Author Archives: TayariJones

About TayariJones


Best of Luck, Terry Mac

I bought Terry McMillan’s new novel, Getting To Happy, this afternoon. I remember about ten or fifteen years ago when everyone and their mother was reading either Waiting to Exhale or E. Lynn Harris’ Invisible Life. That seems so long ago. E. Lynn has passed and Terry Mac has been through twists and turns of fortune.
I’ve changed, too.
When my first book came out, the black literati were having all manner of fits about the rise of black commercial literature. It was much like the uproar over so-called “street lit.” Whenever I went on the road, I was asked my opinion on Terry and E. Lynn. Was it literature?
I am embarrassed to tell you how I really puzzled over the question. So many people were whispering in my ear that “If you don’t write like Terry McMillan, the publishers aren’t going to be interested in you.” Their tone made this seem like it was all Terry’s evil plan to take money and success from other black writers. (And should add that I am not sure that it was even true that you had to “write like Terry”, whatever that means.)
Today, I saw Getting to Happy right up front in Barnes & Noble and I grabbed it on impulse. I have been following Terry on twitter and you know what, she’s a writer just like me, or you. She put her heart into this book and she hopes it does well.
When I got to the checkout, I asked the guy working there if Getting to Happy had been doing well. “It’s doing okay,” he said. “Not like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s okay.” I said that I really wanted Terry Mac to make a huge comeback and he said, “Who is she again?”
This irritated me so much that I wanted to buy two copies.
I wish Terry McMillan all the luck and love in the world with this book. I think of the writers who felt she was undermining their careers. Now I understand that in many ways, she made our careers possible. With the success of Waiting To Exhale, publishers realised that books by black writers could be read for pleasure, not just for education.
I also wish her luck because she’s thinking about the lives of black women who are living in America right now. I completely support writers who are approaching the historical narrative– my own work in progress is set in the 1930s– but right now, I am especially appreciative of writers who are helping make sense of moment we find ourselves in today, as we all try to figure out how to get to happy.

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Are You Good At Titles?

Stack of Books (30/366)

Originally uploaded by Chealion

Tuesday means Surviving The Draft. This week, the conversation is all about finding the right title.

Here’s a quote:

Don’t fall in love with a title until you see it printed on the book. Ah vanity! It’s very easy to become infatuated with a title and this can affect your process. I have heard writers say that knowing the title them to stay focused, but staying focused could actually undermine your efforts to write the best story that you can. Let’s take my forthcoming novel. (It has been through five different titles, by the way.) When I started I called it “Our Mutual Sister.” I just loved the idea of two women who have a sister in common but are not blood kin themselves. I wrote about 150 pages trying to make the title work even though the book really wanted to be about two girls who actually are sisters. (The deal is that their dad is a bigamist. More on that TK.) If I had stayed committed to that title, I would have spent the last five years forcing the novel to fit it. It’s like planning an entire outfit around a belt you want to wear. Everyone knows it’s best to get dressed, and THEN pick a belt.

Go to SheWrites to read the rest.

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Tonight In Brooklyn!

Tonight is the kick off of the RingShout Reading Series.
Here are the details:

RingShout: a Place for Black Literature
kicks off its new reading series
and celebrates the 2010
Brooklyn Book Festival
Join us for an evening of readings by four acclaimed African-American writers.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tayari Jones, Jeffrey Renard Allen and Danielle Evans
DJ Sounds by Rob Fields
Suggested donation: $5
Here’s where:
622 Degraw Street (b/w 3rd and 4th Aves.)
Brooklyn, NY

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This Goes On My “Love List”

VONA is Magic

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

Christine, one of the wonderful women from my VONA class, sent me this photo we took in San Francisco. This summer we had an amazing experience. I was so proud of each of them and the work they did– not just on their own stories, but the care and generosity they showed each other.

When I accepted the invitation to teach at VONA, I had no idea how inspired I’d be by my class. I sort of cyber-stalk them on facebook and I am always perked up to see them posting about their writing progress and I love it that they are still in touch.

VONA provided us with a safe space to learn and to grow. When the application period opens up, I’ll post an announcement and I really urge you to apply.

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Keep a Love List

I spend a lot of time advising writers not to let rejection get them down. But today, I am offering a difference bit of advice on the same subject. Instead of thinking of ways to ignore the sting is failure, let’s try learning how to celebrate successes– no matter how small.

Have you noticed the way that we tend to take negativity to heart, no matter what the source? For example, if a deranged stranger on the subway insults you– says you’re fat or something– you may spend the whole day thinking back on it, being angry or hurt. But if that same person were to give you a compliment, you wouldn’t be on cloud 9 all day. Instead you would consider the source– he was just some nut on the train… and how come I can never get any attention from XYZ person, etc. How many times have you heard a friend or even yourself respond to positive feedback by saying, “Well, that doesn’t count because…..”

A couple years ago, I realised that I had a bad case of this disorder. I noticed that I could quote negative reviews chapter and verse. (And truthfully, they weren’t all that negative. They just weren’t raves.) But when I got a rave, I explained it away. “Well, that was just because I am a local girl.” or something like that.

I was doing this in every aspect of my life. At the time I was trying to lose weight. When I would get on the scale and had gained half a pound– so frustrated, in the wrong direction a half pound was a LOT. If I lost half a pound– why wasn’t it a full pound!!– still frustrated.

