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Preview: The Rantings of a Literary Diva

The Rantings of a Literary Diva

Updated: 2018-03-06T06:13:24.604-05:00


Where I Announce Super Good News...


Contracts have been signed.

It’s official. I’m happy to announce that my short story collection, Let’s Play White, has just sold to APEX Publications. The collection will include new work as well as several previously published stories, including my 2004 novelette, Chocolate Park, which sold out from the publisher just after publication.

Let’s Play White will debut at the World Horror Convention in April 2011.

I’m very excited about this collection and to be working with APEX. As some of you know, they’ve published some notable titles such as Dark Faith edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gorgon (which contains my short story The Unremembered) and The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar. Their fiction magazine, which is edited by Catherynne M. Valente, is also impressive.

So, as you can see, I’m in good company. And just a little excited...

For future post and to keep up to date on publications, please visit:

Facebook Friend Fail


The question: “One would think that since we’ve come so far as to have a black president we wouldn’t need award programs where the winners have to be of a particular ethnicity. Imagine the hate and protest that would come if there was a White Entertainment Television channel and awards ceremony, or a White Miss America Pageant. Are these ethnic-centered events still needed? Are they racist? What are your thoughts?”My first thought is why do some white people feel the need to make themselves arbitrators of what is and isn’t racist. They almost seem to believe that if they don’t see racism it must mot exist, and furthermore, they only see it when it involves something they aren’t included in. Never mind (and willfully overlooking) that this exclusion is something that their ancestors began and that still goes on every day in all facets of life (but then, if they don’t see or experience it, it must not happen, right?). Never mind that this first black president who has magically eliminated all racism in the minds and hearts of all people has gotten more death threats than our last few presidents combined. Maurcie Broaddus discusses this at great length.I’m not going to say, as he did, that certain people aren’t racist. Personally, I don’t know. But I do know that it takes a special kind of person to blame those that have been oppressed instead of...oh, I don't know the oppressors. Guess it's easier than looking in a mirror.Since Maurice discussed it, I’m not gonna tread there—it’s been said to death and if these people really cared to know, they could have easily researched. No, instead I’m sure they saw an easy in to expound on some pure racist shit that they may not have felt comfortable saying elsewhere. Or who knows, they may say it all the time and haven’t been called on it, or they just don’t care. Either way, I’m not anyone’s Negro Tudor and it’s not my job to teach them they’re full of shit.Instead I’ll quote some of my favorite lines of the post:“What would we have on wet (White Entertainment Television)? The brady bunch? there is not really any “white” tv shows.” In other words, shows with mostly black characters are black shows, but shows with mostly white characters are not white shows.“I don’t see how self-segregating equalizes anything. Don’t whine to me about wanting equality and then set yourself completely apart.” Whine to HER about wanting equality? Really… So, PoC don’t automatically deserve “equality” we have to beg individual white people for it. There are no words…And my personal favorite: “Dude… You are so not the first person to make this observation… Try being a high school senior and you don’t qualify for a certain scholarship because you’re white… Been there…” This person qualified for other scholarships but this ONE and now all of a sudden they’re oppressed. Please.Yeah, no time for silliness. My Facebook response.[...]

And just in case you haven’t gotten the memo, it’s NOT okay to touch my hair.


I have people coming up to me all the time to tell me how much they like my hair. Seriously. At one point a women walked pass me, stared at me the whole time while she passed, then walked all the way back just to say, “Your hair is awesome.” I enjoy this. My new hair IS awesome and I love to get compliments on it. I love compliments from my friends and from strangers.The problem is when those friends and strangers just feel the need to touch my hair and not accept no for an answer. Not only do I not understand why you’d want to touch someone else’s hair (“Oh, is it soft?”—Opposed to what? A brick?), but it seems to be only white people who do this—at least to me. Black women seem to be capable of admiring it without wanting to finger it. In fact, most white women do too (the previous mentioned person who walked pass me, just to come back was white). But the ones who are not content to admire my hair are always white. This is not happenstance, of course, white people generally feel more entitled to infringe on other people’s spaces. But, I won’t get into the historical and political aspects of why blacks hate this. There have been post, after post, after post on the matter, and even a guide here. They aren’t hard to find.The main issue I have is that in this day and age, people should know better. Any information you wish is just a click away. Don’t believe me? Check google: “why not to touch a black person’s hair” or “touching black people’s hair.” See all those links? They are real. They are written by real people with real feelings. (In fact it has been written about so much I almost didn’t bother to post this. But it’s obvious some people just haven’t gotten the memo.) There are so many reasons not to touch or ask to touch people of color’s hair. Some of them include: offensive, dehumanizing, rude.But let’s get to the meat of it, show of hands. How often have you gotten you hair done just right, in that up-do, or curled just so for that special occasion and someone then come along and ran their fingers through it? How annoying is it? Very? Really? Well imagine being on display like this all the time, 24-7. The most recent incident came when I was with a group of friends, sitting at a table and a woman walked over and said, “Oh, your hair is so pretty.” Then she stretched out her hands as if she was just going to touch it (without permission) and when I moved out of her way, she looked shocked. “Oh, I just wanted to feel it,” she said. “No,” I shook my head.She looked puzzled. “No?”I smiled, and said nicer than she deserved, “I’m having dinner with friends, do you mind.”“Well, EXCUSE me.” She said, as if I had offended her and not the other way around—as if I had the nerve to refuse her natural born right to touch me. I stared for a moment and watched her walk away. My group of friends were mixed company, but they are pretty awesome women. “Bitch.” Someone said—I refuse to say who would say such a thing (besides my friends are like the mafia, snitch and you’ll wake up swimming with the fishes).Listen, I’ve heard all kinds of excuses about why this is not a race issue. They seem to mainly be: “I am a white female with blonde hair, and on more than one occasion, someone has touched my hair.” But, I’ve learned along the years that I can't decide when someone else should be offended or why they get offended. Neither can you.In the end, The Stuff White People Do blog put it best. You’re not allowed to touch my hair:“Because I'm not an animal in the zoo.""Because this is my body and I don't have to let anybody touch any part of it, EVER, if I don't want to.""Because my black ancestors may have been your ancestors' property, and had to smile while they got touched in ways they didn't want to, but I am not YOUR property and never will be so you'd best move your hand away from me.”And [...]



