Never Give Up: Chauntice Gets Her Man

Never Give Up CoverShelter-in-place has had its share of challenges. For me, as an independent author, it has had a major perk: I do more reading and writing, plus creative work like designing my book covers.

On the reading side, during this season I’ve had the pleasure of reading series work by several male/male romance authors such as Christa Tomlinson, A.E. Via, Eugene Galt, Lucy Lennox, Stella Starling, Max Walker, Alison Hendricks, Tatum West, Avery Ford, to name a few. Writing a series myself, I appreciate and love the continuity of them, as do these novelists. Yes, I have enjoyed many standalone novels, yet there is something about a series that keeps me coming back to those authors.

On the writing side, the rewrites of my 2 full-on male/male romances, The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self, are progressing well during this time, plus the first draft of Book 8 in my Christopher Family Novel series, The Rise of Sherry Payson. Writing these novels simultaneously has been invaluable in preventing that nemesis of writers, writer’s block, from infiltrating my mind. The fact that my characters occupy the same universe strengthens my multitasking ability, for which I am grateful. I am looking forward to bringing some more Black Love to the subgenre!

The creative side of this process resulted in designing the covers for my works-in-progress. Having creative control over my work involves learning new skills, and having cover design under my belt is fun. As an Old School New Kid, I would never have dreamed I’d be doing this years ago; even my 20-year-old son is impressed.

As release time approaches, readers, I bring you another element of Never Give Up: a private investigator. What whodunit would be complete without one, or someone in some form of law enforcement? Chauntice Berry, youngest of the Berry sisters, has followed in her father’s footsteps and become an attorney. The following excerpt takes us back to the time she first meets her P.I.:

The work I put into my pre-law studies paid off with my graduating summa cum laude from Hamline University in 1979, poised for law school at the U of M with an LSAT score in the top five per cent. Ellen had an equally strong suit in economics, with our parents having prime seats for the commencement exercises. At the graduation party I noticed that Ellen had brought her boyfriend of six months, a handsome brotha and promising new hire at Edwards Enterprises named Kenneth Grayson. The look on his face said it all—another man had fallen like a pine tree for our charms and intelligence. Auntie Elaine and Mama were watching them with smiles that said, “He’s going to pop The Question—soon.” Daddy, on the other hand, was filled with fatherly advice for me about law school, lavish in his praise for my grades. Because of the rotation of judges, I would come and sit in the gallery when he was presiding over civil cases, usually when I was ahead on my studies and had time off from classes. I may not have been pursuing criminal law, but his experience with the basics of law school was invaluable.

It was a ladies’ night at Pudge’s in 1980, and I needed a serious break from the books and the law library. With Doris Hendricks, LaVera, Ellen, and Elizabeth, we tipped on in there. The DJ was playing Linda Clifford’s hit “Red Light,” and we teased Ellen about how hard she worked to “get” Kenneth, even though it only took zero effort on her part. Yes, the engagement ring was firmly on her finger and the wedding was less than six months away. Doris’ nuptials were even closer, with four weeks to go. LaVera, the only married woman in the bunch, had left Derrick home with their daughter so she could have some “down time.” Elizabeth needed some “down time” as well, since she was studying to take over Grandpa Berry’s dental practice in the future. Looking out at the dance floor, I realized I wasn’t the only one who needed a study break; Carter and Julian were out there dancing under the disco ball as though they were on Soul Train.

Ellen didn’t drink, which made her a perfect designated driver, but the rest of us had our beverages of choice; mine was a Tom Collins. We laughed, we “let our hair down,” the music was great, and my brother and Julian were obliging as dance partners when they were available. At one point, the DJ played Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies’ Night,” which got everyone up and on the dance floor.

Normally one drink is my limit, after which I switch to club soda, but for some reason I don’t remember I had two—and most of a third. For me, that was enough to feel tipsy. The number of people in there that evening had increased, to the point where I felt sticky sitting at our table. While everyone else was still on the dance floor, partying to Teena Marie’s “Behind the Groove,” I weaved my way outside for air.

I had forgotten my coat, and the fact it was an early spring night in March. All I knew was that my head was woozy. Taking a few breaths of air, I staggered to what I thought was LaVera’s car. I didn’t remember it being parked so far away, and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me; we certainly didn’t bring any men with us to Pudge’s. Once I reached it, my inebriated state took over and I collapsed on the hood. Why, oh why, did I have those drinks on an empty stomach?

I came to at home, on the living room sofa with an aching head and drool running down a corner of my mouth, with Ellen and a strange man hovering over me. “Chauntice, you have no idea how worried we were about you.” Oh, I wished she would speak softer. “We didn’t know where you’d gone. If Jarvis hadn’t brought you home, we were ready to call the police.”

“Jarvis?” I muttered. “Who’s Jarvis?”

