red dress above) about whether or not Abby was sleeping with Val's husband Gary, Abby replied (a paraphrase):

"I'm not saying that we're having an affair, and I'm not saying we're not. I am saying I can have him any time I want. Does that answer your question, Val?"

Didn't we all just feel for poor, poor Val? Talk about long-suffering heroine. But long-suffering heroines make good fiction in some ways... we want to see them triumph.

For sure, infidelity is better in fiction and soaps than in real life. And in case you ARE dealing with such issues, I found this valuable blog resource called Don't Date Him Girl, where folks are kinda helping each other deal with infidelity situations.

Have a nice day... and be good! :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

English Only, Kid

We know black and brown folks are getting it from all angles, but this story -- about a young man suspended for speaking Spanish in his Kansas City high school -- is just kinda ignorant.

Or this story -- about a white teacher imposing HIS white world view and ways on a class of elementary school students, mostly Mexican -- is just kinda ignorant, too.

Let me clarify... the stories aren't ignorant. The world view that ONLY English is acceptable in the U.S. is kinda small-minded and ignorant. Since when is it a travesty to know and speak more than one language? To me, that says someone has in effect doubled his/her vocabulary and brain capability. How can that hurt anyone?

I went to a high school where it was mandatory to take language classes other than English... for all four years. A public school. And I continued my language studies, in this case Spanish, all four years in undergrad. Not just because it was mandatory, but because I knew it was smart to know and be able to communicate with more than English speakers. And I enjoyed learning another language, and looked forward to using it abroad and in the U.S.

And now that I've moved from the Midwest to the West Coast, I'm so glad I (and my high school) had the foresight to know that knowing more than one language is just plain smart.

Folks from all around the world know it's smart to know more than one language. It seems like we in the U.S. aren't as worldy or willing to learn about other folks as our neighbors around the world are. No wonder when we're traveling abroad, people think we (U.S. residents) are dogmatic, closed-minded, and just kinda backwards/uncouth.

Benefits other countries find in requiring second-language studies.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I love watching basketball. And I gotta get myself in a better mood, since my run in with Somebody (see entry below... Fake Christian Nice).

Loving the new NBA season. My
Detroit Pistons are #1 again. So are... the L.A. Clippers, who are finally getting mad love in L.A.

Just wanted to highlight some of the players making this season a great one while watching the NBA games on TV... like:

Tyson Chandler of the Chicago Bulls
Shaun Livingston of the L.A. Clippers

Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons

Carlos Arroyo of the Detroit Pistons Mike Bibby of the Sacramento Kings

OK. Another Tyson Chandler.

OK. Now I can go on with my day. I feel better now.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Scene. Detroit. Channel 62.

OK... I'm going down memory lane :-)

Someone, and I can't remember who (my memory is failing me now), told me in a joking way that every conversation about black folks eventually leads to Detroit, so maybe you can identify with this entry if you grew up in Detroit... or had cousins who you visited there...

The Scene was one of the hottest TV shows in Detroit back in the 70s and 80s. Everyone raced home after school to watch The Scene, which came on "LIVE" everyday at 6 pm (or 7, depending on the season) on Channel 62, then WGPR-TV. Then it got replaced by something called "The New Dance Show" in the 90s...

It was kinda like a black American Bandstand, but featured Detroit dancers, folks from the hood, the mall (Northland, Eastland, or Fairlane), from around the block or cul-de-sac, depending on what side of Detroit you were from.

The guy with the mic is Nat Morris, the host, interviewing the many celebrities who came to Detroit to be on the show.

We learned such dances like "The Shake," "The Prep," "The Jit," "(The various versons of...) The Smurf." We saw the famous "Scene Line" where dancers would dance down the aisle showing off their latest and greatest moves and hair. Lawwwwd, the jheri curl juice lubricated the screen. But as kids, the folks on the show were our Detroit celebrities... and we'd get so excited running into them at the mall, Belle Isle, the club (well, I wasn't of age then, but have since heard TONS of stories about the boy/girl action among the dancers at clubs).

This summer I ran into
Bernard, now a bookseller in San Francisco, who danced on the show back in the day. Also ran into Lynnelle B., a grad student in L.A., who danced on the show too. I feel like I've been called to try and find many of the old dancers from The Scene. Well, Bernard kinda put me on the case... but I know there's other folks who loved The Scene, too, and are on the case. So case closed... or is it?

