Where Are The Black Men In Your Book?

I’ve been delaying commentary on this question/criticism for a while, but it’s time I address it. Each time I’ve been asked why there are no black men in Sleepy Willow, the reader has first said he or she LOVED the book but…where are the black men. So, I’m not sure if this is really criticism or just an observation. A somewhat inaccurate one. Nevertheless, I’ll try to answer the question thoroughly.

First–Punch is a black man. Remember him? The HUGE black man in my story? He looks something like bodybuilder Ulisses Williams, Jr. in my head:

Nice, huh?

But, I get it. Punch is not the main love interest for my heroine. That’s really the issue, isn’t it? The romance is between Willow, a black female vampire and Remi, who is…not black. So ladies and gentleman, what we have here is an interracial relationship, right? Willow’s maistre vampire, Maximilian, is…not black. That’s another one. Willow’s boss, Franco, is…not black. Another one. Willow’s nemesis, Agent Monroe, isn’t either. I could keep going down the list, but by now, if you haven’t read it, you’re beginning to understand that this is not an African-American novel. It is a multi-cultural one.

I’m going out on a limb here and guessing those who asked about the absence of black men within the story are wondering why 1) the lead female doesn’t have a black love interest since she’s black, and/or 2) why there aren’t more black men because…I am a black woman author. As in, why would a black woman author not have more black men in her books, like Terry McMillan or Sista Souljah or Zane.

It’s simple, really: it’s already been done a million times or more and I strive hard to make my books unique. I’m leaving the AA fiction to the women listed above and delving into more risque’ material. More controversial stuff. I’m adding several layers of wild and daring, not just one. I’m going beyond an older woman, younger man scenario (McMillan) and drugs and abortion (Souljah) and threesomes (Zane), though I applaud these women for writing books I’ve enjoyed immensely.

Secondly, I did everything I could to make each part of my book a surprise. When you find out Willow’s black–surprise. And when you find out everyone else’s race, religion, love interest, supernatural gift–surprise.

Willow + Punch = predictable. Predictable–> Boring.

I worked hard to keep my book UNPREDICTABLE. (Side note: I’m overjoyed that most of the reviewers respected this and posted non-spoiler reviews. Thanks!)

The Narcoleptic Vampire Series is not the only one featuring an interracial relationship, but you’ll be hard pressed to find more than a handful of paranormal romance/dark urban fantasy stories with a black female lead (first hurdle) who has a non-black romantic interest (nearly nonexistent). And that, my friends, is one of the reasons I wrote it that way.

But that’s not all.

Truth is–in order to answer this question entirely, I’d have to reveal more secrets of my creative writing process. And you know how much I hate doing that. *Being sarcastic, of course.* But seriously, you’d need to know where my ideas come from and how I develop my characters to understand how each one is written the way he or she is.

In this old post, I discussed how Remi’s character was inspired by Nir Lavi. In this old post, I discussed how Joe Manganiello inspired my character Dario. I get inspiration from random input and I run with it. Lots of times, it comes from watching a movie, developing a very short-lived crush on a character or actor, and allowing my imagination to run rampant.

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, you know Tom Hardy has recently inspired a character or two. For sure. But I have to write my thoughts out now before I lose interest. There will be another flavor of the week really soon. Which means I’ll be inspired to write about different characters with different story lines. I’ll have to chuck the deuce to Tom and welcome my new inspiration.

More so than that, I have a nondiscriminatory policy. I like and dislike men equally. White, black, yellow, green. Doesn’t matter, as long as something stands out about him.

Hey, I just had an idea for a good green character. Wait a minute. I think Laurell K. Hamilton did that in in her Merry Gentry Fae series.

Anyway…

I have to write about whatever I feel most drawn to at the moment. Whatever is churning around in my brain and won’t let me rest until I’ve written about it…him or her–that’s how it works.

I’ve had crushes on Shemar Moore (until I met him in Atlanta while he was filming Diary of a Mad Black Woman. He was gorgeous and nice. I just lost interest after seeing him as a mere mortal), Vin Diesel (not sure he’s black, but he keeps popping up on black men lists), Tyson Beckford (gloriously chocolate), Taye Diggs (wowsie!), Morris Chestnut (I mean, did you SEE him in The Best Man?), Blair Underwood (holy moly), and Will Smith (when he’s not being silly). Just to name a few. But I can no longer write about a character based on them since I don’t feel passionately drawn to them at the moment.

Now you know the method to my madness.

I have a black man at home. A good-looking, athletic one. He’s agreed to pose for an upcoming promotion for Sleepy Willow part 2, by the way…but damn. I’m rambling today. My point is–I have a black man at home so I probably won’t develop a crush on many. Why? You got it–because that’s not different. A Brit with tats, an accent, and THOSE lips…that’s another story altogether. Yeah, I’m talking about Tom again.

