To Reggiori’s romance and my remembrance

Well, well, well. I wound up back at my alma mater a little sooner than I expected. That, however, is what happens when one stands at the intersection of multiple minorities, so last weekend I went back for Pride.

Yes, I know, normally it’s observed in June.  However, when a school year ends in May and the majority of the LGBT population consists of students, the celebration is moved up for a college town. I was, in a word, amazed. Rainbow flags were everywhere, on campus and all over town. The Pride parade through downtown was well attended and supported, as was a picnic in the park following it and other festivities. In spite of the slightly brisk temperatures, the atmosphere was filled with positivity and love.

As one of the very few, openly gay Black students when I first stepped on the campus back in the day, my presence lent seasoning and extra color to the occasion. In a way, I felt like visiting royalty and a link to history, since the Stonewall riots took place a mere year before I started college. Current students, of course, had lots of questions about my experiences back then and my business as an author now. Somewhere along the line, I became the role model I wished my 18-year-old self had had, and that has been a humbling experience.

Though I normally review works by amazing romance authors, today I’m here to share my thoughts on a poet from South Africa, M.S. Reggiori, and his collection of poetry, Into the Hush of the Quiet Winds. I love his gift of spoken word, and his poems, from haiku to free verse, resonate in the mind and heart. What seriously pulls at my heartstrings are his love poems. If you are a diehard romantic, this is the ticket! These are the kind of poems that have you looking at your significant other and thinking, “Why can’t you write something like this?” His love interest is female, yet the theme is universal. I, as a member of the LGBT community, have no problems doing some mental pronoun changes when necessary. By all means, this gifted poet is waiting for you to enter his world at your local Amazon/Barnes and Noble library.

In keeping with my theme of remembrance, readers, I will also share a little of my own poetry from “back in the day”:

 

1973

“The line dance is on!”

Shevar calls out

our favorite portion

of Soul Train

where we play

“Count the Children”

 

Bold

fierce

proud

in their Blackness

in their gayness

cool pastime

in the TV desert

of Saturday morning

====================

Picked me up

scattered me

like diamond stars

across the sky

of an awesome August night

1971

 

Moist lips

bore promise

of

always and forever

 

Thank you

Ray

for a heart

that kept

that promise

====================

1970

young

gifted

Black

gay

18-year-old

version of

me

college days

with my van

 

Invisible

nonexistent support systems

the darker you are

harder to come out

 

And yet I did

determined

to make

a difference

and command

respect

====================

1969

teenager living

the age of Aquarius

hot fun in the

summertime

 

Life impacted by

Selma

Memphis

Huey Newton

Viet Nam

 

Unaware of event

halfway across the country

altering my

life’s course

 

The voice of

Stonewall

====================

Wishing you an excellent day. Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we don’t share our stories, who will?

IMG_1713Over this past weekend, my alma mater celebrated our Black Alumni reunion, the culmination of a year-long observance commemorating the 50th anniversary of our Black Student Union. I would be among the first to say that the weekend was amazing, inspiring, and empowering.

We had a series of receptions, workshops, speakers and presentations. Reconnecting with classmates, several of whom I hadn’t seen in 40+ years, strengthened the bond of our shared experience as Black students on campus back in the day. With the alums who graduated after us, plus the current students, we who were the history bore witness to those who carry our legacy forward, recognizing the role we will play for the future students.

Many memories were stirred as we discussed the celebrities who came to our campus such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Alex Haley, Duke Ellington, the Temptations, Julian Bond and the Fifth Dimension. The struggles may have bitter, yet there was also the sweet in the friendships (and sometimes marriages) that developed, and the creativity involved in putting together a social life. Also, it was a time for remembrance of those of us who had passed away.

I was honored to be part of the featured events of the reunion, with a book signing of my Christopher Family Novel series. The staff at the campus book store was friendly and filled with positive energy, which added to the atmosphere around me. As for my readers, engaging with them was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

In sharing my experiences as an author, some of the words of encouragement we alums gave to one another were, “Keep sharing your stories.” After all, if we don’t share our stories, who will? As a man who has ancestors from the continent of Africa, I come from an oral tradition. Passing it down today at my college, however, requires us to write it down, record it, while our elders are still around to share it. Between the generations, sharing our stories was uplifting, and this current crop of students has truly made us proud. We as alumni have work to do to keep this momentum going.

