Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008: Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude. noun. German. Translated, Schadenfreude is the joy one experiences at the misfortune of others. I’ll get to why this is relevant in a second. Stay with me.

We’ve been hanging together for some time now, and I’ve shared my experiences as a midlist author, trying to navigate an industry that remains hostile to those who prime the pump – the storytellers. I’ve told you about editors and agents whose contempt was so obvious that they couldn’t even bother to seal the envelopes of their rejection letters. I told you about late royalty checks that, to begin with, are only cut twice a year and on a Friday. I’ve told you about how fans keep you from taking it all personally. Through it all, I kept this one fact close… that karma was a bitch.

Well, early this month, I read some interesting news from Jeffrey Trachtenberg, who covers the publishing industry for the Wall Street Journal. It seems that the trade division of Houghton Mifflin, one of America’s oldest and most prestigious houses, has stopped acquiring new manuscripts. Then the Associated Press announced that both Random House and Simon Schuster announced layoffs and were restructuring. This was around the same time that I opened my daily e-mail from Publishers Lunch to see that, among other entities, HarperCollins and Pearson were freezing salaries company-wide. Publishers Lunch was calling December 3 “Black Wednesday” and the day after “Greyish Thursday.” The first thing that came to mind was the sound that Nelson from The Simpsons makes – “Ha ha!” I know, Natalie Maines thought it first when she and the Dixie Chicks won fifty-million Grammys after having been labeled as Freedom Haters. But I’m sure she’d let me take that mantle next. There it is people: Schadenfreude.

Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I want is for ordinary folks to lose their jobs. On top of all of the reversals I’d suffered this year, on July 28, I, too, got the news that my money was indeed on the dresser and that I shouldn’t let the door hit me on the way out of the not-for-profit at which I’d dutifully toiled for years. However, under penalty of violating a draconian severance agreement I’d signed, that’s all I can say about that.

So, I feel for the rank-and-file subsumed in the 2% at Simon and Schuster and the 10% at Thomas Nelson Publishers who are going to be eating tuna fish for Christmas. I’m not alone. Check out Editorial Ass’s blog here. The ones I do hold the utmost contempt for are the fat cat CEOs and editors who oversee an industry that even industry insiders, as we share secret phone calls and stalls in the ladies room at BEA, tell me is broken beyond repair. Those are the folks who set up royalty statements meant to obfuscate (I have a PhD, and I still need my former agent to decipher mine). Those are the folks who create something calls “summer hours” so that you can’t get your editor on the phone on a Friday afternoon between May and August. They are the architects of one-sided contracts where they’re held accountable for nothing and you, for everything. They are the ones who don’t give you the tools to market your books but hold what they perceive as lackluster sales against you. Those are the folks who have got to go.

Yes, I’m getting a lot off my chest. It’s what I’d been holding back for years so that people wouldn’t perceive me as – egad! – “difficult.” I’m not taking this baggage into another year. And hey, if this catharsis prevents me from getting another mainstream book deal, that’s fine too. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with the last one. I feel that it’s my responsibility to speak truth to power – if that’s what you can call the aforementioned with a straight face. Because if the publishing industry, in this shakeup, doesn’t cleanse itself of dead weight and outmoded nonsensical practices? It truly will be same shit, different day…

Friday, November 14, 2008

November 14, 2008: 44, Obama, and Nina Simone

I’m sure that all of you remember where you were at 11:00 pm on Tuesday, November 4 when the networks called it, telling the world that Barack Obama had won the presidential election. It’s on the minds of everyone, including all of my fellow bloggers. After a tear-filled call to my mother, I got on the phone to my other great champion, my aunt Syl in Brooklyn, New York. Invoking and paraphrasing the slogan from Ronald Reagan’s 1984 political campaign, I said, “It truly is morning in America.” But even as I said it, it seemed derivative… devoid of the flava that our nation’s 44th president so richly deserves.

You know, in Syracuse University lore, the number 44 is considered revered… lucky. It was, after all, the number that Ernie Davis wore when he played running back for the university, as recently retold in the film “The Express.” I’ve thought about that over this past week… two pioneers… one becoming the first Black Heisman trophy winner and one becoming… well, you know… Obama’s Dream Team was on 60 Minutes last Sunday, steadfastly proclaiming that they knew they could run their campaign freely, bringing the candidate’s values to the public, because they weren’t saddled with the burden of other’s expectations.