I’ve been taking a break from the genre. I think everyone should do this every few years just to clear their heads and find new perspectives. At least this is what’s happened to me. I’m well rested and energized. While I was away, an interesting discussion on cultural appropriation and the concept of white privilege, among many other things exploded in the SF&F genres. It has been dubbed Racefail09. If you haven’t heard of it you can catch up here. But let me warn you, it is very long and involving. As these things tend to go, it has gotten very heated and crazy things have been said. Stupid things. Harsh, insensitive things. But, I don’t want to talk about that right now. Well, thank God, I guess you say. Who wants to talk about that? It’s a mess. Well, I say that is the problem. You see, there has been this deafening silence in horror. One that is so loud that it’s become the giant elephant in the room. This is so out of the norm that it struck a chord with me. After all, how often does SF&F spill over into horror and vise versa? All it takes is for you to think back to the Harlan Ellison and Connie Willis fiasco of ‘06. Everyone had an opinion about that. It invaded blogs and message boards across fandom. This is to be expected. We’re writers. We write. We form opinions and then write about them. So, what about this Racefail thing? Why all of a sudden did we big mouth, opinionated writers have nothing to say? Nothing to write about? I’ll tell you why. Because it’s hard. It’s damn hard. We don’t want to get involved. We want to pretend that either this doesn’t effect us, or that if we just keep quiet it’ll go away. Of course there are those who think that because we aren’t talking about it, then maybe it’s not a problem for “us” like it is for “them.” And by we, trust me, I don’t just mean you white folks. No, I mean us PoC too. Because you see, there are a whole lot less of us PoC in this field than there are in the SF&F field. So, we also pretend and hope no one mentions it and turn our heads. Even worse, we hope that by staying out of it we won’t hurt our already slim chance of getting published. But I must ask myself, is it worth it? Let’s be honest, no one wants to hear a person they respect say something so unbelievable that it’ll affect their view of them forever? No one wants to get called ugly names and made to feel as if their view is not valid. I don’t want this. So instead, I—like you—ignore it for a few weeks and hope no one notices me. Or better yet, I hope to God they don’t ask me how I feel because I’m black. But, come on people, at some point we have to admit the truth to ourselves. If we aren’t talking about it, then we are simply avoiding it. And to be honest, this is a topic we have avoided for far too long. There has been much heated discussion in fandom over this. The term Racefail says it all. But overall the horror community has buried its head in the sand. The problem with the current discussion is that people were so angry that they began yelling past each other (which is not easy to do on the internet, so it’s kinda comical). However, I think we, as a genre, can do better than that. I think we can discuss this much more rationally and intelligently than they did. In fact, let's be honest, we can’t do any worse. But ignoring this issue and hoping it just goes away isn't going to help matters. This is so huge and so potentially damaging to the genre that we can’t continue to ignore it. Think about it, do you want people to feel so isolated from your work that they can’t even comment about it? Or worse, just stop reading you all together? It’s a serious issue, especially as the genre itself seems to be disappearing. Beyond the big names, it seems to have become an underground genre. Horror, I think, is seen as something for sole[...]

School Board Holds County Hostage


Clayton County Schools Lose Accreditation(image)

I posted about this issue already.

I moved from the county several months ago, as I could not put my children's future on the line. But what about those who can not move. They aren't sure what will happen to seniors this year. Imagine having gone to school for twelve years and finding out that your diploma is worthless. Those poor kids!

Well, on my way to Dragoncon. If you'll be there, look me up.

Formidable women, half retarded men


So, I helped my mother move yesterday. She was at work and couldn’t get off, so the only people there were myself, and my two sisters. My mom moves a lot. A lot. She doesn’t like to stay in one place too long, so about every two years she gets the itch, and I know I’ll be getting a call telling me she’s found the most amazing place. And they always are. The only bad thing is that I have to help her move. I hate this. I think this is why I tend to stay in one place; because I’ve moved some many times in my life as a child. My mother didn’t have any boys, so it has long been left up to my sisters and I to move her. Why not hire someone? Well, why do that when you have several young, capable women to do it for you—for free? Anyhoo, my sisters and I had four hours to load and unload the truck and get it back. We packed everything we could on the truck. Several very heavy sofas, beds, mattresses, massive bookshelves, washer and dryer, deep freezer and lots and lots of other things. And did I mention that my mother lived up two flights of stairs? We are formidable women, I tell ya. So we drive the truck (a large U-Haul type thing) to the new house. The problem is my mom decided to move into the house from hell. Well the house itself is fine. It’s just getting there from the road that makes it hell. The driveway leading to the house is barely wide enough for a Buick mush less the tank we were driving. It’s shared with a neighbor whose house sits directly in front of my mother’s. The driveway itself is at a sharp incline and drops off on both sides into deep ditches. If you can’t imagine it, just think of a big U-Haul tumbling into a ravine and you pretty much got it. The imagery worked for me. When we got there, the wonderful neighbors, who inhabit the house in front of my mother’s, had placed a garbage can, riding toy and a huge basketball goal in the driveway. He walked out of the house, shirtless, checked his mail and went back inside. My sister was driving and after pulling in, we decided she would have to come out, back the truck in, while dodging the uneven, hilly driveway and ditches. I called to the shirtless fellow through his open screen-less window to please move his basketball goal while I moved his trashcan and child toy myself. He quickly agreed and we continued on. My youngest sister and I directed my other sister into the drive, telling her which way to turn the wheel and if she needed to straighten out and start again. As she was backing in, the shirtless neighbor walked out, put his hand on my back, began laughing and said something inaudible. I looked at him and smiled until I realized what he’d said. “I wondered what the problem was,” he said, “until I realized it was a woman driving.” I stared at him for a moment and then at my sister who looked like she could have killed him. I have no doubt she could have taken him. He continued staring at me earnestly, as I replied. “I know, but it could be worse. We could have a man driving.” The smile quickly faded from his face and he looked as if I had said the rudest thing in the world to him. He walked back into his house, staring back at us every couple of feet. I think he was really upset that I’d dare say that to him. My sister said from the truck, “I can’t believe that asshole.” Personally, I found it amusing. On the one hand he thought we were nothing but pitiful girls who couldn’t do anything. But he didn’t bother to offer any assistance. Not that we would have accepted, but if he’s such a fabulous man—better than any woman—isn’t that the manly thing to do when you see a women you think needs assisting? So what kind of man does that make him? Also, in what world does he live in that it’s completely acceptable to walk up to someone, insult them and expect them to giggle like silly little children. (side note: se[...]

