Saturday, December 08, 2007

Do it for Love

For romance writers, love is always in the air. Warm weather is an excuse to see the sights with the apple of your eye, while cold and snow are perfect reasons to stay home and snuggle.

But no matter how much you love what the season outside brings, flowers, beaches, leaves and fireplaces will have no affect on your relationship if you don't happen to love the one you're with.

In other words, enjoying external accessories begins with loving internal necessities. So it is with writing itself. My interview with Detroit author and writing colleague Natalie Dunbar brought out an important point: If you're striving to be a published writer, you better love what you do.

1) Thanks for being here, Natalie. Can you tell us how long you've been writing and what made you start?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, telling myself stories to go to sleep. I loved to read, but wasn’t always able to get enough books to satisfy me, so I had to use my imagination. This extended to plays and serials acted out with my sisters and brother.

2) How would you describe your stories overall?

My stories feature strong, smart heroines challenged by external circumstances and the hot, sexy heroes who love them and inspire internal conflict. My stories always include romance, and they run the gamut from romance to romantic suspense, action adventure, and paranormal romance.

3) Do you have a favorite character?

All my characters are favorites, but if I were single and dating, I’d go out with Arturo Bodega, Ramon Richards, and Reed Crawford in a heartbeat.

4) What is the most important lesson you've learned as an author that you want to share with aspiring writers?

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a writer is that If you’re going to be a writer, you’d better be writing for the love of writing…. This is not the glamorous business it appears to be. Unless you’re a big name author or it’s in your contract, you can’t pick your cover, most authors don’t make boatloads of money for their works, it’s a lot of very solitary work. In addition, these days you can’t just write the book and move on, you have to promote and market it, too, since publishing companies put the advertising dollars where they expect the biggest returns.

5) What’s next for you?

I have a novella in the werewolf romance anthology “Vegas Bites Back,” which is coming out at the end of December/ early January from Parker publishing. My novella is titled “The Golden Wolf” and it continues with the characters I created in my “Vegas Bites” novella.

6) Anything else you’d like us to know?

Yes.I love to hear from my readers! And, I’m going to post a video trailer for A Serial Affair on my website… So, check it out! And thank you Stefanie, for giving me this opportunity to connect with more readers.

7) How can readers contact you?

I invite readers to check out my website at Readers can contact me at, or at P.O. Box 626, Royal Oak, MI 48068.

Thanks, again, for talking to us, Natalie. Good luck with Vegas Bites Back.

Live. Love. Dream!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Believe in brighter days

I was telling someone the other day about my arrival in Detroit a few years back. I remember riding a cab through downtown and noting how incredibly dismal the sky looked compared to Chicago, where I’d relocated from just a few hours before. I wondered if the sun ever shined here.

Well, of course it does.

But, at that snapshot in time, I doubted I’d ever see the blindingly bright days I’d grudgingly left behind. In the months and years afterward, hydroplane races, riverfront festivals and long hours in my urban garden were enjoyed beneath record high temperatures and southern-style humidity. I soon got over the gray skies that I thought would rule my life here.

I thought of that uncertainty when I first heard Joss Stone’s song, “Bruised But Not Broken.” It’s a tale of love gone awry – as love is known to do – and the wounded woman’s promise to herself that, “the pain will fade. . .I’ll get back on my feet.”

What struck me most is the wisdom in that song sung by someone so young. What is Joss? 20? At that age, many young lovers don’t believe that the sting of betrayal or crushing hurt of a broken heart will ever go away. They don’t have enough experiences behind them to know that there really are more fish in the sea (oh, so many. . .). Some of them lose their will to swim back out into the world all together and we lose those very young people to despondency, depression and suicide.

The holiday season is upon us, a time of year when joy is supposed to abound. But for the despondent during these days, pain can be easily ignored in the bustle of spending, cooking and kissing under the mistletoe.

The Mayo Clinic web says that “holiday stress and depression are often the result of three main trigger points. Understanding these trigger points can help you plan ahead on how to accommodate them.” (Learn more about dealing with relationships, finances and physical demands this time of year. )

“It's OK to feel bad, but try to separate your emotions from your actions for the moment. Realize that depression, other mental disorders or long-lasting despair can distort your perceptions and impair your ability to make sound decisions. Suicidal feelings are the result of treatable illnesses. So try to act as if there are other options, even if you may not see them right now.” (Source: Mayo Clinic web site)

According to National Institute of Mental Health statistics:

In 2004, suicide was the third leading cause of death in each of the following age groups. Of every 100,000 young people in each age group, the following number died by suicide:

· Children ages 10 to 14 — 1.3 per 100,000
· Adolescents ages 15 to 19 — 8.2 per 100,000
· Young adults ages 20 to 24 — 12.5 per 100,000

As in the general population, young people were much more likely to use firearms, suffocation, and poisoning than other methods of suicide, overall. However, while adolescents and young adults were more likely to use firearms than suffocation, children were dramatically more likely to use suffocation.

