I attended my second conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) this past week. It is a very well attended gathering of students, administrators of MFA writing programs, publishers, scholars, and writers of all ilks.
I love the diversity of this conference in both its attendees, and the topics covered. Hats off to the AWP organizers for the breadth of topics covered in the more than 300 sessions.
Somedays, I learned a little bit; other days, I learned a lot about the craft of writing. That’s why I attended. But the most important thing I gained was a renewed sense of my power and goals in writing.
Poets ruled this conference (and the world, I’ve come to realize). As a fiction writer, I am inspired by poetry.
The immersion in the life of writing: reading, pitching, crafting, researching, collaborating, encouraging, reviewing, critiquing, teaching and learning were the gifts I received during AWP.
This is a small book; a published version of the original short story. I loved the movie, so when I found this book on the shelves of Proud Books in Rehoboth, Delaware, I scooped it up.
Proulx’s writing is masculine, visceral, whittled down wood. Yet it has the long lines and strong thighs of a male ballet dancer. Short on punctuation, and long on just the necessary adjective, Brokeback Mountain allows the reader to feel the longing of its protagonists.
Bury Me When I’m Dead is the first installment in a crime series, set in 2005 in Detroit, and featuring, African-American, private investigator, Charlene Mack.
Charlie, as she’s known, is decisive, prone towards being controlling, cunning—and she has a massive streak of empathy. The one thing that she’s not so clear about is accepting her sexual orientation.
In Bury Me When I’m Dead, Charlie is hired to find a missing person who has embezzled from her company, the search leads her to Birmingham, Alabama where she comes close to death and closer to a decision about her sexuality, with the help of a provocative, green-eyed, beauty, named Mandy Porter.
Mandy’s a decorated cop. She’s always been an out lesbian which adds further tension to her new relationship with a closeted, Charlie.
Excerpt—Bury Me When I’m Dead
The two sat in an awkward silence. Charlie looked at her watch. Her plane didn’t board for another hour. Mandy took a sip of wine and savored the taste. They stared at each other for a while. Neither flinching.
“I really, really like you Charlie.”
“The feeling is very mutual.”
Mandy reached for Charlie’s hand and their fingers intertwined for a few seconds before Charlie pulled away.
“No one cares about two women holding hands, you know,” Mandy said with irritation.
“I’m not like you. I’m self-conscious about public displays of affection.”
“Would you be if I were a man?”
“Maybe not,” Charlie admitted. “I’m going to need some help with that.”
Mandy had accepted Charlie’s admission of bisexuality. She’d known other women who described themselves as bi, but she believed it had more to do with being afraid to come out of the closet than ambiguity. She took another sip of wine. “Is it different, Charlie? To tell you the truth, that’s a surprise to me.”
“It can’t be that much of a surprise.”
“You’ve been distant lately. Not returning phone calls. I thought maybe you wanted to break things off.”
Charlie fidgeted in her chair, looked at Mandy, looked away, then held her in an earnest stare. “I’m afraid of what I’m feeling. But there’s no denying that I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Only for my birthday, a visit to the Great White Way, to see the show called Ham–like the theater nerd I am.
The price I paid was serious, to have the full experience. I can’t explain, was I insane? But, oh…the show was all that’s claimed.
The music, lyrics, genius- born; design & lighting, three snaps up.
And if the hooks were not enough, choreography did all its stuff–
with pops and slides and steps and quakes, and slo-mo moves owning the stage.
Lin-Manuel was sure not messin’, when he conceived this history lesson.
Messages/themes both past and present:
Power, freedom, human condition, jealousy, legacy and ambition.
Lovers and Kings & fathers and sons.
“Immigrants: we get the job done.”
Great work changes how we see things.
Moves the needle in creating.
Borrows, samples, adds new heights, morphs the art and rocks the mic.
My great takeaway is this: Art must always be ambitious.
Take the form and give it bling.
For this writer, this play’s the thing.
I recently attended a conference of the Golden Crown Literary Society in Northern Virginia. It was my first time at the Con and I came as an author and a fan.
