I read only a couple of Sidney’s books way back in the day. You couldn’t survive girlhood without reading The Other Side of Midnight. Although I wasn’t a devoted fan, I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Here’s a link to the AP coverage. Hope you’re having a good time on the other side, Sidney, and that the folks there enjoy a good story.
Archive for January, 2007
Other times it just sucks. Like when you are a romance author trying to convince potential readers that your books aren’t just smut. Sure, I write about sex, pretty explicitly, too, no closed bedroom doors for me. I write about people falling in love and sex, hopefully, is a part of that, but it is not the thrust of the story. Yes, Martha, there is a plot in my books, usually pretty complex, particularly when I’m writing suspense. I haven’t done a survey, but I doubt you’d find more than 20 pages in which my characters are actually engaged in sex in either of my last two books. Considering that both of them were over 300 pages long, that’s about 7 percent of the novel spent on describing the deed. I probably spend more time discussing the weather.
You can’t really blame the public for the image of romance, when three quarters of the covers feature some couple in some form of embrace on the cover. It implies that all that is important in the story is the frequency and duration of the hot and heavy. I’ve fought the clinch battle with both my publishers and appear to have won, judging by my last two covers, one of which features a lone woman.
But the fact remains, most romances are marketed on an individual level to appeal to readers on a sexual basis. And it appears on a category-wide approach as well. I’d never been to this site before, but an author friend clued me in to Dear Author where the discussion of Harlequin’s new Romance Report is the topic du a couple of days ago.
Most posters over there seem to be of the agreement that Harlequin’s focus on pornography and the prurient missed the mark with most readers. I haven’t read this report (if anybody’s got a copy please contact me) and didn’t know it existed until now. I’ve only been part of the Harlequin family since they took over BET a little over a year ago. From what I understand, this 21-page brochure is sent to the media and elswhere to stimulate interest in Harlequin–the company, its titles and authors. Yet, from what I understand, only a handful of books are actually featured.
Leaving aside my personal dislike for pushing the prurient aspects in romance, I wonder if what Harlequin is doing is a strategy that works. Considering that romance has been leaching readers to other genres and to the internet for a while now (I could pull out statistics, but I won’t bore you) wouldn’t a shift in focus appear to be in order? Besides, with the rise of erotica, erotic romance and romantica, the average stuff in a lot of romance novels is pretty tame.
So I ask, what matters more to you in a romance–the characters, the plot, the clinch on the cover, the steaminess quotient, some mix of these factors? What, if anything, bothers you about the way romance is promoted? To clinch or not to clinch? You decide.
I was talking with an aspiring writer the other day who mentioned my dislike for critique groups. And I thought, where have I ever said that? Turns out it’s on my own website. Oh. It’s true, sort of. Most people who ask me about critique groups are greener than grass. They’ve barely put two words down on paper and they want someone else to pass judgment on what they’ve written. It’s at this stage a critique group can be a hazard. Any good critique group is going to give some honest feedback that the newbie writer’s ego and sense of themself as a writer may be too fragile to withstand some frank commentary. In all likelihood what they’ve written isn’t very good and someone out there will have the guts to tell them. I’ve seen quite a few potentially good writer stop writing at the first intimation that their work is not ready for the NYT bestseller list.
How to make a critique group work for you:
1. Have some work to show: Not just a page or paragraph or even a couple of chapters. Get halfway through the book at least before you show it to anyone. Work out a few kinks in the story on your own by reading craft books and scouring the web for advice. Get a feel for who you are as a writer before you give anyone else a chance to define you.
2. Be open to constructive comments. A critique group is not the place to go for unadulterated praise. You’ve got your family for that. Accept that your work probably needs help and be willing to listen to ways to improve.
3. Join the right group: A cut-throat group of published authors may not be the right place for a newbie author (if they let you in their group to start with). You might need a more nurturing environment.
4. Take the good and leave the bad: Not all advice needs to be heeded. Often in a critique group the advice given may even be contradictory. Learn to implement only those suggestions that resonate with you and leave the rest aside.
Most of us in the publishing industry wonder what makes a book a success, if only to run out and do the same thing with our own work. We’ve all seen big books flop and little books soar in sales with no apparent explanation for either happening. Here J.A. Konrath presents his take.
As I’ve said before, literary scammers are out amongst us, so new writer take care. According to the Writer Beware blog “scammer Lisa Hackney (a.k.a. Melanie Mills, Elisabeth Von Hullessem, Roswitha Von Meerscheidt-Hullessem, and several others), lost her fight against extradition from Canada to the United States.” Hers is an interesting story that you can read here.