 

That being said, in the spirit of my reunion weekend, I will be sharing with you the prologue/preview to my upcoming Christopher Family Novel, Never Give Up:

 

 

Prologue: November 6, 2012

Prentice Delaney-Ross was on a high, cheering in campaign headquarters as news of President Obama’s re-election “rocked the house.” People were hugging, cheering and shedding tears of joy all over the office. Several times he and his husband Trevell embraced and kissed and shouted. There were many good reasons to do so that night. Not only had the president been re-elected, but Maine, Maryland and Washington voted in favor of marriage equality. Minnesotans had voted down a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Having celebrated their third wedding anniversary barely two weeks ago, the victories were mind-blowing.

He had no doubt his stepbrother, Jerome Franklin-Edwards, and his husband Ariel were at home with their daughters soaking up all the amazing news, even as they listened intently to the president’s acceptance speech. The same held true for the rest of his family, especially his grandfather, Earl James Berry. Grandpa had always been a huge supporter of President Obama, as well as a staunch ally for equality and a believer in justice. He had retired from the bench in 1996, but his reputation as Judge Berry and that of his lifelong friend, Elijah Edwards, Sr., had been most influential in the circles they traveled.

“You know, when Barack grows up, he’ll look back on this time and wonder what all the fuss was about,” Prentice said some time later, after they stepped out into the hallway to hear themselves upon the conclusion of the speech.

“I imagine he will,” Trevell concurred. “Right now, he’s probably sound asleep while his grandma and grandpa are keeping up with all the commentary.” Indeed, Prentice’s mother, Linda Berry Delaney Edwards, and his stepfather, Melvin Edwards II, had doted on their newest grandson, Barack Joseph Berry Delaney-Ross, from the very beginning. Trevell’s parents were no better. Although they lived in Green Bay, Tremayne and Darcelle Ross were regular visitors to Minneapolis, showering affection on their first grandchild. As a former Green Bay Packer, Tremayne Ross never failed to talk about his grandson to whoever would listen. Trevell strongly suspected his father desired to see Barack make it into the NFL when he grew up. Even at the age of two, the brainwashing had already begun.

Prentice had witnessed this phenomenon, and he understood it well. Grandpa Berry was not above a little brainwashing himself, setting Little Barack’s sights on an appointment to the Supreme Court. It was a challenge to the couple, diplomatically holding those respective ambitions at bay so they could let their little boy be what he was, a two-year-old who was just beginning to really explore his world.

Hand in hand, Prentice and Trevell strolled down Hennepin Avenue to the parking ramp, basking in the afterglow of victory, sharing smiles and waves to drivers and pedestrians on this brisk fall night. At one point their eyes met and Prentice felt his heart break out into a melody. Twenty-seven-year-old Trevell had the total package—the matinee idol looks of a young Idris Elba, the solid build of a quarterback and a well-spoken demeanor. Prentice himself had inherited his father’s smooth Duke Ellington looks with a strong dose of Berry genes, which would make anyone stop in their tracks to see if he was real or fantasy. At the age of twenty-eight, at this moment he felt like he was on top of the world.

They reached the parking ramp near the Target Center, for the moment lost in their own thoughts. Prentice’s mind kept going back to his Grandpa Berry. He and Grandpa Edwards had said President Obama really needed two terms to accomplish what was necessary back in 2008, and they had gotten what they asked for. He had to hand it to them, for they never lost faith that this day would come. Jerome, in fact, said so, not only about the presidential election but all the other issues as well, at a time when none of it seemed possible. Grandpa Berry had known the history behind Jerome’s “gift,” all the way back to the time he and Grandpa Edwards were young men.

Though he grew up on Milwaukee’s North Shore, Prentice always felt a connection with his grandfather. Like his late father, Prentice Delaney, Sr., Grandpa Berry had both a passion for the law and the importance of family. Unlike the portrayals of so many police shows these days, he had never been so driven to the point where he totally sacrificed his family for the sake of his career. On visits to Minneapolis with his parents, Prentice was blessed to see the special side of him, the family man. As a grown man, when he and Trevell made the decision to move to the Twin Cities, he made it a point to spend lots of quality time with his grandparents. Witnessing the love, commitment and devotion they shared after sixty-four years of marriage, Prentice hoped that he, too, would have that kind of a legacy to pass on.