That resonated deeply for me… running your own race… keeping your eyes on the prize… defying those who discount you. Focusing on me – it is, after all, my blog entry – I’ve shared with you my epic battles as a midlist author in the publishing industry, the most recent of which being my attempts at getting my latest, Triptych, published. I remember telling you all I would publish it myself if I couldn’t find a mainstream publisher.

Well, I am a woman of my word. Triptych will hit stores on December, my birth month and the last one in a year that has been simultaneously trying and life changing. I am, after all, a storyteller. If I stop being that, it will be my choice to do so, and no one else’s. Plus, I started in this game as a self-published author. Just like Obama, I will be able to make my own decisions, bring my own vision to the fore. And I know that no one in the industry has any expectations that I will succeed. That’s been made abundantly clear. I share this with you 44 weeks after I decided to proceed actively in this endeavor. Hopefully, 44 will bring the reverential luck that it brought to Ernie Davis and to President-Elect Obama.

All this is why “morning in America” doesn’t appropriately capture the hopes and dreams that I have for Obama, for our country, and for myself. So, I’ll paraphrase the lyrics of “Feeling Good,” by the ever-eloquent late great Nina Simone. It is a new dawn. It is a new day. It is a new life for me. And I am feeling good…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008: The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

The soft bigotry of low expectations

I recently heard this phrase from one of George W. Bush’s greatest hits now being used to hit back at the Republican choice of Sarah Palin for vice president. Dubya had used it to say that holding disadvantaged children to a lesser standard was selling them short… basically dumbing down the requirements so that these kids may “succeed.” No matter what your party affiliation, saying that someone performed well in a debate because she didn’t have a complete meltdown is the embodiment of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

You’re probably asking yourself why this is relevant in a blog for and about writers. Don’t skip ahead.

Remember sometime ago, I told you that I would be self publishing my latest joint, called Triptych, joining the ranks of greats like Gloria Mallette, Margaret Johnson Hodge, and Tina McElroy Ansa? Many of you out there are self published and are acutely aware that, when you choose to go that route, you must do almost everything yourself, from writing your own copy and back matter, to designing your own cover. For Triptych, I had this beautiful cover in mind consisting of three sketches – geddit? It’s a triptych – and contacted an artist that I’d met a couple of years ago at BEA. He was bubbly and personable, and he was a brothah. I try very hard to support artists of color. I had seen his work, so obviously, he had the goods.
When I spoke to the brothah on the phone, he discussed the techniques he would use to give the drawings a simulated charcoal look … blah, blah, blah. For a writer, I’m decidedly left brained. All I cared about was his promise that he could make my really tight deadlines for the agreed-upon price. “Naturally, I can’t start until you send me half the price upfront through Paypal,” he said. “Naturally,” I said.

This fast became a Chinua Achebe novel as soon as I gave the brothah the deposit – Things Fall Apart.

The torrent of excuses began. I would leave him messages, and he wouldn’t call me back, but when, by chance, I’d catch him at home, he’d answer the phone like he was just chilling, like he wasn’t feeling any pressure to return my calls. Then I had to hear about how he and his business partner had parted ways, and she took his scanner with her, and he couldn't get a hold of her, because she had had a nervous breakdown, and how he couldn’t get to a Kinko’s, because he lived out in the boondocks. I wasn’t even trying to hear it. He asked me for a drop-dead date by which I would need the artwork. I gave it to him. He said he would call me if he couldn’t make the deadline.

The deadline came and went. No phone call. Two days after the deadline, I had to physically hold my tongue when I called him. “Oh, my wife didn’t call you?” he asked. “Nope,” I said, wondering why on earth his wife would be calling me when he was the artist. “Yeah, well… umm… we’re going to refund your money and cut you a company check.” Here are the Cliff Notes: he couldn’t make the deadline, which was moot now, because of the circumstances and because of – he actually said this next thing! – MY IMPATIENCE. I was ten minutes from Jersey, my foul-mouthed alter ego. When he told me that it would take him seven to 14 days to refund my deposit, I was five minutes from Jersey. “Why can’t you just send it back to me through PayPal?” I asked. Another torrent of excuses… the account from which he would draw the funds isn’t connected to Paypal, so they’ll have to send me a company check… blah blah blah. I was like, whatever. It was then that this blog entry began writing itself in my mind. It’s taking amazing self-control on my part not to call this brothah out right here, right now.

