July 30, 2009

Got a Great STARTING OVER Story to Tell?

Got a Great STARTING OVER Story to Tell?

Laurene Williams, writer, director, and independent filmmaker, is looking for articles to post on the "Starting Over" section of our the website, http://www.pcd4.com, coming this fall.

Perhaps you have a compelling tale to contribute or you know other writers who may wish to contribute. The site will promote a new indie comedy/drama, "Phil Cobb's Dinner for Four." The goal of is to build a community of readers who can empathize with Phil Cobb's on-again/off-again life. Writers who have an inspirational or entertaining take on some of the pain, heartache, and heartburn they've been through as a result of a break-up, divorce, pink slip, new career, alcohol addiction, cross country move or relocation, may submit. The film is about cherishing the relationships in our lives and living beyond our losses.

You can view the trailer for "Phil Cobb's Dinner for Four" on YouTube or on Facebook.

Writers should include bio and byline (or pseudonym). Bios can include links to your website or any pertinent webpages. You can mention upcoming works or previous works, note any upcoming events such as a book signing or speaking engagement. You may submit a photograph for us to spotlight. We encourage you to promote yourself to make this worth your while.

Since our website is not a literary site and because film typically engages such a wide ranging audience, we're hoping writers can reach and cultivate an entirely new group of fans.

New and student writers can use the opportunity to explore their voice.

SUBMISSIONS: Web publication. Creative non-fiction, fiction, first or third person accounts. Submit query or complete ms as an MSWord file with bio by email. Byline or pseudonym. Up to 1,000 words. Format single or double-spaced. Bio, up to 50 words, can include links to your website or relevant webpages; include any notices.

EMAIL: submit@pcd4.com

USE: Submissions will be posted on http://www.pcd4.com in the "Starting Over" section for one to two week intervals.

DEADLINE: Rolling submissions. Next deadline, August 23rd.

July 27, 2009

Culture w/ YA Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach

The Writer

Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s debut novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, is the first in a young adult series published by Kensington Publishing in September 2008. The sequels to the series, Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to All the Drama, were released in November 2008 and January 2009, respectively.

Born to a Puerto Rican father and a Polish mother, Diana has experienced the cultures her characters inhabit, and many of the multi-cultural themes expressed in her novels are based on her personal background.

Diana holds a journalism degree from Boston University, and has worked as a reporter and as an advocate for inner city public schools. Her first novel, Amor and Summer Secrets, sold to Kensington Publishing on Fat Tuesday 2007 while she was at Mardi Gras wearing beads and a feathered mask.

She currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband Jordan and her cat Lupi, who was rescued from a shelter in Harlem. Diana enjoys traveling, watching bad TV, reading great novels, practicing yoga and cheering on the Philadelphia Eagles.

You can learn more about Diana by visiting her MySpace page, Twitter page, official blog, and official website.

The Book

Mariana Ruiz thought she left her summer fling in Puerto Rico, that is until she finds Alex sitting across from her at the breakfast table. Living two doors down from her visiting old flame isn’t easy, especially given the unresolved sparks still lingering for her locker buddy Bobby—and they don’t exactly go unnoticed.

Her best friends are little help as Madison deals with her IM-only “boyfriend” and Emily sinks into secret mode after her parents’ recent breakup. The only relationship that seems to be working is her estranged aunt Teresa who’s tying the knot on New Years with Mariana and her cousin Lilly as bridesmaids. But the last wedding detail left unplanned is who will Mariana kiss at midnight?

Strained friendships, stolen kisses, and secret loves create plenty of surprises to unfold before the New Year’s bells start ringing…

Watch the trailer for Adios to All the Drama below!

Click the cover above to order your copy of Adios to All the Drama today!

On Culture & Writing

How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
For this young adult series, it was very important. I set out with the intent to write a multicultural novel, specifically one from the perspective of a girl who didn’t quite identify with either of her parents’ cultures.

