April 23, 2013

Chewing the fat with...author Michelle Monkou

Authors Michelle Monkou and Marcia King-Gamble have teamed up to write a series about Carnival celebrations all over the world.  Whether you call it Carnival, the Mardi Gras, the bacchanal, or something else, the pre-Lenten celebration is held all over the world, with some of the most festive and famous held in Brazil, Trinidad, and New Orleans, with varying degrees of indulgence, from harmless frivolity to debauchery that would rival that shown in a Cecil B. DeMille movie.

I recently chatted with Michelle about the series, which began with one of her contributions, Carnival Temptress, released last month. And be sure to see the Special Announcement at the end of this post!

Bettye:  Welcome, Michelle!  I have to tell you that Black Orpheus (1959) is one of my favorite movies.  Tell us about this new series.  How many books will there be, approximate publication dates or span of publication, and which settings will they take place in?

Michelle:  I consider myself a rabid movie buff, but (ducking head in sand) I had never heard of Black Orpheus. After your comment, I read up on this movie and wow, what a history it has. I also can’t believe that I haven’t seen it or heard of this play (and I had to read a lot of plays for my English undergrad major).  So, Bettye, you have given me homework—LOL.

Carnival Temptress is a Carnival-themed novella under the series name—The Revelers. The story’s creation started out as a steamy romance, but quickly had a suspense/thriller thread that not only wove through this story, but will weave through the entire series (well, so far; with my author-mind, you just never know). The first in my series was released in March with four in the total set: June, August, and October publication months. The plan is then to bundle them into one volume with possibly a bonus story, in time for the holidaysan  ambitious plan given all my other commitments.  My series started in Trinidad—the granddaddy to all Caribbean Carnivals, followed by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Bridgetown, Barbados; Notting Hill, England, and the bonus city hasn’t been determined.

Bettye:  I hear they get down in Bahia, but of course that's still Brazil, so you might want to consider something different for your bonus city.  You'll never believe this, but as I prepare this chat for publication who should pop up on my MP3 player but Cassandra Wilson singing A Day in the Life of a Fool (the theme from the aforementioned Black Orpheus); the studio version, not the live one I linked to.

Anyway, the concept of collaboration is a fascinating one for me (I plan on doing one next year).  Whose idea was this series?  How did it come about?  Did you and Marcia use the same cover designer to achieve a a similar look?  The same editor?

Michelle: Marcia King-Gamble and I both share a common heritage of the West Indies. My birth mom is Jamaican who has lived in England since she was an adolescent and my adoptive parents are Guyanese-born.  I was born in England, but grew up in Guyana and finished the rest of that growing in the U.S. While I used to wave my Guyanese flag at Carnival events, I guess I need to have a tiny Jamaican patch on my clothing, too—LOL.  

Marcia and I have wanted to work together for many years. Life and commitments usually delayed any significant push until we kicked around this idea and it took hold. You couldn’t possibly live in the Caribbean and not have experienced Carnival.  I have never participated in it or if I did, I was a teeny child and can’t remember Guyana’s Mashramani. But I do remember sitting on the verandah watching the bands go past and the thrill and fear (I don’t like the stilt-walkers).  I’m proud of the richness of the Caribbean culture, its worldwide contributions to the world’s economy, and its talented and gifted people. I also wanted to set the Caribbean on the pedestal of romantic settings. And that it is just as important a setting as any other European or American settings commonly used in romance stories.

My story set in Trinidad was decided to be the first. Again, Trinidad has the biggest Caribbean Carnival and a lengthy colorful history.  I have friends who participate annually in the Carnival and leave their day jobs in the U.S. to head back “home” to celebrate for that week. They were my eyes and ears to get the real experience. I lived vicariously through them. Thanks, Michelle “Trinibaby” Buckmire, a Carnival reveler to her core.

Marcia and I decided to use the same cover artist to keep that unified look, and it was easier to communicate and toss around ideas with one person. Author Christy Carlye did a fantastic job.

As far as editing, Marcia and I went to our individual resources. Our voices and styles are different—a good thing. Readers will not get a regurgitation of story or style.

Bettye: Marcia is a peach. She was the very first of my fellow writers to reach out to me when I was first published, a kindness I never forgot. I hope to work with her one day as well.