Today one reader who is also a writer complimented me on not doing the whole “sexual chocolate thing” in my books. My response was, “Huh?” I’m getting to be an old broad who needs to have everything spelled out to her. What she meant was that I don’t spend a lot of time mentioning over and over again what my characters look like.
Conversely, on a message board where some other readers were discussing a different book, they were disappointed that I hadn’t described my hero enough.
This is what we writers refer to as readers giving us conflicting advice. It’s true that I may have given less attention to my hero’s description in one book than another, but truthfully, I don’t tend to repeat what folks look like often in my books. Mostly this is because I find it annoying when I’m reading. If you’ve told me once, I’ve got it–or I make my own.
But description, or over-description is a pet peeve of mine. I absolutely detest it when an author dumps a plethora of description on me. For example, a character walks into a restaurant. Before I even know what’s going on, I know what color the drapes are, the time on the clock, the entire ancestry of the character that’s sitting at the table and the fact that there’s a fly in some other customer’s soup.
For me, this is author intrusion. I’d much rather hear only those details relevant to the viewpoint character as they become important. And some details will never be important. Please leave some things to my imagination. It’s overactive and needs use.
Not being one to propose change without offering solutions, here are my tips on how to use details to best advantage.
1. Get into your character’s head. What would he/she notice about the setting? Those are the important details. Leave everything else out.
2. Filter that detail in slowly. You don’t have to say everything up front. You can give your character’s general impression of a place first, then fill in more details as your character would notice them. For example, they might notice the carpet as they walked across it or the sound of cicadas in the trees at a quiet moment.
3. Find the important detail. All details are not created equally. The reader may never need to know that your character is sitting on a blue chair, but the fact that the fabric is frayed or patched over is more telling. Pick details that speak to character development or story enhancement in some way.
4. Find the difference. At the beginning of my upcoming book, Forbidden Games, my hero thinks of my heroine, thusly:
Andrew Grissom slowly lowered the copy of the Times he’d been reading and turned his head in the direction of the husky female voice. The first thing he noticed were the long, long legs encased in black fish net stockings. Above that, black spandex shorts clung to shapely hips beneath a fitted top that barely contained Zaria Fuentes’ ample cleavage and exposed a good three inches of her midriff. Frizzified jet-black hair floated around her shoulders. Aside from looking sexy as hell, it served the dual purpose of being a hiding place for a mike.
He focused on her face: amber eyes at an exotic tilt underneath winged brows, cheekbones for days and a pair of lips that would send Pam Anderson running back for collagen injections, all coated in more make-up than she usually wore in a week.
Got a picture in your mind of what Zaria looks like? This description appears on page one. I never mention her features again, at least not to my recollection. I mention her hairstyle a couple of times, because it means something when she changes it, or what she wears, but only when it is significant for some reason.
And if you’re thinking I just violated my own rule about dumping information, think again. The Zaria here is so different from the way the hero is used to seeing her, plus he’s half in love with her already, he would notice everything in one big gulp.
5. Don’t sweat it. Find a level of descriptiveness that suits you and your writing. Some folks are naturally minimalists and that’s fine. Others can’t seem to write without long, flowing descriptive passages. That’s fine, too. I hope you don’t mind if I skim.
Thanks to all of you with the fortitude to come back to this topic. As promised yesterday, this part of the piece will talk about books. Without a doubt, the landscape for black publishing has changed greatly in the last two decades. Time was, the only folks who could hope to be published were the Toni’s, the James’s and the W.E.B.’s of the world. These days black authors have exploded into every genre, from romance to mystery to horror to whatever, while still maintaining a literary tradition. For that I say whoopee!
But an interesting phenomenon has happened along side all this progress known as the blacks only fiction section of the bookstore. In my local Barnes and Noble it is right there in the front of the store, but in my mind it occupies the same spot at the back of the bus blacks were once relegated to.
There are some black readers and authors who see this as a bonus. For readers it is one-stop shopping. For authors, it ups the opportunity that their core market will be able to find their book. But that’s only the surface effect.
Back to Ms. Hill for a moment:
If we as a people sit back and allow another group of people to dictate where we can sell, what we can write, who it can be marketed to and where it can be shelved, then everything that our ancestors fought and died for was a waste.
Where the problem of ghettoization has arisen is in the intentional mis-education of the Negro. We’ve been hoodwinked, tricked, bamboozled into believing that the segregation of Black books is a good thing. We’ve been conditioned to return to that place when all the good Negroes stayed in their place, were happy with the shack down the road from the big house and the left overs tossed our way.
Because we have adapted to a society that sees us as inferior it’s simply easier to take what they give us and keep it moving. After all, if we really wanted to make a stink, somebody back then made it possible for us to do just that.
