Friday, September 30, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

Imagine if you grew up thinking your dad was one person, but he was actually another.

Imagine if you grew up thinking you were white, but you were black.

Imagine if your dark skin was explained away as a skin disease.

Imagine if your mother kept secret her "dalliances" and "hanging out" from your family.

Now... imagine this is not Dynasty or Young and the Restless, but your real life. True story.

Read the story here.

And how is your family today?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Links: 1st Book Publicity and The Colored Section

Found some interesting sites related to Publicity and the First-Time Author (because it's always nice to hear how other first-timers handled it)... and to The Colored Section in bookstores.

Thought you might find something you can learn and share with others.

Amen. Dialogue.

This week, Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick are highlighting black ministers and preachers who have used their pulpits for anti-gay and lesbian politics and sermons.

Many of these same ministers are recipients of "faith-based" money, which is government money used to promote church causes and projects. Remember the separation of church and state? Yeah, the concept is like over 200 years old, but it's supposed to be an active concept and "value", right? Hmmm...


The columns are promoting a lot of dialogue and getting people to reflect on their experiences in and out the black church as they relate to the black gay and lesbian community. There are some who agree with the purpose of this week's columns, and there are some who do not.

And I thought you might want to take a look... if you haven't already. To make up your own mind and think about how institutions, such as churches in this instance, but also schools, government, families, media, can make or break the lives of gay and lesbian people in their midst.

Keith and Jasmyne are putting themselves out there in a major way. It's courageous.

And as I often tell my students, being a leader means putting yourself on the line in both popular and unpopular ways. Putting yourself out there can be lonely. And vulnerable. And character-building. But in the end, the goal is to create something better for society at large. For everyone.

At least that's the hope.
Keith Boykin's site.
Jasmyne Cannick's site.
National Black Justice Coalition site.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Writing Differences.

Differences are cool and make the world interesting. Similarities are cool and make us comfortable. Of course it's not that simple. Life is complex.

A series of questions I get asked often about my novel relate to diversity and differences:

How was I able to write about/create characters who are not like me, in terms of ethnicity, class, whatever? How do people react when they see me, a black guy, and know that I've created some Mexican American characters? Do I think it's possible to write about characters who are not like me?

Of course most of the questioners are asking about ethnicity, which is what most of us immediately think about when it comes to diversity and differences. And it's okay. Though diversity is more than just ethncity.

My responses:
1) I am able to create characters who are not like me because I'd like to think I'm creative, have an appreciation for people and an open mind, believe fiction should reflect the way we live and the people around us, and that I like writing about communties not often reflected in the mainstream of fiction.

2) People usually are happily shocked. They're like, "I can't believe you knew about (blah blah blah)" when it comes to a certain aspect of the novel that resonates with them... one that they assume has nothing to do with me. It's interesting the assumptions people make.

3) Now the third question... is a tricky one. I do think it's possible for writers to write about people who are not like them. I mean, it's physically and creatively possible. However... I think this area should be approached realistically and respectfully. And this is where I'll digress, and explain further...

What I mean is that in order to present realistic characters, who may or may not be different than the writer (but let's focus on writing those that might be different than the writer), I think it's important to know about whom you write. To me, that means being genuine in the learning process. Wanting to learn about people you consider different is not only about the food, fashions, and fiestas of a particular group. It means getting to understand the history of a group, and how that history shapes a perspective. It means getting to understand what isn't spoken, what isn't on the surface. It means going beyond a web search, getting a few pop culture facts, and then presenting a character as authentic. It means understanding communication norms. It might mean getting into a dis-comfort zone, an immersion, with the intention of truly understanding.

At the same time, it doesn't mean that the study of a group means that everyone in that group thinks alike. Or that there is a uniform way of speaking, thinking, and being for every member of a particular population or group. Sure, there are some shared histories and experiences that some may or may not acknowledge in their personal experiences. But there is diversity within groups, but that sometimes gets sidetracked with the whole "tell us about the ______ experience" syndrome, that I know my students often get bombarded with in their classes. (On a side note, it gets annoying to be asked to speak for your group/population ALL the time. Please ask because you really want to know, not because you need a quick, pat answer to satisfy what you think you already know.)

Respectfully writing about people who may be different from you is another important aspect to look at. Stereotypes abound. Most we learn not from personal experience, but from what we see in movies, television, books, news, government, or hear in song, but we somehow make them personal. Because there is diversity within groups, there may be folks whose lives mirror stereotypes and there are also those whose lives do not reflect stereotypes. There is good and bad in all communities. And, to me, it is okay to write about those perceptions of good and bad... as long as... there is a genuine respect and balance presented.

What's not cool is having someone write as if they are "all knowing" about a group of people who are different than the writer. Or writing in a condescing way/manner about a group of people who are different than the writer. Or only presenting stereotypes, because the writer sees those as "the __________ experience." Or writing in a "I'm cool with ______ people because I studied/lived with/dated/worked with ______ people."

I don't know. I'm sure there are numerous perspectives on writing about people you perceive to be different than you. And in no way am I presenting myself as an expert on writing, differences, or human behavior. I'm just one person. One person who had a novel published.

However, the one common denominator we all have. We're human beings.

And we have many of the same desires, dreams, wants, and needs. The approach and the road to achieve those desires, dreams, wants, and needs may or may not be different. But... we all are human. And that simple factor makes us the same in many respects.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You Had Me At Hello

"Weak first lines greet us like a limp handshake." Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

Now we're talking novels, not the first hello from a potential partner... however... I know where your minds go sometimes :-)

A good first line in a novel or short story can draw us in, set a tone, make us feel something that compels us to continue reading the work.