Clayton County Risk Losing Accreditation


So, have I mentioned that I live here? My daughters actually go to one of the best schools in the county (for all it’s worth). The school has continuously scored high on national testing, and had the highest test scores in the county on the writing assessment test for the last few years. My daughter took her SATs on Saturday. I got up at six in the morning (on a Saturday!) to get her there by 7:45. However, all of that will be useless if we lose accreditation. This is also affects my 15 year old, and if it doesn’t now, will affect my 7 and 9 year old. My home will be worthless. My children won’t be able to get scholarships. Other counties are not willing to take the children of this county in (and really, I can’t blame them). The problems are due to the school board. SACS found: “ Today’s announcement that Clayton County Schools are run so badly that they became the first system to ever lose their accreditation is a disaster. With the loss of accreditation, their students cannot receive HOPE scholarships, they may not be able to transfer their credits, and their college future is threatened. Those responsible for educating our children failed.” The board members, who are accused of misappropriating funds, abuse of power, bid tampering and much more, refuse to step down. Obviously they care more about their egos than the children and families of this county.If something doesn't happen soon, this will be me.[...]

African American National Biography


The AANB is now up on Amazon. I don’t expect any of you to order it, as it’s a whopping eight hundred bucks. I would love to own a set myself, but I just can’t afford it with that price tag.

I have seven entries in the collection. Many of the African Americans I wrote about were important in the movement, but the one who sticks out to me the most is Mary Turner. Turner was lynched in Georgia in the early 1900s because she threatened to go to the federal authorities if her husband’s killers were not brought to justice. He had been mistakenly (as much as these things were mistakes) murdered by a mob.

Turner was eight months pregnant when she was led out to a field, tied to a tree, upside down, set on fire and had her baby cut from her. When the child fell to the ground crying, one of the on lookers crushed its head with his boot. This woman’s story really affected me a lot.

I had to go to the Georgia archives and read through months and months of old news papers, where blacks were talked about as if they were less intelligent and nothing more than thieves and murderers (ironic isn’t it?). It was interesting to read advertisements about ointments and herbs that were said to calm the black man. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about Mary Turner actually said that she had caused her own death because she’d “made unwise comments."

I enjoyed writing all the articles, and if you get a chance, check them out in your local library. I will.

People of Color in Genre Fiction


Most of you have figured out by now that I’m black, if for no other reason than my picture off to the side of this blog. I also happen to write genre fiction. You probably have figured this out too.

There are a lot of issues people of color (PoC) face when writing genre fiction. Should you write about black characters? Will it hinder you if you do so? Do you have to sneak PoC characters on white readers? Believe it or not, all of these things are issues within the community. I think too often the default color for writers and readers is white.

I also think that it’s too simple for writers to revert back to what they’ve been taught or they’ve seen and read all their lives. Dark skin and hair is bad and ugly. Pale white skin is beautiful and good.

It’s a shame how many writers, even today, simply fall back on this formula, instead of trying to create more complex, multi dimensional characters of all shapes and colors and worlds. Sure it’s harder but in the end it will be more engaging, thought provoking.

I attended a Fantasy Roundtable about people of color working in the field. There were a lot of interesting people from many different backgrounds. We talked about many of the problems facing PoC in the genre. It was very enlightening. Check out the first part here.

After that, go over to read Catherine Valente’s interview with Tempest. She discusses race and diversity in fiction. Then go out and buy her book. Buy two.



So, I just got back from the World Fantasy Convention on Monday and I’m tired and sore (don’t ask) and excited. I had a wonderful time, and got to meet lots of cool people. Also caught up with loads of friends. Too many to name here, but you know who you are.

For those who don’t know, my sister is a flight attendant, and although that means I get all my flights cheap (OK, VERY cheap), it also means I have to fly on stand by. I didn’t particularly mind, as I had Robert McCammon’s Queen of Bedlam with me in the airport and only had about a hundred pages to go and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen. (I’ve since finished it, btw, and although it’s not quite as good as Speaks the Nightbird, it’s well worth picking up.)

As it turned out, I made my scheduled flight and arrived in Saratoga Springs on time. At the airport I met Christopher Barzak, an unbelievably talented writer who later read from is new book, One For Sorrow. We had over an hour wait for the bus, which just flew by while we talked about business, religion, class, sex and any and everything else possible. Man, did we cram a lot into that hour.

On the bus Diana Paxson sat in front of us, while the driver recounted all the times he had to strike his children (ages 2 and 4) to keep them in line. It seems as if his son, who is two-years-old, has taken to saying “no” over and over again. No worries, the driver insist, his teeth will grow back. But seriously, it was disturbing. Diana, however, is a fabulous lady, and we had a long, involved talk about Octavia Butler. She knew her.

The town was absolutely beautiful. It was picturesque with cute, little store front shops, and old Victorian buildings. Everything was within walking distance, and so I’m sure I walked off at least as much food as I ate. I can hope. Ok, probably not...

My friend Jenny Orosel, who brings me cookies every single convention, had not had time to make them this time, so she brought me some fantastic toffee. Oh. My. God. Ok, I guess I didn’t work it all off.

The convention was a rush of mad meetings and private parties. I met some wonderful people including Carol M. S. Burrell, Holly Black, K. Tempest Bradford, Alaya Dawn Johnson and many, many more. I am really looking forward to next year in Canada.

If I owe you an email, I will be getting to it shortly. I miss you all already.

See ya next year.



