Ohana prevails, Remmy

Thank you, Carter G. Woodson, for being the visionary behind Black History Month. Of course, Black History Month 2019 isn’t complete without those of us who stand at the intersection of Black and LGBT. Today, we have out and proud celebrities such as Jason Collins, Lee Daniels, Wanda Sykes, Kelvin Atkinson, Jussie Smollett, Laverne Cox, Sampson, Paris Barclay, Azmarie Livingston, RuPaul, Angela Davis, Frank Ocean, Azealia Banks, Don Lemon, Johnny Mathis, E. Denise Simmons, Emil Wilbekin, Raven-Symone, Andre Leon Talley, L.Z. Granderson, to name a few.

We also have our LGBT authors and poets that paved the way for us, inspired us to be the best we can be today. Our legacy includes such brothas and sistahs as Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Jewelle Gomez, Lorraine Hansberry, Ann Allen Shockley, Janet Mock, Joseph Beam, E. Lynn Harris, Essex Hemphill, Assotto Saint, Dawn Lundy Martin, Anita Cornwell, Mike Warren, bell hooks, Nella Larsen, Toni Newman,  Angelina Grimke, Samuel Delany, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Wallace Thurman, Sapphire, Cheryl Clarke, Ricky Laurentiis, James Earl Hardy, Terrance Dean, Frederick Smith, Stanley Bennett Clay, Wyatt O’Brian Evans, Jacqueline Woodson, Melvin Dixon, and more. Some in our past were able to boldly live and speak their truth through their words; others couldn’t. All, however, have lent their unique voices to the literary history of this month. I honor them as such, and encourage you to check out their work.

That being said, His Light in the Dark by Remmy Duchene caught my eye and my rapt attention. In the M/M romance genre, Remmy stands out as an author who features multicultural romance and male couples of color in her work. Set in Toronto, we see Maxim Hagan, a 37-year-old Jamaican officer who has returned home from a tour of duty after a roadside bomb leaves him with permanent damage to his leg and PTSD. At an early age, Maxim’s douchebag of a father walked out on him, his mother and his younger brother Trajan, leaving him with psychological scars and a distorted sense of responsibility. Choosing the military rather than college to lessen the financial burden on his mother, he also sought it as a means to run from his sexuality and the trunks of guilt and shame he’s been carrying around for years. With the help of Trajan, Maxim opens an auto repair shop. His pride makes him reluctant to accept help, but Trajan prevails.

Enter onto the scene Ethan Garrick, an out-and-proud, thirty-something Black gay man who is a graphic designer. In fact, Ethan is the one who designs the logos for Maxim’s auto shop. With his parents divorced and deceased, Ethan lives with the disappointing news that they never wanted kids, that he was the result of a drunken “accident.” Sure, his parents were there, but only up to a point, and he craves that sense of family and a good man.

Through mutual friends Libby, Bane and Kono, Maxim and Ethan meet. For Ethan, the heat was on the moment he laid eyes on Maxim, but his gaydar was malfunctioning. Maxim, with his deeply closeted psyche, didn’t make the process easy for him, leaving Ethan constantly guessing, “Is he or isn’t he?” To Maxim, Ethan represented his greatest fear and his greatest desire rolled up into one irresistible package. For someone whose sex life consisted of occasional, random hookups, a man like Ethan, who wanted more, terrified him. Yes, the fear factor and self-worth issues were in full bloom at the thought of coming out.

The pull of Maxim is strong. Drawing him out about his past and finally having him admit that he’s gay made root canal work look like a picnic. Ethan, however, sees something special in this broken man, more than Maxim sees in himself. They can’t seem to stay away from each other, and Ethan is OK with the idea of a dirty little secret–until he becomes one.

Even with the love of family and friends, Maxim is in a prison of his own making because of the fear factor; there’s an adage out there that says, “The darker you are, the harder it is to come out.” However, through the baby steps and the times they behaved like idiots, Maxim and Ethan win their HEA, and Maxim realizes that Ethan is his ride-or-die guy.

