Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Experience vs. Innovation: Why the fight? (with a nod to Julian Bond)

When did experience and innovation become mutually exclusive?

America seems to be in a sweeping frame of mind. Historic elections and failing industry have seen the recent head-rolling of incumbent politicians and ruined executives. While voters and boards of directors are exercising their rights to enable change based on perceived poor performance, in Motown we seem to take a different tack.

For some time now, I’ve watched companies swapping out seasoned workers for starry-eyed industry entrants as if experienced employees were yesterday’s underwear.

Could it be a Michigan thing? For those of you outside our economically eroded region, things here haven’t been good since 9/11. We’ve had seven years of what the rest of the country has seen in the last ten months. So, I’d understand if company leaders were jittery about their bottom lines and saw trading in higher-priced staff for rookies half their cost (and age) as a viable way to tighten spending. But my sense is that it’s more than finances.

Do know that I’m not talking about companies that downsize based on job performance criteria. Baby Boomer, Gen Y, long-term or short; if you’re not producing, then you ought not stay. But to sweep out entire levels of senior staff based on assumptions about fresh thinking (young = do, old = can’t) seems…well…stupid.

A headline on Yahoo News recently proclaimed, “Expertise Trumps Ideology in Obama’s Early Picks.” I wavered between shouting a literal “yahoo!” and simply saying “Duh.” He is about to run the most powerful nation in the world, so who do you expect he’s going to choose to help him do that: someone with proven experience in getting things done or someone with a pocketful of ideas unaware of the subtle differences between implementation and execution?

Give me the experience that will support my vision and ideas that enable action.

Let’s say you’re a new parent gearing up for your first night out on the town since your child’s arrival. When seeking a baby sitter, you want someone who’s not only taken classes on how to babysit, but perhaps has younger siblings, brings references from neighbors s/he has babysat for or is even a friend of yours with kids of his/her own. You don’t want to come home to find your child unattended, a party in your house and the sitter making whoopee with some stranger in the back.

You want to know that your Rules of Order for parenting your child are adhered to and executed by the sitter. So it appears for our president-to-be. So it should be for today’s companies.

Thought in action: Let’s keep Julian Bond

Please note that my musings go beyond the confines of corporate America and extend to small businesses, the nonprofit arena and community organizations alike. In fact this was one of those I’ve-been-thinking-about-X-lately blogs that I wrote just for me until I heard Jeff Johnson’s commentary on the Tom Joyner Morning Show today.

I’d read recently that Benjamin Jealous is going to take over the helm at the national NAACP. What I didn’t know was that Julian Bond has decided to step down from the board. Jeff went on to share his and another colleague’s reasons that Julian must stay. I agree with them.

As I’ve ranted above, there are certain times in which experience does matter. When it comes to the history of Africans in America, I’d say that Julian’s seasoned perspective will be imperative to supporting the execution of Benjamin’s vision in the days to come. Those who feel that this is not (at all!) the time to lose a voice like Julian’s from this critical vantage point are encouraged to call the national NAACP at 877-NAACP-98. For more information about the NAACP, visit http://www.naacp.org/.

Back to my experience vs. innovation rant…

A vision of how the world, a small business or large corporation looks in the future should walk hand-in-hand with acumen for creating real change. I believe in a saying I heard years ago: “A fish rots from the head down.”

If a company isn’t generating results, could it be leadership’s fault? Are the employees in place able to recognize and affirm talent? Realize and release a lack thereof? Are the standards of accountability constantly shifting? Are potential leaders nurtured or chased off by frightened supervisors? Is everyone at the company obligated to understand what’s happening in the world outside the company walls? Is the goal truly satisfying the customer or packaging our own complacency so that we appear cutting edge? Is there anybody on board unafraid to tell the emperor s/he’s naked? If the emperor isn’t listening, is there a balancing authority that can escort him/her out?

If a fish rots from the head down and not the inside out, then relevant experience and the ability to innovate should be looked at employee by employee, from top to bottom. Staff value should be based on individual contributions and not generational stereotypes. I wonder if industry has succumbed to promoting the easy appearance of success as opposed to striving for true measures of accomplishment.

I obviously don't believe that innovation and experience are mutually exclusive. Nor, to me, does the history of this country and our people reflect that either. I'd say that if we're going to get anywhere, we need great ideas and great people who know how to turn them into great actions. It's especially nice when both abilities show up in a single individual.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Santa Baby 2008 Virtual Book Tour for Hopeless Romantics

The Santa Baby 2008 Virtual Book Tour allows hopeless romantics to flex their very vivid imaginations and soar as they hear from ten beloved romance writers just in time for the holidays!

All The Buzz Reviews and The GRITS COM Literary Service have teamed up to host the Santa Baby 2008 Virtual Book Tour headlining some of today’s exciting African American romance writers, December 1-12, 2008!

This exclusive ten-day virtual book tour will give romance readers, and new readers to the genre, a chance to hear from ten popular writers about their new and upcoming book releases just in time for the holidays!

This virtual book tour is inspired by the sultry sex-kitten, Eartha Kitt. Her Christmas song, “Santa Baby,” topped the charts in 1953 making her one of the most popular entertainers in the world. The same sensuous mix that Eartha Kitt brought to this Christmas song many years ago, is the same sensuous mix - Gwyneth Bolton, Niobia Bryant, Dyanne Davis, Gwynne Forster, Bettye Griffin, Donna Hill, Andrea Jackson, Deborah Fletcher Mello, Farrah Rochon, and Stefanie Worth - bring to their work and to this tour!

Romance novels made an astonishing $1.4 billion last year, making the romance genre one of the top sellers in the publishing industry. Though some complain that the formulaic plot and “happily-ever-after” endings in romances aren’t always indicative of real life; the staggering number of romances sold each year is testament to its popularity and staying power!