So, back to the soft bigotry of low expectations. Should I have suffered and cut this brothah even more slack, just because we’re “skin folk?” Aren’t we, as clients whose money is just as green as those from the dominant culture, entitled to demand the same level of service that those from the dominant culture get – regardless of the color of the person we’re contracting with to do the job? We say that we’re looking to play on a more level field. Shouldn’t we be entitled to expect that this start first with our own people? Focusing on me, no matter the color of the artist, the fact remains, my deadline is shot to hell.

I was still struggling with these questions when, two weeks later, I received the so-called “company check” – a postal money order. In the enclosed note, the artist was contrite, even promising to send me a complementary original work of art under separate cover. It’s been months now. Shockingly, the artwork has yet to arrive. I won’t be holding my breath while I wait for it to show up…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

September 14, 2008: To Socially Network or Not to Socially Network

This past Saturday, American Independent Writers (AIW) hosted a seminar for writers, touting ways for us to “push the electronic envelope.” As a member, pushing said envelope would only cost me $89 for six and three-quarters of an hour.

Not to disparage, but what writers aren’t already pushing that envelope? On any given day, I’m checking out what’s going on at Shelfari, AuthorNation, and the two heavy hitters – MySpace and Facebook. In July of last year, I, brimming with naiveté, wrote a blog post about how addicted I was to MySpace. Well, people, those were my salad days in which I viewed social networking through the lens of inexperience and idealism.

Flash ahead to September 2008. Inexperience and idealism have been displaced by fatigue and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Tools that I viewed as portals through which to share my work with like-minded folks have become these gaping timesucks through which I fall with startling frequency. Like a Black, dread locked Alice in a cyberspace Wonderland.

Facebook is the biggest thief of my time as of late. I log in and find that someone from one of the many networks to which I belong has lobbed something onto my page that requires my response. A guy I went to high school with has poked me. Should I poke him back, I wonder. What does a poke really mean? Quite a few people have sent me (lil) green patch requests. What does this mean? Don’t my real friends know that I am a serial plant killer in real life? Then there are the requests to take quizzes! I hated taking quizzes for grades; why would I do them for fun? Also, some of the applications on Facebook are a bit much. I can take a joke as much as the next woman, but I find an application enabling someone to bid money on me extremely distasteful, especially for someone of African descent. I’m nobody’s prude, but when someone offered me a friend f*ck, I hastily disabled that application. Some things are still so much better in person, preferably after dinner and a movie.

The good thing about Facebook is that it keeps me in touch with my fellow Bahamians all over the globe. Reading Bahamian slang in print is HILARIOUS! Someone invited me to a group called Beautiful Island Women, which flattered me to no end. In the group I seriously believe Chris Brown was robbed of his Bronze medal in the 400m, I became aware of the extent of the ire that Bahamians felt toward American runner David Neville, who threw himself over the finish line, denying the Bahamian runner, Brown, a medal in the Beijing Olympics.

Invariably, after my exploration of Fun Walls, comments, e-mails, and photos, I look up and realize how much time burned while I fiddled away online. It’s ironic that I started social networking to share my writing, and now, because I’m social networking, I’m getting precious little writing done. Quite the paradox. I wonder if the hosts of Saturday’s AIW seminar mentioned social networking time loss to the folks who shelled out $89. I bet they didn’t. Maybe the next seminar should tell writers how to close the envelope… or at least tell them how to manage the envelope once you’ve pushed it open. Now that’s something I’d pay good money for.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

August 14, 2008: Essentially Black

Recently, I came across Naki, the blog of friend, literary goddess, and fellow author Bernice McFadden. Check it out here. The post from Sunday, July 27, 2008 truly resonated for me. It’s called Dear Potential African-American Author, which is framed as a fictional rejection letter written by “Ms. Ann,” Senior Editor at XYZ Publications.

Giving you the Cliff Notes, Ms. Ann suggests that a novel submitted by an African-American author is way too literate and provides recommendations for said African-American author to revise in order to make it saleable. Here’s a taste of some of these suggestions: 1) Nix the PhD; the heroine must only have a GED; 2) The heroine should be a single mother, either or welfare or with a long track record of having received it; and 3) In the vein of Superhead and baby-mama drama, the book should have “sex, sex, and more sex.”