Since this romance novel features a Black male couple, I applaud Remmy for challenging a belief that, in M/M romance, a Black gay man with the masculine bent of Maxim is always a dominant top. Maxim and Ethan’s evolving love life is, in all probability, closer to the truth. If you’re looking for steam and heat, His Light in the Dark has it in abundance; of particular note is a scene involving a Corvette. At the end of the day, it also embodies the spirit of family and unconditional love, and that accepting help is also the mark of a strong man.

In the spirit of Black History Month, all you M/M romance lovers, this is a novel well worth checking out at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.

He earned his promotion, Patricia

Contrary to what I was led to believe when I was a young man, the writing community I found on Twitter has proven to be a supportive one. Each author possesses his/her/their unique voice and gift. It is a community where writers support and encourage one another. We have different ideas and definitions of success. It’s great that in the universe, we aren’t all pursuing the same things–there is abundance instead of scarcity. As an author, when it comes to advice and tips, I’ve learned to take what I like and leave the rest, to use what works for me. I will always be a work-in-progress. At the end of the day, I am satisfied knowing that I have written the books I want to read, and there is a reading audience out there who wants to hear my story.

I love trailblazers, and Mae West was one of them. She wasn’t pretty by Hollywood starlet standards, and she was 40 when she debuted in movies. However, she was memorable for her unique blend of sex and comedy. She was also a playwright. Her play, Diamond Lil, became the movie She Done Him Wrong in 1933. Mae West was probably the first actress to have both script control and creative control of her movies, virtually unheard of for a woman back then. Filled with healthy doses of double entendres and sexual innuendo, the movie may have brought about the Hays Code, but it saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy. How many of you out there remember this famous line of hers: “Come up sometime and see me. I’m home every evening.”

That being said, I recently finished Patricia A. Knight’s historical romance novel, Husband For Hire, which heartily appeals to my love of romance in Regency-era England. Lady Eleanor Russell, only child of the Earl and Countess of Rutledge, has a dilemma. Having been an independent woman when it came to the affairs of the family estate and an avid horsewoman, she is now (gasp!) 30 and unmarried. This wouldn’t have been a big deal for her, but for one pesky detail; when her father dies, the state takes everything due to the lack of a male heir. Being a resourceful woman, Eleanor takes the reins and conducts the 19th century version of a job interview, with salary and benefits, to fill this unexpected position of husband–in name only, of course.

Enter twenty-something Lord Miles Everleigh, third son of the Duke of Chelsony. The embodiment of tall, dark and handsome (or as Mae West would say, “warm, dark and handsome”), Miles comes with some baggage of his own. Thanks to Edgar, his older, odious, obnoxious, skinflint of a half-brother, he has been struggling to make ends meet. Said brother, who currently holds the title of Duke of Chelsony, has also made Miles’ mother’s life miserable. His younger brother Edmund, known as Ned, has a gambling problem, and the enforcers are breathing down his neck. Having been the paramour of his share of older widows in high society, Miles is tired of this life style and being looked down upon by Edgar as a manwhore. Despite the challenges, Miles cares deeply for the welfare of his mother and his younger brother.

Eleanor is far from a simpering, shrinking violet. She is opinionated, independent and a bit prickly, which suits Miles. They share a common bond of their love of horses. He agrees to the terms of his new position–sort of. What he never took into account was falling in love with his wife, and his determination to win her love. Apparently, everyone knows he loves her–everyone but Eleanor.

Between a disastrous wedding night, dangerous creditors, intrusive representatives of the Crown, and meddling/matchmaking relatives, Miles and Eleanor navigate their way to a sweet, passionate and loving HEA. All in all, a most satisfying read, and I appreciated the context of a love match between an older woman and a younger man.

Readers, I also recommend the supplements following Husband For Hire; they are eye-opening and informative. But first, you’ll have to go to your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library to check out this book.

