The Right to Be: When Davises Meet Arringtons

It is said that our gifts will make room for us, a fact I can testify to in my career as an African American independent author. I can also testify to the fact that it became more apparent when I returned to my roots, in the church where I grew up in south Minneapolis. Once that happened, everything kicked into a higher gear–the publishing, the marketing, the opportunities, the support, etc. Gratitude is also important, for what we give is what we receive.

This month, I had the honor of becoming the newly appointed book review editor for Insight News, a Black community newspaper here in the Twin Cities. I give thanks for this opportunity to pay it forward, to support Black authors and poets. Since African Americans are more likely to be independent authors, representation matters.

That being said, a writer’s work is never done, and the sixth novel in my Christopher Family Novel series, The Right to Be, is nearly ready to be launched. As this is my first full-on male/male romance novel, I am excited to bring my voice to “Romancelandia.” The following is an excerpt from the novel, where Allan and Mickey Davis, sons of music legends Lissa and Michael Davis and grandsons of billionaire mogul Allan Beckley Christopher, have a fateful meeting:

The 4th of July brought with it the time-honored traditions of cookouts, barbecue grills, etc., and the Hendricks-Bell household was no exception. Cousin Wayne and Cousin Theo broke out the Old School funk while everyone pitched in and did the prep work. Cousin Theo, of course, laid claim to his status as grillmaster. While he proceeded to grill the ribs, chicken, hot dogs, and burgers, Jermaine helped his dad with the potato salad, cole slaw, and baked beans. After ensuring there was plenty of ice and refreshments, the others took a rest break in anticipation of a great meal.

“Hey Cuz.” Ronnell sashayed over to the patio where Allan and Mickey were relaxing.

 “Hey. What’s up?” Allan asked.

 “Some friends of mine are having a birthday party over the weekend. Wanna come?”

“Sure.”

“It’s gonna be a barbecue, so dress casual.”

“Are Dylan and Hari gonna to be there?”

“You know they’re in London. They won’t be back for a couple of weeks.”

Mickey took a moment to stretch. “OK. So, who are these friends?”

“Ramsey and Roslyn Arrington. It’s their birthday. Well, their birthday is actually on July 9, but since that’s on a Monday, they’re celebrating it July 8. Their parents know mine. You know how that goes.”

They regarded each other in that quiet understanding of the “parent network.” With school out, Mickey and Ronnell had been blessed with summer positions at Christopher Electronics, while Allan and Jermaine worked at Edwards Enterprises. Not that they needed the money, but their respective parents instilled certain values in them. As such, they weren’t afraid of hard work.

“Where is the party gonna be?”

“At Lake Johanna in Arden Hills. It’s about twenty minutes from here.”

After a confirming nod, Allan replied, “Great. We’re in. Now, where is the nearest fireworks show?”

“It’ll be at Powderhorn Park this evening.” Ronnell looked in the direction of the grill, where his father gave him the high sign. “Hey, Pops is ready. Let’s get our plates.”

With Sunday afternoon traffic, the drive was easy as Ronnell navigated I-35W through Minneapolis in his parents’ forest green Ford Expedition and exited at County Road D, heading into Arden Hills, a small, upscale suburb of St. Paul. Given the 93-degree temperature, the air conditioning was on the maximum setting.

“Where’s Lamar?” Allan asked his cousin.

“He had to do something for his dad. He’s gonna get a ride out here and come back with us.”

Jermaine, who was cuddled up in the back with his boyfriend, Marcellus Green, joined in.  “That’s probably why Daddy and Pops let us use their SUV. This way, everyone can be comfortable. Right, baby?”

Marcellus, who was an amber-complexioned version of Babyface, ran his hand across Jermaine’s smooth cheek affectionately as they rounded Lake Johanna Boulevard. “Better believe it. Hey, isn’t that where we’re supposed to be?”

“Yeah, in the park area.”

“You didn’t tell them about our parents, did you?” Mickey’s voice carried a note of concern.

“Don’t get all paranoid on me, Cuz,” was Ronnell’s answer. “We know the drill.”

The music was conducive to a good time, loud enough to enjoy but short of attracting complaints from local residents as they pulled into a parking space and stepped out. Most of the partygoers were gathered around the large pavilion on the north end of the lake, although some guests brought swimwear and headed over to the beach.

Allan couldn’t miss the look on Mickey’s face when he laid eyes on the young woman holding court at the pavilion. She was a 5’9” hotty, easily a younger version of Nia Long of Soul Food fame.  Dressed for the heat of the day, her matching yellow top and shorts complimented and highlighted her medium brown skin, her shoulder-length black hair styled in twists. Not only that, she was curvy. Definitely his twin’s type.

