Thank you Chantel Acevedo for inviting me to take up the Chocolate Challenge: three books, three reviews, three types of chocolate. And with my sweet tooth…chocolate is the best way to describe some of the delicious books listed below! You can read Chantel’s take on the challenge on her web page ihola and you can also follow her on Twitter @chantelacevedo. Check out her new novel, A Falling Star, published in August 2014 and her novel, Love and Ghost Letters.
Dark chocolate is often described as chocolate that has a somewhat bitter taste to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but it stays with you long after you consume it. That is why the first book I am going to mention is by the late, great Bebe Moore Campbell, 72 Hour Hold. This book has stayed with me since I first read it in 2005. At the time, I was struggling with debilitating depression, and I stumbled upon this book while trying to find something to distract me from my own struggles and maybe even inform me about some of the concerns I had about my own illness. This book accomplished both.
72 Hour Hold is the story of a mother, Keri, who is trying to come to terms with her daughter, Trina’s, struggles with bipolar disorder. Trina went from being a normal vivacious young person, to becoming a violent, disruptive shadow of her former self. This novel shows the true nature of this disease and how it not only affects the person suffering from it, but also the ones who love the sufferer. The reader gets to see Keri fighting her child, as she fights her ex-husband and a flawed system in order to insure Trina gets the help she needs. The reader witnesses Keri’s overwhelming love for her daughter and her willingness to do anything to get her daughter back.
This book is not for the faint of heart. Bebe Moore Campbell doesn’t sugarcoat bipolar disorder and she doesn’t offer any easy solutions, hence the bitter chocolate taste that is left in the reader’s mouth after completing this well-written piece of fiction. It is a tragedy that Ms. Bebe Moore Campbell is no longer with us. Her voice is greatly needed.
Sometimes, trying to push out the words of a new story or poem is just like trying to push out a newborn. The words get stubborn and comfortable inside the mind where they've been gestating for days, weeks, months, sometimes years. They cling onto the notion that they are safer if they stay wrapped up inside the uterus of the writer's mind. So, sometimes we writers need a literary midwife or two or three to coach us and coax that baby out. Somebody who'll stay with us and that story 'til the birthing process is done. Somebody who'll say, "Daughter, let those words go. Ain't you tired of carrying that full-term baby around in your belly? You are? Then bear down, baby. Bear down and push that baby out."
I am in the wonderful, scary space of completing my second novel. The bearing down and pushing out of the words has, at times, been difficult, but thankfully, I have a village of literary midwives who are constantly encouraging me and pushing me to birth this baby out. So, today, I honor them. They know who they are. Love.
I'm working on my second novel, and right now, I am writing a scene involving the Ku Klux Klan and a soon to be burned down chicken coop full of chickens. Right now, I feel tortured by the writing. I both want to run to it, and run away from it. Writing is HARD. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Sometimes, I wonder why I put myself through this process. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a writer, but it can wreak havoc on one’s mental state. There are times when the writing seems to be pushing me to the edge. It is no wonder to me that many writers turn to the bottle and other coping mechanisms.
When I wrote some of the tougher scenes in my debut novel, Drinking From A Bitter Cup, I had to mentally prepare myself for some of the more graphic moments involving my young heroine, Sylvia Renee Butler. I loved that little imaginary girl and as her creator, I wanted to step in, and “fix” her life. I wanted her mother to stay and not abandon her, but writers have to honor the story. Once the story starts to reveal itself to us, we have no choice but to write the story the way it was meant to be written. If we don’t, the story will come across as contrived and boring. Readers can tell when you don’t write the story the way it was meant to be written. The characters come across as weak and cookie cutter. The prose sounds flat. The scenes feel forced and uninteresting. Real writers go into the deep because there is where the story exists. The trick is to not stay there. The trick is to be able to separate these characters and their world from the world that is made up of our family, friends, job, etc. When writers go in to the depths of a story...and I mean, really go in...they are often left feeling like a puddle of water on the floor, when it is all said and done. Below is one of the pieces of dialogue from my next novel that has left me tossing and turning at night, but I knew when I typed those words, they were the words the character HAD to say.
“Hey in there. Y’all niggers come on out,” a loud male voice yelled. “We about to make y’all some fried chicken. We know how much you darkies love yourself some fried chicken.”
Typing those words broke my heart. In my mind I questioned myself. I asked myself, How can you put your characters through such pain and degradation? My response was simple: Because I have to. Writing in the deep is not easy. New York Times and Times of London bestselling author, Raymond E. Feist, says: “Writing is hard work; it’s also the best job I’ve ever had.” I have to say, I concur.