The Santa Baby 2008 Virtual Book Tour begins Monday, December 1, 2008. So join the tour at AllTheBuzzReviews (www.allthebuzzreviews.com) or TheGRITS.com/virtualbooktour (www.thegrits.com/virtualbooktour)About All The Buzz ReviewsAll The Buzz Reviews is the book reviews and literary event blog of Renee Williams, the CEO & Owner of Literary Signature Service, an event planning business specializing in literary events for authors of every genre.

About The GRITS COM Literary ServiceThe GRITS COM Literary Service is an online book promotion service that specializes in serving the unique web publicity needs of authors and publishers.

The GRITS COM Literary Service
526 Kingwood Drive, Suite 404
Kingwood, TX 77339

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama's victory, divine order, and mission

I got an email from a friend yesterday, so pleadingly heartfelt that it stopped my perfunctory subject skimming and made me answer her on the spot. She just wanted to know what Obama's win meant to her friends.

Like her, there are so many words, thoughts and possibilities in my head they are hard to corral. When I allow myself to consider the meaning of this win, I get that tight feeling in my chest that comes with anxiety. I can feel my breathing deepen, my pulse race. My head has been hurting since Tuesday morning. Concentrating at work has been beyond difficult.

But it's all good: because my heart is in its best condition ever. So here's what I wrote to my friend:

For me, the belief Barack fostered in me long ago is one that doesn't end with the election. I am waiting to answer his next call to service for community and self. More than that, though, I can't help but reflect on my kids' experiences. With the three of them being so spread out, it offers me differing perspectives.

My 19-year-old college student cast his first-ever vote for Barack. As if that isn't powerful enough, I still see him standing on the brink of his future, but that road block "right there" has been removed to allow him to proceed more directly rather than following the detour to his very near destination -- dreams.

For my 11-year-old, who has so much to grasp about tomorrow, it's as new, exciting and now as starting middle school was this year. There is no historical baggage for him in this victory. He's a kid, you know? He'll likely remember helping me put the sign in the yard, learning the issues throughout the campaign, going to the polls with me, following the vote throughout the evening, and cheering at midnight along with the rest of the world. Barack's win is Tweenage cool like a baseball season that culminates with a playoff trophy or an end-of-semester A. Perhaps the lesson for him will be in witnessing hard work pay off.

For my 6-year-old daughter, who awoke Nov. 4 saying, "Today is the election!," there are issues and a process of which she has no clue (save for "You color circles to vote?"). But beyond all the brown baby dolls I can buy for her, and the stories I can tell about how her Nana integrated her high school in 1956 or how her great-grandma ran her own business in that same small southern-minded town, my youngest one gets to rise through the world watching two little girls who look like her grow up in the White House.

That's the thought that takes my breath away.

There's a line in Stevie Wonder's song, "As," that says "You can bet your life [. . . ] that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed." I feel as if each of us has been divinely planted in this moment at our appointed ages and stages to continue the momentum with our unique vision and talents.

That mandate hit home even harder today when I remembered my cancelled airline ticket I purchased to attend the African American Literary Awards Show in September. At the last minute, I had to cancel that trip. But now I have a way to DC for Barack's inauguration and a cousin who lives there to stay with.

My excitement is beyond words. As all things are in divine order, I can't wait to discover my mission in this blessing.


Monday, November 03, 2008

On the Cusp of Change

Well, when I plopped down to start logging words tonight, it wasn’t meant to be in blog form. But I can’t help it. I guess I – like many others – feel compelled to record my thoughts for posterity on the eve of this historic presidential election.

I have that queasy churning in my stomach that I used to get before strolling the runway in a fashion show or taking the microphone for a news broadcast or hitting the stage for a dance performance.

It’s showtime, baby.

I saw Obama back in May of '07 at the Detroit Economic Club. The place was packed. And just like the rallies that would soon follow, that esteemed business audience was filled with faces of every hue that ran the generational gamut from Millennials to Boomers. That day, it was like he told folks here in Detroit that the Emperor had no clothes, words others seemed afraid to utter. And, oh, how the truth has come to pass! I admired the frankness, the confident intelligence shared with a next-door-neighbor smile.

What’s that saying about "you had me at hello?" Yeah, that’s me and Barack, except the phrase of capture was “Good Afternoon.”

Friends were surprised that I didn’t back Hilary. I can see why. My grandmother owned and operated her own hair salon in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, from the 70s until her death in 1989. She was down in the shop working when she suffered the heart attack that took her life. But what a role model for me! To see this Saved & Sanctified African American woman handling her business in that small, small-minded town.

That’s the same place my mother grew up. And when she reached high school age, she was one of a tiny group of young teens who integrated Cape Girardeau Central High School in the late 50s. I watched my mother navigate one hurdle after another as I grew up: raising four kids, working full time and attending school the whole time I was growing up.

So, I can see why people would’ve thought I’d be a Hilary fan. Barack, for me, was simply bigger picture. My oldest son is a second year college student. At 19, this is his first presidential election – and what a vote he gets to cast! In spite of the confusion surrounding do’s and don’ts for first-time voters, absentee ballots, etc., he has his new address sticker, his patience and his ID, ready to stand in line and do what he must for the America our ancestors struggled to shape.

Like so many Americans, I believe that November 4th, 2008, means a lot more than pulling a lever or punching a ballot. Healthcare, education, way of life, a global economy, broader vision, a different path are all pinned to Barack's coat tails. For me, it’s way past time to stop sitting on the fence of complacency watching better ways of being pass our country by.

My hope?
Today cusp, tomorrow change.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

October is Spec Fiction Month at Black Author Showcase. . .

. . .and I'm featured!

Many thanks to Diane over at the Black Author Showcase site for recognizing and uplifting my genre of choice this month. The feature spot includes a bio, story summaries and a thoughtful Q&A that I really enjoyed participating in.

