Friday, May 31, 2013

One of my favorite movies of all time is Dirty Dancing.

Don't judge.

I distinctly remember being about nine years old and sitting in my friend Nikki's room, sneak-watching her teenage sister's VHS copy of the movie.  For two hours, I sat cross-legged with my jaw slack as I gawked at lustful, sweaty, twenty-somethings grinding on one another to music from the sixties.  And when he walked in... you know who I'm talking about... Johnny, or Mr. Patrick "Hotness" Swayze, with his mullet, tight dancer pants, dark shades and pouty little pink lips... I was confused as shit.

Suffice it to say, black girls from Queens who are head over heels in love with artists like LL Cool J and Play from Kid & Play are NOT supposed to like dancing white boys with mullets.  I was in the closet for years.

Finally, an excuse to put an LL picture up!

Anyway, it didn't take me long to realize I was not alone in my love of Dirty Dancing.  I would say the obsession is fairly common among 80s babies.  Symptoms include a complete inability to turn the channel when it's playing and butterflies every time you hear someone with a deep voice say, "Now I... (had the time of my liffeeee...)."   It crosses all boundaries, colors and creeds... and I would wager at least half of the magic was due to Mr. Swayze (RIP, handsome).

A few years ago, I was reading an article about Dirty Dancing writer, Eleanor Bergstein.  She admitted that the screenplay is somewhat autobiographical: she used to dance dirty, was called 'Baby' until she was 22, and spend summers with her parents in the Catskills (the setting for the movie).  It was unclear whether there was a "Johnny" or not (HELLO if there was, rarr) but it was clear the story was close to her heart. 

Dirty Dancing was a simple movie.  Good, sheltered, rich girl meets "WILD!", poor dancing boy (who may or may not have been working as some sort of male escort (woman "stuffing diamonds in his pockets," hmm...).  No one approves.  She "hurts her family... he loses his job anyway..." but ultimately, he changes his bad boy ways to be with her, learning "there are people willing to stand up for other people, no matter what it costs them."  (I'm going to be 80 years old, and still remember those lines).     It didn't win any awards or place Bergstein amongst the elite of Hollywood.  But, it touched so many people and has become a classic, in its own right, to all those who love it.

Over the years, I've realized it's the honesty that has set it apart.  As a woman, there are so many aspects of the movie I have come to love... Baby's awkwardness, the pro-choice subplot, and even Baby's mature acceptance of the end of the relationship.  It would have been a completely different movie if Baby and Johnny eloped at the end and she gave up her future to be a painter's wife. 
She wrapped her arms around his waist, looked into his eyes, and said "I'll never be sorry." 
And I believed her.
In my head, after that last dance, they got busy one more time, and she went home.  Starting Mt. Holyoke in the Fall... just like she planned. 

As a writer, I am inspired by Eleanor Bergstein.  I am inspired by her honesty.  Her willingness to write a simple story from her heart and make us believe in it.  I saw an interview with Tyler Perry on OWN last week where he responded to his critics by saying his stories are what he knows.  He said simply, "The people that don't get it don't matter as much as the people that do."  Love him or hate him (and I plea the 5th on that one), you have to admire that and (love it or hate it) it's working out really well for him.  Stephen King said something similar in On Writing.  In school, he was known as a great writer but his teachers thought he was "wasting his talent" by writing that horror "crap".  He loved that horror crap so he wrote what he loved.  I think we can all agree it seems to have worked out for him too. 

That wise old adage seems to constantly ring true, doesn't it? Stay true to yourself.  Stay honest in your art.  Don't give in to gimmicks and remain confident the audience will follow.  Like Tyler said, the people that get it matter far more than the people that don't. 

Who would have thought I'd be quoting the guy who dresses up as Madea...

Love and Light,

Saturday, May 25, 2013

If you are a connoisseur of African American movies in the 90s B.T.P (Before Tyler Perry), this face probably solicits a litany of emotions. 
This is the face of the man of cheated on Angela Bassett with a wyatt woman in Waiting to Exhale...
Causing her to do this...
This is the face of the man who cheated on Vanessa Williams with her skanky dancing cousin in Soul Food...
Causing her to do the this...

And... this is the face of the man who gave ER doctor Jeanie Boulet AIDS.

Which pretty much sealed the deal.