Today, I am not having a fun time being writer. In fact, most of this week hasn’t been fun. Why, you ask? Well, instead of working on my next novel or having imaginary conversations with Gayle and Oprah about my book, I have had to put aside my creative hat and focus on my marketing hat. I have made 15 phone calls to bookstores about possible book signings. I have sent out over 50 emails to book stores, book clubs, book reviewers, and members of the press about the release of the book and upcoming events. I have visited half a dozen bookstores and I have given out tons of flyers and postcards. I have made posts to Facebook and Twitter urging my family and friends to write reviews and post them to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million and Goodreads. And I’m not even counting all of the hard work my husband Robert and other friends have done to try and get the word out. Whew. No one said this writing thing went beyond sitting at a comfy desk with a nice mug of tea while the writing muse has its way with me.
Okay, okay. Before you say, “Blah, blah, blah, stop complaining. Wasn’t this your dream?” Let me just say, yes, you are right. But it doesn’t change the fact that this part of the process is not fun. I am an extroverted introvert, meaning, I can turn on the charm when I have to, but in all honesty, a great day to me is a day when it is just me, my muse, and my keyboard. Making phone call after phone call where I have to spark enthusiasm in the hearer on the other side of the phone is not my idea of a good day, hence why I never went into sales.
I was teasing a friend the other day when I said I have heard everything this week but “It’s not you. It’s me,” when I called various bookstores trying to set up book signings. Nobody told me that most bookstores are not interested in granting signings unless you are already well-known. Whodathunk? It’s like being back in the day when I was a new job hunter and I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a job.
But you know, in spite of that fact, those of us who write and publish can’t give up. Even if 9 out of 10 people turn us down and make us feel like our life’s work is not much more than a blip on the radar screen of publishing, we can’t give up. Why? Because of that one success, and yes, that one success matters.
So, here are some tips to writers who are interested in publishing:
1. Make sure you spend some time building your presence on social media. Promoting your work becomes a little easier when your friends, family and colleagues are also helping to get out the word.
2. Get ready to be a cheerleader for your work. If you are too timid to shout about your work from the rooftops, you have probably selected the wrong career path. Yes, there are authors who write in isolation and never interact with the public and somehow find a way to get their work to its intended audience, but really, those writers are few and far between. Make sure you enter into the publishing process believing you will have to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your work. Even those who publish with the large presses are finding themselves having to utilize their skills as marketers to plug their work.
3. Get organized. I have half a dozen templates of letters, emails, press releases, etc., so when I find a new outlet to send material to, all I have to do is tweak my template and then Voila!, it is off to my new potential resource without me having to spend hours recreating the wheel.
4. Schedule your day so that you are not trying to market your work and write creatively in the same time and space. There is nothing that will suck away your creativity more than knowing you have to send off press releases, type up mailing envelopes, or talk on the phone with individuals who might be lukewarm, at best, when it comes to talking to you about your work.
5. Delegate or ask for help. Once you are in publishing mode, you need a team – a team of unpaid (or paid if you roll like that) “staff” who can take some of the burden off your shoulders so you really can spend more time being creative. As I’ve said repeatedly, my husband has been my rock throughout this entire process so far. My great friend, Lauren, who has hosted an event, helped with the copy editing, and sent out reviews and press releases, has been invaluable in this whole process, and daily, I am asking her to do more and more. So, whenever people say, “Is there anything I can do to help you publicize your work,” take them up on their offer! Get them to make phone calls. Get them to send out books for review or press packets (to those who still want hard copy packets). Get them to show up at your readings and help with all of the behind-the-scene duties that will overwhelm you on the day of your signing.
So, I offer you writers this advice, not to discourage you but to prepare you for those days when the writing life just doesn't seem rewarding. When literally and figuratively you are getting doors slammed shut in your face and you say to yourself, "But I have an ISBN number. Ain't I a writer too!" Just remember, unless you are already Alice Walker or Toni Morrison or any of the other rock stars of publishing, don’t expect the red carpet to automatically be rolled out to meet you at every venue you imagine yourself reading in. Unless you are a literary giant already, don’t expect the New York Times to come knocking down your door to do a book review for your book. Instead, go into this publishing thing like it is truly a business venture that in the beginning, there may not be very many individuals believing in your work besides you and your good old Aunt Susie. And that is okay. Just make sure you help Aunt Susie learn how to send a tweet, because, really, initially, she might be all you’ve got.
Now, back to marketing my book. Oh, and by the way, do any of you have Oprah on speed dial? Okay, okay! Just asking. Sheesh! :)
Don't forget to join me today as I discuss DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP with DuEwa Frazier on her radio show, Rhymes, Views & News Talk Radio ! The show begins at 1:00 pm EST. Click here on the link to take you there! See you on the radio! If you would like to buy a copy of DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP, go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books A Million.
By the time I turned 16 and started looking for my birth mother, I was angry. I was suffering from “mommy abandonment issues” and I wanted to find her so I could punish her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth. I’m thankful I did not find her then. Emotionally, I was not ready for a relationship to begin between the two of us and I’m afraid, had I found her, things would have quickly fallen apart between us. So I say with gratitude, my journey to find my mother was a slow process with a ton of road blocks in the way. I started my search before there were computers like we know them, so my process involved writing letters and making phone calls. On my adoption papers it said her name was Gwendolyn English and I was born in Montgomery, AL. That’s all I had to go on. For some reason, since I loved English so much as a subject, I just knew she and I were destined to meet one day. In my heart, I knew it was just a matter of time until I found her.
