Monday, August 21, 2017

What a weekend! The anniversary of the landing of the first Blacks in America, the transitions of Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis and the Solar Eclipse

Phew! This weekend, and the next few hours, were, are, going to be lit! Starting off the weekend was the announcement that comedian/Civil Rights defender, Dick Gregory had passed. August 19, 2017.

I recall from my kid days, seeing him on a grainy B&W TV. After my bedtime, I’d sneak back downstairs to see what all the hub-hub was about. Dick Gregory was on some late-night talk show. That was an event I found out because he wasn’t singing or dancing or smiling. He was standing still, holding a mic and “spitting truth” to a White audience and making them laugh. On a particular visit year before, Gregory had broken a barrier for Black comedians. It was a fact that once a comedian had done his set on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr, and had been invited to sit on the couch (the infamous couch) afterward to chat with Parr, the sky was the limit for said comedian. A few Whites had been invited. No non-Whites. Well, Dick Gregory was a hot commodity even though he had only been playing Black nightclubs. His name was on everyone’s lips. Parr wanted him on his show. Well. The word on the street was that Mr. Gregory, being Mr. Gregory, had said to Parr, “If I do not get the invite to the couch, I ain’t doing the show.” He got the invite and the show and the rest is history.  

Now back to my crazy house. My youngest uncle was in college at the time, living at home, was quite militant and Mr. Gregory was his messiah (next to Malcolm X). Uncle Cy was 20 years old and a brainiac. He was more than what the kids today call “woke.” He was the guy who SET THE DAMNED ALARM CLOCK! Yeah. He had a glorious ‘fro, wore dashikis, gave Black Power salutes and called for “action!” Mesmerized me. Worried the hell outta my grandparents. He was a handsome gay man, brilliant and Black. A dangerous trifecta to the “establishment” and himself.  He was set on “changing the world.” Anyhoo, he had bought Dick Gregory’s comedy double LP Caught In the Act and had played that thing so much that my grandfather almost strangled him. After Grandpop laid down the law that any continued airings of said LP had to be in my uncle’s bedroom on his HI-FI (!) at a very low volume, peace was achieved. Nosy me used to sit on the floor outside his bedroom door and strain to hear, for the umpteenth time, the stuff I didn’t understand the first time. I still didn’t get it. I had to wait some years later. Richard Pryor was my icon.

In any case, Mr. Gregory went on to charm to globe into hearing about the plight of the ignored while making the globe laugh and think. My uncle went on to get his degrees in education and taught children because he believed that was the key to liberation for Black kids. He strove for that all his life even while working on his PhD while deathly ill and eventually dying in ’88.

Along with my mom, Uncle Cy, raised me to be a reader and a seeker. To know all kinds of stuff from books. The requisite stuff. That canon. Yeah. But they also raised me to know the stuff you can’t get from books. The stuff that is not on the page that is needed in practical living. So, a comedian changed a young man’s life.  And that young man changed mine because he NEVER let up on me about education. NEVER. Thank you, Mr. Gregory!

The second happening that I am certain most Americans didn’t know about was the anniversary of the landing of the first Blacks in America. That event took place on August 20, 1619, a full year before the Mayflower. Boy, I say a full year, boy! The Dutch man of war that brought them is not mentioned or recorded or named.  It sailed into Jamestown, VA and dropped anchor in the harbor. It was manned by pirates and cut-throats who had robbed a Spanish ship of its load of Africans, a cargo that had been expected in the West Indies. To make a long story short, the captain needed provisions for his crew. To get them, he swapped the Africans for food. One pair was a couple in love: Antoney and Isabella. Who, miracle upon miracle, were allowed to stay together. Around seventeen others rounded out the group. And voila! The first Blacks in America. (For further investigation, see the book, Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett, Jr.). So that event came and went. I wonder if Jamestown had a re-enactment of that.

