Category: On Writing

An Essay on Writing from the Deep

You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even a millimetre, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.’ James Baldwin

When I wrote The Barrenness, I hoped to start a worldwide conversation on the topic of being childfree and childless. I chose fiction not only because I love the genre, but also because I wanted the story to be any and every person’s story, not just mine. I have been delighted with all the attention around the subject, from the media and like-minded writers. Today, I get far more Google Alerts on the topic than I did six years ago. I have even participated in some research on the issue.

Writers write for a number of reasons: to entertain; to seek resolution; to change the world; to start conversations. Malcolm Gladwell, in his mid-October Goodreads chat, cited the last as a motivating factor for writing his best-selling books.

In writing my second novel, The Blindsided Prophet, I’d venture to say that my purpose was closer to Baldwin’s. I didn’t imagine that I could change the entire world, but my goal was to change the way readers think about their beliefs and values — their religion, if you will — at a deeper level. After all, believing something religiously is a cornerstone for any society, and has a profound effect on everyday living.

A few years ago, after supper at a writers’ conference, I had the ear of Jacob Ross, a brilliant and celebrated Afro-Caribbean writer, who is also my mentor. I must have been rambling about a novel I had written with church people at the centre, when Jacob popped the question: Are you deeply religious?

Having grown up as a Southern Baptist, I have always been a person of strong faith, and therefore, could have easily answered affirmatively. But taunted by internal and external misconceptions, I will never forget the rush of thoughts that passed through my head. On the one hand, some thoughts were loaded with a wariness of any and everything holier-than-thou, suggesting that admitting to deep religion would colour me as a writer. These were associated with being referred to as a ‘Holy Roller’ by the well-meaning grandmother of a dear friend.

And on the other hand, other thoughts were laden with feelings of inferiority. I thought of Baldwin’s play The Amen Corner, in which church people behave rather like most people, often hypocritically, though purposefully. Thus, I said ‘no’, quite firmly, and washed my hands of it … or so I thought.

Years later, I still cannot get my answer out of my head, and have long since realised that I wasn’t true to myself in answering Jacob.

Thus, the novel became The Blindsided Prophet, in which, as a writer, I have attempted to explore this basic question on some level, although not necessarily as a Christian, as I think its answer is important for anyone in the big scheme of life, regardless of religious association. And I firmly believe that faith underpins writing rather than dictates or restricts it. Writing is a gift to be used naturally.

Having said this, The Blindsided Prophet has been called ‘dark, psychological fiction’, which contains explicit language, abuse and sex scenes. Nonetheless, it is story about redemption. No matter how broken you are, you can be restored. This is God’s message to the people through the prophet, Isaiah Brown.

In the characters’ language and behaviour, we see their states of mind, as is often the case in fiction, but is equally as important in real life. Great men and women of the Bible had dark pasts. After committing murder, Moses lived in exile, until God liberated him and gave him the opportunity to liberate others: the people of Israel, who had been enslaved in Egypt for generations.

I am by no means comparing my novel to the Bible, but the point is this: the stories of the Bible are demonstrative of issues and struggles that seem larger than life.

Baylor University student and teacher, Alan Noble, in his Citizenship for Confusion blog said as much about the Bible, while writing about misunderstandings in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye: ‘… as Christians, we have a beautiful work of art filled with hard truths, ugly scenes, offensive claims, and moments of darkness at the very centre of our faith!’

In discussing this topic further with some writer friends — one is a Christian, the other is not — I was reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s views on being a Catholic author. She was clear in an article in American, in 1957, that a Christian writer’s work, like that of others, should be judged by its truthfulness and wholeness, not the writer’s faith.

O’Connor’s writing is some of the most haunting I have read, particularly the short story ‘A Good Man is hard to find’, in which an entire family is executed.

I do think she would agree that every book isn’t suitable for every audience. As for my books, they are written as adult fiction, and even so, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make them purposeless. Admittedly, The Blindsided Prophet may make some people uncomfortable. And some will reject it altogether.

When I first saw the film, Crash, I was shocked out of my comfort zone. I debated with anyone who wanted to, or who didn’t want to, about how dark and disturbing the film was. But soon, I realised that it was in discomfort that I found understanding of the situation.