If you get a chance, please take a few minutes to check it out.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don’t get high on your own supply

The theme of this blog will be instantly recognized by any true Scarface fan. Remember when Tony Montana’s “business” was getting off the ground and someone admonished him, “Don’t get high on your own supply”? Well, we all know how that turned out, but the phrase took on new meaning for me several days ago when I trekked down to my basement office for a good night’s write and found. . . get this. . .a dead bird under my desk.

Oh, yeah. I was totally creeped out.

My mind immediately searched for myths, superstitions and old wives tales about birds. I knew the sayings were out there, but I couldn’t recall the substance of a single one, save for a deep sense of, “this probably doesn’t bode well.” It shook me so much that I, the Miss Independent New Millennium Do-It-Aller, called my husband down to dispose of the bird. He did it, but not without teasing me about it first.

I took a deep breath, said a few prayers and then set about disinfecting the tiny circular area around the bird spot. We later scoured the basement for an entryway and found absolutely nothing. Weird.

The next morning, as I was leaving to take my daughter to school, my cat got to meowing like crazy and up from the basement flew a very flustered bird. We spent the next 15 minutes chasing it out of the house. The next day, there were two more birds flying around the house. We searched again and came to the conclusion that somehow (after all these years in this house) the birds must’ve gotten misdirected and flown into the chimney that now connects to the furnace. Eeek.

Unfortunately, though, the theory was confirmed when the cat got crazy again and led me to a tiny bird body that had apparently come down the chimney, through the connector pipe to the furnace and slid out. Unfortunately, the furnace must’ve been on when it made its trip.

That was the last bird. And since then, I’ve settled down (mentally) over the whole ordeal. But, you know me: I write supernatural stories; reality-based tales with otherworldy twists. They are threaded with essence, spirit and unspoken occurrences. It’s the kind of stuff people whisper about and wonder if their best friend, co-worker or neighbor adheres to similar subconscious beliefs. Even I have never admitted to being superstitious.

Believing that any force other than God has control over our fate just doesn’t seem to jive with my very religious upbringing. Though I grew up as a devout Catholic – a religion rife with symbols, statues, beads, etc. – crossing the street because of the wrong-colored cat seems sacrilegious. Yet, I do note that the cat was black and that he crossed my path. I avoid splitting the pole when I walk with others, try not to step under ladders, don’t deliberately open my umbrella indoors, or place my purse on the floor unless there’s nowhere else to put it.

I am aware and open-minded regarding some other schools of thought on life and its happenings. That doesn’t mean I accept everything I know is out there, I just know alternate mindsets exist. If my mind wasn’t willing to explore these realms, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, The Sixth Sense, Hancock, Blade, Anne Rice, Tananarive Due and Dean Koontz would hold no interest for me. But they do. And that’s why I write what I write.

My characters claim skills and abilities the rest of us may not have, but I also empower them to overcome their circumstances and themselves. My supernatural heroines learn to control their actions and their powers and become better people because of their gifts. Then the tale wraps up and we all move on to my next flight of fancy.

My stories reflect a personal belief that no one is entirely helpless against the universe. We are each granted the life tools we need to handle the situations we encounter: be that common sense, a specialized degree, a trusting friend or clever instinct. So, whether my “supply” is ample imagination, religious roots, or age-old superstition, I don’t allow any of these elements to hold me captive to beliefs or practices that sabotage my peace of mind.

The thought process may seem to contradict itself a bit, but really now: The worst splitting a pole does is just break up your conversation or hand holding for a second. Purses left on the floor have far less to do with being broke than not making enough money. And except for those creepy crows carrying the West Nile Virus, wayward winged creatures don’t herald death.

With condolences to the birds’ families, I don’t get high on my own supply, but I certainly do fly with the ideas.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Where Souls Collide wins Science Fiction category at the Literary Awards Show!

I am really excited to announce that Where Souls Collide won at the African American Literary Awards Show held Sept. 25 at the Harlem Gatehouse in New York. I can not tell you how exciting this is for me and how grateful I am to everyone who cast their vote for my debut novel.

Being incredibly motivated to complete revisions on my current WIP and move on to the next, I'm going to cut this blog short and share details of the moment through the press release I distributed yesterday. (Now whether anyone picks it up is a whole 'nother animal, but it does add nicely to the media kit. :)

Live. Love. Dream. Believe!

SOUTHFIELD, MICH. (September 26, 2008) -- A Detroit-based story about a newspaper’s struggle to survive a changing marketplace has taken a top honor at the 2008 African American Literary Awards Show.

Where Souls Collide by local author Stefanie Worth won the AALAS Science Fiction category. Last year’s winner, L.A. Banks (author of the popular Vampire Huntress series) was again in contention for the award along with well-known national bestsellers Tananarive Due and Brandon Massey. Worth is ecstatic that her debut novel held its own in the field.

“First of all, I was very excited to learn that my book had been nominated for the award. When I saw my competition, I was both humbled and inspired,” said Worth. “I can’t say thank you enough to all my friends, family and fans who voted for Where Souls Collide. They made this happen.”

AALAS nominees were chosen by an advisory panel of authors, publishers and literary industry experts. Winners were chosen by a public online voting process that ran throughout the summer. They were announced during the annual awards dinner held at New York’s Harlem Gatehouse last night.

“I hope this award allows me to share this character’s struggle to overcome with a bigger audience,” Worth continued. “The topic of financial difficulty is especially timely right now. Combined with the story’s romantic theme, there are enough twists to keep readers guessing – and hoping – until the very end of the book.”

Worth, who won national recognition for her editorial work at the Michigan Chronicle, chose the setting for Where Souls Collide based on her fond memories of that job.