This is not only similar to how I personally felt growing up, but I think it’s also similar to how many American teens feel. It doesn’t matter whether you’re half Polish and half Puerto Rican, or half Thai and half Jamaican, I think a lot of people (and a lot of teens) can relate being torn between two very different ethnic groups while at the same time living in a very American suburban world.

In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see your culture being conveyed?
I’m going to assume you probably mean how do I see my Puerto Rican culture being conveyed, and not how I see the Polish culture conveyed (pierogies, anyone?) or Philadelphians in general (our murder rate’s not so great). But as for Puerto Ricans, I think there is obviously still a stereotype that all “real Latinos” speak Spanish as a first language and have dark hair and tan skin. Obviously this is not the case. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…as Seinfeld would say.)

But as for the media’s representation beyond that, I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations. Yes, there are still plenty of shows portraying Latinos as drug dealers or maids, but there are also plenty that don’t (Ugly Betty, Cane, George Lopez Show). And I think the trend is moving away from the stereotypes, at least I hope.

What do you look to convey about your culture through your writing?
For much of my life, I had a hard time connecting to my Puerto Rican roots because I don’t fit the conventional stereotypes. I have red hair and freckles, and I didn’t learn Spanish in my home. But as I grew older, I chose to seek out those connections. I studied Spanish in school, took a semester abroad in Madrid, and visited my family in Utuado.

All of these cultural experiences led to the creation of my character, Mariana. In Amor and Summer Secrets, I send Mariana on a journey that took me a lot longer to take. So hopefully, I’d like other multicultural teens to read this novel and realize it’s never too late to connect to your roots—even if it’s something that wasn’t taught to you in the home.

Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
It depends. The Amor and Summer Secrets series definitely serves as a window to my personal culture and how I was raised. So in that regard, I do feel like I’m a spokesperson for American teens caught between two ethnic groups.

I’ve also received an amazingly warm welcome from the Latino community. Much of the email I receive is from other Latinos who have read and related to my books. And this couldn’t thrill me more, especially since the first book in the Amor and Summer Secrets series takes place in Puerto Rico—I wanted to make sure I represented the culture fairly.

However, this is not to say that every book I write will feature a Latina character or multicultural themes. The project I’m working on now is about spies. So with that book, one could say I’m representing the espionage culture (or criminal culture?).

But regardless of the ethnic backgrounds of my characters, I’ll still always be Latina no matter what I write, so I guess it depends on the individual’s perception of “spokesperson.”

Any closing comments you'd like to make regarding culture and writing?
Personally, I think books are leading the way in terms of breaking cultural stereotypes. I can’t think of one Hispanic author who’s written a novel that paints their culture as a cheesy stereotype. And since so many films and TV shows are adapted from novels these days, I think the trend will continue to bleed into other media outlets.

This generation of teens is truly a blend of countless varied cultures and to win over their diverse demographic, I foresee all forms of media showing a more accurate representation of what the American culture is like today. As I often say, many of us put our pierogies and plaintains on the same plate.

July 13, 2009

Being REAL about Culture & Writing ~ Author King Dhakir

The Writer

King Dhakir (pronounced Dha-kear) blazes “edutainment” in literature and music that sparks the mind of those who come across his work. Whether through songs or books, he strives to not only educate, but also provide the pleasure of learning through comedy, drama, history, and other forms of writing. The Chicago native pushes emotions from his work which seeps through the feelings of listeners and readers as he takes you to a journey that touches the five senses and various stages of consciousness.

As a music artist, the no nonsense MC sparks the inevitable gift of a true lyricist. Chi-Skilz, short for "Chicago Skills, is his performing name, and has performed across the Tri-State area. He’d developed a love for music by experiencing basement parties in the early 90's, and listening to his sister's collection of vinyl records on turntables.

Releasing a music video in the summer of 2006, and two albums in 2005 and 2006 (Sun of a Field Negro EP and Charismatic Superfly, respectively), he would later work on his debut novel I Hate My Job in late-November of 2007.