"Michael Beach" will forever solicit my innate black woman "run, girl, run" reflex.  Don't get me wrong.  I am sure the man is a decent human being in real life.  However, the minute he steps onto my television or movie screen, I know no good will come of it. 

But what if the Michael Beach character had a story? 

I recently asked my Facebook friends whether they would read a novel about a character they didn't like.  I asked the question after thinking about my own journey as an author.  I find a great deal of joy in writing from the perspective of protagonists I don't initially understand: The liar.  The cheater.  The abuser.  The killer. 

As a writer, I find the challenge both complex and rewarding.  As a person, the experience is empathy building and cathartic.  Finding freckles of humanity in a villain is no easy task.  Although it doesn't always translate to likability, if I can understand my protagonist and make them deserving of love... or at least want for them a happy ending, it's deeply satisfying. 

So I pose the question to you, would you care about the story of a Michael Beach character?  Would you read a novel about a character you don't like?  A character you may even despise?

And special shout out to Michael Beach who is a wonderfully talented ACTOR.  But for his talent, we probably wouldn't have any reaction to seeing him at all :-).

Love and Light,
The agent/writer relationship is an interesting one.
You spend months, years, maybe even decades, pouring your heart and soul into writing a novel.  After which you find someone to help you sell it.  The publishing industry is set up such that the "someone," or agent, is the gate keeper to getting published and in most cases, you don't have access to a publisher without one.

So you seduce.
You tailor a masterful query letter or pitch, do your greatest "like me and my book" jig, and hope that an agent "falls in love" with your book enough that they can passionately help you sell it. 

The process makes sense. 
I mean, just think about it, how many frustrated artists have you encountered in your lifetime?  If everyone had carte blanche access to the poor editors over at one of the big six, those guys would be digging their way through pages and pages of manuscripts on their way into their offices each morning. 

And so many writer's hopes and dreams rest on the tastes of an agent (or agents).  It's daunting.  The day before the Pitch Slam at this year's Writer's Digest Conference East, Chuck Sambuchino did a seminar on tailoring the perfect pitch.  It was great.  But one of the very last tips he gave us was, don't touch the agents.  I found myself giving the people around me my native New Yorker side-eye and wondering, "Did some of you come here to touch agents? Why on earth..."
Do some agents see aspiring writers as total creepers? 

Fellow writers, I get it.  Sometimes your hopes and dreams are woven between each word of your manuscript.   Your work has a pulse. It's your pulse.  It's your words, your heart beat, bleeding on a blank page.  Okay, I'm starting to sound like Leona Lewis.  But really, it could have been the toughest most amazing, exhilarating, rewarding thing you have ever accomplished and setting it out to be judged is like putting your kid on a pedestal in Times Square and saying, "Scale of 1-10, how cute is he?"
It's tough.
But as a sister in the business of representation (although lawyers are not nearly as popular), I have to constantly remind myself that agents... editors... they are all human.  They laugh, cry and poop just like the rest of us and though they have an amazing expertise and access to resources that we can benefit from,WE are still writers and NO ONE can take that away from us.

I had the privilege of having a conversation with an editor the other day that reminded me to keep writing.  Something so simple, I know, but I really needed to hear it.  He said don't get stuck on your first book hitting the Powerball of deals, hone your craft, and keep writing.  Because... let's face it... that's what we call ourselves, right?

So keep writing, guys.  And Agents, crack a smile sometimes.  We aren't (all) creepers :-).

Love and Light,

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Music is a BIG part of my writing process. 

If I need to be transported to a particular place or feel a particular emotion, nothing will get me there faster than a good song.  I'm not alone.  Stephen King, Emily Giffin, Nicholas Sparks and I am sure many, many others all claim music is a big part of the writing process.

For as long as I can remember, whether it has been angsty sad white lady music (think Sarah McLachlan, Lisa Loeb, anyone that every picked up a guitar at Lilith Fair) or the grit and self-awareness of a Hip Hop record (Nas, Common, Talib Kweli), music has informed my poetry.  It reigned in the chaos of my emotions and helped me bleed my most honest thoughts onto a page.  When I was falling in love with my hubby, Steve Wonder's Visions sparked words upon words upon words and ultimately inspired the poem I wrote him for our wedding.