Now, the biggie is upon us. The Solar Eclipse. No, I shall not be watching. I do not trust any apparatus out there on sale. The only place I would trust is the Franklin Institute in Philly if I were so inclined. They are setting up specially-equipped tents on the lawns from which to view the heavens. I’ll catch the next one in 2024 if I’m still here. And if I’m not, I’ll have a front row seat anyway so it won’t matter.

I felt compelled to make note of these events because all three happening were rather extraordinary. An eclipse, the marking of something that should be a major event. I mean the first Blacks landing in America IS a big deal. Perhaps that should be commemorated with a statute? You’re probably asking, “But why did she include Dick Gregory in these things?” Well, I see it as an exchange of energy. According to what I believe, when one passes, one’s energy doesn’t leave right away. It lingers for a bit. I think Mr. Gregory’s essence is now ready to go. So, the eclipse coming in and then leaving will take Baba Gregory’s energy with it. What a fitting exit!

R. I. P. to Jerry Lewis too. I watched MANY a MDA Labor Day telethon and his films over and over at the neighborhood movie theatre. My favorite being The Disorderly Orderly. He made me laugh so hard some times I couldn't breathe. I even used to imitate that laugh he had in films to the consternation of my poor mom. She did end up cracking up though after a while

Okay. Now I must exit. Bye.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Do you set goals and boundaries in your romance writing? - An example

In my historical romance, Kindred, An American Love Story, my heroine is the granddaughter of slaves, and my hero is an indigenous Oneida. When an interracial relationship pops up as the main plot in a romance novel, it’s usually a Caucasian hero and a non-Caucasian heroine/partner. I was drawn to telling a tale with characters who don’t get much play in researched historical romances. A plethora of historical, Native romances have been written over the years. Most have a Native hero and a Caucasian heroine. And the hero is usually portrayed as “untamed” and “wild” and is often seen by the heroine as “uncivilized.” Okay. I get that the writer needs to convey the independence or the single-mindedness or the uniqueness of the Native character, but “untamed and wild?” About an Indigenous person? Really? Um, er, uh…No. No. No. Those writers needed to have thought harder to find better words.

I used the same criteria for my heroine. If you know anything about my work, you know that I write Black heroines, I write them the opposite of the usual spin seen in the sparsely populated arena of Black, historical romance heroines. I only depict them in multi-faceted terms. No one-note wonders permitted. No one-size fits all demeanors. I expect the same for my book covers. I went against the trend for Kindred's cover. The lack of the hero’s bare chest on the cover might have cost me sales but I wasn’t going that route. No oiled-up “savage.” No skimpy loincloth, or spears. No broken English on his part inside the book. No.

I got pushback on my choice of romantic coupling for my book. The first publishing house I subbed to had doubts the pairing, and their depiction, would pass muster. “Pass muster?” Uh? An editor liked the book but said it might be a hard sell to the reading public. She also asked if I could make a “few changes.” Interested in hearing her out, I read her list of changes. Let’s just say they ALL her changes were a no-go. So, I sucked it up, kept the faith, said, “No thank you” and moved on. I finally found a Canadian publisher who liked my characters the way I presented them, and wanted to publish the book. Yay! Victory!

The take-away from this post?

If you are writing your historical romance to fit the trends, be aware that your premise will have to conform to what is popular in the sub genre. It will have to contain the familiar tropes, characters and settings. The sameness will sell it. A certain faction of historical romance readers expects comfort and familiarity with their reading material.

Now if you are writing historical romance to bring a too-seldom-viewed take to the sub genre, it is necessary to have different tropes, non-default characters and unusual settings. If you intend to submit your work to traditional publishing houses, be prepared for a fight. Anything out of the ordinary is anathema to them because they are risk-averse when it comes to the bottom line. If your submission is not turned down outright, and gets accepted, expect a request for lots of changes. Could you handle that? If you can, good. Excellent for you. But do fight for what YOU know is crucial to your story. Do not back down if a story point is important. Stand by your choices and give reasons why a thing needs to remain. Be daring. You might not win the war but you might win several battles. I do caution you that you might end up with an unrecognizable book. Ask yourself if you could live with that. On the other hand, if you cannot handle drastic changes to your story, bypass the drama and go straight to self-publishing. Remember, the point is to make your book stand out from the crowd. Self-publishing is the perfect venue for individuality. Its downside? Promotion falls solely on you. 