But all of my searching seemed to lead towards more and more dead ends, and there were so many monumental events that took place that I wanted her to be there to witness. My high school graduation. My marriage. My graduation from college. My son’s birth. My divorce. My stroke. Yet, it was almost another twenty years after I began my search at age 16 before I found the woman on my birth certificate – Gwendolyn English. I remember walking to her door, anxious, even though she said she couldn’t wait for me to arrive. When she hugged me for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had come home. My adopted family, especially my daddy, meant everything to me; I was thankful that I grew up a member of the Jackson family. But she was always the missing component. And then I found out that I had siblings, and having grown up an only child, I felt blessed beyond measure. Not to mention all of the fabulous aunts, uncles and cousins I inherited. My life was moving toward completeness.
A few months ago, a television show called “I’m Having Their Baby” aired, and it became a source of conversation for the two of us. The show was all about women who made the decision to give up their babies for adoption. One day my birth mom said, while we were discussing the show, “I wish I could talk to those young women and tell them how difficult it is to give up a baby.” Shortly after she said those words, I approached her about doing this interview with me. I think she was a little hesitant at first, but eventually, she and I made the decision to share part of our story. So, here it is. My interview with the woman who birthed me into this world and set me free for just a little while – Gwendolyn English Pendleton.
Hi, Mom. Tell me about that first year after the adoption.
I didn't handle the first year very well. In fact, I was nearly a basket case. I was determined to keep the adoption a secret, leaving me with no one to talk to, and at the time, I didn’t have God in my life, so I truly felt lost and alone.
When I was little, I used to pretend you were a Queen in a far-away kingdom, and one day, you would come and find me. What are some of the dreams you had about me and my whereabouts?
In my dreams of you, you were always an adult. I never saw you as a child. And when I did dream of you, I didn’t find you in the dream, you always found me. You were at the front door of the house. I never saw myself taking you from your adopted family. It would have been the wrong thing to do. My dream was seeing my daughter as a young lady, knocking at my front door. And, it almost happened just that way.
You mentioned that after you put me up for adoption, you went back looking for me. What was it like for you when you found out I had been adopted?
It was sad and then again, it was almost a relief that you had been adopted early and you weren’t stuck in a dreary orphanage, like the ones in the movies about abandoned children. You were such a beautiful baby. I did have some mixed feelings when I found out you had been adopted though. I was happy for you, but I was also disappointed because my deep desire was that I might reclaim you. However, I realized that getting you back would have been a difficult task since I had already signed away my rights. Another part of me decided that my baby was in a good home and I should allow her to grow up there. This decision finally gave me a level of peace.
In what ways did the adoption affect your relationship with my sister and brothers?
It made a difference when they were older and their father and I divorced. Having given you up, I knew I would not allow another child to get away from me. It made me want to hold on to them more. The adoption, I believe, caused me to be a stronger mom, and a more determined mom who would fight to keep my other children and not let anyone take them out of my arms.
Describe what your first thoughts were on that day I called you for the first time.
That day you called, I knew who you were before you even said your name, a name that I chose for you – Angela Denise. I knew your voice. It was our voice. And when you said your name I thought, God did just what he said he would. He brought my baby home!! It was a miraculous moment. It was glorious. It was awesome.
Because my adoption was a secret to most members of our family, how did you deal with my sudden re-appearance into your lives?
I called the family together and told them the truth. They were so wonderful and so understanding. I'll never forget it. I thank God for all my babies and my other family members.
You and I have spent the last 13 years trying to get to know each other. What has been some of the challenges? And what has been some of the great moments?
We need to be seeing each other more – that’s the challenge. The great moments were the very first time I saw you as a young lady and every time I've seen you since. The challenge has only been the physical distance between us.
If you could give advice to mothers contemplating adoption, what advice would you give to them for surviving those years apart from their child?
To be honest, I have no advice to give. Every woman must decide for herself what the right decision is for her. Fortunately, I came through by the grace of God. I know that God allows us to go through things for spiritual and mental maturity, even when we bring these things on ourselves. Would I make that decision to give up my baby again? I don't know. I'm not that person anymore. She was only 19 and very confused. I don’t believe I would do it now, knowing what I know. How do I know I wouldn’t give up my daughter – give up you? Because I'm stronger and wiser, and I know that I wouldn't have to go through it alone.
Mom, thank you for doing this interview with me. We’ve been through a lot together, both when we were apart and now that we are in each others' lives again. Let me say what I have said before, I have no regrets. I was loved. I was nurtured. I made a difference in the life of my parents who really wanted me. You did the right thing.
If you would like more information about adoption, visit the National Council for Adoption website by clicking here. If you would like to read more blog posts by me, visit my blog, “Writing in the Deep” by clicking here. Thank you for visiting my blog. Don't be a stranger.