My earliest memory of music informing my fiction was when I was in college.  I read a statistic about senior citizens having a high rate of suicide.  Needless to say, it was troubling.  I decided to write a short story for a creative writing class about an older woman's decision to take her own life.  The story involved a great deal of fantasy and delusion.  The woman kept seeing her dead husband and picturing suitors waiting for her in the living room of her empty house.   I was having trouble relating to her so I decided to download a ton of Billy Holiday and other jazz crooners (shout out to Napster in the late 90s) and sat at the desk of my small dorm room trying my best to be transported into her feeble mind. 
I remember my roommate asking me what I was doing.  I mean, when I wasn't writing, she and I were giving each other facials and doing the running man to Salt N Peppa (she was about 5'0, blonde and from Staten Island,  I was 6'0 with box braids and from Queens, Salt N Peppa we were not).  I told her and she said, "Awesome!" but her eyes totally said, "Crazyyy talkkk..."
I didn't care. 
At 19, Billy Holiday made me a 75 year old widow contemplating suicide. 

Now as I wade in the throes of my new novel, I am a biracial adolescent teen whose mother is having an affair.  My best friends are my 65 year old grandmother and a short Puerto Rican kid with a lisp.  I'm moving between my parent's world in Westport, Connecticut and grandmother's world in the Bronx, New York.  I am chubby, awkward and desperately seeking attention.  Last night, I had sex for the first time with the most popular kid in school breaking the heart of my Puerto Rican best friend who has been pining away for me since we were 11.
And all I could listen to was Fiona Apple's Criminal. 

It's a fact, well-written lyrics + a good beat are like a five-course meal for a hungry soul.  And it's like a loud speaker beckoning my muse... wherever she may be slinking around at the moment.

Love and Light,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Me at work the next morning after I was up all night writing...

Love and Light,

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In 2004, my husband (then boyfriend) and I attended a Martin Luther King celebration at the University of the District of Columbia.  It was the beginning of the second semester of our first year of law school and we had no business being anywhere but the library.  However, it was also the beginning of our relationship so in an effort to score brownie points (and other things new boyfriends hope to score) he convinced me to go by stating one simple fact: Sonia Sanchez would be there. 
My favorite poet. 

Understand, I have loved Ms. Sanchez since I was a teenager.  I remember reading about the Black Arts Movement and learning about her, Nikki Giovanni, Amri Baraka and all the trailblazers of black literature and art in the late sixties and seventies, a time when art was an underutilized but amazingly powerful means of resistance.  Nothing communicated the sentiment of the civil rights struggle better than art.  I remember wanting to pump my fist and write poems about injustice and mourning civil rights leaders that were assassinated long before I was even alive.  I loved it all but I really loved Ms. Sanchez.

For me, Sonia Sanchez's words have always had a pulse.  A tangible beat with shapes and sounds that jump off paper and reach into your soul.  She takes me everywhere and to everything... even when I am sitting still.  If you have ever heard her perform her poetry, you can feel it.  She closes her eyes and releases sounds that come from places deep within her.  It is beautiful.

So - with my worn copy of Shake Loose My Skin in my hand, I waited in line to meet Ms. Sanchez like a child waiting up for Christmas.  My palms were sweaty, my mind was racing, and I had so many things I wanted to say.  Dancing... For Sweet Honey in the Rock... Poem No. 3...  you inspired me, you lifted me, you made me want to write poetry, you filled me with pride...
But instead...
My mouth went dry and I stammered, "I... uh... you don't understand... I luh you, uh, here my book..."  To this day, my husband lies and tells me it wasn't that bad but I assure you it was.  Almost ten years later, I can still see her assistant standing beside her unable to contain his laughter.

What can I say, I'm a fan. 

I dug Shake Loose My Skin out of my bookcase the other day.  I was looking for a poem to send to a friend who needed some good words in her life. I was flipping through the book when I was side tracked by her autograph.  She wrote: Walk beautifully, my sister! In love/struggle/peace, Sonia Sanchez.  
I smiled to myself and I have been holding my head a little higher ever since. 
Apparently I needed some good words too.
Walk beautifully, folks.

