A New Day Coming

From the time I first opened my eyes at 5:17AM this morning, I knew there was something special about today. It didn't take long to figure it out.

This is the last day of the year 2006. Tomorrow it will be 2007.

I always feel excited as an old year prepares to wrap up. There's something appealing to me about starting over with a blank (not necessarily clean) board. Already the hopes are buzzing around in my head. This will be the year I will finally lose those 25 pounds. This will be the year I will become totally and permanently organized. This will be the year I will get contracts for two pet projects of mine that have been languishing for years. This will be the year that Hollywood will call to option one of my books - no, let me re-phrase that, since they've already called. This will be the year that Hollywood will call to option one of my books with a positive result. And the book I'm presently writing, tentatively titled The First Fifty Years, will be, as the teenagers say (or used to say), the shit. (I always feel the most excited about the project I'm working on, even though I have two books coming out this year.)

I guess I'd better get busy. Because one thing is certain: Time waits for no one.

Coming in 2007
Thought y'all might like a sneak peek at the covers of my upcoming titles. A Love For All Seasons will be in stores in May. It's an Arabesque romance, my 10th. If These Walls Could Talk drops at the end of May. This is women's fiction. I'm working on the copyedited manuscript right now. These were done not by my in-house editor, who just took this job and is probably drowning in manuscripts, but by the legendary Monica Harris, the original editor of both the Arabesque line and of the Black Expressions Book Club, who called my book (quotes used by permission) "well-written and frighteningly realistic" and stated that "Everyone should read this before buying a home."
Something for everybody is coming your way from me in 2007!
Damn, I wish I'd thought of that

I'm taking some time off from work (which, at this point in my life, I do on a periodic basis only,) and I've been watching lots of movies on classic TV networks. I recently caught a showing of one of my favorites, A Letter To Three Wives.

It had been quite some time since the last time I'd seen this little gem from 1949 (often overlooked in favor of what many regard as writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' masterpiece, All About Eve, which was released one year later, in 1950.) I personally believe Letter is the superior film. But this time I realized something else. This film has an awful lot in common with one of my favorite TV shows, specifically Desperate Housewives.

The action in both the movie and the TV show takes place in an affluent burg, although all the Housewives live on the same street. A Letter To Three Wives is narrated by a fourth wife, Addie Ross, who has left town. Desperate Housewives is narrated by another wife, Mary Alice Young, who is dead. A Letter To Three Wives features one wife who is portrayed as somewhat of a klutz (Deborah Bishop, played by Jeanne Crain.) Desperate Housewives features a wife who seems to always be either putting her foot in her mouth or acting on an impulse, usually with disastrous results (Susan Mayer, played by Teri Hatcher.) A Letter To Three Wives has a wife who is firecely ambitious (Rita Phipps, played by Ann Sothern in the best role she ever got,) who out-earned her husband, an unusual concept for 1949. Desperate Housewives also has a fiercely ambitious wife with huge earnings potential (Lynette Scavo, played by Felicity Huffman.) A Letter To Three Wives has a wife who is a gold digger (Lora May Hollingsway, played by Linda Darnell.) In Desperate Housewives, the character of Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) loves the comfortable lifestyle her successful husband provides.

There are enough completely different features in the TV show, like the character of Bree Van Der Kamp (Marcia Cross,) where no one can claim series creator Marc Cherry copied the movie script, but it seems to me that he was clearly inspired by it. He says his mother gave him the idea as she recalled feeling sometimes feeling desperate when she raised her children with an often out-of-town husband, but I'm inclined to believe that he might have left out the part about seeing this old movie to get the whole idea for Wisteria Lane. And there's not a thing wrong with that.

Like I said, I wish I'd thought of it.
On The Road Again

Wow, has it really been a week since my last post? I'm on vacation through the end of the year, so posts will be sparse. Right now I'm in Florida, enjoying the warm weather, although the minute the plane landed and I had to start fanning myself I remember why I was so excited about moving to a cooler climate.

Be talkin' atcha.
What's Race Got To Do With It?

An ongoing debate continues that I suspect will eventually rival the “What came first, the chicken or the egg” question, and that is the question of how booksellers should shelve books by black authors.

This has been brought to the forefront by a well-written article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. (For a link to the article, visit author Monica Jackson’s web site at www.monicajackson.com .)

The issue seems to affect writers of contemporary fiction more than anyone else, and it’s a lot trickier than it seems on the surface. There are arguments on both sides that have some validity. I’ve given this matter a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with a possible guideline.

Do it like the library.

For instance in libraries, non-fiction books are usually shelved by subject matter, but with sub-categories. A soul food cookbook is likely to be shelved with other soul food cookbooks within the cookbook classification, but so are books on Creole cooking, Italian cooking, etc. This makes it easier for library patrons to locate what they’re looking for swiftly without having to thumb over books on things like desserts and Thai cooking when they’re looking for a recipe for seafood chowder. Similarly, a library patron looking for a book on New York doesn’t have to go through books about Australia, Spain, or Kenya to find what they’re looking for, because the geography books are grouped by subject.

Most tellingly, in the library, all fiction is grouped together. Whether it is Charles Dickens, Zora Neale Hurston, Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, or Eric Jerome Dickey, for the most part they make no distinction. A few exceptions: New books are displayed prominently for both fiction and non-fiction, because they are likely to be more popular with the public. Mystery, westerns, science fiction, and romance do have their own sections, the latter two usually exclusively in paperback, simply because each of these sub-genres contain large numbers of books. And still other books are given prominence if they are timely: The memoir The Pursuit of Happyness [sic], the basis of the critically accalimed, about-to-open Will Smith movie, or a biography of any recently deceased public figure, or books relating to a current holiday or milestone, anything from Valentine’s Day to the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which happens to be the day I’m drafting this column. Then there is the obligatory Black History Month display every February.