Warning: This is a rant. For the sake of preserving some friendships, I'm not naming names. That’s really not important anyway. I want to open conversation. Recently I picked up a book, and within the first 80 pages we had seen a 10 year old girl get raped by her uncle, and a father rape his daughter with a group of armed friends, while he insist he’s simply seducing her. In another book, a large naked creature’s dick points toward a “helpless” woman like a “magnet.” Yet in a third, a modern day ogre breaks into a women’s house, kills her boyfriend, and she offers herself to the thing. He literally tears her open while having sex with her, and afterward she falls in love with him. IN. LOVE. WITH. HIM. HER RAPIST! IN LOVE! WTF? Why is it that women and young girls are so often described as the sexual play things for men, usually with penises bigger than a humanly possible? What is it about horror that many writers think this is somehow scary or entertaining? Have these writers ever met real women? Or are they simply living out some kind of sicko fantasy? Later making sure the men/creatures get their comeuppance as the writer purges his demons through his writing? The women usually have no personalities in these stories, and exist only to be fodder for men to handle in whatever way they see fit. They have no life outside of the men, and seem to be defined by them, and whether they have them—which only speaks for the writing because most of the characters are one dimensional and have one propose. Many times, as I said before, they seduce and crave the creatures, sometimes even after being raped. Because you know, there’s nothing like falling in love with your large penis rapist. Happens everyday. Women don’t have real minds, you know. Of course the female characters survive torture that no real person could endure, just to die horrible deaths. Many times even children—boys and girls—are subject to this abuse. I don’t understand it. But when a writer comes up with a cork-screwed penis-having juggernaut character roaming the countryside raping and pillaging the women for seemingly NO REAL REASON AT ALL, and he is cheered on by his peers, it makes me wonder. Of course, where else can you be accepted (and, dare I say, expected) to enjoy the brutalization of women, and children, even in literature? The bad guys themselves are usually dull, unentertaining characters, filled with unrequited rage. They hate for no better reason than they can, and exist for much less. This is not a rhetorical question. I really would like to know what it is that appeals to writers and readers who enjoy this? Of course something other than, “It’s fun” or “because I can” would be nice, too. But I can’t expect too much. Big dicks and all. *** Disclaimer: Any resemblance to true and actual stories both living and dead is probably a warning sign and you should in all probability check yourself or seek a writing coach immediately.[...]



If you haven’t already, go read ON TRIAL FOR HIS LIFE, TWELVE ANGRY PEOPLE and THE VERDICT. It is indeed hard deciding a man's life. Tony stood up, and addressed the court. He said that he’d always maintained his innocence and that he would never hurt a child. He said he had three daughters of his own and he loved children. Yeah, a little too much, I thought to myself. We had already come to a verdict at this point, and I had formed my opinion. The judge said two things had stuck out to her during the trial. One was STUPID, she said she had never seen anything like that, and it was sad. She said the other thing was when the defendant said he had three daughters of his own. She said he had three daughters and he had done this. She sentenced him to TWENTY years. I have to admit, my heart sank just a bit. I did believe that Tony had done everything that Grace had said he’d done. One of the things that we had wanted to ask the judge was if Tony could get some counseling while he was in prison. We guessed that he had urges that he had problems dealing with and that maybe these two girls were the first time he had acted on them. We were wrong. After the court, the two lawyers spoke with us, asking us questions about the case. The prosecutor said there was SO much that we didn’t know. He said that there were SIX children in Tony and STUPID’s house and there had been charges against him with two older daughters as well, but Kelly had been the only one he had plead guilty on. He said that Tony had been accused of raping STUPID’s sister before they had met, and she STILL went out with him. The defense said that to be fair, the sister was a drug addict, so wouldn’t have made a creditable witness. He said, however, there was a “VERY POWERFUL” videotape of Grace at twelve, where she described what had happened to her in great detail. He asked the prosecution why he didn’t use it, and the man just shrugged. In the end, I feel that the system did work for this man. We did everything we could to remain unbiased and fair. We looked at the evidence, and made judgments only on what was given us. I walked out of the courthouse with two of the courtroom assistants. “It was hard, wasn’t it?” the man said to me, “deciding a man’s life.” “It was,” I agreed. “People think it’s easy. You go in there and just sit down and make a judgment. But you have twelve people with twelve different opinions. “ I nodded. The women who had been there outside the jury door, helping us with anything we needed, the whole time, said: “Don’t feel bad. He would have gotten twenty years for one count or twenty for all three anyway. You did good.”[...]



If you haven’t already, please read On Trial for his Life and Twelve Angry People. And now for the verdict: One person argued that maybe he was just angry with the mother and decided to talk to the girl about it. At 4 A.M. No one agreed with this. So we decided to vote. Anonymously. My vote was: 1) Guilty (breast) 2) Guilty (vagina) 3) Not Guilty (taking to the basement) The reason I voted not guilty for the third, even though I believed it did happen, was because I didn’t think they had proven it. The police had barely even mentioned it in their reports. He wasn’t asked about it on the polygraph and he wasn’t asked about it on the stand. Therefore, to me, he didn’t have a chance to defend himself against the charges. It wasn’t easy, but I don’t think judgments should be decided on people’s gut FEELINGS. The prosecution said, in his closing statement, “If I didn’t do my job, or if the police didn’t do theirs, then take it up with my boss, or take it up with the police department. But don’t let this man go free.” I don’t think this is fair. Our justice system was founded on the premise that someone must be found guilty on the evidence. Then he went on to say, “Many jurors walk out saying I know he’s guilty, but they just didn’t prove it. We’ll that’s not right. If you know he did it, then find him GUILTY.” I wouldn’t want someone walking into court, taking one look at me, and deciding whether I had committed a crime without hearing any evidence. What if everyone did this? Is everyone’s judgment so infallible that they have the ability to look at someone and guess right away as to their guilt? This is why you have to PROVE it with a preponderance of the evidence. One juror said, “I know this guy is guilty. He’s just a slimy person. This is a guy who fathers three children, doesn’t marry the mother, doesn’t take care of them, cheats all over the place, and I don’t think he’s a productive member of society. I don’t care if they lock him up forever." Many people agreed. Of course, he wasn’t being charged with “not being a productive member of society.” One guy said he didn’t understand why the guy was being charged with TWO counts of child molestation. He walked into the girl’s room, and he molested her. He argued that when you fight with someone, and you hit them, and then kick them, you are not charged with battery for both the kick and the punch. No, you’re charged with ONE count of battery. Why is this guy being charged with touching her breast and vagina? Hum? A very good point, I thought. Besides, the man said, he wasn’t even asked it he’d touched her breast on the polygraph. There fore, they hadn’t proven it. This was beginning to piss some people off. Why were we trying to let a child molester off? Some wanted to just tell the judge that we were deadlocked, and let twelve other shmucks decide this mess out. I was against this. Hell, the guy was getting about as fair a jury as he was gonna get, as far as I was concerned. There was a lot of down time. People sat in their chairs thinking about things. One woman said, “Look, I can let him go on the enticement, but I KNOW they proved the other two.” One man, who had been trying to decipher the polygraph results, said he worked with computers and he didn’t see how the expert had said the man had failed. People argued that the guy was considered an expert by the court, and that it wasn’t up to us read the results. Just accept that he had failed the test. Finally, after a day and a half we reached our verdict. We all piled back into the courtroom. I sat down, and handed the paper to the bailiff, who handed it t[...]



