Saturday, December 20, 2008
My name is Tananarive Due, and I am addicted to bedtime stories.
I have grown so accustomed to listening to audio books as I go to sleep at night that it’s now very hard for me to sleep without the steady burr of a voice in my ear. Common sense tells me it’s a bad habit, like leaving the TV on all night, and yet I can’t take off my headphones.
When I was preparing a lecture on Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred last year and couldn’t bring myself to open her book—her loss was still too raw—I found that I could listen to the audio book instead. The storyteller gave me a bridge back to Octavia.
Now, it has become a full-fledged dependency. I just finished listening to the unabridged version of my novel Joplin’s Ghost. Barack Obama’s self-recorded version of Dreams From my Father, which I listened to during the primaries, was a revelation.
Fiction is my favorite, but college-level lectures make great bedtime stories too. (I listened to several great theology courses from The Teaching Company while I was researching Blood Colony.)
Rewinding is a constant fact of life—after all, I’m bound to lose my place when I fall asleep, and sometimes I’ve found myself listening to the same 10-minute patch night after night because I can’t stay awake longer—but that seems a small price to pay.
Now, my habit has followed me to my car, where I hook up my iPod, tape recorder or CD player through the car’s sound system. Or the supermarket, where I listen while I shop. Or in the kitchen while I’m cooking. I now officially spend more time listening to audio books than I do actually reading.
At Recorded Books, there are also audio versions of My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood, The Good House (which I also recently listened to while revising my screenplay version) and Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. Tantor Media also released an audio version of Casanegra.
Wish I could tell you that my audio books would make great stocking stuffers, but the Recorded Books versions are expensive—more designed for libraries than purchase: Joplin’s Ghost, for example, is listed at between $61.75 to $113.75 on the Recorded Books website. But they do have a weekly rental rate for about the cost of a hardcover novel.
I loved actress Lizan Mitchell’s performance of Joplin’s Ghost (2005) for Recorded Books. I’m revisiting that novel because I’m ready to start brainstorming on a screenplay adaptation, so I got over my shyness about my own prose long enough to listen to the story.
Lucky me! I had forgotten enough that I was able to listen as if someone else had written the book. And while I couldn’t help making silent edits in my head, I never outright winced. I’ll just be honest: I was captivated. It was scarier than I remembered, and I enjoyed the love stories in both of the novel’s timelines. There were also strains of Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” at the breaks, adding a new dimension. What fun!
Although My Soul to Keep and The Good House are both in film development at Fox Searchlight, voice actors are my only taste of how an outside artist would interpret my work thus far. In fact, with Lizan Mitchell’s performance fresh in my head, I did a much more convincing rendering of a scene between Scott Joplin and a country conjurer when I read from Joplin’s Ghost at Antioch University Los Angeles this week.
If you haven’t read Joplin’s Ghost, here’s the plot: An R&B singer at a crossroads in her career encounters the ghost of ragtime composer Scott Joplin at the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis—and he follows her. I came up with the idea after meeting the site’s former curator, who has since passed away…and he told me he had seen a ghost in Scott Joplin’s parlor.
Phoenix, my singer, is at a crossroads because she’s trying to record conventionally “black” commercial music instead of the music she hears in her head. And Joplin himself, who died in 1917 after debilitating syphilis and heartbreak because he wasn’t taken seriously as an opera composer, also struggled with the constant tug-of-war between art and commerce.
I wrote Joplin’s Ghost because of my own balancing act as a full-time writer—my writing has to sell, but I also want to write what’s in my heart. That is a battle that is becoming more pronounced for writers as tough times descend on the publishing industry.
I have also been saddened, over the years, to see the decline of instrumental music among black artists, when previous generations of black artists pioneered ragtime, jazz, funk and rock and roll. (I remember the days in elementary school when the music teacher rolled a cart from classroom to classroom so that students could choose the instrument they wanted to play in the school band. Those days, sadly, are long gone in most schools…)
The audio book brought Joplin’s Ghost to life, just as all audio good audio books do.
But just as when we turn the last pages of a book we have carried with us everywhere for days, weeks or months, there is a sense of loss when the story is over. The characters vanish. The world of the book disappears.
And I can’t let a night go by before I have chosen another.
This time, I have Stephen King’s short story collection, Just After Sunset: Stories. I’m a Stephen King fan from way back--and, like King, I think novelists should also keep their short fiction skills sharp. I want to publish a collection of short stories myself, so I’m eager to see where King will go.
Am I worried about having Stephen King’s stories romping in my head as I try to go to sleep at night? Maybe a little. But I prefer a storyteller’s fancies to the whispers about real life’s sorrows past and future that sometimes burrow into my head when I try to sleep at night.
Now...excuse me while I put on my headphones.
Wish me sweet dreams.
It’s a time of great joy in many of my circles, but also great uncertainty…so my thoughts and prayers are with you during this holiday season and throughout 2009!
Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays, everyone!
A CALL FOR DONATIONS FROM UP SOUTH IN N.Y.
This is an announcement my editor, Malaika Adero, sent me in conjunction with a program being planned in my honor in New York this March. I promised I would pass it along:
We Need Your Support….
Join Up South, Inc.
in partnership with Medgar Evers Center for Black Literature
as we celebrate
One of America’s finest contemporary authors of fiction and nonfiction
On Sunday, March 29th, 2009
In New York City
(venue to be announced by February 1st, 2009)
Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and other special guests will read excerpts from her award-winning and bestselling fiction, participate in a discussion with the audience of her extraordinary career and life as a writer. A reception will follow the performances.
Please make a contribution today: $25 or more will secure you a seat in the audience and an Up South International Book Festival t-shirt or tote bag. Go to www.upsouth.org and write email@example.com for more information.
Please send checks or money orders payable to:
Up South, Inc.
310 Convent Avenue, Suite 2A,
New York, NY 10031.
Your contribution allows us to present this and other extraordinary writers, artists, thinkers—especially book authors.
Up South, Inc. is the producer of the annual Up South International Book Festival, held in New York City in the Fall.
We are a nonprofit organization, 501 (c) 3, accepting tax deductible contributions.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
AT 3 p.m. this Saturday (Dec. 6), I will appear with my husband, Steven Barnes, and Blair Underwood at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles as we sign copies of our new steamy mystery collaboration, In the Night of the Heat. The store is at 4331 Degnan Blvd.
Blair, Steve and I appeared at Eso Won last fall, and it had the feel of a community event: a full house, actress CCH Pounder and even a politician or two. And if you’ve never had the chance to meet Blair—or, heck, even if you have—it’s a great chance to make your friends jealous. (For video clips and an excerpt from our second Tennyson Hardwick novel, see the entries below.)
This is the only joint signing scheduled for In the Night of the Heat, which makes it special. The store will also have copies of Blood Colony (my African Immortals novel) and The Ancestors, the book of ghost novellas I did with Brandon Massey and L.A. Banks. But this event is exciting for other reasons, too.
Those of you who remember the glory days for your favorite black authors may have noticed that publishers don’t tour the way they used to—-and so I do signings less frequently. Family life also has a little to do with that-—with a husband and a 4-1/2-year-old at home, hitting the road has less allure than it once did.
But it’s not your imagination: Black publishing is changing. Publishing is changing, PERIOD. I just got an email from Zane on the subject while composing this blog. One publisher recently caused an industry-wide stir by announcing that it has asked its editors not to acquire new books right now. And with less disposable income in the hands of many Americans, authors and bookstores are struggling.