That line draws us in to read the first page, first chapter, and so on. It could be the voice, the grammar (or lack thereof), the descriptors, or the question the first line poses. In my creative writing workshops, I do an exercise on first lines, which proves to be very fun and idea inspiring.

What first lines grabbed you? What books had you at hello? Or if you dare share, what first lines had you the moment you met that special someone?

Laugh Out Loud Funny

So I'm reading Conversations With The Fat Girl right now. It's by my friend Liza Palmer. And it's laugh out loud funny. With substance.

I like those kind of books... those that make you laugh, and make you think and see life through the eyes of a character with a fun(ny) voice.

Conversations is doing that to me now. The main character, Maggie, had quite a voice.
I remember reading A Day Late and A Dollar Short and laughing out loud. Especially the mom, Viola.
Even some of J. California Cooper's work gave me a laugh out loud moment.
And for those of you now reading Tayari Jones' The Untelling, the mom's actions and words provide some laugh out loud moments.

What novels have tickled your funny bone? A character? A line? A voice? What would you recommend for someone looking for a laugh out loud moment?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Golden Rule... Re-done

A student brought me something cool he learned/got in class today. He wanted to talk about a new way of looking at the whole Golden Rule thing we all grew up with. Good discussion.

I'd heard these a long time ago while in college, and it challenged me to look at the assumptions I make about how others (and I) would want to be treated.

Golden Rule: You treat others as you would like to be treated. (a self-centered point of view, only takes into account your perspective and view, and assumes others want to be treated as you; or that everyone wants to be treated the same)

Lead Rule: You treat others as you think they should be treated. (another self-centered point of view, only takes into account your perspective and view, and again assumes others have no preference in how they want to be treated)

Platinum Rule: You treat others as they would like to be treated. (a view that takes into account how the other person wants to be treated, regardless of your own self view; takes a little more work to find out how the other person would want to be treated, responded to, etc... This is where we should be aiming to be in our lives)

A little reflection, and it helped the student see and un-learn something he's grown up with all his life. Cool what going to class, and having a progressive professor, can do.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

VH1 Soul Retro Weekend

This is 88/Time to get it straight/No half steppin
Big Daddy Kane

Overdosing on VH-1 Soul this weekend. Videos from back in the day hip hop.
Big Daddy Kane. Salt n Pepa. McLyte. Kwame. Oaktown 3-5-7. LL Cool J. Kid n Play. Sweet Tea. Ice-T. Public Enemy. Run D.M.C. Boogie Down Productions.

The flat tops. The crimps. The dancing rappers. The background dancers. The messages. Not to mention the spandex, gold chains, and weaves. And... I totally forgot about celebrity life before liposuction, implants, or just plain working out!

Every genre has its start. Wish I was saving this on DVR. Can't wait to see the Hip Hop Honors on VH1 on Monday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Phil Donahue is The Man!

OK kids. Before Oprah, before Tyra, before Ellen, and way before before the news was owned by one or two corporations, and when reporters actually investigated and questioned authority (and when it was seen as OK to do so!), rather than embed themselves with the government...

There was Phil Donahue.

A real intelligent, thoughtful, progressive television host. And he covered issues like racism (and white responsibility), abortion rights, civil rights, gays and lesbians, the quest for equality, trickle-down economics, poverty, divorce, etc... This was before news became info-tainment. I hope they're not teaching info-tainment or embedded journalism at my alma-mater, The Missouri School of Journalism, these days. Anyway... he was one of my journalism/social justice role models when a little kid. Yes, I remember the Phil Donahue Show!

The other day he took on the conservative Bill O'Reilly on the conservative Fox Network and won.
Video here. The transcript here. Phil did what many others, including Keith Boykin just the other day in his column, suggest that progressives and liberals need to do... take the offensive in stating our opinions and views, and not just react to what the right is shoving down our throats.(Kids. On a side note... I hope the only reason you'd watch Fox is MAYBE for seeing what your conservative neighbors talk and think about you... idiot intelligence gathering... and not for any kind of unbiased or real news coverage.)

They were discussing the massive
Anti-War protest taking place in Washington D.C. this weekend. Cindy Sheehan, the peace mom, came up in conversation. And it was ON between Phil and Bill. Phil won! I wish I could have seen it. Did you? Not that we're looking for winners and losers. It's all about intelligent discourse and being willing to learn and listen. Not just shut up and take what you hear.

If you're in D.C. this weekend, please try and stop by to support the peace cause. They say this will be the largest Anti-War demonstration in the nation's capital since the Vietnam War protests in the 60s and 70s. And this morning on the news, for the first time, I saw moms of dead soldiers of all ethnicities and backgrounds, not just the white images we think of in terms of peace activists. Black and brown people are fed up and are speaking out. Gays and lesbians are speaking out. Intelligent people. Housewives. Pookie and Nae Nae and Yi. Michael Moore. People of conscious. With social justice and equality as a core value.

I hope we all will.

Just Because. Michael Ealy.

So what would a fictional character who's soooooo into actor Michael Ealy be like? Would they know every movie and television appearance he's done in his Hollywood career? Know his shoe size? Kept his performance as Teacake in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" on DVR since March? Memorized his lines from everything he's been in? Presided over the Michael Ealy fan club, for real, or just in fantasy land?

Just wondering. Sometimes your fictional characters develop crushes on an actor, performer, public figure, or even tech person who fixes the office computers. Sometimes real people develop crushes, too. And then casturbate... over, and over, and over, and over again... that is, fantasy casting projects certain actors might be good in. Yeah, that's it.

Now, it's Friday. Go fantasize. Go casturbate. Go create. Go make someone's weekend!