Last week I told you about my experience as a juror on a Felony child molestation case. Well, it didn’t get any easier when we were handed the case. We had twelve people from all walks of life in that room. There was a professor, an oil rig worker and, as you know, a writer and everything in between. I was selected as the foreperson. There were three charges. Count I Child Molestation (when he touched her breast) Count II Child Molestation (when he touched her… elsewhere) Count III Enticing a minor (when he asked her down stairs) We were allowed to use the evidence of him pleading guilty to Kelly, Grace’s friend, only if we thought it showed a pattern of behavior. STUPID, Kelly’s mother, had been angry. It was VERY hard to tell who she was angry at. I think she was mad at the WORLD. Tony had fathered three daughters with her (Kelly was NOT one of them). The defense attorney said that she was mad because Tony had been cheating on her and therefore this was why she had lied and said he had told her he wanted to see her daughter’s breast. Of course, this doesn’t really work because she had given him an alibi for the night in question with Grace. When Tony testified, he said that he had cheated, but so had she. He said they were off again and on again. Also, with the polygraph, the ONLY important question he had been asked was if he had touched Grace’s vagina. Remember this is the question he had failed with over 99% certainty as far as the examiner was concerned. He had been deemed an expert by the court, with no objection from the defense. Now, I’ll tell you a bit about how I felt along with some of the arguments. Personally, I hate those machines. I think they have some merit, but for the most part I think it’s junk science. The examiner went through great pains to tell how the machine worked, however, it was long and arduous and complicated. And I don’t think a man’s life should be decided on the bases on whether a machine said he was lying. The testimony was more important to me. Even though she was the defenses’ witness, STUPID, was very telling. First off, she all but admitted she would be with the man if he was out of jail—after all, she had three daughters by him. So, I figured she would lie to get him out. In fact, she only admitted that Tony had told her he wanted to see her daughter’s breast after being read her statement. “Yeah, he said it, OK?” she had said. Personally, I think she was angry because she knew no matter how this turned out, SHE looked bad. I wonder why in the HELL her children had not been taken away from her. I still wonder. One of the important things to me was that Grace’s story had remained consistent for the whole five years. Another important thing was that now Grace is 18 and lives in another state. So the defense would have us believe that she had held on to a lie for five years, through many states, and now she traveled back (I assume on her own dime) to lie to the court. Also her testimony was powerful. Another powerful testimony was her mother’s. The woman was holding back tears as she remembered what her daughter had told her. This had her hurt. It was obvious. And that, to me, meant she believed what her daughter had said, therefore she wasn’t lying or having her daughter lie. Which had been another argument. But, to me, the most telling was the guilty plea. And it was very similar to the incident with Grace. He took Kelly down stairs. Asked for a hug/sit on lap. And rubbed her shoulders. When Tony testified, he said he only got Kelly out of bed because he wanted to discuss his relationship with her mother. This to me is ridiculous. No[...]

On Trial for His Life


A couple of weeks ago, twelve of us sat down to decide the fate of a man accused of two counts of child molestation and one count of enticing a minor. We had limited evidence in this case, as there is wont to be in cases like this. The girl, who we’ll call Grace, had been twelve when she spent the night at her best friend’s house (we’ll call Kelly)and said that Kelly mother’s (we’ll call STUPID) boyfriend told her to come down stairs so that he could talk to her. While down there, he asked her to hung him and kiss him, and he tried to rub her shoulders. She said she tried to run away, but he grabbed her arm, pulled her back down stairs, and begged her not to tell anyone, and that he would never do it again. She said she believed him. The following weekend, Grace spent the night again (she did so EVERY weekend). She said that about two o’clock in the morning (she guessed) that the boyfriend (we’ll call Tony) came into the room where she slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed with Kelly (no one slept on the bottom). Tony woke her up with a condom in his hand, placed his hand on her breast and…in (literally) other places. (Sorry, guys, just don’t want to talk about this too much.) Grace said that she started to cry, and begged him to stop. She said then Tony began crying and left the room. She said she then went back to sleep. Her mother then testified that a week later that she told Grace that it was time to go back to Kelly’s house, but the girl didn’t want to go. This was VERY unusual. She asked the girl why, and finally Grace told her. Then she told the mother’s best friend. Then she told the cop who took the report. Then she told the detective. Then she told the doctor who examined her three weeks later. There was no evidence. This all happened in 2001. Four years later in 2005, Tony pleads guilty to enticing a minor. The minor is Kelly, Grace’s best friend, who is now twelve years old also. She said he woke her up, told her to come down stairs. She said he told her to sit by him, he pulled her to his lap, and then began rubbing her shoulders. She ran upstairs and told her mother. Tony takes the stand and says, he had been in jail for eight months, and he said he didn’t understand what he had signed. But he is arrested again, for violating his probation, when he goes to see his probation officer WITH Kelly’s mother, because they are still together. It clearly says in his plea that he is not able to see her or the children. A plea he signed. STUPID, Kelly’s mom, testified and reluctantly admitted that he had told her that he wanted to see her daughter’s breast that night. But she said that he couldn’t have molested Grace because he had been at a friend’s job’s Christmas party and had come home late. That night, she said—and Tony also testified—that his friend had dropped him off and then fell into a ditch and Tony had spent all night helping him out. No friend testified. No party was verified. After getting arrested for validating his parole, the police asked him to take a polygraph in Grace’s case. He failed. Badly. Now, five years later, he is going to trial for molesting Grace. So this is the case. It’s a little complicated; I did my best. What do you think? Argue for or against him.[...]

So What Did I Learn From the Call?