Tell us specifically about Carnival Temptress (uh-oh, there's Cassandra Wilson again, singing a cover of the James Taylor tune Only A Dream In Rio, but hers has a real Brazilian beat to it...can you tell she's one of my favorites?).

Michelle: Carnival Temptress, The Revelers series novella, takes you to the wonderful, sunny island of Trinidad to enjoy Carnival. Micha Lindsey and her friends are heading to the annual festivities that promise to make them forget their worries and heartbreaks. Out of a job, and out of a relationship, Micha is ready to have Carnival work its magic on her. What she didn’t expect was for sexy, brooding Amar Jaikaran, her youthful crush, to be the one with the magic touch.

Amar Jaikaran feels invaded by his sister and her friends who noisily barge into his life. From the first day, he’s appreciative of Micha’s transformation from the giggly teen who he remembered to this stunning, curvaceous beauty. Separately, they have experienced their share of pain and loss. Would a few days of tossing aside inhibitions and celebrating life’s pleasures heal their wounds and steer them toward each other to fall in love? Note: This eBook contains steamy scenes and graphic language.

Bettye: Ah, the freedom of being on vacation! My sister took an island vacation over 40 years ago and eventually married the man she met there. In my single days I had some nice flings when visiting my sister and brother-in-law, but I digress...

You published this series independently, and you are also indie publishing backlist titles while remaining traditionally published.  What do you like best and least about indie publishing?

Michelle: I went the indie route because I didn’t have a choice. Shrinking and/or constant advances, stagnant or decreasing distribution, and lack of career movement in the traditional publishing whether at my doing or the publisher’s forced me to look at other options.

Almost twelve years ago, when I got published, I didn’t come with the plan to be fitted with several labels: black writer, black romance writer, romance writer, contemporary romance writer. I had a desire to write various kinds of books. The idea of branding by the reader or more so by the publisher meant that someone had to anoint me to come into the circle of the published, then for me to conform and enjoy the view, or that, after a tap on the head, I can now write other stories or take the ascent on the slippery career ladder.

For better or worse, I’ve stepped onto the diving board, taken a deep breath, and doing a swan dive into indie publishing. My spirit to write whatever I want may result in a romance book that continues any one of my Harlequin Kimani series; an erotic romance about a modern-day Indian princess and a Greek tycoon (1st draft done), a horror novel (believe it or not, I wrote horror before romance), an epic style historical about a Moor (my first work that I tried to get published. I think I still have the bruises on my nose where the doors slammed, hard and fast). As far as the box of my current author life goes, it has been opened, and good luck to anyone trying to put me back in.

Now, for traditional publishing, I’m still under contract with a new series—the Meadows family—under Harlequin’s Kimani imprint. It is definitely less of a headache to have on board the editor, cover artist and salesperson.  Having work in print and eBooks with the traditional publisher covers bases and helps with keeping my name out there.  Now, more than ever, I have options.

Bettye: Tell me about it! I love the freedom of indie publishing. I do feel that being a hybrid, with a foothold on both traditional and indie, is best for the reasons you state, but I've pretty much ruled out a future in traditional publishing (actually, I don't think it's possible for someone like me whose publisher cut me loose...both of them). 

Tell us, what's next for Michelle Monkou?

Michelle: I have spent many years on the board of a national romance writing organization and immediately before that I was on the board of a local writing chapter. I have had my sleeves rolled up for a long time. All those hours of commitment were done out of selflessness. But it also took the focus off of me and my career.  Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned and what I already know and go inward.

I recently posted on social media that I was practicing saying no to various requests. It’s not out of self-importance, but out of survival. I was the go-to person, the honey-do person without the “honey.” Now I’m focusing on my career with aggressive goals for the indie side and very pointed strategic goals for the traditional side. That takes focus and time that I can’t share readily with completing other tasks. Hence, my new inclination to say, thank you, but I have to say no.

So stay tuned, because short of illness and/or death, I’m not done.

Bettye: Good for you! You were up there with my friend Deatri King-Bey as a candidate for the title of "hardest-working woman in publishing." I can readily understand why you have to put a little more emphasis on your own personal goals. 

How can readers stay in touch with your goings-on?

