The Writing Life

AWP Adichie-Coates

Full House at AWP 2017 for Chimamanda Adichie & Ta-Nehisi Coates

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.

Thank you!

Book Review

Brokeback MountainBrokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews

 

Charlie & Mandy

Aside

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 BMWIDCMMMhas 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.”

LibraryJournal blurb

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.

#Enough

It says so much about America and its citizens, that we continue to allow mass murders via the easy access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition.    Sensible gun control IS something we can act on.  We can advocate for it, actively and strongly, by writing letters and making phone calls to our legislators.   We can use the power of our vote to elect and maintain lawmakers who want to legislate common-sense gun purchase restrictions.  We can be vocal about our outrage and demonstrative of our sadness when innocent people are killed by individuals who kill civilians–whether for the purpose of terrorism or hate.

The parents of the Sandy Hook elementary school children who were victims of our lax gun/ammunition laws must be demoralized by our inaction.   I am demoralized and ashamed of my country on this issue.   Enough is enough.  This is simply a matter of the NRA’s influence over our legislators, cloaked in a false argument about the Second Amendment.    Gun manufacturers:  How much profit do you need?

Jury Duty: Grand!

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.  ThiJury duty 1s 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’?”  cray cray
“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.