Eso Won is no exception. Owners James Fugate and Tom Hamilton were surprised by a marked decrease in book sales when they left La Brea and moved into Leimert Park more than two years ago. At this time last year, there was real fear that the store would be closing down.
So far, they are hanging in there. But how’s business?
“Slow,” says Fugate. “Black books are just not doing well in general.”
There are a lot of factors, perhaps: A bad economy. Internet book sales. Competition with chains. Fewer book tours to draw in the crowds.
But Fugate also says that he believes that in recent years, more of the books are lacking in originality and story. He wonders if some black readers may feel squeezed out by shifts in the marketplace.
The one bright spot: Barack Obama. For about a week after the election, buyers were flocking to his Barack Obama shelves. “The Obama stuff is helping quite a bit,” he says.
Eso Won is special to me, and it’s a Los Angeles institution. When I appeared at the store with my mother, Patricia Stephens Due, to sign copies of Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, I looked up and saw Angela Bassett sitting out in the audience! Long before Blair became my co-author, I always looked forward to seeing him at my signings at Eso Won too. The store has hosted everyone from Bill Cosby to Barack Obama to Octavia E. Butler to Walter Mosley, and the list goes on…
And I’ll be there Saturday. Leimert Park is a funky little area, worth the visit. For more information or to pre-order a book to be signed, call Eso Won at 323-290-1048.
Even if you can’t make it Saturday, don’t forget about Eso Won this holiday season. Or the bookstores in your own neighborhood.
Trust me, they’re struggling.
Barack can’t do it alone.
ABC is saying it won’t renew the series “Dirty Sexy Money,” which co-stars Blair, Peter Krause, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland and Lucy Liu. Blair’s publicist assures me that all is not yet lost, so email ABC.com, click on CONTACT US, and tell the network that you can’t live without “Dirty Sexy Money.”
Spread the word. It helps. Really.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Very soon, my newest book, The Ancestors, will finally be available: Amazon.com says it's available Nov. 25, although the official pub date isn't until December. This book is a first for me: I wrote a novella entitled "Ghost Summer," and authors L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey wrote novellas, too. (Yes, they're all about ghosts!) This is my first ghost story since Joplin's Ghost.
The Ancestors, as I've announced earlier, is also the Essence Book Club pick for January '09, which came as a great thrill and surprise to us. This is another lesson on strength in numbers: We all write about the supernatural and/or suspense novels, we all have individual readerships, and we wanted to publish a joint project.
Here's what Publishers Weekly says about The Ancestors:
Talented African-American authors Banks (The Shadows), Massey (Don't Ever Tell) and Due (Blood Colony) explore ancestral roots in intriguing horror novellas. Banks puts a time-travel twist into "Ev'ry Shut Eye Ain't Sleep," in which antique dealer Abe Morgan helps a friend, Rashid Jackson, protect Aziza, Rashid's granddaughter, from "the shades" after Aziza inherits her grandmother's house. In Massey's "The Patriarch," a crime novelist brings his fiancée to Coldwater, Miss., to introduce her to his mom's kinfolk, but runs afoul of a powerful family secret. Due's "Ghost Summer," the best of the trio, also works as a YA novel. Davie Stephens, who's determined to become a 12-year-old ghost buster, and various family members find themselves haunted by a 1909 cold case in Graceville, Fla. All three contributors successfully combine scary themes with rich historical detail. (Dec.)
But there's no reason to wait!
Here's an excerpt from my novella "Ghost Summer" in The Ancestors:
The dirt in the area where his grandparents lived was called “red,” but to Davie it looked more like a deep shade of orange. It was still called “Georgia clay,” even though the Georgia border was a half hour’s drive. The dirt didn’t care which side of the border it was on, Georgia or Florida. The orange dirt was everywhere, right beneath the grass.
The orange dirt and gravel path ran through the center of the yard, presenting Davie with a clear choice-—the gate and the road were on one side of the path, and the fence and the woods were on the other.
Davie noticed that Grandpa still hadn’t repaired the broken logs in one section of the ranch-style fence that separated his property from the woods. The same fence had been broken six months before. Tell-tale hoof-prints gathered around Grandma’s fake deer near the driveway were evidence that woodland creatures were trespassing at night.
Dumb-butts can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, Davie thought.
Decision time: Hunting for snakes in the woods, or Rock Band?
Davie was about to take the path down to the road and head for the Reed house when he saw something move in the woods, beyond the broken fence. He heard dead leaves marking footsteps as it ran away, fast. Whatever it was, it was big.
A deer? Another kid playing?
Davie’s decision was made. He searched the castoffs from his grandparents’ own personal forest of pine and oak trees until he found a sturdy dead branch as his walking stick. The stick was almost as tall as he was, and Davie liked the way it fit in his hand. He stripped away the smaller branches until it looked more like Mad-Eye Moody’s staff from Harry Potter. He tapped the thick stick on the ground to make sure it would hold instead of rotting at the center. Satisfied, he headed into the woods.
Davie leaned on his stick for support when he climbed over the broken fence.
The woods behind his grandparents’ house wasn’t shady like the woods in movies. Most of the trees had thin trunks and not much shade to spare, but they were growing as far as he could see. While it might not be much to look at, Davie knew there were snakes, because Grandpa had told him he killed a rattler in the driveway only two weeks before. At the very least, he would probably go home with a story to tell.
Davie liked running in the underbrush, with obstacles every which way and snap decisions to be made. There—jump on the stone! There—watch out for the hole! There were stumbles now and then, mostly just harmless scrapes. Acts of coordination and fearlessness were necessary for any ghost-hunter. Most ghosts were friendly, but how lame would it be to leave himself helpless if he met a hostile? Plan B was filed under R for Run.
Davie didn’t have to run far. He’d gone only about thirty yards when he saw three boys huddled in a circle in a clearing. None of them were wearing shirts, only ragged-looking shorts of varying lengths. The three of them looked like brothers, each one younger than the next. The eldest could be Davie’s age.
Davie’s feet made a racket crackling in the dead leaves, but none of the boys turned around to look at him. When the boys held hands, Davie understood why: They were praying over a huge hole someone had dug in the ground. As he got closer, Davie saw a large German shepherd sleeping beside the hole.
Not SLEEPING, crap-for-brains, Davie told himself. The big dog was dead. Its face and muzzle were matted with orange-brown mud.
He’d interrupted a funeral! Davie backed up a step and halfway hid himself behind a rare wide-trunked tree of pale, peeling bark, thin as paper. Davie had never had a dog—Mom thought keeping a dog inside the house was a disgrace, as did her whole family in Ghana, where dogs apparently were not considered man’s best friend by a long shot—but he understood how sad it was when a pet died. He’d hat a rat once, Roddy, like in the movie Flushed Away.
Roddy was an awesome rat. Lay across Davie’s shoulder while he walked around, no problem. Rats were as smart as dogs, people said, but rats definitely got screwed in the life-span department. His rat had lived only two years. When Roddy died, Davie had cried himself to sleep for two nights, and hadn’t wanted a pet of any kind ever since. He, Dad, Mom and Neema had buried Roddy in the back yard, just like these boys.