In a sober moment, the man’s voice could melt cheese, but my head was unable to fully appreciate that fact at the time. “I’m Jarvis. Jarvis Varnell. You fell out on my car.”

“I…what?”

“You’d had a bit to drink. You were talking kind of crazy. I didn’t know if you were with anyone, but I had to get you out of there.”

Still fumbling for words, I managed to utter, “But…how did I…did anything…”

“When you left the club, you left your coat, but you took your purse and your keys,” Ellen said. “Jarvis brought you home, and he was here when I got here. Nothing happened, Chauntice. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up. He told me why he had to get you away from the club.”

“W…why?”

Jarvis pulled out his wallet, reached inside, and pulled out what looked like identification. “I’m a private detective, and I was on a stakeout for a client. You were starting to carry on a little too much.”

“Oh, no,” I moaned, mortification compounding my disheveled appearance and the bass drums pounding in my head.

“I think she’ll be all right now,” Ellen got up and walked Jarvis to the door. “Again, I want to thank you for looking out for my cousin.”

“Any time, Ms. Berry,” he said. “And if you two ever need anything, here’s my card.”

When I woke up in a sober state late the next morning, I felt chastened because I had almost blown Jarvis’ stakeout. Wanting to make amends, I called the number on his business card. We sat down and had coffee at a little diner on the St. Anthony side of the river, off East Hennepin Avenue, a few days later. He struck me as a cross between Billy Dee Williams and Richard Roundtree. Standing 6’0” to my 5’8”, he was well put together, able to more than take care of himself, and extremely easy on a woman’s eye.

I had grown up watching private eyes like Paul Drake on Perry Mason. As such, I had to give him respect when he smoothly reminded me, “Private detective work isn’t always what it’s made out to be on TV or the movies. There are many times when it can seem boring and you have to do a lot of legwork, but you still must do your best to satisfy your client.”

“True. The same goes with lawyers, if you’re really worth your salt. Me, I’m a first-year law student.”

Jarvis studied me for a minute. “You know, Chauntice, there’s something familiar about you. Wait…your last name is Berry. Are you…”

“Yes. Judge Berry is my father.”

“Hmmm. I thought so. I’ve done work for some defense attorneys who had him as a trial judge. The man doesn’t play.”

“That is also true. So, Jarvis…can you promise me your discretion about the way we met?”

“You have my word, Chauntice. Now, tell me more about the life of a law student.”

Inwardly, I felt relief and gratitude as I shared my passion for law with Jarvis, along with those getting-to-know-you questions in the hour we spent together. With the promise of a date as soon as his current case was over, we went our separate ways. I thought about him off and on while I pored through books in the law library, making dinner at home, or helping Ellen with some of her wedding plans. Jarvis Varnell came across as a man I wanted to get to know better, possibly introducing him to Mama and Daddy.

Yes, I, Chauntice Berry, the one who was determined to stay single, had found someone with the potential to be more than just a Friday night date. Of course, the last thing I wanted was for Daddy to find out about my drunken performance on the hood of Jarvis’ car. On that note, I had both sworn Ellen to secrecy and sworn off alcohol for good.

(c) 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

Never Give Up: The Bride of Zilla

Never Give Up CoverDespite the lemons of COVID-19, this has been an exciting time for me as an independent author. As an example of lemonade, last month I had the honor of being a guest on one of our local radio programs, along with our state attorney general. In addition, my body of work is now gracing the shelves of four library systems here in Minnesota.

Yes, an author’s work is never done, but I love it that way. While preparing my upcoming Christopher Family Novel for release, I have three in queue for my series. The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self are my first full-on M/M romance novels. The Rise of Sherry Payson takes us into the creative mind of an author with humor, romance, and mystery.

But back to Never Give Up. It is a whodunit, a historical whodunit which delves into the lives of the intended victim and his family. Still, like Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, there’s a certain sense of humor in it as well. How many of you out there know, have known, or know of, a Bridezilla? The following excerpt takes you on a little flashback into the mind of Judge Berry’s daughter (and family Bridezilla), LaVera Marchelle Berry:

 

Just who said planning a wedding would be fun? Everyone got on my nerves, even Chauntice, who was my maid of honor. Could she not understand the simple concept of total perfection? There were plenty of times I couldn’t stand to be around Derrick or put up with all the rehearsal time he had to put in. I had to change the color schemes six times because they weren’t right. I wanted a perfect wedding, and things and people kept coming up short. Finding the right caterer was a dismal chore. I wasn’t about to use somebody’s cousin I’d never heard of for a photographer, and even the photography studios around town had tired products and layouts. As for wedding gowns, I went through dozens and dozens of them, and I only found a suitable one after I went off to New York. And Daddy…he may have been paying for the wedding, but he needed to come off the money and spend more! I wanted to scream, and I did. I was the bride, and it was my absolute privilege to change my mind as often as I pleased. This was my wedding, and they were all working for me!

