Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cruisin' By Sea & Land

I just stepped off the Carnival Pride after cruisin' around the Yucatan Peninsula. I have never gone a cruise before, and the African American Book Club Summit by Sea proved to be a wonderful choice for my first trip. My cabin mate Nilka and her friends took this amateur cruiser under their wings and showed me the ropes. I enjoyed hanging out with other book lovers from around the country, and it's always a treat to meet fellow authors, especially when they reveal themselves to be warm people.
Eric Jerome Dickey is so accessible and humble. You would’ve never have known that word spread quickly that he was on the ship because he never failed to appear to other author’s workshops and readings. I have to try to get to the theater rendition of his bestseller Cheaters at the Beacon Theatre later this month.
Would you have guessed that Nina Foxx was a karoake diva? Thanks to her disc collection, we had some “culturally relevant” tunes from which to choose. She brought songs by Blu Cantrell, Missy Elliot and, of course, Whitney Houston. But I kept my implied promise in the reader’s guide to Explicit Content and left the singing and rapping to everyone else. Nina's lovely sister Linda is in the above photo with me along with Christian author Kendra Norman-Bellamy.
Reshonda Tate Billingsley tickled us with her anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of book marketing. Let me take this opportunity to correct the misperception: Reshonda is a not a Christian author. Her novels are inspirational with edge!

I think it’s unanimous. . . Travis Hunter is a riot! If the man ever tires of writing novels, he should give standup comedy a shot. We had a great conversation about the current state of commercial hip hop. His Hearts of Men Foundation has a similar mission to my organization Chica Luna Productions.
Mary Monroe was so sweet. And disciplined I should as she was attempting to put time in on her latest project as we cruised. I tried to follow her example, but it was easier said than done.

I mean, how could I pass up an opportunity to become a road warrior? When our ship docked into Puerto Vallarta, I headed on an ATV adventure. For several hours we drove through the dusty Sierra Madre mountains and then ended our journey with a couple of shots of Mexico's best tequila. As you can see by the photo below, I did not drink and drive.

There's so many other wonderful people I met that I wish I could name, but now that I've extended the life of my tan and finished the copyedits of my debut "chica lit" novel Divas Don't Yield (to be published under my real name by One World/Random House), I have to cruise on back to my third Black Artemis joint Burn. In fact, I'm almost done, and NAL/Penguin should have its cover so that I can post it soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Roxanne Still Rockin'

Just when I thought I’d never make it to Texas, my publicist Angie gives me a call. “Are you free on October 7th?” she asks. “Because Texas Women’s University wants you to speak at their Latina Student Leadership conference.”

I arrive at my gate at LaGuardia Airport and take a seat next to a woman immersed in Confessions of a Video Vixen. I pull out the manuscript of my debut "chica lit" novel Divas Don’t Yield, and continue editing it. (While I wait for the publishing house to send me the professionally copyedits for my manuscript, I always review it myself for any final touches I may want to make. To all aspiring writers, you may have heard this before, and it’s true: all writing is rewriting.)

The woman next to me asks me if I’m headed to LasVegas. She’s going there for a speaking engagement and was told that she would be appearing with an author and wondered if I might be that person. I tell her that yes, I’m an author going to a speaking engagement, but that I’m headed to Texas. So we talk about our engagements, and it becomes evident that we have quite a bit in common. At one point, she offers me her hand and says, “Allow me to introduce myself properly. I’m Dr. Roxanne Shante.”

Yes, y’all. THE Roxanne Shante. The pioneering "femme cee" who at the age of 14 checked U.T.F.O. and is regarded as one of the best freestylers to ever take the mic.

Although Roxanne left the hip hop industry long ago, she’s still fierce. I asked her why doesn’t she write her own story á là the Video Vixen – her triumph over domestic violence, her road to a doctorate degree in psychology and Manhattan practice, her foray into business with her Queens-based ice cream shop where she teaches the students she employs all facets of entrepeneurship. Dr. Roxanne's response: "I'm only in the third chapter of my life." Down to earth and on a mission, she does share her story -- not on talk shows and to shock jocks -- but directly with the young women she's trying to reach.