But Roddy’s hole in the ground hadn’t been nearly so big, like a tunnel. The mountain of Georgia clay dirt beside the hole was as tall as the oldest boy. Someone had done some serious digging, Davie realized. Maybe their Dad helped, or someone with a jack. It would have taken him all day to dig a hole like that. Or longer.
Davie noticed that all of the boys were caked in red clay dust just as the setting sun intensified in a bright red-orange burst the color of a mango, turning the boys into shadowed silhouettes.
Watching their vigil, Davie made up an epitaph: Here lies Smoky, a Hell of a Dog / Crossed McCormack Road in the Midnight Fog--
Suddenly, the youngest boy turned and stared him in the eye, whipping his head around so fast that Davie’s rhyme left his mind. The boy was standing only ten yards from him, but his eyes were his most visible feature. The whites were, anyway. That was all Davie could see, a white-eyed stare vivid against dark skin.
“Sorry about your dog,” Davie said. No need to be rude. The oldest boy looked about twelve, too. Maybe he knew somewhere to play basketball. This clan could be a valuable find.
None of the others looked at Davie. The youngest, who looked six, turned away again.
It seemed best to leave them alone. Davie had never been to a funeral, thank goodness—-Mom couldn’t afford to bring him and Neema when her father in Ghana died, so she and Imani went alone—-but he figured funerals weren’t a good place to make friends.
If the boys lived nearby, he’d find them later. If not, whatever. Kids in Graceville weren’t always nice to him, as if he didn’t meet their standards. He talked funny and liked weird things, from a Graceville point of view, so he never knew what kind of reception to expect.
Davie left and turned for home, digging his stick into pockets of soft soil as he walked. He didn’t run, this time. It was getting dark, harder to see, and there was no reason to take a chance on breaking his leg. It would be ghost time soon.
Davie didn’t realize how relieved he was to leave the woods until he saw the welcoming broken fence in the shadow of his grandparents’ huge oak tree, which was covered in moss like Silly String. Home! The underbrush had seemed unruly, and he was glad to find his shoes back on neatly-cropped grass. He felt a strange wriggling sensation in his stomach. Until he climbed back over the fence, he hadn’t let himself notice he was a little scared. Just a little.
But the real scare didn’t come until he got to the house.
Davie decided to go to the back door instead of the front because his shoes might be muddy, and Grandma would have a fit if he tracked dirt on her hardwood floors. As he was climbing the concrete steps to the back door, he glimpsed the kitchen window.
What he saw there made his stomach drop out of him.
Grandpa Walter stood by the fridge, arms crossed and head hanging; he might have been studying his shoes, except that his eyes were closed. Grandma was clearing away dishes from the table, where Dad was sitting alone.
Muted through the window, Davie heard Grandma saying, “…It’s all right, baby. It’s all gonna’ work out. No court in the country will let her take them all the way over there, I don’t care if she’s the mother or not. What’s she gonna’ do, steal them? If she wants a fight, well, she’s got one. We have money put away. You’ll get a good lawyer, and that’s that. Don’t you worry.”
His father sat at the table, forehead resting against the tabletop, his arms wrapped around his ears. His father was crying.
All night, Davie lay in bed trying to unhear and unsee it. Every time he saw the snapshot of that kitchen window, remembering Grandma’s words and Dad’s grieving pose, his stomach ate him. Now he knew what people meant when they said Too Much Information: It wasn’t about stuff being too gross, or none of your business. Some information was too big for a single brain. Each time Davie remembered what he’d seen and heard, the enormity grew exponentially, with new and more terrible realizations.
His parents were definitely getting a divorce. Check. Hadn’t seen that coming, since they never argued or raised their voices in front of him. They snapped at each other sometimes, but who didn’t?
Okay, so Mom thought Dad worked too much. She’d never made that a secret. And Dad definitely liked spending time alone. There was no denying it. And Mom’s bad moods probably got on his nerves. So now, after twenty years, they were getting a divorce?
That nuclear bomb should have been enough for one night—-hell, one lifetime—-but there was layer after layer, and it unspooled slowly as Davie stared at his grandparents’ popcorn ceiling, seeing only visions of the kitchen window.
As if the D-word wasn’t enough, Mom wanted to take them to Ghana. Dad didn’t want them to go. Grandma and Grandpa were Dad’s war-chiefs, and they were about to go to war.
Against Mommy. And Mommy against Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa. And no matter what happened, he and Neema and Imani were FUBAR. Effed Up Beyond All Recogition.
The only tiny morsel of comfort Davie could take from The Worst Moment of His Entire Life was the knowledge that Grandpa Walter, Grandma and—-Thank you, God—-Dad himself had not seen him at the window. He’d had the good sense to duck away before a wandering pair of eyes found him and waved him inside to take his seat at the Oh-Crap table.
“Davie, we’re glad you finally know the truth… You’ll need you to be a man now…”
The very thought of that conversation with Dad made Davie want to vomit. He kept his palm clamped across his mouth, just in case of a surprise puke attack. He felt it in his throat.
As long as he ignored their sad eyes, went on with his life and pretended he hadn’t heard, they would have to keep pretending, too. All of them would be putting on a show for each other, like a reality TV show called “FUBAR,” but at least then Neema wouldn’t find out. Or Imani, who couldn’t possibly know, because she’d been in way too good a mood when she left for Evanston, Illinois, to meet her future as an incoming freshman in a minority summer program.
Let them have their lives a while longer, anyway. For the summer, anyway.
Ignorance was the only mercy he could still do for them. He only wished his father had his S-H-I-T together and could have kept him out of the loop a little longer, too. How the hell would he get through the next month?
Davie was on the verge of crying himself to sleep the way he had after Roddy the Rat died, but his unborn sob caught in his throat when he heard the footsteps padding against the hallway floorboards.
He thought he’d imagined it, so he sat up and didn’t move, not even to get his flashlight. His ears were his most important tool: He listened.
Click-click-click. This time, he heard not only the footsteps, but clicking nails. Like a dog’s paws. A heavy dog—about the size of the big German shepherd.
Davie had accidentally been holding his breath, and he needed to breathe. He took a long gasp of air, louder than he’d meant to, and stopped breathing again.
The dog’s feet padded closer to his closed bedroom door. Davie stared toward the crack between the door and the frame in the moonlight, and he saw a shadow cross from one side to the other. About the size of a dog’s nose.
Sffffff sfff ffffff. Sniffing at the door.
“Holy effing S-H-I-T,” Davie said, but only after the sniffing noise stopped and the sound of footsteps had padded away to silence.
Davie’s plan was to lie absolutely still and do everything in his power to convince the dog that there was no reason to try to get into his room. Good dog, bad dog, whatever, Davie didn’t want a ghost encounter with a dog. His central plan in case of a hostile entity-—Communication and Negotiation-—wasn’t worth crapola with a dog.
The first ghost he met up close should definitely be human.
But the ghosts were tracking him already.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due
Sunday, November 9, 2008
It is a joy so deep and quenching that, at times, it reminds me of grief.
Just when I think I’ve come to terms with the whole thing, there are tears at unexpected times. The night after the election, I turned on CNN in our hotel room after a long day, and I heard Wolf Blitzer say “President-elect Obama.” And then another newscaster after that. And then President Bush himself.
President-elect Obama. (The word “elect” is silent to my starved ear.)
The world feels turned on its head.
And I cry in front of strangers.
And I am full to the brim with it.
And my life has been changed: I can never go back to the time Before.
