December 1, 1955

The following is a repost of one of my previous blogs, in commemoration of this day:

In this day and age, we remember December 1 as World AIDS Day. Even with the medical advances made in treating HIV and AIDS, it still impacts people around the globe, particularly people of color. In the height of the fear, ignorance, and paranoia of the 1980s, I attended more funerals than I care to remember. Back then, if you were so diagnosed, it was an automatic death sentence–just get in the checkout line and wait to die.

I also remember celebrities who made a positive difference in the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, who challenged those notions. Persons such as Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson stood as advocates in the fight against this disease, and commendations are the least that can be given, not to mention the countless number of unsung heroes who continue to make a difference today.

However, I think of this day for a different reason, one that goes back to the events that unfolded on December 1, 1955.

In Montgomery, Alabama, segregation was the status quo. Ridership of public transportation was predominately Black, yet whites sat in the front of the buses while Blacks sat in the rear. The middle section was a buffer zone: though Blacks could sit there, they had to give up their seat if the “whites only” section was filled and a white passenger wanted it. To add to the absurdity, Black passengers could not sit across the aisle from white passengers.

At the time, Rosa McCauley Parks was a 42-year-old seamstress and a secretary for the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter. On that day, with the “whites only” section full, the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white man. For Rosa, with the memory of
Emmett Till’s lynching on her mind, enough was enough, and she said, “No.” She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

That event set into motion a year-long boycott of the Montgomery bus system, which was led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. On December 21, 1956, Rosa took her seat in the front of the bus. It set the stage for the modern-day civil rights movement,  a movement that was ultimately for all people. Though Rosa and her husband, Raymond Parks, moved to Detroit, her activism continued. Upon her death on October 24, 2005, her body lay in honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

It was one of the high points of my life, as well as humbling, to meet Rosa Parks in Atlanta in 1992. If I didn’t know who she was, to look at her one would see a petite, pleasant, unassuming woman who could easily be someone’s grandmother or great-grandmother. And yet, I looked into the face of a woman who changed the course of history. An ordinary woman who did something extraordinary.

To anyone who says that their vote won’t count or they can’t make a difference: even if you weren’t born yet, remember this day and remember Rosa Parks. She only said one word, and it brought about change. What more can you do to make a difference, wherever you are? We still have a long way to go, and we never know how our lives will touch others.

 

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” — Rosa Parks

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second home

For many of us growing up, as children we would have a “second home.” It could be the beach, the park, the woods, a clubhouse, the basketball court, the YMCA/YWCA, and the like. For me, my second home was a place of endless wonder–the library.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, my love of reading comes from my father. Of course, my early reading was largely illustrated, yet I knew I had a passion for the way authors paint pictures with words before I could articulate what that meant.

Receiving my first library card was comparable to being given the combination to Fort Knox. A world of stories awaited me for the simple price of a checkout. I’m sure most libraries attract their share of children through the media of DVDs, CDs, computers and computer games today, but back then, as a child of the 1950s and early 1960s, it was all about the written word–books, newspapers, periodicals. Given my hearty reading appetite, it wasn’t unusual for me to check out a huge stack of books up to my chin. I can imagine that folks wondered what was up with this child walking home with all those books. Ma and Dad shook their heads good-naturedly, knowing that I would read every book before the due date to ensure I could check out another stack.

As I grew older, I enjoyed reading authors who wrote series, and I would become invested with the characters with each new installment of the series. I loved humor, whodunits, biographies, autobiographies; these days romance is also on my list. In high school, when I had free time, I was on a first-name basis with the librarians.

At the time, the main library in downtown Minneapolis also had another perk: a planetarium, a great way to relax and rest my mind for an hour. It started off with school field trips, and the visits continued into my adulthood. And of course, after the planetarium show, I’d walk over to the library for books.

The college library served as the place where students did their research and homework in order to write the endless papers for classes, but I still took time for recreational reading. This was a time when I started asking questions. In my fictional reading, I found myself asking, “Where are the books that feature characters who look like me?” This was a time when colleges were only beginning to have Black Studies as part of the curriculum, including literature written by Black authors, poets, and playwrights.