There were also gender differences in suicide among young people, as follows:

· Almost four times as many males as females ages 15 to 19 died by suicide.
· More than six times as many males as females ages 20 to 24 died by suicide.

The NIMH cites symptoms of depression as including the following (though all symptoms may not be present):

· Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
· Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
· Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
· Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
· Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
· Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
· Appetite and/or weight changes
· Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
· Restlessness, irritability
· Persistent physical symptoms

If you feel that someone you love is depressed or suicidal, click here to read how family and friends can help or call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) for immediate crisis help.

I think it’s true that challenges can make us stronger. Through experience, we can better cope with the hills and valleys life throws our way. You can’t avoid the bruises, but you don’t have to break.

Just as new activities, interests and friends helped change my perception of Detroit’s different environment, a kind word, keen eye or quick call might keep someone you know or love from succumbing to the belief that their sun will never shine again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Progress is a Slow Train Coming

Today my Black child
draws oohs and aahs of
handsome, smart, polite.

Tomorrows away he will command baited breath,
thoughts of will he, quickened footsteps, sidelong

So I steady him with confidence,
hugs and handshakes. Gird
him with common sense, unquestionable
knowledge. Balance life's
inequities of vision with
stories of a heritage
supreme. And hope. But know,

Rude awakenings await this flesh and blood whose lot I
toil to better.

Progress is a Slow Traing Coming © 2005 Stefanie Worth – From “Conversational Silences”

My father has a habit of saying, “Time flies – whether you’re having fun or not.” Of course, as moments melt into years that pass faster and faster, I see just what he’s been trying to tell me all my life.

When I wrote the Progress poem, my oldest son was a toddler. Unquestionably the cutest and smartest toddler this side of heaven, many a day I would watch the news and look in his eyes with dread. “How long before this world snatches that sparkle?” I’d wonder.

Not quite as grown as he thinks he is, I can commend him for being serious, studious and an all-around upstanding young man. Nobody’s perfect, but he seems – from mom’s jaded vantage point anyway – to have turned out pretty darn well.

But I’ve reached the point in the poem where I take the part of my heart marked with his name and let him walk around in the world with it: No mom over his shoulder for on-the-spot advice, no nearby teacher for guidance – in other words, no safe-seeming adult at his side to shush the naysayers before they assume ill of my handsome black teenager and react verbally or physically in ways they shouldn’t.

Of course that worries the mess out of me.

Beyond the example of Jena, we had a local incident here in Michigan over the summer involving two young black men who were summarily rounded up in connection with a murder – then later released for lack of evidence. But the time they spent in lockup is not refundable, those scars are not erasable.

I had my son read the article that ran in the Michigan Front Page about the incident. Two teens with athletic aspirations and college plans, snatched from their day-to-day world – snap – just like that. His eyes widened. The similar ages, the incredible injustice, whatever it was, hit home. I hoped he could see how unfortunately easy it still is in this America to be mislabeled, railroaded because of that mislabeling and life-wrecked simply by being young, male and black.

So, like the poem says, I gird him with values and reality checks. I pray (a lot) for my boys and all those boys who live in our world village. And I vote.

Please don’t tell me you’re not registered. Or that you’re registered but you don’t take time to do your civic duty. Because if that’s the case DO NOT talk to me about the Jena 6, the nightly news, the latest Driving While Black case yada, yada, yada. I hope you didn’t bother to dress in black as protest and that you’re not forwarding protest emails. If you don’t vote, you are part of the problem.

You might disagree and, it’s a free country (because of those who vote), so that’s cool. But in the interest of doing everything in our power to rid the world of inequity, injustice, poverty and hatred, the majority numbers of “minorities” who do not vote are squandering their -- our collective -- power.


It comes in many forms. With elections ahead, it’s time to do our part to prove we're trying to move the train forward.

All aboard?


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Birds of a Feather

I think there are two significant steps I took as an aspiring author that helped me reach my goal of being published: I joined Romance Writers of America and took part in all the online classes, genre-specific loops, and comraderie I could absorb; and secondly, I joined a local critique of like-minded writers.