“It’s a reality-based story woven with a supernatural premise, so my novel landed in the Science Fiction category.” Worth said. “I consider the book a sort of ‘ode to second chances’ because both the heroine’s professional and personal lives are going through major transitions.”

In addition to her days as a newspaper reporter, Worth also spent time in broadcasting at National Public Radio and ABC affiliates in Missouri. She worked as a reporter and anchor for WJLB radio in Detroit before moving on to the Chronicle and, eventually, her current role as director of communications for an area nonprofit. Meanwhile, she keeps plugging away toward a full-time career as a novelist.

Where Souls Collide, published through Dorchester Publishing, is available at major book sellers in-store and online. Her next work, a short story titled "Can You Believe," appears in The Holiday Inn anthology just released by Dorchester. For more information about the author or her writing, please visit www.stefanieworth.com.

For more information about the African American Literary Awards Show or to view the full listing of 2008 winners, visit www.literaryawardshow.com.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Results of distraction

Here are photos of the crochet project I mentioned in Relax, Release, Relate. There were actually two baby blankets; this is just a near full-size and detail shot of one.

I spent about one week making each blanket (about 3+ hours per day). That doesn't count the time I spent hunting for just the right yarn, going to different stores to purchase the necessary quantities and buying a whole new set of crochet hooks (long story there.) I used three different brands of yarn, all with a mohair look/feel.

The pattern rates its skill level as intermediate and I'd agree with that. It called for a size G hook, I chose to go with the yarn's gauge, which was a K. So I had to do a few practice runs on the first three rows to get the pattern to fall out correctly. I found it (free!) online at freepatterns.com (the fleur-de-lis baby afghan).

I wanted to give the blanket a more finished look, so I added the Hugs and Kisses Edge that I found (free!) online at BevsContryCottage.com.

I made "home from the hospital" blankets for each of my three children. I sized these two blankets by the ones I have on hand. Over the years, they've grown with my children -- from swaddling to car seat cover-ups to nap times and now they serve as leg coverings on movie nights. Of course, my daughter has asked for a mini-version for her favorite doll.

I know she'll understand that I need to hit my next writing deadline first, but I promise to whip up another loopy-laced masterpiece before winter sets in.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Barack Obama in Detroit

Just wanted to share a few photos from our trek downtown to hear Barack Obama speak on Labor Day. It was my second time, my kids' first. (Unfortunately, my oldest is off at college and missed out on all the live excitement.)

It was so hot that day, but the temperature cooled in comparison to the fiery spirit of the incredibly diverse crowd that gathered to witness history in the making.

If you've been in one of these crowds, you know just what I mean.

Still, despite the fervor, my six-year-old managed to find a shady spot at my feet, curled herself into a ball and fell asleep on top of my shoes. One day, when she's old enough to be ashamed of the memory, we'll remind her of how she slept through the whole thing. Meanwhile, we'll share our pictures with her.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Restless over my soap's latest story lines

Is it just me, or is my near lifelong favorite soap creating characters I can't stand by the boat load lately? Young and the Restless, which I've watched since I was 12, is my one and only daytime drama. It's an addiction I proudly admit to and try my best to stoke daily.

But for the last several months, the plot has been saddled with characters who do little more than get on my nerves. Let's see, there was Sabrina. (Sorry, but the whole 'My dad married my best friend' thing was creepy. Gross creepy.) So, good bye and good riddance to her.

Then there's the Chloe nonsense with the baby trickery. That takes me back to those Sheila and Lauren days. Nobody did it better than Sheila and I don't need Chloe's whiny attempt to recreate that situation. Cane is just dumb for marrying her. Totally unable to suspend my disbelief with that scenerio.

David Chow. Enough said. Won't see ya later. Bu-bye. Double yea!

And Cake Topper Numero Uno: That dedgum Adam. Yeck! First off, we all knew Victor wasn't dead. None of us are that silly. So, he'll come back, see the mess Adam has created and make nice with Victoria, Nicky and Nicholas again. Meanwhile, all I can hope is that Brad gives that fake Victor Jr. his comeuppance.

May I also suggest, while I'm ranting, another African American male lead (or two or three) so that Lily can have some choice in companions. Please understand, I have nothing against the interracial story lines. But Cane was such a stretch for our very naive Lily. (Uh, and an eligible bachelor like him could use some better choices, too. I would like to have seen him with Heather, personally.) A nice positive young brother who does right by Miss Lily would be refreshing. But also, perhaps, un-soap opera like.

Isn't this what soap operas are supposed to do, you say? Hook us on the absolutely unbelievable? It is, I guess. And that's what I try to do as a writer when I toss in those supernatural twists I love so well. But one thing I've learned about crafting heroes and heroines is that they should have some redeemable characteristic. Your leads can't be completely unlikable or most readers will toss them aside. Human, yes. Hannibalistic, no. At least not in my current genre.

That said, I'm ready for the next round of Y&R happenings -- minus Chloe and Adam. Sad fact is, I'll bet the writers and ratings-watchers know I'll be tuning in every day any way. *sigh*

OK. Back to my own word counts and the much more important mind-occupying events of the day -- like sending up prayers for those in Gustav's path. I realize I am quite blessed to be so mindlessly preoccupied, even for a little while.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Most memorable mind-bending movies

These are my picks for movies that stand out in my memory. Some of them give me a (((shudder))) just to think about them. Still.

The list represents my recall as of right now, this moment and in no particular order -- no rankings, ratings, right or wrong. Just the creeps. Enjoy!

The Others (starring Nicole Kidman)
The Sixth Sense (starring Haley Joel Osmet)
The House of Dies Drear (Howard Rollins)
The Believers (starring Jimmy Smits)
Dragonfly (starring Kevin Kostner)
Angel Heart (starring Lisa Bonet)
The Matrix Series (starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne)
Fallen (starring Denzel Washington)
The Shining (starring Jack Nicholson)
The Skeleton Key (starring Kate Hudson)
The Green Mile (starring Michael Clarke Duncan and Tom Hanks)

Also came across this cool site while I was out surfing for correct spellings. Gotta add this to my faves. What are yours??


