Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Setting up booksignings...

Things went really well with my booksigning schedule. BEA (BookExpoAmerica) is happening in New York this week, but I was able to confirm booksigning dates with Emma Rodgers of Black Images in Dallas. I talked with Kensington Books' sale rep (a wonderful pit bull of a woman) who planned out a NYC strategy for booksignings. Since bestsellers lists are great marketing tools, we target NYT reporting stores, and since I know I can get a critical mass of readers to my signings, I can almost guarantee that I'll be somewhere on the list, at least for a week. The same with the LATimes list. That gets the momentum going for Friends With Benefits, because we can market the book to everyone as a NYT or LATimes, or Essence magazine, bestseller. And although the majority of African American readers buy books on word of mouth, it doesn't hurt if they read or hear that it made the list. Once I get these dates done, then we'll work on figuring out which ones will be done off-site and which on-site.

Monday, May 30, 2005


It took all afternoon, but I caught all of the transitional spaces that had been closed. As it turns out, they hadn't missed every one, but only about ten pages worth. So now, it is on to finishing the porn book by June 15.

My Powerbook...

I have a Powerbook G4 that I use almost exclusively, and I have to say that I love almost everything about it, EXCEPT the case. I have the crappy titanium model (which sounded cool when I first bought it), but is literally a piece of crap. The paint flaked off easily, and since I travel often, it was accelerated. And now, the monitor has broken the hinge on one side. I don't know how this happened, but it is a pain. Now, every so often, something pinches a wire in my monitor, so that it "ghosts". I have to restart, move the monitor so that it comes back on. Grrr... It's off to Mac911 tomorrow for the fix.

re: the Final Production Edit...

All right. I'm reading Friends With Benefits for the TWO MILLIONTH time. Someone bleed me. What I have in my hand is the manuscript as sent from my production editor. Basically, it looks like my book, but in manuscript form. My job, in the next day or so, is to make sure that little things like character names, dates and events, are consistent. Tedious, but necessary. Because the minute you miss one, it will SHOUT at you when your book comes back to you completed. The other thing I have to check for are typesetting issues, and that's where I'm having problems. In my chapters, I have spaces between some transitional points and they are crucial. Well, the typesetter decided to crunch them together. Double plus ungood because crunched together, the transitions don't make sense. So there will be a lot of # marks sent back to the publisher. Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Whatever Happened To...

...Theodore Witcher. Don't know the name? He wrote and directed the 1997 hit (within the black community at least) love jones. According to IMDB, he only wrote one more movie. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Things to Accomplish Next Week...

1. Solidify booksigning schedule for September. I'm pretty much going to do three per week, beginning right after Labor Day. I think I'll do ten or twelve cities. I have to do them before UCLA starts on September 26.

2. Finish FWB edit from the production editor. They are trying to make me hate my own book, I've read it so many times. But after I do this, only galleys and the real book lie ahead.

3. Write 15,000 words on porn book. I'm at 40,000 right now. Also, the main porn scene is written, which was probably the hardest to write. I feel like I'm writing downhill now.

4. Continue working on the Killer Ap.

5. Start calling my journalistic contacts about FWB, and alerting them to the fact that they should declare FWB the next great
American novel. lol

6. Continue de-cluttering the house. Lease signed on the apartment, now gotta prep house for sale. You accumulate a ton of stuff, and don't even know it.

7. I have been promised by American Suzuki that they will let me know when I receive my bike this week. They have been dragging, so I'm hoping to get it soon. I will follow up.

8. It's the end of May, and that means one thing: ROYALTIES! Nothing like a summer present.

That's it on the biz tip.

Friday, May 27, 2005

More Chris Matthews...

So I'm watching this idiot again today, and he gets mad when he mistakenly thinks a filmmaker has said he portrays Bush as an idiot (which, of course, he is). He goes on a rant, talking about the woman must not have watched his show, and that he voted for Bush...blah, blah, blah. BTW, he calls him a journalist. What a joke!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Copy of the Proofs...

I just received a copy of my proofs for Friends With Benefits. This is when you get your manuscript back from the production editor, and it looks like how it will look as a book. Just short of galleys, but a little more than how your original manuscript looked like. This is the final look for any wrong names, dates, and events. Can't do any re-writes on this, so what you have is what is going to be on the printed page. This should be quick work, and that's why they expect it back by June 2nd.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Signed Books...

I am starting to de-clutter the house, and I found eight hardcover copies of my second book, The Ways of Black Folks: A Year in the Life of a People. If you want a copy, I'll sign it and sell them for $10 a piece. Email me at alpha1906@gmail.com. Thanks!

Progress being made...