But these tears ride a river of joy unlike any I have ever known. Or thought I could know. Not just a massage-—a bath.
This joy, as sweet as it is, cannot replace my life’s triumphs. But it is a far deeper well. Like Jesse said, my tears are not just for me.
I feel joy for my grandmothers.
I feel joy for my grandfathers.
I feel joy for my parents—who watched the results at my side.
I feel joy for my son—who shrieked louder than anyone in the room.
I feel joy for my stepdaughter—who inherited a new world in time for college graduation.
I feel joy for my nieces, nephews and cousins.
I feel joy for my aunts and uncles.
I feel joy for strangers.
I feel joy for children everywhere.
I feel joy and grief for those who helped light the way, but who did not make it to this day. The fount of feelings seems endless.
But unlike with grief, I want to hold the feeling with all my might.
And never let it go.
Steve and I are in Antigua for the Antigua & Barbuda Literary Festival, a precious event we have attended before. We're having a wonderful time with fellow writers like Eric Jerome Dickey, Lorna Goodison , Tina McElroy Ansa and Elizabeth Nunez. We began our trip the day after the election, so we are watching events in the States from afar.
Business-wise, this is a hard time for many people in the publishing industry. Most of the gossip I’ve heard during this meeting of writers, editors, agents and publishers is grim.
But Barack Obama is everywhere, changing the mood.
The streets bear signs: “Antigua for Obama.”
The Prime Minister, Winston Baldwin Spencer—-who addressed our group on opening night—-announced that he has declared a new name for the island’s tallest peak: Mt. Obama.
When Obama’s name comes up with local residents, faces break into grins.
Obama is the toast of our tables at every meal.
We tell each other stories of reformed slackers and friends who posed for pictures with Obama, or received personal phone messages from him. (Or who, like my husband and sister, shook his hand.) We recite our favorite passages from his speeches, and how amazed we were by the operation he commanded.
We marvel at the healing image of Barack and Michelle as the strong and steady couple we all aspire to be—and Malia and Sasha melt our hearts.
We trade stories about the ways we are looking forward to visiting the Washington monuments or make it to the Inauguration, contemplating our citizenship in a fascinating new way.
We laugh. We cry. The world is laughing and crying with us, a party like none I’ve ever seen. We are dizzy from giddiness.
But we are also realists. We do not underestimate the task.
The iceberg is upon us, and President-elect Obama must race to turn the ship around.
We have readied our oars.
With our new captain, we will bear down and row.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Last night, during nightly bedtime snuggle time with my 4-1/2-year-old son, Jason asked me, “Why does Grandma wear dark glasses?”
Grandma and Grandpa are much on Jason’s mind. He’s looking forward to flying on an airplane this weekend to see them in Quincy, Florida, twenty-one miles west of Tallahassee---along with my sisters and Jason’s uncles and cousins. We are traveling from Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta to gather to watch the election returns as a family. That’s how important Barack Obama’s candidacy is to us.
And the story of Grandma’s dark glasses is one of the reasons why.
My mother, Patricia Stephens Due, spent 49 days in jail in 1960 for ordering food at a Woolworth in Tallahassee, becoming part of the nation’s first Jail-in. Soon afterward, she and other Florida A&M University students took part in a peaceful march to protest the jailing of their classmates, and a police officer lobbed a canister of tear-gas into my mother’s face and eyes. She was 20 years old. It was 1960.
Both of my parents wear the scars of the civil rights movement. But my mother’s are so easy to see that even my preschooler noticed.
“Well…” I said, “when grandma was very young—younger than your sister, Nicki---she and other students were marching together. Hundreds of them…” I told him what I could. Some of it will have to wait. But I did tell him that Grandma had something called “tear-gas” thrown in her face.
“It makes your eyes hurt. And her eyes have been hurting a little bit ever since, so she wears dark glasses even inside the house, when there’s no sun. Even when there isn’t much light.”
I don’t know how old I was when I first heard the story behind my mother’s dark glasses, but I was about Jason’s age when I covered myself with baby powder after I was refused admission to several segregated Montessori schools in Miami. I tried to make myself white. “Will they let me go to school now?” I said.
I can only imagine how my parents felt trying to explain skin color and how it might dictate my place in the world—especially after all they had been through! Countless protests, arrests, court dates, sit-ins, a Jail-in and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act had not been enough. Their black child was not welcome at those schools.
I wrote about growing up in a civil rights household in the book I co-authored with my mother, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. My father, John Due, is a civil rights attorney who defended Dr. King in St. Augustine in 1964 and dedicated much of his life to community organizing in Miami.
I have observed little changes—all those “firsts”—my whole life. And I had no illusions about how those changes came about. It wasn’t by magic or coincidence. In the words of Frederick Douglass, whom I quoted in oratorical contests as a child, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress... Power concedes nothing without a demand: It never did, and it never will.”
There is something unmistakably clear about the election of a black man to the highest office in the nation, ringing all the way back to the founders who argued over the abolition of slavery. And for activists like my parents who have felt sorrowed by lingering poverty, educational gaps and the incarceration rate in the black community, President Barack Obama is a strong counter-point.
He also happens to be an extraordinary candidate. Period.
When he is elected Tuesday---sorry, I can’t bring myself to say IF---Barack Obama will breathe life and hope into Americans of all ages who wonder if the American Dream is real or just spin. And to Jason, who woke up one morning this week chanting, “Obama! Obama! Obama!” and who once insisted on going to bed in a tie and dress shirt so he would look like Obama…
Let’s just say it’s a far cry from what happened to me when I was 4.
My talk with Jason about my mother’s dark glasses didn’t carry nearly the sting it would have if a different world was waiting for Jason outside of the safety of his bedroom.
Still, I’m not naïve: I know that many American families still don’t have reason to believe that their children’s futures are safe. I know that teachers and police officers might still make assumptions about Jason because of his race. But it will be different than what has been.
Different how? I can’t say. I don’t even know how it will feel to stand on the other side of Inauguration Day in January. Or to see a family take residence in the White House that will remind me so much of my own.
But I’m eager to find out.
Jason will be too young on Tuesday to understand exactly what he is experiencing. No matter how many stories I tell him about our family history, he will never understand what it was like to walk in his grandparents’ shoes. Or his father’s. Or in mine.
But he will KNOW from the dawn of his waking awareness that he is a full citizen of the nation of his birth, and that no goal should lie beyond his precious imagination. And I will not flinch from telling him the unhappy stories, because I want him to understand how we arrived here. That he and Barack Obama are standing on his grandparents’ shoulders.
“I’m going to tell Grandma to make her glasses LIGHT,” Jason said after my bedtime story, as if the answer was that simple.
Tuesday, I can’t wait for my son and his grandparents to see the light come in.
All parties at my parents’ house have music—and some, like the ones on Dr. King’s birthday, have speeches too. Here’s a partial playlist I suggest if you’re having an Election Watching party.
These suggestions are in no particular order.
**We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
**For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
**Balm in Gilead (Sweet Honey in the Rock)
**Celebration (Kool & the Gang)
**Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)
**Walk With Him (The Highway Q’s)
**Seteng Sediba (Soweto Gospel Choir)
**This Little Light (The Montgomery Improvement Association: Sing for Freedom: Civil Rights Movement Songs)
**Respect (Aretha Franklin)
**I Got the Feelin’ (James Brown)
**Love Train (The O’Jays)
**You Gotta Be (Des’ree)
**This is How We Do It (Montell Jordan)
I also suggest the following inspirational speeches, which have particular power at this point in history. (They’re sprinkled within my own playlist! The excerpts below are VERY short and edited, with the exception of Obama’s 2004 address.)