Michelle: I have the usual social media available to keep track of my career and some aspects of my life:
Twitter: @MichelleMonkou

Bettye: Anything else you’d like to say to your readers?

Michelle: Thank you for taking a chance with the first book you read by me. If you still are hanging in there for the long haul, thank you even more. I hope that I have managed to be an auto buy. Your support is always appreciated, and I will ask that when you’ve read a book to post an honest review to assist others who may be picking up my book for the first time.  You, readers, are an important part of this equation in my writing life and contentment.

And to you, Bettye, thank you for this opportunity and for your support.  Wishing you continued success with your writing life and books.

Bettye: Thanks for coming by and chewing the fat, Michelle!

Readers, for an excerpt of Carnival Temptress, please click here.  Enjoy!

Carnival Temptress (e-novella) available for Kindle and Nook; 99 cents.

Special Announcement:  The second book in the Revelers Series, Marcia King-Gamble's Seducing Circe, is now available!  Not only that, but Marcia and Michelle are hosting an online launch party tonight (April 23rd) from 7:30-9:30PM Eastern Time at Marcia's Facebook Page. There'll be fun and prizes, so do stop by. And Lord, don't stop the carnival! 

April 21, 2013

First Look:  Secrets & Sins

I'm working diligently trying to get Love Will Follow ready for publication next month and don't want to reveal the twist in the story by giving a lot of excerpts (what the hell, there's already a free download of the action preceding it, as well as the first two chapters, of it here), but since it's Sneak Peek Sunday I figured I'd give a preview of the project I'll be working on once Love Will Follow is in the can (target publication date:  late summer/early fall).  This is women's fiction and is different for me in that it contains flashbacks to Chicago in the 1950s.  I'd love to know what you think...
Stony Island Avenue was fairly quiet on this early November night. The recent time change meant the sky got dark during rush hour. Like the rest of the businesses on the block except for bars, restaurants, and a stray store here and there, the law offices of Roscoe Scott were closed, but Julia knew he would be there. He’d promised to wait here for her when she left Lorraine’s hospital room, and he would bring her home. Julia had been staying with him at his home on Pill Hill since she’d been attending Chicago State University, because it was easier to get to her classes from here in the city than from her mother’s apartment on the grounds of her employer’s estate in the monied suburb of Winnetka. Julia wished she could see her boyfriend, Melvin, tonight, but she knew her father would never permit him to call on her after nine o’clock at night. She truly loved Melvin, but right now she needed her father more.

She paid the cab driver, then slipped into the stairwell leading to her father’s second floor offices above a bank. She heard voices from her father’s inner office and called out to him. The tall frame of Roscoe Scott quickly appeared in the doorway, closing the door behind him. Julia, in need of comforting, ran toward him, letting her tears fall freely. Miss Trudy had been right about one thing: She was damn lucky to have her father in her life.

“Oh, Daddy, I feel so bad,” she sobbed. “Not only did Lorraine lose her baby, but the doctors told her she won’t be able to have any more children. Something about the way she fell and the damage to her insides.”

“I know, baby. I’m so sorry,” Roscoe soothed, his hands rubbing her back. “I visited Lorraine this morning. She’s become like another daughter to me, between her working in my office and spending so much time at the house with you.” For a few moments they just stood, the only sound Julia’s muffled sobs. “I know it’s awful, Julia,” he added, “but I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: She’s a wonderful girl with a lot to offer any man. She’ll get through this, and she’ll find love again. With a better man than Vernon Pace,” he added gruffly.

“Is anything going to happen to him, Daddy? This is all his fault. He’s the one who pushed her. All right, so we all know he didn’t mean for her to lose her balance and fall down the stairs, but if he had kept his hands off of her she wouldn’t have taken that fall. Lorraine said he was drunk.” Julia’s lower lip protruded, and her hostility showed in the hardening of her features. “He hasn’t even been to the hospital to see her. I wonder if he even knows what happened. He actually left her lying on the floor last night and just went to bed.” A fresh wave of tears poured from her eyes. It made her physically ill to think of her friend lying at the foot of the stairs, bleeding and wracked with pain, finally managing to get up and call for help. Vernon probably wasn’t even aware of what happened. Julia imagined him sleeping it off, then getting cleaned up, polishing those damn wing tips he always wore, combing his wavy hair, and, after preening like a peacock, going out for yet another night of drinking and carousing, ending up in bed with yet another of Chicago’s prettiest young girls. 