Right now, I'm a bit schizo in that I'm trying to steadily write my black porn book, while making contact with bookstores for my tour in September. I'm waiting on the details of my little soirees, and how they are going to work, so I can only make tentative plans. I think that once I get the porn book done (JUNE 15 is my personal deadline), then I'll stop writing for the summer, and concentrate on marketing for FWB and creating the Killer Ap. BTW, the killer ap is not only going to help me sell books, but also help a ton of black writers sell their books too. It is WAY over due.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Chris Matthews...and his Republican love affair...

Is it me, or does Chris Matthews just seem to love anything that the Republicans do? Yeah, yeah, I know he was a speechwriter for Carter, but that was nearly thirty years ago. Now, if a Republican says that the sky is yellow, he'll say 'yep, you're right. It's actually a lemon sky'. I think his slide started when he slobbered over GWB when Mr. Prez infamously landed on that flight carrier in a flight suit. I thought he was going to ask him out for a date after his comments. Okay, back to writing my black porn book. I'm making pretty good progress, as I'm a little over one third through.

GRANTS: abc/disney writing fellowship program

ABC Entertainment & the Walt Disney Studios' Writing Fellowship Program


For the sixteenth year year, we are continuing the search to discover and
employ creative talent and to employ culturally and ethnically diverse
writers. We are looking for up to fifteen writers to work full-time
developing their craft at The Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment.
The Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment are equal opportunity
employers and it is our policy not to discriminate on the basis of age,
color, handicap or disability, ancestry, national origin, marital status,
race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, or political
affiliation, or on any other unlawful basis in its employment programs.

We will be offering Fellowships in the feature film and television areas
through The Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment, respectively. No
previous experience is necessary; however, writing samples are required.
Fellows will each be provided a salary of $50,000 for a one-year period
tentatively scheduled to begin in January 2006.

This Program is open to all writers. Members with Writers Guild of America
(WGA) credits are also eligible for this Program, and need to apply
directly through the WGA's Employment Access Department at (323) 782-4648.

The program boasts an impressive roster of alumni who are now enjoying
successful careers in the television and the feature film-writing
workforce. As the program's level of prestige has increased, its graduates
have been called upon for assignments spanning every studio and network in
the industry. Of recent Fellowship graduates, Cindy McCreery (2003) sold
her feature comedy pitch "Powder puff Girls" to Disney; Tamiko Brooks
(2003) was hired as a staff writer on "Eight Simple Rules for Dating My
Teenage Daughter;" Sean Diviny (2003) was hired as a staff writer on
"Alias;" Monica Zepeda (2002), was hired as one of the writers on the SHREK
II video game; Sonya Steele (2002) was staffed on "ER;" Veena Sud (2002)
was hired as a writer on CBS's "Cold Case;" Brenda Hsueh (2002), was
staffed on Fox's "Oliver Beene;" Nelson Soler (2001) was hired
writer/producer for ABC's "Trista And Ryan's Wedding;" Dailyn Rodriquez
(2001), is staffed as story editor on ABC's "The George Lopez Show;" and
John Marsh (2001), wrote an episode for Disney Channel's "Proud Family."

Former Fellows also include Joan Weiss (1999-2000), Co-Producer for the
WB's "Everwood;" Heather Hach (1999-00), wrote the Walt Disney's remake of
"Freaky Friday" and "There's a Pop Diva Loose in the Cafeteria" for
DreamWorks; Meghan McCarthy (1999-00), sold her feature script "The
Bachelorette" to Universal Pictures; Saladin Patterson (1996-97), is
Co-Executive Producer on "Bernie Mac;" Don D. Scott (1995-1997) was a
writer on "Barbershop" and "Barbershop 2:Back In Business;" Luisa Leschin
(1995-1996), is Co-Producer on ABC's "The George Lopez Show;" Peter
Murrieta (1994-1995), was Executive Producer and creator of the WB's
"Greetings from Tucson" and "All About the Andersons;" Jane Espenson
(1992-1993), was Co-Executive Producer on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer;"
Malcolm Lee (1992-1993), is writer/director of the film "The Best Man," and
director of "Undercover Brother" for Universal Pictures.

Jacquelyn C. Edmonds (1991-92), is Co-Executive Producer on UPN's "Abby;"
Laurence Andries (1991-1992) is Co-Executive Producer of "Alias;" Tony
Puryear (1990-1991), wrote the feature "Eraser;" Reggie "Rock" Bythewood
(1990-1991), wrote and directed "Dancing in September" for HBO and "Biker
Boyz" for DreamWorks; Tim Doyle (1990-1991) served as executive producer on
critically acclaimed seasons of ABC's "Ellen" and "Grace Under Fire" and is
currently the creator of "Stuck In The Middle with You," an NBC comedy
slated for mid-season 2003-04; and Gary Hardwick (1990-1991), wrote the
feature films " Trippin," " Bring It On, " and wrote and directed "The
Brothers," and "Deliver Us from Eva."