I couldn’t relate to the movie personally, but having grown up as a black woman in the US, I found the husband-and-wife scene with Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard, in which he watches on helplessly while she is sexually exploited by a police officer, too close for comfort.

My discomfort was such a distraction that, initially, it coloured my ability to see the candour of the movie: the key messages it had to offer on social injustices and hidden racism.

In The Blindsided Prophet, this is a lesson for the character Mae Cook, who builds a fortress around the surface of her beliefs and values, steeped in convention and ceremony. She is challenged to look beyond the surface of those values, and to find out what it means to seek the truth in every situation, not just when it validates her beliefs.

Will this mean changing fundamentally? Not necessarily, but it will mean changing perspective on the fundamentals in order to accept true understanding. Isaiah talks about a New Covenant, meaning a different way of experiencing God, through one’s own freewill and mind.

In encountering this new way of thinking and of being, it is my hope that readers ofThe Blindsided Prophet, regardless of their religious beliefs, will explore the novel as a literary creation, rather than judging it against the writer’s faith, as they would any such theme underpinning a work of fiction.

So getting back to the question of why writers write: for all of the above reasons and many more. But ultimately, to tell a good story, often regardless of their own faith, but sometimes in their faith, or rather their beliefs.

In any case, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the importance of story above all else. My mentor couldn’t agree with him more. As for me, I absolutely love a good story, and when all is said and done, that is what I want to offer readers: a good story, as simple as that.

This is the real reason this writer writes.


Do You Have a Monster Within?

Crazy question, isn’t it? I thought so too until I got thinking about thinking rather obsessively, in the interest of researching and writing my second novel, The Blindsided Prophet.

Available now in e-book and paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most online retailers, it launches officially Monday. But what does it have to do with thinking?

A whole lot is the short answer.

Modern-day prophet Isaiah Brown thinks deeply not only for himself but also for the sake of others, too. And before it is all said and done, he proposes to leave people thinking their way out of chaos and into calm and serenity more often than not.

Deep, right! That’s why I’ve dedicated my latest Huff Post blog to mind matters, a subject so big, I simply couldn’t get it all done in one go.

Part I: Negative Thinking, Monstrously is hot off the wire. Check it out? And find out for yourself whether you have a monster within. Scary? But remember, all monsters are not created equally. Some are cute and cuddly like Cookie Monster while others are a bit grisly, if you will, like the Incredible Hulk.

Best to get to the bottom of this, but that comes in part II later this month.

For now, read with an open mind and answer the question for yourself: So, do you have a monster within? Do tell right here, on Facebook, Twitter or the Huff Post.

Expat writer, coming of age

September 29, 2013 is a big day for 51-year-olds in Britain.  It is my birthday, not an occasion that I usually write about, except last year, when I turned the big 5-0. Only this year, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, now this very age, makes her return to British society, very sadly as a widow but happily as a mother of two.

When I first heard this news, I took it rather badly. Not just because the charming character Mark Darcy had been killed off but also because the new much waited novel comes around the same time as my second novel.

Next week the press release goes out. Gulp!

Then in the interest of positive thinking, I thought better of the situation.  Why not celebrate the return of the 51-year-old. Everyone else is—The Sunday Times has the exclusive on it.

Interestingly enough, I’ve never thought that the clumsy but charming heroine and I were the same age and maybe we weren’t back then. I’ve always loved the idea of the books but remember much younger women than I going for the novels. I did watch the movie(s). Fun!

Anyhow, it could be that I approached the novels from a distance because I couldn’t relate—I was married when Bridget was a singleton. Now, however, we’re the same age, though she is now a widow and I am not, thank God!

I trust, however, that Bridget will deal with lots of coming of age issues and that there will be a happy ending.

And as I come of age, I mourn the loss of two acquaintances around my age, one a man and one a woman whom I knew from my childhood. Still, I’m excited about new beginnings and look forward to many happy endings.

So on this 51st birthday, I celebrate everyone who is coming of age. As the clever birthday card a certain cousin sent a few years ago said: from one hot chick to another–Happy Birthday Bridget Jones!