Toni Morrison said, “If there is a story you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written, you must be the one to write it.” As a Black, gay, independent author, this quote is priceless. It falls right in line with something my father would do; rather than complain about the lack of representation, write the stories yourself.

Today, I am pleased to announce that my Christopher Family Novel series is part of the Hennepin County Library collection, the largest collection in Minnesota. For one who loves the library, it is gratifying to see my work on its shelves, to share my stories with others. The nine-year-old me is grinning from ear to ear.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A magical lake house for a second chance, Cheryl

These past fall days have been gorgeous, and it’s been a blessing to enjoy them. Today, in addition to my time outdoors, I watched what I consider a classic in Black cinema: Stormy Weather, released by 20th Century Fox in 1943. The musical was a showcase for the entertainers of that time, and it immortalized Lena Horne. It was amazing to have all that talent in one film, one of the rare movies produced by a major film studio starring an all-Black cast. We have many celebrities of color today, and we still have a long way to go. However, seeing our predecessors onscreen such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, “Fats” Waller, Dooley Wilson, Cab Calloway, Ada Brown, the Nicholas Brothers–truly amazing, and a DVD that will be a part of my collection.

Granted, the movie was a product of its time, given certain stereotypes that went with it, unlike Oscar Micheaux, a Black filmmaker of the day. On the other hand, when Lena Horne came to Hollywood, she was the secret weapon of the NAACP. Her father, Teddy Horne, made it plain to the studio execs that she would not play the stereotypical roles given to Black actresses; she would play herself, and she did. For those who think music videos are a current phenomenon, back in those days, they were called “soundies,” which Lena appeared in before she debuted in feature-length movies. Her first movie, Panama Hattie, wasn’t shown to white southern audiences until her scenes were removed from it. Her two subsequent movies, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, resonated with Black audiences in the ’40s–the importance of seeing faces that look like your own.

That being said, I’d love to share my reflections on today’s romance novel, Cheryl Barton’s The Lake House. Danielle Fenton and Gannon Wilcox were high school sweethearts, their families being friends of long standing. In their college days, however, Danielle broke things off with Gannon for greener pastures. What she got was crabgrass, in the form of her now ex-husband. Controlling and merely wanting her as arm candy, he was a manwhore who slogged her name through the mud with women and children out of wedlock. Gannon, smarting from his breakup with Danielle, later married a scheming, conniving woman who denied him the one thing he wanted most: children, pretending she was infertile while secretly taking birth control pills.

Years later, thankfully divorced from those losers, Danielle and Gannon, unbeknownst to one another, take some time off to regroup at their respective families’ lake houses. Said homes are on adjoining property, and the source of happier days for them as a couple long ago. Will Danielle get past her guilt for dumping Gannon and making the biggest mistake of her life? Will the summer at the lake house work its magic and heat up the embers of their old flame? Will their exes finally receive the memo that they’ve been kicked to the curb permanently?

From the time they met again at this magical spot, I was rooting for Danielle and Gannon. Cheryl Barton set a pace and flow that gradually reunites the couple, rediscovering what made them special even after messy breakups in their personal lives. Sure, they had family members that wanted nothing more than to see them together again, yet I as a reader felt like I was a part of their private world at the lake house, and I loved it.

For your reading enjoyment, The Lake House is available at your local branch of the Amazon/Barnes & Noble library, waiting for you to experience the magic.

 

 

In search of…

Like most authors who are serious about taking their writing to another level, at a certain point in the publishing process the services of a professional editor come into play. After all, this is my work, and my desire is for it to represent well. Of course, before I even hire an editor, it is up to me to do my share of editing and proofreading first. One of my personal quirks? I tend to think faster than I write/type, hence I often wind up skipping words. I can figure out what the word is when I review the context of the sentence. Still, it is something ongoing that I work on.

There are many blogs and websites regarding editors, whether for traditional publishing or independent authors. Theirs is a valuable service for us as authors, and in the best scenario it becomes a partnership. That being said, I would like to share my own experiences in the search for a professional editor.