I credit the outstanding team at Bywater Books, who have published my mystery/P.I. novel, Bury Me When I’m Dead, and my friend, author Renée Bess (Breaking Jaie, Butterfly Moments, Re:Building Sasha) for nudging me to get to the GCLS annual event. They were absolutely right, it’s an amazing four-day gathering.
The first thing I was aware of was the sense of community. The Con overflowed with the good energies of Lesfic writers, and the readers who support the genre, and there’s no arms-length distance between authors, aspiring writers and fans at this ‘Respectfest’. Attendees rubbed elbows in the meeting rooms, the dining tables, the vendor area, the night-time activities (e.g. Karaoke) and the awards presentation. Authors signed autographs with gratitude and grace, and discerning readers provided insights and motivation to the writers whose characters bring them affirmation and joy.
The theme at this year’s GCLS conference was Cultivating Our Diversity. San Francisco speaker and trainer, DeAngela Cooks and I presented to an attentive and engaged audience about the ‘sense and sensibility’ of creating diverse characters in Lesfic. The main goal: to have our books reflect the world we live in and, thus, invite new audiences to our work.
Yet, there was much diversity in the room. I met women from a dozen states and several countries. Those who had been writing professionally for decades and others who were taking the first steps toward getting their works published. Science fiction/Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Romance writers read from their works. I discussed politics with a reader from Minneapolis and poetry with an established author from the northeast and shared laughs with attendees from San Francisco.
Did I Say, I’m a Fan?
I shared Hershey Kisses with fans lined up to meet trailblazer, Jewelle Gomez, and lined up myself for an autograph from Katherine V. Forrest, the 2016 recipient of the Lee Lynch Classic Award for Curious Wine. From my own bookshelf, I brought Ms. Forrest’s second book, science fiction classic, Daughters of A Coral Dawn, and she noted as she wrote her name in a beautiful, cursive that my cover-worn book was a Naiad Press first edition, with cover design by Tee Corinne. At the con were: Lee Lynch, Marianne K. Martin, Karin Kallmaker, Radclyffe, Georgia Beers, Rachel Spangler, KD MacGregor, Ann McMan, Nell Stark, Lynn Ames, Barbara Clanton, Dillon Watson, Carol Rosenfeld, RJ Samuel and many, many, many others.
That Toddling Town.
Tip of the hat to the GCLS Board for the success of this conference. Next Year’s Con will be in Chicago. Deep-dish pizza, jazz, improv, Obama-land, Wrigley Field, Magnificent Mile and, in July 2017 Lesbian writers. I’ll be there and I hope you can find a way to be there too.
In 2013, I served on jury duty. A case of reckless driving with multiple charges and undercurrents of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, plain-clothes police teams, and a car chase. I didn’t mind the time and effort it took to be an engaged, committed juror. After all, I thought, if I was on trial I’d want a conscientious group of my peers, applying fair judgement, and undertaking their civic responsibility with gravitas, if not cheer.
I just received another summons for jury duty. This time, Grand Jury. I returned a brief survey back to the court: Am I a felon? No. A U. S. citizen? Yes. Do I reside full-time in my jurisdiction? Yes. Will my employer pay me during my time on jury duty? Uh. I’m a self-employed writer. I will pay myself the small stipend that comes with this civic duty.
A call to the clerk at the deferral office alerted me to my sentence. Yes, I could defer for two weeks but after that I should report, Monday-Friday at 8:30 a.m. for a month.
“Every day?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes,” she said pleasantly and with a hint of understanding of the hardship.
I conferred with friends and colleagues about discharge strategies.
“Act crazy,” one friend told me. “Talk real loud when they ask you questions, then stop in mid-sentence and ask: ‘where am I’?”
“I had a doctor’s note,” a member of my writing group offered, “for a condition (a, multi-syllable ailment with the suffix ‘Itis’) where I have to pee every half hour.”
“Tell them you believe in the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, public caning, Black Lives Matter; say you’re a Libertarian, a socialist, a member of the Tea Party. Just confuse them.”
I also received a variety of suggestions about escape wardrobe:
Grateful Dead t-shirt. A Burka. Layers of flowing clothing and various gem stones on my fingers—with a long earrings and a headscarf. Ah. I thought. The Gypsy strategy.