So... where is Cheryl, who won the $25K on Dance Fever. Where is Wanda, with the mushroom hairdo and did "the worm" better than anybody else. Eric, the Prince look-alike... Lorenzo, who could do that "thing" with his leg over his head... Fast Freddie... The Singleton Cleaners commercial people? Or the Brady Keyes Burger King dynasty? Anybody else??? I love Detroit memories... there are some great things about having grown up there. Detroit TV oughta think about a reunion, where are they now, type show.

And DO all conversations about black people lead back to Detroit? I'm gonna test it later this weekend :-)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

How Do You Stay Encouraged?

At this time of the year, we're supposed to all be happy, merry, joyous, and celebrating the yuletide gay. For the most part, I am... though I have my days and my doubts at times. We all do.

A couple days ago I started thinking about the Katrina survivors and what this time of year must be for many of them, compared to this time last year. In fact, I saw this story about depression among Katrina survivors being a major issue and that the mental impact of the hurricane hasn't been thoroughly addressed. And I wonder... how do they stay encouraged knowing their lives are completely different than a year ago... completely different than they ever imagined?

I talked with a friend yesterday, and we talked about how part of our "ungh" feeling during the holidays is that we feel torn between the materialistic aspects of the holiday season in the U.S. and not fully participating in those aspects. I mean... we can't afford the Oprah's Favorite Things list, or similar goods that supposedly make for a great holiday season. And that brings the guilt factor...

And then I had a couple heart-to-hearts with students, primarily gay and lesbian students, who are NOT looking forward to holiday break and dealing with family dynamics for the next month or so. That even though we have more positive images of LGBT folks in media and magazines, that some family attitudes haven't changed... and they feel like they'll be acting out strange roles (i.e. not being themselves) over the holidays. Some good tips in this story.

Then let's not go there with the angst some feel over the year that was, the relationship that was, the weight loss that was, the life change that was (or was not...) Seems like there's a whole lot of reflection going on at this time of year.

So with all this lies the paradox of the winter holidays. Even though we know there are some highly spiritual reasons many people, including myself, celebrate and honor this time of year, media and popular culture tell us we should be happy, merry, joyous, and celebrating the yuletide gay... spending tons of money. And it causes a lot of dissonance for a lot of people.

How do you stay encouraged? How do make sure those around you are okay... and not just going through the motions?

Some sites I visit at times: Jewel Diamond Taylor, Herndon Davis, Cheryl Richardson, Network For Good. Image from Anne Taintor.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Project Runway Is Back. Yes!

You may recall from last winter that Project Runway is my favorite reality series (PR 1 entry, PR 2 entry).

On the left are last year's contestants. I'm so glad it starts again tonight in a two-hour season premiere on Bravo.

If you haven't seen Project Runway, it's an amazing show-- especially if you're into clothes, the artistic process, creating under pressure. Designers competing. Models competing. And each week, the designers have a different theme around which they put together a piece or a collection.

And, of course, someone goes home each week -- a model AND a designer.

If you're going to miss your fix of models and fashion once America's Next Top Model ends tonight, this is a perfect place to continue getting that fix.

It's going to make my Wednesday night viewing a little tough, with Noah's Arc on at the same time on Logo. Thanks to DVR, someone's getting recorded for later viewing.

And with television being so good lately, and with me watching so much, I'm sure you're wondering how do I ever get any writing or work done at all? To be honest, I'm wondering myself... but somehow, I do!


Some people are just naturally popular. Others "work" at it.

Speaking of working it, has a co-worker or classmate worked someone "in charge" and gotten kudos and mad praise, fairly or not, for their work? Or have you been the "worker"? How did that work aid in your/their popularity?

Then... Darrious brings up a topic on his blog regarding the books that seem to be most "popular" at the cash register these days. Read Stank H here.

Finally, yesterday morning on Cliff and the Hometeam (KJLH 102.3 in L.A.) they pondered the question: do you want to know how popular your mate was before you? In other words, do you want to know the number of people your partner was intimate with before they met you? And if so, does that number mean anything?

I go back and forth with all three of the above topics... but one of my favorites on being popular is the song "Popular" from the musical Wicked. So fun(ny) and socute!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Literary Tag

So I got tagged by Tayari Jones, regarding fifteen interesting facts about my writing and/or reading. Here's what I came up with:

1. In high school I wrote a play called "Stranger In Two Worlds"... a cheesy little semi- autobiographical number about a black kid who goes to summer camp every July, and is torn between hanging with the black kids and the white kids. I cringe everytime I find the play when I visit home.

