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Yaassss! The Right to Be is live!

Yes, there is a new resident in Romancelandia: The Right to Be: A Christopher Family Novel, the sixth in my series, is live. In previous posts, I have given you excerpts of this work-in-progress. Now, the dream of writing a LGBT-centered romance novel featuring a Black male couple has become the reality I’m holding in my hands for the first time. As an author, the feeling of it is indescribable, something I never get tired of.

In the words of Toni Morrison, “If there is a book you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” My favorite recreational reading? Romance novels, hands down. A friend of mine gave me my first romance novel some 30 years ago, and the rest is history. Between the public library and later Kindle Unlimited, I have had at least one romance novel on hand to read at all times. I’ve read some wonderful stories, but at some point, I did wonder, “Where are the characters who look like me? Where are the couples who look like me?”

In the realm of Black Love in male/female romance, I must thank such authors as Brenda Jackson, Niobia Bryant, Cheryl Barton, and Rochelle Alers. For lesbian romance, I tip my hat to Alyssa Cole and Fiona Zedde. Male/male romance, like lesbian romance, has but few Black residents in Romancelandia, but it’s good to know that such authors as Jayce Ellis, Kevin E. Taylor, Wyatt O’Brian Evans, James Earl Hardy, Stanley Bennett Clay, and Frederick Smith are with us, as well as the late E. Lynn Harris.

Although I had romance elements in the previous novels in my series, The Right to Be marks the first one that is full-on romance. If you have been following the Christopher Family Novel series, expect to see some familiar family members. That being said, get ready to follow Allan Christopher Davis’ journey to true love and happiness.

I have no doubt that there are many of my brothas and sistahs out there who have a romance novel or more in you that needs to be told and shared. I encourage you to write it. Publish it yourself, and allow nothing to stop you from achieving your dream. It’s never too late. You’re not too young or too old. Your representation is valuable and it matters.

I want to take this moment to thank three special people who were there for me from the beginning of this work–my husband, the love of my life, who has had my back, and my son, who gave me pointers for my 20-something main characters, since he is part of their generation. And then there’s Dad, who was my Number One fan and supporter. May he rest in peace and power.

With a guaranteed HEA, The Right to Be now graces the Amazon and Barnes & Noble Library shelves beside its siblings. I wish you happy reading.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

The Right to Be: Black Love is in the air

“If there is a book you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.”–Toni Morrison

It has long been a dream of mine to not only write the books I wished to read, but to write a male/male romance novel. The previous five novels in my Christopher Family Novel series have had LGBT romance elements in them as they pertained to the characters. This upcoming novel in the series, The Right to Be, is the first that is firmly planted in Romancelandia.

I have loved romance novels as recreational reading, from historical Regency romance to contemporary Black Love. When it came to male/male romance, I found it interesting that only 17% of the published books were written by LGBT men. I have enjoyed reading and appreciate authors such as Jayce Ellis, Adriana Herrera, and Christa Tomlinson. At the same time, as a Black gay man, I am happy to bring my unique literary voice to this subgenre. After all, from seeing images of Black male couples in love online, representation matters.

With spring and Black Love in the air, I am excited to announce the launch of The Right to Be: A Christopher Family Novel, in April of this year. In a quote from Dhar Mann, “You are never too old to follow your dream”; I can certainly testify to that. That being said, my brothas and sistahs, the following is an excerpt from this coming-of-age love story:

 

The very next day, after work, Allan was on his cell phone with Ramsey Arrington, wishing him official birthday greetings. Ronnell and Jermaine, of course, teased him, but he didn’t care. There was something about this guy. The hell with the two-day wait before calling—in Allan’s mind, Ramsey had all the early signs of a keeper, especially if Ronnell’s inside intel was accurate. Besides, before he even made the call, Mickey had walked past him with his own phone, already engaged in deep conversation with Roslyn Arrington.

He had no idea where the time went as they talked and shared, but he could have listened to that baritone voice forever from the moment he heard Ramsey say, “Hey.”

“Allan! Mickey! All y’all! Time for dinner!” Cousin Wayne called out.

“That’s Cousin Wayne, and he holds dinner for no one. Can I call you back later?”

“Sure. I will definitely be looking forward to your call,” Ramsey confirmed.

Allan’s body grew warm and tingly. “Cool. Talk to you later.”

All those years spent on the islands had developed Allan’s love and appreciation for the outdoors, so it was a treat when Ramsey suggested a nature outing. They had only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks; their first date was at Baskin Robbins, where they dared each other to eat a LollaPalooza sundae. For this date, they were walking hand in hand along the nature trails and dunes on the Mississippi River, not far from the east bank campus of the U of M.

“Leave it to you to find a way to combine a date and a workout,” Allan noted, thinking of the steep inclined sidewalk and the wooden steps they took to reach the river. “This is beautiful.”

“I thought you’d like it.” Ramsey squeezed his hand. “It may not be the sea or the ocean, but it has its charms.”

“Do you mind if I tell you that you’re part of the charm?” Allan’s voice was flirtatious.