Mickey normally took it in stride when women threw themselves at him. Already, several young women at the party had given him flirtatious looks and sultry gazes, not to mention discreetly passing him their phone numbers before he even reached the pavilion. The object of his interest, however, wasn’t doing anything—just socializing and enjoying time with her guests. He was mesmerized. “Who is that?” he wondered as Jermaine, Marcellus, and Ronnell approached them.

“Hey Cuzins. Let us introduce you to the guests of honor.” Jermaine brought them over to the gorgeous yet unknown sistah and the young brotha standing next to her.

“Hey, birthday twins,” Ronnell said brightly, giving the honorees a hug.

Jermaine followed suit with, “I’d like to introduce you to some cool dudes in our lives. Ramsey and Roslyn Arrington, these are my cousins, Mickey and Allan Davis. They’re from Chicago.”

Allan barely heard the introductions. His breath was stolen as he looked down and dived into Ramsey Arrington’s stunning brown eyes.  Standing 6’1” at 210 lbs. and dressed in a Timberwolves basketball uniform, Ramsey, like his twin sister, had the looks and charm that made them among the most popular students at Mounds View High School prior to their graduation, according to his cousins. He wore his hair in a low fade and, judging from what Allan could see of his arms, chest, and legs, Ramsey kept himself in outstanding shape. As for his eyes, beautifully set in that gorgeous, medium brown face, they spoke volumes. Most important, he clearly liked what he saw in Allan. He’s checking me out. Yaassss!!

“How do you like Minnesota?” Ramsey asked after greetings were exchanged.

“It’s different, but it’s been growing on us since we’ve been at school here.” Allan hoped his friendly and casual reply would conceal his burning desire to find out if Ramsey’s lips tasted as good as they looked.

“Really? Where?” Roslyn’s eyes didn’t leave Mickey’s.

“We’re at the U of M,” Mickey answered in his most charming voice. “We just finished our freshman year. What about you?”

“Ramsey and I are over at Augsburg College,” Roslyn answered. “High school seems like a breeze compared to college courses. Now we understand why Mama and Daddy stayed on our backs about studying and grades.”

“True. It’s one thing to dream and another to put in the work to achieve the dream.” Ramsey gave Allan a subtle onceover, his eyes twinkling at the sight of Allan’s rainbow bracelet. “You guys hungry? We can fix you a plate.”

“Yeah. Those burgers look awfully good,” was Allan’s reply, confirmed by a nod from his twin. “And Happy Birthday to you.”

When the Arrington twins turned around to prepare the plates, Allan and Mickey’s mouths dropped before they took in a breath; both Roslyn and Ramsey brought meaning to the term bootylicious. They exchanged an intuitive look and immediately knew what they were going to do—get to know them and stake a claim. For Mickey, it was confirmation that the funny New Year’s wish he made back in the Bahamas was coming true. For Allan, every boyfriend he ever had faded into the background in those moments. Thomas who?

For the duration of the birthday party, young women continued to flirt with Mickey, be it discreetly or overtly, in order to gain his attention. Mickey, however, only had eyes for Roslyn and could easily be found wherever she went. Mickey’s attention toward her, to his delight, was reciprocated with the little smiles she cast in his direction.

As for Allan, he made sure he was somewhere near Ramsey, ready to talk with this hot, magnetic guy between his duties as a host and honoree. They wound up being among the last partygoers to leave, but not without Ramsey and Roslyn’s numbers in their cell phones.

“Earth to Mickey, Earth to Allan, come in, come in,” Jermaine teased on the drive back.

“Huh? Oh. Right.” Allan felt a little embarrassed at being caught daydreaming. 

“I bet I know what you’re thinking about—or should I say, who,” Ronnell added knowingly, giving Lamar a conspiratorial grin as they crossed the Mississippi River at downtown Minneapolis. “I saw the way you two were checking each other out.”

“Okay, okay, so I think he’s hot,” Allan admitted. “And maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t really know anything about Sunrise. Maybe that’ll make it easier to…”

“Take him out on a date?” Mickey threw in. 

“I see you’ve come back from the stratosphere, Cuz.” Jermaine smirked as he gave Ronnell a high-five.

“I just know that my brother has a point. As for me….”

“Yes?”

Mickey let out a sigh of the smitten as he recalled their playful flirting at the party. “When it comes to Ms. Roslyn Arrington, I will be in full pursuit mode. But I want her to know who I am before she meets the folks.”

“I know,” Allan agreed. “I get this vibe from Ramsey, the vibe of a guy I’d take home to meet Mom and Dad.”

