Monday, January 31, 2005


So I love hip hop, rap, and R & B. Dig watching 106 & Park when I can. Kick it with friends at our regular hip hop haunts in L.A. and other cities when we can. Just something about hooks, bass, and some rants about 'da club, 'da Escalade, 'da chinchilla... and 'da weekend is crunk. Yeah, okay. I'm a dork sometimes, but who isn't?

But what you don't know is that I have another secret musical passion.


Love it. The lyrics. The stories. The drama. The heartache and pain. I'm just a big old country music drama queen. Okay. Don't laugh.

So this weekend, while writing, I kept the Country Music Channel on in the background. And I'm in LOVE with three new songs and videos out now.

Don't by Shania Twain. Beautiful cinematography. Beautiful lyrics. Don't fight, don't argue. A lot of hardcore country music fans think Shania's a little too pop. Well, whatever works. It's working for her. And the song lyrics are just fabulous.

Wake Up Older by Julie Roberts. A woman scorned, talking to her bottle of Jack Daniels, and searching for a cool bottle or a warm shoulder to get her through the night. Good country drama.

I May Hate Myself In The Morning by Lee Ann Womack. So for those of you who can't quite let that ex go, and run from bed to the shrink and back to the bed, this is the theme song for that angst. A lonely night. A few drinks. A phone call. A stroll down memory lane. A night of memory-lane passion. As Lee Ann Womack sings, "I may hate myself in the morning, but I'm gonna love you tonight." Who hasn't been there?

Until next time...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Keith Boykin

So for those of you who don't know Keith Boykin -- and I'm talking like I know him personally, which I don't -- you should.

He's smart. Politically aware and active. Great writer. Model looks. Used to work for Bill Clinton's administration. And he's doing more to raise awareness about black gay and lesbians than anyone I know. His new book is called BEYOND THE DOWN LOW. Well researched and a great read. Especially for those of you who appreciate information that doesn't follow media hype simplicity.

Anyway, you gotta check out his site, but I want to link you specifically to his entry today on George and Condi... Bush and Rice. It's so hilarious and had me rolling on the floor laughing at my office. What are we in for these next four years?????

By the way, I did meet Keith once. We brought him here -- Cal State L.A. -- to give a speech about five years ago. I picked him up and dropped him off at LAX. Very nice guy. Good conversationalist. I was nervous. Butterflies. What to say? What to wear? Anyway, let me stop...

Thursday, January 27, 2005


So most of us know someone who is, has been, or working their way to be locked up, locked down, or just part of the biggest business in America -- prisons.

Then I found a novel that humanizes the prison industrial complex. UPSTATE, by Kalisha Buckhanon. Kalisha is a smart, down-to-earth, and talented writer originally from the Chicago area who now teaches and writes in New York City.

Her book answers the question -- can love survive the test of time, separation, and prison? In UPSTATE, Harlem teenagers, Antonio and Natasha, find their relationship in trouble when he is sent to prison for killing his father, a crime he may or may not have committed. Will Natasha stand by her man? Will Antonio get justice in a society that imprisons black and brown men at alarming rates?

I recently had the chance to talk with the author, about her novel, reading, the hip hop generation, and why Antonio and Natasha are such compelling characters.

Kalisha, what was your inspiration for writing UPSTATE?
Several personal and social factors contributed to me being inspired to write this book. Every black person that I know has family members or friends who are incarcerated. The little black boys that I've taught, who are beautiful and marvelous and creative now, but may somehow have all of that ripped out of them by the time they reach Antonio's age, were at the forefront of my mind. I was inspired by the fact that black women have been tremendously affected by the prison industrial complex not only as victims, but also in a way that has not been explored; they must "hold it down" alone while trying to maintain relationships with the fathers, brothers, boyfriends and sons who are locked up.

What is it about prison that makes it a rich setting for storytelling?
One place that black men and boys often find refuge to express their sensitive, emotional and intellectual sides is with their women. This becomes especially important when they are incarcerated and letters become their only means of communication with the outside world. There are a lot of men out there who won't write to save their lives when they are on the outside, but once they become locked up, they become very, very prolific! They find themselves saying and expressing things that they would never have had they been on the outside living up to societal expectations of who they should be.

In an age of hip hop stars, multimedia, video games, and gadgets, and the lack of reading by young people, how does UPSTATE speak to the concerns of the hip hop generation?
Kids just aren't reading any more, and that's a fact. As a teacher, I couldn't get kids to read to save my life! In school, I was the consummate nerd because English was always my favorite subject because I loved to read; most people couldn't relate. Both Natasha and Antonio were able to achieve insight into their lives and situations through reading and reflecting on several books, which I mentioned and chose with care for the book. Reading is life-changing for both characters. I hope young people pick up on that.