I hope the accounting of my journey so far helps. Now go create that stand-out book.

Lamar "Ditney" Smith - Voting Rights activist

Yesterday (August, 13, 1955) marked the 62nd anniversary of the murder of Lamar Smith. He was a community organizer (yes. that word is kryptonite to a chosen few), a farmer, a WWII veteran, a regular guy and a voting rights activist. The last title got him shot and killed in broad daylight on a grassy spot in front of a court house in Brookhaven, MS at 10 a. m. But NO ONE saw it. Like really?

Anyhoo, the rats were caught who'd been suspected. But guess what? The case was dismissed. Another day in the study of injustice. Ho-hum.

The scene would be repeated throughout the decade in the South with the same results. Unsung heroes like Mr. Smith need to be remembered.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some things to consider when thinking about penning historical romance without mainstream, main characters

I write both science fiction romance and historical romance. When I create in those two sub genres, I make all my heroines black. Why? Because there are too few black heroines in those sub genres.  My science fiction series is a little easier to write than my historical series. But not much. For this post, I’ll concentrate on the items one should consider when creating a historical romance containing not-the-usual landed, titled suspects. I believe these tips could apply to any character who is not the requisite straight, Christian, blue-eyed, lady or duke of the Regency period. Since my books follow black heroines I will stick to the things to consider when penning them.

In my Love Vanquishes All stand-alone, historical series, there are two books so far. Kindred, An American Love Story and Dissent. Both follow vastly different heroines from vastly different eras. I’ll be discussing how I created Kindred, the main character from book one. I drew up a list of six important questions I had to ask myself (though many more popped up as I got into the actual writing) before I set out bringing her, and her world, to life. Question one was, “Why do I want to write her?” Question two was, “In what setting will I place her?” Question three was, “How will I depict her?” Question four was, “How will I go about it?” Question five was, “Do I have an interesting story to tell?” Question six was, “Will I be adding anything new to the field?”

The first question was easy to answer. I wanted to write her because I wanted to add to the roster of black, historical heroines out there. Yeah. I needed to add my take to the ranks. There is room for everyone. The second question was easy to answer too. For my first foray into writing historical romance, I wanted to stick to the country in which I reside - the U. S. A. Plus, I’d been none too thrilled with some of the depictions of black heroines from America. I knew they could be more than subservient. And since many that had been written, had been written as subservient, that meant them not having much agency. Nope. I wasn’t going to add to that. I chose colonial New York of America because I knew it would be rich ground to dig around in to unearth the woman I knew I could write. Blacks, Whites, and Native peoples crossed paths every day during that period and took part in forming the U. S. A. And I could place Kindred in a place of agency since as she’d possess a skill (herbalist/nurse) everyone would need to survive. She could act instead of re-act in her environment. Which brought me to question three. My depiction of Kindred would not entail drudgery, would not lack happiness, and would include an air of playfulness and independence and seductiveness (but not the tired exotic label). And since it was America of a certain period, I pledged that she would be a freedwoman, NOT be a slave. Of the black women who existed back then, not all were slaves. If one desires to depict the different, one must think differently, and dig to find the examples. That led me to question four. I researched like hell. I read books. I went to libraries. I took… time. What I’m saying is, if one is truly serious about writing the multicultural historical, one must give it the same, if not more, attention, effort and care as the historical romances with the default characters because they are different.

Now, if a writer goes in knowing they want to depict non-White characters in a historical romance, but only set in some alternate history, then anything goes. The writer can concoct all manner of stuff. Those books are available. I am not saying those kinds of books are easier to write. I am saying there is no history in them, past that which is necessary to place it somewhere in that alternate universe. Which sort of defeats the purpose of writing a historical romance. But to each his own. So, if one wants to create something which informs and entertains, and has a good plot, one must do the research. No fudging. No wink and a nod.