I just served as the foreman on a felony trial. The man was accused of child molestation. I think it may be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ll write about it next week. But now, more about that strange caller who phoned me up asking for writing advice. So, as I posted previously, I got a strange call from an even stranger man wanting me to pitch my UNPUBLISHED novel to him, simply because he hoped to be a writer one day himself. And just for those who don’t know, this is completely out of line. There are so many reasons for not doing this, but let me pose a question for you. What happens if I get BIG FAMOUS WRITER’s home number and I call, ya know, just to shoot the breeze? Or some CRAZED FANGIRL gets her favorite writer’s home number and calls at midnight because she didn’t like ending to her last novel. Of better yet, to give her ideas for a new one. The biggest problem with this, however, is that this “writer” had not done his own work. He hadn’t studied the markets, took his time honing his craft or learning how thing are done. No, instead he wanted to pick up the phone and get all of this information from someone who had. He figured that since I had been “published” that I would have secrets for him, and that I could get him in with very little effort on his part. After all, I had done the hard part for him. But, I digress. The man went on to explain to me that he’d read my chapbook collection, Chocolate Park, and he thought it’d make a great movie, and he wondered what I was doing wrong. He actually said, “what have you done to make it a movie?” He even offered to contact Spike Lee for me to see if he’d take it on. Of course this may have matter if he had actually KNOWN Spike Lee AT ALL. No, he just thought that calling the guy up (well, kinda like he’d done me) and just telling him would be enough to get Chocolate Park going. I wish. So, what did I do? I listen to him. I talked with him, and tried my best to explain to him that this wasn’t the way things work. Of course he had a hundred examples of why it did. He even told me that I should have self-published by now, because, you know, that’s the path to sure success. I gave him my website address and told him to EMAIL if he had any questions. He said he would if he ever got around to writing his Great American Novel. In the end, the guy was very nice, but completely uninformed. Which of course leads to the argument of how most people think they can write a book and that it won’t take any knowledge other than what they already know. Why do they always think this? So, what did I learn from this? I learned not to put my phone number on my damn business cards.[...]

So, I Got A Call The Other Day...and who do you think it was?


A few weeks ago I received a phone call about noon. The caller ID read it as unlisted. Now, let me tell you, my phone doesn’t normally ring in the day time, unless it’s my mother, who has an this weird obsession to vent about my siblings, or my husband, who swears he just wants to make sure I’m alright. I also talk to Maurice a couple of times a week, but by noon he always home, napping. I kid you not. All of their names show up on caller ID. I work from home, writing and editing. I’ve worked with wonderful writers, such as Associate Professor Gwen Bolton, Deatri King-Bey and Essence contributor Pamela McBride. But most of these authors have day jobs, and I knew none of them would be calling me either. But I answered, against my better judgment. “Chesya?” the guy asked me. Most people don’t know how to say my name correctly, and this guy was no different. But he butchered it so badly that I felt sorry for him. This usually means some kind of solicitor, which I avoid like the plague, but for some reason, I knew this guy was different. “This is Chesya,” I said. Then out of the blue: “Can you tell me ‘bout you writing?” I was floored. This was the LAST thing I expected to hear. I wish I could tell you that I thought this guy was someone important—like a movie person—and he just wanted me to pitch my book to him. But if you’ve been reading my blog at all, then you know quite well that I don’t have that kind of luck. Besides, this guy didn’t come off that way. It was probably his broken English. “My writing? Who are you?” “Oh…huh?” he honestly sounded surprised that I’d be asking him this. It wasn’t like, oh, I don’t know, calling someone up unexpectedly and asking them strange questions. “Oh, I’m gonna write, myself. My brother got your business card and book and gave ‘em to me. He know I wanna write.” He went on to tell me that he planned to write the Great American Novel one day, and he KNEW that it would be BIG. You see, he hadn’t started writing this work of genius yet, he had never even written a single thing in his life, but he KNEW it would be a great writer. Then he said, “I hope it’s OK to call.” Well, hell no, it’s most certainly not OK to call someone this way. Just in case you didn’t know. But at that moment, I had a choice: I could lay into him for having the gall to call my home when my email address is on the card and he could have used that instead, or I could calmly tell him about my writing, as he’d asked. Well, what do you think I did? What would you have done?[...]

Publishers Weekly and Me


Things move slowly in the publishing business. I’ve said many times that writers should sit back and relax because “this writing thing may take a while” and I meant it. Sure, I could have decided my writing was not worth putting the time and effort into, and I could have gone another route—a quicker less rewarding (at least to me) route.

But I wouldn’t.

My words are too important to me. My time is too valuable.

And, yes, I want to be paid.

Well, it paid off—at least a bit.

Whispers In the Night, the third series in the Dark Dreams collection, which has featured a story from me in every book, has received a STARRED review from Publishers Weekly. Here’s the review:

Whispers in the Night
Edited by Brandon Massey. Dafina, $14 paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7582-1741-7

African-American horror writer and editor Massey has another slam dunk with his third Dark Dreams anthology (after 2006's Voices from the Other Side). Outstanding stories by returning contributors include Tananarive Due's "Summer," exploring a toddler's eerie possession; Robert Fleming's "The Wasp," a heartbreaking portrait of an abused wife; Chesya Burke's "My Sister's Keeper," examining a sister's terrifying choice; and the best of the bunch, Terence Taylor's brilliant discussion of racism, friendship and Hurricane Katrina in "WET PAIN." Bright newcomers' tales include Lexi Davis's hilarious cautionary tale about bad brothas, "Are You My Daddy?"; Randy Walker's obsessive-compulsive "To Get Bread and Butter"; and Tenea Johnson's provocative meditation on revenge, "The Taken." In Massey's introduction, he hopes someday "any black writer can pen a tale of horror and suspense... without being likened to being merely a black version of a white author, without being viewed with suspicion or even fear." In the meantime, this excellent series continues to fill a now shrinking void. (July)

And some other great writers who are in the anthology are Maurice Broaddus and Lawana Holland-Moore.

Too cool for words. I’m just sayin’.