The most decisive (and illegal) advice came from my hair stylist. “Girl, just don’t go. Say, I didn’t receive a summons; mail gets lost all the time; I don’t know where it went, but it didn’t come here,” she cued up my defense.
But, I’m too chicken to try any of those things.
Plus there’s something in me that really wants to serve on a Grand Jury. I’m intrigued by the processes of our justice system. And, as a writer, a court environment is an observational treasure trove. So, my plan is to tough it out and serve with pragmatism. Be very present to my surroundings—the people, the locales, the dynamics; use the experience as a research tool. Listen for authentic language, observe the characteristics of human interaction, and be alert to new descriptors.
I’ll try to blog regularly about this experience. Stay tuned.
Thank you, Rachel Spangler, my new colleague at Bywater Books. Anyone who knows or has read anything by Rachel knows she has a way of getting to the heart of a matter. I think, because she has a big heart. Oh, and a sexy brain. I’m turned on by brains. This Ylva Publishing and Bywater Books Blog Hop is a fun thing….hope you’ll take the full ride.
So, first off, I’m new to writing. I spent a lot of years working in public media where my storytelling orientation was in pictures and sound. Now, I’m learning to let the words speak for themselves and sentences paint images for the reader.
I self-published my first novel, Long Way Home: A World War II Novel. It’s an historical fiction work exploring the lives of two Black soldiers: Georgette Newton and Leroy Dowdell who persevere despite the segregation and race prejudice in America’s 1940’s military service. The book was honored with two, finalist nominations from the Next Generation Indie Awards. One for historical fiction, the second in the African American category. The link to the book on Amazon is here.
My first book for Bywater will be an installment in a mystery/crime series. I’m enthralled with the genre because I love stories about strong, quirky, female sleuths. I could list dozens of my favorites—old and new. From Barbara Neely’s smart-as-a-whip, maid/housekeeper Blanche White, to Kerry Greenwood’s iconoclastic, Phryne Fisher. From Sara Paretsky’s kick-ass, V.I. Warshawski to Alexander McCall Smith’s introspective, Precious Ramotswe proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
Of course some male investigators also intrigue me. Especially if they’ve been softened by a woman’s love or a child’s vulnerability, or they possess an understanding of the human spirit. That’s the case with the street-wise, Easy Rawlins of the Walter Mosley novels; James Lee Burke’s Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux; and Tony Hillerman’s Navaho police investigators, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee.
Maybe you already see the common denominator: racially, ethnically or culturally-diverse protagonists with a strong balance between cunning and compassion.
When I read a mystery, I don’t really care if the sleuth/detective/PI has flaws or issues—although I’m told it makes for a more captivating character. But I do prefer them with well-practiced idiosyncrasies. I’m a kindred spirit, for instance, of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone who is prone to sarcasm, introversion, and tidiness.
Of course, a mystery has to have a compelling case, a slew of colorful characters who could have “done it”, the seduction of a world I wouldn’t normally inhabit, and a set of clues—usually circuitous, often cerebral and sometimes entertaining—that lead to a satisfying end.
I’m writing the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series. Charlie is a modern woman with a black belt in Take Kwon Do, a law degree and Homeland Security training. She’s recently launched her own private investigation firm and says to her disapproving mother: “Black women have been solving complex problems all their lives. We know how to put two and two together, see past the BS, cut through red tape, and get things done.”
It turns out, P.I. Charlene Mack has maybe more flaws than most. She applies Type-A tactics to most situations, is prone to one-night stands with men and women, and is quick to anger. She does, however, have a strong sense of right and wrong–albeit not a traditional sense.
Bury Me When I’m Dead is set in the mid-1990’s in the early turmoil of the motor city’s slide to demise, but Detroit is like the phoenix, rising from political, racial and economic ashes with some regularity–and Charlie is a native daughter. She’s resilient, innovative, proud, but willing to re-invent herself—and part of that reinvention is coming to terms with her sexuality and orientation.
Charlie falls in love, perhaps for the first time, with the beautiful, green-eyed Mandy Porter, a proud lesbian who is also a police officer in a neighboring jurisdiction. The affair between these new lovers is but one of the secrets Charlie reveals as her search for a missing person leads her and her two partners to Birmingham, Alabama and then back to Detroit in a deadly cat-and-mouse chase.