2. I had every
Dr. Seuss book known to human kind... until one day, when I was five and didn't clean up my play area in the basement, the basement flooded and all the books were destroyed.

3. I didn't know "proper grammar" until 9th grade... thanks to my English teacher, Ms. Thelma Dinwiddie (who also had a side gig as a jazz singer named Kris Lynn). I sometimes cringe when I think about how bad my grammar was prior to 9th grade.

4. Miss Dinwiddie made us write journals for class assignments. I still keep a personal journal to this day -- since 9th grade.

5. I'm still a newbie at this writing/publishing thing... and I still am awed when I meet "famous" authors and people I grew up reading.

6. I first read
Terry McMillan and E. Lynn Harris before they "blew up" so to speak. I just randomly found their books in bookstores... no marketing toward me, no ads, no word of mouth. Kinda cool, especially since books about black gay folks like Harris' didn't get talked about anywhere in the early 90s. It was because of their books I realized me... black boy from Detroit... could write and possibly get published one day.

7. One novel that made me cry out loud was
Family by J. California Cooper. So did her novel The Wake of the Wind.

8. I usually read literary blogs first thing in the morning. My general order is
Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, then Tayari Jones, then Paperback Writer, then the rest that are on my long LONG list... on the left side of this page.

9. I won a Young Writers Award in 3rd grade for a poem/story (a monstrosity more like it) called "Where In The World Is Valerie?" It's published in a rare anthology the Detroit Public School system put together of the best of DPS student writers at the time.

10. I love the short story "
The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. Always have... since we had to read it in 10th grade English.

11. I would love to write for television. Drama/Soap/Comedy mixes would be my fave to work on. Some shows on TV-- shows that many of US watch now-- I'd love to join the writing staff for/of.

12. Prior to 1999, I'd never met any writers.
Keith Boykin was the first I'd met in person, when he spoke at the organization I work with. I was assigned to pick him up at the airport.

13. And when I started writing Down For Whatever in 2001/2002, I had no contacts and no clue where this process would take me. I just started taking classes, writing, and knew I wanted to do this as a living... or for a nice side gig.

14. Among some of my L.A. writing mentors are authors like Jervey Tervalon, Denise Hamilton, Kerry Madden, and Leslie Schwartz. I have others now, but these were some of the first to really support my potential when I knew nobody.

15. But... I have many friends who don't read and who haven't read my book. As well, most of my friends have nothing to do with writing or publishing. But I don't bug them about it. It's just who they are.

Tag... whoever would like to take this on... :-)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Southland by Nina Revoyr

I've been hearing a lot about this book. Even met the author, Nina Revoyr, a few times at various literary events. But today, I received an e-mail recommendation from my friend Rhonda Mitchell (a fellow writer with an awesome novel in-the-works) about this book.

Southland. By Nina Revoyr.

In the tradition of great novels coming out of Southern California, Southland looks at the ethnic, class, gender and sexuality, and sociological frameworks that make up life in L.A. It's part mystery, part history, but with lots of twists and turns through L.A.s past and present. A woman investigates the murder of four black men at her family's store during the Watts Riots of 1965.

Rhonda says, "Great L.A. history from the perspective of a Japanese woman from South L.A." And even one NYC reviewer calls Southland "an engaging, thoughtful book that even East Coasters can enjoy." And I thought everyone knew the West Coast has a great literary tradition... that's another entry :-)

So... I guess you can add this novel to the "Must Read" list...

The Places Your Mind Will Go... When You're Restless on Friday

No one's around today... at the day gig. No. One. I'm restless. It's Friday.

So my mind starts wandering to random things like... how much Tylenol Nighttime PM do I have at home (kinda got a cold), the state of the world today, where to go for New Year's Eve, oil reserves and the winter heating bill, how crowded the gym will be this evening...


Those tight beige courderoys James Evans (John Amos) used to wear on Good Times, and another fascination from TV back in the day... "Hey Hey Hey" Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) from What's Happening and his TV wardrobe... tight t-shirts and tight hip hugger bell bottoms... Dang. Dang. Dang. I had wickedly naughty thoughts as a young lad in the country side.

Who are today's TV actors boys and girls are secretly crushing on? Who else thinks of random silly things like this from time to time? I have a cold... I'm entitled :-) And I'm not the only one with wickedly naughty thoughts as a young lad, am I???