Chesya in Toronto


I had applied for a passport to attend WHC in Toronto this year, about two months before the convention. But it didn’t arrive. Now, the state assures you that you can get through, as long as you also have your birth certificate. However, what they don’t tell you is that they send that along with your passport. So, here I was with only a driver’s license and my wit and overly abundant charm to get me through. I drove to Detroit where Maurice Broaddus, Debbie Kuhn, Lauren David, and Carrie Rapp picked me up. On the way, Maurice assured me that he would leave me at the border, and pick me up on the way out if I couldn’t get through. I then assure him, that I would find the only gun shop in Canada, purchase a riffle and shoot out his tires, just so that I would not be stuck alone on the border. You see, I’m self absorbed that way. However, when we got to the border, we sailed through without any hassle. She didn’t even ask for the passports. Of course, I was happy, I didn’t have one. At the convention, I had a blast. I had dinner with my agent, and we talked a bit about things. I also got to meet up with Jenny Rappaport, who I will be working with on another project. She has a good grasp of where I’d like to go with this, so I’m looking forward to working with her on it. Got to see many many friends, including Cullen and Cindy Bunn, John and Becca Hay, Jenny Orsel, Simon Wood, Eunice Magill, Wrath White and Michelle Mellon. And all those folks who make a convention worth attending. The entire weekend, I was reminded that I not only didn’t I have a passport, but that it is much harder getting back into the country than it had been to get out of it. My dear friends relished in the idea that I would be stuck a whole country away from them. Some friends they are, eh. On the way back, I took over before we reached the boarder. By the time we arrived, I had about forty five minutes until my plane flew. We sat in the long line watching the boarder guard stopping all the other cars, and searching them. He even stopped and nearly strip-searched a man on a motorcycle, who they were convinced had hidden something somewhere, obviously in plain sight. I pulled up to the guard and he asked where we all were from. I answered a few questions, then he asked for our paper work. I handed him all of the passports and my ID. He scanned them all and then looked at mine. “Do you have you birth certificate?” he asked. “No, I had to send it in to apply for my passport,” I said. “But it came in the day after I left, so I had my husband fax a copy.” Now, the picture on the copy looked like the silhouette of something that once may have been a person, but it could just have likely been a very hairy dog. He looked at the picture and back at me, and I smile the most innocent smile I can muster. Yeah, I know, imagine that. “Well, this doesn’t look much like you, does it?” I shook my head, “No, it doesn’t.” He smiled, “But I trust you.” Thus, I got back into the country on my wit and overly abundant charm. Just as I said I would. Maurice, sorry darlin’. He really wanted to be able to title his blog, “why we left Chesya at the border.” The guard wished us a nice day, and assured me that I wouldn’t make my flight. However, he underestimated me. I drove that big bus of a van, dodging in and out of traffic, while behind me the others moaned, fearing, no doubt for their lives. As the van reached ninety five miles per hour, it rocked back and forth in the Detroit winds. [...]

Don't Think Small


There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. In fact I think it’s a must for writers. I know you’ve heard differently. I’ve heard it too. Writers shouldn’t want money. Nobody who’s a writer really wants money anyway. It’s about the art. No one who really cares about being an artist should want money.

Much of that is true.

You probably won’t make much money as a writer. Most people don’t. That doesn’t mean you should sell yourself short, which is simply the excuse that many writers use for not giving themselves the best opportunity.

I plan to be in this for the long haul.

I believe in my writing enough that I won’t give it away. I also expect someone to pay me to do it. Why? Because I think it’s good. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing it. Right? So why do many people think that they should “start at the bottom” or “just get their name out there?”

Don’t think small. Don’t give your hard work away for nothing. Don’t pay someone to publish work that you believe has merit—don’t put work out there that you know doesn’t.

These things don’t prove you’re a writer, just that you’re desperate. I’ve said before that writers should sit back, relax, because this may take a while, and it’s true. It takes a long time, many years for most people. Sure, some writers get lucky and get a deal right away. It can happen. But it hasn’t happened to me or anyone else I know. And I know a LOT of writers—good ones.

I suppose it could happen to you, or someone you know.

But more than likely, it won’t. Not simply because you’re not good enough, but because there are thousands of writers out there just like us. Those writers may be luckier. They may even be better.

If you take your time, write, hone your craft, read, and write some more, you’ll wait a long time. But in the end, it’ll be more satisfying than simply starting at the bottom.

Once you get that first check it’s all worth it—mine was a whopping $34.12, but it was pro rate (3 cent a word at the time) and it brought me dinner at Red Lobster to celebrate.

Boy, was it worth it.

Even Before I Have A Book…


Recently my agent started a blog. She has been talking about marketing and promoting and the things that writers should do even before they get that first book deal. Lori is damn good and this is a must read for any would-be writer. But it’s started me to thinking about promoting and my writing career. The truth is, I’ve been thinking about it for a LONG time. I edit for a publishing company and recently had dinner with a client whose manuscript I edited. While we were talking I asked him what he planned to do for promotion. He said, “Well, I haven’t thought about that yet. The book doesn’t come out until 2008.” I think I may have scared him a bit as I looked at him as if he’d just jumped the 723 feet to his death from the Sundial, where we had dinner. I said simply, “You should promote yourself first. There will be other books, perhaps even other genres, but you will be the one thing that remains the same.” I think that may be an important thing to remember for all us writers. We spend lots of time and many years thinking about one book. Working on it, honing it until it’s just right, and this is good, but the one thing we forget is that the book will not be on the shelves forever. There will be other books, hopefully better, more important books, but we will be the one constant thing throughout our career. I may be strange, but I have several different documents in my computer reminding me about things that I’ll need to do for myself, much of it even before my book’s published. One of them is called ‘Tour for Sylvia’s Sun.’ It’s thirty six pages long, and talks about all the cities I plan to tour promoting my NAME (100--all of which I will be staking out friends and families couches, and many which plan to have a book release party for me. More than one? you say. Hell, yes!), the names of all the books clubs who have asked ME to speak even before I have a book, the type of book trailer I want, complete with black and white pictures of a young girl giving birth to a dead baby and ending with something more sinister. I have a list of the colleges and schools who have shone interested in Sylvia’s Sun (before Lori even talked about it, so this made me feel good), and things that other writers say have worked for them. The list goes on and on. You could say that I’m just anxious about my turn, but the truth is, I want to get it right. I never want to say that I didn’t do the best I could. I want to be able to do this for a long time. I’m not just promoting my book, Sylvia’s Sun, but myself as a writer for a long time to come. Really, I want to be the best …but this, my friends, is a post for another day. [...]