I’m not a librarian, but I don’t believe that any public library has works of fiction clumped together on the sole basis of the race or culture of their authors.

So why do the bookstores do it? The ever-important bottom profit line clearly has something to do with it. The belief that black people are too stupid to be able to find the latest book by their favorite author alphabetized within the fiction section probably figures into the mix as well.

Maybe there’s too much effort to categorize fiction, to put authors in a cubbyhole. I write in two genres, romance and women’s fiction, under one name. I remember being livid when I saw my mainstream title, Nothing But Trouble, on an aisle display at a Barnes & Noble that said, “Street Lit.” (?#!) I promptly removed my books and placed them on the table in front of the store where other new trade-sized paperbacks lay. I can’t say I was angry when my first work of mainstream fiction, The People Next Door, was shelved in the romance section along with my other titles – that’s too strong a word – but I didn’t like it, because this book cannot even remotely be characterized as romance.

Why can’t the distinctions on those special bookstore displays be merely based on book size within fiction and non-fiction? I’m sure it’s easier to display similarly sized books together. All new and featured hardcover fiction together, nonfiction together, trade together, and mass market together?

And leave race out of it. Just like the library.
Great Minds Really Do Think Alike
While surfing the web the other day, I saw a review of my colleague Janice Sims' new book, an Arabesque romance called Constant Craving. The names of the hero and heroine jumped out at me. Franklyn (with a 'Y') and Elise (with an 'I'.)

I was momentarily horrified. Not because I knew unpleasant people with those names and it brought back bad memories, but because the manuscript I am currently writing for my 2008 mainstream novel, tentatively titled The First Fifty Years, that features a couple named Franklin (with an 'I') and Elyse (with a 'Y'.) Except for the interchangeable 'I' and 'Y' in their first names, my characters have the same names as those in Ms. Sims' novel! (I'll have to e-mail Janice and ask what last she gave her characters. If it's Hughes or Reavis - the surnames I gave to my characters - you'll hear my scream, even if you're in San Diego.)

This probably doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things. Ms. Sims' book is coming out this month, December 2006. My manuscript isn't even due until next summer, and will probably be published sometime in 2008. And while Ms. Sims' Franklyn and Elise are at the center of her novel, my Franklin and Elyse share center stage with multiple other characters (The First Fifty Years is about four lifelong friends turning fifty.)

But when I think about it, there are several times when I've gotten nervous when I saw that another author had a similar plotline or title to mine. Just recently I was asked to change the title of my upcoming (June 2007) mainstream novel. The publishing company's marketing department didn't think the original title of The Edge of a Dream; didn't think it had enough oomph. I then suggested Anyplace I Hang My Hat, which they liked, but rejected because Susan Isaacs has a book coming out with that same title. We finally settled on If These Walls Could Talk.

I even found myself at the root of another writer’s anguish. My colleague Angie Daniels was shocked recently to learn that my next romance, A Love For All Seasons, carries the same title as her upcoming romance for a different publisher. I don't know what they decided to do about it. (My books comes out first, so any changes will have to be on their end.)

Back when I was writing my first mainstream novel, The People Next Door, I read in a publisher's forecast that Connie Briscoe had written a potential blockbuster called P.G. County, all about life in an upper middle class neighborhood in Maryland. I went into a panic that it was too similar to my book, which was about life in an upper middle class neighborhood in Florida and would be published after Ms. Briscoe's. My agent assured me that my book, written in my own voice, would be sufficiently different from Ms. Briscoe's. Of course, it was. But that didn’t stop me from worrying about it. There will probably be more similarities in the future, and more worrying.

It’s just a hazard of my profession.
2006 National Novel Writing Month: The End

NaNoWriMo ended yesterday, and my total was 35,893 words written during the month of November. (Unfortunately, when I went to update my final 933 words, that part of the site had already been disabled, leaving me with an official total slightly less than what I actually did.) I feel pretty good about what I accomplished. I never expected to get to 50,000 words, but I'm amazed at how many writers did reach that milestone. Part of the reason I can't do it is because I can't resist the urge to stop writing and edit. Can't stand sloppy writing. But my 35,893 words are all good words. Approximately 143 pages of good words.

Now comes the hard part; trying to keep up that pace every day.
Snowed In

Yes, it's the first snowstorm of the season here in Chicagoland. Much of the Midwest is getting clobbered by Mother Nature. It's still coming down, and everything looks so picturesque outside our windows: The pond gleaming and looking almost frozen, the grass covered with snow, the tree branches outlined in white, and that unrecognizable blob that I now realize is our barbecue grill that my husband forgot to cover the last time he used it. Hopefully it will survive.

Today is my 15th anniversary, and my husband and I will go out later this morning to play in the snow. (Can you say, "At-choo!) You'll probably hear us sneezing from where you live.

The bulk of my day is going to be spent right here at the computer, doing a little surfing and a lot of writing. Tomorrow the roads will be cleared and it will be back to business as usual.

So I'm going to enjoy today. And best of all, the 1949 classic A Letter To Three Wives is coming on cable. This is one of my all-time favorites, a shining example of good, tight writing.