The remedy, is that I started keeping a little “love list.” At night when I got through plaiting up my crazy hair, I would jot down every nice thing that was said to me that day, every positive thing I had done toward my goals. I wrote down everything– no matter how small. (When the lady at the Thai restaurant brought me a free taste of coconut ice-cream, I wrote that down. Kind emails from readers, printed them out. When a dude sleeping on a bench said, “You are one good looking lady,” I put that on the list. The next day when he said, “I may be homeless, girl, but I ain’t blind!” I put that down, too.) Then, the next morning when I drank my coffee, I read the list from the day before.

I know it sounds kooky but it really improved my outlook on life. And kookier still, when I opened my eyes to the affirmation I received, it seemed that the list each day just kept getting longer and longer.

Posted in Travels & Rambles | 3 Comments

Censor Yourself Later, If At All


Originally uploaded by Lazybones Photography

Today is Tuesday, so it’s time for “Surviving The Draft” over at She Writes. This week, the topic is self-censorship. I do it. You do it. Everyone that has a heart sometimes takes the edge off the hard truth for the sake of loved ones. But is this wrecking our writing? My answer– yes and no, but mostly yes. The trick is to know WHEN to pull back. And the answer is LATER.

More details on the site.

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Highwire Links

Amanda Davis 1970-2003

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones
  • Women writers under 32– apply for the Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award. I knew Amanda and would love for someone from the community to win this year.
  • Write With Your Spine recommends eleven brand new books.
  • If you want to finish your book, stop saying yes all the time.
  • Renee’s daughter, Ava, says the sweetest things.
  • Why you shouldn’t dump your publisher. And here’s why you should.
  • 50 online tools for word nerds.
  • This Wednesday, OneStory is handing out free short stories at Brooklyn subway stops.
  • Write like a bad girl.
  • An early review of Getting to Happy, the sequel to Waiting To Exhale. (no spoilers).
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    I’ll Be Back After Labor Day

    Later, Gators.

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    There’s Nothing Quite Like Conflict

    Nothing wakes up a sleepy story quite like conflict, so that’s the topic of the latest “Surviving The Draft.”

    When I was in high school, a harsh reprimand was, “Stop instigating!” (Odd diction for kids, but it’s what we used to say.) In a more formal parlance, it meant, stop provoking conflict. While this is a good rule for life, it’s not such a good rule in fiction. In an earlier post about personal problems morphing into writerly problems, one of the commenters shared that her real-life aversion to conflict, spilled out onto the page. Many of us have this same issue, so this post is going to be all about learning to be a proud instigator.
    How do you know if you’re avoiding conflict in your story? There are plot tics that may indicate a problem.

    To see the list of tics, and problem-solving exercises, go on over to She Writes.

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    Workshop Dos and Don’ts

    Sorry I have been so MIA, but school is starting in a couple days and I had to get myself organized etcetera. (Oh how I long for the days when all I had to do to get ready was put together my outfit!)

    I thought it might be helpful for me to post some advice for people who are starting their MFA programs. So here are some Dos and Don’ts.

    A mainstay of the MFA program is the workshop. Sometimes called the “Iowa Method”, the workshop is basically a group critique led by the professor. One person submits her work and the class reads it in advance and then spends an hour or so critiquing it. During the process the person whose work is being discussed must remain silent.

    Okay, on with the show.


  • Be funky. Funkiness can take many forms. Don’t sit there with your mouth poked out and your arms crossed defensively. When I teach workshops to beginning students, I gently chide them, but I do not like to see silent tantrums from graduate students. As a teacher it turns me off, but it also harshes the vibe in the class.
  • Turn in something you think is perfect. The workshop is not a beauty pageant. This is not the time for you to show your classmates how brilliant you are. This is the time to get help and to improve. (Also, you are way likely to be funky is you turn something in believing it to be a work a genius and discover that someone else has a different opinion.)
  • Turn in something sloppy. No one wants to spend an hour telling you things you already know. For example if the pacing is all off, and you know it, why didn’t you fix it before class? You won’t get anything out of the critique and the class (and your prof!) will be annoyed.
  • Turn in something that has been workshopped to death. Be brave enough to turn in something new.
  • Be evil. I say that the goal of the workshop is to make the student eager to revise. If, as a result of class, the person throws the story in the trash, we have, as a class, failed. When you critique you want to be both helpful, honest, and encouraging. Never forget that your workshop is a community. The person sitting beside you is your neighbor.


  • Submit a piece of work that you feel confident about. Choose something that is a good as you can make it, but now you want some help. The wanting help is key.
  • Proofread. This is sort of obvious, but many people don’t. Often it it’s not because the person is trifling but because she feels weird reading her own work; it can be listening to a tape recording of your own voice. But you MUST do it.
  • Take notes during the critique. Although your classmates will submit written responses, things will come up in the discussion that they will not have written, so you will need to jot them down. And, taking notes will give you something to do while folks are talking about you like you aren’t even there.
  • Be gracious. Everyone in the room read your story and, although it required, is something of a gift. Even if your feelings are hurt, thank everyone for their time. And, if you suspect someone in the class is being deliberately mean, don’t encourage them by being all funky.
  • Listen. If there is something that, say, 40% of the class has a problem with, you probably need to address it.
  • Schedule a conference with your professor one week after the workshop. There will be things you will want to discuss, and she will likely want to give your specific guidance. Further, this is how you build relationships. So, swing by her office. You don’t have to bring her an apple, but chocolate is always appreciated.

    (to explain the graphic. I put “writing workshop” into flickr and this photo popped up. I laughed aloud, so I decided to post it.)

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