Monday, March 20, 2006

She Hate Me

Today I saw the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly which reviewed my novel DIVAS DON'T YIELD, and well. . .

. . . it sucked. The reviewer gave it a big ol' C.

So why am I admitting this to y'all? 'Cause if it had been a great (or even good review), you'd be hearing about it, LOL! So I'm just keepin' it real, rolling with the punches (or in this case, the sucker punches.) Consider my skin thickened that much more (but my heart remains unhardened. Hell, I can't afford to get cynical. I've got two novellas and another novel to write by July!)

I'll feel better when I walk into a bookstore tomorrow and see my book on the shelves. As my fellow author Mary Castillo (author of Hot Tamara and In Between Men) writes, "It never gets it old." I hope you'll check out the book anyway, LOL!

And if you're in NYC, stop by the party at Lava Gina on the 28th.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


I won't front. I had no interest in the new F/X reality show Black.White. I'm a bit of race woman (and on really bad days I can be a straight up identity cop!) so this should've been a show that piqued my interest. But it didn't because of Ice Cube's involvement.

Admittedly this may be unfair, but he's just never struck me as the kinda brother who could bring the depth to this subject required for this to be a truly groundbreaking show. If your own views on race are narrow, outdated, etc., -- which I find Cube's to be -- one can hardly expect you to transcend the cliches in a media product meant for popular consumption (not to mention a "reality" show with concocted scenarios and edited footage to contrive an effect that's not real at all.)

I stumbled on an episode of Black.White this week, and after watching it, I feel that my reservations were justified. Maybe the members of the White family on this show are indeed typical of the way average White Americans view race (ranging from the naive to the guilty, LOL.) The problem is that "typical" doesn't move the discussion of race forward or engender any hope. As far as I'm concerned, despite its lofty intentions, the show does not deepen or refresh the shallow and stale "discussion" about race in the United States.

This show is still safe -- especially for the White members of its audience -- and that for me doesn't add much value in the quest for racial justice.

What Exactly Is Hip Hop Music?

Much too long ago I received a letter from a fan named Angie who wrote:

I have a question and it is probably stupid. I have loved rap music since probably 6th grade. I was born in 1975. I know that hip hop refers to a culture whereas rap is just the music, but is all rap music hip hop music? Is all hip hop music rap or could r & b for instance, or other types of music, also be considered hip hop music? I just want to be sure I have my terminology right.

Such an interesting question, and I like getting my terms right, too. I have yet to respond, however, because I just didn’t know the answer. Admittedly, I tend to be a purist when it ocmes to defining hip hop (yes, despite the fact that the traditional four element does not include what I do as Black Artemis) and have been quite opinionated (OK... proprietary, too) about what constitutes hip hop lit. But I felt that this question about music was one better taken to the hip hop community – especially the makers and the aficionados – to answer this question for Angie (if that can or should be done at all.)

So what do you think? What exactly is hip hop music? Does it matter? Why or why not?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Good Latino, Bad Latino

This weekend I attended the National Association of Latino Independent Producers's annual conference in Long Beach, California. Events like these are always a mixed bag for me. It's always a pleasure to reconnect with some wonderful people and meet new ones who believe that entertainment can be both fun, well-crafted and though-provoking. On the other hand, it's disheartening to feel that as a community we've hit a wall on some critical discussions (if we're truly having them at all.)

Case in point. I went to a panel called "Good Latino/Bad Latino: Do Latinos in Power Have to Hire and Portray Us Well?" My dear friend and business partner Elisha Miranda (who authored the YA novel The Sista Hood under the pen name E-Fierce) was on that panel. Call me biased, but she was the only one to address the issue. She said without reservation, yes, those of us who are arrive in a position of influence have an obligation to create opportunities for others, evolve with our craft and offer diverse and complex representation of our community.

But the panel quickly moved away from discussing the responsibility of media makers to our peers and audience to making excuses for why Latinos consumers should support anything and everything even if we don't like it. So if a TV show that is chockfull of steretoypes or is just poorly written flops, it doesn't became the creator's fault for serving up bland fare. It becomes the audience's fault for not tolerating mediocre and perhaps even damaging content. The argument was that if we don't support anything and everything a Latino produces, "we'll" never get ahead.

