To Thine Own Self: Black Love, Meet Cute

During my life, I have certainly read my share of LGBTQ novels. Unfortunately, many of those I have read have portrayed African American pastors as villains and antagonists, including in the romance genre. However, I remain ever inspired by Toni Morrison’s quote, “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” That being said, in the upcoming novel of my Christopher Family Novel series, To Thine Own Self, a Black pastor is both a main character and a protagonist.

For those of you who have followed my series, the characters of Rev. Darrell Edwards and Cesare Morelli-Montgomery have been introduced in previous books. In this my second male/male romance novel, Darrell is a widower and Cesare is an adoption attorney. Will Darrell find a second chance at love? Will Cesare have the family he’s always wanted? In the following excerpt, I give you a peek at their story, and how these brothas meet:

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October 8, 2012. This day was a long time coming for his clients.

Cesare locked his Lincoln MKZ in the parking ramp and walked over to the Hennepin County Family Justice Center on South Fourth Street and Marquette Avenue to meet them. An African American couple married for three years and together for nine, Tyson and Oliver Gordon-Banks had travelled a long road to the adoption of four-year old Martice and two-year-old Jayla. Sibling groups were hard to place in the world of adoption, and the older the children, the harder it was. These were the days Cesare lived for – a successful bonding of children with adoptive parents and the finalization hearing that would make them a forever family.

In addition to their respective parents, Tyson and Oliver asked their pastor to be there in support and to bless their new family. This day couldn’t get any better, Cesare thought. Having that kind of support was priceless. With all the paperwork properly filed, copies of the petition and finalization awaiting the judge’s signature, a smile lit up Cesare’s features. He took the clarity of the fall morning, with temperatures already climbing into the 40s, as a positive sign.

After passing through security in the 1950s-era building, his steps were as confident and polished as his suit when he approached the elevator, his curls slicked back into a ponytail. More often than not, people were here due to some kind of trouble, even repeat trouble. A few grim faces on the passengers during the elevator ride to his floor bore evidence. Leaving the elevator briskly, Cesare checked in with the court clerk before he reached the family.

At a finalization hearing, nervous anticipation was both expected and normal. Martice was seated between Tyson and the Gordons, coloring in a coloring book. Jayla was entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Banks with a toy cell phone. In the tradition of little Black girls everywhere, her hair was neatly braided and oiled. Not surprisingly, both were dressed in their Sunday best.

“Hi, everyone,” Cesare greeted them. “We’re second on the docket. While we’re in there, I’ll ask you a few questions, the judge will ask you a few questions, the decree is finalized, and then we take pictures.” He focused on the adoptive parents. “You’ve waited a long time for Martice and Jayla to be yours. And very soon, they will be.”

 “Amen to our new grandbabies,” Mrs. Gordon declared to the assent of all.

“Now, you said your pastor would be here? They’re going to be calling us in soon.”

“Pastor Marie was called out of town, but Pastor Darrell is on his way. He should be here any minute now.” Oliver gave Jayla her favorite stuffed bear to occupy her and ensure her sitting still.

At that moment, Tyson looked down the hall. “Hey, here he comes now.”

Cesare’s heart nearly stopped. Striding toward the group, dressed in a conservative blue suit, topcoat, and clerical collar was the hottest brotha he had ever seen, and he had certainly seen his share. Where has this man been? His stature alone would guarantee standing out wherever he went. Was there some statute somewhere against a man looking that good? And a man of the cloth, no less? Cesare hoped he could maintain his professional composure even as the building temperature rose.

 “Pastor Darrell, I’d like you to meet Cesare Morelli-Montgomery, our attorney,” Tyson said. “Cesare, this is our associate pastor at Light of the World, Reverend Darrell Edwards.”