They stepped into their Chrysler 300 sports sedan, listening to an Alicia Keys CD as they left the parking ramp and headed out into the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Cars were honking their horns and people were out celebrating, something unusual for a Tuesday night.

“You think Sierra and Rashid are still up?” Trevell asked Prentice.

“Sure. They wouldn’t miss this for the world. The only reasons they weren’t at campaign headquarters was because Destiny was sick and it’s a school night for Little Earl,” Prentice replied, picturing his sister and her husband watching the set and simultaneously calling everyone they knew.

“You know we’re going to be going through this with Barack in a few years, just like they are.”

“Well, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of relatives to learn from. Sierra and Rashid are only two of them. Anyway, since Barack is spending the night with Mom and Mel, let’s stop by and see Grandpa and Grandma.”

“Aren’t they in Chicago visiting the Christophers?”

“They were, but they wanted to make sure they were home for Election Day, so they could vote. I’m sure they’re up for the occasion.”

“OK, but just remember that we have grocery shopping to do tomorrow and I have an early meeting.”

They passed Loring Park and the Walker Art Center before they turned off on Douglas Avenue, driving through the historic, posh Lowry Hill neighborhood. Just before they reached the Berry estate on Kenwood Parkway, they happened to see a car driving away from it at high speed. “What’s up with that?” Trevell wondered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Prentice answered. “Wait a minute. That looks like Grandpa’s limo over there.”

Prentice braked quickly and they bolted from their car. The road was normally quiet, but tonight it felt a little too quiet for comfort. Ears alert for unnatural sounds in the cool night air, Prentice and Trevell slowed down as they approached the still Cadillac limousine. Their eyes grew wide with fear as they stepped closer, their night vision revealing the bullet holes in the windows.

“Nooooooooooooooo!!” Prentice yelled as Trevell frantically grabbed his cell phone to call 911…

 

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

 

Here’s to your excellent day. Believe in dreams and never give up.

Nothing’s impossible for love, LaQuette

Easter will soon be here, although it certainly felt far from it with the snowfall last week. Then again, snow in April is nothing unusual in Minnesota. This happened the same time last year, and by Memorial Day, the temperature had climbed to 100. This week, we’ve been receiving something of a do-over, with sunshine and enough rain to green things up around here. Just in time for our second season…construction.

Lately, when I have taken time away from my works-in-progress and columns, I have been on a Perry Mason movie marathon. Yes, the two-hour episodes shot in the ’80s and ’90s, with Denver as the locale. I still prefer the original series hands-down, yet I can appreciate the appeal these episodes have (while I endeavor to overlook those ’80s fashion statements). Friday night is still reserved for Universal horror classics and 1950s sci-fi. Weekends bring me Midsomer Murders, while I and so many others are on Royal Baby Watch (yes, I admit it).  Good news–another idea for a novel in my Christopher Family Novel series has taken shape, for which I have already written the beginning and the ending. My brother and sister-in-law read the beginning, and they’re looking forward to the way it develops. I give thanks for my listening ears!

In my search for authors of color, for your reading pleasure, I bring to you the steamy, multicultural romance Under His Protection by LaQuette. Newly-minted police lieutenant Elijah Stephenson is a hot, hunky African-American man in his mid-30s, son of a police officer, a product of a close-knit family from East New York, Brooklyn. Elijah is returning to duty after a life-threatening assault, filled with internal concerns about his ability to do the job after fourteen years of service. All set to work in the cybercrimes unit, he is thrown a curveball by his captain, Heart Searlington: protective duty for a high-profile assistant district attorney until his case comes to trial. If that weren’t enough, said individual was the same person who did a hit-it-and-quit-it on him five years ago, and Elijah has never forgotten that, much less forgiven him.