April 1, 1978—my wedding day—was fast approaching. Chauntice, as it turned out, had just about had it with me. A week before my big event, she literally sat me down and gave me a mutinous look. “Listen, Bridezilla,” she growled, “this may be your wedding, but you are not—I repeat, not—going to drive everyone around you into the loony bin. It’s a miracle that Derrick is putting up with you at this point. If I were him, I’d be ready to call off the wedding now!”

“Look, Chauntice! You’re my maid of honor. This is my day! I want my wedding to be absolutely perfect! If I say ‘Jump’ you’re here to say, ‘How high?’ If I want you to prance through hoops, you lift up your hooves and prance! That’s what you, the bridesmaids, the caterers, and everyone else are here for!”

Chauntice’s voice got low and deadly. “One more crack, LaVera, and not only will I smack that makeup off your face, but the rest of us will come in here and beat the crap out of you. By the time we’re done with you, no amount of makeup will cover that up.”

Slowly, my sisters filed into the room and gave me the same deadly expression as Chauntice, ready and willing to carry out her threat. I knew at that moment I’d said too much. “By the way, don’t think for a minute that Daddy doesn’t know about the way you’ve treated everyone.” Linda’s voice was frosty. “He’s probably ready to cite you for contempt of court and have you locked up. As for Derrick, if this wedding is any indication of what your marriage is going to be like, I hope he dumps you before it’s too late.”

I was ready to give Linda a quick retort, but it stopped in my throat as I scanned the room, with the murderous looks still cast in my direction. Deshawna took a step towards me. “Now get this straight, LaVera. Either you pull it together and clean up your act, or we are going to walk out on you and leave you hanging. Is that clear?”

I nodded quickly, especially when I noticed that Mama had entered the room and was giving me The Look. My sisters exchanged glances, pondering my acquiescence before Deshawna continued. “Chauntice, since you’re the maid of honor, is there anything you want to add?”

Chauntice stared at me like a hungry hawk ready to swoop down on a rabbit. “As a matter of fact, there is. You’re going to go to Derrick and apologize to him for your behavior and your drama. You’re going to do it today, and it had better be sincere.”

I have never been one to grovel, but after a healthy serving of humble pie, when he came home from rehearsal that evening, I did just that. It was no surprise Derrick didn’t let me off the hook easily. For the next five days, he watched my interactions with everyone involved in the planning to make sure my actions matched my words. That, added with my Berry charm, finally convinced him Bridezilla was dead and the fabulous LaVera Berry was back. Inwardly, I breathed an immense sigh of relief at dodging the firing squad.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but things went smoother after that “intervention.” The rehearsal dinner was lovely, and Derrick’s parents, Wardell and Aiyana St. James, could witness the love between us and the warm hospitality of my parents. On my wedding day, I felt positively beautiful in my strapless, modified A-line wedding gown as Daddy walked me down the aisle, seeing my very handsome husband-to-be standing at the altar and the wedding party at their respective places. My sisters were smiling, but there was no mistaking the cautionary look in their eyes that said, “LaVera, don’t you dare screw this up.”

@2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

Never Give Up: Love & the Boy Next Door

I’ve heard this quote on many occasions as an adult: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”Never Give Up Cover

Indeed, COVID-19 has given us a semi-trailer truckload of lemons. So many news stories are filled with the lemons of uncertainty, fear, panic, hysteria, hopelessness. I’ve been witness to how this pandemic is playing out in our personal lives. In the midst of human selfishness (e.g. the panic buying), I have also been privy to stories of human selflessness as well, such as a restaurant owner who donated food to people in need.

That being said, what are ways I have applied to make lemonade?

Making lemonade doesn’t mean that I am in denial of what’s going on. The difference is how I respond to it. I’ve limited my attention to the news; it’s important to be informed, but not obsessed or inundated. A good dose of common sense makes a world of difference.

Another way is through prayer and meditation. This has kept things in perspective for me, and as time has gone by in this season I have had a good, hard look at the things I’ve taken for granted my day-to-day life. I give thanks for all that I have, and seek the blessing and the lesson in all of this. This time is challenging, yet it can also be transforming.

Yet another facet of making lemonade is in doing that which I enjoy, which includes reading, writing, and watching those classic movies and TV shows. The cats love this time as well; at any given moment, one of them will be beside me if they’re not sleeping.

 

As you know, readers, my next novel in the Christopher Family Novel series, Never Give Up, will be released soon. Yes, it is a whodunit, but one that also has romance in it, as evidenced in this excerpt featuring Judge Berry’s youngest child and only son, Carter Woodson Berry, who falls in love with the Boy Next Door:

 

After five daughters, I can only imagine that Daddy was in nirvana on a snowy January 25, 1959, when Dr. Bradford said, “It’s a boy.” Mama has a strong sense of the value and importance of African American history, which may be the reason she named me after Carter G. Woodson. I’m sure that Daddy agreed with her choice. Now that he had a son, he probably would have agreed to almost any name she came up with.