The way I see it, the only one who gets ahead is the person producing the problematic content and does so at the expense of his or her own people.

Now I'm not the last word on this issue, but I walked away from that panel feeling that we're not even trying to have an open and thorough discussion about this. In my opinion, support and accountabilty are two sides of the same coin. I feel for any artist - be it a filmmaker, author, recording artist, etc. -- to demand "support from the community" yet want to evade accountability for the images he or she offers is highly disingenous.

I once got a letter from a fan of my Black Artemis novels named Candace in Ontario. She started her letter with much love and praise for my work. Then she wrote:

One concern I have is that so far all of your heroines are beautiful. As disadvantaged as some of them are, don't you believe that beauty is an advantage in itself or at the very least a double edged sword? Do you think that there is a feminine ideal within hip-hop? If so, how does that affect women who don't fit that ideal. Please don't take this the wrong way. I'm not telling you what to write, but will you ever address the issue of feminine beauty in a male-dominated subculture and the trials of those who may not fit the ideal vs. those who do?

I didn't at all see this as a reader telling me what to write. And I certainly didn't take it wrong. On the contrary, I celebrated her feedback. I saw it as a supporter holding me accountable for the images I present, as she should. Shoo, Candace called me out, and rightfully so, LOL! (And because she expressed her concerns so honestly yet diplomatically, I wasn't able to conveniently dismiss the fairness of her critique by getting into a convenient snit about not liking the way she "came at" me. (Just a side lesson for all who might need it, present company included. C'mon... don't act like you've NEVER gone there.) So there's something to be said about opening yourself critique as well as being able to deliver critique from an affirming place.

So if an artist or entertainer wants his or her community to "support," s/he should be willing to "represent." Don't ask me to cop your joint, if when I say, "You know, I found your movie interesting, but, geez, all the villains were dark-skinned' or 'In your next book, you may want to depict the female characters as something other than dime pieces," your response is going to be, "Look, I just want to do my thing."

Yes, you are within your rights to do your thing. But if I feel that your "thing" involves dissing me, I'm within my rights to withhold payment for your misrepresentation. After all, I didn't order that.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Pulling George's Coattail

Last night when accepting his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, George Clooney made an interesting statement. In response to the notion that Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America because of its strident liberalism, he said that he was proud to be part of an industry that discussed issues and made films that pushed in social change.
In one notable example, Clooney praised the Academy for bestowing an award on Hattie McDaniels at a time when she was still forced to sit in the back of the theatre. Well, I hope that someone will remind George that the same Academy later denied Ms. McDaniel burial in the Hollywood Cemetary. Still I appreciate his intentions, and I have faith that he is esconced enough in his liberalism to openly acknowledge his ignorance. How mad can I be at him when I sincerely doubt that many of the Black actors in that audience themselves did not know that?
And I hope while the Hollywood elite celebrates the Best Picture win it gave itself for the self-congratulatory film "Crash," it will occur to someone that, yes, in fundamental ways it still remains out of touch with mainstream America. After all, Academy voters have yet to realize that the majority of Black people in America are not so hungry for their acceptance that we celebrate the nomination of our actors in the most stereoytpical of roles. As they party hearty over the win of the contrived, heavy-handed, and at time unrealistic treatise of race in LA called "Crash," many Blacks are mortified this morning that they bestowed an artistically mediocre and purposefully misogynistic rap song its highest honor.
Sorry, George, the Academy is out of touch in ways that should not make you proud at all.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

If It's So Hard Out Here for a Pimp. . .

. . . just imagine what it's like for the ho.

APB: Latina Book Clubs

Are you a member of a book club either comprised of Latina readers and/or focused on reading books by Latina authors?

If you are, I want to hear from you! Email me at and tell me all about it. And please consider having a website or online forum so authors like me can find y'all!

I know such clubs exist. When I was writing Divas Don't Yield, I did a research trip to Omaha, Nebraska as it's one of the cities in which my heroines stopped on the way from NYC to Frisco (can't tell you more than that and not give away the story!) I was headed to Omaha for a speaking engagement at the University of Nebraska for Black History Month since I was invited to speak about Black women and misogyny in hip hop. After accepting the invitation, I decided to come early and stay later -- extending my time in Omaha for an entire week -- so I could get to know this midwestern city.