Frederick, the PBC has struck again

Here we are, January in Minnesota. Interestingly enough, there’s sunshine and a spring thaw in the air–go figure. I recently spent time in remembrance of another of my favorite songstresses who has gone on to glory: none other than Nancy Wilson. If you had never had a ringside table to hear her perform, you missed out on a treat.  I had such an opportunity, and like Aretha, it was an experience I’ll always remember. Many songs play on my mind when I think of her: “How Glad I Am,” “All In Love is Fair,” “You Can Have Him,” “Do You Still Dream About Me,” and her famous you’re-busted song (served cold), “Guess Who I Saw Today.” And now that she’s gone, “A Lady With a Song” has stronger resonance.

One thing about living in Minnesota during the winter months, from this writer’s perspective, is that the time I spend writing is more concentrated than at any other time of the year. I remember well the winters up here back in the day, when the temperature didn’t break 0 for most of January, ones that required me to play the game of “Find Your Car–If You Can” due to the snowfall. Don’t get it twisted, though–summer temperatures here can and do reach 90-100. This is a time, right now, when I’m having fun. I am currently writing two romance novels simultaneously as part of my series of Christopher Family novels, and they are progressing well. Some have asked me if I find it difficult and confusing to do this. That hasn’t been the case, since 1) my characters occupy the same universe and 2) being connected to my family sagas, I created family trees beforehand. Those family tree programs were a godsend! To my fellow writers/authors out there, I acknowledge and respect you for doing what works best for you.

Speaking of authors, I knew I had to start off the year with Frederick Smith’s novel, Play It Forward. This was one of those novels where I sat down to read it, and three hours later I was done. The story is told in the first person by the MC, Malcolm Martin Campbell, set in the Los Angeles of 2009, during Obama’s first year as president and Proposition 8. Malcolm is a 35-year-old, Black gay man transplanted from Indiana. He founded a nonprofit organization called LADS, to mentor and better the lives of Black gay youth and young adults in the city. He is a man of character, and has the determination and commitment to keep the center going despite the challenges, plus good friends like the long-term couple, Kyle and Bernard, who have been there for him.

Malcolm’s taste in men, however, leaves something to be desired. Prior to trading him in for a newer model, his last ex-boyfriend had the bad taste to secretly videotape their sex life and post the videos online, thus placing his position as director of LADS in jeopardy as more and more people see them. On top of that, he receives a call from his sister Marlena, who has had it with her reckless, 19-year-old gay son Blake and is sending him out to L.A. to spend the summer with him.

His unwanted notoriety eventually has him crossing paths with Tyrell Kincaid, a professional basketball player, and Tommie Jordan, an R&B singer. These very public Black celebrities live as a couple in a deep closet, but Tommie’s whoring ways become fodder for media scrutiny in the community. Mix in a ruthless agent, a duplicitous clergyman, and these four lives intersect in ways Malcolm never dreamed of.

Welcome to Hollywood, land of fantasy and illusion, where nothing is what it appears to be, and dreamers so often come there only to have their dreams crushed.  Even those who “make it” find not freedom, but a life buried under the weight of control and image.  Through the character of Malcolm, Frederick Smith illustrates with skill the issues and challenges Black gay men face in striving to live an authentic life, even for someone who is a role model. I applaud him for showing that though Malcolm may have been down at some point, he was never out. His story provided hope, as well as love.

Yes, 2009 was a mere 10 years ago, and major changes in the landscape have taken place. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. African-American sports and entertainment celebrities like Jason Collins, Michael Sam and Frank Ocean came out. Nevada State Senator Kelvin Atkinson came out and married his longtime partner, Sherwood Howard. Marriage equality is now the law of the land. A sitting president became an ally for LGBT rights.

That being said, thank you, Frederick, for letting us know what still needs work. And for those of you who are dying to know what PBC stands for, you’ll have to check out his work at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.

 

45+? Jacki and Jill, give it to us

Yes, I own it. I can easily get into movies like Soul Food, Sounder, Lady Sings the Blues, Stormy Weather and Dreamgirls, as well as books by James Baldwin, Alex Haley, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frederick Smith and James Earl Hardy. I also own my affinity for the UK. My husband and I got up in the middle of the night here to witness the weddings of William and Kate and Harry and Meghan. I recently watched the Harry Potter movie series–again. My house is Gryffindor, and I identify with Albus Dumbledore since, like me, he was a gay man of a certain age.