There is something to be said for having five big sisters. If I wanted to keep something secret, I learned early on not to confide in my sisters much. I love them, but while I was growing up, they considered it their sworn duty to stay in my business. The same went for my cousins, Ellen and Elizabeth, since they spent a lot of time after school at our house until Ellen turned fourteen. Douglass Edwards and Julian Edwards were closer to my age, but we went to different elementary schools, so we’d hang out at the park sometimes or whenever our parents got together.

I was only a toddler when Uncle Eldon was killed, but things changed for our family when that happened. Daddy became an assistant district attorney with a mission of putting the criminals away and getting justice for their victims. When I was older, he told me about how Uncle Eldon’s murderer got off, and part of me hoped the dude would suffer the way my uncle did. “You keep putting the bad guys away, Daddy. For Uncle Eldon,” was my reply. I could imagine him saying that to himself after each conviction that was upheld. Learning that the perp suffered the torture of death by cancer in 1978, a few months after LaVera and Derrick’s wedding, was vindication of a sort and it gave our family closure, even though it didn’t bring Uncle Eldon back.

Daddy’s appointment to the bench in January of 1973 was the culmination of a dream for him, and I was quite proud of him; I told my teachers and classmates all about it. When we moved next door to the Edwardses in July, I thought my own dream would come true when Julian Edwards came over to help out. I was a grade behind him, so I guess I was “under the radar” as far as he was concerned.

He was, without a doubt, one gorgeous man, and he still is. Unlike his older brothers, he looked something like the singer Jackie Wilson in his prime. I couldn’t help but notice him peeking out of his bedroom window as we were moving furniture into our house—Mama wanted everything in its proper place, what with Sylvia’s wedding taking place at the end of the month. Sure, our families know each other, but Julian’s parents had moved when I was in elementary school. Once we were both back at Bryant Jr. High, I was operating under the disadvantage of being a grade behind him and moving in different circles, all because he was seven months older than me. At the age of 14, though, I found myself looking at him in a very different way. I couldn’t help but hear the way my sisters talked about this boy or that boy once they hit their teens. Now I understood what they meant. Mine happened to conveniently live next door.

I was struggling with a heavy mirror, attempting to get it out to the edge of the van so Daddy could help me with it, when I heard someone behind me say, “Need some help with that?”

I looked up from my task and—wow!—there he was. I took a moment to wipe some sweat from my brow; no way was I going to turn down that kind of help. “Sure. Thanks.” He climbed up into the van to grab one end of the mirror, while I checked him out as nonchalantly as I could. “Julian?”

“Yeah. I’m your new neighbor.”

“You went to Bryant.”

“Right again. I start at Central this fall.”

“I wish I was. I have to wait another year,” I said wistfully.

“Trust me, it’ll pass before you know it.” We edged our way down the ramp, managing the mirror as best we could. “You know, my brothers know your sisters.”

“Yeah, come to think of it. I remember Linda talked about your brother Mel a lot. What’s he up to?”

“Just working a summer gig, then it’s back to Northwestern.”

“Linda’s at Marquette. Careful, the steps are coming up.”

“Thanks.” He backed slowly up the steps, and I appreciated the way we fell into sync. “So, what’s it like to have five big sisters these days?”

“OK, I guess—if they weren’t always in my business.”

“Still, Carter, you do have some fine sisters.”

“That’s just it, they know it. But they’re cool. I feel sorry for the dudes who come around to date them. When Sylvia was living at home, Daddy would take her dates into the den and close the door. I don’t know what he said, but they always came out of there looking like he’d held them at gunpoint. And he was the picture of cool and calm. Same with Deshawna and Linda.”

“Dad was pretty strict with my brothers, too. John told me it took an act of Congress to get Dad to let him use the car for the homecoming dance. Of course, that was before John bought his own car.” We chuckled as we reached the next set of steps. “But Ma…if they brought home a girl she didn’t like, she’d give them The Look and it was all over but the shouting. So, which way do I go?”

“Uh….to the left and straight back.”

We set the mirror down in the dining room and went back outside to get more furniture. As we went up the ramp, I heard a familiar voice calling, “Carter! You’d better be careful with my bed!”

“Relax, LaVera. Stop acting like it’s a Brink’s delivery,” I said sarcastically. As we carried out a box spring mattress, my sister came outside. As far as looks go, she could give Beyonce some competition, but her attitude left something to be desired. “LaVera, you remember Julian Edwards? Julian, LaVera.”

She regarded this introduction from her regal pose for a moment and said, “Oh, right, you’re Mel’s little brother. Hi.”

“Hi, LaVera. Where does this go?”

“Upstairs, second door on the right,” was her lofty reply, giving the attitude that only corroborated my character assessment.

