Monday, November 24, 2008

Parameters of Blackness (Part II: Electric Boogaloo)

Prior to the publication of After The Dance, I shared a portion of the manuscript with various friends and relatives. A comment from one of my cousins took me by surprise. According to her, the names of my primary protagonists--Carl & Faye, weren't "Black enough." My initial reaction was--"Huh? Say what! Come again."

Yeah, according to Cuz, I should have named my characters something along the lines of "Shauneequah" and "Jondavious." OKAY . . . Now, had the remark come from someone other than this particular cousin, perhaps I might have understood it.

To give you a bit of background, even though I'm a few years older than my cousin, we spent a fair amount of time together as kids. Our grandmothers are sisters and our families have always been close. Just like I did, my cousin grew up in a two-parent household. Her parents and mine left the hood a LONG time ago. Just like I do, my cousin lives in the suburbs and like me, is in a marriage that has lasted longer than 10 years, and like me is the mother of one child, a son.

No one in either of our immediate families has a name like Shauneequah or Jondavious. Not that there's anything wrong with either of these two names, I'm just saying--why would my cousin or anyone else feel justified in implying that I'm being something other than Black if I opt NOT to go the Shauneequah and Jondavious route? Are names like those somehow more authentically Black than names like Carl & Faye or Lori & Al or Wendy & Brian? (Yeah Cuz, what? You thought I wasn't gonna call you out?! LOL)

My cousin's son and my own are both African American youths who have excelled academically since Kindergarten. Does that fact somehow make them less authentically Black? As the Black mother of a Black son and as someone who writes stories about Black people, am I somehow obligated , for the sake of "keeping it real" to churn out portraits of African American boys who make failing grades and flunk out of school? Who only dream of being sports figures and hip-hop artists? Who only look up to pimps, drug dealers and gang bangers? If so, for whom am I keeping this real? And why?

I think, like a lot of people, be they Black, White or Other, my cousin has bought into the lucrative fiction of what Black is and what it ain't--a fiction that's currently being cut and repackaged before being sold back to us, like so many nickel and dime bags. A fiction created by the image and identity hustlers who've set up shop in the publishing world, the music industry, Hollywood and the like. They get paid well feeding us a steady diet of the same old, tired stereotypical images and even when we know better, some of us have allowed ourselves to get hooked. Yeah, we're buying it, ingesting it and eventually, like addicts, finding ourselves somewhere (whether it be at the bookstore, the movie theatre or in front of the television) straight sprung, fiending, frothing at the mouth and wanting to beat-down the first somebody who dares suggest, "You know, maybe all of that sh!t ain't good for you . . ."

In the December 2008 issue of The Writer, there is an article entitled, "On writing against ethnic stereotypes," which mainly focuses on the media's distorted and one-dimensional view of Italian Americans. The author of the piece, Paola Corso, states that stereotypes aren't necessairly bad when used purposefully and I tend to agree. I'd love to see more African American artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, etc. attempting to flip the script by manipulating stereotypes via satire, parody and humor. I attempted to do some of that in my own debut novel. But these days, more often than not, the most serious offenders (pun fully intended) and eager perpetuators of some of the most vile, negative and derogatory things said about Black men and women are other Black men and women.

To be clear, I don't have an issue with names like Shauneequah and Jondavious. I have plenty of Shauns and Jons in my extended family and within my circle of friends, none of whom I consider more or less Black than my cousin or myself. My issue is with the mindset that suggests there is only one way of being authentically Black . . . an authenticity that is all too often narrowly defined and tied to a host of negative images and outright stereotypes.

You know, at some point I may write about a character named Shauneequah, but you'd best believe she won't live in the hood, have a crack habit, take licks upside the head from her gangbanging boyfriend, Jondavious, or work for a process-wearing pimp who dreams of being a rapper (smile). Nope, my Shauneequah will probably be an African American businesswoman who lives in Charleston, owns a seafood restaurant, a beachside home and a pilot's license. She'll probably be in a long-distance relationship with some well-to-do resort owner, a North African she met while vacationing in the south of France (I am so making this mess up off the top of my head, LOL). My Shauneequah will probably be in the process of legally adopting her deceased best friend's little girl, both of whom, the best friend and the little girl, just so happen to be White.

Yeah, I know, a story like that would never get published, at least, not by someone like me.

(If you're interested or you missed it--PARAMETERS OF BLACKNESS: PART I)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thursday Thirteen #31 . . . 13 Dog Types I Would/Have/Might Consider Owning . . .

I'm not a "dog person," but like the members of the next First Family, I may soon find myself sharing quarters with one. Sigh. My son and the hubby have their hearts set on some BIG a$$, hairy, stank-breath dog. Black Labs. Golden Retrievers. German Shepards, etc. My typical response to suggestions of this type are, "hell no" "have you lost your fricking mind?" and "forget about it."

Truth be known, my dog of preference would be a cat. (LOL) I like cats. I know cats. Cats use the litter box. Ordinarily, they don't suffer from chronic halitosis or enjoy rolling in their own poo. But since owning a cat is out of the question (the hubby is allergic), and I know I'm going to be the primary caretaker of said dog, I've drawn up a list of canines I would (have or might) consider owning.

1) Invisible (I mean really, wouldn't this be ideal? Can't we just all pretend?)

2) Stuffed (I'm saying, imagine the flexibility that comes with this choice. No barking. No shedding. No vet bills. No huge mounds of crap in the yard . . .)

