Updates from Frederick Smith, former Detroiter living in Los Angeles, and author of Play It Forward (January 2015), Right Side of the Wrong Bed (December 2007), and Down For Whatever (July 2005).
Be a good woman, be a good black, be a good gay, be a good, grateful (and always in my debt for hiring you) housekeeper/lawn worker... in the workplace, sometimes it's be a good team player. So long as you shut up and take it, ignore it, be oblivious to it... even when you're getting peed on and someone tells you it's raining.
You've probably experienced the glare or biting words of someone who just wants you to shut up and take it, no matter what.
You got any examples of "Just shut up and be a good..."?
Here's a recent one... the folks attacking Jasmyne Cannick this week for pointing out racism in the gay/lesbian community in her recent columns. She's published some of the attack emails on her site this week. It's pretty eye-opening how far people will go to maintain their place of privilege and comfort... even when faced with how their actions make others feel.
Now, if only society could approach life with a belief that racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc... still exist... then we could all move ahead with finding systemic and personal answers to right those historical wrongs. But when there's denial... there will never be any social change.
And people who speak out will be told... Just Shut Up and Be a Good... when they really shouldn't have to shut up at all. fs
It's a little after midnight here in L.A. I got home an hour ago from a birthday party. Teena Marie is singing "I'm Still in Love" on my iTunes. I'm sitting on the floor of my bedroom, back against the bed, with my laptop. I'm no Carrie Bradshaw kinda writer, who likes to get in different positions on the bed with the laptop. I like the floor of my bedroom... or the desk. Don't ask. I couldn't tell you why.
Friday afternoon got a call from my editor in NYC who gave the final OK on my revised pages for Right Side of the Wrong Bed. Gave me the confirmed pub date, December 2007. It's exciting getting the final OK, because sometimes you worry that your editor or publisher won't like what you've done with their revision notes an suggestions. My editor says he's been happy with my work -- that my manuscripts are in good shape when I turn them in. That's good to hear.
So now that we're waiting for the December due date, it's time to keep cracking away at book three. Book three hasn't come easy to me. Like, I know what I want to write. But the focus of the story isn't gelling. I don't know if it's too many characters/narrators -- there's like 8 or 9. Actually, I know that's it. I think a few are going to have to go so that the story can focus and move forward.
That's why I'm up WAY past midnight, with Writer-somnia, trying to figure out how to restructure what I've written so far. Who stays? Who goes? How do I get this story to focus around a theme? And how do I make it something people will want to read? Something I'll want to read?
And wondering if I should pull out my copy of He's Just Not That Into You to see if a recent date I had is into me... or not. I guess if you gotta ask, he's not. Hmmmm. fs
A subject that came to a close... the scheduled Blackface performance in West Hollywood. Jasmyne Cannick led a great awareness campaign and fight about why the performance is not suitable for L.A... nor anywhere else in the U.S. And she's also doing great work raising awareness of issues many LGBT of color already are aware of, but many mainstream LGBT refuse to acknowledge, or just want to deny... racism, sexism, and classism within the LGBT community. But, alas, the Blackface performance is no longer taking place in West Hollywood. It's a conclusion many people wanted.
Speaking of conclusions, endings, the last parts of books, one of the most challenging parts of writing -- whether it's a news story, novel, or short story -- is reaching a suitable and satisfying ending. I'm sure many of you have read books that had endings where you said, "What the F?" and other times when the ending left you feeling hopeful, motivated, and wondering how the characters' lives will continue once you put the book down.
I'm conclusion-challenged, I admit. When I wrote my first novel, Down For Whatever, I wrote two endings... One, the one that got published, is the "happy ending" conclusion where stories resolved in a nice way that addressed the characters' initial motivation, desires, wants.
The other ending, the one that didn't get published, was the "real life" ending. It wasn't exactly doom and gloom, but there were consequences that matched characters' previous behaviors and attitudes, and where characters didn't necessarily get what they wanted or desired -- but were OK with not getting what they wanted. It was real life, to me.
I decided to go with the "happy ending," though to this day I have second thoughts and wish I had gone in the "real life" direction. Oh well, authors always second guess themselves. Even after publication. It's in our nature.
A lot goes into how a project ends. One, is it consistent with the overall story? In other words, does the ending come out of nowhere and you're like "Huh?" Does it address the characters motivations, desires, wants? Does it tie up loose ends, including supporting characters? Does it have a twist that you planted clues to throughout the project? Does it leave readers hopeful and with a feeling of bliss? Do they cry? Want it to end? Sometimes, I deliberately slow down when I get to the end of a book because I don't want it to end.
Finally, and this is pretty important, does it leave the door open -- deliberately or not -- for a related project? If it's deliberate -- meaning, just leaving readers hanging -- that might not be too satisfying to readers. If it ties up the story, but your main character(s) can go on to future projects and adventures, that's cool. I'm not the biggest fan of sequels -- i.e. picking up where the last book ended--, but taking characters into new situations, new cities, new adventures could lead to a wonderful series that readers will enjoy.
Writers. Readers. What's a satisfying ending mean to you in novels or short stories?