Initially, my critique partners (CPs) met every two weeks, with each writer bringing 10-15 pages of her WIP (work-in-progress) for review and comment. After a year or so, I dropped out to focus on family and my day job. When I ran into one of my former CPs a few years later -- at a bookstore signing for her latest release -- she invited me to rejoin the group and I quickly took her up on the offer.

We still review about 10-15 pages of each other's work, though that varies. Over time, we've segmented into different romantic genres and the differences in our writing styles are very apparent. Mind you, this is not about your best friend's assessment of the book of your heart. We focus on plot, characterization, flow, etc. It's not personal (though we do like each other and that helps!). Because I write supernatural stories, I also belong to an online RWA critique group that focuses specifically on my sub-genre.

Both affiliations are more than worthwhile: they are motivational, inspirational and corrective when necessary. To say thanks for their support, my CPs are called out in the dedication for Where Souls Collide. Additionally, I've selected my friend and colleague, Karen White-Owens (a multi-published author) to launch my monthly author interview segment here.

Q) Karen, how long have you been writing and what made you start?

A) I've been writing for appropriately fourteen years. I started writing when I took a family medical leave to be with my mother during the last months of her life.

Q) What is the most important lesson you've learned as an author that you want to share with aspiring writers?

A) I think it's very important for an aspiring writer to become part of a writing community. Join a critique group. Go to writing conferences and find authors that write in the same genre to help you.

Q) Do you have a favorite character?

A) Cameron from As Long As There is Love is my favorite character. She made mistakes, but continued to strive for a better life for herself and her daughter.

Q) How would you describe your stories overall?

A) I believe I write contemporary mainstream novels with a twist of romance.

Q) Tell us about The Way You Aren't: What was your motivation/inspiration for the story?

A) The Way You Aren't was inspired by the Best Buy Geek Squad. I was driving along beside on of those Volkswagen Bugs with Geek Squad on the side and I started thinking about how geeks are always portrayed by men. I began to think about how a female version of the normal geek would act. By the time I arrived at work, I had outlined a story idea.

Q) What do you want readers to take away from the story? When will it be released?

A) The Way You Aren't will be released October 1st. I'd like readers to realize that we all have a little geek in us and to learn to practice tolerance with people who are different from you.

Q) How can readers contact you?

A) There's several ways to reach me. If you go to my website,, you can e-mail me from there. Or, you can e-mail me directly at

Thanks, Karen! Best of luck with The Way You Aren't!

Live. Love. Dream!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In recognition of Sickle Cell Awareness Month

I've decided to share my family's experience with Sickle Cell Disease. To learn more, visit the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.

The Baby God Gave Me

“That boy’s going to be a pistol!”

Mom’s response to my unborn son’s refusal to remain head down summed up our shared personality prediction. Estimated at over nine pounds and still breech at 38 weeks, his fetal stubbornness was just a preview of the challenging personality he'd bring to the world. Born a few weeks later at a very healthy 9 lbs. 15 oz after day-long labor and (finally!) a C-section, Pistol Punkin a/k/a Ethan* and I eventually made it back home where life settled into its new normal.

We enjoyed our daytime aloneness, growing and bonding in our own special way. On one of these “all- is-now-right-with-the-world” afternoons, my boyfriend dropped by for lunch --nothing elaborate, just a Big Mac and fries with Young & the Restless humming in the background. I glanced out the window behind us to see that the mailman had just arrived. But instead of the sound of mail sliding through the chute, he rang the bell.

“It’s another present,” I thought.

What the mailman brought that day was a certified letter from the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America--Michigan Chapter. I assumed the communication was a formality, informing me that my newborn carried the Sickle Cell trait like me and his older brother. Cold words from the form letter informed us that our baby’s newborn testing had revealed “a sickle cell condition,” there was a doctor at Children’s Hospital of Michigan prepared to care for our now ten-pound baby, and counselors were on hand if we should “need additional information.”

The mailman brought our whole world down around us.

The story continues on my website

Friday, August 24, 2007

Never doubt, never fear

Have you met Maxwell “Mack” McKnight? Named for two favorite singers – Maxwell and Brian McKnight – he’s the leading man in Where Souls Collide. As you read the book, you’ll notice the music strewn throughout. Whether en route to work, chiming from cell phones or accompanying love scenes, tunes abound.

Not so much during the writing phase, but definitely as I revised, I surrounded myself with what I deemed the soundtrack of this story. There were songs that seemed to define each character and set the mood I wanted to maintain throughout the novel. For Maxwell and Mack, that song is “For You to Love” by Luther VanDross.