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Back in the day, HIV testing required a lot.

It required a needle and blood to be drawn. It also usually required a two or three week waiting period for the results. That waiting period was the worst... especially when you're a young college student, away from home for the first time, and when getting tested was a social stigma -- you didn't tell or talk about getting an HIV test. You also had to fill out a mountain of paper work. That's what it was like when I went for my first HIV tests, back in the early and mid 1990s.

Today, HIV testing can be done with a quick swab on your gums. Results can be ready in less than 30 minutes at some testing sites. Paper work is minimal, can be anonymous, and someone talks with you about your choices and actions. And there isn't as much stigma around getting tested for HIV. Or is there? In L.A. and other big cities, friends step into the mobile testing units together before or after going to dinner or the club. But I know many others are afraid of knowing their health status... or may not have access to a free or safe testing site.

Knowledge is power... and when you know your status, you can move forth with the decisions and actions that work best for you and your health.

For HIV testing info, check out this site... or just Google "HIV test" and your city/town.

Today, I remember special friends who have died to HIV and AIDS, but especially Mike Crafton... a special friend who died in 1994.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Buzz on Grey's Anatomy

Apparently, I've been turning the television off too soon on Sunday nights... because I've totally slept on Grey's Anatomy, the show that follows the hightly popular Desperate Housewives on ABC.

Well Grey's Anatomy has become a bonafide hit on its own, holding up its ratings even while DH is in reruns. And after talking with a friend about it last night, I think I've been sold on the show. Read Darrious Hilmon's blog entry Simply The Best to hear his thoughts on why the show is so good.

But I think what sold me wasn't necessarily the plotline (medical dramas don't usually do it for me), but the fact that the creator, executive producer, and writer is a black woman (a MAJOR feat in Hollywood) named Shonda Rhimes who, during the casting process, was very vocal that there weren't enough actors of color -- all colors -- being brought through for auditions. She wanted the best actors, period, and that meant looking at actors from all hues of the human spectrum, even though "the industry" only sent white actors her way. You can hear all about Shonda and the process at Tavis Smiley's site.

Thus, the multicultural cast of Grey's Anatomy that reflects our daily realities. And the actors of color aren't cast in stereotypical, comedy sidekick, best buddy kind of roles. Apparently (because I still have to watch) all the actors and characters are integral to the overall story. And the show is a hit!

That in itself made me perk up and want to watch and support.

Have you seen Grey's Anatomy? Please tell me what's good about the show...

New Year Resolutions on Writing

Many of us will probably make a ton of New Years resolutions in about a month... or perhaps some of us kept some from last year.

But one that I know I hear from many folks is this: I want to write.

And just like all resolutions, the advice I hear most is this: Start it and stick with it.

For writers, starting could mean a number of things:

1) Signing up for a first fiction class at your local community college or university extension program

2) If you don't like, or don't have money, for classes, it might mean checking out your local bookstore -- the independent or chain stores -- to see if there are any free one-time workshops happening in the coming weeks. Sometimes they offer free workshops.

3) If working with groups isn't your thing, maybe you'll want to check out some tips on beginning here or here. The second site, Paperback Writer, is a great site with daily tips on writing, editing, and publishing.

4) Even though most writers must work alone to create, eventually you'll have to share your work with someone. Is there a co-worker who's a secret writer? A neighbor who likes to read? Perhaps there's a gathering like Derrick L. Briggs' Stories in NYC, where folks can come together and share what they're writing and working on, in a non-judgmental environment? A favorite teacher you can share with? Or even an online buddy? It's nice to share with someone who'll be willing to support and challenge your work.

5) I would definitely encourage you to go to bookstore events where authors are reading and talking about their work. Where better to learn about getting started than from someone who has done it? Even if it means going to see writers you don't even know about... you'll learn something you never knew you never knew.

6) Finally, the main thing is just to write. Keep that notebook handy for jotting down ideas or funny lines you hear people say. And try to be consistent and persistent. For me, the early mornings work best -- like 5 am-ish. For others, it's from dinner to bedtime. Choose the time that's best for you, shut off the TV, cell phone, and IM (and maybe cut back on a bit of blog reading, lol) and you'll find time. There's always time for the things we find to be important. And one thing I find really handy: do NOT edit until your first draft is done... otherwise, you'll spend forever re-writing and never making progress forward. You can always edit later... once the piece is done. Keep that notebook handy for new ideas and new directions that come to you.

