Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

Over the holidays, I was surprised and honored to be given a Very Inspiring Blogger Award by Kalisha Buckhanon of the Negression blog.

Inspirational Blogger Award

When I blog, I usually just write about what’s percolating in that creative yet dystopian landscape that is my brain. It can be hard to swallow, sometimes, as I’m not known in real life for pulling too many punches. That being said, it’s nice to be recognized by a peer as contributing something of positive value.

Per the parameters of this award, I should list seven things about me that you probably don’t know. Those things are:

  • I hate carrots and artichokes (they are DARK-SIDED)
  • I am severely arachnophobic (afraid of spiders)
  • I’ve been previously published in two nonfiction anthologies (which are, alas, currently out of print, but available for large sums of money on used book sellers)
  • I started my post-college career in healthcare, including direct patient care, research, and as a policy analyst for a healthcare nonprofit in Washington, DC. Stayed in this industry for over ten years.
  • Tea is my beverage of choice. Hot, cold, winter, summer…it’s all good. Black teas, of course. ūüėČ
  • I’m an only child
  • I was a professional restaurant chef for 4.5 years in the Bay Area and Miami, FL areas (yep, went to culinary school and everything), and did my externship¬†at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA (Alice Waters, anyone?)

The parameters also state that I need to pay it forward and nominate¬†fifteen blogs that I, too, find inspiring. This was a challenge, since I don’t read a lot of blogs, although I get a lot of email updates (and I read them in my email, not necessarily the actual blog page–I think that counts LOL). Also, a lot of times “inspiring” tends to be synonymous with “uplifting” and “positive”; inspiration can also be borne of anger, injustice, and frustration, so long as it’s properly channeled. The blogs I list below have inspired me in one way or another: some by laughter, some by tears, some by dismay. Quite a few I discovered via Blog Her and National Blog Posting Month. So without further ado,¬†these are the blogs that have caught my eye over the past year,¬†and in no particular order:

  1. Negression
  2. In Search of His Face
  3. Black Girl Nerds 
  4. My Life Runs on Food
  5. The Culinary Life
  6. Jonathan Beverley
  7. My Black Mind
  8. Mimi G. Style
  9. Life In Training
  10. Rhymes With Mascara
  11. My So-Called Glamorous Life
  12. A Little More Sauce
  13. Stand Up and Say OW!
  14. Cancer Is Not Pink
  15. Jeneration Why

Now I have to contact the members of these blogs and tell them I find them (and their blogs) inspirational. Maybe they’ll respond, maybe they’ll ignore. *shrug* Oh well.

Your mission, dear readers, if you choose to accept it: if you want to share the love, here are the rules for this award:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog.

2. Display the award on your post. 

Inspirational Blogger Award

3. Proudly display the award logo (or buttons) on your blog, whether on your side bar, ABOUT page, or a special page for awards.

4. State 7 things about yourself.

5. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.

6. Contact your nominees to let them know you have nominated them. Provide a link to your post.

Alright…that’s done. Get to nominating!

Thanks for stopping by.

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Another One Bites the Dust

I finally got around to reading Festive in Death by JD Robb (the mystery-writing pseudonym of bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Festive in Death

This is the 39th book in the popular In Death¬†futuristic mystery series, and perhaps that’s why this book is further proof that Robb/Roberts is losing her touch.

At first, I thought that I wasn’t that into the book because it was my first time reading an e-book on Google Play Books, instead of my usual Amazon Kindle app. Perhaps that was the reason I kept putting the tablet down while attempting to read this book: an unfamiliar e-book delivery system. But no; when I read another book via Google Play Books, I was able to stay engaged and had a hard time putting the e-book down. So the platform delivery was not the issue; the book content was.

I noticed that the quality of the In Death plots began to decline with Salvation in Death, book #27 in the series. At the time, I thought the book had a phoned-in quality, like Robb couldn’t be bothered to put forth her best efforts. Random reviews from different bookseller and fan sites showed that I wasn’t alone in my thinking; indeed, many were not pleased by the lack of her normal plot and character depth. She redeemed herself in subsequent books¬†until she reached Indulgence in Death¬†(book #31), which was a poor rehash of the plot of Seduction in Death (book #13). Again, all was decent until Calculated in Death (book #35, which was another poor rehash of the subplot of Born in Death, book # 23).