To me, this is the crux of the issue: who is determining where my and other books are placed and more importantly WHY. When most authors sit down to write, they don’t formulate their stories thinking to exclude readers. We write on universal themes anyone can enjoy. I don’t write for blacks or women, but for anyone who enjoys a good book. To relegate our work to the blacks only section cuts into potential sales and to marginalize black books, black authors and readers of every stripe.
Imagine you went to the bookstore and saw above a stack of books “Greek Fiction.” If you are not Greek, would you go to that table? You might, once, out of curiosity. But when you discovered that ALL Greek books were lumped together, as if the only thing of importance about them was that a Greek person wrote them, you had difficulty determining what was Greek romance, from Greek mystery, from Greek horror to Greek whatever, would you come back? Isn’t it easier to stick with tried and true divisions of books by genre? If a Greek book was there and it caught your attention, wouldn’t you buy it?
What bookstores do when they segregate fiction by race is to say that the only people who will find any value in the books placed in this section are people of the same race. If this is true, why is it that when I sign books in stores, I sell to a variety of people–rich, poor, old, young, white, black and everything in between. If my books are so lacking in interest to those outside my race, why have I sold to white grannies who put back books written by white authors so that they could afford to buy my books instead. Why is it when I read my fan mail, lots of readers tell me they are white or Hispanic or Pakistani or whatever and they have started reading more black romance or romantic suspense after reading my books? And I’m just one author.
This is not to say that I am running off catering to non-black readers. If the only folks who want to buy my books are black, that’s fine by me. But the bookstore shouldn’t be making sure that no one beside blacks gets a chance to see them.
Once more to Ms. Hill:
That’s what we’ve done with our literature, we’ve drifted off, so damned pleased that not only can we write and get published, we can write any piece of crap we want and it goes up on a shelf for sale. And while we are lulled by the fog of a full belly we got tricked into believing that life on the plantation is a good thing. “All you negras just stay ovah there, out da way.”
I bolded part of this text, because I think it is an important aspect of the black publishing industry. If you read the first part of this topic, you know what I think of the present state of hip-hop culture. It’s worse than an opiate to the masses, it’s an outright detriment. But now we have hip-hop literature, as well. Stories of thugs, hos, and other demimonde characters for our entertainment pleasure. Stories like these have been told for generations, but not with the frequency and financial backing from publishers they now receive. It seems that now that the publishing industry has determined that, yes, black folks do read and what they really want is criminals, over the top drama, and smut. Publishers are gobbling up these books to the point that many mainstream authors find they can no longer get a contract. Personally, I’m appalled.
To some extent, you can’t blame publishers–if that’s what people go out and buy, then why shouldn’t they produce more of it? To some extent, you can’t blame authors who, wanting to have a career that will sustain them financially, give readers what it appears they want. To some extent, you can’t blame readers, who clamor for stories about people who they feel they know or with whom they identify.
But what are we saying about the black community when the book that sells the most copies is the one that shows us at our worst. I’ve been at book signings where customers have told me they don’t read romance because it’s not real. Duh! By definition genre fiction is fantasy of one sort of another. Romance is a fantasy about love; mystery a fantasy about justice; horror/sci fi a fantasy about human nature. You pick your poison. But what many of these people mean is that they have bought into another fantasy–that black life is all about the ghetto, the bling and the booty. No other reality need apply.
Now in many circles I would get a lot of flack for what I’ve just said. I’d be accused of hating, being jealous or bringing negativity to the race. Well, I do hate this stuff, so what? Completely my prerogative to do so.
Am I jealous of their sales? You betcha! I’d love for my work to be read by more folks, but it doesn’t color my opinion of someone else’s work. If that were the case, I’d be calling James Patterson all kinds of (insert your favorite swear word here).
One of the most frequent arguments I hear as to why I should appreciate the urban/street lit genre is “They’re making money, they’re getting theirs. You should leave them alone.” Lots of things make money that serve no useful purpose. Do I need to get my Pet Rock out of the closet? By that logic, I should get my son to give up his paper route and sell drugs on the corner, since then he could make some real loot. After all, isn’t it the money involved that makes any endeavor worthwhile?
Am I bringing negativity? I don’t think so. To speak your mind and say you believe something is wrong is not being negative, it’s trying to bring about change. And if that is wrong, God help us all!
But I don’t seek to ban urban/street lit. It is a viable genre and those who read it and write it have every right to enjoy it. But let’s realize what it is: the same hip-hop glorification of the things in our community people used to work to escape.
One last visit to Ms. Hill:
But the root and foundation of every society throughout history can be found through their literature. They tried to bury our stories for centuries and they would have succeeded had it not been for the voices that would not be silenced.
And they are trying again, by giving us just enough of the American pie to appease us, while slowly and systematically continuing to relegate our stories to the shack, down the road and away from the big house. So that when company comes they won’t notice. They’ll just trot out the chosen few negras to show them off.