Roscoe shrugged. “I’m afraid nothing will happen unless Lorraine tells the police what really happened, but she just told them it was an accident. At this point she just wants him out of her life. She’s not interested in getting revenge.”

“But Daddy, it’s not fair for Vernon to go about his business like nothing happened. Lorraine’s life is changed forever. She can’t ever have any children. Even once she’s single again, what man is going to want to marry her?”

“Julia, there are plenty of people, men and women alike, who aren’t able to reproduce.” The stern tone of Roscoe’s voice reminded Julia that his own late wife had been too sickly to carry a baby. She opened her mouth to say she didn’t mean anything against Vivian, who passed shortly before Julia graduated high school, but her father continued talking.

“Lorraine is a beautiful young lady, inside and out,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll find another husband before too long. In the meantime...well, she’ll go on, that’s all. Just because she has to.”

“Do you really think it’s all right for Vernon to get off scot-free? His parents visited Lorraine while I was there. They say they haven’t been able to find him.”

“Maybe he went someplace to sober up. I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about Vernon, Julia. The guilty usually get punished, one way or another.”

Julia began to feel better. Her father was so wise. She decided to share her latest worry with him. “Daddy, Miss Trudy is expecting Lorraine to go back to Winnetka with her when she’s discharged from the hospital, but I don’t think she wants to go. She likes it here in the city. Besides, those people her mother works for won’t let a grown woman live on their property unless she works for them, too.” She chewed on her lower lip. Maybe her father could help. He always had…

He didn’t let her down. “She doesn’t have to go to Winnetka. She can stay right here in Chicago. She still has a job in this office, and if the family she boarded with before she got married doesn’t have a room for her, she can move in with us. In fact, it might be better for her to be with us while she recovers from—” his voice grew tight—“her hysterectomy. There’s plenty of room at the house, and I can arrange with Mrs. Walker next door to have the housekeeper look in on her a couple of times a day and see that she eats breakfast and lunch. So don’t you worry, Julia.”

She let out a relieved breath. “Thanks, Daddy. You always take care of everything.” She looked at him questioningly at the sound of a thudding noise coming from inside his office.

He glanced at the closed office door. “Uh, look, sweetheart, I’m with a client right now. Why don’t you just sit out here and read a magazine, and I’ll be with you in a few minutes to run you home.”

“All right, Daddy.”

Julia glimpsed through an issue of Jet magazine, which featured ongoing coverage of that horrifying Emmett Till murder three months ago in Mississippi. Her father, who ranked among the most prominent colored attorneys in Chicago, had served as an advisor to Mamie Bradley, young Emmett’s grieving mother, whose murder in the Delta town of Money occurred just a few counties away from Roscoe’s own hometown of Eighty-Eight, near Greenville.

Julia hadn’t been kidding when she told her father that he took care of everything. He was really her hero. It made her proud to say she was Roscoe Scott’s daughter. He easily could’ve abandoned her and her mother, Miriam, to whom he’d never been married. He’d been the son of one of the better-off families in their hometown, while she’d been a penniless deaf mute with good looks and an hourglass figure her only assets. Eventually Roscoe had married someone else, the daughter of his mentor. Vivian Scott didn’t possess a lot of physical strength—she had a heart condition—but she had the ability to give wonderful dinner parties at their home on Pill Hill, as well known as much for interesting mix of guests as they were for the wonderful food. Miriam Dunstan—she informally adopted the surname Scott and maintained the fiction that she and Roscoe were divorced—could never have managed to entertain the most prominent colored people and wealthy white liberals among Chicago’s population. In spite of extraordinary beauty, a deaf woman had few prospects, whether in Eighty-Eight, Mississippi, or in Chicago. But Roscoe had taken care of them. He’d graduated from the Howard University School of Law and moved to Chicago to start his career, handling criminal cases and doing pro bono work for the NAACP. Through his work he met a wealthy couple from Winnetka whose adolescent son was deaf, and he arranged for a housekeeping job for Miriam. Mother and daughter left Eighty-Eight for Chicago in Nineteen Forty-One, when Julia was just seven years old. 

