Are You Working?

Procrastination Loop remake

Today is Tuesday, so “Surviving The Draft” is up over at SheWrites. Everyone who reads this blog already knows all about the evil that is “Workcrastination,” but the SheWriters are new to the concept, so I posted about that.
Meanwhile, this is the funniest thing I found when I put in “procrastination” into google images. If you click on it, you can see the large version.
And if you don’t know what WORKCRASTINATION is, hop over to SheWrites.. and then get back to your book!

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Don’t Make Your Family Into A Punch Line




joy

Originally uploaded by taylor_forry

At the last minute, I changed the names of one of the characters in The Silver Girl. Dana’s best friend used to be named Brucetta. I imagined that it would be pronounced, Bru-setta. The idea was that she was named after her dad, Bruce. One of the themes I am playing with in this book is the southern tradition of Jr.-ing sons. And when you don’t get a son, you make-do with a girl. So, for this, the name was perfect.

But then…

I noticed some readers were pronouncing it Bru-scetta. Like the tasty dish that involves Italian bread. I corrected the first couple people, but then I decided to change the name all together. It was a hard call because I liked Brucetta as a name. To me it really captured the awkwardness that happens when folks try to give a girl a boy’s name and with that awkwardness it was emblematic of the way it feels to be a girl born to a family who “never had a son…” (cue the violins.) But ultimately, I realized that I had to come up with something new.

The main reason is that I didn’t want to seem to be poking fun at my characters.

Black folks’ names are constantly mocked in the media and in literature. have you heard the one about the substitute teacher working in a low income school who sees on her roll the name “Shithead.” Turns out, you should pronounce it “Shi-theed.” (This was told me as though it were true. The guy swore that it happened to his sister when she subbed in the Bronx.) There are a million of these stories and the butt of the joke are always people– usuallly working class– who are “too stupid” to “properly” name their child. Hilarious.

This strikes really close to home because my own name sometimes strikes people as stupid, particularly when I was a young person growing up in Atlanta. I once had a (black) teacher say to me, “You should change the way you spell your name. Because the way you spell it now, just shows that some black people can’t understand phonetics.” When I explained that actually my name is from Kenya and that my parents’ dear friend discovered it while she was travelling on a Fullbright fellowship… well, things got different. In other words, I whipped out a can of privilege and she shut the hell up. (But her words stayed with me for years and for a while I experimented with new spellings, paranoid that people thought my parents were ignorant.)

Dolen and I talk a lot about writing from a place of love, particularly love of your own community, your family. This is not to say that we can’t be critical—that’s the writers job, but we try to write with open and full hearts. About a five years ago, Dorothy Allison gave a keynote address at the Southern Women Writers Conference. In this talk she cautioned us against writing books full of wacky, ignorant characters. “Don’t make a punch line out of your family,” she said.

So, I ended up changing Brucetta’s name to Ronalda. Her daddy had to get his name changed, too. (He’s Ronald.) In my heart, she’s Brucetta, and I keep thinking of her by her original name. But I am sure I’ll get used to it. And I am sure that I made the right call.

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments

September Events

For a person who said she isn’t doing any more public events until my book comes out, I have a lot of my plate for September. The reason is that each one of these opportunities were just irresistable. So I will just have to be a busy little bee.

Here’s the line up. I hope you can make it to at least one event, maybe two!:

  • Friday, September 10, 7-9pm. Brooklyn, NY.
    On this day, I’ll be participating in the inaugural Ringshout reading series along with Danielle Evans and TahNehsi Coates. You may know this, but I am crazy about Daneille! her new book, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self has been picked by NY Magazine as one of the most exiciting fall releases.

  • Saturday, September 11, 3pm, New York City
    This is the annual open house for the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center. Come on by and find out more about this terrific harlem institution. Maybe you’ll end up registering for a class.

  • Sunday, September 12, DUMBO, Doors open at 7, program 8pm
    This is PEN’s Quiz night as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival. Come and be on my team. (Can’t find a darn thing about it online, but it’s really happening. I’ll post more deets later.)

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    Confessions of an Invisible Girl