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Music makes my world go round

Last year, I started a job that is seven minutes from home. For the first time in too many years of working, I'm not on a traffic-clogged freeway driving into or out of the heart of Detroit. People kept telling me how lucky I was to be close to schools, church, grocery stores, etc. And now with gas prices, you'd think I'd thank my lucky stars. But, no. Not me. It took me less than a week to figure out what was tragically wrong with my new situation.

It may sound a little crazy, but I miss commuting.

I lead a hectic life. So that 30-minute morning drive allowed me to channel hop on the radio so I could catch tidbits of the latest news, hear Steve Harvey's Strawberry Letter, and still have time to pop in a CD and enjoy a few of my favorite tracks that set the mood for my day before I swung into a parking garage and started my nine-to-five.

Evenings were the same way. I had time to unwind from work before picking up the kids and slipping into Mommy Mode and starting my "second job" as queen of the roost. I realize now how important that time was to me. More CDs and less radio on the afternoon drive, I plotted stories, made quick phone calls so I could devote time to home once I got there, and let go of all that stuff that tries to undo your sanity on the j-o-b. Now I can be at work or home when I'm barely into the second song on a CD. Grrrr....

So, when I was driving up to Idlewild last week, I finally had the chance to do the hey-I'm-all-by-myself-in-the-car-for-a-long-time thing. I did urban contemporary for the first 45 miles or so. When that faded, I picked up one of those pop rock stations that plays Neyo, Rhianna, Chris Daughtry and Lil Wayne. I stuck with that for half an hour or so before my trip to northern Michigan led me deep into pop oldies, country western and contemporary Christian music territory.

I heard some songs I hadn't heard since I was a kid. Like a song by the Fifth Dimensions (do you even know who they are??) and Carlton Banks' favorite Tom Jones song, "It's Not Unusual." (By the way, I can't hear that song without seeing his dance in my head.) Then I retreated to a CD I only get to hear in snatches, Chrisette Michelle's, "I Am." Wow!

I've adopted Track #4, "Best of Me" as my ode to the Summer of '08. That song will forever remind me of my first trip to Idlewild. And it got me thinking of the place music holds in my life. As I sped along the freeway I thought of a slew of songs that bring back specific memories whenever I hear them. Here are a few of the old songs and their moments:

In the Rain by the Dramatics -- Pretending to be the Temptations with my cousins in the mornings before we left for school.

Black Water by the Doobie Brothers -- A trip to Six Flags and splashing down the log ride with a bunch of family friends.

Piano in the Dark by Brenda Russell -- The dark days of my divorce. (((SHUDDER)))

Shame by Evelyn Champagne King -- Summers with my cousin down in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Yearnin for Your Love by the Gap Band -- Those days when you wondered if you'd ever find a decent boyfriend. Applicable for many, many years after I bought that album...

Bad Times (I Can't Stand It) by Captain Rapp -- That and any other 80s/early 90s rap reminds me of my post-college club scene. Those days when I could hang out dancing all night and still get up and be on time for work.

Kiss From a Rose by Seal -- The first time I drove home to St. Louis by myself. It was a beautiful, hot summer day driving through mid-America in my Jeep. I drank a ton of Pepsi and made great time.

How Can I Ease the Pain by Lisa Fischer -- A nameless old flame who would always sing this strangely prophetic song and miss all those oh-so-important high notes.

It Ain't Over Till it's Over by Lenny Kravitz -- My last pregnancy and the baby who seemed to love (and still leans toward) electric guitars.

One of the sessions at the Dubois-Chesnutt Writing Institute in Idlewild was about using poetic principles to make your prose sing. I shared that I create a playlist for every story; songs that speak to the plot, conflict and characters' relationships. The songs for Where Souls Collide are posted on my web site and soon I'll post the list for Can You Believe.

My works in progress have their own distinctive lists as well. There's a little crossover because some songs -- face it -- are just writing favorites. But when I sit down at the laptop and put on my headphones, each playlist takes me directly to the heart of that story. It's a great way to beat writer's block. And since I no longer have a commute to unwind with, it's the next best mental thing to being on a long stretch of freeway.

Tuning out for now --


Thursday, July 24, 2008

So who’s invited?

Like a lot of other people, I watched CNN’s “Black in America” special. At the moment, one of the segments I’ve fixated on was the one about a young successful African American screenwriter who’s reluctant to put her lifestyle on hold just to have a man. Her comment went something to the effect that the party’s already in progress and a man would have to bring something to it.

That sounds fair, don’t you think?

I mean, who doesn’t get annoyed at that brother, sister, relative or co-worker who always shows up empty-handed ready for the time of his/her life at your expense?

But in the realm of relationships – whether you’re male or female, what are the standards for inviting someone to your soiree? Should a potential significant other be prepared to show up with a bottle of Cristal? A carafe of wine? A two-liter pop? Or a bag of ice?

To me, the whole notion raised so many issues and ideas, I’d like CNN (BET, Michael Baisden, whoever) to spend a week discussing the idea of self-worth as mate magnet. After all, your party – the life you deserve, want, are working toward, etc. – stems from your own level of self-esteem, right? And we all (go ahead, admit it) aspire to be at least equally yoked.

But, what if "Insecurity the Party Pooper" has crashed your set? Do you find yourself settling for a bag of ice hoping that it will materialize into a fine Merlot with time? Call me jaded, but I say don’t count on the water turning to wine unless there’s a whole lot of fermented grapes in that mix.