What would you hope young people, and readers in general, would get from reading UPSTATE? How are Antonio and Natasha inspiring?
Both of them are goal-oriented, meaning even through they have endured tragedy they think ahead to the future and plan out the best ways to improve their situations. Inside, Antonio thinks about getting his GED, upping his bench press numbers, working, saving money, what he's going to do on the outside. Natasha thinks about preventing pregnancy, applying to educational programs, taking her SAT, moving to a better neighborhood, buying a house, going to college. That's how I thought when I was young, and that's truly how I made it out and beyond many people I left behind. I love Antonio and Natasha so much because they represent the complete and total innocence of childhood, and I hope that they are inspiring on that level for people of all ages.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

News from my editor

So just before I left my office last night, I got some good news from my editor at Kensington. Well, to me ALL news is good news since this is my first novel and everything excites me.

DOWN FOR WHATEVER's official release date is July 5, 2005. It's a Tuesday. Same day of the week new CDs drop. Very exciting to know I'll have something on the market.

My editor, John, also dropped the design choices for my book cover in the mail. Can't wait to see what the artists at Kensington have come up with. I mean, I have my ideas and visualized each of the characters and how they'd be portrayed. Now it'll be interesting to see how a total outside person interprets my novel. I'm sure it'll be awesome.

And finally, the summer catalogue from Kensington is going out to bookstores and loyal customers very soon. Very soon, people will begin to know about my novel and will have the chance to order it for their stores and shelves.

Of course, I want a lot of word of mouth to market and promote the book. Putting the final touches on my Street Team and looking for ideas to help make that happen.

So... if you know someone who might be interested in marketing, publicity, or who wouldn't mind taking a look at a novel that's a black & Latino 'Queer as Folk' meets 'Sex & The City' set in L.A., drop me a line... join the DOWN FOR WHATEVER team!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Insider's Guide for Writers of Color

Finding the right publisher is difficult for any writer, but writers of color face unique challenges -- and opportunities.

For Marcela Landres, editorial consultant formerly with Simon & Schuster, helping writers of color, particularly Latina/o writers, get their foot in the door of the publishing industry is a personal mission.

She spoke at the VONA (Voices of our Nations Writers of Color Workshop at University of San Francisco in June 2004.

"The bridge to get Latino writers published is not too strong," says Landres.

Landres started a website,, with the intention of strengthening that bridge. The website features clear and to-the-point advice for fiction writers looking for that big break, the lucrative book contract, and possibly fame and fortune.

"Editors are not talent scouts," Landres says. "They're investors looking for a return on the advance money invested in their writers."

One mistake Landres says new writers make is focusing solely on art and technique, and not enough time thinking about the business aspects of writing. Often, that business is driven by audience likes and dislikes.

"If you expect to be paid for the art, you have to take the audience into account," Landres says. "A good story and intriguing characters will get you published and published well."

How does one become published well?

*Having realistic expectations about life as a published author.

*Managing your own business affairs, and not expecting the publisher or others to do it at high levels -- i.e. huge budgets for tours, ads, etc...

*Developing a business savvy attitude in addition to developing writing skills.

*Creating a platform -- that is, developing your reputation (writing awards, publications, taking free and paid-for writing classes) and your rolodex (networking with published authors, joining writer workshops, and doing internships); the stronger your platform, the more likely you are to be published well.

"Publishers are incapable of creating stars," Landres says. "But they can identify someone who's already a star, take them on, and make them shine bigger in publishing."

Landres cautions writers of color from focusing too much of their fiction writing time on pain and history. She says audiences and publishers are looking for writers of color to focus on new, fresh, and relevant experiences about their lives in the U.S. For Latina/o writers in particular, Landres cautions about two types of stories she has seen come regularly across her desk -- barrio stories or peasant stories.

"Not every Latino grows up in a barrio, afraid they'll never graduate from high school," Landres says. "Not every Latino has the kitchen filled with spices and homemade tortillas, or grew up barefoot in a butterfly-filled village. This is what editors see coming across their desks all the time. It's time all of us write on our current lives and realities in the U.S."

Landres says this is the perfect time for writers of color to make their mark on the publishing industry. Editors are hungry for contemporary stories based in the U.S., and Landres encourages writers to get their stories out their heads and onto paper.