** I Have a Dream (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Can Hear it Now: The Sixties, narrated by Walter Cronkite.)
*Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You: Ask What You Can Do for Your Country (John F. Kennedy: I Can Hear it Now: The Sixties.)
**Decides to Run for President (Robert Kennedy: I Can Hear it Now: The Sixties)
**Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention Address
Friday, October 31, 2008
Blair made a terrific appearance on "The View" Wednesday, and I've posted it in case you missed it. Everyone in the audience got a copy of our new mystery novel, In the Night of the Heat!
Quick trivia on In the Night of the Heat, which is about an actor and former gigolo hired to solve the murder of a football star accused of killing his wife: The entire novel takes place the week before Tuesday's election! My husband, Steven Barnes, and I wrote the novel---but Blair, as he explains, helped bring the book to life with the character of Tennyson Hardwick. It's the follow-up to Casanegra, and many readers say it's better than the first...and they loved Casanegra, too. (No, you don't have to read Casanegra first.)
Hope you enjoy the clip!
Friday, October 10, 2008
As a former journalist, a political observer and an Obama supporter, it's going to be hard to watch the news, listen to the radio and read blogs between now and Nov. 4, especially if the rhetoric trying to cast Barack Obama as a "terrorist" (read: The Other) keeps getting ratcheted up. I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised.
Even with every poll indicating that voters have more pressing things on their minds, there are those in the opposition who want to traffic in fear. After all, fear is the easiest emotion of all to manipulate.
And, thus far, so few admonitions of, "There there, let us keep our decorum and remember that we are all good Americans."
As a nation, I'm afraid we're about to stare ourselves in the mirror...and we're not going to like everything we're about to see.
But in the end, I am certain, fear will not prevail. That was something Barack Obama must have believed when he set out on his unlikely journey to the White House, and I believe it even more strongly than ever today.
But there will be bumps on the road to Election Day.
Israel knows a thing or two about bumps along the way.
At a time when cynics within our political system would fan the flames of fear in the hopes of winning votes, it's so nice to get this breath of fresh air from across the sea...
This video inspires me to keep working. Make more phone calls. Talk to more neighbors. Vote early.
I'll take hope over fear any day.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Lots of great news in the past few days—and utterly unexpected.
In December, my ghost story "Ghost Summer" will be published in a book of novellas called The Ancestors (Kensington). The anthology includes me, L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey. We're kind of a literary family, so we decided to do a project together.
What do we have in common? We all write supernatural and paranormal fiction with black and multi-ethnic protagonists. Urban paranormal. Supernatural suspense. (Yikes—in some circles, even called horror!) And we've been doing it for a long time.
L.A. Banks has set publishing on fire with her New York Times bestselling Vampire Huntress Legends series. Brandon Massey writes awesome supernatural/suspense novels like Don't Ever Tell and The Other Brother, and his Dark Dreams anthologies have enlivened the genre, shining a light on talented supernatural writers like Terence Taylor, Linda Addison, Christopher Chambers, Robert Fleming and Michael Boatman. (Yes, the actor. Also a writer.)
And I’ve been writing about my own ghosts, curses, gifts and demons. My latest solo novel, Blood Colony, is about African immortals with healing blood, a follow-up to My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood.
I blurbed the first L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey novels—Minion and Thunderland, respectively—so I like to pat myself on the back for having the good sense to recognize talent and drive when I see it.
Slowly but surely, the audience has been growing. Even the great Octavia E. Butler wrote her own unique version of a vampire story in her last novel, Fledgling. (If you haven't read it…why not?)
Still, don't think we chose a well-paved road. It has been bumpy. Any reader who has ever argued on behalf of our novels at book clubs meetings knows that we haven't always been an easy sell. ("It's about WHAT?")
We know. It has been lonely, at times, to write what we do. We have all traded advice and war stories. And one day, we all said, "Hey, let's do a book together."
Well, we just learned that The Ancestors is the January ’09 pick for the Essence Book Club. We're grinning ear to ear. We didn't expect it.
I feel doubly blessed. Last summer, my mystery novel Casanegra—the predecessor to In the Night of the Heat, was picked by the Essence Book Club too. Ironically, Casanegra is also a collaboration—with my husband, Steven Barnes, and actor Blair Underwood.
Hmmm. What's the lesson from this happy surprise?
There is power in numbers? Readers will find you, so keep on writing?
We're just all so grateful for your support as readers over the years.
Thanks to you, The Ancestors will be out in December.
THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
The Miami Dolphins—who had been winless for twenty of their last twenty-one games—just gave the New England Patriots a legendary beating that has been the talk of sports television and radio. Some New England fans must be crying. As a Dolphins fan, I know how losses like that feel. (See my 12/16/07 blog on the agony of the 2007 season.)
So this win is not only big for Miami fans—it’s BIG, period. The Patriots! Last year’s Super Bowl contenders, who came within a fingernail of obliterating the Dolphins’ long-standing distinction as they only undefeated NFL team in a season, played like the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Trust me, that’s not a compliment.
It’s hard to fit it all in my head: The Miami Dolphins embarrassed New England 38-13. On New England’s home field. And no, the game was not just a dream—although that notion recurred persistently as I watched the rout.
Anything is possible.
Yes, we can.
I’m about to write my first television script! Steven Barnes, my husband, was just named story editor on BET’s “Hannibal” animated series, executive produced and directed by Vin Diesel—who will also voice the older version of African conqueror Hannibal. Steve and I are collaborating on a script, and we’re very excited. Watch for “Hannibal” in 2009!
**Blair Underwood will appear on "Live With Regis and Kelly" Friday, Oct. 3 to talk about In the Night of the Heat, our collaborative mystery novel. Don't forget to watch! (And see Blair's recent appearance on the "Today" show posted below...)
**I don’t want to miss Angela Bassett’s debut on NBC’s “ER” Sept. 25—all the more fun because she’s cast alongside true-life husband Courtney B. Vance, who will play her…husband! What a treat! I don’t know the storyline, but it’s bound to be powerfully acted. I’m one of the few people who has never seen an episode of “ER.” Guess I’m watching now.
** One word: “Dexter.” If you’re curious, rent Season 1 on DVD and see what all the fuss is about. Dare you to stop watching. The Season 3 premiere is Sept. 28 on Showtime.
**You know I’ll be watching Blair Underwood on ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” Oct. 1. The billboards for “Dirty, Sexy” are up all over Hollywood. Great cast also includes Lucy Liu, Peter Krause and Donald Sutherland. Blair has a meaty role—a multilingual billionaire who is the main family’s nemesis. Go, Blair! Even if you missed last season, you’ll catch up.
Monday, September 15, 2008
It's hard to beat the fun of waking up in the morning to find Blair Underwood on national television talking about our new Tennyson Hardwick novel, In the Night of the Heat. The interview was fun, so I thought I'd share it! (Did anyone else see it?)
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Who is THAT? I thought in the millisecond before I remembered she was my girl. April had changed her hairstyle, framing her face with chin-length braids in the front, elegantly styled into a shorter page-boy style in the back. Her haircut made a dramatic shift on her face, from cute and girlish to queenly. For a year solid, I hadn’t touched anyone else. Monogamy was the last thing I’d expected in this lifetime.