Only Bapt-sbyterian Witnesses Need Apply

So while we're bracing for Hurricane Rita, still recovering from Katrina, not knowing a darn thing about what John Roberts will stand for in the U.S. Supreme Court, and getting info-tained in the news about Kate Moss, Kenny & Renee, and Tyra's double duty hosting jobs...

The U.S. Congress is continuing to work to erode the separation of church and state. Now, government-funded Head Start programs can consider religion when hiring staff members, applicants can be refused employment if their faith beliefs (or lack thereof) don't match the organization, and the organizations can still receive government funds... our tax dollars. The specific language says something about "hiring protections for faith-based organizations."

In other words... "Uh, w'don't laike yur kind, so y'ain't gettin' hired."

We gotta figure out a way to keep our politicians in check... and we gotta see how they're voting in the Senate, and the House of Representatives (for the faith-based amendment)... so that we can make better informed choices at the polls.

You are registered to vote, aren't you?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Babies. The Class of 2009.

The newest addition to my family. He's adorable. A cousin. Not my own. And born on my birthday, August 27, 2005. I'll be a freaking senior citizen (well, not really, but getting there) by the time he's in college. Wow. Time flies.

But on another note, millions of students have made their ways to college campuses this year for the first time. The Class of 2009! Can you believe it? Time flies.

Just to give you perspective... the college/university Class of 2009 members were born, on average, in 1987. Yeah, 1987!

That means they never saw the space shuttle Challenger accident.
They've always known CDs for music.
Jimmy Carter has always been an elder statesman.
Pay-per-view has always been an option.
"Whatever" has always been a response, rather than part of a question.

The folks at Beloit College put together a list of things each class has experienced or not. Their mindset. I've seen other lists to this nature, some more fun(ny) than others, but can't find right now. And for even greater perspective of time flying, here's what was happening in 1987, the year most 1st year students were born.

I've spent all my adult life at or on college campuses. As a student. As an educator. It's always fun, even with the occasional dramas. A definite microcosm of society. And it's always fun watching people grow, develop, and change as they experience the many "first" that college life brings. At times, it can feel like a sheltered environment, but it definitely keeps you in the loop of trends, language, youth, and knowledge (though, I gotta say some of the papers I've read by students prove that our K-12 systems need to shore up the English departments, especially grammar and spelling... or the kids gotta do things other than playing video games and doing IMs and text messaging!)


Here's to 1987. The Class of 2009. The Class of 2022 (my new family member's high school graduating class...) And to remembering the innocence and fun of 1st year college life!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Waiting. Writing. The Process.

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My friend Douglas took this photo of me this weekend, after that gluttonous Lobster Fest brunch meal. You don't know it, but I was so full I couldn't move at all. So I sat, almost comatose, in that position on the sofa for like the whole afternoon and evening, while watching the Emmy Award Red Carpet arrivals.

Anyway, I've been majorly awake at night. My brain is working a billion miles a minute with ideas, thoughts, and sarcastic dialogue. I'm feeling sarcasm lately. I think it may reflect in my third book, which I'm starting on now. I'm sooooooo not sarcastic. Uh, who am I kidding?

Book two... the one after Down For Whatever, but is NOT a sequel... is in the publication pipeline. Completed a long, LONG, time ago. The deal: You send to your agent, you wait for feedback, you respond to feedback, and re-send, and wait for agent to feedback again or for agent to just turn it in to your editor. The thing is: You and agent want your work to be as perfect as possible, and not to get lazy and think... I'm in, so I can turn in undone work. It's the process. The process, yeah.

So instead of fretting over the waiting game, I'm letting my fingers do the walking and talking. One piece of advice I received from writers before I got picked up: keep writing while you're waiting... you have no control over what you're waiting for.

So I wait. And I'm cool. And that's that.

Yaya... and America's Next Top Model

I always liked Yaya, from the 3rd season of America's Next Top Model.

She was the perfect balance of brains, class, and beauty. And boasting that Ivy League education, her love for things Pan African, along with her ability to navigate through any cultural situation and relate to many different people... mmmmmph!

I know many of you are Top Model fans. It's fun. And I'm looking forward to the season premiere tonight on UPN!

I'm really looking forward to the new season of Project Runway... putting together a fashion design with limited time, limited budget, and a spontaneous theme.

But anyway, just reminiscing on Yaya!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mmm. Fried Pork Chops.

We give you this public service announcement, that as much as this blog is about writing, literary life, boys, girls, undecideds, and pop culture... I can get sidetracked.

You know I love food? Yeah. I do. I can eat all the time, if not careful. I'm always asking people about what they're having for lunch, dinner, what they cooked this weekend, etc... Kinda like my mother, who is a caterer and party planner. And you should hear the way I describe my favorite meals when talking to friends. Mmmmm.... And those of you who know me, know that I'm a big gym-goer. Lots of cardio, some weights. I'm not the biggest fan of the gym or working out. Actually I don't like it at all. But... my love of food equals my hate of the gym, and one habit has to support the other, or else... You know!

Anyway, was just talking with a friend about our lunch plans (go figure, food again!) and I reminisced about my dinner last night. A childhood favorite. Fried pork chops. Along with dressing, greens, and macaroni & cheese. The only thing missing was the fried/candied apples. Ate at M&Ms Soul Food at the Hollywood and Highland Mall. Yum!

So... my point, and there is one. A literary point. One of the exercises I facilitated at this weekend's writer's workshop was asking the participants to write about a meal they had on special occasions while growing up. What was the occasion? How did it taste? What emotions that meal triggered back then or now? What made the meal special? Was it planned? Or a surprise meal? A family tradition? For how long?

While fried pork chops may not be significant to many folks, it was one of those good meal days for my family... chock full of memories. Memories, whether it's our own, or our characters', are important factors to explore in fiction.