    I almost didn’t post this because it isn’t really literary. But it has to do with confidence, which is the thing that keep us going in the face of all kinds of obstacles. The story I am about to share has been tickling the edges of my mind lately, but I decided to go ahead and tell it because I keep seeing posts on twitter saying things like “the most phenomenal woman in the room isn’t the prettiest or the most successful, but the most CONFIDENT.”
    I completely understand the intent behind this little declaration. And I suppose it’s empowering to think that key to fabulousness is in your own head, you just have to unlock it. But I think this is most appealing to people who are already confident– or those who *act* confident. I can imagine a person who doesn’t always feel so sure of herself reading that sort of message and feeling even LESS sure of herself as a result. So this one goes out to all the girls who could use a little propping up.
    When I started college, I was not a very confident person. High school hadn’t done me any favors, if you know what I mean. Add to it that I was going to be the youngest person in my class (sweet 16!). But I soldiered on, hoping something good was right around the corner. I had an honors scholarship, so I suspected that maybe I was smart, or kind of smart, or something. But I knew that I was not fabulous. (And let me tell you, at Spelman College, there was a lot of fabulousness happening.) Basically, I was an invisible girl.
    After the freshmen orientation, the upperclassmen came back to campus. A few of them said to me, “Hey Donna!” I gave a embarrassed weak little smile until they realised that I wasn’t Donna, instead I was some random freshman. This happened again and again.
    Then, one day, someone chased me across the student center. “Donna!” I turned around because it was like Donna was my other name by now. The person said, “Oh you’re not Donna. She lost her ID.” I took the ID card and promised to take it to front desk where this Donna person could claim it.
    I looked at the photo on the ID and gasped. (Really. Literally. An audible gasp.) Donna was GORGEOUS. And she did look like me, but gorgeous. It was like I was the BEFORE and she was the AFTER. I held on to her ID longer than I should have, looking her wide smile, and sassy tilt of her head.
    This little moment changed the way that I looked at myself. I have wondered many times about what this little story means.
    I think it means that even if you are not the most confident person in the room, it doesn’t mean that other people won’t find you beautiful or interesting. I like to think that other people may often have a more generous view of you than you have of yourself. And I think the story also means that even ugly ducklings aren’t always ugly– no transformation needed.
    I did finally meet Donna, and she had heard of me, too. (I’m afraid that my appearance didn’t give HER any confidence boosts!) But she took me under her wings and taught me important things like how to properly apply eyeshadow and how to dodge curfew. I haven’t seen her in years, but I will always be grateful for what she gave me– the gift of confidence.

    Posted in Travels & Rambles | 3 Comments

    Natasha Trethewey on Fresh Air Today

    Tune in to NPR today to hear Natasha Trethewey interviewed on Fresh Air. Her new book is a non-fiction work called BEYOND KATRINA. I am really excited about this book. I am Natasha’s biggest fan and I love all her work, but there is something really urgent about this new project. I really urge you to listen to what she has to say about the way that Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and also the way that the criminal justice system can devastate a family. The audio of the show won’t go up until this evening, but there are some really interesting excerpts already posted. Go check it out.

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    Literary Loos and other Links




    Handling Business.

    Originally uploaded by Mrs. Chantalle
  • I don’t quite know the relationship between this photo of Michael Jackson & The Reagans and the post about self-promotion, but it cracked me up.
  • And this video of a white actress auditioning for a Tyler Perry flick made me scream!
  • And these people trying to sell J.D. Sallinger’s comode made me laugh when I thought it was a joke. Then I remembered that I wrote my first novel in a bathroom stall on my lunch break. Will THAT commode one day be considered historic?
  • Jonathan Franzen is not the first writer to be on the cover of Time, here are the others. Still, it’s annoying the crap out of Shelley.
  • The recession is making writers desperate and desperate writers are more likely to sell out.
  • Strange Cargo, an exciting new anthology of emerging talent.(Congrats, Renee!)
  • An agent sent out a memoir proposal and it was returned unread– memoir doesn’t sell. (Luckily, she didn’t take stupid for an answer.)
  • Literary dating site & famous literary loves.
  • Camden saves its libraries!
  • Writers share their favorite fonts.
  • You don’t need a special writing desk to get your work done.
  • Amish is the new sexy.
  • Get your research done at home in your pjs.
  • Terry McMillan is coming to a city near you!
  • This is a publishing horror story. Don’t read it if you are already in a bad mood.
  • Asian-American Writers Workshop leads WORDSTRIKE against the Arizona Immigration Law.
  • Kansas writers, here is a great opportunity for you!
  • A horrible situation at VQR. Is workplace bullying a widespread problem in the academy?
  • Baldwin vs. Buckley (video)
  • **Tayari rolls eyes, walks out the room and slams the door.**
  • Would you like to be a debut writer all over again? Just take a pen name. (Is this sort of like trying to regain your virginity?)
  • Considering a Low-Residency MFA?
  • What to do if someone tried to tell you you are not a “real writer“.
  • Are regular folks connected enough to become literary agents?
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    Is Your Problem Writerly or Personal?




    DSC05126

    Originally uploaded by Sianyd85

    She Writes has just posted my latest entry for “Surviving the Draft,” my new column about all about craft and getting your book done. The post today is called “On Writing With Empathy“, which is an expansion of something I posted here a few months ago.

    One of the things I talk about was my own fear of empathizing with James– the bigamist in my new book, The Silver Girl.

    The main personal problem I had to get over was the fear that I would be accused of making excuses for men, that by seeing his side of things I was somehow betraying my characters or even women all over the world. But at the end of the day, I decided that we read to stretch and grow and that we write for the same reason. Look closely at the photo that I’ve chosen to illustrate this post. Look closely and you’ll see that one of those rocks is a heart. The everyday miracle quality of this image seemed fitting with the magic of the way that the writer must find the heart of all her characters.

    You can check out the whole piece here. And, if you’re a woman writer, join SheWrites while you’re over there.