My girl. My girlfriend. My life had a new vocabulary.
April undressed herself bit by bit as she crossed the room toward me; her jacket on the coat rack, her hat on the sofa. April’s ivory sweater, stretched tautly across her bosom, made me wish we were on our way upstairs. April docked herself against me. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. Her lips brushed too quickly across mine. “You won’t believe...”
I interrupted her, holding her still for a kiss with a little flavor. Her lips relaxed, offering nectar. Then she pulled away shyly, as she always did when Dad was nearby. April was smiling, but she wasn’t planning to stay. I could see it in her eyes.
“So get this: The brother’s car blew up,” April went on. “They chase him for nearly eight miles, and his Ferrari flips into a ditch. This poor old lady he broadsided on La Cienega might not wake up, but of course he walks away without a scratch.”
April’s stories from work made me feel tired. After staring down a gun-barrel in the desert that day, I felt no schadenfreude. But April hadn’t been with me in the desert. She was a police reporter, and death entertained her just fine.
“They’re lucky nobody got killed,” April went on. “These police chases are out of control. Yeah, he robbed a bank, but sometimes guilty people go free. Deal with it.”
“Saw it on TV,” Dad called from the kitchen.
Dad had hooked April up with police sources more than once, old buddies from his Hollywood division, many of whom had risen high on the ladder and were willing to speak off the record. Retired Captain Richard Allen Hardwick and April Forrest were becoming a formidable team.
“Where’s Chela?” April asked me.
“Chess club, ‘til eight-thirty. She said not to wait.”
April lowered her chin, skeptical. “Chess?”
“I bribed her into giving it a try.”
“How much of a bribe?”
Dad wheeled himself into the dining room, a large plate of warm nachos on his lap. Suddenly, I was surrounded by observers.
“An iPhone,” I said. “Let’s eat.”
“Plainfoolishness,” Dad said, or something like it. With words at easy disposal, Dad would have been ranting. A nascent rant glimmered in his eyes. April sighed, too. Tag-team.
The fact was, it was Chela’s second chess club meeting in a month, which was more commitment than she had given the drama club. Chela needed to buy into something new, and chess had a nice ring to it. Better, by far, than her former hobbies. Besides, Chela hadn’t come around to liking April yet, and wasn’t sorry to miss Thursday dinner.
For now, separate corners worked best.
Dad mumbled grace too low to hear, the only time he spoke at length without self-consciousness. We couldn’t quite make out the words, but the gratitude in his voice needed no translation.
April’s face lit up. “Oh, Ten, don’t forget—the Tau fund-raiser is tomorrow night.”
I searched my memory, and came up dry.
“The scholarship fund, remember? You signed up for the celebrity booth. People come up and take pictures with you. The committee chair loves ‘Homeland,’ and she was so excited when I said you’d come. Give me the dates for your episodes, and she’ll have all our sorors Tivo you.”
I’d forgotten all about the fund-raiser. When April’s work week ended, her community work began. Her exhausting schedule was one of the reasons we saw so little of each other.
“So you’re tied up tomorrow night?” I said.
“But if you’re there with me...” she said playfully, and grinned. Her dimples wrestled the disappointment right out of me.
“Okay.” It was hard to say no to April, another growing problem.
I felt Dad beaming silently across the table. He must have thought he’d arrived in Heaven early. If police captains had the same powers as ship captains, he would have married me to April on the spot. He'd just heard me commit my Friday night to a scholarship fund-raiser hosted by one of the country’s most prestigious black fraternities, Tau Alpha Gamma. Dad was a Tau, too, but I had refused to pledge during my year in college, mainly because I knew how badly he wanted me to. Dad never left the house except to see his doctor, so I knew better than to invite him.
“Thanks, Ten.” April draped an arm over me when she kissed my cheek, which gave me hope that she might come upstairs after dinner. “Guess who else committed today? T.D. Jackson.” Her voice soured. “He must be on a goodwill tour before his trial. You know it must be for a good cause if I can stand to be in the same room with him. I’ll have to meditate first.”
T.D. Jackson. Fallen football and action star, accused of murdering his ex-wife and her fiancé. Despite a mountan of physical and circumstantial evidence, he'd been acquitted in the criminal trial six months before. No surprise there. The rich and famous rarely go to prison. Justice would have another crack at him, though: The civil trial would begin in a week.
Twenty years before that, T.D. Jackson lived in my dormitory suite for about three months while I was at Southern California State. He was a star from the moment he set foot on campus. What I remember most was the parade of girls to and from his door. Once, I ran into him in the bathroom as he flushed a condom away at six in the morning. The lazy sneer on his face said: Most of you losers aren’t even out of bed yet, and I’ve already been laid.
T.D. Jackson made April crazy. The thought that he had gotten away with abusing and finally killing an upstanding sister seemed to keep her awake at night, as if his very existence set back the progress of civilization. Her teeth were already grinding.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” I reminded her.
Dad and April both made comments, but they kept them under their breath. The guilt or innocence of T.D. Jackson and what his case did or didn’t say about the roles of race and gender in the criminal justice system had already spiced our dinner conversations.
But I was glad I would run into T.D. again. I didn’t expect him to remember me, but I looked forward to shaking his hand and staring into his eyes. Wondered what I would see there. If I was right, T.D.’s eyes would probably broadcast the same thing April had just told me herself:
Deal with it.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
My heart is so full. Please allow the children to enjoy this with you and hug them tightly for me.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Welcome to The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows, edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers, an anthology of black superhero stories that is unlike anything that has come before.
In addition to contributions from Walter Mosley, L.A. Banks and other award-winning writers, my husband Steven Barnes and I contributed a short story collaboration called “Trickster, set in a futuristic Africa. (Those of you who read “Danger Word” in Dark Dreams have already seen a short-fiction collaboration from us—these are stories that neither of us would have written on our own! It takes a village…)
I have to admit: Unlike Steve, who is an encyclopedia of such matters, I don’t know much about comic books or superheroes. Even as a tomboy growing up, I never found superhero stories that caught fire in my imagination. Perhaps if there had been more superheroes of color…? I’ll never know.
But I do understand the power of myth in comprehending our own infinite potential, and superheroes have always signified much more than capes and tights. That is especially true in this anthology. The Darker Mask is for everyone, but its contributors are well aware that children and adults of color, in particular, have been missing those nutrients in our national popular culture.
Well, hope you’re hungry. The Darker Mask is long overdue. The stories are varied and excellent, the illustrations are amazing, and the time has come.
Oh, and it’s good, too! Publishers Weekly’s review concluded: “Deceptively simple and entertaining while never skimping on serious topics, this tight anthology will satisfy any superhero enthusiast.”
In other words, get ready for a hell of a flight.
[When you finish reading, please post a review on Amazon.com and send me a line here to tell me what you thought.]
Thursday, July 24, 2008
I try my best to answer reader questions individually, but that isn't always possible. So...I've decided to start posting questions and answers on my blog. Thanks so much for your interest!
Q: How can I purchase audio books on CD for My Soul To Keep, The Living Blood, and Blood Colony? These are my grandmother’s favorite books, and I routinely read them to her, but have just taken a full-time job and would like to give these to her as a gift. Please advise as soon as possible, as I would like to surprise her for her 85th birthday August 30th. Thanks for your help.--S.M.