The tone of the post was playful and very tongue-in-cheek, and I hollered with laughter as I read it. As the laughter died down, though, I realized that behind the humor is a sad reality… the reality of the essentialist notions of what all Blacks should be like as a people. You’ve heard some of them, folks. All Black folks can dance. It’s easier for a woman to find a Black mate in jail than in college. And my personal favorite: She’s Black but she’s talks so White. In essence, when people think of us – non-Blacks here in America, and people of all stripes in the world at large – they ascribe to us the four verbs that the Hill Harper character, X, mentioned in Get on the Bus: Rap, Rape, Rob and Riot.

I would be the first person to agree that we as a people have our own set of problems that are unique to us. Anyone who recently watched CNN’s groundbreaking two-part series Black in America heard the most recent stats on the usual suspects – unwed parenthood, incarceration rates, health issues, etc. But those are the things that make similar a population that is as widely diverse as those in the dominant culture. As the great Angela Davis said when I saw her speak at Syracuse, we are not a monolithic people. However, the dominant culture – and newsflash, they’re the purveyors of media and of the reality they manufacture through its lens – still clings to this calcified, archaic concept of “the black community.” And they make the writer of the genre of fiction that Ms. Ann touts an accomplice to this hate crime.

Please, don’t get me wrong. If you write the type of fiction that’s selling now, go ahead and make that paper. I love it when brothers and sisters succeed. But when myopic editors prop up that genre of fiction as a reality of Blackness, it diminishes us all. I’ll share with you one unqualified assumption made by editors in rejections of my book Triptych: “…So much of the book happens in the Bahamas, and with commercial novels like this [sic] it can sometimes be tough to get readers to want to read outside of their geographic location.” Translation, if it ain’t set in America, Black folks don’t wanna read it. Don’t they think that some of us bought copies of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner? Or Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, both largely set outside of the United States? Is it so far outside of the capacity of the Black reader to imagine life in The Bahamas, a country that’s a 45-minute plane ride from Miami, Florida? Whose population is 85% Black? I find it troubling that people whose knowledge of the diversity of Black culture is so limited have aggressively positioned themselves as the arbiters of it.

It’s not just me. One writer complained to me that his editor took it upon herself to change his characterization of his friend as his patna to the most grammatically correct but sanitized partner. Another writer, hugely successful, told me a story about having to explain to his editor the concept of C.P. time. She remained stymied, disbelieving that this actually existed. Much later, as they sat waiting for the NAACP Image Award ceremonies to begin, she looked over at him, wondering aloud why the start of the show was bordering on ridiculously late. “C.P. time,” he simply explained. She finally got it.

So, what’s the point of this rant? It is this: Regardless of the present climate in our fadistic (and sometimes sadistic) industry, we need to keep writing, keep pressing on as the purveyors of stories from our own unique perspectives as Black folks, keep storming our own equivalent of the Bastille. Because if my hugely successful colleague’s editor can get it, there just might be hope for us all…

Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 14, 2008: Yes, Virginia, Someone’s Listening

You know that I’m always questioning if what I’m doing has any impact. In previous blog entries, I’ve mused about whether an author can ever calculate return on investment (ROI). I’ve asked, in terms of my goals as a writer, “Are we there yet?” I’ve wondered whether it would take a publishing revolution for an author to get hers.

The questions were on my mind most acutely this weekend. I was one of the authors working the Divine Literary Tour booth at Alpha Kappa Alpha’s (AKA) Centennial Boule, held here at D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center. For those who don’t know, the Divine Literary Tour is comprised of a group of Black Greek authors trying to both stretch their collective marketing and PR dollars and give each other much-needed support by touring together. Check it out here.

This weekend, with the temps hitting ninety degrees in the shade, the powers that be at D.C.’s Metro decided to single-track trains on both lines I took to the Convention Center. I arrived late, hot, and sweaty, with Jersey (my rude, grumpy, foul-mouthed altar ego, lest ye forget) ready to make an appearance that would make The Incredible Hulk look like Miss Manners. Then I found out that I was going to be sharing the booth with two other authors. And you all know how I hate when plans change. I try to be as flexible as the next sistah, but Gumby, I ain’t when I’m touring. So the heat, the single-tracking, and the last minute switch-up were fast becoming my very own perfect storm.

However, one of the authors sharing the booth, a tall, attractive woman, made room and welcomed me in the cramped space. She was an AKA, which, even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Delta, I didn’t hold against her. She introduced herself as Latasha G. Hines, author of I Love Him Lord, but He’s Not a Christian.