While I believe that people grow, mature and sharpen their focus on this road of life, I don’t believe that the core values people bring to relationships change. No matter how hard you work to get the fizz out of that champagne-flavored pop, it will never be Cristal. Even after all your patient cajoling, it will remain an unfulfilling, flat substitute.

Does this sound selfish? Well, it is. But, think about it: Sure, that fine stranger you invite into a relationship on looks or unproven potential alone might one day be the love of your life. The charming guest could also become the spouse at the root of irreconcilable differences that weight your spirit, split your family, and become an inseparable contributor to the lifeblood you leave as future generations.

When do you make the decision to not be an equal-opportunity host and start narrowing your guest list? That’s up to you, of course. Just know that at some point in your life you need to be acutely aware of the people you love, live and lie down with.

So I say, get your relationship party on. But, yes, you have the right – a duty to self – to guard that guest list with your life.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Relax, release, relate

I wish I could blame my lack of blogging on mounting manuscript pages. But I can’t. No, in fact, I’ve been in a wee bit of a writing slump. Now, that’s not for lack of ideas or words, but more a feeling of ever-present distraction. If they had a twelve-step program for people who are perpetually sidetracked, maybe that’s where I’d be.

Instead, I’m here with a mounting to-do list that has little to do with what I’d really like to be doing: writing. Mind you, most of the tasks on that Distractions list relate to writing in some way, but very few of them amount to words on a page or pages in a stack or getting closer to THE END.

See, it’s a self-destructive cycle really: I get distracted. I wind up doing too many things that don’t bring me fulfillment. I begin feeling too overloaded to write. I start to feel bad because I’m not writing. I look for time-occupiers to take my mind off the fact that I’m not writing. I stay distracted.

That’s not to say that I haven’t accomplished anything over the last six months. I finished an anthology, am close to proving that I really can write a 14-page story, planned a writers’ conference, and re-designed my web site. Yesterday, I started a new crochet project that I aim to complete in the next three weeks. And, today, I’m blogging.

Some author I came across years ago said she doesn’t have writer’s block or get into slumps. Why? Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. And I have to admit, that right now – having assumed that position – watching my words fill this white space feels really good.

OK. So let me go back to the way that works for me and get off this waylaid treadmill:

  1. I will resurrect my writing journal
  2. I will set measurable and attainable monthly writing goals – classes, word counts, promotional activities, events – at the start of each month
  3. I will log my progress every day and make notes to encourage tomorrow’s work
  4. I will flip-flop my priorities and allow myself one hour per day to pursue my distractions and dedicate 3-4 hours per day to building my word count. Not the other way around.
  5. I’ll do a better job of taking care of me.
  6. I will then be able to write every day
  7. I will write every day

Woosa. . .

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A little cottage by the lake

Shortly after I moved to Detroit from Missouri "a few" years ago, I learned about Idlewild. It was infamous, I heard. Everybody who was anybody vacationed there once upon a time, and even now, those in the know had a place up there on the lake.

No wonder I've been wanting a little cottage of my own ever since. It's so easy to envision myself staring out over the lake dreaming up plot after plot in Idlewild's idyllic surroundings.

Without question, my wanderlust went full throttle as I finished Where Souls Collide, ratcheted up several notches when I sold the story and disappeared through the stratosphere once the book hit the shelves. Getting a cottage has now become one of my five-year goals. By then I figure I can actually make use of the property. For now my weekends are ruled by little league sports and dance classes for my Beyonce-to-be. My getaway window exists only for four weekends in August at present.

How fortuitous is it then that I’m out surfing Idlewild cottages-for-sale and stumble across the DuBois-Chesnutt Writing Institute that runs in tandem with the Idlewild Jazz Festival? I offered to help out with the writing workshops and after a quick conversation with jazz fest organizer Gad Holland, I end up coordinating the Aug. 2nd Institute. (In my copious spare time. LOL)

What can I say? It’s an exciting opportunity, shaping up to be a great event with keynoter Elizabeth Atkins (whose family has long owned a cottage at Idlewild) and other presenters, including, author Renee Alexis and poet Karen Williams. A jazz fest ticket ($35 before July 1, $40 afterward) admits participants to the writing workshops. I see incredible potential for the DuBois-Chesnutt Writing Institute, especially as Idlewild approaches its 2012 centennial.

Maybe I can bump up the timeline on that lakefront cottage after all.

To learn more, visit:
DuBois-Chesnutt Writing Institute information: www.stefanieworth.com/08workshop
DuBois-Chesnutt Writing Institute online: www.myspace.com/idlewildwriters
Idlewild Jazz Festival: www.idlewildjazzfest.com

Monday, April 21, 2008

See you after school

Any body but me get traumatic flashbacks at the sound of that phrase?

"I’ll see you after school," generally meant that someone had done something to somebody who was bigger, meaner and bold enough to try to right the perceived wrong. And, believe me, it was generally a perceived indignity. When I was in grade school, it didn’t take much more than verbally sticking up for yourself against the class enforcer to be threatened with mortal destruction at the end of the day.

I don’t know whether bullies are born or made, but I do believe that neither MySpace, YouTube nor any other internet alleyway will alter their origins or intentions. There were no digital cameras handy at Frostfield Elementary School and yet, alas, I still managed to be a sought after commodity. Being tall and skinny, talking proper and getting good grades seemed to be a good way to make enemies. Not to mention having your dad run the school PTA. Oh, yeah. Lots of fun.

So when I saw the news story last week about the teens beating up that girl (you know the one), I instantly reverted to a place of incredible empathy. I remember how I used to hate those kinds of girls. While boy bullies tended to be loners, female bullies hung in packs. But neither discriminated in their ability to scare the crap out of everybody. And even though "hate" is a word I don’t allow my kids to use. . .well, I still feel that way about how those kids made me feel.