Ronnell took Lamar’s hand in his free one, wearing the grin of a high-priced matchmaker.  “Looks like you two have it bad. Well, to ease your way and put you out of your misery, here’s a little intel. From what I picked up on at the party, they’re interested in you. But you’ll have to step up your game. They’re just like their parents. If you want to lock them down, you have to show them you’re not just there to hit it and quit it. Trust and believe, they will shut that down with a quickness.”

The twins breathed a sigh of relief and replied with a simultaneous, “Got it.”        

Believe in dreams and never give up.

(c) 2021 by W.D. Foster-Graham

“Be your own artist…”

“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing.” –Aretha Franklin

As an independent Black LGBT/SGL author, this quote has seen me through the times when I would question if I could do this, if I had what it took to be an author/novelist. I have no doubt that most authors have gone through or are experiencing self-doubt and such things as writer’s block and the “imposter syndrome.” However, at the end of the day, it’s how we respond to those situations that counts.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I was in my late 30s when I was inspired to make the transition to published author. Before that, I liked to write short stories as a hobby. As a child, I used my imagination to make up stories about animals. As a college student, I wrote my own flavor of satire for our Black student newspaper. As an adult, some of my short stories were spicy, and others reflected my offbeat sense of humor. Some even were the results of vivid dreams that I had and remembered.

I will always remember the day when a pastor friend of mine planted the seed. For fun, I was making up psychological profiles of imaginary persons, and I shared them with him. His response was, “Why don’t you put these characters into a book?”

Indeed, it was one thing to write short stories and occasionally poetry; writing a full-fledged novel was quite another. It seemed as though so many people had their opinions on what writing style you were supposed to have, how one writes a chapter, rules of grammar in storytelling, what’s trending, and the like. When one is new to this brand of writing, all these conflicting viewpoints can affect your confidence. There is one thing as a writer, however, that makes a difference: the driving force of your passion, as evidenced by such authors as James Earl Hardy, the late E. Lynn Harris, and Toni Morrison.

Following my passion opened windows where doors were shut, gave my imagination free reign to the realm of possibility, and what was a dream some 30 years ago has become the reality of today. I had a story inside me that would not rest until it was told and shared, and I am grateful for that. I learned the importance of finding what is a good fit for me as an author, to turn away from the inner critic in my head and get out of my own way. Writing the books I want to read means writing the books I’m passionate about instead of what I think will sell.

I have read the works of other independent authors, and their work has been first class; to my fellow indie authors, allow no one to tell you otherwise. Through this process, I received the opportunity to become a columnist, and through my original need as a writer I am humbled to have a platform to support other African American authors.

Gone are the days when I thought there was only one game in town and stories by Black authors were limited in supply. Aretha also stated, “If you’re not confident about it, then you shouldn’t be doing it.” Indeed, what we give is what we receive. If you’re confident about yourself and your work, it will show up around you and those you interact with. Your passion will connect with your readers, and your success will come to you, whatever your definition of that is.

Recently, I had the pleasure of being the special guest on the podcast WYATT!, hosted by the amazing and incomparable Renaissance Man, Wyatt O’Brian Evans, from Washington, D.C., and I was one of two guest authors of a panel on literacy on the radio program Conversations with Al McFarlane here in the Twin Cities. Indeed, in being our own artists, with our own unique voices, we never know where our gifts will take us. We can even become someone’s favorite author!

To my brothas and sistahs in the literary universe, let us remember Sister Aretha’s words of wisdom and continue to make a positive difference.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Thanks for having my back

It’s a blessing when, as a writer, you have a support system. It’s great to have a circle of writers, where we can support one another–after all, a winner is someone who also helps others win. To all those out there who call themselves “aspiring writers,” guess what? Once you write, you are a writer, following your passion and continually honing your craft.

It’s even better when your support system includes your family of origin. I have a large extended family who is proud of me and my skill as an author today. One member of my family in particular was there for me from the very beginning: my father.

I am grateful for a vivid imagination, but from him I inherited my offbeat sense of humor, which shows up in my novels. Short stories came out of my ears growing up–or should I say, flew from my mind to a pen/pencil to paper. Receiving a commendation in a state writing contest at 14 was a big deal for me, and he was proud.

When I took the plunge to start a novel in my late 30s, he was the one who encouraged me to become a storyteller. As one who read as much as he did, he was my biggest fan and my biggest critic. He was the one who instilled in me, “Never give up.” If you had the gall to say that African Americans don’t read, you would be on the receiving end of a look that could induce hypothermia.