[yes, I’ve read the entire series from the very beginning, and have most of the books, so I can pinpoint a lot of these changes–so can a lot of other fans.]

There have long been rumors (since around the time of Indulgence in Death) that the In Death series/JD Robb books were being ghostwritten, rumors that Roberts/Robb¬†vehemently denies. Yet continuity errors (character names, character backstories, noticeable difference in writing style from earlier books in the series, etc.) in latter books belie her denials. Given the state of the last three or so books, I’m leaning toward the ghostwriting school of thought for at least some of the books in the series.

Hey, I get it: Nora Roberts has¬†¬†“written” forty of the JD Robb full-length novels (#40, Obsession in Death, comes out in 2015), plus short stories surrounding the main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Security and Police Department–all in addition to putting out her romance novels under her real name. Nora Roberts got her start, and made most of her money, writing in the romance genre (indeed, her full-length romances are almost instant bestsellers. She’s a very prolific writer who seems to churn out a new book once a month or so), and it can be argued that romances are her first writing love. That being said, it’s easy to see why she’d want to take a break as JD Robb and fall back on what made her famous. It happens.

I’ve seen other of my formerly favorite authors go down the same “phone it in” path: Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are two of them. Patterson started the “ghostwriting via collaboration” trend that Higgins Clark is now picking up, as he turned his attention to Young Adult novels with his Maximum Ride series. Perhaps that’s what happens when you publish a certain number of books, or been in the writing and publishing game as long as they have: ¬†you become numb, writing-wise. I’ve seen it in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels;¬†Terry Brooks‘s Dark Legacy of Shannara series (The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Witch Wraith: what was that?!); and both Brenda Jackson‘s Madaris and Westmoreland romance series, as well. ¬†For all of these authors (who are pretty prolific), I stopped reading them on a regular basis years ago because the spark that fueled their first twenty, thirty, forty books had gone dim. I no longer enjoyed their newer offerings and found myself reading their older works (and enjoying them more). Robb/Roberts has now been added to the list.

This is one of my fears as an author: writing so much that I will grow weary of my craft, and start turning out subpar stories just to say I published another book; or worse, hire someone to do most of the heavy lifting and rubber-stamp my name in order to retain and maintain¬†my fan base. I’m not at that level yet, but given the amount of mental energy that goes into writing and publishing a book, I can see where the aforementioned authors are coming from. As Whitney Houston once sang, it’s not right, but it’s okay.

Thanks for stopping by.

“Oh, right”: We Had Some Fiction Stories in 2014.

Good read by Kalisha Buckhanon:¬†“Oh, right”: We Had Some Fiction Stories in 2014..

Doubt

I’m re-reading Zero Day¬†by David Baldacci, which is the introduction of his John Puller character. As I get into the story, one overwhelming thought continues to loom:

Why can’t I write like this?

My next Bastille novel is not progressing as I’d like, though I am loathe to admit it. I can tell because I’m finding too many other distractions. When a book is flowing for me, I focus on it and little can detract me from getting the words on the pages. Nowadays? I’m obsessing over tracing my family tree and going through boxes of old books, and thinking about whipping up a homemade batch of eggnog (’tis the season!). This effortless distraction is a clear sign that all is not well in the Tiffverse.

Why can’t I write like Baldacci?

I’m in awe of the way his words flow across the page, how he brings John Puller (and even Puller’s cat, named AWOL) to life, how even the scenery of the book leaps off the page. And I wonder how I can get to that level, or even a fraction of it, within the next month or so. Granted, Baldacci has been writing for almost¬†half of my lifetime, and has many more books published to his credit. I’m a rookie author, he’s a veteran, and thus I should not really expect myself to be on his level right now. But I’m an overachiever, so of course I expect that of myself. ūüėÄ Seriously, I don’t know how to be a rookie because I’m used to being around veterans. That being said…

Why can’t I write like that?