What happened next threw me. She told me that I’d inspired her. As it turns out, she is an attorney, living in Miami. About three years ago, I spoke there at a National Bar Association spa day. Hundreds of powerful black women lawyers attended the event. She was one of them. She told me that she’d followed the advice I’d given her and her colleagues, stepped out on faith, put pen to paper, and published her own book.

I cannot even begin to tell you how good it made me feel to hear that. So many times, we blog and wonder if we’re just talking to ourselves. We look at our royalty statements and wonder if anyone is reading our books. We speak to crowds at banquets and speculate whether anyone can hear us over the calls to the wait staff for rolls, butter, and/or directions to the ladies’ room. It was as if God knew that I needed those questions answered, and He sent me Latasha G. Hines.

So, I have some advice for you. No matter how hot, sweaty, and pissed off you may be, behave yourself, because you never know who you might meet. And when you express yourself, do so honestly, because yes, Virginia, someone somewhere is listening and is taking on board something you have to say…

Friday, June 13, 2008

June 14, 2008: Loving Day, Huh? Who Knew?

As I write this, the great Tim Russert has been gone for less than twelve hours. What I remember about him is that he prepared incessantly in order to get things right. This blog entry didn’t start out as a salute to his journalistic greatness, but trust that Russert’s legacy is germane here.

I think about getting things right quite a lot. Nothing is worse than having someone call you on facts that you haven’t gotten straight. Talk about having to have toast with the egg on your face! I thought about this last week when Barack and Michelle Obama gave each other dap minutes before Barack’s victory speech as the Democratic presumptive presidential candidate. This little love tap resulted in a myriad of dominant culture columnists trying to explain what the hell it was, from Reuters calling it a “celebratory fist-bump” to some unenlightened commenter on the Human Events web site erroneously labeling it “Hezbollah style fist-jabbing.” Again, illustrating that people can write with such brio and conviction about things of which they know or understand nothing, neglecting to get things right. Slate reporter Christopher Beam had to break it down for them here.

Then this week, my girl and former Book Squad co-host Karyn Langhorne called me up and said something like, “Hey, I’m writing this Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post about Loving Day.” Thankfully, she couldn’t see my blank expression over the phone. I say thankfully, because I, Wendy Coakley-Thompson, survivor of an aggressively unsuccessful interracial relationship… author of fiction in which the protagonists have interracial and multicultural relationships… author of a dissertation exploring the lives of biracial offspring, had no clue of what Loving Day was.

I had no excuse. I wrote about the Loving V. Virginia decision in my dissertation. Here are the Cliff Notes: On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws that had prohibited people from marrying across racial lines. Today, interracial couples and their children celebrate June 12 as Loving Day. There are parties and commemorations, like the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival jumping off this weekend in Los Angeles.

Karyn’s Washington Post piece is fabulous. Click here to read it.

I write this missive to say that, even though it took me some time to discover that Loving Day was an actual holiday, I hope that in my fiction, I have lived up to the Russert credo of getting things right, of conveying the significance of interracial relationships and how they show the importance of not limiting oneself to prescribed essentialist notions of love. I hope that my writing reflects that I speak from an informed place, illustrating that, with all its trials and tribulations, love is a beautiful gift – no matter the color of its wrapping.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 14, 2008: The Power of Fan Mail

In my travels to author conferences, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard variations on this same speech: “You’ve Written Your Book. Now What?”

I can tell them “what.”

“What” is, if you’re lucky, handing over your intellectual property that you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time nurturing to some person at a publishing house whose last creative thought, mercifully, went down on the first flush of the bowl. “What” is watching others co-opt your vision and turn it into something you don’t recognize while you stand helplessly by.

“What” is, once your intellectual property is pushed out into the world, doing everything you can to ensure that you can find an audience who would love reading your story just as much as you enjoyed writing it. This might involve spending the GDP of a small nation on publicity, marketing, conferences, signage, samplers, tours, and anything else that might help you grab the attention of a population that has the attention span of a hummingbird on a Starbucks triple espresso.

For me, the ultimate high is making a connection with people through something that I created. Unfortunately, as many of us authors painfully realize, that desire gets lost in a sea of agents, editors, biannual royalty statements, the disbelief of the numbers on said royalty statements, Publishers Lunch and who’s gotten a better deal than you have, self-promotion, and, as one of my Blogging In Black colleagues said in a recent post, the voices inside of your head that you just cannot shut up, the voices of characters in the book you’d write if you could find a few minutes in the day so that the Muse may appear. In other words, more “what.”