At 6’4”, Cesare rarely looked up at someone. Up close, Pastor Darrell had three inches on him, and his broad shoulders and mature muscular frame carried it so well. The hints of grey in his dark brown, short-cropped, natural hair and his well-trimmed beard coupled with his demeanor told Cesare the brotha was older, probably late 30s or early 40s. Khadijah might be right; maybe my picker has been off.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Cesare.” Pastor Darrell extended his hand with a pleasant smile. “Tyson and Oliver have kept the faith that this day would come to pass. I thank you for being part of the process.”

“You’re welcome, Pastor Darrell. And it’s good to meet you.” Cesare accepted his hand, sensing the heat surging through his body with the contact. His legal skill at reading people swore something in Darrell’s eyes responded to their clasped hands, but now was not the time to explore it.

After greetings were exchanged all around, Pastor Darrell took an available seat. “I’m happy and honored to be a part of this special day. To me, family is everything. I don’t know what I’d do without my kids.”

“Really?” Cesare did his level best to conceal his surprise.

“Yes. I have three.”

Just what I need right now, being attracted to a married straight dude. Cesare groaned inwardly. This is a recipe for disaster. They are so much more trouble than they’re worth.

“I imagine they can be a handful sometimes. I know my nephews are.”

“Sometimes,” Pastor Darrell acknowledged, “but they have been a comfort to me since my wife died, and with God’s help, I’ve been able to be strong for them.”

What? Wait a minute. This man has gone through something painful. He’s a widower. How can I be so selfish? “I’m sorry, Pastor Darrell. Losing someone you love is never easy.”

“No, it isn’t. All I can do is remember her life, be there for my kids, and go on. But thank you for your concern, Cesare.”

“Any time.” Cesare broke their eye contact when he looked off in the direction of the courtroom doors. “Looks like it’s time. Come on, everybody.”

Compared to the time-consuming process of getting to that point, the finalization hearing itself was short. The joyful group pictures taken at the end, on the other hand, were well worth it. Tyson and Oliver insisted that he and Pastor Darrell be part of the photos; caught up in the moment, they were more than happy to oblige.

Once outside the courtroom, after Pastor Darrell said a prayer of blessing over the new family, Oliver turned to him. “Now, to celebrate this momentous day in our lives, Pastor Darrell, we’d love to treat you to brunch. Unless you have an appointment.”

“No, Oliver. I’d be happy to.”

“That means you too, Cesare.” Tyson beamed.

“Thank you. I’d love to.”

All though brunch, Darrell had a hard time keeping his eyes off Cesare. Feelings he hadn’t experienced in nearly a year surfaced. Judging by the ease of the interactions he observed with the family, Cesare was clearly someone who cared about others, especially children from the way they smiled and engaged with him about their favorite cartoons and toys. His commitment to creating families touched something in Darrell’s spirit. And then there were the dimples that came out whenever Cesare smiled.

“This has been a beautiful celebration. Oliver, Tyson, you already know that being a parent is the toughest job there is, but it’s also the most rewarding.” Darrell faced the newly minted grandparents. “And God has blessed your children with four grandparents who will be an active part of your village.”

“Thank you, Pastor Darrell,” Oliver said after hugs were exchanged. “We’ll see you on Sunday. And we’ll make sure Pastor Marie and First Lady Charmaine get copies of the pictures.”

While the family boarded the elevator to take them to the street level of the Nicollet Mall, Pastor Darrell turned to Cesare. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Cesare, and I appreciate all you’ve done for Oliver and Tyson. You have been a blessing to so many families, making such a wonderful difference in their lives.” He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a business card, carefully choosing his words. “I hope we meet again.”

Cesare accepted the card, placing it in his wallet before he took out one of his own business cards and handed it to Pastor Darrell. There was no mistaking the current between their clasped hands this time nor the slight darkening in Cesare’s eyes. A strange fluttering touched the pastor’s heart.

Cesare beamed. “Likewise, Pastor Darrell. I look forward to it.”

“Please. Just call me Darrell.”

