PCW

Shout out to the People Called Women Bookstore in Toledo, OH

…and owner Gina!

                                        It’s Ohio’s Only Feminist Bookstore!!!

                                             They have a mystery book club, too.

PeopleCalledWomen                                     http://www.peoplecalledwomen.com/

 

A Writer’s Ode to Hamilton-An American Musical

Me at Hamilton

Me at Hamilton

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.”

Hamilton dance movesGreat 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.

 

A Community of Book Lovers: The GCLS Lesfic Con

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. GCLS logo

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.

Me, and Jewelle Gomez at the Author's Table.

Me, and Jewelle Gomez at the Author’s Table.

Diversity
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.GCLS 2017 poster
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.

I Love a Good Mystery

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.chPROUDbookstores

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.  Book Cover

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.  IndieBookAwards 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.mysteryicon

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.     BMWID

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.

 

Celebrating: 50K NANOWRIMO @ DCPL

Libraries are cool.   The DC Public Library is way cool.   Each time I read through the DCPL monthly newsletter, I’m in awe of the variety and diversity of their programs, special events, and services to readers.

That’s why I’m so proud to be invited to tomorrow’s invitation-only celebration of 20+ writers who managed to churn out 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (November).   I’ll be one of five local authors asked to join in celebrating the attendees who have accomplished this daunting goal.   We’ll talking about the writing process and how to finish the race, now that the sprint is done.

 

AFI Tribute to Jane Fonda includes screenings of KLUTE.

Fonda-kluteJane Fonda will be honored this month with the American Film Institute’s 42nd AFI Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala event in Los Angeles.   In tribute to Fonda, AFI is showing a retrospective of her works.  This week at the AFI Silver Screen Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, MD (a Washington, DC suburb) I sat in its smallest theatre to watch my favorite Fonda film, KLUTE, the 1971 mystery/thriller for which Fonda won an Academy award for Best Actress.

KLUTE is an enigma.  Dark, in its cinematography and its subject matter.   A thriller/mystery whose mystery is revealed midway through the film because it is not the ‘who done it’ that is at the heart of this film. At its essence KLUTE is an invitation to witness a lifestyle we would never want to inhabit but piques our curiosity and titillates.

Fonda’s character, Bree Daniels, is an aspiring actress and an experienced call girl.  Her three-act plays performed in hotel rooms where anonymous men are her appreciative collaborators.  She confides to her psychiatrist that the dalliances with men are better than her acting auditions because in the former she always gets to play the part.

Fonda gives flesh and complexity to her character.  She is physically, emotionally and mentally agile in this role with moments of brilliance that are startlingly effective.  

Donald Sutherland plays her foil and later protector with a sameness that makes him charming.  The word ‘nerd’ had not come into fashion when this movie was made but Sutherland’s character, John Klute, is just that.  A moral square from a small Pennsylvania town who is thrust into New York City’s seamy scenes of drugs, prostitution and free love.   His straightness is not hypocrisy.  He is not like her other John’s.  Although Bree manages to seduce him, as she knows she will, his steadfastness is the lure that eventually catches her. klute-poster

The two other stars of the movie are the cinematography by Gordon Willis and the film’s use of audio.   Best known for his work as Director of Photography on the Godfather trilogy, Willis didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work on this film but he should have.   KLUTE is his palette for contrasting scenes of flat color, silhouette and neo-noir realism.   Martin Scorsese says of Willis’ work in this film:  “There are movies that change the whole way in which films are made, like Klute, where Gordon Willis’s photography on the film is so textured, and, they said, too dark.”

We hear a lot of Fonda’s voice in KLUTE.  At the psychiatry sessions, in the acting auditions, in the one-sided conversations her character has with men who call to introduce themselves and set up dates.   The murderer in KLUTE likes to audiotape his interactions with women and he seems obsessed with Daniels.  We watch the tapes twirl on a small recorder as he listens to her “come hither” chatter over and over,   her words inadvertently giving him permission to confuse his acts of violence against prostitutes as free-spirited nonconformity, “…there’s nothing wrong in what you want.”    Private Investigator, Klute is also listening after he wiretaps Daniels’ apartment to acquire information that will help him solve what he thinks is a simple missing person case.  