During my stay there, I had the pleasure to meet the executive director of the Latina Resource Center (which also makes an appearance in Divas.) She invited me to meet with her book club -- a diverse group of women -- who read books by Latina authors and meet monthly discuss them at a cozy independent bookstore. The group did not consist of just Latinas, but also African American and White women who for one reason or another felt a kinship to Latino cultures. For example, one woman was actually raised in Panama while another taught Spanish literature at the university.

So I got to thinking... if there's a Latina book club in Omaha, NE where the Latino population is young yet booming, surely there must be similar clubs all over the U.S.

The problem, however, is that unlike African American book clubs, it seems that very few Latina book club yet have an online presence. African American women in the U.S. have a very long tradition of coming together to read and discuss books and the issues they raise (one of my favorite authors Gwendolyn Pough is doing research on this very topic and will soon publish a book about it.) These intrepid women, including RAWSISTAZ and A PLACE OF OUR OWN to name only two, have brought this social practice into the new millenium by establishing a presence on the internet. They use listservs and bulletin boards to facilitate and expand their discussions, publish their reviews (especially on Amazon and on their own websites), and hold chats or interviews with authors.

I'd love to see Latinas follow the lead of African American women in this regard. I have no doubt that it's not a matter of "if" but only "when." But whether your club is online
or not, I'd love to know about it and spread the word to other Latina authors.

In fact, if you can make it to Miami Beach on the weekend of May 19th-21st, you will want to attend Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's Chica Lit Fiesta. You won't have a better opportunity to have a slumber party with some of your favorite Latina writers!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Heartbreak on MySpace

I finally heeded the urging of all the young 'uns around me and joined MySpace. I've even enlisted my homegirls twenty-year old brother to pimp out my spot, LOL. In addition to inviting people I already know to join my list of friends, I did a search for members who listed one of books among their favorites. More on that in a minute 'cause I want to end on a good note.
But first let me vent a little on a heartbreaking observation. Of course, I'm a biased author, but I truly believe that books -- like music -- are for everyone. Now I don't expect everyone -- especially young people -- to be as avid a reader as I was (and still am.) Today's youth have so much more competing for their dollars and attention than I ever did. But there is literature out there for all tastes, interests, and, yes, even attention span! Hell, browse the daily paper or pick up a comic book or graphic novel once in a while. It's all good!
Now I can't say it was a surprise to browse MySpace and see how many young men don't read. I've accepted that despite the fact there's literature for everyone, not all people like to read, and that for various reasons, men are particular inclined to do so with distinct purpose rather than for pleasure. So be it. Boys especially have even more competition -- from videos to sports -- for their disposable income and recreational hours. But so many of the young men were practically BRAGGING about HATING books as if they much preferred to suffer a swift kick to their nether parts than read.
When the @#$% was reading declared unmanly and who do I bitch slap for that?
OK. Enough of the negativity and onto the good stuff. After having my heart broken at the scores of boys who hate books, it was put together again by the number of fans of my books on MySpace. I emailed each and every one I could to give them my thanks for their support. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. And since they're overwhelmingly female, maybe we can come together and organize around getting the men in our lives to read.
I've already started at home. My father like to read occassionally, but of course, he much prefer to watch TV. Now Ive got him reading about two books per month. When I visited my parents in Puerto Rico where they've retired, I packed a bunch of books-turned-movies for Pa. I offered to help him put up that hammock he had lying in the corner of the gazebo and then handed him The Godfather. When he finished it, I handed him Runaway Jury. When Pa finished that, I handed him Disclosure. Now my parents are back in New York for a spell, I made sure to stack up on more mass paperbacks suited to his taste. He even asked me, "You got any more books."
Do I got anymore books?
It hasn't been made into a film, but I gave him Michele Martinez's Most Wanted (that's right, tweak that Latino pride) which he completed in days. Then he moved on to Mario Puzo's Omerta. And when he's finished with that, I've already got Deep Freeze by Lisa Jackson waiting for him. Mind you, I have yet to read any of these books myself. Then it's off to the bookstore to stack up on all the John Grisham, Nelson De Mille, and Michael Crichton I can afford. That should buy me some time to dig out The Da Vinci Code wherever the heck I stored it.
For now it's back to MySpace to add a slogan to my home page: Real Men Read.