As an independent author, the single biggest business expense in the process is the editing. Many seeking to be published have been discouraged by the costs of this service, so it is beneficial to shop around for one who best fits your budget and specific needs. States have websites and organizations listing freelance editors and their services. Referrals and word-of-mouth are also great sources, especially from other writers; this was the route I ultimately chose.

A good fit between author and editor is also determined by the genre(s) the editor works with; they must be in line with your vision. If you’re a romance author and the prospective editor only does horror…not a good fit. To get a feel for their editing style, I asked the editors I was vetting for a sample edit. In this process, I received a taste of their reliability. Were their responses timely? Did they follow up? Did they do what they promised to do? Were they available for the questions I subsequently had?

As an African American, LGBT author who writes about African American characters, one criterion stood at the top of the list when considering an editor: cultural sensitivity. The editor of my first novel was African American, so that wasn’t an issue. However, the vast majority of professional editors are white. As such, the nuances that African Americans bring to stories can easily be missed, and our stories pay the price for it. To my brothas and sistahs out there, these are questions I learned to ask up front: What does cultural sensitivity mean to you? Have you had experience editing novels about cultures different from your own? Have you worked with authors of color? At the end of the day, it’s my book and my story. When it comes to matters that are culturally specific, I’m the expert.

It’s a learning process for both author and editor. Their work has tweaked my novels in the right ways to make them stronger and more polished, ready for publishing and release. I, in turn, have broadened the editor’s scope with my own unique voice and observations. For independent authors, a successful collaboration of author and editor can make for a long-term partnership.

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Destiny called, and Sharon answered

I love summer, and July is my favorite month. One of the items on my bucket list is to see more of my home state–one can only see so much in the Twin Cities metro area, and Minnesota is one of the larger states. Driving in my car on the open road is not only pleasurable, but it has also given me some of my best ideas for my novels.

Two years ago, I finally made it up to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Yes, it’s a tourist spot, but it’s still gorgeous. Last year, it was the North Shore highway along Lake Superior to the Canadian border. This year, I drove up to Bemidji, Beltrami County seat, aka Paul Bunyan country. Would you believe that the county has 400+ lakes? From there, after traveling through miles of forest and lakes, I stopped in Grand Rapids; any Judy Garland fan out there knows that it is her birthplace. Next to the house is the Judy Garland Museum, filled with memorabilia from her life and career, such as the Emerald City carriage, the gingham dress she wore as Dorothy, and replicas of the ruby slippers. On my return trip, the highway took me around Mille Lacs Lake, with fishermen and boats galore. I haven’t made it to International Falls (or as Rocky and Bullwinkle call it, Frostbite Falls) yet, but it’s certainly doable for another trip.

July has also been a productive month for me as an author. Never Give Up is ready for  the next stage of the publishing process, with its release scheduled for December. The first draft of one of my WIPs, The Right to Be, has been completed. The second, To Thine Own Self, is well on its way to completion. In addition, I have written the beginning and ending to another novel, plus the outline. That being said, here’s a shout-out to my writing community on Twitter. Your support and creative energy are awesome!

 

For this blog, I give you a nonfictional work; specifically, a biography. Written by Sharon Botts Garth, When Destiny Calls: Living Life With Purpose is the story of her grandfather, Rev. Henry Botts, Sr., who became pastor of Zion Baptist Church, one of the prominent Black churches in the history of Minneapolis.

Born in 1875 near the end of Reconstruction in Missouri, Henry Botts’ life is one of strength, service, perserverence and a life lived by spiritual values, not only in the pulpit, but through the ways he engaged with his parishioners and his community. Though he was subjected to the challenges which faced African Americans during those times, he wasn’t defined by them. Sharon takes us through Reconstruction, the Great Migration, setting down roots in north Minneapolis, his assuming the position as Zion Baptist’s pastor in the 1920s, the civil rights era, the growth of the Black community in the Twin Cities, and on through to his death in 1967.