Executive ADA Camden Warren is a 34-year-old, equally hot, hunky white man born into a world of entitlement and privilege. His father is chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, committed to service, but a shameless control freak when it comes to his son’s life. Judge Warren’s concept of a life path for Camden–the right career, marriage to the “right” sort of man, politically positioning himself for an eventual run at the White House–amounts to “my way or the highway.” Camden is the prosecutor against the Path to Unity, a paranoid, extremist cult who hasn’t been above eliminating witnesses against them before they can testify. After narrowly escaping a car bombing, Camden’s arrogance falls away, and he reluctantly accepts police protection. Finding out Elijah, the man he walked out on, has been assigned to spirit him away and protect him…hot mess.

And what a hot mess. With rabid cult members who will stop at nothing to find them and take them out, Elijah and Camden, using Elijah’s home as a safe house, are forced to deal with the aftermath of their one-night stand…under the eyes of Elijah’s parents, brother and sister-in-law, who unexpectedly show up at his door to visit for a few days. The very idea of renewing their intense connection of that long-ago night could also ruin their careers, particularly Elijah’s, yet the pull is too strong. And looming in the background is Judge Warren. Could things get any worse?

LaQuette spins this romantic thriller with panache. Through their psyches, she reveals to us the ways in which Elijah and Camden complicate matters of the heart that really aren’t so complicated. I especially love the scene in the kitchen between Camden and Elijah’s mother, Evelyn, which bears this out beautifully. LaQuette’s strong, positive representations of Elijah and his family inspired me. For all the divergence in their backgrounds, Elijah and Camden have a common ground, plus a commitment to justice–which ultimately leads to love.

I also love the way LaQuette treats their sexual orientation as simply another fact of life, and not part of the challenges this couple faces. The real challenges, as the story unfolds, are within themselves. Will Elijah face his insecurities about his ability to serve and protect, and embrace his love for Camden? Will Camden see what a loving family is all about, and refuse to be bullied any longer?

Yes, it’s hard-won love, and well worth the journey. For all of you M/M romance lovers who enjoy the thriller element mixed in, be on the lookout for Under His Protection, at your local Amazon/Barnes and Noble library.

 

My stomach growls, Adriana

Spring. What a concept after the winter we experienced, although I remember winters that were worse up here, like in 1962. That winter, air temperatures reached -32–in March. As for the snowfall, there were snowdrifts that reached the point where my then six-year-old brother couldn’t be seen walking home from school. In those days, schools didn’t close unless the public buses couldn’t run, and then the city shut down. Fortunately, Easter Sunday arrived late that year (April 22), so we could dress up in our Sunday best without boots and heavy winter coats. And we survived, appreciating the summer that much more.

It is always a treat for me to read other authors of romance when I take breaks from writing my own. It gives me a hearty appreciation for their work, and provides me with a stronger sense of my own particular flavor. It’s been a joy to write my two M/M romance works-in-progress, especially because they are part of my ongoing Christopher Family Novel series, its foundation being family man and business mogul, Allan Beckley Christopher. Oh yes–when writing my love scenes, nothing sets the mood better than Barry White and Love Unlimited. Let’s hear it for Old School!

That being said, I bring to you, for your reading pleasure, American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera. Ernesto (Nesto) Vasquez is a 27-year-old, Dominican man from the Bronx. Setting out from metro New York, Nesto moves upstate to Ithaca to make a go of his food truck business, which serves the Afro-Caribbean food of the islands. He is greeted by his mami, Nurys Maldonado, and sister Minerva with open arms. Having driven off his last boyfriend with his workaholic ways, Mami wants her son to find a balance between business and personal life.

No sooner does he drive into town when his path crosses with that of white, 30-year-old librarian Jude Fuller, who initially thinks Nesto is a little bit cray-cray. Jude is afraid to want something too much, having escaped the clutches of a conservative family who sees his being gay as something to be cured of. His BFF, Carmen, has been pushing him to come out of his shell and be more sociable; sometimes she has to shove him out. Subsequently, Nesto and Jude find themselves bumping into each other on several occasions around town–and Jude finds it harder and harder to resist Nesto’s charm.

As the story unfolds, Nesto and Jude have respective issues with a villainess you love to hate. Misty Fields is an entitled witch-with-a-capital-B bent on driving them out of town after she’s made their lives miserable, for the sport of it. In Jude’s case, she seeks to block funding for his project of mobile libraries in the county.  With Nesto, she’s determined to put him out of business, out of prejudice and jealousy. And she isn’t above using her social and political connections to do it.