A: That's wonderful that you read these books for your grandmother--and I definitely recommend that ALL readers check out audio books, especially older readers. I am currently listening to the audio book of The Good House as I fall asleep at night. (No, it doesn't give me nightmares!)
My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood are available on MP3 audio form (i.e., for an iPod) from Audible through Amazon.com. You may also purchase or rent them from Recorded Books at www.recordedbooks.com--although I warn you, they are expensive to buy!
Unfortunately, at this time there is no audio book for Blood Colony.
Q:I really LOVE your novels. I actually had the chance to make it out to your book signing in Burbank in June and it was truly a highlight of my trip to Los Angeles! I just finished reading the autographed copy of The Blood Colony. But one question has been nagging me since i read the living blood. Why didn't Teferi die from exsanguination when his son drained his blood from him? --Nicole B.
A: Ah!!! This is a question from a hard-core reader of my African Immortals series. In The Living Blood--the second book in the series--one of my immortals, Teferi, tells the story of being drained of his blood by his jealous mortal son, who is stealing blood to heal himself.
Why do some immortals die when their blood is drained and others do not?
The answer is simply this: magic. The kind of exsanguination performed on Teferi was by a mere mortal who slit him open. The blood would drain, but not ALL of it... and the remaining blood would rejuvenate. Fana is also not just any immortal: She has enhanced psychic abilities that enable her to exsanguinate mortals or immortals alike through the power of her mind. In Fana's case, exsanguination is COMPLETE. There are no remaining blood cells to rejuvenate. Because of her abilities, she can achieve perfection in a way a random throat-slitting would not. (There would still be some blood left SOMEWHERE...)
Q: Whatever happened to the film version of My Soul to Keep?
A: Blair Underwood and his production partners Nia Hill and D'Angela Steed of Strange Fruit Films got My Soul to Keep set up at Fox Searchlight a few years ago. Thus far, the studio has not been happy with the script...so the movie is still in development.
One bright spot: I'm working on a film adaptation of my novel The Good House with my husband and writing partner, Steven Barnes. We've already been hired to write two drafts, and we're at work on the third. (I got my WGA membership!) Since this is also in development at Fox Searchlight, we are hoping for an opportunity to write a script for My Soul to Keep ourselves. But please be patient--we probably won't know until later this year!
Monday, July 7, 2008
Dear Academy Voters:
OK, I admit it: I have known and worked with Blair for more than a decade now, and I’ve been a fan since “L.A. Law.” Many of Blair’s newer fans remember his work—and…er…his assets—in HBO’s “Sex & The City.” Or noticed him in Something New and Madea’s Family Reunion.
But a lot of us can take if farther back. Before I met Blair, when he appeared in 1996’s Set it Off as Jada Pinkett Smith’s love interest (if you haven’t seen it, rent it), I was moved to tears because I was a single woman convinced I would NEVER, EVER meet a man of the warmth, poise, intelligence and unabashed adoration Blair personified on-screen. (Turns out I married that guy after all, two year later—his name is Steven Barnes—but who knew?)
Blair deserves an Emmy for his work on television in the past year. Not just a nomination—which should be forthcoming next week—but he deserves to take home that statuette. If there was a category called “Busy,” Blair would win hands-down.
Blair is being lauded for his riveting portrayal of Alex, a Navy fighter pilot wrestling with demons after bombing an Iraqi school in HBO’s outstanding series "In Treatment." But let’s not forget that he was simultaneously appearing as the hunky Mr. Harris in CBS’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and as multilingual millionaire Simon Elder in ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money.” Not to mention directing his first feature film, Bridge to Nowhere. And, oh yes, promoting our collaborative erotic mystery novel, Casanegra.
Blair juggled all of that AND managed to pull out his best work on television in the difficult and intimate one-on-one format of "In Treatment," opposite Gabriel Byrne.
After more than twenty years in the business, Blair has taken Hollywood by the throat and forced television viewers to take a good, long look beyond his face.
As I watched Alex on "In Treatment," I knew that character. I’ve seen that combination of rage and vulnerability in people I care about, and Blair nailed it. Blair peeled himself away to show us the human devastation and emptiness at the core of the horrible tasks we ask our young men and women in uniform to carry out far from home.
Maybe it’s because Blair’s father is a retired Air Force Colonel who lived that feeling when the cameras weren’t rolling. Maybe it’s because Blair could be justifiably pissed off that despite an impressive career, the slots for Black Leading Men in movies are few and far between—especially since he’s so obviously meant to play a love interest, not a wise-cracking buddy or a spiritual guide.
Whatever the reasons he was able to access that rage, Blair’s portrayal of Alex is as authentic as his smile is bright.
Every once in a while, an actor we’ve admired for years reminds us why we first noticed him in the first place. And reinvents himself before our eyes.
True, I’m biased. But anyone who didn’t notice that this was Blair Underwood’s year must not have been watching enough television.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
What a national treasure. Thank you for allowing us to share your space, sweet Prince.
(No, I did not see P. Diddy and Cameron Diaz. Frankly, once I noticed the waiting stage in the backyard, I simply planted myself there and waited for Prince to play. I could have been standing between Stallone and Dr. Phil, who were both there, and I wouldn't have noticed. I did, however, have the chance to talk to the lovely and brilliant Zane. We talked about her film project, Addicted, which is underway at Lionsgate. A success for one is a success for all. Zane is a one-woman dynamo, and I wish her nothing but good fortune!)
Peak moment: Every second of Prince's set.
Peak moment before his set: When the deejay played Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." At Prince's house! The term I have coined is "Disco Euphoria." Best...Party...EVER.
I left Prince a copy of Joplin's Ghost. I hope he'll read it...or just touch it.
Somehow, I did manage to pull off a coherent interview the next morning with Troy Johnson of the African-American Literature Book Club (AALBC.com), which is posted below from YouTube.
Thanks, Troy! You did a terrific job.
Hope you enjoy it...
Thursday, June 19, 2008
June 3, 2008—The Delegate Count
By Tananarive Due
Can you hear the joy in the resounding silence?
We are dancing in our living rooms.
My son is four, and wants to wear his tie to bed.
My pastor points out God’s hand, leading a cheer for the Unnamed.
Why are we quiet? Are we dazed?
The World: “How did this happen?”
Us: “We do not know.”
Every headline a marvel.
We are crying with our parents.
We are gushing with strangers at the train station.
I visit the Liberty Bell: I feel Frederick Douglass’s gaze.
My mother and father are dancing to Aretha and Marvin.
My son says, “Yes, we can!”
© 2008 by Tananarive Due
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Finally! In June, my novel Blood Colony will appear as the third book in my African Immortals series. It can be read as a stand-alone novel—but I’m happy that readers who have followed this series since 1997’s My Soul to Keep will finally have a new installment. Readers, I have had a long and rewarding relationship with you, and I thank you for your patience.
Talented actor Blair Underwood (“In Treatment”/ “Dirty, Sexy Money”) helped inspire my imagination as I created my first immortal character, Dawit. (Recently, Blair worked with us on the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novel, Casanegra, which I co-authored with my husband, Steven Barnes. The Casanegra paperback also comes out in June, and its follow-up, In the Night of the Heat, will be published this fall.)