As a native of the Twin Cities, the historical aspects of life for African Americans here struck home. In comparison to other major urban areas, the Twin Cities Black population (northside Minneapolis, southside Minneapolis, and the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul) was tiny, and it was subject to the practice of redlining until the final version of the Open Occupancy Law was passed in 1969. Sharon beautifully illustrates the pivotal role the churches played in the unity and survival of the community, as well as the preparation for succeeding generations as adults and citizens. Those roles are as vital today as they were then, perhaps even more so.

 

I have often said, “If we don’t share our stories, who will?” Thank you, Sharon, for sharing the legacy of your grandfather, Rev. Henry G. Botts, Sr., and the life lessons he handed down to us. And for those of you who are intrigued by another unique voice of Black history in the urban Midwest, look no further than your Amazon or AuthorHouse library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day…

IMG_0553At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. And I for one am a major lover of romance novels, my favorite recreational reading. Some love stories are tender and sweet, some are hard-won, others are rolling-on-the-floor funny. And of course, they all have a happily-ever-after (or HEA) for the couples. With every author whose work I read in this genre, the first question that comes to my mind is, “What road will the couple travel to reach their HEA?” After that, I fasten my seat belt for the journey.

When it comes to writing my romance novels, I love the quote from the late E. Lynn Harris: “Write the books you want to read.” Of course, they are about Black male couples, with my own particular flavor. For those who are also writing these stories, more power to you. They need to be told.

June, of course, is Pride Month. This month has significance to me on a personal note, since last Friday was my wedding anniversary. Online, I have seen photos of Black male couples and some during their weddings, which is a welcome change. It’s also great to see such men as they raise their children together. What I wish to add to the mix are representations of brothas of a certain age, those of us seasoned individuals whose marriages have stood the test of time. That being said, I would like to share my story of the road to an HEA.

Eleven years ago, I was a single father with an 8-year-old son. It was imperative to set a positive, authentic example for him as an LGBT man of color, hence by that time he knew. The dating game at 56 is somewhat different than it was at 26, especially when one has a child. In prayer, I examined what I had to bring to the table as well as the qualities I looked for in a spouse. Not that I needed someone to complete me–God already took care of that. Someone who adds to the happiness I already had–that was the ticket. Shortly afterwards, my son came up to me and said, “Daddy, I’m going to find you a husband.” What can one say to that?

Interestingly enough, my little matchmaker did play a pivotal role in the events. Almost a year later, after church service ended, I walked downstairs to Fellowship Hall–and there he was. That moment when you lay eyes on your soulmate, and you know that you know that you know. As it turned out, he had seen my son before he saw me, but hadn’t made the connection.

From there, it was introductory conversation, mingling with other church members while exchanging looks across the room, and a long phone call that evening. Two months later, with my son/co-conspirator, I proposed to him in church, which was accepted. Back then, there were only a handful of states where we could be legally married, so we worked out the logistics.

The weekend before our wedding was also the weekend I first met my in-laws (go figure), and the equality state decided upon fell in between. My fiancé had already been smoked out by my family. Meeting his family was a whirlwind, and they fell in love with my son. Before we left the next day to tie the knot, my mother-in-law and I had a beautiful heart-to-heart.

The planning for this event had gone without a hitch, but for one little thing: when we left home, we forgot the ring! Upon arrival to get our marriage license, and an hour to go before meeting our justice of the peace, my family made a mad dash to K-Mart for a pair of rings to tide us over.

Trust and believe, we videotaped this journey, and our son videotaped our marriage ceremony. The biggest lesson we learned from the experience was the importance of having faith. One of the parts of the ceremony, in addition to saying our vows, has always stayed with me: “Marriage is not just having the right partner; it’s being the right partner.” At 57, I could claim both.