Now... back to your regular reading! :-) fs

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just Because. Rockmond Dunbar.

Loved him in Soul Food, the Showtime tv series.

Loved him in Punks.

Looking forward to seeing him on screen again.

Really soon.

Rockmond Dunbar.



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Even though we don't get the traditional "fall" feeling in L.A. like the rest of the country, we do get some aspects of it. Like today, for example, is an overcast and chilly day. Like 64 degrees. It feels like a night we'd go on a hay ride in Michigan or Missouri, have hot cider (or rum toddies), and cuddle up in bulky wool sweaters or jackets.

Fall, to some, signifies the end of the fun and frivolous times of summer. Yes... and no. Fun times are always to be had. I've always seen fall as new beginnings. Whether it's the excitement of new TV season, school year, the fall book season. A slower pace.

And I love the colors associated with fall. Cinnamon. Birch. Sage. Coffee. The textures. The food. Yes. The food. Especially Thanksgiving food... mmm. Nothing matches the food. I love food, in case you didn't know.

The best part is feeling like you don't have to be running around to this event, that event, etc... The allure of sitting home on a Sunday morning, or afternoon, in front of the picture window, curled up with a good book is something that can't be described. On a clear day, you might see all the way to the snow-capped Big Bear area.

Yesterday, did the last summery thing for a while. A street festival. San Pedro, CA. Lobster Fest. With a few friends I met/made this summer. If you're in the L.A. area, San Pedro has an area of piers where, if you like seafood (like I do), you can have fresh anything you can imagine. So good. Seafood, in my opinion, can be had all year round. Not just summer. Walked the pier, watched the boats float by, lazed the afternoon by the sea.

I'm so happy fall is here... well, pretty much here. Hope yours is starting off well!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

You Got A Fast Car.

Seems like Porsches are a dime a dozen in L.A. Everyone's got one. Every black guy in L.A. it seems. Except me.

In the span of ten minutes, however, I saw three Porsches driven by black men. On LaBrea heading toward The Ten Freeway. Kinda cool.

No point. Just really cool seeing people doing their thing and buying (or leasing) what they want. I remember a time when a Cadillac was the ultimate black man fantasy car. Had quite a few in my family while growing up. Detroit. Car town. Ya know?

It is a hot car! The Porsche. And the Cadillac.


Creative Writing Workshop

Got invited to do a creative writing workshop today for the In The Meantime Men's Group in L.A.

I am amazed at the amount of creativity and spirit out there in our community. The guys came up with some good stuff.

I'm sure there are future novels and/or short stories coming from them!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Do You Know This Man? Rogelio Martinez...

Rogelio Martinez. Singer. Actor. Performer. Song writer. Born in Mexico. Living in L.A. Not too far from my hood. Like 27/28 years old.

Sings the kind of music that one or two characters in my novel would listen to at Club Tempo, where some of Down For Whatever is set. Cumbias. Reggae. Rancheras. And romantic ballads. Definitely marketed toward a younger market. Very nice voice. (And for my East Coast book club friends... that center picture is the Club Tempo look... for real for real!)

When I write, I create little character boards with pictures, physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, language and word choices, what insecurities the character has and doesn't, what they ultimately want in life. Sometimes I create obituaries for characters, to get a big picture idea of a character's potential life and where they're headed. Character boards are helpful when I'm stuck, have put the story down for a long time, etc... It helps me get back into character.

The skull cap photo of Rogelio (above left) was useful in the character board for one of the characters in Down For Whatever. (Disclaimer: Rogelio is NOT a character in the book, nor is the character based on his life or experiences...)

But I thought I'd share a bit of him with you today. Maybe Rogelio Martinez will inspire something in you... writing, listening to music, bailando, or whatever else you like to do on a Friday night... or the weekend!

Black Mexico. Independence Day.

I love listening to the Front Page radio show on KJLH 102.3 in L.A. And since the addition of my personal favorite, Dominique DiPrima, the shows have been even better. Dominique has the best way of asking questions that get people to think about why they're saying what they're saying. Go Dominique!

Anyway, today's topic. Black Mexico. Quite fitting since today is Mexican Independence Day. The guest was Ron Wilkins, (above left) a professor, whose academic concentration is on the African cultural roots in Mexico. Teaches Africana Studies at Cal State Dominguez Hills, here in L.A. area. In fact, I've met him before, as he's done a presentation for my students on the same topic of Black Mexico.

On Front Page, Wilkins discussed several topics this morning, including the fact that several black Mexican soldiers fought in the Mexican war for independence, that black and brown people have a shared history that needs to be talked about, and that there still is a struggle for black Mexican people living in Mexico. And if any of you watch Spanish-language television coming out of Mexico, you'll see what Professor Wilkins is talking about... lighter people in power and darker people in subserviant roles. Media representation often reflects the reality and mores and unspoken rules of a society.

Professor Wilkins explains that he's had mixed responses to his work. That some people are completely fascinated with this history and information, which is often new to them. But there are others who are in complete denial of the African presence (and struggle) in Mexico. Interesting. West Coast dynamics. Hmmm. Kinda like the U.S. South. Hmmm... I talked a little about this a few days ago in the Alex Pires entry.

Anyway, just adding someone else to the files of knowledge. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Working Street Credibility. Ricky Martin.

Heard the new Ricky Martin song tonight: "I Don't Care," featuring Amerie and Fat Joe.

Saw the video too.

Someone's working the street credibility/reggaeton thing this fall. It's kinda hot. Uh, more than kinda.

Nice to get something that's musically different from La Vida Loca or She Bangs.

If you haven't heard I Don't Care... it's all over the Ricky Martin website.

Working with the TRANSgeneration

One of the cool parts of my day job is that I get to work with a variety of people, from all walks of life, in different states of development and growth and faith.