What other supplies might you need to get started or move ahead in your writing? Tayari Jones, who is celebrating a birthday, has a list of her favorite writing things on her blog.

And, as always, if you have questions you can always send me a quick note: fsmith827 at gmail dot com.

I know it's a month away before we're punch-drunk love and full of resolutions. But maybe thinking and planning for it now, whether it's writing or losing weight or smiling more, will help you when January 1 rolls in.

Others... feel free to chime in on getting started, please. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Holiday Reading

I got a couple of e-mails asking me what books would I recommend they get for other people for the holidays.

It's hard. I'm friends with many writers, and never want to slight anyone.

And, asking about which books I like is like asking someone if they want a Pomegranate or Lemon Drop martini. They're all good, just depends on the flavor you want.

This year, I've highlighted a number of books that I've read. Usually, that means it's something I would pass along. Some of those have included books by Tayari Jones, Denise Hamilton, Kerry Madden, Pearl Cleage, Darrious Hilmon, and others. Many, many others...

Regarding books related to the black gay and lesbian community, I would definitely say pick up Beyond The Down Low by Keith Boykin. But there are a number of great writers and friends I've made this year while out touring for Down For Whatever. There is indeed a "Renaissance" happening, and black LGBT fiction is coming from all over the country. Check out this list on Amazon, highlighting black gay and lesbian focused literature, by T. Kelley. It's really good, comprehensive and can help with your book-buying decisions. It includes books by folks like Keith, Rashid Darden, Alphonso Morgan, Trent Jackson, and Dayne Avery, and many many others.

Other than that, if you're unsure of specific books to buy, store gift certificates are excellent for the reader in your life. And... especially those certificates from your local, independent booksellers. We gotta help keep them in business, you know?

What books will you be buying for folks this holiday season? Or asking for on your holiday wish list?

Call For Submissions: LOUDmouth Magazine


LOUDmouth magazine -- a feminist magazine coming out of Cal State LA -- is seeking essays (critical and/or personal), reportage, poetry, fiction, photography, illustrations, artwork and more for our spring issue on FOOD.

Topics may include but are by no means limited to:

  • struggles for food rights/anti-privatization movements
  • gendered and racialized aspects of restaurant work/women chefs/family restaurants
  • class and food/accessibility of food/buying food on credit/trendy food
  • sex and food/aphrodisiacs/fast-food commercials/gastroporn
  • urban agriculture/community farm projects
  • food and familial/community/ethnic traditions and connections
  • vegetarianism and feminism/food-related beliefs and lifestyles/eating organic
  • family recipes/recipes with a story
  • labor and food
  • feelings about and approaches to eating/joy of eating/disordered eating
  • food options in schools
  • food marketed toward women
  • starvation/obesity
  • food-related waste
    DIY: gardening/composting/eating on a budget/nutrition as healthcare

Deadline for pitches: December 12th

(What this means: If you want to write about any of the above topics or another topic related to food, send a pitch regarding your idea as soon as possible. Just send a brief note about what you're thinking and we'll start a back-and-forth about how it might work for this issue.)

Please note: Contributors need not be students nor Angelenos nor members of any particular identity group. Contributors do need to write from a feminist perspective that takes as a given the interconnectedness of multiple systems of oppression and that consciously avoids reinforcing whiteness, heterosexuality and the like as invisible/normative. Contributors who are enthusiastic and good with deadlines are greatly appreciated.

Please send all submissions to Christine Petit, Editor in Chief, at

feminism: fem'e-niz'em -n. [The] movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and [all] oppression. - bell hooks

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Can You Keep A Secret?

It's amazing the things people will share, when assured of complete confidentiality or anonimity.

One of my favorite sites to check out is Post A Secret, where people send in postcards with one or two sentence lines of a secret they're keeping. New secrets are generally posted on Sundays. There are some mild secrets and there are some major life-changing ones that people keep... and share on the site.

If you're into writing fiction, some of these types of lines would be great opening lines and concepts for your work. Of course, you can't use the exact lines from the site. But these lines and secrets make you want to know more about the secret holder and the back story and the lengths the person goes to keep the secret. That in itself can drive a novel-length work. Or a great short story.

That's all for now. Enjoy the rest of the weekend... while there's still time left.

And keep this between you and me... :-)

Club Fighting

First, hope you all had a nice weekend. I did.

