Saturday, June 25, 2005

Elba & Eva

What a night!

Last night the Molotov Mouths gave me the honor of reading with them at their event at Carlito's Cafe which is right across the street from the Chica Luna office in El Barrio. The Molotov Mouths are touring to promote their collectively drawn "poetic map of life in Las Americas during so-called New World Order." It was great to reconnect with James Tracy again (he also edited The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Guide For The Politically Disenchanted for all you rebels out there) who I first met when the Republican National Convention invaded New York City and to hear his kick-ass poetry. I also finally got to meet Leroy Moore, "crip hop" extraordinaire, founder of Disability Advocates of Minorities Organizations and New Voices: Disabled Poets and Artists of Color, and self-professed "Black Disabled Man with A Big Mouth & A High IQ." Also blessing the space with not only her moving poetry but also her lovely singing was Ananda Esteva and local spoken word artist and educator DeWayne Dickerson whose work made us laugh as much as it made us think.

The experience me yearn for a trip to the Bay Area, CA so I have to make a trip out there before ending my Picture Me Rollin' Tour. I always wanted to head to Frisco, Oakland and Berkeley, but I prioritized (mistakenly it now seems) Los Angeles because I wanted so much to build with the Latino-owned bookstores out there. With the exception of the dope folks at Imix - the first bookstore to show me love even before I dropped Explicit Content last year, there were no takers. So to the Bay I go, hopefully in November.

My high didn't end after I left Carlito's. I was on the 6 train head back home when two girls -- I'd say about fifteen, sixteen years old -- get on. One of them is carrying Harlem Girl Lost, and the other is holding a similar urban trade paperback with a bluish cover (I can't catch the title.) So I pull a copy of Picture Me Rollin' out of my bag, hand it to the one standing closest to me and say, "Excuse me, if you like those books, you might like mine."

Their eyes widen. "You wrote this?" I nod, and they flip the book to the back and study my photo. "Is this your first book?"

"No, that's my latest one. My first one was Explicit Content."

"I have that at home! My mother's reading it right now. That's about the one about the girls who live near Longfellow. That's where I live. Are you from around here?"

"Yeah, I do." I check for the signs as the train pulls into a station. "In fact, I'm getting off in about two stops."


On a whim I say, "I'll give you this copy for free if you promise me you'll tell all your friends."

Without hesitation, she says, "I promise." I believe her (and I still do.) Can you sign it?"

"Of course! Do I make it to the both of you? You'll share it?" They agree and tell me their names are Elba and Eva. So I personalize the book, sign it and give it to them. This happens in the nick of time because the next stop is theirs, and they had to rush off the train before the doors closed. They run off the train, giggling with excitement the way teenager girls are supposed to, and I feel so good I almost start to cry.

I think I'm going to do that more often.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A&B, Brooknam

"Meet Black Artemis, author of Explicit Content, Picture Me Rollin'! Live in the bookstore now! Come holla at your girl!"

From 12 Noon - 2 PM, I signed books at A&B in Brooklyn. I think that if any Black person in the history of humankind has typed and bound a manuscript, it's in this bookstore! As I sit inside the bookstore by the door and marvel at the amount and array of trade paperbacks on the shelf behind me, a man named Kendall stands outside and hands out fliers, postcards and menus.

Yes, menus. See, next door to A&B is a mom-n-pop restaurant that serves Caribbean fare from arroz con pollo to mac 'n' cheese to escovietch. So while he's trying to coax folks to come into the the bookstore to meet me, he's also selling grub. With the pleasant odor wafting in from next door, it's very hard for me not to abandon my post and get myself some peas and rice! But I stay the course, and in two hours, I'm back on the uptown 2 train.

The hardest thing for me about doing these appearances at bookstores is not walking out with an armload of new books. Especially when I sign at such a well-stocked Black-owned bookstore like A&B. They always have a vast inventory of titles there that you're never going to find at Barnes & Nobles, and I'm not just talking about the self-published books either. If I had a dollar for every time a bookstore chain didn't have a book by an author of color who was published by a major house, I'd have the loot to start my own independent press. I'm not going to front like I don't have any love for the corporate booksellers, but I still want to see the independents thrive. It seems that the best shot of doing that is having a prime location (A&B is a skip away between Brooklyn's municipal center and the Fulton Mall) and to specialize in certain kinds of titles.