Love and Light,

Thursday, May 9, 2013
Tonight my littlest, the Peanut, and I built a house out of Legos.  We were building it for an alligator (of course) and he was telling me about all the things he wants to be when he grows up.   His eyes grew wide and he threw his chubby, little arms in the air and declared, "I want to be a pi-wat."  Like Captain Feathersword, the pirate from his favorite television show, The Wiggles.   My five year old, the Pickle (a 35 year old trapped in a 5 1/2 year old body), promptly told him that he could never be Captain Feathersword because pirates were only pretend.  You see, the Pickle is far more practical and prefers the more realistic dream of being a daddy but without a mustache because mustaches get in your mouth (of course). 
Before bed, with this little dream of mine never far from my mind, I asked the Peanut if I should just be a lawyer or keep trying to be a writer.  I mean, who doesn't enjoy the advice of a 2 1/2 year old dreamer? He said I should be a "A Sue-pa He-woe" so I can "fly da clouds." 
His advice was everything I hoped it would be. 

"Don't wowwy
'bout a thing
cus ehwee liddle thing
gonna be awight."
- Bob Marley "Three Little Birds" as sung by the Peanut
Love and Light,

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Every Thursday night, I am glued to my television screen watching Scandal, ABCs prime time drama about Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) a political crisis negotiator in Washington, DC.  The show is many things.  It is thought-provoking, innovative and bold, but the biggest draw of the show is undeniably Olivia's hot affair with the President (played by the guy who hired Willie Lopez to kill Patrick Swayze in Ghost). 

It's hot on so many different levels.  He's married.  She's not.  He's a white republican.  She's not.  It has all the elements of that which is "oh, so wrong" but "oh, so friggin' right."  He looks at Olivia like she has the secret to world peace between her thighs and she looks at him like a big piece of moist chocolate cake (err, vanilla). 

Like I said it's hot.

Inevitably, when the show is over, Facebook and Twitter starts a-buzzin'.  Everything from "Olivia, you need to leave that married man alone, girl!" to "He should just leave his awful wife and finally make an honest woman out of Olivia."

This past Thursday, my bestie and I were having our post-Scandal (and Grey's Anatomy) wrap-up when the topic turned to monogamy.  We wondered, what was it about the show that made people continue to watch despite the fact that she is sleeping with a married father of three? 

I mean, not just watch but root for her. 

I'm not gonna lie.  I sit on the edge of my favorite chaise waiting for the two of them to get down each week - or at least engage in a little heavy breathing and staring at each other's lips (see above).  But, in another world, Olivia Pope's character could easily be a villain.  She throws her stuff in that married man's face like she has Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha" pumping through her veins. 

But no... Olivia Pope is the show's heroine.

This topic was particularly interesting to me because my novel takes on this kind of unlikely protagonist.  When I sat down to write my novel five years ago, it was a cathartic experience more than anything else.  I sat at my computer shortly after I had my first son and thought to myself,  wouldn't it be interesting to write a novel about a bad guy?  I had kissed my fair share of frogs and alot of my single friends were telling me incredible stories about guys that hurt them in unimaginable ways.  We had even nicknamed them - "the asshole", "rat bastard", "that dude that cheated on me with the Cambodian girl"... If we could set fire to the memory of these cast of characters, we totally would.  But sitting at a computer screen that day in 2008, I thought to myself - these guys couldn't be all bad right?  They didn't just wake up one day and think, "I'm going to be a dick.  I'm going to find some innocent girl sitting in a lounge, cheat on her, ruin her credit and post pictures of me doing it on my secret Facebook account."  From there, I wrote a 265-page first person narrative exploring why/how my protagonist, Nate Best, became so bad.  You may not always like him, but my goal was to understand him because let's face it, us once-scorned girls need to understand him.

Watching Scandal, I started to wonder if I had done enough to make my readers want to take the ride with Nate.  I started to think more about the layers of Olivia Pope - what makes what she is doing okay?  Why do Scandal fans tune in each week to take the ride?  I realized it came down to three things:

 1) They have awesome sex.
2) She feels really, really bad about it.

and 3) The President's wife is a raging lunatic.

These three things make her questionable behavior a whole lot easier to swallow... but totally unrealistic in real life. 

Look.  I'm married.  I'm going to be pro-wife.  I don't think most mistresses are tortured by their affairs any more than most wives are raging lunatics.  The way I see it is, in a marriage, no one (NO ONE) knows you better than your spouse.  Good and Bad.  For example, your spouse may like to shit and cry everyday at 5pm and you are the only person on the planet privileged enough to know that information.  It's disgusting but you love him/her anyway.  One day, a man/woman may come along who makes your spouse feel like they are the best thing since apple pie.  They know nothing about the shit-cry sessions and that makes your spouse feel good.  Understandably, it makes your spouse feel good.  The newness of being with someone who doesn't know anything about you at your absolute worst is undeniably appealing.  I get it.  I don't condone it.  But I get it.  Any married person who says otherwise is lying.