As the afternoon wore on, we managed to get everything off the truck while putting up with LaVera’s and Chauntice’s orders. Mama and Daddy gave Julian compliments about his helpfulness, but I saw him as my dreamboat. The way he could be awkward and graceful at the same time, tall and gangly yet built, with buns to die for. The smile, had he known it then, that had me ready to melt while Mama prepared a meal to replenish our strength after our hard work.

After that day, we were nearly inseparable. We were at each other’s houses so much that our parents took it for granted. I watched him grow taller until he hit 6’4” and filled out to desirable proportions. I had stopped at 5’8”, built like a gymnast with a touch of bodybuilder. I hoped and hoped Julian would make a move or something, yet I didn’t want to scare him off. It just seemed like forever; it wasn’t until later that I learned Julian felt the same way as I did. He was just shy about approaching me, like that Pointer Sisters song that came out in the ‘80s. Even with that knowledge, it was still a waiting game. Man, how I wished that the Berry charm Daddy and Grandpa Berry bragged about would work for me when it came to Julian Edwards, preferably sooner than later.

One evening during spring break of my junior year at Central High, Julian invited me over to his house. Ordinarily it would be no big deal, because we spent so much time at each other’s houses. This time, I sensed something different when I followed him up to his room; the house was so quiet. I started to ask him where his parents were, until I remembered that they went to a fundraiser with mine. Still…

“Where’s Mrs. Banks?” I asked.

“Oh, she has the night off,” he said with what looked like a nervous yet secretive smile.
We sat in his room as usual, talking about school or family stuff and listening to Donna Summer albums. I’d been around Julian long enough to tell when he was building up to something, and this had all the earmarks of it. On a hunch, I gave him my most encouraging look. Please, Berry charm, go to work. Please, please, please……

“You know, Carter…I like you. I like it when we spend time together.” He moved closer to me.

“I know.”

“I mean, I really like you. The way our classmates do when they’re going together.”

At last. “I know that, too, since I feel the same way about you.”

“Maybe we’ve been dating and didn’t know it. Well…I want to make it official.” He took my hand. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

My face must have been a combination of megawatt smile, passion, and sheer happiness. I saw a major grin spread across his face in return. “Julian, I’ve been hoping you’d ask me. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to hear that from you, man.”

Julian got up and stood in the middle of the floor when I heard a familiar song play. I knew it was his favorite, and he had a very inviting look in his eye. “Wanna dance?”

“You’ve got it,” was my heartfelt answer as I got up to join him, feeling like I had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. Strike that—I was the Double Showcase winner.

–Coming Summer 2020

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Black History Month, LGBT literary style

Black History Month is here (with an extra day of it this year), and I am coming off celebrations and observances. With my church, part of this month’s services was devoted to Black History moments, voiced by us members; I had the honor of being the voice of Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and known to us who are both Black and LGBT as “Brother Outsider.” Because he was openly gay, some leaders in the Movement considered him a liability. Hence, he was relegated to working behind the scenes, but never in the forefront. However, that didn’t stop him from being involved in every form of civil rights movement from the 1940s until his death in 1987.

Of course, as a novelist, the trailblazers of Black LGBT writers come to mind, the ones who paved the way for us today such as James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, E. Lynn Harris, Samuel Delany, Ann Allen Shockley, and Audre Lorde. On Twitter, I had the joy of hearing about Black authors who write my favorite subgenre, queer romance. Since the website Queer in Color brought these amazing LGBT (and LGBT ally) contemporary authors to my awareness, I hereby carry it forward in inviting you to reach out to and support them, via their website or Twitter profile. Thanks to them, my to-be-read pile has grown!

 

B.L. Morticia (blmorticia.wordpress.com, @BLMorticia)

Riley Hart (rileyhartwrites.com, @RileyHart5)

Giovanna Reeves (giovannareaves.com, @GiovannaReaves)

LaQuette (laquette.com, @LaQuetteWrites)

Christa Tomlinson (ChristaTomlinson.com, @ShockZ314)

Bryan T. Clark (btclark.com, @BryanTClarkx2)

Avril Ashton (avrilashton.com, @AvrilAsh)

Alyssa Cole (alyssacole.com, @AlyssaColeLit)

Rheland Richmond (rhelandrichmond.com, @RhelandRichmond)

A.E. Via (authoraevia.com, @AuthorAEVia)

Adriana Herrera (adiranaherreraromance.com, @ladrianaherrera)

Brea Alepou (brea-alepou.com, @Brea_Alepou)

Jack Harbon (jackharbonbooks.com)

N.G. Peltier (ngpeltier.com, @trinielf)

Xen Cole McCade (blackmagicblues.com)

 

Enjoy these creative voices, o romance lovers. Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

Here’s to VSS365, The Earls of Dorchester, and Just For Fun

Ah, the Twitterverse. As an Old School New Kid, a brotha of a certain age, social media was a foreign concept for quite some time, something my son was better tuned into. Thus, when I joined Twitter as part of my business as an independent author, I had no idea that I would be connecting with a diverse and supportive family of writers and poets.

