It’s the middle child’s time to shine!

TreasureOfGold-A300A Treasure of Gold, Nettie Bledsoe’s story, releases on Tuesday. You’ll be seeing plenty of blog posts from me this week about how I came up with the idea and other influences.

So, with your indulgence, I’m posting a personal plea instead of my usual historical content.  I want to ask you to please, vote for the cover of A Treasure of Gold in the RT cover contest for November. It just takes a few seconds, it doesn’t cost anything and you don’t have to sign up for anything. I didn’t think that RT would review this book, much less select the cover for this contest. I would appreciate any help in keeping Treasure high and visible to show that people care about this type of work.

Remember (I sure do), that it was about two and a half years ago that I was told by a publishing official that my work would not sell in publishing for 20 years.

Here is the link.  Feel free to forward or share with others:

Thank you in advance for any help I can give. I hope that you enjoy Nettie and Jay’s love story!

Cover Reveal for The Representative’s Revolt and my thanks to you all

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Thank you so much to everyone for so many wonderful and lovely birthday wishes yesterday.  I’m very grateful for another year of life and will do my best to bring you some engaging and exciting work over the next year. In that light, I’m posting the great 4.5 review that Treasure of Gold received from RT Book Reviews. I also don’t believe that I made an official cover reveal of The Representative’s Revolt, here on the blog, which is now with the editor and will soon come back to me for more fixing. It’s looking like the start of December for this one.

Please know how very much I appreciate your support for my projects. Here’s to another busy and fulfilling year!

Nettie did good

The meaning behind an African American name

African American naming practices have established patterns, intention and a history.

African American naming practices have established patterns, intention and a history.

The intense spotlight has once again landed on African American naming practices, thanks to the foolishness of Raven-Symone. However, I thank her for the opportunity to discuss this subject once again because the practice of African American onomastics (the branch of linguistics that deals with names of people) is not nearly studied well enough or thought carefully enough about. Part of my interest in onomastics comes from being a writer and my understanding of how names reflect a great deal about the history and back story of characters. I certainly knew this to be personally true because the other part of my interest came from my own name as an unusual one and in understanding how my unusual name has shaped me a person.

Let’s get this understood first, just as Kim Love pointed out on Twitter: Naming is a coded language that reflects the class position, hopes, dreams and aspirations of the parents who are naming the child at that time. This includes African American parents. People need to give up the long-held incorrect notion that people, of whatever color, are not thoughtful about what they name their child. That is simply not true.

Whenever I create my African American characters, I always start with the name, because the name tells me about the character’s parental background. For example, in the “Migrations of the Heart” series, my family of sisters were all named after jewels, in some form, because their father, John Bledsoe, insisted that his girls were precious to him. Just by naming his girls, he asserts that the girls have a right to be in the world, certainly a varying attitude about young black girls at turn of the century Georgia. This outlook of their father’s molded them to be young women who stood out in their own way from their larger community. The two deceased baby brothers of the Bledsoe sisters were both named after their father because John and Lona thought it better that their sons didn’t stand out at all.

Raven-Symone herself needs to give some thought to what her parents intended for her by following, as they did, rather standard African American naming practices. Instead, she followed the example of the horrifying video that The View showed before she uttered her foolishness by uttering a made-up name “Watermelondrea.” This is not a name that follows these well-established linguistic patterns and practices, but instead, continues to play upon old stereotypes about African Americans. Her actions cause great harm and further the notion that African American onomastics is a random, and not a thoughtful practice.

The discomfort that people have with these African American naming practices comes because the language patterns don’t “fit” into larger society. They stand out. But did anyone ever consider that was the intent in the first place? That these parents, from their perspective, meant for their child to be seen as a full human being, even in that second when someone is forced to have to think about how to utter the child’s name? It’s a strategy that seems misguided to some, but ultimately it is about achieving the same end as parents who name their children something more conventional—giving their child full humanity.

I find it interesting that now, all parents want to name their child something unique and that naming practices have steered sharply away from naming children something conventional. This was clearly the intention of Raven-Symone’s parents and to me, her utterances came off as ingratitude to her parents. They intended for her to stand out from the beginning and she certainly has, potentially due to her singular name.