Damn, when is New York City going to have a Latino bookstore again? I like Lectorum, but it specalizes in carrying Spanish-language books which is something quite different than carrying books for, by and about Latinos. Hmmm... are any of my joints even available there?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Black Music Month

Today, I did a presentation on hip hop at Penguin for Black Music Month. About a dozen employees attended including my editor Kara. I don't know how much the people in attendance follow hip hop, but they were a sophisticated bunch (sounds like the title of Parliament joint, doesn't it?) Usually when I do my opening exercise -- a word association game using the term hip hop, I usually get the names of people and things having to do with commercial rap music. P. Diddy. Bling. Violence. While some of those usual suspects were mentioned, this group also offered some more positive associations. Turntables. B-boy. Expression.

Then I did a bit of Hip Hop 101, describing the four primary elements (at least from the perspective of purists such as myself) and their roots in African diasporic cultures, providing some statistics on the social, political and economic conditions of the South Bronx that gave rise to hip hop subculture, and linking rap music -- especially socially conscious rap music -- the Black Arts Movement. To highlight that last point, I play Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (update the names, and damn if that joint's still not relevant.) I wanted to follow that with Sarah Jones's brilliant Your Revolution, but I had a hell of a time attempting to convert my MP3 into a WAV file that I could burn onto a CD that would play correctly. At minimum, I quote a few lines, explain that it's a feminist response to misogynistic rap lyrics as much as it is an ode to Gil Scott-Heron (whom Sarah respectfully refers to as a "proto-rapper" at the opening of the track), and inform them that the ludicrous FCC had the audacity to call the song obscene and fine stations for playing it when now kids getting dressed for school can hear the word bitch uncensored at eight in the morning on Hot 97.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to do this. How many authors are invited to do a presentation at the publishing house and meet some of the people who help bring their books from paper to bookshelf? I even got a sneak preview at the upcoming NAL sampler (a monograph-sized book that excerpts the first chapter of five to six novels that the imprint will release during the summer including Picture Me Rollin' and Electa Rome Parks's Almost Doesn't Count. The sampler's hot, and I hope to have a some copies to give away at appearances. When I get them, I'll be sure to post what are the other upcoming NAL novels included.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Sorry, I'm Not Ms. Woods

On Saturday, I had a signing at the Waldenbooks at Kings Center Plaza, my first of several appearances in Brooklyn. According to my publicist Angie, that particular Waldenbooks is the 3rd largest African American bookseller in the country. Who would've thought that one particular location of a large chain would have such a distinction.

I have to be at the bookstore at 1 PM so I leave my home in the Boogie Down by 11 AM. That's right, I gave myself two hours and still ran late. All I had to do was take the 2 train to the last stop then switch to the B41 bus to the shopping center. But of course, it's the weekend which means the MTA is doing track work so I can forget about having a direct ride to Flatbush. By the time I reach the last stop, it is already 1 PM. Instead of taking the bus (which would've been a 15 minute ride), I hail a cab and call the store to let them know I'm on my way.

When I get there, the friendly staff sets me up right at the entrance. Across the way, I see they have a table set up for Daamiah S. Poole. I have mixed feelings about the prospect of her signing at the same time I might be. On the one hand, I know she'll draw readers into the store which can only benefit me! On the other hand, she was kind enough to sign her latest book What's Real for me at the BEA, but I have yet read it. Well, not that she would remember meeting me as I'm sure she was swamped with fans at the expo. Then I realize that Daamiah's scheduled to appear some time other than my four-hour block which means I'm on my own when it comes to getting readers to my little table.

As outgoing as I am, I hate selling myself or my work. I can sell anyone or anything else I believe in, but self-promoting makes me cringe. I prefer to do my thing and just be (which ironically for the most part means NOT shy) and let that speak for itself, but that's naive. So I start coaching myself and pushing my comfort zone. Being so close to the entrance, I grab a few Picture Me Rollin' postcards and position myself right outside the door to hand them out to folks and let them know that, yes, I am indeed the author and would be happy to autograph my books for all who buy them today.

One can never tell what makes for a successful bookstore appearance, but I do know I sold more books than I would have had I not been there, and that by being assertive, I sold more books than had I just sat there and waited for folks to wander over to me, wondering who's the snazzily dressed chick with the sugar cookies sitting by the enrance. I know for a fact that several people came into the store on impulse to just browse and walked out with my book -- and some of those with my book ONLY -- so what if I had not been there?) And I had some memorable moments to boot.