One thing I never understood was the idea of fighting at a club/bar. I mean, you're out to have a good time supposedly, and maybe sometimes that good time gets a little warped with the addition of alcohol or other things. Still it should be a good time... and especially when the venue is in an area of town where black and brown people are more likely to be service staff than consumers.

So Ivan of IvanDanielProductions/First Fridayz L.A. and I were volunteering at the same Thanksgiving Day location, when he shared that the Wednesday evening party, Metro, would be moving from its current West Hollywood location to a site at Hollywood and Vine. More information on the new venue on Ivan's site coming soon.

It only takes one or two to spoil the party... or get the crowd asked to leave... The physical fighting needs to be left on the big screen, and not in real life when regular people are just trying to have a good time. Let me add, I've always had fun at Ivan's events... whether it's First Fridayz, Metro, or the High Lyfe arts night at The Catch... Ivan's done a lot to energize the party scene for the black and brown crowds in L.A. in the past couple years.

But with some people already kinda sketchy about black and brown folks in certain parts of town, the third grade "he said/she said," "you stepped on my shoe," "you looked at my man" stuff needs to be eliminated from the list of things that make us upset. Gossip is more about the gossiper than you. Shoes can be cleaned. Men come and go...

Now, if you've been in a club fight... or know someone who has, maybe you can shed a little light on the subject. We hold no blame or judgment on past behavior here...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

This four-day weekend will be full of activities, and I hope you enjoy all of them -- parties, food, travel, shopping -- as much as possible.

And throughout all of it, I hope you take time to reflect on the large and small things you are thankful for... and enjoy each moment as it happens.

I'll be volunteering on Thursday morning and then going to dinner at a friend's family home. It'll be like a Midwest and East Coast reunion... so many of us in L.A. are transplants and won't be heading home to see our families until Christmas.

Anyway, I hope you have a great holiday weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Young and The (Don't Say It...)

You're only as old as your state of mind makes you feel...

Part of my weekend was spent with the 18 - 21 year old set, doing a little bit of research to develop of my characters for a writing project I'm working on.

It's been years since I've been in an 18+ club, and I went with a couple of my students to kinda show me the ropes, the ins and outs, blah blah blah. I don't spend much time in West Hollywood clubs, except for some Sundays at The Abbey -- Black Sunday, as we often joke, since the crowd is a little more black and brown on Sunday evenings.

But we spent time at places that are standards for the 18 - 21 set... Mickey's and Rage. And it's fun(ny) stuff listening to the language, seeing the parade of trendy work-study-bought fashions, and watching the dynamics of our 1984 - 1987 born neighbors.

It's like a fun time-warp that you're just kinda observing and reminiscing and then remembering that all the fun(ny) silly things and choices you made back then... these young folks will do. Not much changes. Except jheri curls are now replaced with mohawks of all shapes and sizes.

However... every single song that moved the crowd was a freaking sample of songs from my growing up years. Funny how music can make you feel... your age.

But... I had to let them know that there was once a group called Ready For The World whose song "Tonight" was the inspiration for the "slow jam" they were cuddling up next to each other onthe dance floor... Twista and Trey Songz "Girl Tonite."

You should have seen the jaws drop. For reals, they asked?

I wanted to... but just couldn't give musical history lessons. Didn't want to feel like I'm 875 years old :-)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, And Get Out. And Get Your Own Food, Too!

You probably missed this one. Why? Because it happened in the middle of the night Thursday going into Friday... while we were all sleeping, and when most reporters had already gone home from the debate. Strange, sneaky things happen in the night, my friends!

U.S. House Bill approves cuts to food stamp programs, student loans, and Medicare. Three things that help poor and working class folks hold on for just another day.

Oh, and the post Katrina world. Immigrant workers aren't being paid by shady bosses. And FEMA is putting Katrina-affected people out the hotels December 1. I don't know... um, if you lost everything, would three months be enough to get back on your feet? I don't know...

Of course, all this is tied to the war and tax cuts. They're not about to end the tax cuts on the rich and upper classes. They need money to fight the brown folks of Iraq. Where else to get the money... but off the brown, black, poor, old, and young (students!) in your own backyard. So compassionate.

Still... it makes for a very Happy Thanksgiving kick in the butt. Courtesy of the Republicans and from the folks who support the current regime in Washington. In other words, pull yourself up by your straps, oh, and Happy Holidays.

(On the literary note... I'm kinda wondering when the first Katrina references will start to appear in novels and characters' lives.)