I heard the song on my way to work a few days ago. Every time I hear Luther croon, “I came here. . .through a hurricane. . .never doubt, never fear. . .honey, it’s you I love,” I think of Maxwell’s relentless pursuit of Navena and Mack’s undying love for Vee. That a man would journey across the country – even through time and space – to have the woman his soul yearns for melts my heart. And hopefully yours, too.

After all, who wouldn’t want to be loved like that?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Eyes of the Stove...uh…Eyes on the Prize

That whole watched pot never boiling thing is not quite true. I’ve been waiting for the UPS truck all week, knowing the advance copies of Where Souls Collide were off the press and en route to my house. Then, in a magical moment on Friday, I glimpsed a brown short-clad man strolling down my front walk, boarding that wonderful truck and wheeling away.

Not much bigger than a boot box (the nice over-the-knee kind), inside the unassuming brown parcel were 25 copies of my dream come true in print.

Giggles and heart palpitations followed. Then, I nearly started to hyperventilate at the thought of all those other books landing in hands across the country. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t completely overwhelming in the most incredible way. I wanted to wallow, but let’s be real, who’s got time?

There are press releases to send and follow up, flyers to design and distribute, a newsletter to create, interviews to conduct, blogs to write, web sites to update, statistics to track and the next book to complete. I figure I’ll stop to breathe at Christmas.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I finished Where Souls Collide, it’s that writing is a business framed by lines: number of lines, deadlines, bottom lines. Yes, lots of personal satisfaction and fulfillment help round them out, but rubbing elbows with those in these trenches has given me a whole new appreciation for being a writer.

I’ve learned to compartmentalize the demands on my limited time. Racking up pages comes first, but promotion cannot be ignored. I’m committed to learning something new about my craft every day and making sure I tend to the business obligations of being published. All this and a family, too!

But, that’s one of the great parts: The people closest to me understand that I don’t function so well without writing in my life. So, we make it work. This quest to be published (well now multi-published) is one of a few pots fired up by my life. With a little prayer and a lot of love, I’m watching every one of them start to boil, ready for whatever comes next.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Well, the Pistons are in the Eastern Conference finals once again. The fact that they’re there, means many others aren’t. In this game – it seems to me – victory is reserved for those who stare down rejection: three-pointers denied, free throws that won’t fall, blatant fouls and bad calls. Even so, this former high school power forward can vouch for the fact that b-ballers have nothing on writers when it comes to the big R.

I still remember my first.

Somewhere between my sophomore and senior years of high school, I decided that years of daily “Dear Diary” entries, and countless lines of carefully rhymed verse had prepared me for the real world of writing: the poetry page in Seventeen magazine.

Five poems – per the magazine’s guidelines – made my personal cut. Using my father’s 200 pound manual typewriter, I transformed each loopy word into uniform stanzas (except for the one key that insisted on dropping its letter just below the line), folded my hopes into a business sized envelope “borrowed” from my father’s office, and sent them off with a self-addressed stamped envelope and all my dreams of becoming the next Maya Angelou.

Weeks later, my father approached me with a handful of mail and my SASE. “What’s this?” he asked, probably recognizing his typewriter’s signature on the envelope that bore my name. “It,” I told myself, heart racing, face burning. “This is it.” Maya, Nikki, Langston, Stefanie.


I opened the letter as he watched. I felt him studying my fallen face. Absolutely crushed, I was also a little angry. Righteous indignity beat inside my chest. Dad asked what it was and I told him – leaving out the hopes and dreams part, emphasizing the “they didn’t like my poems” that kept bouncing around in my brain. The sorrow of that moment still makes my pulse race. I so internalized that rejection that I figured my writing career was over.

My dad, being the insightful man that he is, smiled and praised my courage. He told me that it took a lot of guts to send out something personal, let other people read it and judge it. He was so impressed that I had taken such a chance. And he was proud of me for not being afraid to try.

His viewpoint morphed that painful experience from an ending into a beginning for me.

Fast forward 25 years. Picture me seated at a computer keyboard (sans dropped letters) still angst-ridden and hope-filled, churning out query letters, submission packages and SASEs for my first manuscript. The ritual is no less gut-wrenching than the Seventeen magazine attempt. And no more successful. But, it is different.

My husband told me a few days ago that he knew I was serious about publishing Where Souls Collide when I received the book’s first rejection. He said he could tell by my reaction, because I was so upset. What’s ironic is that I don’t remember my response. I’m sure I was disappointed – crushed, angry, indignant, no doubt.