Starting this fall, one of the students I've worked with will be featured in a new weekly documentary show on the
Sundance Channel called Transgeneration. It's about college students switching more than just their majors. You may even catch a glimpse of me, in a scene with Raci, one of the students featured in the series.

The show debuts this fall (next week) on Sundance, but several campuses are showing previews this week to their student bodies. My office is doing one later today (Thursday) in the afternoon, complete with discussion with the directors and students involved in the production.

Like I've said before, I love my day job. So fun. Energetic. Learn something new every day. Every day is different. It's what I went to grad school for. Student development and administration (writing is a very fun side gig). Students are like sponges for the most part. They love to learn. Are open minded. And progressive. For the most part. At least the ones I see on a daily basis. (Thank goodness I'm not in red-state country... or red-part of Cali).

Full-time staff, like the adults... are another story at times. Most are very cool. Some... well, found the whole idea of doing a show about students transitioning their gender identities "offensive," "disgusting," and "morally corrupt." If you could see my e-mail inbox... you'd think I was declaring war on Beverly Hills or something. Anyway... chill. It's just television. And I know the whole idea of gender identity, and trans issues, is something many of us, including myself, get a little confused over.

Catch Transgeneration this fall on Sundance... I took a quick peek at the preview DVD and it's a great series. I'm learning a lot. And I'm sure you will, too!

Working. Writing. Full Time. Hmmm.

A lot of people ask me how is it possible that I keep a full-time job, while being able to write on a regular basis. Why not write full time, they often ask.

A number of reasons. Bills, like student loans and car payments... oh, and rent. And also feeling pretty fulfilled career-wise with my full-time job. It's fun, keeps me energized, and boy, are there tons of situations in my day job that provide jump-off points for writing. It also keeps me working in the midst of social justice issues, ethnicity, class, gender... all that stuff.

But for me, it's mainly a financial thing. And that's a decision not to be taken lightly in my case. With only one book published, and with one currently in the publishing pipeline, my track record and royalties (which won't roll in for a few months, if warranted) aren't even close to matching what my full-time job provides. And not just financially.

We're talking benefits. And we're talking about the support that comes from people you work with, and the fulfillment that comes from being employed. My workplace is completely supportive and encouraging of my writing and book work. I get summers off... well, I have a reduced summer schedule and reduced obligations. I get to travel. I get plenty of down time. And, well... I won't go on. Let's just say that even if I didn't work full time, the most I can sit in front of a computer in one sitting is like two hours. That's not much of a full-time writing job schedule... even though I'm very productive in my two hour sitting.

The important thing: don't quit your day job until you've actually written and sold a manuscript; or written and self-published and the sales are supporting your day-to-day life; or have side gigs such as teaching, speaking, consulting, and facilitating that supplement what you'd earn while not working. Or you've saved tons of money and are disciplined to live a simple and frugal life. Or if you're lucky enough to have a trust fund you're about to inherit. Or you've talked it over with your higher power, family, significant other, and those you may call on for support or meals. The starving artist thing, while admirable and provides for great success stories down the road, isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Still have questions? Check out what some other published authors have said in their own blogs and sites on the question of Writing and/or Working Full-Time:

Tayari Jones provides her insight on writing full time or writing while keeping a full-time job.
Holly Lisle shares some steps to consider when quitting the full-time gig for writing.
Donna Hill talks about her leap of faith into full-time writing... and this is after more than a dozen novels while working a full-time job.

Others... feel free to chime in...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Memory Lane Music

So yesterday morning, before heading off to the gym, I turned on VH1's retro station. The morning song: "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off (To Have A Good Time)" by Jermaine Stewart.

So of course that was like the 80s, and it got me thinking about some oldies-but-goodies of other, more recent decades gone by. So I dusted off the cedar chest, real soap opera flashback style, and dug out.... (gasp, holding pearls Karen Walker style) some cassingles. You know... cassette singles, those things you put in tape recorders long before all we knew were MP3s and CDs.

Picture it. Chicago. 1994-1995. Hot summer. Lakefront Hall at Loyola. Lake Michigan. That jeep. That military encoun... aah, anyway. In random order... I think these are like more Summer 1995...

1. "I Can Call You" by Portrait (Portrait boys... where are you? The Booked LA boys want a comeback!)
2. "Froggy Style" by Nuttin' Nyce (before Back That Thang Up was even thought of...)
3. "He's Mine" by MoKenStef (Monica and Brandy updated this musical catfight just a few years later)
4. "Don't Take It Personal (One Of Dem Days)" by Monica (the sole survivor of the class of 1994-95 debuts... oh, and the woman at #6 below...)
5. "We Must Be In Love" by Pure Soul (one of the best love songs of all time in my humble opinion)
6. "Sentimental" by Deborah Cox (still one of my all-time favorite CDs)

Just a quick stroll down memory lane. What was included on your mix tapes ten summers ago?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Do You Know This Man? Alex Pires.

Mmm. Strawberries are my favorite... and unfortunately out of season now.

But the music of
Alexandre Pires is never out of season.

You probably don't know who this singer is. Unless you listen to Spanish-language radio or watch videos on VH-Uno.

From Brazil, Alexandre is one of the hottest voices and singers around, selling over 10 million+ CDs in his very short career. He was discovered by the Gloria Estefan crew in the late 90s, and his career has taken off since. He's big in the U.S., Central and South America, and in Europe. His ballads are sexy, sad tales of love and loss. His dance songs have bridged the poor and middle classes together, taking the infamous "pagode" from the back alleys to the VIP rooms of the hottest clubs.