I Hate My Job is now available @ http://www.kingdhakir.com; the King prepares to serve another dish of that “feel good” to take the readers for the ride of their lives.

King is all over the cybersphere; you can check him out at MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube!

The Book

Surviving while earning scraps and living under the roofs of others, Justice King is a college graduate who struggles with finding his calling in life. Unruly customers, demanding managers and sophomoric co-workers push his patience to the edge as he earns a steady pay-check that only lasts until the next. He faces the challenge of steering away from the temptation of fast money and thinks about the future once rent and property increases evict long-time residents from their homes. As smiles and laughter come in the form of side hustles, skirt chasing, and passing jokes with a close friend, the temporary high outside the workplace is what keeps his mind from exploding. The story of I Hate My Job is the vision of people who inspire to live the life of their choice with the sacrifice of getting out their dreams and creating their own vision. It’s the story of laughs, cries, pain, and joy, and the battle of lifting the spirits of the inner self.

Click the cover above to order your copy of I Hate My Job today!

On Culture & Writing

How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
It’s very important to showcase my own cultural experiences as well as others so people wouldn’t think so damn ignorantly all the time.

What’s funny is that by me being a born and raised Chicagoan, the characters of I HATE MY JOB originally used Chicago lingo until one of my homeboys, who is a native New Yorker, went over the manuscript and pointed out how New Yorkers didn’t use words like “mayne” instead of man, “pop” instead of soda, “naw” instead of nah, and so forth.

The story is based in NYC, and I had to go back and change some of the dialogue, and remember how New Yorkers talked to capture the authenticity of the story.

A few examples of cultural differences are expressed in I HATE MY JOB. It’s funny how folks love to talk slick about you in their native language when they assume you only know how to speak English.

Felicia’s (one of the main characters) mother, Ms. Moreno, doesn’t like Justice (the protagonist of the book). Ms. Moreno knows English pretty well, but only speaks Spanish whenever Justice is around, knowing full well he doesn’t know her country’s language fluently.

“Hey, Ms. Moreno. How are you?” I waved, but she never turned toward me. Ms. Moreno’s bronze complexion reddened as she blasted Felicia. Her mom’s knew how to speak English, but only spoke Spanish whenever I came around.

While the language barrier is one part of cultural differences, there also comes popular culture.

Jo Jo is a supervisor in the department store where Justice works, and they get into a small debate over the Jacksons and Osmonds. Both families have had carried on a rivalry back in the day, and I used their situation as a metaphor of a slight cultural bias between Blacks and Caucasians.

“What’s good?” I greeted Jo Jo. He was surprised that I uttered a sound to him.

"Hey, what’s up?”

“Nothin’. I’m diggin’ your Wu-Tang shirt.”

Jo Jo raised his eyebrows at my unusual friendliness. “Oh, thank you.”

“Aight. I thought you only listened to the Osmonds or somethin’.”

He laughed and gave me eye contact. “Yeah, I like the Osmonds. And I like The Jacksons as well.”

“The Jacksons? What you know about The Jacksons?”

“I know a lot about The Jacksons. But they aren’t better than the Osmonds.”

“What?” My shriek alarmed folks in the shoe department. “Tito’s afro got more talent than the Osmonds.”

“Whatever, dude.” He smirked.

“Whatever, nothin’. Hell, even the Partridge Family got more talent than the Osmonds.” I grabbed a few shoeboxes from Jo Jo’s stack of new products and stamped stickers on them. “The Osmonds are better than The Jacksons my ass.” I laughed to myself, and got a kick out of the small talk.

Another important part of that small scene is Jo Jo wearing a Wu-Tang Clan shirt. Without giving away the background story between Justice and Jo Jo, I used Hip-Hop as a symbol that different cultures can come together. Music is universal, and as bad the media love to portray rap as evil, a person cannot deny that you’ll see different ethnicities at a rap concert having fun as if the color of their skin didn’t matter.