First, I give my thanks to Vernon Cole, who introduced to me to a concept on Twitter called Very Short Stories 365 (#vss365). I have covered this in previous blogs, sharing some of my work in this venue. Since 2020 is a leap year, I immediately asked others if this year will be Very Short Stories 366; the reply was simply to have a bonus word prompt. Daily writing with the word prompts has been quite the creative exercise; I was given my share of word prompts which required me to go to my dictionary. Still, it has been fun, and it has helped me to hone my craft as a writer/novelist.

I also give thanks to Kelvin Rodrigues and Blair Denholm, who inspired me in a different way: to write my own VSS365 series. Kelvin’s series, The Commander and Haskins, and Blair’s series, Boyd and the Sarge, are part of my daily reading enjoyment; their tweets keep me laughing. Hence, my two series were born: The Earls of Dorchester and Just For Fun.

Yes, I own it–I love romance novels, from English historical romance, Black love, and male/male romance. I also love the classic movies from old Hollywood. The title characters of The Earls of Dorchester are Lord Liam Forsyth, the new earl of Dorchester and young Vincent Price lookalike, and Liam’s husband Shaza Hayes, a successful brotha from Chicago, Illinois. My inspiration came from Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s romance; I chose to make mine between two men in the nobility. Since its debut on #vss365 in May 2019, it has been a blast creating stories about Liam and Shaza, their families, the staff of Forsyth Hall, and residents of the village. Look for humor, steamy romance, some social commentary, movie star lookalikes, a guardian ghost, and an abundance of LGBT characters. Oh, did I forget to include Lady Tara, the dowager countess mother of Lord Liam and pompous witch-with-a-capital-B?

My Just For Fun series appeals to my love of the Universal Studios classic horror movies of the 1930s and ’40s, the serial cliffhangers of the 1940s, and 1950s sci-fi. I inherited my sense of humor from my father, and it shows up in this series, which debuted in June 2019. When I discovered how to use GIFs on Twitter, they became an essential illustration of the story I tell in the #vss365 tweet. Hence, I traverse the world of vampires, werewolves, superheros, assorted monsters, mad scientists, big bugs, etc., with my tongue firmly in cheek. In many, I’ve given the story an LGBT twist. There is even a support group for the classic monsters, known as PMSOB (Put Mad Scientists Out of Business). Occasionally I delve into sci-fi movies of later periods, but these hold a special place in my heart.

At the end of the day, creativity and imagination is everything. It can be work, but it can also be fun. You can find my series on my Twitter profile page at @WDFosterGraham1. If you enter #vss365, be you a writer, reader, or poet, you will tap into an amazing family of creatives. And for those who have followed my series, thank you for being the gold in my Fort Knox.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

Never Give Up: Game Changing Event

Never Give Up CoverWhen I started my first novel, I dreamed of seeing my work on library shelves. Today, it is both gratifying and humbling to have this dream become a reality. Hence, once again I give hearty thanks and appreciation to the Hennepin County Library for including my Christopher Family Novel series as part of their collection. As the largest collection of literary works in Minnesota, it means a lot. When it came to including works by African American authors in their system, Hennepin County didn’t just “talk the talk”; they “walked the walk.”

This year, the fifth novel in my series, Never Give Up, will be released. It is a blend of historical fiction, family saga, and whodunit. For today’s blog, I give you an excerpt of a pivotal moment in the story, told through the lens of Judge Earl James Berry’s wife, Juanita Langston Berry:

 

On the evening of August 19, 1960 Earl and I, Eldon and Elaine, and Donna and Eli were gathered at Eldon and Elaine’s new house at 4054 Clinton Avenue, enjoying a barbecue. It was a warm but comfortable summer evening. Eldon, like most men, considered himself a master at the art of all things that could be barbecued on a grill. Our children were playing in the back yard after they ate, while we sat back in the lawn chairs and talked. We had already discussed the movie we went to the previous evening, Butterfield 8, and now we were on to politics.

“So, what do you think Kennedy’s chances are at the presidency?” Eldon asked Earl.

“Well, I know we’re going to vote for him,” was Earl’s hearty reply.

“If we are, I hope this baby waits until after the inauguration to get here.” Elaine rubbed her softly rounded stomach, partially concealed by her sleeveless maternity top. “I want to see what Jackie’s going to wear to the inaugural ball after she has her baby.”

I took a sip of root beer. “You know, she’s going to set some fashion trends around the country.”

“Anyway, I hope Kennedy makes some changes for civil rights,” Eldon said, getting up to go inside the house. He came out after a minute and said, “Elaine, I’m going to get some more beer. Do you want anything?”