“Hey, boo. You can tell me that any time.”

“Say that again. I like it.”

“Like what?”

“The way you call me ‘boo.’” Allan’s “Beckley eyes” twinkled.

“Well, boo, there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a bit.”

“Really? And what’s that?”

Ramsey gave him a sensuous smile. “Why don’t we go sit by the water and you can find out?”

“I see a spot right now.” Allan led Ramsey to a comfortable area just in front of the dunes. “I can hardly wait.”  

The brightness of the sun on that July afternoon only served to reflect the glow within Allan when Ramsey held him for that first kiss. It was gentle at first, feather kisses planted on Allan’s lips. As Ramsey steadily pressed his lips against his, Allan knew he only wanted more. He wrapped his arms around Ramsey’s neck, relaxing into the deepening kiss and the sensation of Ramsey’s tongue meeting his. This was the kind of kiss that could go on forever as far as he was concerned. Even with guys older than he, Allan was usually the one to dominate in these situations. With Ramsey, he knew in that moment that he could enjoy being dominated as well.

The feel of Ramsey’s tongue working his mouth, his hands running through his dreadlocks, was exquisitely passionate for Allan. For the first time, he was experiencing being wanted, desired, on an electrifying level. On an instinctual level, their connection held out a promise of more; for now, this was enough. The kiss was arousing in a way Allan hadn’t experienced with previous boyfriends. Even before the kiss broke, his full-on erection strained at his shorts. Not that Ramsey was unaffected by the passion. Taking a glance downward, there was no mistaking the prominent outline of Ramsey’s throbbing dick in his shorts. Man, he’s big. Allan tasted Ramsey again, fighting the urge to just reach down and cup said dick. I can work with that. But for now, I need to find out more of what’s under the hood. Even as those thoughts ran through his head, the gleam in Ramsey’s eyes as they went in for more kisses told Allan that from now on, July would be his favorite month.

Believe in dreams and never give up.

Nellie Francis: A woman of justice, service, and equality

Black History Month is coming to a close, and Women’s History Month is about to begin. As a book review editor, it is only fitting that this post covers someone who stood at the intersection of both. In light of recent events, people may look at Minnesota in a certain way. However, despite the small minority population, African Americans made history here, when that population was even smaller.

That being said, I am indeed honored to share my review of Dr. William Green’s biography, Nellie Francis: Fighting for Racial Justice and Women’s Equality in Minnesota:

Indeed, there are many stories and history that need to be heard and shared. Growing up in the Twin Cities as a child in the 1950s and 1960s in school, I never would have heard of the contributions African Americans made in Minnesota’s history. Fortunately, authors such as Dr. William Green have given us a gift with his biography of Nellie Griswold Francis.

Born in 1874 in the Reconstruction world of Nashville, Tennessee, Nellie and her sister Lula were children of parents that strongly believed in public service, such as the establishment of the first African American high school in Nashville, the drive for equitable opportunities for Black schoolchildren, and a cemetery for the Black soldiers and the community at a time when racism’s ugly head roared. That spirit of service and desire of a better life for her community was instilled in Nellie and Lula at a young age by their father, Thomas Griswold.

The family relocated to St. Paul in 1883. At her commencement ceremony from St. Paul Central High School in 1891, Nellie gave a stirring speech, a portent of what this 17-year-old girl would become. A light-skinned woman who could pass for white but identified as Black, Nellie’s future would be one of public service and complexity despite the conventions placed upon a woman of her time.

In 1893, she married William “Billy” Francis. Their union brought the couple interacting with notables such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary Church Terrell, and Hallie Q. Brown. Billy was an ardent follower of Washington’s accommodationist policies, never speaking out against the overt racism occurring in other parts of the country; he would change his position years later, after Washington’s death in 1915. Ambitious, Billy would become a lawyer and run for public office, with Nellie by his side. In the course of time, they would become the power couple in St. Paul’s Black community and part of the history of Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Though they were profiled by the Black press of the time (The Appeal and the Twin City Star), people who saw her “privilege” never saw her heartache when she and her husband were at odds over their respective views on racial justice, or her pain over their childless marriage and her mother Maggie’s poor health.

For Nellie, her work so often did not garner the recognition it richly deserved as an officer of the Minnesota Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Everywoman Suffrage Club, nor that many speeches Billy gave were written by Nellie. Her particular skill set was invaluable during her audience with President William H. Taft. When it came to securing the funds for Pilgrim Baptist Church’s pipe organ, it was she who obtained the balance through an audience with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. And with the Rondo community being small as it was, jealousies from within it were frustrating.

And yet, she was active in women’s suffrage and addressing the duplicity of white suffragists as it pertained to race, not only leading to the passing of the 19th Amendment, but her crowning achievement in public service: being the author of Minnesota’s anti-lynching law, a law that has yet to reach the federal level to date.

Thank you, Dr. Green, for your intense, in-depth study of this complex woman, her accomplishments, and the milieu of African Americans in Minnesota during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If we don’t share these stories, who will?

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.