But, in the years since I mailed off my Maya hopes, I learned that the word NO is a big part of freeing caged dreams. I got over that first “Not for us, sorry,” moved on, and racked up a slew of similarly phrased rejections. They’re all in a red folder with the date I received them noted in the upper right corner. And everyone who turned me down received a very polite “Thanks for reviewing my query, perhaps we can work together someday” kind of note from me.

Several letters contained helpful suggestions for plot or character adjustments. Most were complimentary of my writing. Many (too many!) were form letters without a hint of what went wrong. I learned how not to internalize every comment (positive or negative) and how to hang onto my belief in myself.

And then, on October 10, 2006, I got The Call from Dorchester. Suddenly I realized that the timing was perfect. Had Seventeen come calling on my adolescent self I could not have appreciated the moment the way I did when it finally happened. With all the energy I put into reaching this milestone, the accomplishment wouldn’t be considered “slam dunk showy” or “nothing-but-net easy” on a basketball court. Worlds wiser and really ready, the dream points I’ve scored in getting published resulted from the shoot around it often takes to outplay a bigger opponent.

Dropped pass. Sketchy plots.
Double-dribble. Weak heroine.
It’s all part of the game.

Take the shot; go for your dream.
There is no other way to win.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Personal Space

So, have you tuned into the whole Barack Obama MySpace debate? Or is it floating over your head in cyberspace somewhere? From the vantage point of new author who doesn’t want to tick off any potential readers (translation: book buyers), I thought that maybe I should sit back and be quiet. Just let the issue ride.


Many of you know that I am a journalist by training – a former radio, television and newspaper reporter who once had a weekly column in the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit’s premier African-American targeted weekly paper. I’m also a bit of a chatterbox in real life, so being quiet is just plain hard for me to do.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: An Obama supporter, Joe Anthony, had been manning a fan site on MySpace for Barack for just over two years. Apparently Anthony and Obama’s people shared rights and responsibilities regarding content and site maintenance. However, with the site’s growth in popularity due to Obama’s escalating presidential campaign, his camp saw a need for greater – or shall we say, sole – control of the MySpace page that bears his name. Anthony now wants to be paid for his work. The two camps have parted ways over the issue, with MySpace stepping in to grant Obama domain over the site. A call from Obama to Anthony may help smooth things over, though he’s still pretty disgruntled.


I guess I look at this from the perspective of personal space. In the early days of the internet boom (well, around ’94, ’95, I’ll say), rights to domain names were a hot topic. Once companies began to understand “this web thing” and started trying to figure out how to get on the Net, savvy entrepreneurs took to buying up celebrity and corporate brand names like wildfire. Individuals and companies were actually paying people to get their names for domain use. Then, of course, the law stepped in and people had to start finding other ways to make money on the internet besides usurping people’s cyber identities for re-sale.

Seems to me that’s where MySpace is at the moment. Booming from its own self-population, I guess backers and users feel that restrictions on naming sites on social networks like MySpace would inhibit the free-flow feel of the place.

I came across this controversy because I do have a MySpace page and I’d tagged Obama as a “Friend” there. I’ve also tagged the Toni Morrison fan site as a Friend. But that site makes it explicitly clear that Toni doesn’t run that page. It’s maintained by a fan. I appreciate the distinction. If Toni decides to host her own MySpace page, I see no problem with her having the rights to name her page after herself and gather her own cadre of Friends. And I’d certainly hope her biggest fans would understand that.

I can tell you that I assumed Stefanie Worth would be available as a site name when I registered at MySpace. (I mean goodness, I haven’t even made it to Oprah’s couch yet. Who’d want my name, right?) But you can bet I would have been a tad pit peeved to discover that someone – fan or otherwise – was running a page under my name and wouldn’t let me have it back! I mean, come on, can’t you call yours People Who Love Stefanie Worth? The Society of those Smitten With Stefanie Worth's Books? Fans of the Great and Powerful Stefanie Worth? Okay, I’m kidding about the names, but, really, must we argue over this?

You wouldn’t go to the store with someone else’s ID and make purchases under their name and good credit. You wouldn’t open a business under a well-known alias and perpetrate your way through sale after sale, would you? So why do we think that’s okay to do in cyberspace? If Anthony’s site had been named Obama ’08 or We Back Barack, would this controversy even have erupted? Would he still expect to be paid?

While the laws and regulations regarding some internet dealings are still pretty loosey-goosey, things are beginning to change in terms of copyright, etc. Look at the Napster case. And there are colleagues on my writers loops fighting sites that make free book downloads available. (Gulp. Please stop. We really don’t make that much off our books as it is. Please pay the $6.99 paperback price.)