The history and connection of Africans in Central and South America is pretty huge.
A brief history I found here. Another here. And as hard as it might be to believe (well, because we don't get taught in public schools or in the mainstream media in the U.S.), there are more people of African ancestry in Central and South America than there are in the United States. And they're speaking Spanish, Portugese, and many other languages... while in the U.S., we're still kinda stuck on that English-only thing in many places. Our lives and histories are connected in many ways... ways that should make the black/brown divide-and-conquer wars, well... history. Or at least explored through constructive dialogue with our communities.

And definetely explored in writing, academic studies, commentaries, and in the news. Music, especially the whole reggaeton movement, definitely connects younger communities of color. Kinda explains the popularity of the
new Latino 96.3 in Los Angeles.

And that's Alexandre Pires for you... someone you may want to add to your arsenal of music and pop culture today!

Liza. With a Z.

Isn't she lovely and happy? Well, she should be. She's the toast of the town.

This is Liza Palmer, my author friend, of the hot new book, Conversations With The Fat Girl, which is out in stores today. The book is receiving tons of attention, press, and audience raves. She joked that she made People Magazine... on Rehnquist's obituary page. Lotta good that'll do, she said. People don't buy People for obits of judges. She was hoping to make the Britney's Baby issue instead. lol.

Fun night and fun reading at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena yesterday evening. I'm so happy for Liza. Her dream is coming true... (she and I have been on the same 1st book journey together -- we both sold our manuscripts around the same time, and both have been crazy, mad, happy with the whole process waiting for our publication dates...)

And her book... is drop dead funny!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Booked L.A. Book Club

(And "they" say black men don't read...)

On Sunday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of meeting with the Booked L.A. Book Club, a group of about 15 professional black men who get together to discuss books they've read. They chose Down For Whatever as their book for this month. Thanks so much!

Great group: lots of fun(ny) comments; tons of food and drink; and smart discussion about everything from politics to pop culture. And they get together not just for books. They have great parties and retreats, I hear, to supplement the book talk.

This is the second book club I've had the pleasure of meeting with. You may recall in August I met with the Derrick L. Briggs' Book Club... you know, the guys who really make you feel "Books Are Sexy." :-) They broke me in and got me ready for other book clubs. Thanks!

The fun (and scary) thing about meeting with groups who have read your book is that you never know what to expect. You never know in what ways, both good and bad, your book will resonate with people. And it's kind of like being a fly on the wall to a private conversation, as you listen to the insights people have about something you wrote in private but is out there for public consumption. It's something very cool, but it can't be explained unless you're sitting and experiencing it... which I hope all you aspiring authors will get to experience one day!

Anyway, thanks to Douglas for hosting in his fabulous SilverLake townhouse, and thanks to the guys of Booked L.A.

And now for the coolest part... the addendum. At the end of each meeting, the next host introduces the book he's chosen for the group. It turns out they will be reading a book I've told you all about since this spring... The Untelling by Tayari Jones. She's a great friend, writing mentor, and most excellent author whom I've had the pleasure of knowing for a few years. And this totally wasn't fixed... just one of those things that happen. I know they'll enjoy the book and they'll be discussing it on October 23.

(And if you're in the L.A. area, and want information on joining Booked L.A., send me a note and I'll make sure to pass it along to the club membership committee!)

Barry White. Staying Power

Barry White would have been 61 today, September 12.

Ever since I was a kid, I was a Barry White fan. I don't know if it was the voice. The "sexy talk" in between singing lyrics. Or just the talent. He wrote, sang, and played instruments on all his music. Unlike most musical artists today.

Very fitting that his last CD was named "Staying Power." Because his voice, music, and style will never go away.

Favorite Barry tracks: "Practice What You Preach," "You're The First, The Last, My Everything," "It's Ecstacy When You Lay Down Next To Me," "Playing Your Game Babe," "Love Is The Icon," and "Staying Power."


Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Comeback.

So what have I been doing all weekend?

Catching up on the first season of The Comeback, the HBO series starring Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish, a 80s/90s sitcom actress staging a comeback, of sorts, on a network comedy AND reality series. Thanks to HBO On-Demand, I've been overdosing on all 12 of the first season episodes -- and this, after reading the recommendation on the series from Keith Boykin's site the other day.

The Comeback. It's brilliant. And funny. And sad. And, being a sucker for underdogs (both in real life and on screen and page), I'm just a mass of emotions watching Valerie Cherish put up with the insults, degradation, condescending attitudes, and undercover attacks on her talent and character as she attempts to fit in, come back, and keep her name en vogue with the Hollywood machine. Because Valerie is over 30, ad no longer considered sexy or hot, she's cast as the "elder" Aunt Sassy, who plays second fiddle to a cast of 20-somethings considered to be the desired demographics to the network. And the reality series cameras are following every move of her comeback efforts. Pity. Happiness. Man.

Lisa Kudrow is so great in the role. Deserves a room full of Emmy Awards for this show. And, even though I wasn't a regular Friends viewer, I knew her character Phoebe. You don't even think of Phoebe when watching Kudrow portray the comeback queen Valerie. Great actress.

And great writing. Even though you laugh at Valerie (or at least what she chooses to put up with), you also root for her. You feel compassion. At least I do. Something about flawed characters. You can see bits of yourself and others in them. I guess that's why some of the best books, films, and tv shows are about characters who are complex and flawed.

So this also got me wondering about the efforts we make to fit in. Who makes the rules? In what ways do we compromise ourselves to make it, fit in, get connected, be part of something perceived to be success? If you found yourself "out", for whatever reason, would you do anything to make yourself "in" again?


And A Cool Surprise From Liza.

I just got into this whole writer/author thing. But, today I bought Conversations With The Fat Girl, by Liza Palmer, and found my name in the thank you list. Thank you Liza. That's kinda cool. A cool surprise.