Add this to the fact that most of the authors I know are creative people trying to navigate the soullessness expanse of Corporate America and the denizens inhabiting it. Throw a significant other, kids, and/or a pet into the mix, and soon – hypothetically speaking, of course – you’re sitting up late at night with an icy tumbler of Bacardi Select and Coke, pondering the crossroads at which you find yourself. The Dream versus Reality.

From my past posts, you know that I’ve been standing at this crossroads a lot lately, asking myself the hard questions late at night, when all is quiet. Fortunately for me, it is around that time that I also check my e-mail. At the crossroads late on April 29 of this year, I opened an e-mail entitled “Back to Life.” It went a little something like this:

Good evening Wendy,

OH MY GOODNESS... I just want to thank you for creating such a
wonderful and inspiring novel. You truly have an amazing gift. I have read my share of novels and I must say this one was incredible from the start....and I could not put it down. I literally just finished reading it and I had to Google you so I can send you this message. I hope you continue to write ...and I will happily read.

Thanks again for such an amazing story...You don’t know how your
work really touches the life of others. Thanks for restoring my faith in
happily ever afters.


Fan mail like this makes both the “what” and my tenure at the aforementioned crossroads a bit bearable. Because of M. and people like her with whom I’ve made that connection, I able to think that the road leading to The Dream may just trump the rutted road of a reality that truly bites. Because of M., I am able to ponder taking the road less traveled.

Monday, April 14, 2008

April 14, 2008: Calculating ROI

Hey, y’all.

Now on to my latest rant, which is rather timely, considering that taxes are due tomorrow. If Three-6 Mafia thought it was hard out here for a pimp, they should’ve tried being mid-list authors. I’ve done so many talks about how, as an author, it was my dream to get a major book deal and get to The Show. Little did I realize that what I was doing as a self-published author was only the dress rehearsal for The Show. Two books in, it’s like I’m a self-published author, but with better distribution. It’s no secret that mainstream publishers spend hardly any money on publicity for a mid-list author. It’s the literary equivalent of throwing pasta up against the fridge and seeing if it’ll stick – without spending any money on a fridge. It’s up to you as the author to ensure that your baby, this tale that you’ve slaved over to make it just right, finds an actual audience.

To accomplish this, I’ve done some things that I never thought I’d do. I was watching the final season of HBO’s The Wire recently. One of the women in a Narcotics Anonymous-type support group said that a drug addict should never make a list of things she would never do to score drugs. Because, in the end, all you’re doing is making a list of the things you will actually do once you start fienin’. I likened that revelation to this quest to get my stories told. I’ve asked myself if what I’m doing is an addiction. After all, I’ve done some things that people who aren’t in this business think are just plain stupid. Cases in point. I’ve refinanced my house to pay for my marketing and publicity. I’ve driven from New York to Philly, selling only three books for all my trouble. I’ve traveled countless miles, in various and sundry weather events, in pursuit of this dream. I don’t even want to discuss the debt from that labor of love called The Book Squad. Every year, though, when I do my taxes, I look at what I’ve spent on marketing and PR, shake my head, and say, “Naw, that amount can’t be right!”

2008 promises a more hyped promotional juggernaut. Two literary tours (the Divine Literary and the Femme Fantastik), and at least three conventions to date – all with crazy registration fees and travel and accommodation expenses. Don’t get me wrong; I love writing. I love meeting people who love writing and reading as much as I do. I’ve met people who’ve told me that my books are on their Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time list, which does what’s left of my ego a world of good. That aside, am I less committed to my craft and to my fans if I ask myself when will I see some return on investment, or ROI? It’s got to happen eventually, right? I mean, wasn’t Jeff Bezos hemorrhaging money until the little company he’d started in his garage called turned the corner? John Grisham was selling A Time to Kill out of his trunk until he wrote The Firm and hit the mother lode. For God’s sake, Brad Pitt was the El Pollo Loco chicken before he hit it big. The point is, though, all of the aforementioned hit it big. They got ROI. When does it happen for an author in general and for me in particular?

This question especially troubles me now, as it is a certainty that we’re going to have layoffs at the Plantation. The price of gas hit an all-time high last week. Life is getting bleaker with every news cycle. There comes a time when one has to take her woman pill and become a realist.