“All right…Darrell.” Cesare gave him a friendly smile and walked away. Watching him go, Darrell contemplated the warmth that spread through his body from the confident way that brotha walked.

Darrell did his best to control his breathing, thankful that the topcoat he wore hid the massive erection straining at his slacks while he walked. He could still feel it throbbing with need as he navigated the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Other than Kenisha, had he ever had such a powerful response to someone the way he had to Cesare? He was hard pressed for an answer. All he knew was that if the opportunity to kiss that drop-dead-gorgeous man in close quarters ever presented itself, he would find some way to take it. Without a doubt, Brotha Cesare had lips that deserved, begged, to be kissed.

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Representation matters. Believe in dreams and never give up.

Tales of the 1940s B*tch

Are you a card-carrying geek/nerd? Have Mean Girls been giving you a hard time, past or present? Then have no fear. You have an avenger, a crusader, an advocate–the 1940s B*tch!

Indeed, I own it; I inherited Dad’s offbeat sense of humor. In my VSS365 Twitter community, I have had the opportunity to channel it into different series of tweets, such as The Earls of Dorchester and Just for Fun.

In the past year, a new offshoot group of writers has emerged on VSS365; VSSMurder. In the words of Alfred Hitchcock, “Everyone loves a good murder, provided he is not the victim.” That being said, I would like to give a shoutout to the murderous mayhem of the VSSMurder crew and readers, and a special shoutout to Jana, whose tweets of dastardly deeds and homicidal holidays inspired me to create my own character for this roundup.

As many of you know, I love the classic movies of old Hollywood, and I took note of the actresses who played such a role–Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, Ida Lupino, Linda Darnell, to name a few. As you will see in the tweets I share in this blog, my character doesn’t have a name–she is simply the 1940s B*tch, in all her quintessential glory. For me, it’s been a blast writing this character and her escapades. And as you will discover in these short but not-so-sweet Tales of the 1940s B*tch, she has a unique but classy method of ridding her city of Mean Girls, one at a time:

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                The 1940s B*tch sipped her cocktail and smirked while she read the news: socialite snob Muffy Woodbridge was dead, having fallen from her penthouse balcony. Ah, so many Mean Girls, so little time.

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                If the eyes of the women at the union meeting of Geek Local 44 had been daggers, Mean Girl Prue “Fluffy” Munson’s back would have service for 30 in it. The 1940s B*tch would quietly see to it their wish was granted.

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                Mean Girls in college, like Veda in Mildred Pierce, required a certain type of handling, like the notorious sorority in the neighboring university. Murdering their reputations would be age-appropriate, and the 1940s B*tch rose to the occasion.

                One day, each Mean Girl soror received a gift wrapped in golden wrapping paper and ribbons—a perfume called Summer Rose. The scent was alluring and irresistible.

                The 1940s B*tch smirked. The Mean Girls had no clue that one of the perfume’s ingredients would attract every skunk within 200 miles, and they would stop at nothing to mark their territory.

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                There were Mean Girls, and there were entitled Mean Girls. Sevilla Poindexter was the latter, hell bent on making the lives of geeks and nerds miserable.

                “What a shame,” the 1940s B*tch gloated over the news article; Sevilla had fallen over dead at her riverboat gala. “I wonder who forgot to tell the caterer about Sevilla’s nut allergy?”

                Ah, yes. One Mean Girl a time.

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                It was no surprise to the 1940s B*tch that Mean Girl Mimsey Atherton, director of the Travelers Rest Nursing Home, was found dead in the desert. Nor was it a random occurrence that resident morale increased exponentially when Zelda Finster, nerd with a heart of gold, took over as director.

                She turned off the news to enjoy her Big Band music. Ah yes, one more Mean Girl eats dust.

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                The murders gave some Mean Girls the message, and they hastily left town for good. Others, like Lydia Featherstone, didn’t get the memo. Instead, she got worse.

                The 1940s B*tch gleamed with satisfaction over the latest news story—Lydia’s body was found under a massive pile of horse manure. “You were always so full of it, Lydia,” she quipped.