Funny thing–other than Idris Elba, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith, you don’t see a lot of black men featured in sexy roles on the big screen much at all. I may have to go on a hunt and find one to base a character on, after all. Any suggestions?

I may have just wasted my time and yours trying to explain this because what you could have been asking was: “Dicey, I just love your book so much and love the characters and I’d like to see more men like Punch in your books because he’s totally hot and I love reading about black men and since you wrote one awesome black male character, I was hoping you’d write more.”

Okay. I’ll do my best. Let’s see how the mood/inspiration strikes me. 🙂

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Good And Bad Feedback Welcomed.

I have a confession: Some days are harder than others when it comes to expressing myself creatively. Sometimes the ideas flow smoothly like a river after several days of rain. Other days, there are things in my brain that get in the way. I’ve noticed a major influence on my state of mind is the feedback I receive from readers. When someone is overjoyed about my books, I’m on cloud 9, so I write like I have a direct link to the heavens. It’s hell’s fire on the brain when the feedback is harsh.

But I’ve been lucky, thus far. Most has been positive. In fact, all the reviews on Amazon have made me smile. Big. I’m not dumb enough to think it’s going to remain that way though. Last week, I made the Kindle edition of both of my books FREE for forty-eight hours. With over two thousand downloads, I was excited to gain the exposure. Excited to know there was that much interest. Excited, knowing more reviews would pour in. Eventually. Hopefully. There will be some good, some bad, and everything in between. I just know it.

So I’m putting on my mental body armor. Shielding myself from comments that will keep me up at night pacing the floor, doubting myself. The sort of comments that will make finishing this sequel difficult because in the back of my mind I’d be thinking about what others think.

My strategy? In addition to focusing on 1) comments from readers who enjoy my work and their encouragement to keep going, 2) my maniacal drive to be the best I can be at ANYTHING, and 3) my betas wrapping me tightly with positivism and good vibes, I’ve been 4) stalking following those that I deem successful in their crafts. Following them to see how they deal with everything people have to say about their creations. Following authors, business people, actors, talk show hosts, musicians, models, athletes–everyone–to see how they respond to positive  feedback and how they handle criticism. Folks like Oprah and Beyonce’, who get criticized left and right, but still manage to be at the top of any list they are featured on.

I’ve mentioned on my blog before how much I enjoy Larissa Ione‘s books. And as much as I consider them FIVE STAR readings, there have been many others who think the Demonica series and the Lords of Deliverance (Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) series are trash. WTF! You mean, two people can read the same book and walk away from it with polarizing views? Amazing, isn’t it? That’s the very reason I asked her this via email:

Dicey: “Two people can read the same book with one loving it and the other hating it. Having readers love your books is awesome, but how do you deal with criticism?”

And she was kind enough to respond back with this:

Larissa: “Okay, how do I deal with criticism? Well, honestly, it depends on the criticism. Some of it I can laugh off. I recently got a review on Amazon to the effect of “There were so many curse words that I wonder if the author can write a book without them.” Heh. And he can stop wondering because the answer is “Why the hell would I do that?” 🙂 In all seriousness, criticism can hurt, but I’ve learned to avoid reviews when I can. Sometimes they find you, but I don’t go intentionally looking for them. Also, the skin does thicken over time. Reviews that KILLED me when I first was published now are barely shrug-worthy. It’s a process!”

Dicey: I am seriously fan-girling over this. Thanks!

You know what I take away from this? 1) Laugh it off sometimes. Whenever you can, really. 2) If it’s a matter of taste, they can get another book. Writers don’t change  contents for readers. 3) Criticism may hurt, so avoid reading reviews if you can. 4) I’m still new to the game, but it’ll get easier over time.

LOVE IT! No, I don’t get paid for this endorsement. I just really love her books. And I like that she’s accessible to fans. She also said she was going to read mine, which tickles me senseless. She could have just been saying it to be nice, but whatever. I’ll take it.

Okay. I said I was watching LOTS of accomplished folks, right? Well, Tom Hardy is my crush/muse of the week. Really going on two weeks now. I LOVE him! He’s so crazy. Has a totally unbridled tongue. Doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He says what he wants, and whatever happens, happens. That’s my kinda guy. I lifted this from an interview he did with Novid Parsi, Time Out Chicago on February 15, 2012:

Novid: You’ve been a straight talker in interviews, saying you want adulation as an actor, you’ve sexually experimented with guys—not typical things to hear from a rising film star. Is it getting trickier to remain that publicly frank?

Tom: I have to be more careful about how outspoken I am, which is a shame ’cause things get taken out of context. And at the end of the day, 30 percent of the people are gonna hate you, 30 percent are gonna like you, and another 30 percent of people just don’t give a shit, so you’re really only talking to one in three.

Dicey: Oh, God. How can I meet Tom? We’ll make it a double date. Bring Charlotte. I’ll bring the hubby…

But seriously, he made a good point. One that’s been mentioned time and time again, without his sexy British accent: you can’t please everybody. *turning the finger back to myself* Dicey, you can’t please everyone. Don’t try. Just be grateful for the ones who get you.