He passed away eight years ago, but his legacy and his memory are strong in our family. I wish he could be here to see the fruits of my labor and the fruits of my success. I wish we could have our philosophical talks. I wish I could see him light up again whenever his grandson entered a room. Then again, he is here, in my heart, and I can honor his memory by paying it forward.

My brothas and sistahs who are poets and authors, it’s up to us to support each other, to make a positive difference by sharing our stories. There is no limit to what we can create with our unique literary voices and experiences.

May you have someone who has your back, like Dad had mine. One of my cousins looked around one day and wondered, “Where are all the elders?” It was then we realized that they are us.

When you have an opportunity, find a way to pay it forward. Believe in dreams and never give up.

Definition of Success

In my interactions with writers and authors over time, one fact is clear: we have different definitions of what success looks like. For some, it’s having your work included on the New York Times or Amazon bestseller list. For others, it’s a multi-book deal with a traditional publishing house, plus a huge advance. For others, it’s having a ginormous social media following to generate book sales and become an influencer. For others, having your work adapted for the silver screen is the ticket. For me, as an African-American independent author, my personal definition of success is somewhat different.

As with many, writing is my passion. I write because I can’t not write. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I also love to read, and I was encouraged to do so by my father. As such, the public library was my second home. Unlimited stories were stacked on the shelves, waiting to be checked out with my library card. As a kid, it was typical for me to walk home with books up to my chin–and then proceed to read them all in my favorite “reading chair.”

As I grew older, I asked more questions, one in particular: where are the stories with characters who look like me? As a man of a certain age, these words from Toni Morrison come to mind: “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” The late Black gay novelist E. Lynn Harris, whom I had the honor of meeting at his first book signing, said something similar in his appearances. This quote also resonates with the motivation for many BIPOC writers to become independent authors.

That being said, as one who loves the public library, seeing my body of work gracing its shelves is a mark of success. To date, six public library systems have my Christopher Family Novel series included in their collections, as well as the library of my alma mater. Success is having the people who were there for me at the beginning to share it with. Success is having a reader tell me, after reading my work, “I know someone like that,” be it a friend/relative/coworker, or “That happened to me.” Success is making a positive difference for somebody else, in supporting other authors. Success involves paying it forward. Success is both gratifying and humbling. And above all, I give God credit for my success, since He gave me this gift.

30+ years ago, the success I enjoy today was a dream. To the writers/authors out there, whatever your definition of success is, I wish you the best in achieving it.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Never Give Up is live!

IMG_1322There are two key moments common to every published author/poet/playwright. The first is when you completed your work, edited it, and sent it off for a professional edit. The second is the moment you hold the first copy of your work, the fruit of your labor, in your hands. I had that second moment today, and it never gets old.

Today, Never Give Up: A Christopher Family Novel is officially launched. Now that I’m involved in the marketing and promotional side of being an independent author, it’s exciting. The work involved is all part of learning new skills and ideas, discovering what’s a good fit, and connecting with people. It involves putting myself out there. If I don’t speak up, if I don’t stand by my work, who will?

Never Give Up CoverFor those who are wondering where my idea for the title came from, it is a basic lesson I learned as an independent author: never give up. Given the dynamics of the Berry family in my novel, it became one of the family mottos (the other one is, “Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your career”). Today, I think back to when I started writing my first novel over 20 years ago, and the progress I’ve made to where I am today; back then, I never dreamed that I would have five published novels, much less novels that are also part of library collections.

Part of that success involves paying it forward, by supporting other African-American authors. Due to the racism in the traditional publishing industry, it is no surprise that I’ve found more African-American authors who are independent, or they have built their own publishing companies. Here’s to Kujichagulia (self-determination).

No one said the road would be easy. I’ve certainly experienced my share of challenges, both internal and external. Despite that, I love what I do, and I recognize the importance of keeping my “eyes on the prize.” Success has different definitions for everyone; I’m thankful that there’s no “one size fits all.” It’s important to recognize every small success as well as the big ones; those small successes often get a writer through the rough patches. I’ve been in contact with many writers who are dealing with self-doubt, the “imposter syndrome,” etc. We never know where inspiration will come from to deal with these issues; for me, it came from a quote by Aretha Franklin: “Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing.”

For those who supported me during this journey–especially those who have been there from the beginning–know that you are appreciated. For those like myself who have launched a new novel–hey, it’s all worth it.

IMG_1149So yes, my “new baby” whodunit is out there, available at your friendly neighborhood Amazon and Barnes & Noble libraries. Meanwhile, I’m doing the happy dance to some Old School funk (and yes, that photo was me back in the day, when I was dreaming)! Until the next installment, I’m out!

 

At the end of the day, it’s all about the love. Believe in dreams and never give up.