From that point on, Julia had become a “daddy’s girl.” Roscoe had taken an interest in her grades, brought her to his home for weekends, brought her to the circus and live plays, enrolled her in Mrs. Arnella Hunter Walker’s famous charm school for young ladies, and always assured her that she would go to college. Julia knew she had been blessed. Maybe if Lorraine had had a father to look out for her, she wouldn’t be lying in that hospital room right now. 
Lorraine had had so much to deal with since her marriage to Vernon Pace...happiness at being a bride, then sadness at the realization that her husband continued to see other women...back to happiness at becoming pregnant...and now devastation at the loss of her unborn child, barely two weeks after the baby shower Julia had given for her. Lorraine had so looked forward to having her baby. Julia, deeply in love with Melvin Cheeks and with dreams of getting married herself, was equally excited about being a godmother.

It seemed to Julia as though she sat there for an eternity, lost in the world of ‘If only…’ Then she heard muffled voices and dragging sounds coming from her father’s office, as if he had someone in there helping him rearrange the furniture. She put the sound of the noise out of her mind, thinking about how she and Lorraine had planned to take their children to the park together, and how their offspring would also be best friends.  Of course, Lorraine’s baby would be older than Julia’s, but they joked that Lorraine would have a boy. By the time she had a girl, Julia—or so she hoped—would be married to her boyfriend, Melvin Cheeks, and they would have a baby girl around the same time Lorraine and Vernon had theirs. Now that would never be.

A new wave of tears overtook her as she struggled to cope with how Lorraine’s entire future had changed. Her nose became congested, and she got up and went into the bathroom for a tissue to blow her nose. The toilet roll was empty, nor were there any of those hard brown paper towels kept in a basket on top of the toilet tank. Julia hated to intrude on her father’s meeting, but she had no choice. One of her nostrils had already closed up; if the other did the same she’d be unable to breathe.

She knocked on her father’s door, then entered without waiting for a response as she wiped her eyes. “Daddy—”

“Julia, don’t come in here!” her father shouted.

She stared unbelievingly at the scene in front of her. A mop in a bucket of water leaned against the side of her father’s desk. On the edge of the desk sat a kitchen knife stained with blood, and her father and a man she didn’t recognize were bent over a rolled-up rug on the side of the desk, from which two shoe-clad feet protruded.

Men’s shoes. Brown wing tips, polished to the nines, worn with argyle socks. 

The type Vernon Pace always wore.

She turned wide, questioning eyes to her father, who hastily grabbed his coat and ushered her out of the office. “I’m taking you home right now.”

“My God, Daddy, what—?”

“No questions,” he said roughly, practically pushing her out the door. “I want you to forget you were ever here tonight. And I certainly want you to forget what you saw.”

She nodded, still dazed. Amazingly, her nasal passages had cleared, probably from shock. Those feet belonged to a dead body, but this wasn’t The Wizard of Oz, and those feet didn’t belong to the Wicked Witch of the North. This was horrifyingly real, and instinctively she knew those feet belonged to Vernon Pace.

Her best friend’s husband was lying dead in her father’s law office. How had he gotten there?

Julia descended the stairs as if in a trance. The brief ride to the house was accomplished in silence. Her father went back out immediately after dropping her off, and the next morning acted as though nothing happened. 

Julia dared not ask any questions, but inside she felt numb. She kept remembering how her father had given Lorraine away at her wedding, kept hearing his toast at the wedding supper, when he warned Vernon that if he ever hurt Lorraine he’d have to answer to him. Everyone had laughed, thinking it was a cute. But it wasn’t cute anymore, for Vernon had hurt Lorraine, and now he was dead. Her father was, after all, a criminal attorney. He knew a lot of criminals, and that man helping to clean up looked like he could snuff out someone’s life in a heartbeat. 

At the hospital this morning, with both her and Trudy sitting by Lorraine's bedside, her father promised Lorraine he'd take care of the divorce for her. Had he lured Vernon here by promising not to press charges in exchange for a quick divorce? Was this other man lurking in the shadows with knife in hand, waiting to pounce?