That being said, I welcome ALL feedback on my books. If you love ’em, tell the world. If you don’t, tell the world. Make sure you tell them why though. Too much profanity? Too much sex? Too many controversial issues (ie. abortion, rape, interracial relationships, abuse, gore, homosexuality, deviant sex…)? Believe it or not–somebody’s going to think that’s a plus. Oh, yeah. 🙂

As of today, there are fifteen 5-star and six 4-star reviews for Sleepy Willow’s Bonded Soul: The Narcoleptic Vampire Series Book 1 on Amazon. There are three 5-star and one 4-star review for Shameful.

This calls for celebration! Cheers!

Writing To Entertain, Not To Pass A Test.

I mentioned in my last post: “Negative opinions and criticism can be hard to deal with about something we writers work so hard to create. But it comes with the territory. We lay our souls and hearts and feelings on the line for anyone with a platform to shout out how much they love or hate our work. It can be brutal.” So today, I’d like to continue talking about some of the criticism I’ve received for my novel Sleepy Willow’s Bonded Soul: The Narcoleptic Vampire Series Book 1.

Most often I’ve heard “I love your writing style”, but once someone called it weird and felt words were missing. I learned that this person considered herself a writer as well, and all I can say is–I probably would not enjoy her writing style either. As with a lot of books, it would probably be too wordy for me. But that’s just me.

This is what I had to say about my writing style in the last post: “I write the way I prefer to read–in the most basic way of saying the most convoluted things. Bare bones. Choppy. Straight to the point.”

I learned this was the style I preferred to read during the year prior to writing Sleepy Willow–when I read FORTY-SIX fiction books.

So about my choppy writing style…

Let me just throw this out there right now–I know how to write. Throughout high school, undergrad, grad, and law school, writing was my STRONG area. I didn’t get straight A’s on writing assignments for nothing. I didn’t win national writing awards for nothing. Friends, colleagues, and professors didn’t come to me to edit their papers and journal articles…I didn’t ghost as a work-for-hire writer on assignments…or become a senior law review editor…for nothing. I know about subject and verb agreement, and that run-ons are a no-no. I can write as technical and as grammatically correct as the next one. I know how to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, how to spell, and how to use some pretty big words doing it. And what I don’t know–I know how to research to find the answer.

This is not me bragging, dear reader, because none of this has anything to do with writing fiction. Knowing the rules for writing a convincing legal brief does me no good when it comes to entertaining a reader looking for an escape into an exciting imaginary world. All those rules have to go out the window because they are BORING.

The first draft of my novel Shameful contained very few errors but it was 156k words. YIKES! There’s no way all those words were necessary. I had to edit and edit and edit and edit some more until I got it down to 95k. NOW it reads like a novel. Now, it can be enjoyed. Or hated, depending on how you feel about Joanne cheating with a sixteen-year-old.

I had to remember I was writing to entertain, not to pass a writing test.

I’ll use paragraphs from the first chapter to illustrate how I write.

1. I use fragments and incomplete sentences to emphasize points: “Once I heard the smoke machine fogging the stage and felt the spotlight center on my coffin, I slowly raised the lid and held it there to give their human eyes a moment to adjust to the fog. To focus on me in the darkness.” Here, I’m emphasizing that they have to focus on her in the darkness. And I combine sentences to keep from breaking the flow.

2. I omit useless and unnecessary words: “Couldn’t see Remi through the white wraps across my eyes, but I smelled him. Sensed his essence, his soul. He was alone at his usual table on the far left near the stage, wearing his usual intoxicating cologne. I smelled his cigarette in the ashtray and liquor in his glass. Knew I’d taste a hint of both in his blood later, but it would still be hot, thick and delicious.” I don’t have to say “I couldn’t see Remi” or “I sensed his essence and soul” or “I knew I’d taste”. It’s implied. Anyone with enough sense to read, has enough sense to get the implication. Without the extra words it moves faster. Pacing is important in fiction.

Given all the profanity and grit in the chapter, that may be all the illustrations I should include here. That’s enough to make my point though, right? Or perhaps my use of profanity and grit is illustration #3. 🙂

There you have it. I prefer writing this way. Since my betas love it, I think I’ll stick to it.

Of course, there is no ONE right style. Authors should do what works for them. Readers should read what they most enjoy. Our differences make us interesting.

More criticism/feedback with author commentary to come. Examples: 1. Where are the black men in your story? 2. Willow gets her butt kicked WAY too much. 3. Your story’s well-edited. What’s your secret? I also have a comment or two from other authors on how they deal with criticism. Larissa Ione, one of my faves, took the time to write me back about this, so look out for her thoughts on it.

If you have read my novel and have something you’d like me to address, by all means comment below. I’d be happy to. You know me by now–no topic is off-limits.