Having enjoyed our anniversary at one of our favorite restaurants, I’m here to say that brothas of a certain age can and do find love, one that does stand the test of time, if you are lined up on the right frequency to receive it and committed to do the work (that’s right, there’s work involved). And yes, the things you said and did to get him are the same things you must keep right on saying and doing to keep him. Growing old with my husband, watching our son become a young man, sharing memories and making new ones–it’s all about the love.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

 

 

What a difference 50 years makes

IMG_1158I may have celebrated Pride at my alma mater last month, but now it’s officially here, and with it the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. All the groundwork that many unsung LGBT people did in the 1950s led up to that catalytic moment in time where the patrons of the Stonewall Inn said, “Enough is enough.” People of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played a significant role in the riots. They no longer rolled over and played dead. They fought back. They knew that the only way they would get respect was to demand it.

Scare tactics such as raids on bars, harassment, blackmail, and putting one’s name in the newspaper as an arrestee held many in fear of living their truth. Stonewall was the first step in changing that. Taking the energy from those nights, it was channeled, transformed into organization and the founding of the Gay Liberation Front. One year later, the first Pride parades/marches took place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This was the first step to visibility for the LGBT community and the right to be, regardless of who we love.

As an African-American high school senior in 1969, this event told me I wasn’t “the only one.” I was tired of trying to be something I wasn’t. I learned about other LGBT teens in my high school only after we graduated. What images I did see on TV and in magazines, at the time, had me questioning, “I’m gay, but where are the brothas and sistahs in the movement?” Once I came out a year later, I’d come across some on weekends at the clubs, but they were more likely to be found at the “safe space” of house parties and in church. I knew nothing about luminaries such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, Samuel Delany or Bruce Nugent. For all intents and purposes, they were invisible in my life until after I was out, hungry for role models. Even in other social movements of the times such as the civil rights movement, LGBT brothas and sistahs were there making a difference, and yet invisible.

IMG_1334Fifty years later, the LGBT community has made positive changes in minds, hearts, and laws. Somewhere along the way, I became the role model I wished I’d had when I was 18. My family life–which now includes husband and son– debunks the myth that gay men are destined to lonely, empty lives. The community I live in, plus the people I surround myself with, is far more welcoming today. I agree with a colleague of mine that the changes are happening faster and faster. And yet, there is still much work to do. I’ve talked with younger LGBT members who know little about the significance of Stonewall and the reason we celebrate Pride, less still of the role people of color played in it. Those of us who lived through those times can make it relevant to today’s generations by sharing our stories when we have the opportunities to do so. After all, owning our truth, authenticity, integrity, personhood and dignity make for compelling reasons. At the end of the day, somewhere, a child is watching our lives. What will we give back, and pay forward?

I will be sharing more of my Very Short Stories from back in the day in remembrance. Before I do, I would like to give a shout-out to three authors for their gifts, as well their recently released and upcoming works:

Adriana Herrera–American Fairytale, American Love Story

LaQuette–Under His Protection, the Harlem Heat series

Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar– In Case You Forgot

 

And now, here are some poems  and Very Short Stories from those days of “Hot Fun in the Summertime”:


 

Power to the people

1972

my mustache

your full beard

full Afros

and bold dashikis

for social justice

and direct action

 

At the end of the day

hearts and bodies

intertwined in bliss

the power of love

kept us together

forever

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

Chicago

1973

Terrence

didn’t know before

’til that night

at South Shore house party

workin’ the Bop

on the dance floor

 

Spinners posed the question

could it be

that I’m falling in love

with you

my heart

knew

the answer

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

Back in the day, a great DJ knew when to bring the music up–and when to bring it down. Nothing cryptic involved. And Hakim welcomed the slower intimacy of dance with Kenneth to Their Song: “Betcha By Golly Wow.”

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

“My, my, my,” Jayson purred when Maceo emerged from the steamy mist of the sumptuous bathroom. The phrase “Go big or go home” took root in a pocket of his mind. Maceo was big, all right. And Jayson had no intentions of going home.

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

DeAnthony had bawled with Marilyn McCoo and “One Less Bell to Answer” when he was dumped. That was two years ago. Now, he marveled at how the love of a good brotha like Deion wiped every tear away.

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

The sepia sketch of us as young brothas from 1975 stirs the embers of my heart. How we clicked on that first date, talked all night long. I season his breakfast of sausage, grits, and scrambled eggs with love. Opposites may attract, but similars stay together.

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

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