That was only the start of a wonderful trip. For the first time, I fly into Dallas-Fort Worth and stayed! TWU is actually in a small town called Denton about ahalf-hour from Dallas. I was picked up by Ke’Ana and Maria, two members on conference organizing committee, and then we went to another terminal to pick up the effervescent Yasmín Davidds (with whom I share a literary agent and a mission to empower women and girls.) The four of us have a great conversation on the ride to Denton about women of color in media. The university puts me up at a lovely bread and breakfast called the Heritage Inns, and we have an awesome Italian dinner next door at Giuseppe's.

The next day I do a reading/talk for approximately 75 women -- from high school juniors to graduate students -- that goes very well. After that Ke'Ana, Maria and I head to Chili's for a celebratory virgin margarita and a bloomin' onion. Then it's back to Nueva York.

While it's always good to be home, taking a break from the usual routine to travel to other places and meet some amazing women never ceases to boost the creative flow. I've been working diligently on Burn since September, but ever since my trip to Denton, I've been in a ZONE! Hope I can keep this up on my next trip -- the African American Book Club Summit by Sea.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Great Time at the Great Read

I have to dig up my Joy Journal. That's a hardcover journal that I bought several years ago to capture those little but meaningful events or memories that bring me a great deal of joy. Not the obvious things like family holidays and special occassions -- those are for my latest hobby -- scrapbooking -- thanks to my dear friend and Only in New York" panel at the New York Times Great Read in the Park. Moderated by New York Times Metro columnist and fellow Bronxite Clyde Haberman (who did a great job), I joined authors Pete Hamill, Frank McCourt, Byron Harmon, Edward Conlon, and New York Times editor Connie Rosenblum. The crowd lined up for this panel an hour before it started, and event staff had to raise the flaps of the Great Discussion tents so that folks who didn't make inside could still watch and hear the discussion.

I felt the stakes were high for this event. For my publishing house Penguin to nominate me to particpate in this event was already a major vote of confidence. For the NY Times to extend the invitation -- to sit on a panel with literary heavyweights no less -- was no small thing. I didn't get it twisted -- the majority of audience members lined outside that tent were there to hear Pete Hamill and Frank McCourt (who were very gracious and quite funny.) I took that as an acknowledgement that hip hop is much more than the narrow and often problematic rap music played on commercial radio, and I knew I had to take that opportunity given to reinforce that. If I had to go by the response of the crowd after the panel, I'd like to think I rose to the occasion, but y'all can check out the program on C-Span, and judge for yourselves. :)

After the panel, an older man approached me and asked me if I had read Pete Hamill's novel Forever, the story of a man who can live forever so long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. According the gentlemen, the man falls in love with a Dominican girl he spots on 14th Street. He says to me, "And she's you!" So, of course, I'm dying to read this book, LOL! I mean, it certainly sounded like a compliment to me.

The best part of any event like this, as always, is the opportunity to speak to readers. Some of the people who came to my signing were existing fans and even a friend publicist extradordinaire Charles Rice-Gonzalez of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (bka BAAD!) And some were some were new readers who became interested in my work either through attending the panel and maybe even overhearing my conversation with a reader. I met a wonderful sister named Jean, and we had a great conversation about Tupac's iconic status. I also had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of two righetous brothers named Arnold and Hannibal who are behind the Black Sit-Com Institute which is trying to reach youth and keep them on a positive path through the creation of comedic art. During the panel, Connie Rosenblum said that one of the things she loved most about New York was the constant serendipity, and I wish she could've witnessed this. Arnold said that they were walking west on 42nd Street when Hannibal said,"Let's go through the park." I definitely feel what these brothers are trying to accomplish -- it's a parallel mission with my organization Chica Luna -- and hope we stay in touch and build together.