She’d always known her father to be an honorable man, but it looked like he’d made good on his threat regarding Vernon. The knife suggested that Vernon had been alive when he came to the office. Surely it was no coincidence that he ended up dead. If her father had conspired with the other man to have Vernon killed, that made him an accomplice, and just as guilty as the one who’d stabbed him. 

And now that she knew about it, she’d just become an accomplice herself.  ###
April 20, 2013

Observations from Bettye-ville

Here are some observations I've made this week:

  • Joint efforts can be powerful...as evidenced by the swift identification and capture of the suspects of the Boston Marathon Bombing by local and federal authorities, and the lockdown of the metro area by the governor, mayor, and local authorities to keep residents safe.  Bravo!
  • That said, one week ago there were many more healthy people, alive and with all their limbs, than there are this week.  May God rest those who perished in the bombing and heal those who were injured.  I think we all hurt from this, but these people's lives are changed forever.
  • The terrifying events in the Boston area were the leading story, but let us not forget the natural (as opposed to man-made) disaster in Texas.  That community has been decimated; it will take years to recover, if it ever does.  Not only are houses destroyed, but the air quality is damaged.  Remember them in your prayers.
  • It must truly be springtime in Wisconsin--the roads are torn up with detours everywhere, roads are closed to accommodate flooded streets, and the bikers are gathering by the dozens in the parking lot of Harley-Davidson.  Before you know it motorists will be hearing people screaming on the roller coasters as they drive past Six Flags Great America across the Illinois border.
  • NookPress is a pain in the ass.  I remember rolling my eyes when I read that if you want to re-upload your book file you first have to take it off sale, then re-upload the new version.  No more simply uploading a new version and having it become effective 12 hours later.  It takes hours just for the original file to be removed.  I found out firsthand how disruptive this is when I noticed that the cover art for my new prequel, Lost That Lovin' Feeling, was picked up twice I'm not liking this...
  • Most of the people who accepted my invitation to read Lost That Lovin' Feeling prior to publication and put reviews up right away have already done so on its Amazon product page.  Why didn't I do this sooner?
Until next time!  How are things in your world?
April 16, 2013

What Makes a Biopic Work

This weekend my husband and I saw 42, the new biopic about Jackie Robinson's challenges in integrating major league baseball.  I'd heard that the movie was wonderful, and we both enjoyed it.  It made me start to think about other movie biographies I've seen, some of which worked better than others.  Here are my observations about the ingredients of a successful biopic:

  • Focusing on a several-year period  instead of an entire life allows for more depth without the epic length of a Gandhi or a Malcolm X.  I really had a feel for Jackie and Rachel Robinson.
  • Cooperation of surviving family members, particularly a spouse, makes a huge difference.  Movies like Funny Girl and Lady Sings The Blues, both handsome, spare-no-expense productions, had storylines compromised by direct threats of litigation from Nick Arnstein and Louis McKay, ex-husband and estranged husband of Fanny Brice and Billie Holiday, respectively, if they were portrayed in an unflattering manner (both Brice and Holiday were deceased by the time their lives were put on film, but their husbands were still alive).  As a result, both movies were largely fictional.  (Ike Turner reportedly made the same threats during the filming of What's Love Got to Do With It, but apparently by the 1990s studies were less worried about libel suits.)  Mrs. Rachel Robinson has said in numerous interviews how pleased she is with the way the movie turned out, not only with the portrayal of her late husband, but by the depiction of their love and marriage.
  • Casting the most suitable actors.  The actor who played Jackie Robinson actually looked like a young Jackie Robinson. Similarly, Meryl Streep became Margaret Thatcher (and Julia Child as well), and Jamie Foxx became Ray Charles (and the piano playing didn't have to be faked, another plus) because of resemblance to the subjects they played (whether real or makeup-enhanced).  Raymond Massey had the angular features (and the height) to impersonate two historical figures on screen with startling physical accuracy--Abraham Lincoln and John Brown.  But Hollywood has made some major gaffes in this regard.  Diana Ross, a small, petite, brown-skinned woman, looked nothing like the tall, big-boned, fair-skinned Billie Holiday (who had only been dead 13 years in 1972, when the movie was made, with many people who remembered the real Billie Holiday pointing that out). Denzel Washington didn't look anything like Malcom X, either, but he gave such a powerful performance that it really wasn't that big a deal (and the horn-rimmed glasses helped a lot).  I did think that the late Al Freeman, Jr., gave a wonderful embodiment of Elijah Mohammed in that same film.  Other times the actors have been too old for the parts they played.  The most glaring example I can think of is a 49-year-old James Stewart playing a 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis. The studio dyed Stewart's hair blond, but it couldn't hide the years.  Similarly, Warren Beatty, looking every one of his 54 years at the time, was too old to play Bugsy Siegel from his late 30s to his murder at age 41 in Bugsy, and 45-year-old Kevin Spacey, despite a strong resemblance to Bobby Darin, was too old to portray the singer, who died at age 37, especially at the beginning of his career. 
  • Portraying real-life contemporaries of the subject adds authenticity.  42 was full of depictions of real people:  Branch Rickey, Leo Durocher, various baseball players, including a number of racists.  I think that forty years ago or more that studios, worried about lawsuits, deliberately avoided this, so they commissioned screenplays that incorporated fictitious characters (there was no Lester Young or Louis Armstrong in Lady Sings The Blues, instead there was composite character Piano Man, played by Richard Pryor), which overall makes the story feel more like fiction.  Fortunately, this thing doesn't happen much anymore.  I did notice that the "married actress" Leo Durocher was seen in bed with in 42, an affair that cost him his job, was not called by name (the actress shown and referred to was actually Laraine Day, whom Durocher later married).  Portraying a person but not actually referring to them by name should be enough to protect the studio from any legal action brought forth by Day's heirs (she died in 2007).
  • A general sticking to the facts.  Movie biographies are notorious for exaggeration and just plan fabrication.  Spencer Tracy as Thomas Edison (Edison, the Man), Tyrone Power as Jesse James (Jesse James), Errol Flynn as George Armstrong Custer (They Died With Their Boots On), Nat "King" Cole as W.C. Handy (St. Louis Blues; like Lady Sings the Blues later, this role was designed to showcase the star's talents more than to be an actual biography), Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow (Harlow), are depictions whose scripts are riddled with inaccuracies.    

Those are my observations.  Please feel free to share yours!  What are some of your favorite biopics?  Which ones left you cold?
April 12, 2013

Guest Blogger:  L.L. Reaper

I've been busy tending to my lawn (creatures called voles set up housekeeping under the snow, and now that it's melted they left a trail of depression trails over a large part of it), putting down fresh soil generously mixed with grass seed and taking advantage of all this free water (rainfall) to get the seeds to germinate, as well as finishing up my tax return.  Today, author L.L. Reaper (actually a writing team consisting of authors Deatri King-Bey and Curtis L. Alcutt) are taking over Chewing the Fat.  L.L. has an exciting new book out, Hell Hath No Fury.

Here's the description:

What happens when the heart’s desire of the most dangerous assassin on the planet is stolen from him? Roman “Sandman” Tate does not take it well. Not at all.

The anguish of not being able to stop the kidnapping of his dangerously-sexy counterpart, Jeanette “Black Widow” Mason, is only half the story. The Black Widow has her own brand of fury to unleash on those unfortunate enough to violate her world.

Discover just how risky it is to disturb her web.

Hell Hath No Fury is part of the Black Widow series.  It follows the first entry, Black Widow and the Sandman.  In addition, the series also includes the short stories Birth of the Black Widow and The Sandman Cometh.

Take it away, L.L.!  Back to my receipts I go...


L.L. Reaper:  Writing alongside my friend and mentor, Deatri King-Bey, has been one hell of a ride. Our writing styles blended so well, we decided a few years ago to try and write a story together. Neither of us had co-authored before, so this was an adventure for us. Our writing voices are similar and blend well, but they are still different. How would we bring two voices together as one? How would we navigate the twists and turns of the plot without it becoming disjointed?  We outline, which neither of us like, but when working with a partner, it’s extremely important. And guess what, the final manuscript doesn’t follow the outline, but we communicate the organic changes that come along with writing.

So what did this partnership net? The dangerously sexy suspense series Black Widow and the Sandman. While brainstorming during one of our Instant Messenger chats, we were discussing an assassin-type story. My idea was for the assassin to be suave when he had to be, dangerous all the time, a loner for the most part, kill with no remorse (only if you deserved it), social malcontent. Low and behold, Roman “Sandman” Tate was born!