No Means No


This also means you, writer. You know, the one who thinks he’s the exception.

It is never acceptable to send a story to an anthology market, get rejected and then send the SAME story back, to a different editor. We’re both going to read the stories, and even if one of us likes it, the one who rejected you before will call foul and your shame will be known.

Learn how to read the submission guidelines, learn how to be a professional writer, and then read the guidelines again, because you probably didn’t get them right the first time.

This is immature and reeks of unprofessionalism. It also says things about you that aren’t flattering. Such as, you can’t accept rejection and you think that you’re slicker than you are. It also says that you have no respect for either of us and you think we’re idiots.

You’re wasting our time.

There’s no playing editor against editor here. We are trying to get the best stories, and if we think yours isn’t it, then it ISN’T it. Accept it and move on. There are other markets; find one.

Writers: You are NOT the exception


HAPPY NEW YEAR! Last year is finally a thing of the past...let's just hope things go smoother for all this year. ***I don’t know what it is about writers that make them think that the rules—whatever they are—don’t apply to them. Recently, a seemingly nice and decent writer, wrote me and asked me what we actually meant by “reprints.” Maybe he thought we were vague about it. We weren’t. But he wondered if his reprints would be acceptable because he had published them in an online zine. He maintained that since they weren’t “printed” in a magazine, and since it had been way back in “2005” (you know, that yesteryear of our distant memory) then it should be acceptable. Of course he never mentioned anything about the hordes of other writers who had published in online zines. Should we accept all of those too? Maybe he thought that he was the only writer to publish a story online in all of 2005. Maybe he was just the only person to publish a “hooker” story online. I also get several emails a week saying something like this: “I’m sending you this story, it’s not about a hooker per se, but…” But what? But the writer thought I didn’t have anything better to do than to read his 5000 word story that won’t even fit our anthology? But…if I just read it, I’ll fall so hopelessly in love with it that I won’t even care that it DOESN’T EVEN FIT OUR ANTHOLOGY. I spend a lot of time reading various blogs and online writers’ sites. Many newbies come to these sites asking questions about their manuscripts or their query letters. It never fails that when the newbies don’t get the answers they want—meaning praise—they tell the writers, they have just asked for help, how wrong they are. They scream and yell about how unfair the writing business is, and how editors and agents don’t really want “good” writing. Because, you see, if they wanted good writing then they would publish the newbie’s stuff. They don’t seem to understand, or they choose not to see, that learning how to write takes a long time. And getting published can take even longer. I’ve heard every excuse. If they have too many misspelling in their manuscript then they say, “well, I read mistakes in published books all the time.” If they have grammar problems, then it’s, “well, the editor should fix that. I’m a writer, I can’t be expected to know all the rules.” If they’ve had a rejection from an agent or publisher: “but she didn’t read past page 2 or 3. She didn’t get to the really good part.” Writers, we don’t get to make excuses for our writing. Tess Garrison has a really good post about writer’s expectations. And this one is a must read. Read it. And then sit down, take off your shoes…this writing thing may take a while.[...]

Me and Alice Walker



On Tuesday Shannan Palma invited me to Emory University to see Alice Walker, the author of the Color Purple. If you know me at all, then you know that the Color Purple is one of my favorite books of all-time. I think it’s brilliantly written—and despite all the controversy, I also think the movie was well done and beautiful.

Ms. Walker herself is a thing of beauty. She is charming and speaks well in front of a crowd. We are the ones we have been waiting for she said to the crowd. And by this she means, there is no one else coming to save the world. That we can only expect ourselves to change things and make them better.

I can subscribe to that.

For those who don’t know, I pitched my novel, Sylvia’s Sun, as a cross between The Color Purple and Beloved. Which shows you how much this book influenced me. Of course my agent says it’s more like a cross between To Kill A Mockingbird and Beloved, but I’ll take that too.

After the reading and signing, she signed my book, wished me luck with my writing career and we took this picture.

I dedicate this photo to Maurice Broaddus, for whom my writing rivalry would not be possible. Thanks, darlin’.

But seriously, I had a wonderful time, and simply listening to her made me think all things are possible. I admire her.

10 Things NOT to do When Submitting


In the past, I’ve used this blog and my Myspace blog simultaneously. From now on, I will post about my writing and editing related things here and my family and personal drama here. Of course, I hope that most readers will continue to read both. But there are those who only care about the writing and editing side of things and those who love to laugh at all those dysfunctional people who seem hook themselves to me as if I had the only working life jacket on the Titanic. Previously, I wrote about The Ten Things NOT to do at a Funeral. It was a little funny, a little pathetic and down right comical for those of us who were there. (Guess I should have mentioned that it’s a bad idea to sit on the front row and laugh at the idiots around you.) With that in mind, I think a similar post about the “10 Things NOT to do When Submitting” will be a fitting start for my new blog direction. (yes, I know there are more than 10, but most of it had to be said.) First a little bit about myself. I’ve been writing for several years, and I’ve been published many times. Now, I’m editing the anthology, The Red Light District. I’ve had a few emails with questions and I’ve gotten some, shall we say, interesting submissions so far. So, I think that this is a good time to address several things: No bees coming from dead bodies for NO apparent reason. This includes flies, ants, roaches or any other insects. And if the suspect screams his guilt due to the sight (or attack) of these bugs, it is NOT a bonus point. Please no more stories of transplant recipients where the dead donors come back for their missing body parts. Serial killers—and, no, we will not be surprised if after setting up the story for the hooker to buy it in the end the “tables are suddenly turned” and she becomes the killer—vampire—werewolf—or any other monster. I can’t tell you how many times Satan has made an actual appearance in stories. This is funny, but NOT in the way you meant. Do not send us cover letters over 1000 words (especially if your story is only 2000 words), or 500 words or 200 words. When we said “do not give us a synopsis of the story” we actually meant it. Bad hooker/john/cop dialogue. “quotation marks” are your friend. So are commas. Bad speech tags are NOT. Yes, hookers are mandatory. Hookers. Street walkers. Call girls. Prostitutes. And, despite recent post otherwise, you should probably NOT refer to me as your “chocolate muse.” That will be an instant rejection, as it will be for this particular writer. And, yes, I’m being mostly facetious. If anyone has any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Send them to And if you’d like to know about my night at the Dirty Awards, go here.[...]