To me, a lot of this haggling can be alleviated through common sense. You wouldn’t stand on my foot in an elevator, please don’t step on my name – via domain, social network sites, etc., – on the web. Give me MySpace and I’ll give you yours.


For more commentary on the Obama MySpace debate, visit:
The Battle to Control Obama’s MySpace at
Obama’s MySpace Conundrum at
Our MySpace Experiment on Obama’s official site at

The King's English

(Originally posted on my other blog, February 9, 2007)

I was skimming through The New York Times’ online version recently and ran across their Feb. 4 article titled, “The Racial Politics of Speaking Well.” Beside the headline is a pair of hands with two fingers each bent to mimic quotation marks.

I knew what the story was about before I even read it. Still, I scrolled down into the depths of the debate on black people who can talk; that whole “articulate” conversation.

Now, I don’t read the NY Times often (a former Mizzou colleague recently joined their staff, so I peeked in) and not many topics raise my ire. However, this perfunctory surf opened up the gates to a whole herd of memories and opinions that sparked this column.

Let’s see:
  • “You talk like a white girl.” – Classmate taunts. (elementary school)
  • “I thought you were white!” – An in-store customer who’d chatted with me on the phone a few minutes before. (high school)
  • “Where are you from? What do your parents do?” – My on-air audition for Mizzou. The answers, BTW are St. Louis, nurse and works for the Department of the Army. The instructors’ amazement? I sounded so “Midwestern.” Duh. (college)
  • “If you don’t mind my asking, are you white?” – A phone exchange with someone who knew of me, but had never seen me. (fully grown woman, as Cedric the Entertainer might say)

This is the part where I vacillate between sighs and GRRRRs. By the time I was 12, I was sick of people commenting on my voice like it was some rare, extraordinary attribute. Imagine how those backhanded compliments come across now.

I sound the way I do because that’s how I was taught to talk. My father always stressed being able to “speak the King’s English,” which he and my mother did very well. Neither of them claim overly impressive backgrounds. They hail from ordinary southernish upbringings with hardworking parents who earned far less than middle class money.

Yet, both my parents possess incredible tenacity. They each set their sights on a goal, figured out what they needed to do to achieve it, and went about making it happen. Subtly for my mother and overtly for my father, Lesson One translated into making sure their kids knew how to “talk right.” And I have to say that more than anything else, surprising people with a pleasant tone, and well-pronounced “ings” and “ers” has probably gotten me further than talent alone.

I find that both amusing and maddening.

That anyone would assume how I’m going to sound when I open my mouth is, first of all, a little insulting. Come on. Nothing made me crazier in Journalism School than watching my fellow black students get booted out of the broadcasting sequence because they “sounded ethnic.” Especially considering that white students with southern or Bostonian accents got to stay, along with a bevy of international students.

Until then, I’d never seen the reality of non-standard speaking make its point so succinctly. Just being able to move my tongue deftly between teeth and gums made the difference in my college career; allowing me to anchor early morning TV news and long format evening radio.

Now, some people associate "articulate" with "intelligent" as if those who aren't swift of tongue must be stupid. So, was I the smartest student in the J-School? Not hardly. (No slacker, but never valedictorian.) The guy I dated throughout most of college ran circles around me academically. And, of course, he was extremely well-spoken. By choice, he was in the print sequence back then, better known as newspaper, and is now an exec at one. So, while his voice may not have caused him grief, others -- whose speech betrayed their backgrounds -- suffered for it.

That’s where the whole drawl vs. diction debate got hot: Well-spoken-but-sounds-black did not play, while well-spoken-Alabama-dialect did. I happen to have an incredibly middle-of-the-road tone that has nothing to do with my race. It is fairly indistinguishable in a crowd and, obviously, very inoffensive to those who need a well-spoken woman of color to conduct an interview, address a staff meeting, or facilitate a workshop.

(SPOILER ALERT) There’s a line in Dreamgirls where Jamie Foxx’s character tells Beyonce’s that he chose her vocals because they’re…what was his phrase? Innocuous? No personality? Something along those lines. That’s my voice: The Innocuous Blessing + Parents’ Demand of King’s English = The Ability to Get Folks’ Attention and Then Put Your Talent on the Table.

Please note today's takeaway: I am hardly an endangered species in the black community.

I guess that’s why I’m a writer. Now author. (Big grin there.) Voice comes through via air and on a page. Mine, though nondescript to the ear, has been known to pack a punch in a paragraph.