-Forwarded by Nalo Hopkinson
member, SFWA Grants Committee
"support for writers" listserve:

Black Newspapers and Radio...

As part of my marketing campaign for Friends With Benefits, I'm going to do a LOT of radio interviews. Now, Kensington tends to like "radio tours", which basically means that I have to wake up at 3am PST, to get interviewed by an East Coast drive time deejay. When my son was real young, I used to take my cell phone and go into my truck for the interviews. I found that bathrooms are an echo chamber.

But I love radio interviews because they tend to be longer than television interviews. Television is fine, and you do get a wide reach when you are on, but give me an hour radio interview, where I can mention "Friends With Benefits" eery minute (I have an egg timer y'all) and I'll sell tons of books. So right now, I don't know what Kensington is going to do, but I'm going to begin listing the black themed radio stations I want to target for interviews. Same with black newspapers. Those are weeklies, so folks tend to keep them around for longer than a day.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

LA Heat...

I don't know how it is everywhere else, but it's hotter than three whores in church here in LA. I have the air conditioner on eleven.

Friends With Benefits Marketing: Plan #1

My frat brother Ray, is sending me his plan for marketing Friends With Benefits. As I told you earlier, I hate in store booksignings. Boring for the author, and boring for the reader coming to see the author. So, we're going to do some off site signings and gatherings. I'm going to ten cities, and an alcohol company (yet to be determined) is going to host a series of "Friends With Benefits" nights. Readers can buy a book, get a drink, mingle with others, and then ask me questions. It's a simple change, but it should get the buzz going (both with the contents of the book and the effects of the alcohol) much better than simply sitting them in chairs and fielding questions. Combining this strategy with my killer ap should get some results in terms of book sales.

I have set an internal date of June 15th for the completion of my porn book. Even told my agent that, so I'm under the pressure. But I have no excuse for lagging, since this is what I call the "sports dead period". Nothing should distract me. But it's around three in the afternoon, and I still haven't added a word to the porn manuscript. It's too damn hot here in Los Angeles, and suddenly, I'm interested in the beauty of the Preakness and the conforts of air conditioning. Damn this procrastination...

Annus Horribus...

My beloved Manchester United completed a season without silverware, losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup today. I know most of you don't give a damn about "soccer", must less English "soccer", but I love it. But this year was different. Except for my alma mater (first half of my college career) Cal, all of my sports teams had a bad year. And even Cal laid an egg against Texas Tech in the bowl game. But as for my other teams, the Raiders stunk up the NFL; the Lakers imploded and missed the playoffs; and Manchester United finished the season without any silverware, were suddenly owned by Malcolm Glazer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,who instantly turned one of the most profitable teams in football into one of the most debt ridden. Well, there's always next year.

Friday, May 20, 2005

House to Apartment...

Today, we found an apartment right next to UCLA. That was pretty easy. Now, we're getting the house ready for sale. The apartment will be ready in September, and it looks like we'll list the house at the beginning of July. I love my house, but grad school isn't going to give me the flexibility to lecture as much as I used to, nor have the time to keep up the house. Plus, housing values are skyrocketing, and we're going to make a nice profit in only five years. So it makes sense to be right next to campus versus going crosstown. Plus, it's a MUCH easier commute for my wife. But this damn screenwriting thing betta work out!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

More UCLA stuff...

Got my first info from UCLA today. You know the old little envelope bad, big envelope good, dictum? Well, UCLA doesn't operate that way. To date, everything had been sent via email. My acceptance letter was via email. I finished my undergrad at UCLA, so I still had an online account, which made it easy to accept the place in film school. Today, they sent a two pager telling me about the requirements for the MFA. I'm going to give it a read later this evening.



Amazon Rankings...

Anyone who has a published book will know that Amazon rankings are addictive. Whether or not your ranking is in the millions (as FWB is right now, but hell, it's not even published yet); in the hundreds of thousands (The Ways...ouch), or under ten thousand (The Divine Nine...yeah!), you still check everyday. The Amazon algorithm is a thing of mystery, yet you can figure out that it combines the daily, monthly, sales with the length of the sales, to come up with a number. Get a bunch of sales on one day, and see your number get closer to one. Don't keep getting those sales, see your number go back higher. So on, and so forth.

I remember when my first book was published, my Amazon ranking kept getting closer and closer to one, and I got more and more excited. Finally, it dipped to 680, and I contacted my editor (like a newbie I was). I was like, 'I should be on Oprah'. She was non-plussed and told me to let her know when the number reached #20. That's when she'd get excited. I ain't got to #20 yet. But I'm still trying!