But if that is you too, whomever you are, whatever day you come into this age this year—Happy Birthday!

Expat writer returns to balanced existence

A month  in the US calls for a reality check. Never willingly or knowingly will I disown my birth country, but for the first time in 15 years, I felt seriously homesick for my adopted country, at least my adopted city.

Though my time in the US was both fulfilling and rewarding, it left me feeling rather melancholy.

I could blame the sombre feeling on a number of things, but I will spare us all the analysis and pin it on one thing–imbalance.

Precisely, the relationship between my life in the UK and my visit to the US were completely out of sync. In fact, my world in the UK ceased to exist, except for the short  conversations I had with Paul daily.

Rightly or wrongly, I found myself in a web of commitment  to my parents that left little room for anything else. Some say it was a web of guilt; in any case, that’s another story.

The point is most days from 5.30 a.m. to at least 11 p.m., I stayed on task, shirking the following: reading, running (except two hard three mile runs), exercising (withstanding two insufficient work outs) and writing, full stop. My dad likened me to our hardworking caregiver who reminds me of the never tiring Energizer Bunny, though I did tire.

For instance, every time I found the time to sit down with my iPad or my dad’s MacBook to write, I became listless, wordless to be exact. To my editor in the UK, I must say sorry for dropping the ball and never picking it up again on the Huff Post blog. Ironically, its subject had to do with writing (metaphorically) one’s own ticket via thinking.

Too deep I told myself and tried my hand at lighter subjects, including running in dreadful heat, dealing with cashiers as slow as molasses, and being hugged by a hostess in a restaurant. Still, I didn’t produce anything.

It was only after Nadal lost at Wimbledon, followed by Federer, then Maria Sharapova, and finally Serena Williams that I accepted the melancholy for what it was–imbalance.

No matter how accomplished you are if you are imbalanced, you’re likely to be off your game. Very well, I told myself! But it doesn’t have to define you.

Sure it has to be acknowledged and even mourned. But after that, it has to be left in the past.

So it has been. Today, I think back over the month of June and see that homesickness was less about leaving Georgia and more about returning to a balanced existence, that is if you can call a chaotic airport a balance. Heathrow, true to its reputation, was overflowing with thousands of passengers at the border, most of them foreign.  Good thing I tagged along with Paul or I might be still queueing now.

And never mind the weather’s cool and gray reception, far from Georgia’s hot and bright climate, even in the rain. Memories of sun rays burning through steamy rain are fresh in my mind. Now that was refreshing.

Still, it was time to say goodbye. Anyhow, with time the memories will become stale, as will the melancholy. Quite frankly I have a book to promote, several blogs to write, and a race to run, literally–10K coming up soon!

Why Do People Run?

Good question but before I attempt to answer, I’d like to pay respect to the people of Boston in the aftermath of the marathon bombings and also to Baroness Thatcher, whose funeral was held today in London.

Now, back to the pressing question: why do people run? I have asked myself this very question time and time again.

This morning as I made my way through Battersea Park, the southwest gate just short of two miles from where I live, I heard the chatter.

Why are you doing this? Why? You are in the throes of pain, honestly. What is the point?

I shrugged the thoughts off and looked around and took in the scenery–the Thames ebbing and flowing to my left, other runners gliding by me to the right, the trees relaxing in the wind. And then I heard the voice of the RunKeeper coach, reminding me of how long I had been running, the distance I had covered and how fast I had done so.

Bingo! I remembered why–the 10K in July. But as quickly as the answer came, it went. There has to be a deeper reason. Still, I picked up the pace and made my way through the park. Just as I turned on Chelsea Bridge to exit, I saw my former neighbour and his two very lively dogs. Noticing the look of surprise and wide smile on his face, I gained steam.

Jogging in place for a few seconds, I told him that I had run from my new home.

“Good for you,” he said, and got a lurch from the dogs.

“See you again,” I shouted, moving on.

And no sooner than I had left him, I heard the question again. Why do you run?

This time I thought about Huraki Murakami’s What I Talk When I Talk About Running. Murakami has run countless marathons and intrinsically links it to writing. In short, he runs to accomplish a goal.