I also made a point to have Justice’s potential love interest, Nandi, portrayed as a dark-skinned woman with locs, also known as “dread-locs.”

What bothers me is when most of the main female characters of a lot of Black authors’ books have “Asian” eyes, long “Indian” hair, and are light-skinned. I don’t know if it’s subconsciously a form of self-hate, but Blackness comes in all forms of shapes, sizes and complexions when it comes to looking “exotic,” whatever that means. I wanted to balance out our image in literature by saying that dark is not only exotic, but its juices of beauty also flows deep.

Not only Nandi represents a strong woman of dark-brown melanin, her name comes from the Zulu, the largest ethnic group in South Africa. My glossary further elaborates on many cultural references I displayed in the book; figures such as Nat Turner, Emmitt Til, the Black Panthers, Haile Selassie, etc. and also the vernacular used by characters in the book.

Examples of culture are flooded throughout the whole book. I just gave you a taste. You’ll have to buy the book to see for yourself (laughs).

In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see your culture being conveyed?
The question is broad, so I’ma break it down to books since that medium is the primary focus.

Street-Urban fiction is the genre that’s catching the most flack because it’s the most visible, at least when it comes to Blacks and Latinos. Street fiction is the dominant genre in the African-American book section in mainstream stores as if the Black experience is nothing but living in the ‘hood and underworld stories. This is not a direct shot at the authors of that genre, it’s just an observation.

Not for nothing, but if I was a foreigner who traveled to America, I’d think that most Blacks, if not all, were a community of over-sexed, violent, ignorant, and materialistic group of people based on most of the book covers and storylines flooding street vendors and the African-American book section.

I can care less what people write and their motives. I say, “Do you.” However, there’s a difference between exploitation and exploration, especially when I see the same storylines with little to no creativity involved. And what kills me is when Black authors say, “Well, white people write the same stories, too.” What they fail to realize is that white authors are heavily marketed across the board in their respective genres. So if a Stephen King gets burn, best believe Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, and John Grisham will eat, too.

I’ve lived amongst white folk in the suburbs, and I know that most of them did not live vicariously through characters on TV, music and books as opposed to many young brothers and sisters when I used to live in the projects. So once again, there lies a difference, especially when you have parents who aren’t responsible with their duties to raise their children, and when the youth is searching for a role model that represents strength in their eyes.

So the problem is a lack of balance. I think authors who write other genres need to step up their grind and create their own industry just like how street fiction did in the early 2000’s. Therein comes another problem because once a section of the Black experience becomes popular, it automatically cancels out other explorations of our community in the mainstream.

It seems as if the WHOLE Black community cannot be marketed at the same time. It’s either one or the other, and just like how street-urban fiction knocked the chick-lit-sista-girl books of the 90’s out the box, I wouldn’t be surprised if another genre does the same to the former in the future.

What do you look to convey about your culture through your writing?
An understanding of other lifestyles without any biases involved. I may disagree with certain aspects of your lifestyle or way of life; however, that doesn’t mean I’ll belittle you as a person and disregard your dogma. I will say this, though. I won’t touch on every culture or sub-culture, but I will touch on cultures that run parallel with my own, which is striving for righteousness.

Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
I think writers can be, depending on their format, but overall, no.

As far as me, I represent myself. And as long as I represent myself well as a man of respect, everything will fall in place.

If a writer claims to represent a certain demographic as the so-called vanguard of the community, then that individual should show and prove in his or her writings.

If a writer is just writing for creative expression, then that person shouldn’t be held responsible, UNLESS it’s reckless and detrimental to the wellness of the reader. Controversy sparks debate, but there’s nothing great about sparking debate when it’s done tastelessly.

To quote Andy Worhol, “Art is what you can get away with.” And some writers are just plain reckless when they try to get away with controversy just for the hell of it.