I can recall them walking behind me on the way home and pulling my hair all the way down the sidewalk. Or running up behind me and giving me a shove to try and make me fall. Stupid stuff. Like writing "Stefanie is ugly" on the top piece of a brand new pack of notebook paper. Of course, I told the teacher, who recognized the handwriting as belonging to the one boy we all feared. Right away I wanted to take back my tattling, but it was too late.

After school, the bully found me. I was with my younger brother and trying to get us home as fast as I could. My legs couldn’t carry me fast enough and I got caught with an armful of books, little brother looking on and the end of the world banging in my head. He hit me in the nose, I felt the blood running down my face, panicked, closed my eyes and swung my fist. My books hit the ground and I grabbed my brother and ran back into the school screaming.

Well, we made it to the principal’s office. He called my father. Some adult caught the perpetrator and brought him into the office alongside me and my brother to wait for our parents. My father talked to that boy like he talked to us – and told him he better not ever touch me again.

On the way home, my father asked me if I was afraid of that boy. "Of course. Everybody is." And he told me, "Don’t you ever be afraid of anybody. For any reason."

Worked for me.

My father’s talking to also seemed to work for the bully, who grew up to be a pretty decent guy, even serving in the military, from what I’m told.

That fight changed both our lives. The bully’s actions and my father’s words have allowed me to battle life’s bigger demons without being afraid of defeat. And the simple balancing lesson of doing right by others and standing up for yourself is not lost on this mother of children who march to a slightly different beat.

What we teach our kids – and the other children in our world village – should not be based on who might see the outcome. Whether it shows up on the internet or festers as bad memories, the lack of a good talking to affects what’s produced on the inside of these future adults. So be the grown up: say it’s wrong. Say it early. Say it often.

No kid should be on either end of, "See you after school."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Second Chances

Have you ever been in a good relationship…only to meet someone wonderful?

Not just fine. Or smart. Or with that million-dollar smile that makes your insides bubble like a shook up soda pop. No, someone who hexes you with an if-loving-you-is-wrong notion you just can’t shake. Did you dare to wonder “What if?” before you decided to do right?

Let’s flip the script and say you’re with that oh-so wonderful one, but life is all in the way. Maybe there’s bad breakup baggage or ex’s baby drama that keeps chipping away at what you hoped could be. Did you find yourself saying, “Maybe if we had met before…. Or after… Or just at another space and time” and walk away?

What about your job situation? Ever had a boss who ruined the perfect job for you? A person who’s so awful to work for that they made the gig impossible to keep? Or maybe your company fell on hard times and you were impossible to keep.

Life is filled with day-late, dollar-short, “If I coulda, woulda, shoulda” situations. But, even though we grow up and ingest the clich├ęs that get us through (roll with the punches, that’s the way of the world, can’t win ‘em all, et. al.), who doesn’t reach a point where they wish for a second chance?

I’m always asked the question, “What’s Where Souls Collide about?” And for me, beyond all the love, suspense and its supernatural twists, the story is about two people fighting the day-to-day forces of life and love with the hope of winning their second chance.

Ever been there?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Chat With Farrah Rochon

I'm excited to bring you an interview with one of my fellow authors who writes for Dorchester's African American Romance line, Farrah Rochon.

Farrah, thanks for stopping by my blog. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to publication?

I usually think of myself as being a bit boring, but then again, I like boring. :) I am an avid sports fan. The start of football season is marked on my calendar in bold, red ink. I also love to travel. My favorite spots are Disney World, for obvious reason (who can resist that Goofy), and NewYork City. I would love to live there one day. I’m a huge Broadway fan.Wicked, The Color Purple, and Aida are my favorite musicals.

Of course, I’m also a ferocious reader. I’m currently seeking a 12-Step Program to help with my addiction to buying books, but it looks like I’ll have to start it up myself. It’ll at least put my Psychology degrees to good use.

As for my journey to publication, it has been a long, but fun one. I started my first “real” novel back in college at the urging of one of my professors (who happens to be the only grandchild of W.E.B. Dubois). I wrote on and off throughout undergrad and graduate school, but it was at the encouragement of a group of friends I met through my favorite author’s online message boards that I decided to try writing romance. The rest, asthey say, is history. It took five years and four completed manuscripts, but I would not take back a single thing along my journey to publication.

What’s been your most exciting moment since the release of “Deliver Me”?

That’s pretty hard to pinpoint. There have been so many great things over the course of the last year (my first booksigning, seeing my book inWalMart). However, I’d have to say the most exciting moment was this summer when over sixty of my closest friends (yes, I have over sixty close friends) flew in from every end of the U.S. and even from abroad to attend my first ever booksigning at the Romance Writers of America Annual Conference in Dallas. For years they’ve heard me talk about finally having my own table at the booksigning, and it meant so much to me to have them there. Everyone wore these smashing red Rochonette Fan Club t-shirts, and made a huge splash at the RWA Literacy Signing. It was phenomenal.

Tell us about your upcoming release.

I’m very excited about my upcoming novel, RELEASE ME. It is the second in my Holmes Brothers saga, and features the second brother, Tobias “Toby”Holmes and his childhood friend, former basketball-playing tomboy, Sienna Culpepper. Sienna is no longer a tomboy, and Toby is definitely startingt o notice her grown-up assets. The story is once again set in New Orleans and centers around an American Idol-type reality TV show.

After a serious car accident ends his professional basketball career, Toby decides to try his hand at the music business. As luck would have it, a scout for a new reality TV show shows up at a club where Toby’s newest client is performing and chooses her to star in the show. Sienna Culpepper works as a marketing executive at the advertising firm Toby chooses to help turn his client into a star. And, of course, she is put in charge of Toby’s account.