                Ah, yes. One Mean Girl at a time.

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                If there was one star quality the 1940s B*tch possessed, it was class. It was one thing to quietly leave 30 daggers in Mean Girl Prue Munson’s back on behalf of Geek Local 44, but mutilation simply wouldn’t do.

                Besides, it was important that the bodies—if found—were identifiable, in order to send the proper message to the diehard Mean Girls in the city.

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                The workplace could be a tricky challenge for the 1940s B*tch. In this particular instance, it would involve buying out the company, discreetly taking out the fear-mongering Mean Girl bosses and their male douchebag counterparts, and replacing them with well-deserving geeks and nerds to boost company morale, spirit, and productivity.

                Fortunately, being a woman, this was a walk in the park.

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                Thanks to Geek Local 44, the 1940s B*tch always had a finger on the pulse of the pain and suffering inflicted by entrenched, borderline demonic Mean Girls like Ashleigh Chatsworth.

                The 1940s B*tch considered switching out Ashleigh’s douche products with Drano, but that would only have been incapacitating.

                When Ashleigh’s body was found on the locker room floor of the fitness center, the 1940s B*tch was glad she’d chosen a cyanide-laced bottle of Powerade instead.

                Ah, yes. One Mean Girl at a time.

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                Mean Girl school board chair Miranda Jeffries had left a swath of destruction with her bullying tactics. Alone in her office after a meeting one evening, wooziness came over her after she drank her coffee.

She felt like she was in a trance as death approached her in shoulder pads, mink, ankle-strapped shoes, and victory-rolled hair.

                “We need to talk,” the 1940s B*tch stated.

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The 1940s B*tch loved film noir movies. The women in them were always so well accessorized: glossy painted nails. Knives in their nylons. Guns in their minks. Poison in their purses.

                Fabulous perfection.

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                Clarice Teasdale may have been the owner of a chain of 5-star restaurants, but she was a coldhearted Mean Girl. She used every dastardly ploy to force neighborhood restaurants and cafes out of business. She publicly shamed potential customers she regarded as beneath her, always with the excuse, “This is business.” It was a wonder no one had killed her by now.

                One evening, Clarice shamed Karma Enterprises employee and Carmen Miranda clone Tessa Banks in a manner clearly beyond the pale. The following evening after closing, she received a visit from the 1940s B*tch.

                “We need to talk.”

                Clarice laughed.

                The next morning, the head chef opened the freezer and discovered Clarice’s body, frozen like an iceberg.

                “Now your body matches your heart, Clarice,” the 1940s B*tch beamed over the morning news.

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                A woman’s work is never done. Be it tossing Mean Girls out of planes into the ocean or locking them in restaurant freezers, the 1940 B*tch, champion of geeks and nerds, knew her mission would be challenging.

                When word reached her about Mean Girl blackmailer Hyacinth Higginbotham, her eyes narrowed.

                A week later, Hyacinth was found in her Bentley, her face bearing the silent, peaceful, rosy glow of Sominex and carbon monoxide.

                “Grandma’s recipes were always the best,” the 1940s B*tch quipped.

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Representation matters. Believe in dreams and never give up.

It Never Stops

Yes, June is Pride Month, in commemoration of the Stonewall riots that took place on June 27, 1969 and lasted three days. It was a time when LGBT folks said, “Enough,” and fought back against the police harassment that was a common practice for far too long. And leading the pack of social resistance were transwomen of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

With June also comes Father’s Day. I have no doubt that among my readers are brothas who stand at the intersection of being LGBT/SGL and a parent. There are those of you who became fathers via a wife or girlfriend, as well as those who did so via adoption or surrogacy.

The dynamics were different between my father, who had me at the age of 19, and myself, who became a father at 47. There is one common thread: being a parent never stops. My father passed away nine years ago, and I look at my mother, who is now 91. Yep—no matter how old she is, she has never stopped being a mother.