Then I remembered others who run. One friend started out during a difficult time in her life and has run several marathons since. Last week, she ran the Paris Marathon and this weekend will do a half marathon in Nice.

An acquaintance is running the London Marathon Sunday, even though her feet are begging her not to. Never mind, she did it last year and they held her up.

A friend who’d rather not run, now runs most days to clear her head, and another runs because it makes her feel good.

On that thought, I hit the 3.66 mile marker, my best distance set on Monday, and I wanted to feel good but I felt bad, really bad. I wanted to stall but before I did, my music revved me up.

It’s alright to crawl before you walk; it’s alright to walk before you run but if you want to get what you’ve never got, you got to do something that you have never done. Go Get, Go Get, Go Get Your Blessing, It is your time…. Mary Mary’s Go Get It.

As I sang along with the sisters, I recalled the end of my early running career. A sprinter, I could outrun almost anyone, boys significantly older and so on. But as a teenager I entered a race at school but never ran it. On your mark, get ready, get set, go! I did not go.

Since then I have been stalling. Though I have played at running over the years, I’ve never gotten beyond three miles.

As I turned to cross the Albert Bridge, I glanced over my shoulder at my former wider neighbourhood and smiled. Before I knew it, I was back on the South Bank, heading home. Admittedly, I stopped two times and paused the RunKeeper app. But when it was all said and done I had run 5.4 miles. My pacing, well it was awful but still I felt proud.

Why do I run? It has to be to keep on moving ahead. Why do you run? Feel free to share your answer to the pressing question here.

Views in London: playground for imagination

Last week I wrote about the civility of Chelsea pensioners. This week, I’m compelled to mention pensioners in Chelsea outside of the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC).

Let’s just say that they are quite the opposite of civil. Tuesday as I made my way from the RHC to the King’s Road, I encountered retiree after retiree hogging the sidewalk; some even edged people off onto the road.

So much for the English genteel! Maybe it’s the frigid weather that has them ever so cantankerous. Though the official word is that spring came last week, winter remains unofficially and stubbornly. Strong winds and snow flurries continue to unsettle London while heavy snow and ice plague other cities throughout the country.

No wonder folks are stupefied. Never mind. I am not writing about civility this week. I’m writing about things I can see from my windows. So I guess that means I’m stuck too, albeit in my flat.

In these frigid temperatures, I’m lucky that there’s so much to see from my windows. At my former residence, I could see a winged lady on the building behind me–Miranda, my muse. End of blog.

Here, however, I have a bird’s eye view that makes for a great playground for the imagination.

So imagine if you will, rolling hills that seem to meet an idyllic body of water, though the water is actually the sky in the distance. What a striking panorama. Then envisage endless row houses with jutting chimney stacks. At a stretch, this could be Edinburgh or even Dubrovnik. Suit yourself!

Coming in a bit closer, imagine trains whizzing by and then periodically a cloud of white smoke appearing and out of that smoke comes the Orient Express. Actually, it’s the British Pullman, sister train to the Orient Express. All the same it’s easy to imagine yourself relaxing in one of the 1920s vintage carriages of the svelte train.

Now imagine a day trip to another city in the country or even a jaunt to Venice.

Next, notice the traffic crossing the massive roundabout below. Boring, right? Wrong! From a high vantage point, traffic doesn’t faze you. In fact, it intrigues you. Vehicles seem surreal moving on quietly. It’s like watching a silent film.

And now and again something extraordinary enters the scene such as a horse drawn carriage followed by six limousines.

Imagine gazing on as if you somehow knew the departed and then feeling sympathy and reverence simultaneously. When the moment passes, imagine reflecting on the giant sculpture at the centre of the roundabout. Like most feel about Anish Kapoor’s Orbit, you either like it or loathe it.

Undecided,  you look to the faithful Thames where you can imagine boats and barges sailing by and people running and walking nearby despite the frigid weather, but you don’t have to imagine they are there.  Thank your lucky stars for the windows. What would you do without them? You’d probably imagine anyhow, but not with such a wide open playground at your disposal.

Sticking with my pen on London

Since my last post here, life has been a bit of a treadmill, sorting out our move and travelling to and from the US and doing a few other things here, there and in between.  I haven’t slowed down yet.