Whether in a column, feature story, ghost-written speech or manuscript, I’m known to be a good writer. And that’s all I want. Here, in the world of keyboard strokes and ink, no one has ever called me articulate.

For that, I simply say “thank you.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Raising Readers

When “How to Eat Fried Worms” opened at the movies a few months ago, the trailer inspired yuck-filled disgust from my kids, but evoked a giggle from me. See, when I was in grade school, I read the gross aforementioned book. I liked it so much that I checked it out from the library three times in a row. (Since no one was waiting for it, Mrs. Riley said I could). Then I lost it.

I recall every painful day of that experience because books were treasured in my home. Of course I scoured the school, searched every room in the house, all to no avail. There was no way I could tell my parents. They’d kill me. (I thought.) Mrs. Riley, being my buddy, fully understood. But, she explained, the book had to be replaced.

(This is where the post-traumatic-stress-disorder kicks in and I forget how much it cost.)

Coming from a family that didn’t believe in allowance (you did what you were supposed to because…you were supposed to), any amount was too much. Again, the intuitive Mrs. Riley tapped into my distress and offered me a deal. Pay for the entire book, plus the overdue fee, and no one would ever know. Considering that my dad was president of the PTA and I thought he knew EVERYTHING that happened at the school, the idea of a secret like this was overwhelming. But I agreed to the impossible.

No penny went unpinched. No couch coin stayed covered. Every nickel treat meant for the Five & Dime went to Mrs. Riley instead. And, by the end of the school year, I’d paid off the entire debt. Whew.

Was I that afraid of my parents’ wrath? Sure. I had ultimate respect for them. But, more importantly, it was the high regard we held for books, reading and education that made me want to right this situation.

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. (That’ll make mom and dad cringe.) What I recall is the total immersion in all things learning that our household embodied. Using common sense, building book knowledge and speaking “The King’s English” were my father’s only boundaries. Beyond that, the world was ours to discover.

Every room had a bookcase – some wall length and ceiling high. My father read the paper every day, all day, front to back, comics, too. My mother attended college my entire life (from earning an LPN, to her RN, an associates, bachelors and, eventually, masters degree) and her medical books were strewn from room to room.

While me and my brothers’ bedrooms were overrun with children’s books of all kinds, World Book Encyclopedias, a set of children’s dictionaries, a series of animal journals and Ebony magazine’s African American reference library supplied my upbringing with authoritative information.

I remember teaching my dolls – lining them up along my closet wall with pencils and paper – from the time I was barely bigger than they were. (Much to his chagrin, my brother closest in age, now a major in the Marines, often got tossed into this “classroom” mix.) And what were my instructional materials? Textbooks my parents purchased from the school whenever the district revamped its curriculum.

A few years ago, while back home for a visit, I gathered all those old encyclopedias, reference books, and cherished childhood stories still stored in the basement. I carted boxes and boxes of dusty, much-thumbed and well-preserved books to my own hallways, bookshelves and coffee tables. Like the house I grew up in, my own family’s home boasts something to read in every room.

The lesson learned from losing “How to Eat Fried Worms” is that literacy is crucial. I spent one school year paying off a book and its fines. The costs of not being able to read, having access to decent schools or being open to the mind-expanding experiences education offers are socially irreplaceable.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Changing Times, Changing Tastes

“It’s been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”
--Sam Cooke song

News of poor sales at WaldenBooks and Borders has reverberated through the writing community. For those of us who aspire to window-sized ads accompanying our book releases, indications that people aren’t buying books can be really unsettling – much the way poor car sales have rocked Detroit.

I have, in fact, been told that “nobody reads anymore” a time or two since I announced my book sale. Of course, I quickly corrected the messenger. People may not be buying Detroit-made cars the way they used to, but they do still drive. The trick is finding out what sells a vehicle these days. And so it is for books.

Without question, the biggest lesson I’ve learned about being an author has nothing to do with writing at all. I can put words on paper with my eyes closed and hands behind my back. Somehow, they would find their way out into the world. No, what’s been tough is figuring out the industry.

Believe me when I say that since I finished the book in September ’05, I’ve spent countless hours learning what publishers like, how to craft a pitch for the “book of my heart” so that it fits with the current market demand (or what publishers think readers will want 12-18 months from now!) and how to promote the book and encourage sales. Many people think your publisher handles all your marketing. Au contraire!!