I remember well when my son was a baby, those days of discovery and “firsts.” I found out fast that I could no longer just get up and go anywhere, not when I had to pack a bag of Pampers, formula, pacifiers, wipes, a toy, and a change of clothes for him before I stepped out the door. I remember the sound advice I was given about sleeping when he slept. During paternity leave, I realized how exhausting caring for a newborn can be when I found myself too tired to pick up the remote. And then there were the trips to the pediatrician to treat his ear infections.

At the same time, I remember our bonding times, when I read him a story every night at bedtime, his first word being “Daddy,” or that special beaming smile just for me, and seeing the world through his eyes.

Of course, as they do, he grew up. He was a little kid with a big personality, and I was committed to being a father that was there for his successes in school and not just when he faced discipline there. I enjoyed the activities we did together, and I looked forward to seeing him walking home from the bus stop after school. Being a father meant coming out to support him, whether it was a school concert or a basketball game. The fact that he remembers all the time we spent together now makes me realize the importance of being present as a father.

And then we blinked, and he was a (gasp!) teenager. By this time I had a husband (thanks to my little matchmaking son), and with our respective parenting skills we were navigating this new phase. Interestingly enough, though we certainly had our make-us-pray moments with him, he regarded having two dads as another fact of life, and he had no problem inviting his friends over, and occasionally a girlfriend.

We blinked again. Now he is 21. It’s certainly been a learning experience for both of us. In him, I see facets of my personality as well my husband’s, and yet he is his own person. His taste in music is eclectic; as much as he listens to rap and hip-hop, my Millennial son also has a taste for Old School music, disco, and Pachelbel. His cell phone is essentially another body part. When it comes to his friends, the close friends he has he’s loyal to. I have no doubt that he picked up the travel bug from my father, my brother, and myself. He has big dreams, and he’s not afraid of hard work. Therefore, I wish him good luck and good success.

Now that he is a young adult, I am no longer in an active role as a father. I’ve been learning to step back into an advisory role, the trick being to give advice only if and when he asks for it. I applaud his choice to wait until he’s older and established before he has kids. I must take that step back and allow him to take responsibility for his own life and the rewards and consequences that go with it.

I was once told that being a parent is the toughest job on the planet, but it can also be the most rewarding, even when the rewards come some years down the road. I’ve learned the importance of living my life authentically as a Black LGBT/SGL man, for trust and believe, our children are taking their cues from us. My son and I have had our share of deep and lively discussions as well as differences of opinion, but whenever he goes out, he says, “I love you.” As a father, that touches my heart.

I may be an Old School New Kid, but being a dad never stops.

Allan Beckley Christopher, Then and Now

As you may know from my previous blog post, the sixth novel in my Christopher Family Novel series has been launched: The Right to Be, my first LGBT-centered romance novel. However, The Right to Be could only have been made possible through Mark My Words and the character nearest and dearest to my heart: Allan Beckley Christopher, African American billionaire mogul, the linchpin character to my series, a man who succeeded against the odds.

From his humble beginnings in Kansas City, Missouri, to his current status as billionaire and Chairman of the Board of Christopher Electronics, Allan Beckley Christopher, now at the age of 93, is a work in progress. However, as inquiring minds want to know, what was my inspiration for creating this character?

All too often, in reading fictional stories about African American men (especially when I was a young adult), they were portrayed in the following categories:

  1. Down and out.
  2. Broke, busted, and disgusted.
  3. Deadbeat dads.
  4. Unemployed.
  5. On drugs.
  6. Incarcerated or on their way there.
  7. Dead.

If they were considered successful, the images were relegated to the narrow range of sports, entertainment, or illegal gain, and I knew that wasn’t the whole truth.

African American men have made countless contributions to this country as inventors such as Garrett Morgan and entrepreneurs like John H. Johnson. These proud, hardworking, highly successful men with strong values, integrity, and ethics have always been a part of our history–they just weren’t getting the attention or the energy.