I’m extremely proud Bywater Books is publishing Book One of the Charlie Mack Mysteries and I’m grateful for their support— a special tip-of-the hat to Salem and Marlo. In fact, Kelly Smith, my editor at Bywater, could be a sleuth herself. She’s probing, direct, attentive to details, and has a dry sense of humor. Her life experiences give her a connection to the ins-and-outs of my book in so many ways that it feels like kismet.
I hope you’ll seek out, and read Bury Me When I’m Dead. Look for it later this year.
Finally, It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the next writer in the February blog hop, Gill McKnight. I wish I could write paranormal fiction–I don’t have the talent for it. But Gill does. She also lives on Lesbos. I’m J-E-A-L-O-U-S. My favorite review of one of the books in her Garoul series notes: “I could feel the weather and smell the forest.” A writer can’t do better than that. You’ll find Gill’s blog, here.
In 1963 A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Vice President of the AFL-CIO, and Bayard Rustin, Organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces to organize a civil rights march for jobs and freedom in Washington, DC.
Without benefit of the internet, cell phones or the 24-hour news cycle, Rustin, the chief strategist behind the march, pulled off the largest mass demonstration in American history on August 28, 1963.
250,000 people, men and women from all walks of life, marched peacefully from the Washington Monument, along the reflecting pool to the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King’s iconic I Have a Dream speech was delivered that day but also a call to action from John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson , Mahalia Jackson and Peter, Paul and Mary sang. Actors Ossie Davis, Paul Newman, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston (go figure) supported the march.
The “Big Six” organizers: James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Southern Chistian Leadership Conference), John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and Whitney Young, Jr. (National Urban League) met with President John F. Kennedy early in the day to assure the President of their peaceful intentions.
The march is credited with helping to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
She “was the first black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor” reads the Wikipedia entry for Eva Jessye. But I hadn’t even heard of her and wondered why she and her chorale had been invited personally by Martin Luther King, Jr. to be part of the official program for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Jessye began her musical career as a teenager organizing choral groups in her hometown in Kansas where she attended college at age thirteen. In 1919, she was the choir director for Morgan State College in Baltimore. She formed the 16-member Eva Jessye Choir in 1926 performing regularly on WOR radio in New York and touring the country. In 1929, she was the choral director for the MGM film Hallelujah directed by King Vidor; in 1933, Jessye worked with composer Virgil Thomson and author Gertrude Stein on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts which opened with an all black cast on Broadway a year later. In 1935, Jessye began a two-decade collaboration with composer George Gershwin as his choral director for Porgy & Bess. She also appeared in several movies.
Ms. Jessye’s travels throughout the U.S. gave her first-hand experience with Jim Crow laws and she joined many of her contemporaries-including Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson-as an active supporter of the civil rights movement. Perhaps King admired her for her profound talents as a composer, actress, poet and teacher, as well as her intellect.
Ms. Jessye-a creative force in American music for well over a half century-died in 1992 at the age of 97. A large collection of her personal papers including music, writing, correspondence, photos, newspaper clippings and legal documents are housed at Pittsburg State University in the Leonard H. Axe Library in Pittsburg, Kansas. A similar repository of Jessye’s works and papers are at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan where, in 1974, she established the Eva Jessye African-American Music Collection.
At the historic March on Washington, the Eva Jessye choir performed one of her own compositions, “Freedom is a Thing We’re Talking About.”
~Eva Jessye. I Dream a World, 1989 copyright Brian Lanker.
~Eva Jessye with Eleanor Roosevelt circa 1940. Kansas Historical Society
Wintz, Cary D., Finkleman, Paul. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Volume 1 A-J. Eva Jessye (p. 617-618)
Conlon, Joan C. Editor. Wisdom, Wit and Will: Women Choral Conductors and Their Art. Eva Jessye chapter by Joan Whittemore (p 419-434).
Eva Jessye Collection. Pittsburg State University
website: WGBH Open Vault Say Brother (1 minute video) http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/sbro-mla001072-eva-jessye-black-american-folk-music