But there are voices now that will not be silenced, that are speaking up for the cause,for the right to be treated equally–because we should be. The question then will become; if a culture is judged by its literature what will history have to say about ours?
Good question, Ms. Hill. Anybody got an answer?
* Long-assed post
As if we didn’t have enough things to worry about from the food we eat, look here.
Digital Evidence in the Courtroom
A Guide for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors
Now essential to modern life, computers have also become increasingly important to criminals, who steal information, commit fraud, and stalk victims online. Even if a crime was not committed online, law enforcement may discover critical evidence from an offenders’ digital media. For this evidence to be admissible, however, police must demonstrate proper collection and handling. In the courtroom, prosecutors must overcome the twin barriers of skepticism and lack of technical understanding. To help navigate this complex process, NIJ’s technical working group of national experts prepared this special report. Chapters 1 and 2 inform crime scene investigators and other handlers about legal requirements for the handling of digital evidence. Chapters 3 and 4 provide guidelines for successful prosecution. The last chapter is a working applicationusing digital evidence to convict in a child pornography case. Appendixes provide useful resources and forms.
Download the Guide
I think the link above should work. To subscribe to the newsletter from which this information comes e-mail.
Multi-published author Donna Hill writes on the topic of segregation of black books in bookstores and the integration of blacks in America. I have strong opinions on both topics, but let’s look at what Donna has to say first. The following sentiments were voiced to her by another author friend.
We have been so eager to have the “white American dream” that we have forgotten or worst, no longer care about “the Black Dream.” We are so eager to sit with them, eat with them, live next to them, shop with them that we have in effect left “us” behind.Gone are the local black owned mom and pop stores in our own communities, the banks and neighborhoods that showcased the richness of our culture. We’ve been so happy that we can shop in the same stores and ride on the front of the bus that we’ve forgotten what it took to get here.The foundation upon which our struggles were born have crumbled to make way for integration. Hmmm.
The generation of today was conceived into a life of privilege and rights built upon the backs of our ancestors–but they have no clue that’s the reason they can stand so tall. They believe they are “entitled” and struggle, unity and brotherhood are no more than antiquated euphemisms, which makes it easy to abandon our own businesses and neighborhoods to support others. Why? Because we can.
I can’t argue with anything I see here. I’m old enough to remember the black-owned candy store (which is now Arab-owned), the black-owned bookstore (the store in which I held my first book signing in the beginning of December 1999 was shut down by the end of the month due to a Barnes and Noble opening nearby) the black piano tuner and black plumber who came to our house to work. Where are these people now? About the only black-owned businesses that survive are the beauty parlors since no one else wants to deal with our hair (though they will sell us hair care products).
As for a life of privilege with our young people, I put a lot of the blame on what we call hip-hop culture. I am again old enough to remember hip-hop at its inception. Rap was a kid named Ralph from two doors down talking over a James Brown cut in my parent’s basement. In those days rap was about partying, having a good time and being happy. Breaking (NOT break dancing) became a means of gangs settling their differences rather than brawling.
But you know what happens to just about everything when it’s taken over by mainstream media–it morphs into something else. In order for it to be exploited it’s got to be either cleaned up or dirtied down. In the case of hip-hop you get all these gangstas and faux gangstas talking about hos, homeys and other denizens of ‘hood life. That would be fine if this lifestyle didn’t outstrip any other vision of the black community.
To my mind, the hip-hop world view is the MOST detrimental influence in the black community, with its emphasis on getting your bling and your freak on at the expense of getting your education or your wedding band on before you create more kids than you can support. If our kids are behaving badly we’ve let their role models into our homes and schools and consciousness and we have only ourselves to blame. I’m all for supporting black-owned businesses, authors, entertainers, but for God’s sake, can we pick something worthy?
I can only wonder if these people are ever going to wake up and realize that what they are producing is the minstrel show for the new millennia sans the need for black face. When are these women going to stop shaking their boo-tays long enough to realize they are being exploited twice–first by the mainstream companies that clamor for this stuff and then by their supposed “brothers” who call them hos, bitches and other words too vile to reproduce here–to their face. To my mind, it’s sorry shame.
How do we get out of this mess? It’s time for black folks to reclaim their legacy of dignity and honor bestowed on them by those that came before. Self-determination is not a dirty word. I am not in favor of re-segregation in terms of physical location, but in terms of collectively stepping back and taking a look at what we’ve become. Is our current state the legacy we wish to leave for posterity? If not, wise voices need to speak up loudly and clearly and shout down the other voices that lead us in the wrong direction.
What has any of this got to do with books? Tune in tomorrow to find out!