3) Puppy (Okay, in all honesty, I've yet to meet the puppy I didn't like. If only they didn't eventually grow up to be big, stank breath dogs . . .)

4) From a pound or animal shelter (I do very much like the idea of rescuing some lost or abandoned or ill-fated pooch.)

5) Jack Russell (If I'm doomed to own a dog, I'd prefer a smart one. These dogs have always struck me as highly intelligent.)

6) Rat Terrier (This fits my preference for something small and cute. I'd actually be open to owning two of these, but the hubby appears to have a strong bias against any animal with the word "rat" in its name.)

7) Any short-haired Terrier (Have you noticed a theme or pattern yet? LOL)

8) Mutt (I've heard mixed bred-dogs have the best dispositions. And while I could easily live with a neurotic cat, co-habitating with a nut-case for a dog is out of the question.)

9) Beagle (I think this would make for a good compromise. It's not too big, not too small and they seem halfway intelligent, I mean for a dog.)

10) Hunting Dog/Pointer (My grandfather hunts and has always owned a hunting dog or two. So, I kind of know what to expect from this breed and they appear to have a fairly decent temperament.)

11) Chihuahua (Once upon a time, I didn't really like this type of dog. As a child, all the ones I ever saw were bug-eyed and yapped a lot. But in recent years, I've seen some cute and relatively quiet ones. The hubby grimaces at the thought of owing what he considers such a "foo-foo" dog.)

12) Any small, short-haired, female dog (Yes, I would prefer a girl dog. Of course, the hubby is lobbying for just the opposite.)

13) Hairless (Come on, how could you not love a dog who looks scared and shivers a lot? At least I wouldn't have to worry about her shedding .)

Well, any suggestions? I'm open . . . even though I'd still prefer a cat.
Get the Thursday Thirteen code here! The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Memorable Characters . . . Lasting Impressions . . .

I recently finished a book I already know I'm bound to read again, Blues Dancing by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. I'm a late convert to Ms. McKinney-Whetstone's work, but with two books down and another one waiting for me on my shelves, I'm well on my way to becoming one of her biggest fans. Her characters in Blues Dancing were so well-drawn and full of life, I haven't been able to stop thinking about them.

Plot driven, action-packed, drama-filled stories are fine and dandy, but there's nothing I love more than a truly memorable character, a character capable of occupying a place deep within the recesses of my gray matter-- days, months and years after our original encounter. The following list (in no particular order, mind you) contains some of my all-time favorites. I hope it will inspire you to think about and share some of yours.

1) Verdi Mae & Johnson (the couple from Diane McKinny-Whetstone's Blues Dancing whose jones for heroin alters their lives as well as their love for one another)

2) Sula (the delightfully evil female protagonist from Toni Morrison's novel by the same title)

3) Blue Hamilton ( the brother with the blue eyes from Pearl Cleage's Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do. A good friend and I are still debating the significance/symbolism of those blue eyes, LOL)

4) Laz (the lovable, wool hat-wearing character from Suzan-Lori Parks' Getting Mother's Body)

5) Sophia (from Alice Walker's The Color Purple. My apologies to all of you Miss Celie and Shug Avery fans. Sophia's stubborn defiance wins me over every time.

6) Easy & Mouse (the unlikely partners from Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mystery series)

7) Socrates Fortlow (from Walter Mosley's thought-provoking, Always Out Numbered, Always Out Gunned)

8) Pecola Breedlove (the little girl who longed for blue eyes in Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye)

9) Grant Wiggins (aka "The School Teacher") & Jefferson (the reluctant teacher and student from Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. Just thinking about them makes me tear up)

10) Walter Lee (from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin In The Sun. I've long identified with Walter Lee's desparate sense of longing. Sorry P-Diddy, but Sidney Poitier's portrayal of Walter L. in the original screenplay won't ever be topped)

11) Hazel (the running little girl from Toni Cade Bambara's short story, "Raymond's Run")

Okay, your turn. What characters have made a lasting impression on you?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Check This Out . . .

The following is a link to my most recent interview . . .

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

YES WE CAN . . . YES WE DID . . .

Barack Hussein Obama
The first Black President-Elect
of the United States of America
"Ah--so this is what the New World hath finally wrought . . . "
Joseph Asagai
from Lorraine Hansberry's
A Raisin In the Sun

Monday, November 03, 2008

Some Information & A Couple of Special Offers . . .


My website ( is undergoing a few tweaks and adjustments, so if you visit and discover it down, please check back again later.


If you own a copy of my book and you'd like it signed, feel free to send it to me. I'll sign (or personalize) your copy (or copies) of After The Dance and pay the costs involved in having it (or them) mailed back to you. You'll find my email address on my blog's profile page. Email me and I'll let you know where to send your copy or copies. Books, signed or unsigned, do make great holiday gifts (smile). I'll keep this offer open until the first week of December and I'll post periodic reminders.

For my Memphis Peeps or anyone who plans to be in the Bluff City over the Christmas holiday, I have a special offer for you. I'm having two signings at the Brentano's Book Store in Memphis (Oak Court Mall), one before Christmas (Tuesday, December 23, 5pm-7pm) and one after Christmas (Saturday, December 27, 2pm-4pm). The first person to show up at either signing and who purchases TWO OR MORE COPIES of After The Dance (a single copy is only $15.00 plus tax) will receive a FREE AUDIO version of the book. The audio book is regularly priced at $82.75 and the actors do a wonderful job of giving voice to Carl and Faye. So, come on out and do some holiday shopping or else just snag a really nice gift for yourself (smile).