Felicia Henderson Rocks...Part II

What made my conversation with Felicia great was that she was nice and straight with me. I can't tolerate people who are blowing smoke, and she didn't. For the most part, my plan for UCLA is to squeeze every damn bit of information, education, and opportunity, out of it.

Felicia helped confirm that I'm on the right track with my plans. I have three different things I want to do. I want to write commercial films (what I call 'feed the monster film', meaning films that reach a broad audience), niche films for the African American audience, and documentaries. She advised me to use as much UCLA equipment as possible and take advantage of the FREE part of UCLA. She also liked that I was getting started on project now, rather than after graduation.

I'm too sleepy to keep typing, but I'll write more later. I worked a little bit more on my fiction book on porn, and I'm about one third through. The Killer Ap is still the Killer Ap, although my original model may mean changes.

Because of grad school, we're going to sell the house and move right next to campus. I just won't have the time to keep up this house, and I'll have to dial back my lectures, so it makes sense. Plus, we're in a housing boom, and I don't want to be caught in a housing bust while in school. But one of the advantages is that my son will be able to go to one of the best elementary schools in Los Angeles. We're going to check out an apartment this Friday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Felicia Henderson Rocks!

That's all I can say. I just had an hour and a half discussion with her, and I'm even more hyped about UCLA film school than before. More later...

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Killer Marketing Ap...

Does anyone know what a killer ap is? A killer ap is shorthand for "Killer Application". It is what the software industry likes to call a program that is so good, it renders another application obsolete. For example, CDs made cassette tapes and wax albums obsolete. Well, I've been looking for a book marketing killer ap. And I think I've found it. I think I've found the killer marketing ap for selling books that makes booksignings look like 19th Century marketing (which it is). But here's the catch. I have approximately fourteen days to organize my killer ap, and figure out how to pay for it. But I like pressure and if my bet is right, I think I will be able to sell 100,000 copies of Friends With Benefits, and also set up a nice business at the same time. I'll talk more after it is done and ready. Sorry about being circumspect, but killer aps only work if you're the first to the market. And I'm determined to be first.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Major Pitch Fest at USC...

A Major Pitch Fest

You'll never be a player in Hollywood if you can't talk a good game. Last week film students met the real world.

By Sean Smith

May 16 issue - A few weeks from now, 22-year-old Molly Kron will graduate from one of the most prestigious film schools in the country. Last Monday night, though, all that mattered was whether she could channel all that education into a three-minute pitch for an animated comedy screenplay she calls "Cash Cow." "I'm a little nervous," she said, as she prepared to face a room full of suits in the hopes of scoring an agent, a manager or a movie deal. "In the beginning my pitch was really long. It gets pretty crazy at times, with the talking weasels and dancing muskrats."

Every year the USC School of Cinema-Television—alma mater to George Lucas, among other luminaries—sponsors a program called First Pitch, which trains graduating screenwriting seniors and master's students in Hollywood's lingua franca, the pitch, and then puts them in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills with three dozen industry players. On Monday, Kron and 51 other students entered the ballroom and faced row upon row of small, white tables. At each table sat someone with the power to kick-start their careers. (So, you know, no pressure.) Each student would get five minutes with a CAA agent or an executive from Warner Bros.—five minutes to dazzle the listener into requesting a copy of the script—before a little bell rang, and the student moved to a new table and started all over again. They would repeat the process up to 20 times. "It's like speed-dating," says First Pitch director Hayley Terris-Feldman. "It's insane, really."

The program, now in its fourth year, is organized and run by students, but has the full support of the faculty. "You don't write screenplays to be published, you write them to be made," says school dean Elizabeth Daley. "This gives them a chance to test their wings, and I would feel irresponsible if we weren't helping them with the transition."

The students rehearse their pitches for months, guided by literary-talent manager Mikkel Bondesen. "The worst thing that can happen to these kids," Bondesen says, "is that they have a great script but they don't know how to pitch it, so it never sees the light of day." Actually, there are worse things. "One person asked me if I was on crack," Kron said as the evening finally wound down. "I'm guessing that's bad." Still, she got an impressive 11 requests for copies of her work, and she high-fived with pal Jonathan Igla, who was "very psyched" that both Warner Bros. and Sony asked to read his scripts. Greg Levine, who spent the night talking up his TV pilot "Happily Ever After?" discovered that he likes pitching. "It was so much fun! But the woman from Warner Bros. told me, 'Sometimes the best screenplays don't pitch well at all'." He laughs. "I was, like, 'Please don't tell USC that'." They'll never know.

I'm truly hyped...