When I was in my teens, The Avengers was one of my must-see TV shows–Diana Rigg definitely knew how to kick butt! Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders are among my favorite mysteries when it comes to my viewing enjoyment. British whodunits get me every time. As for my writing habits, I took a page from Agatha Christie and write the beginning and ending of my novels first. And on my bucket list is a vacation to London.

That being said, my latest must-read is 45 and Holding, a collaboration by Jacki James and Jill Wexler. Who says romance novels are only for twenty-something characters? In this novel of M/M romance, the MCs are 45. Craig Baker, part owner of the Posh Paw Pet Spa and Resort, is experiencing that dreaded phenomenon known as a midlife crisis, which is manifesting itself by buying a new Jeep and obsessing over whether or not to get a tattoo. Scott Anderson is a widower going through the rite of passage us parents experience: the Empty Nest Syndrome, now that his daughter, Claire, has gone off to college.

Let’s face it, the dynamics for dating are different when you’re in your 40s, one of them being far more life experience under your belt. This shows up in the spot-on Midlife Musings at the start of each chapter. Scott and Craig meet at a dog-training session. As it turns out, they were high school classmates, but unlike second-chance romances they only knew of each other back then. The arc of the story shows us how they become friends, and progress to lovers. Scott, having never been with a man, soon realizes he’s not as straight as he thought he was, and he embraces it. Craig, for all his restlessness, learns that what he really wants is right in front of him–Scott.

What I love most about Scott and Craig’s story is that it was handled with humor, steam and low angst. Claire is wonderfully supportive of her father. There were some challenges, yet they were resolved offstage. Having a middle-aged couple vs. a May-December romance was totally relatable to those of us of a certain age, and I hope to read more stories like this. Love is love, and love is for everyone. The ending made me cry, it was that sweet.

Thank you, Jacki and Jill, for bringing us wonderful mid-life romance. Check out their work on the shelf of your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library. As for me, it’s time to check out another episode of Midsomer Murders. Ah, picturesque countrysides, stately manor houses, quaint villages, ghastly murders…

 

December 1, 1955

In this day and age, we think of 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 in the 1980s, I attended more funerals than I care to remember. Back then, if you were so diagnosed, it was considered 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 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

Ian’s heat, heart and humor

Knives in her nylons. Guns in her minks. What film noir movie worth its salt would be complete without a bad girl (a.k.a. a femme fatale)? Yes, that’s what I’m binge-watching this weekend. It is fascinating to witness these deadly women in action in the movies of the 1940s and 1950s. We’re talking women like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jane Greer in Out of the Past. Their macho leading men simply didn’t stand a chance. Using all the seductive charms of a black widow spider, they lured their prey (oops, I mean men) down the twisted path to death, destruction, or both. Oh–as a special mention, let’s not forget Audrey Totter in Tension.

Granted, given the climate of the times, film noir did show women who wielded a certain kind of power, and for actresses, the role of a villainess was usually the juicier part in such movies. These scheming women wanted something for themselves. Of course, by the end of the movie, the femme fatale winds up dead or in prison. If the production code hadn’t been nailed in place back then, a different ending could have happened in Double Indemnity: Fred MacMurray would have dumped Barbara Stanwyck and gone back to Edward G. Robinson on his knees, begging his forgiveness for cheating on him. That actually was the true love story in the movie, which required us to read between the lines.

On the romantic side, I had the pleasure of reading Ian Finn’s romance novel, Opposing Briefs (and yes, the MCs do get into each other’s briefs!). This is M/M romance of the enemies-to-lovers variety. Logan Daniels is an attractive, well-built man in his early thirties, an assistant district attorney for New York County, out and proud, cares about his friends, passionate about his causes, and advocate of justice for the everyman. His love life, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Given his track record with his last boyfriends, matchmaking guru Patti Stanger would most likely say, “Your picker is off.” Or could it be that, being a child of divorce, he is so afraid of getting hurt that he mentally sabotages himself?