In KLUTE we are eager eavesdroppers and voyeurs.    Fonda makes us want to watch.  She strips off her clothes with deliberate nonchalance.  Her seventies bohemian haute couture and bob hair style brings a smile.   Her vulnerability in the riveting, minutes-long, close up scene at the film’s climax is powerful.    She has become Bree Daniels and we feel her pain.

If this film were made today, Director Alan Pakula would likely elongate the climax by adding slow motion or slowing the cuts and putting more light on the subject to extend the fear.  Yet, he makes KLUTE interesting to watch throughout.  Sutherland’s pouty lips and placid eyes make him as adorable as a beagle.  The panoramic shot of models lined up for a cosmetics casting call is fascinating.  Roy Scheider’s easy meditation on pimpdom is at once sexy and dangerous, and fun to watch. The scenes of the late 60’s/early 70’s disco culture are spot on.

Do yourself a favor and give KLUTE a viewing.    AFI will celebrate Jane Fonda at its tribute which will be shown this month on both TNT network and Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

DIR/PROD Alan J. Pakula; SCR Andy Lewis, Dave Lewis. US, 1971, color, 114 min. RATED R.

Poem for Maya Angelou

Image

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Little girl with braids akimbo
We see the wisdom in your eyes
That captures heart and hope and courage
When even voice falters.

When words return
They offer a singular understanding of individuality. Humanity.

Age and grace give you a place of honor and admiration deserved. Yet not the most important thing. For the light of a true voice remains well beyond faltering accolades.

In Memoriam
1928-2014

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Hitchcock: An Homage

Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock

I am really an aficionado of the work of Alfred Hitchcock.  By all accounts he was a quirky, often mean, task master but a genius at storytelling  I am as much fascinated by his ego and his personal aesthetic as by his cinematic technique.

I adore his fascination with blonde leading ladies  (I don’t know what this says about me).

Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint

His leading men are most often older, strong and handsome but not in the style of today’s Hollywood pretty boys (Cary Grant excepted).

He makes his locales and landscapes an integral part of his storyline.  In fact, these geo-characters are very often antagonists or serve to foreshadow a film’s resolution.

I admire his collaboration with prolific film composer Bernard Herrmann who has scored the music for nine Hitchcock films.

His works have an elegance to them.  Even his bad guys (or girls) are usually sophisticated, well dressed and prone to impeccable manners (unless they happen to be birds).

Hedren and Connery in Marnie

He loves to play mindgames and his heroines are almost always flawed.  He is both a lover of women and a misogynist; a great observer of human behavior and a narcissist.  He is an auteur with both a spanning vision and attention to nuance.

Three of my Favorite Hitchcock Films:

North by Northwest –I love the sexy interplay of Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill) and Eva Marie Sainte (Eve Kendall).  Mt. Rushmore is displayed as an amazing and frightening player much in the way the Statue of Liberty is used in Hitchcock’s Sabotuer (1942).   Actor, James Mason is a delicious spy with a villainous, flat-toned voice dripping with British accent (although we suspect he is a German spy).  His henchman, portrayed by Martin Landau embodies simmering danger.  Grant’s mother is played with campy fun by actress Jessie Royce Landis.  Finally, there are highly memorable scenes: the crop duster on a desolate road,  Cary and Eva clinging to the nostrils of Abe Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore; Grant in the auction house and careening drunkenly along mountain roads.   There is great atmosphere and acting in 1959’s North by Northwest.

Rear Window–In this 1954 Hichtcock film beautiful, floating, blonde fashion publisher, Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly) pursues rugged, unglamorous photojournalist, Jeff Jeffries (James Stewart).    In Hitchock’s prototypical cat and mouse banter, we immediately begin to understand the tensions of this romance.  There is also biting comic delivery from actress Thelma Ritter as Jeffrie’s housekeeper.  The setting–the courtyard of a New York City apartment complex–is key in this film.  From the vantage point (sometimes seen through the special effect of binoculars) of a rear apartment we witness the comings and goings of the development’s residents including the brooding, lumbering, un-neighborly Lars Thorwald (played menacingly by Raymond Burr).   When Jeffries suspects Thorwald has murdered his wife, the fun begins.   This film is wonderfully confining.  The Stewart character is wheel-chair bound, still recovering from an injury received in one of his harrowing assignments.  The view is layer upon layer of cramped, personal scenes of domesticity and drama where even the violence is small:  a body in a trunk, a curious puppy found killed; a thwarted suicide and finally, a climactic death battle (with flash bulbs as weapon) in a single room.   The claustrophobia of Rear Window adds to the brilliant tension of this film.