As I continue to talk to black UCLA film school grads, director Julie Dash has agreed to meet with me. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the bomb. Last night, I watched a documentary on IFC called Sisters in Cinema. It detailed Hollywood's abysmal record when it comes to providing opportunities for African American women. It was illuminating because you begin to think about what you think black film is all about, and almost always, an African American male pops into your head. Now, I can't change my gender (uh, I guess there are ways, but you know what I mean), but I'm determined to write strong African American women characters. Maybe that influence comes from my Mills College (all women college) educated wife, but it seems to me that black women are often depicted in a very skewed manner. I hope to change that through my own super duper, personal film manifesto. I'll post my film manifesto later.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Great Meeting...

I had a great meeting with M.K. Asante at the Coffee Bean in Westwood. He's a real cool brother and I look forward to talking to him again, and possibly working with him. From what he told me about the professors in the film school, I'm pretty hyped about learning as much as I can.

What's Been Done...

1. It looks like I've set up a Friends With Benefits signing in Atlanta. That's an important city for African American books because of the large black population. And what makes this signing even better is that the bookstore is willing to donate 10% of the sales to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation. My fraternity is a huge booster of that, and it will be great to raise the funds. I'm ambitious. I want to get one thousand people to show up for the booksigning.

2. I just finished the third draft on my screenplay. For the past year, my friend Michelle (NYU film school grad) has been going through it line by line, and I'm learning a lot. I'm just now learning the script form, so she's been invaluable.

3. Still working on the story part of the Project Z television script my frat and I are developing.

4. Project X is still going strong. Wrote about three thousand words over the past couple of days.

5. I'm meeting with M.K. Asante today, the brother in UCLA film school. I want to get some pointers for the documentary I want to do next summer. Would love Samuel L. Jackson for the narrator.

6. Next Wednesday, I'm talking with Felicia Henderson, an African American writer who teaches at UCLA, and also wrote on Soul Food, one of the best shows about African Americans in the past decade. This summer is about gaining a perspective on writers and Hollywood from the African American perspective.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


My editor's assistant, Nicole (a sweet sister by the way), asked me to provide questions for any book club that may pick up the book. That was cool because we don't do that with non-fiction books. I'm starting to get really excited about Friends With Benefits!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Writing Again...

I'm back on Project X, getting in a good two thousand words over the past couple of days. But most of my time has been spent working on the marketing plan for Friends With Benefits. Kensington just sent over about two hundred covers, which I will send to various media people, along with a press packet. Also, I will create postcards that will feature the cover, and I'll place those in the usual places, such as bookstores, black restaurants, etc. Another thing I'm going to experiment with is an internet commercial for the book. I found a website that allows you to send pretty large files to many people, including video. So I think I'll make a slick commercial and see if I can quantify the results. More later...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Clearing the Brain...

When I need to give my brain a little recharge, I put in my superduper iPod playlist. It is eclectic, but it seems to do the trick. Try it, you just might like it!

1. EPMD- Strictly Business
2. Prefab Sprout- Hallelujah
3. Boogie Down Productions- Poetry
4. English Beat- I Confess
5. Wilson Simonall- Nem Vem Que Não Tem
6. The Clash- Train in Vain
7. The Untouchables- Free Yourself
8. Steel Pulse: Rally Round the Flag
9. Super Cat- Ghetto Red Hot
10. Kool G. Rap- Road to the Riches


I'm a bit sad today because my girl Oona King, a British MP I interviewed for The Ways of Black Folks: A Year in the Life of a People, lost her seat yesterday. She's in a tough district in London, with a large population that didn't support the Iraqi War, and she did.

King is the daughter of Preston King, an African American professor, who left the US during the Vietnam War. He'd been drafted, but refused to serve when a Southern draft board wouldn't call him by his last name. He left for the UK as a fugitive, and President Clinton eventually pardoned him.

I was able interview King on a fluke. My frat brother, Oscar, and I were at a meeting and he asked me who I was interviewing for my book. I mentioned that I wanted to interview Oona, and he then told me she was his cousin. From there, it was off to the UK. I hope she bounces back.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Back To Making A Bestseller...

All right, many of you initially came from my listserve, The Making of a Bestseller. And now that the editorial is done for FWB, I will then concentrate on tell you the FWB strategy.

For me, I'm going to try to build momentum for the book, and I have less than six weeks to do it. FWB ships from the publisher to their distribution center in August, and then heads out to bookstores. I start UCLA on September 26, so whatever I do for the book has to have bang for the buck.