I am beginning to wonder, especially in light of feedback on my first novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille, if I am forcing myself to write in the romance genre; by that, I mean forcing myself to write within the carefully proscribed parameters/formula of the romance genre. Which would explain why I am having such a problem making progress on this installment of the Bastille Family Chronicles. My writing tends to naturally cross genres, so it’s difficult for me to stick to one or the other–which really irritates me when it comes time to classify my book for sales purposes (although at least most sellers offer the options of choosing different categories at once, so as not to pigeonhole in one genre). Still, I may be trying too hard to be one thing, instead of letting my writing be what it is. And that’s where I’m getting hung up.

That may be why I’m writing different books in different genres so early in my writing career; I don’t want to be pigeonholed, since the stories I write aren’t always about love and romance. My writing style is as eclectic as my reading selections, and I want to represent that to the fullest. I enjoy writing thrillers and suspenseful novels, and commercial fiction; more, dare I say, than writing romances. Then why am I writing romances? Simple: I like those too, and I read those, and that was the first book that I completed that was ready for publication. Plus, I’d already planned a six-book series around the Bastilles and their love lives. However, I am not solely or primarily defined as a romance author, as authors such as Nora Roberts or Brenda Jackson are.

Perhaps if I focus less on the “romance” label ¬†(e.g., The Bastille Family Chronicles) and just write the story (e.g., A Bastille Family novel), it will take care of itself.

I will ponder that as I embark on yet another session of procrastination.

Thanks for stopping by.

Rediscovered Treasures

Is there any joy greater than finding books that you’d forgotten you had?

(a joy greater than cupcakes, or good sex or wine, or your favorite sports team making a championship run, that is)

I’ve been in the publishing industry, one way or another, for over thirteen years. During that time, I’ve amassed a lot of books. A. LOT. Of. Books. Some I’ve purchased, but more of them I received free via advance copies for review, or attending Book Expo of America. And I’ve never met a used book sale that I didn’t like.

[sidebar: Whenever I settle in one place long enough to buy a house, I’m going to dedicate a room or three to just my books.]

I had most of these books in storage at my mother’s house. I finally unearthed them due to a rash of rainstorms, and I was concerned since the boxes of books were on an external, screened-in porch that allowed exposure of some of the boxes to the rain. Unfortunately, I lost some of the books to water and mold damage, but thankfully, most of them can be easily replaced. But, in the grand scheme of things, losing about fifty books out of over three hundred isn’t bad, and the majority of those were mass-market or trade paperbacks . ūüėÄ (that 300 is a rough estimate, by the way, including both hardbacks and paperbacks of all sizes. I haven’t actually sat down to count them; I’m almost afraid to. LOL).

While going through these books, I found some gems that I’d forgotten I had. They were like old friends stopping by to say hello and sit a spell (as we say in the South), and I admit to a euphoria that is still going strong. A lot of them are first editions (not that I get caught up on that, because I don’t sell my books, but it’s nice to have books with the original covers instead of the movie tie-ins, like In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner and Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan). Quite a few of these books are no longer in print, which makes them all the more sentimentally valuable to me. Some of the gems are:

  • Why Black People Tend to Shout and Classic Wiley: A Lifetime of Punchers, Players, Punks, & Prophets, both by the late, great sportswriter Ralph Wiley
  • The Gift by D. Lee Hatchett (last I heard, he’d left the indie publishing route and joined a more mainstream publisher to promote this fantasy/speculative fiction series, of which The Gift was the first in the series…and was never heard from again. ūüė¶ )
  • Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros (one of her underrated forays into poetry. Good stuff).
  • A hardback, 1963 edition of The Kama Sutra: The Hindu Ritual of Love (Complete and Unexpurgated)¬†by Vatsyayana
  • The Shaolin Workout by Sifu Shi Yan Ming (YES! An indoor, winter workout!)
  • Eight volumes/collections of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larsen
  • Close to Home by Callahan (if you were in the DC area in the late ’90s/early 2000s, you may have been familiar with his work in the comic section of the Washington Post)
  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, which was given to me for my high school graduation
  • The 48 Laws of Power and The 48 Laws of Seduction, both by Robert Greene
  • The Content of Our Character by Shelby Steele
  • Damballah by John Edgar Wideman