If you are a writer who writes outside your culture, talk to us about that experience. What have you learned about yourself during the process?
I haven’t had the chance to write outside my culture as of yet. I will in the future because ever since I was young I’ve always been around different cultures. Northside Chicago is the most diverse area in the city, and I grew up in a melting point of cultures. Not only that, I’ve also lived in the West Chicago Suburbs for a few years. So writing outside of what I know is nothing to me.

I’m cooking up some marvelous ingredients for the next book as we speak.

Any closing comments you'd like to make regarding culture and writing?
Just be original and find your niche. It’s better to stand out than finding yourself washed away by walking with the crowd. I ask myself everyday, “what can I do that’ll separate myself from the others?” And once you read my books like I HATE MY JOB, you’ll find out I’m in a league of my own. PEACE!!!

July 6, 2009

Culture and Writing: Author Angela Henry

The Writer

Angela Henry is the author of the Kendra Clayton mystery series. Her books and short stories have been awarded honorable mentions in the Gertrude Johnson Williams Writing Contest, and New York Book Festival Awards, as well as a nomination for an Open Book Award in the mystery category by the African-American Literary Awards Show. She lives in Ohio. For more about her and her work, visit http://www.angelahenry.com.

The Book

Part-time GED instructor Kendra Clayton's spring break is proving to be anything but relaxing. First her best friend, Lynette, suffers a major panic attack days before her wedding and vanishes. Then her sister, Allegra, who craves attention the way Kendra craves chocolate brownies, arrives in town determined to land an interview with screen legend Vivianne DeArmond for the TV show Hollywood Vibe.

But Allegra's interview plans hit a glitch when she discovers the diva's lifeless body in her dressing room, stabbed in the back with a letter opener. The police peg Allegra as the prime suspect, but Kendra knows her sister is no murderer, even if she is guilty of acting a little too friendly around Kendra's man lately.

As Kendra starts to investigate and whittle down the list of Vivianne's enemies, she uncovers some surprising Hollywood secrets. But she'll need to act fast.

Because every step toward the truth puts her in danger of becoming a victim of a ruthless killer's encore performance...

Click the cover above to order your copy of Diva's Last Curtain Call today!

On Culture & Writing

How important is it for you to integrate your cultural experiences into your writing?
It’s very important for me to integrate my cultural experiences into my writing. I feel it gives my writing honesty and realism.

In viewing media - TV, movies, books, radio, etc., how do you see your culture being conveyed?
I usually see African-Americans being portrayed in extremes. For example, you either see poor black people or wealthy black people. The black middle class is very underrepresented.

What do you look to convey about your culture through your writing?
I hope my writing shows African-American life beyond the stereotypes.

Do you think writers are (or can be) spokespersons for their culture?
I think writers, whether we want to or not, are often seen as spokespersons for our culture, especially if our writing reflects out cultural experiences. There seems to be this idea that when a person of another culture expresses their opinion, or acts a certain way, they aren’t just expressing their opinions and actions, but the thoughts and actions of their entire race.

If you are a writer who writes outside your culture, talk to us about that experience. What have your learned about yourself during the process?
My books thus far have all been about other African-Americans.


From Angela Henry's latest novel, Diva's Last Curtain Call

The film retrospective ended and the lights came back on. People were on their feet applauding and chanting "Vivi! Vivi! Vivi!" I looked toward the front of the auditorium expecting to see Vivianne smiling and waving like a beauty queen. But she was nowhere to be seen. Then a loud piercing fire alarm sounded and cut through the cheering and clapping like a knife. I didn't see or smell any smoke. Was this a joke? Everyone was looking confused and I heard a chorus of groans and cursing as we were instructed to leave the auditorium quickly by an annoyed-looking member of the film festival committee. As I was guiding Mama through the jostling crowd, I happened to turn and look down the long hallway that led to the basement dressing rooms used by performers. I saw Allegra run up the basement steps looking dazed and terrified. I called out to her, but in the loud commotion she didn't hear me, and I watched as she turned and rushed out a nearby exit. Once outside, I looked around for her and spotted her rental car tearing out of the parking lot.