That is until I get the next e-mail inviting me to the next conference, and I check my bank account to see if I can attend. That is when I really start to wonder if I am truly addicted, if I’m stupid enough to actually start making that list of things I won’t do to further this dream. Because, like Old Girl on The Wire, we know how that story ends, don’t we…?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

February 17, 2008: Writer Masturbation: Not So Good For Anymore...

The year was 2002. I’d self-published Back to Life, put up a web site, and set about getting my name out there. From that moment on, I started my day with three solitary activities that brought me earth-shaking ecstasy. This, my writer masturbation, if you will, took the form of a) plugging my name into Google and seeing the number of hits I got; b) checking my rank on; and c) checking my rank on Barnes and

Oh, like I’m the only one who does this. Just like how only other people engage in that other form of auto-eroticism. Okay. Go on and take the delusory high road if you want to at my expense.

For those of you who don’t engage in the aforementioned three activities, trust me when I say it’s highly addictive. Every day, like the rat in the behaviorist experiment who presses the bar repeatedly, sometimes with an accompanying nasty shock until its food pellet shoots out, I check my Google hits and my rank on Amazon and Barnes and When a mainstream house republished Back to Life in 2004, writer masturbation began in earnest. I’d do it three… four… sometimes five times a day… slamming on that bar… waiting for the gratification that would send the adrenaline flowing through my body on tiny electrical currents… stimulating my amygdala. Between escalating sale numbers, Google hits in the tens of thousands, and the resultant orgasmic sense of euphoria, I, heading toward carpal tunnel syndrome at full speed, asked myself, “Who needs a man?!”

Flash a head four years. The steady paycheck from The Plantation is beginning to trump the uncertainty of dreams. I’m in publishing limbo, in terms of having a new release any time soon (we discussed this in a previous monthly therapy sessions on the 17th day of the month, remember?). My Amazon and Barnes and numbers aren’t what they used to be. Fair weather friends have come and gone. Although you have to ask yourself how what sane person would be a star***ker to a writer anyway. We’re like Dr. Pepper – so misunderstood.

But I hang on to my morning writer masturbation ritual, even though my act is starting to sound like the actual sex that my married friends have with their husbands – half-assed, perfunctory, with very little in the way of the satisfaction afterwards. I do it, because I still get a decent number of Google hits. I still have a rank that’s comparable to many of my peers out there with two books on the market. Unlike the dull married sex, thousands of people like me. They really like me. Plus what I do fulfills me. Yes, I worry about pleasing someone else, but my needs always come first. I “get mine” first. I bet my next royalty check that my married friends can’t say that. They may think it, but that’s a whole different story… mercifully one that I don’t have to tell.

For these reasons alone, come the morning (no pun intended!), you know where you’ll find me… on the computer… doing my thing. Because I know that one day, writer masturbation will be good to me again as it was that very first time. Perhaps even better…

Monday, February 04, 2008

February 4, 2007: Good Vibes All Around

I'm still on a hell of a high, after watching the Giants beat the Patriots like a rented mule to win Super Bowl 42. I've waited seventeen years for this moment. The fact that the punctured the Patriot Pomposity made it all the sweeter. Bill Belichick left skidmarks, before the game was even over, as he rushed off the field and into the Sore Loser Hall of Fame. I hope he was taping that exit. Karma is such a bee-otch!

Then today, Lori Bryant Woolridge, my good friend and fellow Fantastik Femme, forwarded me this video. It's not secret that I am a proud and practicing Democrat. I also haven't been shy about who I intend to vote for in the Virginia Democratic primaries on February 12 and on the first Tuesday in November of this year.

This video comes from of the Black Eyed Peas fame, along with a few guests. Check it out; it's amazing:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 24, 2008: RIP, Karibu

Imagine my complete and utter astonishment when I opened my e-mail and received this missive, date January 22, 2008:

Dear Karibu Customer,

After 15 years of service within the Washington, DC metropolitan area, Karibu Books, a Black bookstore chain will be closing its doors. We sincerely thank each and every one of you for your patronage and support. We are optimistic that our mission to empower and educate through a comprehensive selection of books by and about people of African descent will continue to resonate within the communities we proudly served.

Since 1993, we have been blessed to help thousands of local, regional and national authors share their incredible stories of faith, hope, love, peace, politics and race. We cannot begin to express our gratitude for the countless authors who have graced our six stores and enriched our customers’ lives.