I’m grateful to my parents, even though there was a brief period of time when I was young that I longed to be Susan. I’m glad that my musical parents named me what they did. Having had an unusual name meant that I’ve always been prepared for the reaction I often get—that people stop and consider it. African American parents have only wanted some kind of consideration for the humanity of their children. Naming their children with this created, coded language has been a way for some parents to try to get the attention and consideration of a society who wouldn’t care about the child as a person in other ways, just because of skin color. It may not be an approach some people agree with, but that is the intention, nonetheless and should be given more thought and compassion.

The Numbers game

Idris Elba at a 2007 American Music Awards aft...

Any resemblance between Jay Evans and Idris Elba is on purpose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I originally put this post two years ago while I was working on A Treasure of Gold, which releases on November 10, 2015.  Besides, it’s always good to have an excuse to look at Idris Elba, who is Jay Evans in my mind.  Enjoy and I’ll see you in a few weeks!  

The blog post this week was triggered by my reworking of my Golden-Heart nominated story A Champion’s Heart. The story starts off when the hero encounters a numbers boss to ask him for money to engage in a prize fight.  The numbers racket or what’s also known as the policy game, was a form of small-stakes gambling engaged in by mostly people in the African American community.  The stakes were small ones, but once won, (determined by the last three or four digits of the volume of the New York Stock Exchange or from the Clearinghouse) the winner would have a nice pot of money that would last a little while.

The men who ran the policy game in Pittsburgh, where my stories were set, performed a certain kind of community service in using their profits to fund scholarships or as in the case of Gus Greenlee, to fund the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team in the Negro leagues.  It was no accident that the team was named after the world famous Crawford Grill, where Greenlee held sway.

He was supported in the numbers racket by William “Woogie” Harris, brother of the famous Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris.  Woogie owned the Crystal barbershop in the Hill district where he was headquartered. He also owned the house where the National Negro Opera Company was maintained.

Pittsburgh’s numbers racket was smaller than in large cities like New York in Harlem or Chicago.  Because their stake, at least initially, was smaller, these two men were able to run things across all of the Pittsburgh neighborhoods from about 1925 to the 1940’s. However, as it is discussed in Kings by Nathan Thompson, other people wanted to buy into the numbers racket. With Pittsburgh’s smaller stake, it took a longer time for Greenlee and Harris to be pushed out of the racket and they, unlike other numbers men, were able to die as old men in their beds.

Jay Evans, my numbers boss and the hero of A Treasure of Gold, is a tall, handsome, dark-skinned drink of water who dresses in custom-tailored suits and has a big heart for the community. Greenlee and Harris were sort of short, round and light-skinned, but their contributions to Pittsburgh have not been acknowledged until recently.  Their philanthropical attitudes helped me to create this timely African American man who, in his appearances in my two stories set in 1923 and 1935, is very much at the center of running things.

Dark Girls should have romance too

Mags was a hit when her cover came out a few months ago--all due to the amazing Kanaxa!

Mags was a hit when her cover came out a few months ago–all due to the amazing Kanaxa!

I don’t know if it’s a God thang or just an amazing coincidence that I chose to show Dark Girls (2011) as a text in my composition class this week.  I say this because just this past week Samhain Publishing released my historical romance that was partially inspired by Dark Girls. If you don’t know the film, it is a documentary that explores the colorism, or prejudice, that dark-skinned women face throughout the world.

I’ve always been interested in exploring a colorism theme because it has long been an integral part of Black life.  Some years ago, when I started to get back to my writing and I wanted to write about colorism in a contemporary romance, I pitched the idea to an editor.  She was very excited about my overall idea, but then said, I needed to make the hero and heroine the same shade. Or don’t mention it their color. She said: ”Oh no, we don’t deal with colorism in romance. It’s too painful. The conflict is good enough anyway. Better to stay away from all of that.”

I need to thank that editor because that comment was one more thing that nudged me toward writing the historical romance. I knew that colorism was something I could deal with in much more pointed terms if I dealt with how rampant and pernicious it was in the early 20th century.  It’s an issue that appears from the very first page of the first book, A Virtuous Ruby.  However in the second book in my series, it is Margaret Bledsoe as the heroine in A Most Precious Pearl who has lived colorism as a personal issue. Her hurt and pain as the darkest Bledsoe sister is the key source of her internal conflict. The story is, in part, about her struggle to  love herself so that she can be loved by Asa at the end of the story.