On the other side of the courtroom aisle, we have Andrew Patterson. 6’5″, in his late thirties, practically built like Superman, cool, calm, confident in the courtroom.  Did I also mention jaw-dropping handsome? Alas, Andrew is a defense attorney whose clients are entitled, white-collar criminals who care only about money, themselves, and making things go away. Needless to say, losing a case to Andrew does nothing to endear Logan, and having Andrew’s law firm as a competitor in the New York City Marathon only makes the animosity worse.

A look behind the curtain, however, reveals Andrew’s personal life as a hot mess. A controlling, golddigging wife, a homophobic boss, emotionally distant and controlling parents. Put it in the oven, set for 350 degrees, and the result: a repressed man in a climate-controlled closet complete with a security code. That is, until he falls in love with Logan.

It’s true, in the course of true love a person has to “look under the hood,” be willing to be vulnerable, and examine themselves. In that process, they find strength. Ian Finn does this with heat (there’s an abundance of that), heart, and humor. Logan and Andrew certainly got by with a lot of help from friends like Matt, Brooke, and Amanda. The growth of the couple was satisfying, and I was rooting for them at the HEA. I also loved the fact that this was a couple who was thirty-plus.

So, all you M/M romance lovers out there, here’s another one to check out at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.

 

Dwayne reveals the plan

Between writing two M/M romance novels and coming off homecoming weekend at my alma mater, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite movies. Two are in my permanent collection, that I can watch again and again:  All About Eve and Dreamgirls.

I know I’m dating myself, but I ask my LGBT family: how many of you, at some point in time, have used Bette Davis’ famous line, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”? The dialogue and the acting is priceless, and the character of Addison DeWitt comes across as the quintessential vicious queen. Then there is Dreamgirls. I have no doubt that many theaters out there were well represented by Black gay men in the audience when this movie was released. You know who you are.  Like me, you watched Jennifer Hudson, as Effie White, sing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” at the end of Act 1. You weren’t crying for her; you were crying with her. And given the standing ovations in said theaters after this performance, you may have been saying, “Forget the awards show. Just hand Jennifer that Oscar now.”

Included in this visitation was one other movie: Lady Sings the Blues. When it was released in 1972, I was yet a college student, and I have to give Diana Ross her props for her acting chops in this movie; after all, it garnered her a Golden Globe Award. However, there was another reason this movie was so memorable: Billy Dee Williams. Yes, straight men wanted to be him–straight women and gay men wanted to be with him. After that movie come out, the brothas on campus knew better than to badmouth Billy Dee if they wanted to keep on living.

After my movie enjoyment, I came across this jewel by Dwayne Vernon: The Master’s Plan. As one who writes historical fiction, this novel caught my attention. Set in Maryland in 1852, the story centers around three main characters. Sabel and Jacob are slaves in their early thirties. Sabel is a field hand, who witnessed the death of his parents at the hands of white patrollers. Jacob is a house servant, the biracial product of the rape of his mother by the master of the plantation, before she was sent away. The third character is Abigale, enduring the pain of having her husband and children sold, the family she desperately wants back.

The draconian environment and the sheer oppression of the times has spurred Sabel’s determination to run away for good. Jacob’s ability to read and write, considered dangerous if discovered by white overseers, patrollers and plantation owners, is an asset in their plans. Over the course of time, Sabel and Jacob fall in love. Abigale becomes their close friend and comrade-in-arms in their bid for freedom; ultimately, to Canada.

In certain ways, this is a romantic thriller given the perilous times for African Americans and the dangers that lurked around every corner.  Indeed, there were plenty of plot twists as simple plans became more complex while Sabel, Jacob and Abigale navigated the Underground Railroad. A couple of reminders stood out for me: 1) there were many whites who opposed slavery and actively participated as stations on the Underground Railroad and 2) LGBT relationships are nothing new in history, and they existed even among slaves. Looking back from the 21st century, I wonder if I could have survived and endured what they did.

Yes, there is an HEA, and there is a spiritual component that plays out in the lives of the MCs. Dwayne Vernon skillfully weaves his storytelling skills and puts you there. So, you lovers of historical fiction and romance, check this out at your local Amazon/Barnes & Noble library.