I absolutely love the way this story turned out. The fact that I have read it for pleasure—twice!--says a lot. :) Readers should enjoy seeing Monica and Eli from DELIVER ME, and the others from the Holmes clan. There is also a sizzling hot secondary storyline featuring Toby’s best friend, attorney and upcoming nightclub owner, Jonathan Campbell and Sienna’s sister, Voo Doo Priestess, Ivana Culpepper. The chemistry between these two is combustible.

Did your writing process differ between the first and second book?

My writing process has differed for every single book I’ve written. I’ve accepted that I don’t have a set writing process. Life always throws these curveballs that inevitably screw up my process, so I’m trying to learn how to be open to living an “adjustable” life.

Take for instance what happened when writing RELEASE ME. When I got to page 100, I had to put the manuscript aside in order to work on revising a manuscript that was eventually rejected by Harlequin. After mailing that other manuscript one Saturday, I was all set to get back to work on RELEASE ME that following Monday morning. The date: August 29, 2005. Instead of writing that Monday, I was bugged out in a hotel in Dallas, escaping Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.

I still keep a yellow Post-it note in my wallet, on which I had written my “to do” list for Monday, August 29th, as a reminder of how quickly your world can change. I went several months without writing a thing. Luckily, I never lost the passion I had for Toby’s story. It is my favorite novel so far.

What do you most want to achieve as an author?

My short answer: To write full time and not worry about a day job.
My shorter answer: To make people smile.

If you could offer one suggestion to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Don’t think things get easier once you’ve published your novel. Like many aspiring writers, I thought the hardest part of this business was finally getting an editor to believe in your work, and eventually buy it. I learn each and every day just how difficult it is to survive in this business. If you really, truly want to be a published author, be prepared for lots of hard work.

Is there any thing else you’d like readers to know?

Of course! Be on the lookout for my second novel, RELEASE ME, which will be in stores in early June 2008. Also, stay tuned to my website, blog, and/or MySpace page for news on upcoming releases, contests, appearances, and an excerpt from RELEASE ME.

Farrah, I've really enjoyed getting to know you over the past year. Maybe we'll get the chance to combine forces one day. Meanwhile, here's to continued success!

Live. Love. Dream.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Big Yawn

It’s cold outside. And snowy. It’s Sunday. My daughter’s going through her umpteenth recent growth spurt. My son has another day off school. My eldest hasn’t texted me in two days. My truck needs a good wash. My MAC lipstick better be in stock soon. I need about six hours on the treadmill.

So how do all these disparate details connect?

These are the things I noticed when I came off deadline and finally got some sleep last week. It felt a little like waking up in the morning and pulling back the curtains. Till then, yes, you know it’s morning, and yes, you know the street is probably quiet, which cars are usually parked there, what season it is, etc.

But once the obstruction is removed and you can actually see outside, well, then you notice that the people across the street got a new car, the trash collector left your recycle bin unemptied and, based on the car in the driveway, the girl next door seems to have a new boyfriend. That’s how I feel today: like welcome back to the world!

I remember reading once that Will Smith said his first marriage fell apart while he was making Six Degrees of Separation. He talked about being so into his role that the movie consumed him. He also said he learned from that experience about acting, family, priorities.

Well, I don’t have the option (or desire) to completely ignore my family while I’m working on a book, but I can pretty much tune out every thing else. That would include my body’s need for nighttime rest. I’ll admit that the most sleep I’ve had in the last two years was this past Christmas when I had the flu for four days.

Ask yourself (I do): Does Toni Morrison sleep? Does Stephen King sleep? What about L.A. Banks or Tanarive Due? How long? How often? Do they sleep better now with some measure of success behind them than they did in their early years of hammering out manuscripts and soliciting sales?

I know I shouldn’t, but I do consider seven or eight hours of lying down doing nothing to be a luxury. Never mind a friend who told me that you’re supposed to protect sleep the way you guard your health. Or the studies (and I always read them out of guilt) that link lack of sleep to difficulty losing weight, propensity for diabetes and just plain falling asleep all day. I feel like sleep is the sacrifice – not pounding the keyboard until 2 or 3 a.m.

Producing pages = realizing my dream.

Thus it was with my latest project. I was asked to turn around 25,000 – 30,000 words in about five-six weeks. That’s quick for me when I factor in a full-time job, kids/family, holiday hassles. But I wasn’t about to say no. I had a proposal for another project that I was wrapping up and was determined to get that out of my hair first. Polishing and perfecting that other piece ate up about 10 days. Then I dived in.

Me being me, I divided the challenge into bite-sized goals. One thousand words a day and I’d make deadline with time for self-edits and revisions before mailing the work off.

Okay, so it kind of went according to plan.

When I was a couple thousand words off target just before Christmas, I figured I could make it up – really come close to finishing – while I was on vacation over the holidays. Ha!

So, except for those four critical days I spent in influenza’s fever-induced haze, I was kicking butt and taking names. But I had to push into overdrive once I was well. Which meant back to four hours of sleep at night and carrying my laptop from room to room at home to write something at any available opportunity.

Five nights ago, I finished – revisions and all. At 4:12 a.m. Then there were the perfunctory details like a cover letter and mailing prep. Anyhoo, I went to bed around 4:45. And got up at 7:30 for work when my husband came in the room and said, "Hey, it’s late!" Ugh.

That goes down as my worst non-sleeping offense. My family, in the meantime, has shown the utmost patience with my dream. They seem to understand -- though during weeks like these I think I push the empathy envelope pretty far. I try to find ways to make up for my tunnel vision between projects and hope the attention I give them has a halo effect – that they forget mommy was ever bad.

Maybe if I didn’t function so well while sleep deprived, I wouldn’t do the whole non-sleep thing. But, honestly, I think that even without a day job, husband and kids, I’d spend that much more time writing – but I still wouldn’t sleep.

Nothing beats the feeling of typing THE END.
And starting all over again.