In my own family, my father had a distinguished career in the Air Force. He taught himself how to program computers, and implemented the system at his Air National Guard base they they use today. One of my uncles was the first African American executive for the Dayton-Hudson Corporation (later Target), and trained future Minnesota governor Mark Dayton. Another uncle built and designed computers for Honeywell. Another had a career as a vice-principal and educator. Family friends owned their own businesses.

At the time, when creating what was then this self-made, African American multimillionaire (he did it in the 1960s), two outcomes came up: he would either do everything possible to forget his roots or reach back and avidly support the community that nurtured him. In the case of Allan Beckley Christopher, he chose the latter.

When I added in the African American men in Black History I read about to those I knew personally, the character of Allan Beckley Christopher took shape as a composite of all of them. The ultimate test, of course, came when my father read Mark My Words from cover to cover. Did this character represent Black men of his generation? I am pleased to say that his answer was a resounding yes.

As such, Allan is included in every book in this series of stories about his large, extended, wealthy, and powerful family. They are designed to be read in sequence, so you can start with Mark My Words and learn about him, what made him who he is today, through the people who were there for him from the beginning. In order, the series consists of Mark My Words (Books 1, 2, and 3), You Never Know, Never Give Up, and The Right to Be.

At the end of the day, the character of Allan Beckley Christopher is a man who believed in dreams and never gave up. He is waiting to share his story with you at your Amazon or Barnes & Noble library. If you reside in Minnesota or Des Moines, check out the Christopher Family Novel series at your public library.

Yaassss! The Right to Be is live!

Yes, there is a new resident in Romancelandia: The Right to Be: A Christopher Family Novel, the sixth in my series, is live. In previous posts, I have given you excerpts of this work-in-progress. Now, the dream of writing a LGBT-centered romance novel featuring a Black male couple has become the reality I’m holding in my hands for the first time. As an author, the feeling of it is indescribable, something I never get tired of.

In the words of Toni Morrison, “If there is a book you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” My favorite recreational reading? Romance novels, hands down. A friend of mine gave me my first romance novel some 30 years ago, and the rest is history. Between the public library and later Kindle Unlimited, I have had at least one romance novel on hand to read at all times. I’ve read some wonderful stories, but at some point, I did wonder, “Where are the characters who look like me? Where are the couples who look like me?”

In the realm of Black Love in male/female romance, I must thank such authors as Brenda Jackson, Niobia Bryant, Cheryl Barton, and Rochelle Alers. For lesbian romance, I tip my hat to Alyssa Cole and Fiona Zedde. Male/male romance, like lesbian romance, has but few Black residents in Romancelandia, but it’s good to know that such authors as Jayce Ellis, Kevin E. Taylor, Wyatt O’Brian Evans, James Earl Hardy, Stanley Bennett Clay, and Frederick Smith are with us, as well as the late E. Lynn Harris.

Although I had romance elements in the previous novels in my series, The Right to Be marks the first one that is full-on romance. If you have been following the Christopher Family Novel series, expect to see some familiar family members. That being said, get ready to follow Allan Christopher Davis’ journey to true love and happiness.

I have no doubt that there are many of my brothas and sistahs out there who have a romance novel or more in you that needs to be told and shared. I encourage you to write it. Publish it yourself, and allow nothing to stop you from achieving your dream. It’s never too late. You’re not too young or too old. Your representation is valuable and it matters.

I want to take this moment to thank three special people who were there for me from the beginning of this work–my husband, the love of my life, who has had my back, and my son, who gave me pointers for my 20-something main characters, since he is part of their generation. And then there’s Dad, who was my Number One fan and supporter. May he rest in peace and power.

With a guaranteed HEA, The Right to Be now graces the Amazon and Barnes & Noble Library shelves beside its siblings. I wish you happy reading.

Believe in dreams and never give up.