Marnie–This film is a personal favorite.  It does not have the critical acclaim of other Hitchcock films but has an eerily fascinating dark side that is less flamboyant and more interesting than Psycho.   There is the requisite blonde (Tippi Hedren) and the older love interest (Sean Connery) involved in romantic gamesmanship.  But in this film the game is more erotic and dangerous born out of a hunter’s fascination with its prey and the hunted’s determination to remain untamed and secretive even when caught.

Louise Latham

Louise Latham is memorable as the disassociative mother for whom Marnie longs.  Baltimore, Maryland has a secondary, but important role capturing a place where shameful secrets can flourish.   In the foreground young girls skip rope on a narrow sidewalk of rowhouses and in the background is a matte-painted harbor where, surly, shipbuilders, laborers and sailors still congregate.  The film ends on this scene–a long shot–as the children’s sing-song blends into the stirring score of Bernard Herrmann.  It is the detail, the turns, the contrast of wealth and poverty and, ultimately, the compassion that gives Marnie its rich palette and makes it a formidable spellbinder.

Hitchcock will continue to fascinate fans like me along with writers, film critics, and new audiences lucky enough to see the Alfred Hitchcock Presents dramas in syndication on cable.

Meanwhile, there is a new film Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins as the venerable director during his filming of Psycho in 1959.  The film opens this week (November 23, 2012).  There was also a recent HBO film The Girl depicting the alleged sexual harassment by Hitchcock directed at Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie.  Hedren has said Hitchcock embodied both genius and evil.

http://movieline.com/2012/08/06/alfred-hitchcock-tippi-hedren-hbo-the-girl-birds-sienna-miller/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0975645/

A Day of Remembering Musical Legends

I traveled to Nashville (Music City) last week to be a panelist for a discussion about diversity.  The panel was okay, but it was the morning in Nashville filled with amazing stories about some of the legends of black music that still resonates with me.

The musical energy in Nashville is palpable.   Music venues abound in this new South city, and almost everyone is either in the music business or knows someone in the business.  Case in point, the shuttle driver who regaled me with stories of the biz on our trip from the airport to my hotel.   The driver-by-day, musician-by-night has played in and around Nashville for more than 30 years.  He told me of seeing Little Richard who resides in a downtown Nashville apartment several times a week still resplendent in make-up and rhinestones.   Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman) at nearly 80 years old  lives a good life, according to the driver, because of another legend, Michael Jackson.

Little Richard

Jackson, who bought the publishing rights to a broad range of music in the mid 1980s (including the Beatles catalogue) owned the greatest hits of Little Richard.  The story goes, Michael phoned Richard, invited him to a meeting, and returned the music rights to this living legend.   Kudos to Michael Jackson for his compassion.

As the driver and I approached my hotel, he excitedly informed me that B.B. King had performed in Nashville the night before and was staying at my hotel.  King’s entourage was loading equipment and suitcases into his bus when we pulled up to the hotel; that’s when I felt my music fan persona fully surfacing in all it’s Sybil glory.  I checked into my room, grabbed my camera, and returned to the lobby to catch a glimpse of the King of the Blues.

I sat in the lobby for a couple of hours (I recently heard the term “lobby lizard” for what I was doing–it sounds slightly better than stalker) and it paid off when I met and chatted with B.B. King’s daughter, Shirley King, a musician in her own right.  Shirley has a fabulous spirit and love for her father (she performs in Chicago as the ‘daughter of the blues’) and invited me to take a picture with her and her dad when he finally emerged from the elevator into the lobby. 

B.B. King, Shirley King & me in Nashville

B.B. is wheel-chair bound, so is Little Richard who is recovering from hip-replacement surgery, but their influence has no boundaries.   These men, through their genius, tenacity and hard work have helped to shape the landscape of American music; and their contributions have been widely recognized.   They are both inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Another thing they have in common:  “Lucille” a number 1. hit for Little Richard in 1957, and B.B.’s iconic, ebony and pearl, Gibson guitar.   The legends never fall.