When writing Kindred, An American Love Story, I read history books pertaining to how black people lived in the colonial era, and how they were permitted to live. That was important because, one just cannot plunk a non-White person down into a certain situation because one wants the person there. Now, it’s another thing if the writer’s readership doesn’t know or care. But I always say, the writer should care. A writer must know, whether, the black character had the permission to have participated in said situation, and if so, what was the black character’s capacity. I read books on how people dressed. I read books on how people prepared what they grew and gathered. I researched the modes of transportation people used. Let’s just say I read a lot!

So, dear writer, when you think about writing that historical romance, not starring the usual Regency cast, ask yourself if you are willing to ponder those six questions? The answers? If so, go for it!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Judy Pace - A class act for the ages

70's Judy!

Judy Lenteen Pace. June 15, 1942. Beautiful. Skilled. Underrated. Daughter of an airplane mechanic and a dressmaker. Sister to singer Jean Pace.

I first encountered this lady when she played villainess, Vicki Fletcher on the  old TV show Peyton Place. Loved her part. She was a dark-skinned beauty who had not been cast as a helpless female or a maid or a magical person of color. Why does that matter you ask? Because "America" had never seen a dark-skinned,Black actress that had not been a "Mammy" before. They were only used to actress with her phenotype playing maids, servants and usually groveling. Judy didn't play that. She was sexy, svelte and smooth-talking. Oh, honey. "America" was shook. Viewers wrote letters and called the network. All sorts of calamity ensued. They protested. "How dare this woman NOT be a subservient character! This must stop!" Oh my. Such fragility. She stayed on the show until her character played out and then she went on to other shows

Anyhoo, I was only a kid but I recall dinners around the dining room table where my youngest uncle (The Revolutionary! LOL) would try to draw my hard-to-impress grandfather into discussion about how "groundbreaking" this was. My mom used to nod in agreement. My Grandma used to quietly keep serving the food and my grandfather used to grunt. He was not a  TV watcher. Later, when Pace received an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for another TV show The Young Lawyers, Grandpa got impressed. He remarked, "Well, I guess she's good, she won something." Me? I just loved her because she was b-a-d in everything. Do you hear me? Michael Jackson B-A-D.

Anyway, another fantastic break came for her. She became famous for her guest shots on TV shows, TV movies (Brian's Song for one opposite Billy Dee Williams, Shelley Fabares and James Caan) and did a lot of films. Many were blaxpoitation. Whatevs. I ADORED them. Each and everyone. Her biggest break came when she did a show called Owners with two other young, hungry actresses  - Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith. Another show on ABC was in development and since the trio had such good chemistry, they were first choice to star in it. But it was not to be. When it came down to "America,"' the sponsors and plain old prejudice,  ABC choked which was weird because Pace had delivered for them with Peyton Place years before. I suppose visions of all the hate mail they'd get for YEARS if they picked Judy even if the show were a hit was dancing in their heads. Soooooo, Charlie's Angels proceeded without Pace and the part went to Kate Jackson. And you know the rest. It made household names of these women.

Side note: The same nonsense happened to Bruce Lee in the early 70s too. ABC Network executives saw his work as Cato in The Green Hornet and supposedly "absolutely adored" it. Lee was promised the lead in a new kind of TV Westen once the particulars were squared away. The execs pledged to call him. Well, the particulars got squared away and Lee got no call except the wake up call. He lost the lead to David Carradine. ABC shot and aired that new kind of Western, Kung Fu, without Lee. He sat at home and watched it premiere like the rest of us.

In any case, I loved Judy's tenure in Hollywood. I saw EVERYTHING she did. Twice married (first to fellow actor, the late Don Mitchell and then to another groundbreaker, the late baseball great Curt Flood), Ms.Pace is the mother of two daughters, survived the nuttiness of Hollywood and is busy today.

Judy today!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Farewell to two legends!