Getting the couple to lower their walls, especially Jude, takes some doing, as does the transition from neighbors to friends to lovers. Sick relatives, missed business opportunities and interfering friends and family abound in this love story. Will Nesto overcome his tunnel vision and make Jude a priority over business, in word and deed? Will Jude stand up for himself, and recognize that he has someone who will fight for him?

Yes, Nesto and Jude get by with a little help from friends like Carmen, Juanpa, Milo, Patrice and Easton. And lots of help from relatives like Mami and Minerva. Jude’s family dynamics make for sad commentary, but with his brother-in-law Jesse and his nephews, there is hope.

Whenever I purchased a book from one of my favorite authors, E. Lynn Harris, I couldn’t put it down–I read it in one sitting. This is one of those books. This tapestry of a multicultural love story, with its nuances of what it means to be a Dreamer, pulled at my heartstrings. The fact that Jude had spent time in a culture different from his own was refreshing. There were times where I had to set the book down for a moment, because my stomach growled at the siren call of vivid food descriptions. Unfortunately, there are no outlets in this part of the country where I can satisfy my taste for those dishes.

Thank you, Adriana, for representing another voice of color in M/M romance, and the heart that goes with it. Nesto, his family and friends provided the kind of ingredients that literally made this story come alive. I’ll be looking forward to your next book. In the meantime, readers, American Dreamer is waiting for you at your local Amazon/Barnes and Noble library. Try to keep your mouth from watering–if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always and forever, Mike

IMG_1150Being an Old School New Kid, a man of a certain age, is most apparent in my relationship with my son. Most of my contemporaries became parents in their 20s and early 30s. My father was 19 when I, the “honeymoon baby,” was born. It’s an entirely different ball game, though, becoming a father for the first time at the age of 47. One minute he was this beautiful little infant in my arms. Then, as many of us parents do, I blinked. Now he’s 18, a Millennial, child of a modern family.

As with many young men of his generation, he is locked into technology; apps, iPhones, laptops, video games, social media, etc. Heaven help him if he winds up in an area where he can’t get a cell phone signal. He finds it amusing that I like artists like Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. Yes, I like some rap music, the early artists such as Kurtis Blow, Sequence, the Sugar Hill Gang. My son, however….anyway, it’s a kick when I see him dancing to my old-school jams and disco music. It’s also ironic that when he was a baby, his favorite group was the Andrews Sisters (yes, one of the famous singing groups from the 1940s), to which my dad said, “The kid has taste.” As for cars, he is totally in love with the Tesla, and yet he thinks my dream car is cool as well: a champagne pink 1958 Cadillac.

These days, with five published books under my belt, I now have some cool-dad status, and he and my husband show their support for my business as an independent author in different ways. This brings me back to the time when, at the age of five, he acted as a self-appointed agent for my published collection of poetry. When I think of my relationship with my father, I appreciate passing that on to what my son and I share now, and to the man he is becoming.

Before I continue on with my review, here’s a shout-out of appreciation to Wyatt O’Brian Evans, for whom I have the honor of being a guest columnist at WYATTEVANS.COM. Issues and topics pertaining to those standing at the intersectionality of Black and LGBTQ are something he is passionate about, and he is truly a Renaissance man.

When it comes to LGBT men in fiction, there is one segment of the population that is frequently overlooked–the long-term male couples, ones who are 20, 30, 40-plus years in. And if you’re a Black male couple who fits this bill, you’re practically invisible. Being Baby Boomers at the time of Stonewall, there are more of us around, but writing about such couples is another story. Such brings me to the late Mike Warren’s poignant, loving novella, Always and Forever.

Keith Summers and Joseph Allen are a Black male couple living in Washington, D.C., about to celebrate Joe’s 60th birthday. Joe is a retired veteran of the Air Force, Keith a retired government employee. Their relationship has stood the test of time, having been together for 35 years. Their lives have become role models of love and hope in the community, generating a huge social media presence. They have a tight-knit circle of friends, some with their own issues.