Plan #1: My frat brother, Ray Dennis, operates a marketing firm and he's working his magic to find a sponsor for some Friends With Benefits soirees in about ten cities. The idea is to take the book out of the bookstore and into a social environment. Personally, I find bookstore signings the most boring events on earth. I get asked the same questions, and I robotically give answers, sometimes thinking about whether to have chicken or beef for dinner, rather than the actual question. But a social event, say at a restaurant, where people purchase the book from a bookseller, and then we mingle, is much more attractive to me. So I've got to choose ten cities. Here they are:

1. Los Angeles
2. New York
3. Atlanta
4. Chicago
5. SF/Oakland
6. Dallas
7. Washington DC
8. New Orleans
9. Philadelphia
10. Detroit

Plan #2: Plan #2 is a much larger, more complicated plan that is geared toward selling thousands of books in one day, and also provide the largest amount of exposure and publicity possible. I'm still waiting on Books-A-Million to see if they like my proposal. Once I finish talking with them, then I talk more about it.

Finally Done...Finally...Finally...

The corrected Friends With Benefits is finally done and sent off to my editor. Whew! I'm technically late, but I was working my ass off to get it done by today.

Now, I get to work on the story part of Project Z. My frat brother is an MFA student at NYU and we've been partnering on various projects (including the ill fated Heist television show, which I will get back to later), but our best project by far is a black fraternity/sorority series we're working on. With Project Z, he's handling the script and I'm doing the story. Our first episode is the bomb, and I'm confident that we have a series that can be attractive for a network, and find a wide demo audience.

Working on the story part tends to be easy for me, but it takes some time. I have to visualize where I want my characters to go, and why. It's hard to explain, but they always come out cool in the end.

After this, I'm probably going to take a week off from writing. I have a Divine Nine lecture date at CSUDH next week, and then I'll get back on Project X.

Also, I'm going to start working on a documentary proposal, with the help of UCLA MFA student, M.K. Asante.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I Don't Know...

I don't know about other writers, but there comes a point where I get tired of reading my manuscript. I mean, I WROTE the damn thing, so I know the story, the characters, and how it ends. And when you have to read it, and read it, and read it, over and over, it becomes a bit too much. I love my story and I'm proud of my story. But damn, I could use a rest from it. I'm still copyediting, and it looks like I'll be up all night. I'll email the finished copy to my editor in the morning and then FedEx her a hard copy. I'm burnt and craving milk chocolate.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

All nighter...

I've been working on FWB and apparently, I have an aversion to commas, as the copyeditor has had to add thousands to the manuscript. Well, everyone has their weaknesses. I've just hit the 100 page mark. That would be cool, but I just realized that my editor repaginated my work with a larger font. So I'm actually behind. I have to send it back out by 6pm tomorrow, so I'll be up all night revising. There's nothing large, but it is just monotonous. Each page, you want to scan for editorial marks and also you want to make sure you interpret them correctly. I remember most of the symbols, but a brother had to pull out the guide for one. My brain is going to mush.

An Old Salon Article on the Black Elite...

• B l a c k • b u t n o t l i k e m e

The nation might be slouching toward the millennium, but it was the best I could do to slouch into the Harvard Club. I was invited to a fete for "Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class," a new book by attorney and writer Lawrence Otis Graham. It was hard not to suspect that as much as the evening was about the book, it was even more another instance of modern-day communal branding, in which instead of Massa burning his mark upon our flesh, we put it on our backs. Or the covers of our books. Declare ourselves important and in doing so, as they say in Narcotics Anonymous, "compare ourselves out." Make sure everyone knows we're not them, they're not our kind of people, whoever they are. It was the upscale, bourgeois, literate equivalent of what Tommy Hilfiger garb is to the working class.

I kept my head down going in, hoping not to be recognized by any of my radical cronies. (In the interests of full disclosure, several family members and I are mentioned in "Our Kind of People," although none of them ever met Graham. I am pissed that I'm identified twice as "former Washington Post reporter," a job I quit in 1990, but it's apparently my only accomplishment that matters to Graham's kind of people.) I was ambivalent about both the event and the book. I grew up in a family in which class bonding was frowned upon, in an era of -- so we thought -- class-busting social transformation. Yet here I was, 30 years after, attending a party to celebrate the black elite. Me, I just wanted to know who they are. Or who the writer thinks they are. Or, at my most cynical, what the hell type of black folks identify themselves as "the black elite."

Inside, I'm sucked into a large, wood-paneled room reeking, perhaps of old money, but definitely of fried foods. Waiters whip by offering snifters of cognac (the event was underwritten by Hennessy cognac -- no low-class purveyors of malt liquor "40s" here) and martini glasses of Brandy Alexanders -- made, of course, with Hennessy. On the way to the corner bar to get a Diet Coke, I manage to decline the crab balls, cold canapés, cheese, crackers and fruit. My near downfall, being from a people in which the three characteristics of our favorite foods are greasy, salty and fried, is a platter of what I suspect are miniature egg rolls nestled around a bowl of that thick, orangish dipping stuff. "Egg rolls?" I eagerly ask the waiter, fingers poised over the platter. "No. Spring rolls," he corrects. I snatch my fingers back, appetite gone but wiser. They sure as hell looked like egg rolls to me, but when you're noshing with the elite, they're spring.