You heard it here first. A movie's in the works about hip hop pioneer T La Rock written by Antwone Fisher, who chronicled his triumph over childhood abuse in his memoir Finding Fish which later become a film (and Denzel Washington directorial debut.) This was told to me by Bonnie Timmerman, the casting director of such favorites as "The Insider," "Carlito's Way," "Midnight Run," "Heat," and one of my top movies of all-time "Bull Durham" (that's right, I'm a sucker for a good baseball flick. Every once in a while I've been known to steal a quote from Tim Robbin's pitching phenom Crash Davis: "I gotta throw the heat, establish my authority."

Hopefully, I did that on the "Only in New York" panel. Not to establish my own authority, but to get hip hop some respect. A French philospher once said that if you want to understand the U.S., you have to know baseball. Well, I believe that to truly understand New York City, you gotta know hip hop.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Philly Rican for A Day

Yesterday I hopped the bus and headed to the City of Brotherly Love to participate in Taller Puertorriqueno's 19th Annual Book and Craft Fair. Many thanks to the wonderful staff at Taller, especially Carmen, Celia and Francisco for making me feel at home. If you are in or near the Philly area, you must stop by Taller on 2721 N. 5th Street to check out the multimedia exhibit called "Not Enough Space." The exhibits features the paintings and words (both written and spoken) of Puerto Rican political prisoners Oscar Lopez Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres. Can you imagine living -- let alone creating art -- in a 6 x 9 cell that you must share with a stranger? Oscar and Carlos have for more than 25 years, bringing new meaning to the term resistance.

And Taller's Julia de Burgos Book and Crafts is no joke either. I may have to make a day trip back to Philly just to a hundred bucks there. We used to have a Puerto Rican bookstore in New York City on the Lower East Side called Agueybana. We lost it to gentrification and the proliferation of superstores like Barnes & Nobles and Borders. Don't get me wrong -- I can spend hours at B&N. But if there's a book I can find at an indepedent bookstore -- especially if it is owned by people of color, women or its employees in a workers co-op -- I buy it there to support, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

Shout outs to filmmaker and scholar Frances Negron-Muntaner for recommending me to the great folks at Taller and my homeboy Rafael "Papo" Zapata, Assistant Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center at Swarthmore College. After my reading and signing at Taller's impressive bookstore, he and musician Lucas Rivera (y'all have to peep his website) took me to a great Thai restaurant. Then I missed my 8:30 bus back to Nueva York because I just assumed that there was a bus every hour.
I had to wait for the 11:30 PM bus so it was back to Papo's crib on the SEPTA train. Once there we took in the end of "Sugar Hill." I love a damned good B-movie. You know a flick that doesn't try to be more than what it is and does it well. Seems like Wesley has made quite a few of 'em. "Undisputed," anyone? And Michael Wright is such an undderated actor. After "Sugar Hill" we switched to the end of "It Could Happen to You" which is based on a true New York story of a cop who, in lieu of a tip, promises a waitress he will split his winnings with her if his lottery ticket hits. When it does, he honors his word giving her half of his four million dollar jackpot. Of course, the film took some poetic license by having the married cop and separated waitress fall in love, but this story actually took place.

Anyway, Papo and I get a big kick out of watching Rosie Perez do her thing even if she's playing the stank wife of the cop who cares more about spending the money than fixing her failing marriage. All of sudden, we spot beloved Puerto Rican poet Pedro Pietri, playing a customer in the diner. Papo said, "You know Rosie got him in that movie!" I'm inclined to agree because Rosie's conscious like that which is why I'm a fan.

In a few hours, I'm off to Bryant Park to participate in the New York Times's 1st Annual "Great Read in Bryant Park." I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I'm sharing the "Only in New York Panel" with some heavy hitters including Pete Hamill and Frank McCourt. I mos def gotta give a shout out to the Times for recognizing that if you're going to have a panel about authors who write about or are inspired by New York City, someone has to represent hip hop. I'm blessed that it's me.