One young woman looked at my author photo then at me and said, "That doesn't look like you." By her tone, I knew it wasn't a compliment, but just in case I missed it, she was sure to add, "I guess not since you had to put all that makeup on and after all the retouching." Lots of makeup, yes, but tons of retouching? Give me some credit. I ain't Veronica Webb, but I hardly frighten children and small animals. With the exception of the flawless skin in my photograph, I actually think I look better in person because I smile a lot more than my ghetto fabulous headshot suggests! But to survive in this world, a sister has to think highly of her appearance (or at least front like she does) even if no one else does. Anyway, I made my usual joke when folks comment about my glamourous author photo, "Well, it's me all right, I just don't look like that everyday. I can't. I have more important things to do every day than spend three hours on my hair and makeup. You know, like, write books." Anyway, Missy was less impressed with my humor than with my natural beauty (I tried hard to sound gracious even though I felt a bit insulted, but maybe, just maybe, a little snootiness sneaked out in my voice despite my best intentions), and she kept it movin'. Even though I forced myself to smile warmly, I was thinking, "See ya! MEOW!"

An older woman who actually bought a copy of Explicit Content made up for it when she said, "Your picture doesn't do you justice at all. You look so much better and younger in person." God bless you!

Near the entrance was a poster of Teri Woods latest novel with her photo juxtaposed in the center. Scrawled across in the upper-right corner is a notice that she'll be appearing at the bookstore the following week. I note that not only is she very pretty, but her photo's also very accessible. She's lying on the floor with her feet folded and crossed just like she might if she were your homegirl crashing at your place after a long night of painting each other's nails and sharing the latest gossip.

The funniest moment comes when someone comes into the bookstore, darts her head between me and the poster a few times and then excitedly asks, "Are you Teri Woods?" I just had to laugh before replying, "Sorry, I'm not Ms. Woods." Then I add, "I wish!" Not because I aspire to write the kind of stories Teri does (I honestly don't -- street lit's just not my genre as a writer or reader, and anyone who has ever had to suffer my spiel knows how much I wish to hell everyone would stop to assigning the term to "hip hop" to any book or film about about "the game.") But I do aspire to be as successful at writing hip hop as Terri Woods, Vicki Stringer, Nikki Turner, et al are at writing street life, and hell, when I started to think about it, I had to take the physical comparison as a compliment because what can I say? The sista's goodlooking!

I met a brother who looked at my book covers while I gave him a synposis of both novels who eventually said, "Oh, this looks like it's just for women." "Now, now, now," I say, "just because it's by a woman and the main characters are women doesn't mean a man cannot enjoy the story. These stories are edgy. This is far from chick lit." (And this is one of those rare occassions when I keep the fact that I DO write chick lit under my real name for another house to myself.) Still he passed... I can't say I wasn't disappointed that he rejected the book for that reason. I'm cool with folks passing on my work for a variety of reasons like they're not into urban fiction or hip hop culture. But for a man to pass on a book (although he was quite diplomatic about it, I must say) simply because the author is a woman and the main characters are women is disheartening. OK.... it irked me a bit. Like I said, since he was nice about it, I couldn't really get worked up to pissed so let's just keep it at irked. I cannot begin to fathom the assumptions underlying that rationale for rejecting a novel! But as my assistant A.I.R.E. (who wrote the poetry that appears in Picture Me Rollin') often says, "Waddayagonnado?" I can't reach or please every reader, especially if their selection criteria is based on things I can't or won't change (like, er, my sex for instance), but at least I tried.

And as a result, I reached a few people that I might not have otherwise and got likened to an attractive, popular author to boot. I'd make another two-hour trek to Brooknam for that. In fact, I'll be at A&B Books tomorrow and back at that same Waldenbooks in late July.

Friday, June 17, 2005

My Tour Schedule as of Friday, June 17th

My hope is to add more details regarding my trips to Houston in the near future as well as to make it to Houston and Cali (especially since my peoples in the Bay Area are callin', too, and it's been too long since I've been there.) I'd like to make a trip to LA, too, but word is the bookstores there ain't biting. Think it over, mi gente, because the idea of not hitting a few Latino-owned bookstores (many of which are in southern Cali) just breaks my heart. Am I just going to have show up and pull folks off the street?

But as of today, this is where I'm headed and when:

* Waldenbooks at Kings Plaza, Brooklyn, NY on June 18, 1-5 PM
* A&B Books, Brooklyn, NY on June 22 from 12-2 PM
* Harlem Book Fair in Buffalo, New York (that's right... B- Lo!) on July 8-9
* Harlem Book Fair in Harlem (of course) at the Adeeva Tent on July 23
* Waldenbooks at Kings Plaza, Brooklyn, NY (yes, again... NEVER let it be said that Black Artemis has no love for Brooknam) on July 30 from 1- 5 PM

* Expressions Bookstorem in Baltimore, MD on August 4 from 12 - 2 PM
* Sepia Sand & Sable in Baltimore, MD on August 4, 3 - 5:30 PM
* Karibu Books at Prince George's Mall on August 4, 7 - closing
* Reprint Books in Washington, DC on August 5, 12:30 - 2 PM
* Karibu Books at the Centre in Forestville on August 6, 2 - 4 PM
* Karibu Books at the Iverson Mall on August 6, 5 - closing