At the beginning of the story, Joe and Keith are being interviewed by a reporter from a local LGBT newspaper about their lives: how they met, what’s kept them together, their contributions to the community, etc. A touching moment is shared regarding the letters Keith wrote to Joe during the times Joe was deployed in the military, ending with “Always and forever, Keith.”

Joe’s lavish birthday party is treated as a red carpet affair. However, he’s unable to enjoy it because he suffers a heart attack shortly after their arrival. While agonizing over a triple-bypass operation necessary to save Joe’s life, Keith is faced with the antipathy of a homophobic sister-in-law and a jealous friend. Relief over the success of the surgery eases Keith’s mind, and he and his friends are ready to rally around Joe for his recovery. Until the unexpected happens…

Many of you out there of a certain age, especially my brothas and sistahs, will remember a song released by Heat Wave in the 1970s titled, “Always and Forever.” I can easily visualize Mike Warren playing this song while he wrote Joe and Keith’s love story. I have read my share of novels where white male couples and interracial male couples found love. This one touches my heart because he told the story of two Black men who not only found love, but stayed together. He made the invisible visible.

I remember, in my early 30s, meeting a Black male couple who’d been together since before I was born. Thinking of them, of Mike, and how precious life and love is, Always and Forever is well worth a check-out at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.

 

 

 

 

Reflections in a Writer’s Eye

The official Black History Month is coming to a close. For me, given the sheer number of contributions African-Americans have made to this nation’s history and livelihood, I see this instead as ongoing, year-round. And for those who think that Black inventors were largely part of the past, I leave you with someone who has impacted the present–Dr. Mark Dean. He invented the PC as we know it today, by making it more accessible, user-friendly and affordable to the mass population. Without him, there wouldn’t be a Bill Gates.

As I prepare for my book launch and signing reception on Saturday, my roots in the Sounds of Blackness have been vocal, with “The Drum (Africa to America),” not only as I have gone through this day, but to a character in one of my works-in-progress. The song touches my heart, and I am forever grateful for the time I spent as part of this amazing ensemble.

This weekend touches me for yet another reason. On March 1, 2012, my father passed away. If I had to name a short list of those who influenced my passion as a writer, he was at the undisputed head of it. When I think of the best representation of African-American men, he’s right there among them. My biggest fan and my biggest critic, he always had my back. He was the first one to read Mark My Words; when he put his stamp on it, that was all I needed to know. I miss him. Right now, I can picture him looking down at the event with the people gathered there and saying, “You done good.”

Normally I review novels, but for today I will share some samples of my work. My writing community on Twitter has a forum called Very Short Stories 365, where one creates a short story or a poem within the confines of a Tweet, giving you a daily word you must fit into your story (prompt word). I must say, between the time I spend writing my novels, that it’s a great exercise:

—————————————-

While I stroked my salt-and-pepper beard, the sienna-skinned brotha holding court at the convention intrigued me with his game, swag, confidence. Yet, deep in his sensuous eyes, he knew that I knew he would be the one I will marry.

 

Mariah Carey haunted me for days with “I Can’t Let Go.” I wanted a husband, children. I finally admitted to myself what my parents knew all along when they told me, “If he won’t come out, get out.”

 

Her girly-girl pink dress embraced her medium-brown, six-year-old body with the vibrant flair of her personality. She knew who she was, a future Michelle Obama. My heart was overwhelmed when I heard, “Kasim and Terrell, Jayla is now legally your daughter.”

 

Sarah Vaughan serenaded Kwame with “The Nearness of You.” Jamar approached him with the hotness of Teddy Pendergrass, ready to “Turn Off the Lights.” In that moment, Kwame swore he would immerse him in a pool of “Love TKO” of the best kind.

 

“When I fall in love, it will be forever.” He teases me about Nat “King” Cole while remembering our first Black Gay Pride march in Atlanta. By my side, as always–sharing the love of holding our new grandson. Fruit of being good parents.

 

“The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” That’s my brick house of a man. Sweet. Strong. Loving. I could only melt on that London square when he said, “Derrick”–and dropped to one knee.