“Bring some Coca-Cola. We want to make some ice cream floats for the kids.”

“Got it.” Eldon gave Elaine a kiss, flashing a smile as he walked to the driveway where their 1958 DeSoto hardtop was parked. “I’ll be back.”

Donna, Elaine, and I continued to talk about Jackie Kennedy as a fashion trendsetter. Earl and Eli discussed the finer points of owning a Cadillac, in particular the 1957 Cadillac we bought from Woody at the beginning of summer. When Earl first saw Perry Mason driving that model on the TV show, he had to have one like it. There were times when it was wise to concede to one’s husband—I benefitted from the deal with a 1958 Buick station wagon as an anniversary present.

We must have talked for a good twenty minutes or so, enough to notice it was nearing sunset. Carter had fallen asleep in my lap, so Elaine and I went into the house to find someplace comfortable and safe to put him down. Donna soon joined us with her youngest son Julian, who had also pooped out.

“I wonder where Eldon is?” Elaine asked. “At this rate, the kids will all be asleep by the time he gets back.”

“It shouldn’t be too long,” Donna answered as she put Julian down. “The stores are going to be closing soon.”

As time went by, however, we grew more concerned. Just going to get beer and soda shouldn’t have taken Eldon so long. We talked on, but the atmosphere started to cloud over with unease. “Why don’t I go down to the store and see what’s holding him up?” Earl offered.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Elaine said. “Sometimes he gets to talking with people in the neighborhood that come in the store.”

We rounded up the kids and brought them inside as twilight made its appearance. Earl grabbed his keys and prepared to leave when we heard a knock at the front door. I saw the puzzled look on Elaine’s face upon seeing the two men standing on the steps. “Yes?”

They identified themselves as police detectives and asked her, “Are you Mrs. Eldon Berry?”

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Berry. What’s this about?”

“Mrs. Berry, we’re here to give you some news,” one of them said solemnly.

We didn’t like the way he said ‘news,’ and the apprehension grew worse. “What kind of news?” Earl asked.

“Mrs. Berry, a man was shot and killed about an hour ago.”

Elaine grew tense. “What does that have to do with me?”

“He was identified by his driver’s license as Eldon Berry. We’re sorry for your loss.”

To her credit, Elaine didn’t faint or scream—she was more stunned—but we could see how hard the news hit her. She clutched the door frame for support. I heard the tears in her voice when she said, “Where is he?”

“He’s been taken to the morgue, Mrs. Berry. But we need to ask you some questions.”

“Can’t that wait until she’s gone to identify him?” Earl adopted his take-charge stance. “You’ve just told her that her husband’s dead.”

“We’re sorry, but we need to do this while things are fresh in her mind.”

Earl’s expression was strained, but his voice was strong and controlled. “I’m Earl James Berry. I’m his brother, and I’m also an attorney. We’re going to the morgue. You can ask all the questions you want in the morning.”

I grabbed Elaine’s purse and handed it to her, still in disbelief over the grim report the police had given us. “You go ahead with Earl,” I told her. “We’ll stay here with the kids until you get back.”

When they returned, I saw the pain and raw grief in their faces over the reality of Eldon’s lifeless body lying in the city morgue. Elaine’s tears came gradually after she sat down, with Eli and Donna doing whatever they could to comfort her. My husband held me in his arms. I could feel his body shaking with unreleased sobs, sobs on the inside. It seemed like untold moments passed before he could compose himself, saying to me, “Honey, could you stay here with Elaine? There’s something I have to do.”

“Of course,” I agreed, knowing where he was going and how difficult it would be for him to deliver that horrible news. No matter what people think, there’s never an easy way to tell parents that their child is dead, even a grown child. I noticed the older children standing around with confused looks on their faces. Oh, the news. How are we going to tell them?

Eldon’s funeral was an ordeal we got through only by the grace of God. The senselessness of his death was lost on no one. People had so many good things to say about him as they expressed their sympathy to the family. Mother Berry had her head on Father Berry’s shoulder during the packed service, the life force seemingly drained out of her. Earl’s face had a grim expression on it, one that swore revenge on the perpetrator of this crime even as they lowered his brother’s body into the ground. Eli and Donna, as well as the rest of the Edwards family, also attended the funeral and stood by us during that difficult time. I was grateful Earl had a friend like Eli, another rock he could depend on.

As soon as the trial date was set, the Berry family was there, with the Edwards family and my parents providing solid moral support. When the defendant was brought in, Earl’s body tensed up and his jaws grew tight. My eyes narrowed as I took a good look at the vile, monstrous beast that had callously taken the life of my brother-in-law. In that instant I wished that Minnesota had the death penalty, but I had to settle for the thought of him rotting in a prison cell for the rest of his miserable life.