* Penn Station Books in Newark, NJ on August 11, 4 - 7 PM

* Waldenbooks at the CNN Center on September 9 from 11:30-1:30 PM
* Nubian Books on September 9 from 3-6 PM
* Waldenbooks at the Cumberland Mall on September 10 from 1:30-3:30 PM
* B's Books & More on September 10 from 4:30- 6:30 PM
* Oasis Books on September 10 from 7-9 PM

* Latino Family Book Festival from September 30 - October 2
More details to follow but check out the Festival's website

* The African American Book Club Summit At Sea Cruise from October 16-22

"Picture Me Rollin'" is Out, and the Tour is On!

Picture Me Rollin' hit bookstores on Tuesday, June 7th. I celebrated that night with my editor at Edgar's Cafe (named for Edgar Allen Poe), and we already began discussing the 3rd Black Artemis novel! It looks like it's going to be "Burn." I'm excited and nervous about it as this will be my most ambitious novel to date!

The following Monday, we had the release party at Camaradas in el Barrio. The young women of Chica Luna took over the coordination of the party, and so of course, everything went off without a hitch. They even did a dramatic reading of the novel's prologue. We raised $500 in book sales for the organization, and everyone had a wonderful time.

Now it's time to promote, promote, promote. First stop was the AmiGals Literary Retreat at Camp Mariah in Fishkill, New York. It was beautiful! Seeing two deer cross the road turned me into a giggly little girl. But let it be known that as a Bronxite, I'm no stranger to nature and wildlife. Not only is the Bronx Zoo (and I don't meant the New York Yankees) one of the most famous in the world, it just so happens that the Bronx has the most park land of any borough in New York City.

While at AmiGals, I conducted a workshop on using hip hop to teach literature. It's always fantastic to connect with others -- especially other women of color who teach or otherwise work with youth -- who believe in harnessing the power of hip hop culture to transform. And I learned a few things, too, when I took my friend Tricia Wang's workshop. She's with PASE, and I'm very excited to learn more about the Hip Hop Affinity Group she is organizing there. Tricia's training educators on how to incorporate hip hop when teaching reading, writing and critical thinking and working with Urban Word , Radio Rootz and other practitioners. That's what's up!

Later that afternoon, I joined my publicist extraordinaire Angie and fellow authors Eric Pete (my labelmate at the New American Library), Victor McGlothin, ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Tajuana "TJ" Butler (what a sweetheart... I'm looking forward to her moving to New York and becoming good friends) to see The Honeymooners. Having some free time between sessions and wanting to check out the surrounding town, we all piled into Angie's rental car and headed to the Poughkeepsie Galleria to see the movie. It had a funny moment here and there, but I truly fell asleep just when I was supposed to be paying the closest attention. I fought it and lost miserably. When I woke up, Ralph and Alice had made peace, saved their house and moved on in with Ed and Trixie. Oh, well.

On Tuesday, I had a reading at Bluestockings, one of New York City's last progressive bookstores, and if I'm not mistaken, it's only women's bookstore. What a great crowd! Not only did they fill every seat, they asked wonderful questions. I knew I couldn't go wrong by stopping there while promoting the book.

I read and signed at Hue Man Bookstore and Cafe in Harlem last night. That was a dream come true for me. If you're a person of color writing for your community, you just can't say you're on tour and not stop at Hue Man! A thunderstorm struck right before the reading started so the crowd was small but attentive. But I don't care if there's two people, twenty or two hundred, I'm going to do my thing. Besides, you don't punish the people who came out to support you because you're mad at the people who didn't (as if you even know who they are or why they didn't come!) One of the advantages of only having a few readers in attendance is that you can really engage them, and sometimes people become the best promoters of your work. I even met a young women who emailed me -- it's always heartwarming to meet a fan in person.

In addition to the party and the readings, it's been quite a positive week. I received a fan email from a young woman -- a senior in high school -- who wrote, "After I read your book, I was inspired to go after my dream" which is to write. I haven't wrote back to her yet because I've been swamped between writing and promoting, but Natasha, if you're reading this, do the dang thing! I also had my first review posted on Amazon -- 4 stars from Literary Essence Views! Founder Stephanie Wilkerson-Hester wrote, "The emotions felt while you're reading will make you hate the fact that the last page came so soon." I can't stop smiling. I have to hold on to these besos as I call those dark moments when I need to be reminded that my mission as a hip hop novelist is supported. Hopefully, it'll be quite a while before I experience one of those.