Only this week did we get home broadband service again and sadly it is spotty at best. Yet, I do have a wider perspective on London as predicted. From where I sit in my new office, I can see the Thames, England’s longest river. Quite contrary to the gentle rain falling is the roaring wind, causing the river to wave.

And though the first signs of night have come over London, it is a remarkable scene; even if it is framed by two tremendous buildings. Never mind the boxes surrounding me. Were it not for my aversion to frigid rain, frigid anything, I would walk onto the balcony.  Instead, however, I’ll mosey into my living room, where I can see Fulham stretching out before me in one direction and Wandsworth in another. The views are painting perfect.

Maybe one of these days I’ll take a brush to the scenery. But for now, I’m going to stick with my pen theoretically. In reality, my keyboard will have to do. And those who know my penmanship are saying thank goodness. In any case, I’m writing.

Needless to say, I’ve been lax yet again. And instead of grovelling and offering excuses, I’m going to chalk it up to a lax year at the risk of turning this into a New Year’s column.

With all the change that I’ve experienced this year, I am ready for resolve. But why wait for January 1 to start. I might as well start now by appreciating the brand new day.

So I am told the broadband problem will be fixed easily but until then, I’ll just have to turn to mobile devices such as my iPad and explore the area for Wi-Fi fitted coffee shops. Already, I’ve found one jewel–Cake Boy, Eric Lanlard’s creation.

Yesterday, I had a meeting there and wasn’t surprised to find it heaving with locals and others alike. My guest went on about how wonderful the place is. So it is; good thing there is a gym nearby.

This morning I returned and sat near a group of pregnant women and ignore them as I tried, I couldn’t. Not only were there bumps interesting but also there conversation was too, all about names.

Naming a child can be difficult, they all agreed, especially a first child. Not to mention the interfering from friends and relatives and the syncing first names with surnames. One woman said she loved the name Emma but her surname was something like Tremor.

Surely I heard wrong but you get the point anyhow.

Good material to include in a novel, a short story, a blog I thought, as I tuned out. Then suddenly it hit me I was writing again. I was changing my perspective. Ah ha!

I hurried back to my office and started this blog. And though I didn’t conclude until afternoon, it is refreshing to have a change of perspective.

More perspective next week!

Yorkshire Moors, Good Thought Experience

Last year while doing research for my upcoming novel, The Blindsided Prophet, I bought into the concept that we somehow influence our every experience with our thoughts. I know it’s a tough sell. I couldn’t buy it years ago either. And here lately, I am beginning to understand why.

Case and point: I can’t imagine that I’ve had any thoughts that led to my well kept recycling container being switched out for a broken scrubby one. No way, I thought as I picked up the old one and headed down the street to put things right. Only when I got to the container that I thought might have been mine was I unsure. Lost my nerve and brought the old scruffy one into my front garden.

All is not lost, I told myself entering the house. Surely my passport has arrived today. After all, I sent it off in May to the said agency in this country to get a very straight forward update. Nope, I flipped through the post. Not here, not here.

So much for the belief that if I write about the passport issue, therefore, I think negatively about it, and so on. You see where I am going, right? Rubbish! I have tried every positive thought you can imagine and even resorted to asking for divine intervention, which ought not to be used on such petty matters.

Forgive me, I cashed in. I can only hope my request will be honoured soon and very soon. In the meantime, what about the well researched concept? Well there is good news on that.

First, the bulk of the writing is done. And the concept really does make for compelling fiction. Watch this space–The Blindsided Prophet coming soon! Next, I have seen an awful lot of Great Britain by keeping this belief close to my chest. Don’t worry about your passport; just enjoy the moment. etc…

Never mind that the continent of Europe is on my doorstep and that Britain has hit or miss weather.

And sure enough last weekend, the good weather hit in London and missed in Yorkshire. Still, we had reason to go north. So we made our way to the spa town of Harrogate and spent our weekend in the Yorkshire Moors, a place of unrivalled scenery.

From crags such as the Cow and Calf to hillsides such the Kilburn White Horse, the views are stunning. And though we mostly drove around and enjoyed  the scenery (rivers and valleys), we did go for a walk or two.