And if you're in the L.A. area, join Liza at her book launch reading at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Monday, September 12.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Like most of you, I am glued to the radio or television or Internet, catching up on the latest developments with Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

It really captures my heart and emotions. Especially when I think about what it must be like to start from zero again. How do you do it? How do you start again, besides just doing it?

One of my students asked me about -- or rather, brought up -- the topic of getting back to normal. More of a philosophical, reflective kind of topic. When do you know you're getting back to normal? Back to your routine? Does it just happen? Or do you make a conscious decision?

And then we thought and talked about the guilt that comes with getting back to normal, especially when/if a tragedy that's affected our human family hasn't hit us directly. Even though we're all connected, and each of our actions affect the other. Even though we, in California, could be the one's being reported on if/when the big quake hits. How would we feel about others getting back to normal?

I read a commentary about how Katrina has galvanized black people in the U.S. That it's kinda like the collective "eye" that we give, without having to speak, when someone (usually not black) says or does something insulting, stupid, racist, whatever... that black people just get. That this tragedy has galvanized the black community because most of us have our roots "down south," whether we claim them or not, or that we realize how vulnerable we are in a place where politicians don't care, as Kanye puts it, about black people. That finally, others may begin to see what many of us have known for a lifetime. The normal lives of black people don't get discussed, mattered about, dissected, analyzed, whatever... until they make the six o'clock news.And we get it. While others don't. Well, suffering, I think we all can get. The ethnicity part... not everyone gets. Or wants to get.

I wonder, when/if this story fades, what normal will be like. Or will it be business as usual when it comes to black people, and the poor, the brown, women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, kids, etc...

Just some things on my mind on a night when I can't sleep.

Jackie's Back. Or Oughta Come Back. 2005 Summer Films.

Even though I'm not a big fan of so-called "summer blockbuster" films, there is usually one or two that might catch my eye and get me into the cineplex. (though I generally try to avoid cineplexes when possible)

I'm more of an art-house, dark or sarcastic humor, international, award-contending, documentary-loving kinda film boy, and when I go to see a film, I'm more likely to stop in at Laemmle's in Pasadena or West L.A.

This summer nothing called out to me. At all. In terms of films. At the actual theatres. Maybe Crash, but that was more like late spring.

Yeah, I liked The Ski Trip a lot that came out on LOGO this summer. In fact, got to meet the filmmaker, Maurice Jamal, this summer and told him I thought it was really good -- refreshing, fun, feel-good. Catch it on LOGO if you can. Liked Lackawanna Blues, too, but that was more like late spring. And just like Jackie's Back -- favorites that made their debut on television.

Other than that... did I miss anything?

I'm looking forward to the new Jodie Foster film about the missing girl on the plane. And the commercials for the new Gwyneth Paltrow look kinda interesting. And, like I said, I'm a sucker for the award-season contenders that generally come to theatres in fall and that week between Christmas and New Year's. Looking forward to the fall film preview in the newspaper this Sunday.

In the meantime, I've been re-watching some of my FAVORITES at home for the billionth time:
Jackie's Back, The Color Purple, Dancer in the Dark (with Bjork), Far From Heaven, The Hours, Eve's Bayou, Moulin Rouge. My favorites -- from joy to sadness to happiness. Moody like the writer in me.

Anyway, what did you see this summer that really spoke to you? Or what films are you looking forward to this fall/winter?

Thursday, September 08, 2005


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So... I'm on break...

Let me say that the funniest thing happened just a few minutes ago. An actor sent me his headshot and resume. In the mail. As soon as I saw the photo, I thought: "He would be the perfect Julio." Julio is one of the supporting characters, a very important supporting character, in Down For Whatever. Is this a sign?

Just to let you know... there is no casting call for DFW. I haven't solicited any such process. I'm not casturbating (fantasizing about actors and casts for a DFW production).

But. I'm open. And so are many of you... I read the notes from you!

Since You Been Gone: Round 'Em Up

So just in case those in the LGBT community think everything is hunky-dory, and that rights-galore are just a-springing, that people are just accepting... honey, think again.

While I was gone to ATL...

First, in ATL. I didn't think this was happening anymore. The so-called "Ex-Gay" ministries. Well, I knew. But I didn't know they'd be in force, and undercover, at ATL Pride. Two new friends anecdotally shared their encounters with "Ex-Gays" -- one in lobby of host hotel; one at a club. Kinda laughed it off... and thought, "This still happens?" Then another new friend, a fellow author, shared that he got "picked up" while marching in the Black Pride Parade on Monday. They exchanged e-mails, since my friend was heading back to his hometown, and then he got flooded with "Ex-Gay Ministry" propoganda. He shared one of the e-mails, complete with the website. Homie wasn't playing. He was trying to convert my friend.

And then... upon my return to L.A., one of my students confides that he was arrested Friday... in a popular L.A. mall, in one of those undercover officer "I'm getting hit on/lewd conduct" kinda events. Circa George Michael in L.A. in the 90s. He's like 19, scared crapless, and like most folks in trouble for the first time, fears doing time. For those of you with "friends" this has happened to, is this a doing-time kinda thing? I've already talked to the kid, circa big brother/uncle/teacher "are you crazy?" talk, but I'm no legal expert. But referred him to a local resource that may provide free to low-cost legal aid for LGBT folks.

Now, boys... and girls... Lord knows you're not gonna find "love" in a bathroom, or a park (and I'm not-so-hot on the internet either...) so don't get all googly-eyed at folks eyeing you in mysterious places. We know the undercovers work the gays and those spots all the time. So... keep the looking-for-love thing to places you won't come under suspicion. Because even if your "love looking" is completely innocent and harmless, there is a thing called ENTRAPMENT that many folks get caught up in. Regardless of their intentions.

