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Black History Month, LGBT literary style

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

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

 

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

Riley Hart (rileyhartwrites.com, @RileyHart5)

Giovanna Reeves (giovannareaves.com, @GiovannaReaves)

LaQuette (laquette.com, @LaQuetteWrites)

Christa Tomlinson (ChristaTomlinson.com, @ShockZ314)

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

Avril Ashton (avrilashton.com, @AvrilAsh)

Alyssa Cole (alyssacole.com, @AlyssaColeLit)

Rheland Richmond (rhelandrichmond.com, @RhelandRichmond)

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

Adriana Herrera (adiranaherreraromance.com, @ladrianaherrera)

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

Jack Harbon (jackharbonbooks.com)

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

Xen Cole McCade (blackmagicblues.com)

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

Never Give Up

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of decision?”

“About my work.”

I was puzzled. “What do you mean?”

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

“But how?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Happy Kwanzaa

Habari Gani,

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

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

Umoja (Unity)

Kujichagulia (Self Determination)

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Nia (Purpose)

Kuumba (Creativity)

Imani (Faith)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Believe in dreams and never give up.

 

 

 

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.