Not to be outdone, Deatri whipped up the sexy, murderous, brilliant, quick-witted, people-hating, genius Jeanette “Black Widow” Mason. Along with her country music fetish, she also has a penchant for dining on pizza and zinfandel—together. The best way to describe the series is a combination of Mission Impossible with a twist of James Bond on the side. Only way cooler.

Added in the mix is their enigmatic puppeteer, Lincoln “Shadow” Mallard.  He is perhaps the only person on the globe capable of forcing this pair of world-class assassins into doing anything they didn’t want to do. Just released is the second story in the series, Hell Hath No Fury. This stand-alone story will most definitely keep you on the lookout for the further adventures of this cast of characters.

HELL HATH NO FURY: What happens when the heart’s desire of the most dangerous assassin on the planet is stolen from him? Roman “Sandman” Tate does not take it well. Not at all. The anguish of not being able to stop the kidnapping of his dangerously-sexy counterpart, Jeanette “Black Widow” Mason, is only half the story. The Black Widow has her own brand of fury to unleash on those unfortunate enough to violate her world. Discover just how risky it is to disturb her web.

Purchase today: eBook ($4.99) AmazonBarnes & Noble (ePub), Print ($9.99)

It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it (combine both books into one eBook set). Order the eSet today, which includes Black Widow and the Sandman and Hell Hath No Fury, and save $3. Now that’s a fantastic deal: Amazon (both print and Kindle formats)Barnes & Noble (Nook format).

Keep up with L.L. Reaper, Deatri King-Bey and Curtis L. Alcutt at the following links: LLReaper.net | DeatriKingBey.com | CurtisAlcutt.com

Thank you for the continued support

L. L. Reaper
April 3, 2013

Springing Ahead

The first quarter of the year is gone.  The snow has melted, and I'm checking the trees for signs of sprouting leaves (none yet).  Those jelly beans and peeps are still fresh, and that chocolate bunny's body is slowly disappearing...being eaten, literally.  The pressing question on my mind is not getting into shape for summer (although am working on this as well), but my goals for this second quarter.

Here's what I decided:

1) Early April:  Release FREE short story prequel, Lost That Lovin' Feeling (it will be a free download from my website but will cost 99 cents at other retailers), and include the first two chapters of the book it precedes, Love Will Follow.

2) Late April, possibly May:  Release Love Will Follow.

3) May or June:  Re-release A Love of Her Own (I had put this up for sale in 2011 but pulled it after two readers told me they spotted a few errors (contradicting myself, etc.)

4) Throughout the quarter:  Work on Secrets & Sins, my mainstream novel that I hope to release in the late summer or early fall.  An excerpt from this exciting book appears at the end of A Love For All Seasons, so please check it out!

I think this is do-able. A big part of setting goals is to make them attainable.  When you're an independent writer, as I am, it's important to have goals, the same as you would when under contract to a publisher, or two publishers, as I used to, or else run the risk of spending three years writing one book, or worse, never completing it at all.  Traditional publishers don't wait around for authors to finish the book; they give them a date by which it must be turned in.  Since I'm in charge I can be a little flexible...if unforeseeable circumstances prevent me from meeting my goals, as sometimes happens, it won't be the end of the world.  I had three releases the first three months of 2013, and I'm now a firm believer in the adage that the best thing a writer can do is write, for I now have 9 titles available and have seen sales rise, including those of my older titles. I only wish I'd started to do this sooner.

So if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do!  
April 1, 2013

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere...

No April Fool's jokes, just some handy information.

I am fortunate in that I work from home on a flex basis, but those who work full-time jobs outside the home can sometimes find it difficult to find time to write.  Carleen Brice, blogger at Writer Unboxed, talks about this challenge and invites commenters to share their tips.

Some novelists try their hand at screenwriting as well (hey, a good story is a good story in any medium, right?).  Here are a few tips from Chuck Sambuchino, blogger at Writer Unboxed, on how to adapt your own work.

Is your eBook ready to be revealed to the world?  Author D.D. Scott has some advice on what to do and how to prepare at her blog, The Writer's Guide to ePublishing (affectionately known as WG2E).

Happy writing!