And as for the "Ex-Gay Ministries"... well, did you get approached in ATL? Or have you been approached in your own town? I'm curious about this. Again, like in the "bathroom love" case, the three were approached under the guise of potential romance... Are we so vulnerable, that we let our need for love put us in compromising positions? And as for being converted, and becoming an "Ex-Gay", that's like praying that your brown eyes turn blue. You can mask them with store-bought contacts, but when you sleep at night, your eyes are still brown.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oh Yeah. I Have Time For Fun Reading Too.

So yeah, I do other things besides talk about my angst, my book, or things political. I have friends who write books. And here are a couple of them...

Cherlyn Michael's book, Counting Raindrops Through a Stained Glass Window, comes out next week. Buy a copy.

Liza Palmer's book, Conversations with the Fat Girl, comes out next week. Buy a copy.

And if not getting a copy for yourself, get one for someone who could use a new book. With all going on in the world, it's fun to kick back with something to escape every once in a while. fs

As If We Don't Need The Help... Or The Censorship

Is this now the time for our government to play politics and turn down the help of anyone offering help? Cuba, whose leader Fidel Castro has offered to send 1,500+ doctors for free to help with the medical needs in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, has gotten the cold shoulder from our federal government.

Pride cometh before the fall. Or something like that.

Or this one... a series of articles discussing fed government irresponsibility ... because you know the political machine will turn this around and spin this as a problem of local governments, instead of GWB's administration.

Or this one... FEMA orders U.S. media not to photograph bodies during recovery efforts. Kinda like the Iraq and caskets coming home situation. No news is... what news?

And the phrase of the day around my office is Kanye West's "George Bush doesn't care about black people." I wonder why it's such a surprise to many in the general population, because most blacks, and browns, and women, and poor, and immigrants, and gays/lesbians, and most everyone else I know believe the same applies to their labels and communities as well -- in terms of how they believe this administration cares (or doesn't care) about them.

Anyway, I know we're all doing our parts -- large or small. I just read a lot of news while on breaks at my office, and was floored by this one. Yeah, I complain while also trying to do what I can...

Hard Things.

I just love this photo, taken by my friend Kurt Brown, who runs a photo business and studio in San Francisco. Kurt Brown's Studio. I know he probably has an official name for this photo... or model... but I just call it hard things. I just love the angle of this shot.

Uh... anyway... I digress. If you live in the D.C. area, check out this Friday's issue of the Washington Blade. There should be a review of Down For Whatever in it, written by Jerry Daniels, Jr. I imagine it will also be online. I put this under "hard things" because reviews, whether they are good or bad, put me on pins and needles waiting for them to appear. I've read some great customer/reader reviews on Amazon. And Rod, who mentions DFW quite a bit on his site (I guess he really loved the book!), also wrote up a blurb in FlavaLife Magazine. Look on page 56/57 of Flava, once you pass all the hard bodies in the magazine.

One thing that's hard about fall coming is that the days are shorter, the winter weight prepares to return (which I am gonna fight and win), and the clothes get a little heavy and fallsy in color. Even in L.A., which has summer pretty much 10 months out of the year. Trudged myself out of bed at 5 am for a morning workout... very hard, after a long night catching up with friends about ATL weekend. Giving running (on treadmill) a try again for the fall, after a summer of stairmastering.

Even with all the difficult news on television lately, I'm finding rays of light that keep my spirits up. Dozens of positive e-mails from readers each day. Seeing the students at the L.A. County High School of Performing Arts back on campus today with all their energy, color, and verve. Getting started on a fun, new book. Knowing you're out there!

Have a great day... even with all the hard things you may face today! :-)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Atlanta. In A Nutshell.

In Atlanta, I worked. Did Outwrite Books on Friday, which was a fabulous event and excellent turnout. If you're in the ATL, you gotta go visit Philip and company at the store. It's a great space... and across from The Flying Biscuit, a highly recommended brunch spot in Midtown. Yum.

I worked. My friend, Rashid Darden, who is a self-published author of LAZARUS, needed help this weekend. He's doing the whole thing on his own. Writing. Publicizing. Vending. Marketing. All of it. He couldn't do it all by himself this weekend. So I went where the help was needed.

I worked. The Pride Literary Cafe, with its 15+ writers on the panel, was a 2.5 hour experience. Decent crowd at the beginning. Some writers, and I hate to put my colleagues on blast, don't seem to understand the meaning of 5 - 7 minutes. Kinda made folks in the audience leave early. And even writers who over-did the 5 - 7 minute thing left early. Kinda not cool. I'm not upset. Just people gotta think about the big picture. Not just themselves.

After working, ate, talked, hung out with writers and some readers. Brain spent after sharing, venting, discussing book issues. Hung out in my hotel room. Watched Katrina and New Orleans aftermath coverage. Now, I know why many folks don't watch TV. It can affect your moods. But, I'm glad this story is getting coverage. And I hope it's moving people to go where help is needed.

I'm doing my part with Katrina. Not one to publicly say how. While I can't GO where help is needed, I'm doing my part from my end. The little I can do. Every little big counts. Will be thinking about more.

I had a great time, believe me. Enjoyed meeting and greeting. Didn't party much, but that's okay. Many people did and that's a good thing. Sometimes you feel like it. Sometimes you don't. Got my own questions about where Prides are going... Most of the folks need to remember these events weren't possible a generation ago -- where gays and lesbians could publicly celebrate and be proud of who they are, and with the direction the country is going, Prides may not be possible in the near future. But... that's another commentary.

I'm cool. Happy. Glad to be back in L.A. and starting to write again.