Some biggies in the music and news industries took their leave of the mortal coil last week. Bobby Taylor, the Motown singer and producer who discovered the Jackson 5, NOT Diana Ross, as the myth goes and Jim Vance, a pioneer in local D. C. news.

Taylor was 83 years old at the time of his passing, and was the man who introduced the Jackson 5 to the world. Diana Ross was the known face that was used to boost interest in the new group to the public, but it was lesser profiled Bobby Taylor who cracked the band. To his own fame, he was a noted record producer and part of the group, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. R. I. P. Mr. Taylor.

Newscaster Jim Vance was  a contemporary of Ed Bradley, but never made the leap to reporting network news like Mr. Bradley. Mr. Vance made his stomping ground the D. C. area for over 40 years. Not a happening there escaped his reporter's eye. The last public appearance I recall seeing him at was the televising of the dedication of the mural on the side of Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington. The painting memorialized the stars and politicians who'd eaten there. He looked frail then as he was fighting cancer but he still wanted to part of the news. Mr. Vance was 75. R. I. P. Mr. Vance.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

HBO'S CONFEDERATE - I don't got time for dat!

Nichelle Tramble Spellman. Malcolm Spellman.

Major side-eye for you two.

I come with a heavy heart to say that these two black writers are going to be on board to pen the HBO alternate universe series called CONFEDERATE. Now, Lord knows I do not like to see Black talent stifled, but...why, people? CONFEDERATE deals with a present-day USA where, you guessed it, the South won the Civil War. Slavery still exists. Oh, joy! The North is repenting. And I'm sure there will be tons of gratuitous, interracial sex scenes for titillation for one and all!

What the hell?

All I can see is a racist's wet dream no matter how "wonderfully" it will be written. I can do without this "entertainment." Are they kidding me? I can picture Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon and their ilk getting comfy on the couch on the nights this show airs to munch popcorn, sip sweet tea and wax nostalgic.


This is the cinematic equivalent of those historical romances with Black characters, set during the Civil War South, that are created under the guise of showing "another, softer" side to US history where the darkies are all happy and all the masters were benevolent.


GAME of THRONES creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss will bring this cringefest to the airwaves in 2018. I suppose since the success of GoT, they are game for anything. And they believe they are helping "diversity" by hiring two Black writers. Whatevs. Look, I have always said, do what you want. Write what you want.That is your right. But be prepared for the accompanying criticism. Folk do not have to like what you wrote just because you wrote it! That's folks right too! And that's how I feel now about ALL forms of "entertainment" I find questionable.

It just gets me that the WGN CANCELLED UNDERGROUND, a successful series about the Underground Railroad, after two seasons. HBO could have picked that show up if it wanted to be progressive. But no. It doesn't make a certain demographic feel good about itself. It's amazing how when black folk make progress, others get nervous and have to be placated. Others then rush in to remind us of our "place."


And since a certain administration got in, I see pandering of the lowest sort going on in the field of "entertainment" to the lowest of instincts. Don't get me started on the racist, crap talking that MMA fighter Conor MacGregor gets away with when he is set to fight non-White opponents. He's not the only one. A few Russian MMA fighters are out of line too. Boxers have always talked smack about each other before getting in the ring, but it has NEVER been about the other's ethnicity. Muhammud Ali talked smack but he talked about an opponent's style, or looks, or losses. NOT the fighter's ORIGINS. The new audience that boxing is trying to attract (the MMA audience) loves the racist talk. But, hey. I digress. Apparently the powers-that-be know their audiences.

So no. CONFEDERATE won't be on my dance card. It won't be getting my support, or my eyes, or my time, no matter how "sensitivity-read" it is by two Black writers looking to get established in Hollywood. No. I like myself, and my ancestors, too much. So, no. No matter which hipster way you spin it, Hollywood, my ancestors are still the losers in this alt-right, left-handed re-do of history.

Sansa Stark of GAME of THRONES said, "The North remembers." And you know what? So do I.