I also discovered that I now have three complete sets of the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, in both hardback and paperback; two sets of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (in paperback, with the original covers and not the movie tie-ins); I have a lot of suspense/thrillers and mysteries (including some more PD James! YAY!), and quite a few Paulo Coehlo books (including two copies of The Alchemist, in both English and Spanish). I also have most of the JD Robb oeuvre, in both hardback and paperback. And I am a fan of Jodi Picoult as well.

I am so geeked at unearthing this literary treasure trove that I will have to start re-reading them (YAY!) and adding them to the “What I’m Reading” posts (of which I’ve been woefully remiss in doing), so stay tuned. These books will be throwbacks, and some won’t be readily available for purchase on places like Amazon or Barnes & Noble (maybe eBay, though). ¬†My bucket list project is adding as many of the e-book versions of my books as possible to my library, so that I won’t have to be too upset if there is future physical damage to them.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

The Genealogy Black Hole

This past weekend was a wash, work-wise (so much for progress on the next Bastille novel *sigh*). Why? Because I decided to trace my family tree.

My grandmother has been ill lately and, since she is my last surviving grandparent, I decided that it might be a good idea to gather her anecdotal rosebuds while I may.

[sidebar: why is that we never realize the importance of ancestral history until after the ancestors are gone? *sigh*]

I was aided and abetted by a friend and sorority sister, who is a genealogical maven. She is the one that turned me on to Family Search (which is run free of charge by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormons), as well as GEDMatch. I learned about GEDCOM files, and discovered WikiTree. I also learned how to upload my DNA results (courtesy of 23 and Me) and find another layer of ancestral matching. And of course, everyone knows about Ancestry, which provided a better venue for me to build my family tree.  They also do DNA testing, and I may consider doing theirs as well in the future.

As you can see, genealogy has a tendency to suck you in, like a black hole. Every time I find a tidbit of information (a birthdate, a birthplace, etc), it leads to another bit of information…and another…and another…till I look up and realize it’s after 1 a.m. and I need to go to sleep. But after I check just one more name…

Anyway, at last count I have over 208 names on my family tree so far. I will have to pony up the subscription fee to Ancestry in order to do more digging, but I’ve made a nice bit of progress via the free records and internet searches. I am hitting a wall going back 4-5 generations, though: records were very spotty and while currently available records indicate that all of my ancestors on both sides, so far, were free blacks (with some Native American and African thrown in), it is entirely possible that there was some slavery somewhere–especially on my father’s side, which originated in coastal South Carolina, near Charleston, which was a known slave port (and those records were not very detailed, if kept at all).

And let’s not get into spelling of names; given the strong Southern dialect, the way a name is pronounced, and the way it’s actually spelled, can be two totally different things. And it’s not like correct spelling was a high priority back in my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ times.

Not to mention, back in the day, it was not uncommon for cousins to marry cousins, and certain first names were very popular (e.g. William, Joseph, George, Anna/Annie, Marie). My grandmother told me that on her and my late grandfather’s sides of the family, the surnames ¬†were the names of plantation owners; hence the plethora of people with those names¬†in their native areas of¬†Georgia during the 1800s and 1900s. And, if we’re getting into the Native American side, well…those records weren’t that great, either. I also discovered that one of my great-great-great-great grandmothers, on my mother’s side, most likely was born in Barbados (via a baptism record)…yeah, good luck with trying to track those records any further. Although I wouldn’t mind taking a trip to Barbados…for research purposes, of course. ūüėČ

The record wall may be a good thing. I have to get on the good foot, since this novel isn’t going to write itself in time for a January/February release. But maybe I have time to check one more name…

Thanks for stopping by.