—————————————————-

 

I wish you all an excellent day and good success. Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

Fasten your seat belts, Wyatt

Today, this “old school new kid” is seriously into his old-school groove for music. It’s all about Barry White, The Spinners, Teddy Pendergrass, The Delfonics, Al Green, the Isley Brothers, the Stylistics, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, The Dells, you get the idea. When those love songs and grooves stretched beyond the three-minute mark, like “Stay In My Corner.” When you wanted to make sure the music clearly got the message across to your honey. Or, if you were dumped and indulging in mass quantities of Ben & Jerry’s, you didn’t have to wonder what the lyrics were; the singer’s pain was your pain. And there were the songs that included The Rap, by artists such as Isaac Hayes, Shirley Brown, Millie Jackson; quite a different meaning from what it is today.

Of course, being a Black gay man back in the day, a little mental juggling was required when it came to those love songs from male vocalists. When Johnny Mathis sang “Chances Are” in 1957, none was required since he never specified the gender of his love interest. With the majority of the others, changing the pronouns was de riguer. Luckily, being a writer, this was not difficult. As for the female vocalists, like Gladys Knight, Brenda Holloway, Diana Ross, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Murdock, Denise LaSalle, well…if Gladys had to cry sometime because of a breakup with her man, I cried with her instead of for her. If Aretha was extolling the virtues of Dr. Feelgood, I was happy with her, not for her.

And yet, that old-school music has an enduring quality. I’ve seen plenty of appreciative posts on YouTube from those in my generation as well as those in generations behind me, who heard these songs while growing up with their parents and/or grandparents. At the end of the day, what songs stand up to the test of time? If they do, why?

Today’s review takes a different turn, in the form of Nothing Can Tear Us Apart by Wyatt O’Brian Evans. Wesley Laurence Kelly is a well-built, 5’10”, 208 lb., 44-year-old African-American success story. Sweat, hard work, and a gift as a stand-up comedian have garnered him a diversified business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the life style to accompany it. Although on the inside he craves that committed, ride-or-die, loving relationship with another man, his recent relationships were in the red on the profit-and-loss statement of love.

Until one day…

In the process of interviewing for chief of security at Wesley’s estate in the metro D.C. area, in walks 30-year-old Antonio Miguel Rios, Jr., a Puerto Rican, 6’4″, 280 lb., bodybuilder hotty. Needless to say, Antonio’s impressive resume and credentials (besides the fact that he sent Wesley into heat) landed him the position. The chemistry is palpable, and of course, they can only hold out for so long. Aside from the boss/employee dynamic, there is the matter of insecurities, which causes Wesley to put forth one excuse after another for why they can’t be together. Even when Antonio shoots them all down, Wesley’s fear of actually getting what he’s wanted so badly nearly costs him his opportunity with Antonio.

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Antonio’s father has a grudge against African-American men and 1950s ideas of what makes a man a man, deliberately out to drive a wedge between the couple on Wesley’s first visit. Despite Antonio’s constant professions of love, his reluctance to stand up for Wesley in the clinch is more than Wesley can take. A blowout of an argument ensues, which subsequently leads to a reconciliation–for the time being.

A brush with death is a wake-up call for Antonio Rios, Sr., and Wesley is welcomed into the family as Antonio Jr.’s boyfriend. Unfortunately, Wesley’s best friend Lonzo, a recovering alcoholic, is faced with a cheating, manipulative, controlling boyfriend. Also, Wesley has some enemies. Stir into the cauldron Antonio’s insecurities, his jealousy, his temper, shady clients, vindictive cops, underworld denizens, and a recipe for disaster is on boil–in the form of domestic assault.

Wyatt drives the point home in no uncertain terms with Wesley and Antonio; there is no excuse for abuse. By introducing the assault first and telling the story in flashback, he takes us through the journey of a dark side of romance, how the good turned bad. In this story, abuse isn’t just physical; Lonzo and Eriq’s relationship illustrates emotional and psychological abuse. Reading the novel brought this awareness home to me: domestic violence between same-sex couples hasn’t been taken seriously by authorities. Abuse is abuse, no matter who is involved. On the other hand, thank you, Wyatt, for a character who refuses to be a victim.

The author’s vivid descriptions of the couple’s passionate love and the equally passionate descriptions when the rollercoaster plunges downhill will take you for quite a ride–and leave you thinking when it’s over. It’s there on the shelf of your local Amazon/Barnes and Noble library, waiting for you.