The film is not perfect, but I credit Dark Girls with bringing some healing to this issue in the 21st century.  Since I pitched in 2011, I have seen other writers in that same line take up discussions of colorism in their romances. To me, I saw a real turning point happen when I revealed the cover of A Most Precious Pearl. There was a great deal of approval and support for it. I was pretty stunned at the number of people who commented that they loved the cover.  I cannot have imagined such an overwhelming phenomenon happening even as briefly as 10 years ago. There has been change and I’m happy to see it.

So it may be that society is turning a corner on this issue.  I certainly hope so.  It’s time that we work past it. There are times when I still see some comments in some of my social media that make me wince.  However, it is clear to me that we all deserve love.  I certainly hope that some of you want to see how that love comes to fruition between Mags and Asa in their love story.

Robert L. Vann and the heroic face of Black journalism

The recent slippage in standards of The New York Times brings to mind the hero of my upcoming release, A Most Precious Pearl. Asa Caldwell, the hero of my story,  is a journalist and is heroic because he was relentless in bringing across a story from a diverse point of view–something we are sorely in need of today.

Asa is based on the many intrepid reporters who sought to get a story to publish a differing point of view in his newspaper. I situated Asa at  a real newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier.   In the first decades of the twentieth century, The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender were not just local–they became national newspapers.  Pullman porters on the railroad disseminated them to towns all across the South so that people would stay informed know that there were struggles going on everywhere and not just in their small towns.

Editor Robert L. Vann (pictured here), who helmed The Pittsburgh Courier for many years, who sought to let Black people in the south know of other working opportunities elsewhere and sowed the seeds for The Great Migration.  In Robert L. Vann of The Pittsburgh Courier: Politics and Black Journalism,  Andew Bunie puts forward a Robert Vann who wanted journalists like Asa Caldwell, to go to the front lines of World War I and cover the story of the poor and demeaning treatment of the Black soldiers who were sent there.  W.E.B. DuBois expressed the same point of view in The Crisis as well. Telling this story directly lead to the soldiers understanding they deserved better treatment when they returned to the United States.  Too many people think the seeds of the Civil Rights movement were sown in the 1950’s, but the insistence on better treatment started a long time before that–just after World War I. Journalists played a key  role in conveying this story–heroic indeed.

The insistence of Vann and his fellow editors that reporters “go out and get” the story makes me think that too many journalists are now too content to sit behind a computer screen.  Without diverse points of view the “danger of one story,” as Chimamanda Adichie discussed, increases. Without more diversity, esteemed newspapers like The New York Times will continue to slip in their standards and will continue to write half-hearted apologies and explanations for how they messed up.  I have many students who are still interested in entering journalism as a profession, despite the many changes in the field.  I hope to expose them to editors like Vann, who would surely encourage them to keep telling their stories and to get out from behind the computer to see the world for themselves–to confirm the necessity for multiple points of view.

Updates and Ruby’s at a discount– today only!

Cheesing it up at the signing.

Cheesing it up at the signing.

This past month has been a whirlwind!  I finished my summer class, went to New York to RWA, went to North Carolina for an event and attended the NBCC (National Book Club Conference) in Atlanta. In this past month, the long-awaited publication of A Virtuous Ruby, happened too! It’s been quite a summer. So I’ve complied a links post.  Don’t worry.  I’ll get back to the history in my next post.

While I was at RWA, I was interviewed by NPR about Beverly Jenkins. It was heady stuff to hear my name (and goofy voice) on NPR!

I did an interview with Lorrie Irby Jackson for Dallas Morning News.  Here is the article on her blog:

Here is an article discussing the event at the Cape Fear Historical Complex that I attended with two of my Brightest Day co-authors: Lena Hart and Kianna Alexander

I signed books with the fabulous and gracious Beverly Jenkins (that’s where the pic is from)!

And Ruby is here!  For today only, August 9, Samhain is having a 40% of sale, so if you haven’t had the opportunity to ready this unusual love story before, you can get the e-book now a reduced price! It is only on the website.

The sale also includes pre-orders for A Most Precious Pearl which will be out on September 8. Here are the links for that:

Thank you all so much for all of your support!