King promised to read my advance manuscript, and he faxed his blurb to my editor on the precise day it was due. He wrote: “I loved this novel…it’s really big and really satisfying, an eerie epic that bears favorable comparison to Interview with the Vampire. Ms. Due accomplishes the hardest thing of all with deceptive ease, creating characters we care about on their most human level. I read it nonstop, and think it’s destined for bestseller lists.”
It will come. My Soul to Keep is still in development at Fox Searchlight, and once Steve and I finish our screenplay version of my novel The Good House for Fox Searchlight (we’re currently writing the third draft—wish us luck!), we want to tackle the My Soul to Keep script next. I have learned that patience is everything in Hollywood.
I eventually picked up the story about eighteen months after My Soul to Keep ends, when Jessica’s baby is three-and-half. What if a stormy toddler had supernatural powers?
But I couldn’t sell The Living Blood right away. Because My Soul to Keep had earned such buzz—optioned for film right away by Samuel Goldwyn Productions even before Blair and Fox Searchlight—I thought it would be a breeze to sell The Living Blood. I wrote three sample chapters and an outline, then I waited to hear how much my publisher would offer.
My publisher passed. That moment was one of my most jarring lessons about the uneasy union between art and commerce: Take nothing for granted. It took time—and a few detours—but I finally published The Living Blood in 2001, four years after its predecessor. The acquiring editor at Pocket Books, Jason Kaufman, is today the editor at Doubleday who discovered Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. My new editor, Malaika Adero at Atria Books, is highly influential in black publishing, responsible for publishing Zane and Nathan McCall, among others, and is a rare island of stability in a business full of turnover. I have been blessed with good allies.
The Living Blood won an American Book Award, and Publishers Weekly said it should “set the standard for supernatural thrillers of the new millennium.”
Now I know I have more stories of Fana, Jessica and Dawit waiting to be told. Blood Colony is the latest in my African Immortals series, but it will not be the last.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I don't know who circulated the Photo.
It's to my own advantage to give the Clinton campaign the benefit of the doubt, because I've never tried to fuel my enthusiasm for Barack Obama with anger for Hillary Clinton.
There was a burp during the South Carolina race when Bill Clinton made a remark about Jesse Jackson--clearly, in my view, an attempt to derail the Obama freight train by trying to marginalize him as a "black" candidate--and I felt the first tendrils of anger. In a sudden flashback, I remembered how my joy at shaking Bill Clinton's hand on the campaign trail in 1992, and my profound sense of inclusion while I watched Maya Angelou recite her poem at his Inaugural, had been hammered down to much less warm feelings by the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency. Oh, yeah, I thought. NOW I remember....
Right after South Carolina, I got an email from a white Obama supporter, a friend of mine, and I could feel his disappointment and dejection that a conversation had begun from which he felt excluded, that the "race thing" was coming up. Neither of us was happy about it, and suddenly we seemed stuck on two sides of a fence. I realized then that it was a brilliant ploy, if the Clinton camp could pull it off. House Divided, and all that.
Luckily, they couldn't pull it off. Luckily, voters saw through it, so the tactic backfired. And after my husband and I attended the Democratic debate in Los Angeles, we walked out with a euphoric sense of party unity, dreaming of a Dream Ticket, and all was forgotten. Hillary might have been a fine president, we agreed, if only she hadn't run head-first into Barack Obama and the New Politics he created out of thin air. If only the last campaign of the 20th Century hadn't been rendered obsolete in the face of the first campaign of the next.
It's a classic case of bad timing. "The times, they are a-changin'..."
Then the Photo appears, just when the Clinton campaign must be feeling at its most desperate. It's easy to understand, Drudge Report aside, why Obama's campaign would assume that the dissemination of a photo of Obama in Somali tribal garb was the work of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. After all, nothing else has worked.
Cries of plagiarism seemed lame after a couple of news cycles--and in the midst of listening to Obama's audio version of Dreams from My Father, I've realized that Obama is a wiser writer than I am, and a better wordsmith than a good number of political candidates combined, past or present--and Clinton herself seemed to suffer a mental schism at the conclusion of the Texas debate, bracketing her clunky "Xerox" jibe with words that rang of John Edwards and Bill Clinton. As if she herself was eager to put the whole silly plagiarism charge to rest.
Clinton's sudden burst of anger over the Obama campaign's flyers about her health care proposal didn't seem like a good fit for her either. Sure, it's fodder for the debates, but voters won't buy the notion that Barack Obama is running a campaign that smacks of Rove. (Obama has re-imagined this process in ways that have stunned Democrats and Republicans alike.)
The worst thing anyone seems to be able to say about Obama is that his supporters like him TOO much, as if his oratory has somehow drained us of all sense and logic. That we sacrifice TOO much to send him money as often as we can, and we're TOO inspired to help make this nation as great as we know it can be.
But even that charge is only borne of Fear: If you don't "get" Obama, then somehow the rest of us must be under a spell; some kind of voodoo trickery. Obama must have a secret plan to lead us all chanting "Yes, We Can!" to the brink of some kind of crypto-Muslim-Black supremacist-hippie-socialist Apocalypse.
**Sigh** I feel sorry for those scared folks too. I hope they'll find out otherwise soon, once President Obama has taken his leadership skills and vision to the Oval Office and the world stage. And in the end, it's best to get what Obama called "silly season" out of the way--for his campaign to sharpen its claws swiping back at the ugly attacks that will await him from the party that has learned to rely on "Swiftboating" and fear-mongering rather than leadership.
But I still can't help wondering why and how the Photo appeared. It's true that candidates can't always control overzealous participants in their campaigns. No, Obama's campaign has not been perfect. "I'm not a perfect vessel," he has said. (But as we know, he learns pretty dang fast.)
Maybe the Photo of Obama was disseminated by Republican strategists who realized they could have a two-for-one shot: It makes Hillary look desperate, and it speaks a thousand words: "Be afraid. Be afraid. Be afraid. Be afraid." We've lived under that refrain for seven years. But the Clinton's campaign denial of involvement seemed so anemic--and came so late in the day--that I'm left to wonder...
And then there was Clinton's statement in Dallas: "But let's just stop and ask yourself: 'Why are you - why is anybody concerned about this?' ... You can find dozens of pictures of me in different parts of the world. You can find me wearing African outfits, Latin American outfits, Asian outfits ... when you travel to foreign countries, it's a sign of respect. What does that have to do with anything?"
It's one thing to deny circulating the photo, but another (to claim) not to understand the fuss. Do you think, Hillary, that those costumes might look different on you if you were black? If your father hailed from Kenya? Or if there had been an underground campaign (not, God forbid, by your opponent's own operatives, I'm sure) to paint you as a "secret" Muslim? If recent history hadn't taught us how easy it is to prey on fears of the Other?
I don't like wondering. I don't like feeling angry. I'll give the Clinton campaign the benefit of the doubt.
But for her sake, I'll be glad when the Democratic primaries and caucuses are over, when voters have made their message for Obama heard loud and clear. Afterward, I hope there will be no way to mistake or spin the voters' will. For Clinton's sake, I hope her campaign won't inject poison into the political process by trying to subvert the will of the voters at the Democratic convention. That's the kind of politics I thought we had all learned to despise.
And in the end, when the speeches are over and she has able to sleep late a few days in a row and gain solace from her friends and family, I hope Hillary Rodham Clinton will still like the woman she sees in the mirror. For her sake, I hope she won't find herself staring into the face of a stranger.
Only then will she truly have lost.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due