I did not have a good feeling about this. Since Allegra had come from the direction of the dressing rooms, then she must have been trying to see Vivianne again. And Harriet Randall must have called the police again. At least that was the only excuse I could come up with for my sister looking so scared. I was relieved that Mama hadn't seen her, but I noticed she was still scanning the crowd looking for her.

"I wonder how much longer we're going to have to wait to get back in?" asked Mama, after we'd been waiting in the parking lot for fifteen minutes.

Most of the other attendees were also still waiting but many people had left in huff. I really wanted to leave myself to find out what was up with Allegra but Mama, being a movie buff and proud of Vivianne DeArmond's connection to Willow, wouldn't hear of it. The fire department had arrived five minutes earlier and we were waiting for the all clear, when a nervous-looking male film festival committee member addressed the restless crowd.

"Um, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen," began the man in a gruff voice, looking as though he might throw up. What in the world was going on?

"Due to an unfortunate circumstance, the award ceremony has been cancelled. We're going to have to ask that you all leave the premises at once," the man said, wiping sweat from his bald head with a handkerchief.

After a minute of stunned silence, everyone started talking at once. The committee member had a crowd of angry people surrounding him that he was unsuccessfully trying to placate.

"I came all the way from Pittsburgh for this," exclaimed one angry woman, pointing a chubby finger at the man's chest.

"I took off from work to be here today," said a handsome older black man wearing a T-shirt that read: Viva Vivi! But the committee member remained mum as to why the ceremony had been cancelled.

Some people, not needing to be told twice, jumped in their cars and took off. I noticed one of them was the nerdy-looking man who'd tried to hug Vivianne during the autograph signing. He looked around nervously before hopping in a beat-up white VW van and taking off. I'd heard about many instances of Vivianne's diva behavior, including holding up production on a movie set for hours after getting a paper cut while going over her script, and wondered if she was up to her old tricks again. I prayed that's all it was.

"Oh, come on, Kendra. Take me home. I don't have time for this mess. I've got stuff I could be doing." I silently followed Mama to my car, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that something was terribly wrong and wondering what my sister had to do with it.

This feeling intensified as Mama and I were pulling out of the auditorium's parking lot and a couple of police cars and an ambulance arrived.

"I wonder what happened?" asked Mama, looking back. I didn't reply. My mouth was suddenly very dry.

When I pulled up into Mama's driveway, Allegra's rented black Toyota was parked with the front bumper scraping the closed garage door. Mama hopped out and inspected the damage to her garage door. Besides the scrape in the paint, the aluminum door was dented, and looked to have been knocked off track. I could tell she was highly pissed.

"I bet that silly girl wasn't even paying attention! Always looking at herself in the mirror. And she will be paying to get my garage door fixed! You can bank on that." I followed Mama through the side gate into the backyard where we could hear someone crying hysterically. It was Allegra. She was sitting on the porch step sobbing. When she spotted Mama, she flew off the porch straight into her arms.

"Allie? Baby what's wrong?" Mama said, patting Allegra's back and giving me a bewildered look. We both knew this couldn't be about a broken garage door.

Allegra usually tries to sweet-talk her way out of any wrongdoing she's guilty of. She tried to talk, but we couldn't understand a word she was saying through her hiccupping sobs.

Mama tossed me her house keys. "Go get her some water." I went to do as I was told and took a big gulp of cold water myself before going back outside. I was almost too afraid to know what was wrong.

After taking a few sips of the water, Allegra finally calmed down enough to talk.

"It was so horrible, Mama," she said shaking her head at the memory. "Vivianne DeArmond. She's. . .she's--" She started to sob again. Mama had had enough and grabbed her by the shoulders giving her a good shake.

Allegra twisted free of her grasp and blurted out, "She's dead, okay! Somebody killed her!"

Mama gasped and stared at me.

"Come on. We need to go inside," I said, ushering my still-crying sister and my shocked grandmother into the house.

© Angela Henry