Sipping my soda, I introduce myself to the man on my left, a rather intriguing cross between Yaphet Kotto and Truman Capote, wearing thick black-framed glasses with bright blue lenses. "What brought you here?" I ask cheerily, hoping for a discourse on our kind of people. "Someone told me I should be here, but I'm on my way to the Maya Angelou presentation at the Waldorf," he says in a voice somewhere between a yawn and a drawl, looking over my shoulder. I wonder if always being on your way to someplace more important than where you are is a hallmark of the elite, but attempts at further conversation are both boring and futile. The mofo -- er, I mean, cad -- won't even make eye contact. I move on when it occurs to me to slap him upside his bald head, seize his lapels and scream, "I may not be your type of people, but I am somebody!"

Luckily, I meet Audrey Thorne, member of the greater New York chapter of the Links, a black women's organization profiled in the book. Sharp as a mortal can get in a black suit, ropy rhinestone necklace -- could anything that thick be diamonds? -- matching earrings and a crown of silver hair, Ms. Thorne is not on her way someplace else. She's exactly where she's at. "I think the book is wonderful because it has so much history, it's enlightened me to so many things I didn't know about. Race, slavery, it's enlightening to me." She's friendly and looks me in the eye so happily I don't have the heart to ask how it comes to pass that a woman in her 70s needs to be enlightened about race or slavery. "We're talking about one of those children who is clearly the essence of good things happening to a human being," chimes in a woman sharing her table, but before I can ask her exactly what those good things are, I see an opening in the circle around the author and take it.

Lawrence Otis Graham is slight, impeccably dressed, his sharp nose the product of plastic surgery. He greets me effusively, professes to be a fan and we bond briefly, not around class, but the rigors of book tours. I feel the crowd moving toward the right, luckily not in the direction of either Clarence Thomas or better munchies at the Waldorf, but the auditorium, where Graham and three panelists -- Dr. Marcella Maxwell, former chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights and on the Status of Women and Links member; Dr. R. Chester Redhead, dentist, professor and longtime member of the Boule; and Anne Griffith, an attorney at Battle Fowler LLP -- will participate in what Hennessy bills as a "fireside chat" about the black upper class, moderated by Fox 5 anchorwoman Carol Jenkins.

On the way, I run into a writer whose father was an extremely successful jurist. "I have heard no buzz, but based upon history, I don't want my picture taken," she confides. As we snicker, I try to figure out how I can get the film from the photographer who snapped me at the door. "I'm here because I'm interested. Whatever these people are supposed to be, they should be people like my family. People who went to Vail, other places, and belonged to clubs, but there was an awareness of who we are and how we got where we are. Not just people trying to be like white folks." Before I can comment that many white folks don't want to be like white folks, I realize the auditorium's filling up rapidly in an elite version of bum-rushing the door. It's imperative I grab one of the rapidly vanishing seats. I may not know much, but I do know that no kind of people want to be left standing.

Terrie Williams, founder of the PR firm who arranged the event, welcomes us, graciously dedicates the evening to former N.Y. Amsterdam News gossip columnist Cathy Connor, and in listing the many places Connor covered commits the faux pas "our kind of people" -- or aspirants -- would never make: She says "Oaks Bluff" rather than "Oak Bluffs." Half the 200 people crammed into the room holler in unison, "Oak!" "I don't hang out there," shrugs a nonplused Williams, moving right along.

With the exception of Graham, who seems to revel in a celebration of class that is essentially the Negro equivalent of the worst of Caucasian snobbery -- focused on skin color, hair texture, profession and membership in social clubs -- the panelists exhibit varying degrees of discomfort at essentially being asked to break out their crème de la black crop credentials before a group of people composed of the successful, the curious, the indifferent, the hostile, the wannabes and, that staple of New York events, the moochers. Wisely, Maxwell and Redhead focus on the importance of education for upward mobility, skirting the festering issues of exclusion based on color, hair texture, club membership and pedigree, whatever that means. Still, it's hard not to squirm when Redhead tells a story about not wanting to take his dad, a working-class immigrant who supported him in becoming a doctor, to the famous Harlem bar the Red Rooster because "You split verbs and dangle modifiers." When his father asked his son why when he wanted to borrow money the way he talked didn't bother him, Redhead replied, "Because I'd rather say 'I is rich' than 'I am poor.'"