As we climbed the moors, even with dark clouds hanging over us, I had a Great Wall of China moment. Okay, no not really but the point is that the beauty there is unmatched in Britain. On the descent, I had to admire the dry wall fencing. I even appreciated the natural paths covered with heather. The Yorkshire Moors are a hit indeed, even if the good weather does often miss them. Never mind, as long as you remember to wear hiking boots. We did this time, unlike the time we took a woodlands walk in Gleneagles in Scotland. You see on this occasion, we thought it through well in advance.

Maybe there is something to the concept of thoughts influencing experiences after all. Think about it.

Writing on the Wall, Another Option

After a long grueling weekend of reading my 300 page plus manuscript one last time, I hit a wall last night. Not now I thought, having only implemented changes, albeit minor, up to page fifty-seven.

“I cannot miss this deadline,” I told myself. “I’ve already begged for forgiveness once and with good reason, but this time I don’t have any real excuses, do I?”

Then, I remembered that there is one whopper of a change in the next chapter. Maybe that’s what’s behind the wall.

Thus, I tweeted: what does a writer on deadline do when she’s hit a wall? a) climb over it; b) drill a hole through it; c) collapse in front of it.

Not a blinking soul out there advised me, so left to my own devices, I took matters into my own hands. But for the life of me I couldn’t climb over it, couldn’t get even a tiddly hole through it and unfortunately,  I did collapse in front of it, so to speak, at least until about an hour ago.

Around 6:00 a.m., I woke to the alarm of my Blackberry with good intention, so I thought until I stood. Oops – an ear imbalance, vertigo, something off putting, whatever.  Back to bed I went, remembering when I was a young reporter facing a similar problem, I would get ill. Then it was a migraine. But you know what, I overcame somehow.

I wrote on the wall. Ah ha! That’s what I’m going to do today, which is why this blog has to end here. Deadline and wall are staring me in the face.  Better get writing.

With a bit of luck, I’ll bring you my regular blog tomorrow. Can’t wait to brag about my new Ipad. Our secret is out.

Two more days to snag first edition novel

You might recall that mine was a big decision to independently publish The Barrenness. A writer friend reminded me a few weeks ago that the idea of self-publishing intimidated the daylights out of me.

But true to my determined nature, even if it did take me years to get around to it, I found the courage to take the plunge and set-up Prymus Publications. And once I dived in, I gained high hopes, despite all the doom and gloom around the publishing industry–publishers collapsing, book stores closing left and right, and e-books bridging any gaps that came open.

The latter, of course, created opportunities for self-publishers. But I still had to think about the stigmas associated with it, hence some of my turmoil. Now a few months just short of a year since the novel was released, I can’t say I am totally at peace but I am happy to have immersed myself into this project.

Maybe I still haven’t learned how to swim properly, but I am floating, keeping my head above water. Basically, I had three major goals in publishing: to get the novel published (including writing, editing, design, etc…), to promote it, and to sell it.

The first one I achieved on target, thanks to a fantastic team including my editor and designer and of course, printer/distributor. The latter two–promoting and selling–are ongoing, and I must say that while I’m still expecting sales to surprise me any day now, I am delighted with the results of press coverage. In this area, I am a pretty good swimmer.

Since last April 2011, The Barrenness has been featured in some forty media outlets, most of them listed on my website. Still there are others in the making, including FOX News and ARUN, a national radio network in the US. In addition, there are many copies of the novel out there that still might be reviewed. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

CNN with Pam Oliver, as well as The Tom Joyner Morning Show, ABC Let’s Talk Live, CBS This Morning, Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys, The Toronto Star, and The Voice.

Many thanks to the media in the US, in particular, for supporting the changing face of publishing and covering vibrant, new voices, even when they don’t come from one of the big houses.

And in general, thanks to all outlets who gave The Barrenness some quality time, including my hometown television station and newspaper in Albany, Georgia. The biggest thanks, of course, goes to Janet Shapiro of Smith Publicity. She’s the one who totally immersed herself. What a star?

Now, back to this countdown–just two more days left to secure the first edition this debut novel! In the meantime, I absolutely must learn how to swim, properly.