On Sunday, January 27th, We will be closing our Security Square (Baltimore, MD) and Forestville locations. The remaining locations, Bowie Town Center, The Mall at Prince Georges and Iverson Mall will close on Sunday, February 10th. Our Pentagon City store is already closed.

Effective immediately, all inventory at all locations will be 50% off. All fixtures will also be available for purchase on February 10th. See individual store managers for more information.

Again, we respectfully thank you for your loyalty, laughter and love. What an honor and privilege it has been to serve our community!

Simba Sana
Karibu Books

Let the bloodletting begin.

I don't know if folks understand the ramifications of this loss to the book-buying communities and to authors like myself who aren't pulling down J.K. Rowling-like numbers.

Where I can hardly find any books on issues concerning people of color, or books by authors of color in the evil chain bookstore just up the street from me, I never have a problem locating what I needed at Karibu. Where the same evil chain, less a mile from my home, requires people to special order my books, Karibu stocks my work at their six locations.

I had a signing at the Karibu store in P.G. Plaza in the fall of 2004 for my book Back to Life. I couldn't put my signature on the title pages fast enough before the books would go flying out the building. The staff was always helpful and courteous, always making me like I was more than just some lowly midlist author. Signings at a Karibu store were more like hanging out with friends and less like actual work.

The venues in the DC-area for books by people of color have been dwindling as of late. Reprints in L'Enfant Plaza shut its doors. So has Sisterspace. Now Karibu. I pray that this isn't the first note of the death knell for independent bookstores in general, and of those for folks of color in particular. As both an author and a person of color, I couldn't and wouldn't want to imagine a world so horribly deprived.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Greetings from Bootleg University

I have to share, y’all…

So, I am answering my e-mail on the first Monday of the New Year – “minding my own bidness,” as Eddie Murphy would say – when I open the following e-mail from my alma mater, Bootleg University (obvious, though apropos, not its real name; all names are withheld or changed to protect anonymity):

Dear Dr. Coakley-Thompson,
President [Name Withheld] of Bootleg University was invited to the inauguration of Robert Franklin, Jr. as the tenth president of Morehouse College in Atlanta on Friday, February 15, but… is unable to attend. Is there any chance you would be interested in attending as the University's representative?

I confess; I am both honored that they’d thought of me and curious as to why… all at the same time. After all, when I’d attended the university, I wasn’t even a mere blip on the radar screen there. I also have a love/hate relationship with the place. Never known to nurture talent, this is the same university who, rumor has it, told a certain popular action film star (hint: his ex is married to a much younger man, with whom he’s friends) to hang it up and find work in some other field. Rumor also has it that they’d told another theater student that she’d never amount to nothing. Years later, she became one of the breakout stars of a famous Black musical co-writen by Ossie Davis. I rest my case.

Nonetheless, curiosity devours me whole. I send the following missive in response:

Good evening, [Redacted].
I am honored that you are considering me to be the University's representative on such a monumental occasion. I am certainly interested in attending but remain curious at to what representing the University would entail.
Please feel free to reach me at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss this further.
Wendy Coakley-Thompson, Ph.D.

[Redacted] does, indeed, call, and we discuss the proposition on the table. It turns out that our chronically wrong Alumni Association has told him that I still live in Atlanta. When I tell [Redacted] that I’ve relocated back to DC, he asks if I’d consider flying down to represent the president at the graduation, at the ensuing convocation, and at the concert on graduation night. I’m thinking a free trip to the ATL, during which, after my spokes model duties, I could drop into my old haunts and sign a few books… perhaps host a reading or two. “Sure,” I say.

[Redacted] and I hang up, all simpatico. “Thanks very much for agreeing to represent Bootleg University,” he says in a subsequent e-mail, then asks for my updated contact info, which I happily give. Moreover, [Redacted] and I are now on a first-name basis now. I e-mail back promptly:

Hi there, [Redacted].
Good talking to you today.
I'm happy to represent my alma mater. I'm sure we'll be working out all of the transport and accommodation details as the time approaches… Let's talk again soon.

Simpatico evaporates like water in the Mojave Desert, though, when I get [Redacted’s] next e-mail:

To read the rest, check out the January 17, 2008 entry on Blogging in Black...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

January 1, 2008: Wishing You a Happy New Year

Just a shorty to extend peace and blessings to you for this New Year, 2008.

Keep watching this space and travel with me for what I hope will be a year of numerous successes in reaping the fruits from a field well tilled...