Anne Griffith, at 28 the youngest member of the panel, was also the most uncomfortable. "This book has given me a chance to examine where I've come from, what my values are and where I'd like to go," Griffith says, carefully choosing her words. "And to contemplate how I feel about various titles and images."

It would have been fascinating to discuss the ways in which over the last two decades Americans of all colors define, label and separate ourselves into tribes based on varying notions of class. Having lost faith in the possibility of equality, inclusion and social transformation by any means other than the almighty dollar, we rush to buy ourselves out of a bad situation. Still, leave it to Graham to bring it on down, if not to that dark-skinned, big-lipped, low-class, not-invited-to-join-Jack-and-Jill home, to its most superficial. Color, hair, cotillions and debutante balls are what he wants to talk about, the parameters of his own insular experience of the black elite, devoid of any connection to a larger world. "We were fighting over who's going to commandeer the yacht while black people were getting their butts kicked and Martin Luther King was getting shot," Graham shamelessly announces, as if indifference to King's assassination was proof of pedigree as opposed to an embarrassingly disingenuous admission of ignorance. Ditto his joyful comment, "Isn't it wonderful that we too as black people have dynasties? It's not just the Roosevelts and the Kennedys!" Am I the only one struck by the pathos, irony and inaccuracy of this statement, or simply the only audience member sucking her teeth?

And even if it's a good line when he says, "Until I was 12 years old I thought that when white people went to Martha's Vineyard, they were just passing through," in the end it's just another sign of how smug and self-referential Graham's world and book is. He posits himself and his how-much-money-does-your-Daddy-make, what-clubs-do-you-belong-to, are-you-lighter-than-a-brown-paper-bag worldview at the center and then defines everyone and everything else according to this marginal and misguided perspective.

Then it's time for audience Q&A. Or, more appropriately with black people, T&A -- testimony and attitude. Even though Graham cheerily embraces and celebrates his snobbery, apparently the panel has pricked a collective nerve, as several women rise to testify to the harmful effects of their exclusion -- based upon skin color, geography or economics -- from Graham's light-skinned, apolitical, ahistorical elite. Thank goodness for J. Bruce Llewellyn, president and CEO of Coca-Cola of Pennsylvania, who cuts through the morass of exclusivity with a voice of realism and sanity. "The reason we were in Oak Bluffs or Sag Harbor is because the white community would not let us buy property anywhere else. I'm happy about the fact that we do have these things, but education is the only way out of this mess. The other thing is, you can straighten your hair, you can be light or dark, but when white people see you, you're still black."

But it's Ed Lover, morning DJ on the popular radio station Hot 97, who evokes applause and cheers when he stands, clad in sweats and nylon parka and snarls, "It's sad and disgusting that black people would shut other people out because they're darker than a brown paper bag. If I had to be part of the black upper class and shut my people out, I'd rather be a thug for life!" Although the truth is that the notion that successful black folks' choices are either white-faced minstrelsy or designer thug-dom points out how far we haven't come and the need for serious discussion. Not here, not now.

Moderator Jenkins wraps up the session before the verbal fisticuffs move to another level, attendants open oak doors and we swarm back to the reception area to scarf assorted late-night fats and, of course, more cognac. The buzz in the room is confused and unrequited, as if an important topic had been broached, clumsily handled, then retracted. My best friend L.E. is ready to split, her simple mission unaccomplished. The daughter of professionals with a home on the Vineyard who belong to the right clubs, her issue ain't color, class or cotillions. "There aren't any good-looking single men here, of any color, with money or without it," she declares, yanking on her coat. "I'm going home."

Jill Nelson is the author of "Volunteer Slavery" and "Straight, No Chaser." Her last piece for Salon was a profile of Richard Pryor.

SALON | Feb. 4, 1999

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Here I go...

Okay, I'm on page 12 of my 234 FWB manuscript pages. To my surprise, I don't have that many mistakes, so things are going swimmingly. I have one line that I guess my copyeditor objected to, but I don't think there should be a problem.

BTW, I know I have a bunch of folks who read my blog, but if you don't comment, I don't know you're there. So if you are enjoying the blog, please take time to leave a comment of some sort. If not, it makes me feel like I'm talking to myself. LOL

Sunday, May 01, 2005


This morning, I passed my motorcycle class, so now it's on to the DMV for the motorcyle written test, and then to my license. I'm pretty jazzed because I've been wanting to ride, and now I'm on my way. And I get my bike this summer. I needed a diversion from writing. It seems like I've had one deadline after another for the past three months, plus projects in progress. They're all still there, but I feel more refreshed, even though I'm exhausted from ten hours of riding motorcycles.