To me, the biggest boon in getting a book deal is having someone to place your 300+ pages on store shelves all over the country. (Ask any self-published author how hard that feat is to achieve.) So, while your publisher helps with marketing, a lot of it falls on the author. Woe to those who have no clue as to go about it.

I consider myself infinitely blessed to be a marketing communications professional by day. This marketing stuff has eaten up an incredible amount of time – and I do this for a living! But my hopes remain high that the hard work and insider knowledge will pay off when release day actually arrives.

What I try never to lose site of is that while many people visit stores to purchase their books, many do not. Luckily, authors now have the Amazons of the world to help tout our work. Even though it doesn’t usually account for the bulk of one’s sales, it can provide exposure in a very crowded marketplace. E-books have also become increasingly popular. In this high-tech, everything-on-the-go world, doesn’t that seem a logical course for books in print? I liken it to the birth of broadcasting in a world that had only received official news via paper since the dawn of the press.

We as writers and authors must be flexible to keep up in an ever-changing world. We can fight it all we want, but change will come. For me, lower book sales don’t herald the end of reading anymore than shifting auto preferences signal the end of traffic. It just means that maybe one day I’ll get to narrate all my books so that joggers can “read” them as they run.

As long as I still get to write what they hear, that’s just fine with me.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Publication Date

Just wanted to drop in and let you know that I have an official publication date for WHERE SOULS COLLIDE. It's going to be on store shelves August 2007.

My original offer date was for Spring, but this works just as well. It gives me more time to work on promotion for the book. Speaking of which, I'll be participating in my first major event this Saturday --a book fair at the Macomb County Library. I'll have Valentine's Day candy, postcards and business cards to hand out as well as a sign up sheet for all those folks missing out on my e-updates. Drop by ifyou're in the 'hood. ;)

I've created a special web page for WHERE SOULS COLLIDE at Be sure to take a look at the book teaser at and let me know what you think. I hope to have other news for you in the next few weeks.

'Til then (for those of us who aren't in the South), stay warm! As always -- thanks for your support.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Never Just a Book

OK. You can’t hear me but I’m taking deep, deliberate breaths. Despite the effort, my heart still pounds every fourth beat or so. To soothe the growing ache, I exhale, mouth open, nostrils flared. And I stare.

“I think I can. I think I can,” I tell myself. “It’s just a book.”

“That’s why you haven’t touched it since you brought it home.”

Mind you, this is progress.

I stared at the title for months. Every time I went to a bookstore, there it was. The author demanded my attention and I ignored him as best I could. Until yesterday. He obviously caught me off guard.

How could I fend him off with an armful of Geronimo Stilton mouse detective books, a Barbie diary, stuffed duck, and AP Bio Study Guide? Trapped by my weakened state, I was forced into the novel’s snare and rescued it from the shelf. It teetered atop my load, stretching my wallet and my mind.

“What could possibly be inside there that you can’t handle? Was The Stand so bad? The Dark Half or Carrie?”

No. Or so I thought. That is, after all, how he hooked me. I was young and impressionable, trying to hone a style and find my genre. I absorbed everything he wrote and then one day, I got scared. Like when I snuck and read The Exorcist kind of scared. (Slept with the light on for weeks after that one.) So I broke off my love-hate relationship with Stephen King. Until yesterday.

Lisey’s Story has spent her second day on the end table, where the glowering red hardcover hasn’t budged since I brought it home. There beside I Dream A World, I can pretend it harbors gentle thoughts and tranquil endings.


“You used to live for that stuff. King’s stuff. Stay up all night to inhale hundreds of his pages by daylight.” I know, I know.

Many years later, what I also know is that – twisted as Stephen is – he guides a gifted pen. Weaving words is all-consuming. Those of us who do it understand how stories demand to be told. The ways they push your mind into spaces begging to be explored and exposed. Whether real or imaginary, cityscape or dream world, we authors go there – and take you with us.

Given time, Stephen’s lure – Lisey’s Story – will ask me to ride shotgun down a road that forbids sleep. If I make it to the end, page 509, I’m sure I’ll close it with a shudder. Then I’ll clear the book a spot on the shelf, plunge back into my own journey, and marvel.

A trek that started with a paperback purchase in the seventh grade led me to become a supernatural suspense fan. A high school English teacher’s grade alluded to a future as writer, not just reader. Piles of manuscript pages later, I’m ready to lead you into stories I hope you’ll follow.

My aspiration? To never write "just a book," but rather, words that sing like Maya Angelou, tattle like Toni Morrison and haunt like Stephen King.

(Well, not quite.)

'Til next time . . .sweet dreams.