The problem is, that kind of realness probably wouldn't make for good television.   I mean, what if Olivia's vagina couldn't cure the President of his alcoholism or they way he berates his kids?  I don't want to see that crap. 

My goal in writing my book was to take a more realistic look at fidelity and scandalous (pun intended) behavior.  All the little cracks and tears that drives a person to cheat and lie... not just the good, secret sex or "villainous" girlfriends/wives. 

In the end, the show is my not-so-guilty addiction and I will be tuning in next week.  But honestly, does anyone think Olivia Pope will really get her happy ending?

Love and Light,

Friday, May 3, 2013

When I was a kid and I had a bad day, my mom would take me for a big fat ice cream cone at the Carvel on Union Turnpike in Queens.  I would drown my sorrows in a creamy, swirly vanilla cone smothered in sweet rainbow sprinkles.  I'd lap up each dripity drop during our twenty minute car ride, unloading in between licks about the usual perils of an awkward youth.  My dramatics ran the gamut.  My 5th grade crush didn't like me.  The biggest dork in school did.  My feet were growing faster than my boobs.  And by God, how much longer did I have to wear braces?  By the time I dipped my tongue into that last bit of ice cream buried in the tip of the cone, my problems felt cured... until the next day at least.  I'd curl up that night and sleep like the sort-of baby I was.

As an adult, my cheer-up routine has... evolved.  Cheer-up sessions at 31 are usually just me.  Clutching the steering wheel of my car with one hand, guiltily cramming a Panera Bread Cinnamon Roll in my mouth with the other,  racing from work to lasso a kid from school/daycare before I get the "Mommy, I was the LAST one" speech. Only adding to this disturbing picture is my penchant for yelling angry rap lyrics in between bites.  Any ignorant late 90s or early 2000s rap record will do.  I belt them, off key and in error, so loud they pour out my open windows as the crumbs of my guilty snack fall out of my mouth and coat my lawyer-lady uniform.
Not my proudest moments.

Recently, I've had a few (many) of these classy moments at the hand of the publishing dance. 
Rejection is hard.
Let's just put it out there.
Whether it be that job you just interviewed for, the house you put an offer on, the person you just mustered up the courage to ask out, or the pushed away middle of the night roll-over (that one is for the married/boo-ed up folks), it's hard not to take a 'no' personal. 

In publishing, there are alot of 'no's', eventual yes's and maybe's (see previous post) but a whole lot of ugly, stinkin', smelly 'no's'. 

Here's the thing, we all know it's a part of the game.  JK Rowling recieved 15 before a publisher took a chance on Harry Potter (I'm pretty sure all 15 of those publishers still take a shot every time they hear her name).  Only ONE agent agreed to take on Nicholas Sparks's, The Notebook (he went on to sell it to a publisher with a one million dollar advance (!!!), read his amazing story here).  And a famous rejection letter to Dr. Seuss himself read, Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”


I started off this process saving every rejection letter I recieved.  Creating a sad little folder in g-mail.  Printing them out and crowding my writing space like Stephen King said he did in On Writing.  Then I saw Tayari Jones speak at WDCE and she asked us all why? 
Seriously, why?
Would we some day pull the rejection letters out of an overflowing binder and wave them into the air when we made it?  Would we perform a rendition of the Dreamgirl's hit, And I am Telling You (You're Gonna Love Me), while ripping the letters in pieces at the feet of our rejectors?
I didn't have any big plans for my rejection letters and all they do is make me sad.  Focus your energy on the people who support you, she said simply, not those that don't.


So, I'm trying.  Not gonna lie.  Scarfed a roll and yelled the lyrics to Big Pimpin in my car just today.  BUT, I'm trying.  My new favorite cheer up routine is going to be one that actually cheers me up.  Not feel like raging lunatic covered in crumbs.

So far, it involves blasting this:

And eating one Lindt Chocolate - hey, old habits die hard. 

Love and Light,

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Do a happy dance! I reached my first 100 likes on Facebook! To celebrate, I am giving away a $15 Amazon Gift Card!  I think that still buys a book! All you have do is 'like' my page on Facebook and then follow the rules below to enter.  The winner will be revealed on Saturday, May 4.  Good luck!

Congrats to our winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Love and Light,
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