At the age of 37, Eldon had been struck down in the prime of his life. He had had so much to look forward to. With a wonderful wife like Elaine, the family he’d always wanted, plus an excellent career working side by side with his father, why did this have to happen to him?

I came to the trial whenever I could, but Earl and his parents were there every day. The case seemed cut-and-dry to us; the defendant was robbing a store and Eldon was killed trying to stop him. What could be clearer than that? Unfortunately, the defendant got off on a technicality.

I remember sitting there in the courtroom with Earl, Elaine, Mother and Father Berry, wanting to scream obscenities at the judge for a miscarriage of justice but too stunned to say a word. I glared at the defendant and his attorney congratulating themselves, hoping that they would be driven to walk into the Amazon River and become lunch for a school of piranhas. I didn’t have to go far to see that same look in Elaine’s eyes.

To say that the verdict left a bad taste in our mouths was a gross understatement. There may have been celebration about President Kennedy’s election, but there was a pall over our family during the holidays. I could only imagine what it was like for Elaine, having a three-year-old child and pregnant with another, one who would never know his or her father except through others. Elaine’s doctor had been concerned that the stress of Eldon’s death and going through the trial could cause her to either lose the baby or go into premature labor. Her doctor, however, hadn’t reckoned with the steely resolve of the Berry family to both protect and support Elaine and Ellen. In addition, the family stood firmly on God’s promises of protection for them. We knew He never failed.

Earl had changed when it came to his work. He was tense, just “doing his job” without the passion. He often came home from work short-tempered and testy, to the point where the children were hesitant to approach him. I often had to intervene, and the tension between us could be felt. In addition to that, our sex life had taken a nosedive. The fact that Eldon’s murderer had walked was eating away at the family. Something had to be done.

On New Year’s Day of 1961 we were all in church, listening to our pastor’s sermon. Earl was unusually quiet, hardly saying a word during fellowship time. That night, after all the kids were in bed, he turned to me and said, “I’ve come to a decision.”

“What kind of decision?”

“About my work.”

I was puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve had enough of being a defense attorney.” He must have read the question in my eyes, because he added, “No, Juanita, I’m not giving up law. But I am changing it.”

“But how?”

“Tomorrow, I’m having papers drawn up to have my partners buy me out.”

“That still doesn’t tell me how you’re changing things when it comes to practicing law.”

“Because I’m putting in for a position at the district attorney’s office. I’m going to become an assistant district attorney.”

I looked into his smoky gold eyes. Never had he been more serious than at that moment. “This change…it has something to do with Eldon, doesn’t it?”

There was steely conviction in his voice. “If I couldn’t get justice for my brother at the trial, then I can get it for others. The only way to do that is to become a prosecutor.”

Tammy Wynette put out a song years ago called “Stand by Your Man.” We spent half the night discussing the matter, but by the time we went to bed I was convinced that his decision was merited, and I stood by him. It was as though the negative energy Earl had been carrying around diffused, for he took me in his arms and made up for all those nights we had gone without.

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Happy Kwanzaa

Habari Gani,

Different holidays have taken place during this season, like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. However, I want to give thanks to Dr. Maulana Karenga for establishing the pan-African cultural holiday of Kwanzaa in 1966. Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits.”

From December 26-January 1, each day celebrates one of Kwanzaa’s seven core principles, known as the Nguzo Saba. They are:

Umoja (Unity)

Kujichagulia (Self Determination)

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Nia (Purpose)

Kuumba (Creativity)

Imani (Faith)

I first learned about Kwanzaa as a college student in the 1970s. Its principles and traditions are inspirational life lessons. For in-depth information about this holiday, I highly recommend the website http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org. As an independent author, the principles of Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba are the most relevant to my business. In my community, there is encouragement to build our own businesses, as well as support other businesses in the community.

Today, while I wrote, I thought of Kuumba. Tomorrow, I think of the linchpin for all the principles: Imani.

 

On another note, I recently read an advance copy of Boyd and Sarge: NYPD Law and Disorder by B.A. Denholm. The following is my review:

I am definitely one for humor, be it a chuckle, a snicker, laughing out loud, or rolling on the floor. In the poker game of humor, Blair Denholm’s Boyd and Sarge: NYPD Law and Disorder dealt a royal flush.

Sarge has to be the most put-upon police sergeant at NYPD, having to endure a police officer like Boyd. Sometimes I can imagine Sarge thinking that double entendre Joan Crawford said to Jack Palance in Sudden Fear: “I was just wondering what I had done to deserve you.” Blair’s use of the word prompts are highly creative. There are times when his humor is subtle, when it catches the reader a beat after the piece is read. Other times, it is in your face, and one is rolling on the floor in belly laughs.

At the end of the day, these characters leave you laughing, and the illustrations by Vince Steele only add to the fun. And being a fan of Law and Order, I can imagine the character of Lenny Briscoe standing by, ready with a wisecrack.

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.