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    It’s All Good




    Gotta Get The Kitchen

    Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

    I will admit that I have a thing about hair– my own hair and everybody else. As for my own, I do it myself and I love to chat up strangers in the elevator and find out what products they use. (My current fave is the Curls line. Great for a well-defined twist-out.) I also love thinking about what hair means to people, especially black women. For me the most interesting character in Their Eyes Were Watching God is Janie’s hair! As a matter of fact, Janie’s very brown skin and very long hair inspired two of the characters in The Silver Girl.

    Gwen and Dana are the secret wife and daughter of James Witherspoon and the whole book revolves around this set up. As you can imagine, Gwen and Dana have an unconventional take on life– I mean, it takes a special person to be okay with the fact that you husband has a whole other family and you must live in the shadows. One way that they make themselves feel better is that they are more sophisticated and better looking that his “legitimate” family. And what’s the main proof of this beauty? The fact that mother and daughter both have about two feet of hair that hangs to the middle of their backs. And when you add to the mix that the “real” wife owns a beauty parlor, we’ve got conflict, baby! (The photo to the right is me getting my hair pressed as research.)

    So, on to the topic of this post.

    My editor and I are working on the catalog copy. This is the brochure with which the publisher will announce next season’s book. it includes a photo of the author, the book, and quick summary meant to snare the attention of book sellers. I love what my editor has written, but there is one phrase that is tripping me up. Here’s the sentence”

    For Chaurisse, Dana is a glamorous friend—a “silver girl” possessing all the beauty, popularity, and good hair that Chaurisse thinks would make her happy.

    As you probably guessed, the phrase is good hair. Yes, Chaurisse is really impressed by Dana’s hair. And, she probably would describe it as “good hair.” But I am having an emotional response to the word choice. I don’t want it to seem like I think that some people’s hair is good and others isn’t.

    When I was a kid, I felt a lot of pain about this good-hair/bad-hair mess and I don’t want to appear to be perpetrating it. Do you think that putting the phrase in talics will show that I am sort of mocking the idea? Or should I just rephrase, or leave any hair-talk out of the situation all together?

    Posted in The Writing Life | 5 Comments

    Mid-Week, Hot, Sweaty, De-Caf Links




    wahtever works

    Originally uploaded by doughboy54

    You have probably noticed that I have sort of slowed down the blog during these dog days of summer. For one, it’s just too hot to think. And add to that, my air conditioner hasn’t been working. And the biggest factor is that I have given up coffee, which has cost me about 15% of my personality. I am trying to remember why I thought this was such a good idea in the first place. In the meanwhile, here are some pretty good links.

  • Big publisher? Indie? Self Publish? Moonrat breaks down all your options.
  • I, too, noticed that only when the topic is “overrated” writers, the list is really diverse.
  • Ten excellent rules for writing fiction.
  • Jericho Brown on the topic of labels, or, as he calls them, adjectives.
  • The Kindle is a cold shower?
  • Not literary, I know. But, “My Humps” in sign language.
  • Eat, Pray, SPEND. What’s the deal with Priv-Lit?
  • More Kindle hateration.
  • Lauren Cerand is the coolest person in publishing.
  • Really good interview with Aimee Bender.
  • So you want to be an agent?
  • Pretty captivating depression-era photo from Puerto Rico.
  • Posted in Links | 1 Comment

    Surviving The Draft: My New Column




    middler paper

    Originally uploaded by olivie

    I am so excited to announce “Surviving The Draft,” a weekly column that I am publishing over at SheWrites. The column is mostly about process and craft, but I will also be blogging from time to time about how to organize your life to be more productive. I like to think of it as sort of personal training, but for writing. And also, gentler than a personal trainer. (My trainer yells at me sometimes.)

    The first post is up today. It’s a sort of introduction. This column is open to everyone, not just SheWriters. BUT, if you’re a “she”, thinking about join SheWrites and leaving me a comment. Tell me what craft issues are more interesting to you. I already plan to post about naming your characters, pacing and how to know when you get to the end. I’ll also talk about going to residencies to get away from it all and also how to get away from it all without getting away. But maybe there is something else you’d like to talk about.

    In the meantime, how I came up with the name, “Surviving The Draft.”

    The title of the this column, “Surviving The Draft,” is inspired by a piece of advice given to me by my mentor, Ron Carlson. When I met him, I was a great admirer of his work and I hadn’t yet written my first novel. R.C. was such an excellent teacher and a beautiful craftsman that I would have done anything that he said would make me a better writer. Sometimes, I would ask him questions about process. I was writing with pen and paper, was that okay? And how often should I go back and revise? Is it okay to read other authors while I am trying to write? Finally, he smiled and said, “Tayari, do whatever you need to do to survive the draft.”

    Surviving the draft is getting over the finish line however you can. I’ve written three novels and for one I sprinted across the line, for another I limped, and for the last one, I crawled, but the point is that I did it. Surviving the draft often ain’t pretty, but it’s always possible.

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