First of all, did you know there are still performers making a living doing "Black Face" theatre? And one such performer is coming to Los Angeles -- West Hollywood to be specific -- in Feburary, just in time for Black History Month. Read more about the story at Jasmyne Cannick's site.
Which brings me to today's writing topic: Race/Ethnicity and Fiction.
What role, if any, do these subjects play in your characters' lives? Is race/ethnicity too sensitive a topic to be addressed in fiction? Do you prefer your characters to be color blind, or conscious of the issues and experiences around race/ethnicity that have shaped their lives? What about as a reader?
So much to ponder. But very good to think about.
In my first novel, Down For Whatever, one of the characters, Keith Hemmings, does diversity training work and tends to think a lot about race/racism in the gay community. It annoys some of his friends in the book. It also annoyed some readers of the novel, who said that Keith's parts of the book came across as preachy. Others said "Amen" to Keith's speech/preach on the "racial hierarchy of gay L.A." and that it meant a lot to see their feelings reflected by a character in a book. (BTW, the character Keith is a son of a preacher, so he's used to having his say, and used to seeing his way as right, so he's meant to be preachy.)
The cool part about writing fiction is that you get to create characters and worlds that are like no other. You also get to reflect your reality, or the reality of those around you, in your work. If that reality is being color-blind, then that might reflect the work and characters you create. If that reality is being conscious of race and ethnicity issues and experiences, then that might be reflected in your work and characters.
There are probably many factors to think about, both creatively and commercially, when creating your characters. Additionally, on the business side, the race/ethnicity of authors (and fictional characters) can play a role in the placement of the product in bookstore, how the product is marketed, or how much attention the product receives by media outlets.
How does race/ethnicity influence what you create in your fiction? fs
An author's life is a mysterious puzzle, where a number of elements come into play.
At the heart of the life is the actual writing, that lonely and solo process where you produce your product, your art.
And once you produce that product, comes the fun dilemma -- keep it to yourself? pursue releasing it to the world? and if wanting to release it to the world, do you release it yourself? or do you pursue the agent and publisher route?
A good friend of mine got an offer from a publisher to publish his first novel. Or, rather, his literary agent got the offer and conveyed a summary of the offer. It's not what the agent or author expected. The first offer, or deal, never is... Mine wasn't. That's what literary agents do, then, is negotiate for more favorable terms for everyone involved.
So we're discussing the dilemma many authors on the verge of publication face. Do you take the first offer, any offer, to get published? Or do you wait to see if more comes to the table? Or do you take the deal off the table and think about publishing it yourself?
I'll admit, it was a tough dilemma for me. One of my professional goals was to be a published writer and signed to a publishing company. I didn't want to self-publish. I'm not a hustler like that, though I am a bit of a control freak. Self publishing is great for control freaks -- you get to control everything. But I'm not above letting someone else take the reigns, and I'm definitely aware of the costs involved with publishing a novel -- from the company's perspective, and also the self-published author's perspective. It ain't cheap.
On the other hand, I know the statistics that there are many writers who finish novels that never get published... that never get a literary agent. Those needle-in-the-haystack odds were shared with me by many of my mentors. And I thought a lot about it. Remain an unpublished writer with a completed novel? Or look at my offers, though not what my agent or I expected initially, as an opportunity? An opportunity to realize part of my professional goal, an opportunity to get my name and product released, and an opportunity to actually have my product placed in stores other than my neighborhood store?
It's a tough dilemma. Some will say that publishing and writing is tough for everyone around... that first-timers get taken advantage of... that publishers don't make as much money on books as they used to... that it's the whole chicken and egg theory.
Some resources: Brenda Hiatt article and unscientific survey on author advances... but an interesting resource to compare and contrast.
We loved Kelis' song Bossy last spring and summer. We thought Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada was FABulous (we hope she wins the Golden Globe this weekend). And for those of a different generation, we loved Diana Ross' version of The Boss.
But when it comes to our real life boss, or head person in charge, we don't necessarily want them bossy... or difficult... or dishonest... or with less skills/smarts than we have... nor do we want to embody those characteristics when we become a boss.
My friend and colleague at the university, Dr. Lever, has a new survey up on MSNCB for Today Show and Elle Magazine: Rate Your Boss.
It's a legitimate survey, by a legitimate researcher into sex, relationships, and power, as I brought you last year with the Hot Monogamy and Let's Talk About Sex survey.
But this time, she studying who's the boss, our perception of the boss, and the role gender plays in our perceptions of who makes a better boss.
It's up for just a few more days, but you can know that when the results come out on Today Show this spring, you'll be part of the overall study. fs
So I did VONA (Voices of Our Nations) Writers of Color summer novel program a few summers back... summer 2004. It was one of the best writing experiences I've had. Made some good friends and colleagues.
I'm hoping you... if you're an aspiring novelist, poet, memoir writer, or performance artist... will consider attending this summer. It's in San Francisco, just before or during San Francisco LGBT Pride. And it's one of the most supportive and nurturing atmospheres, where the stories important to our communities are valued and understood.
If you don't know if you'll apply, maybe you can consider giving to the program... so that you can help another aspiring writer attend this summer's writing workshops.
Or, if you're in the NYC area, you can attend this fundraiser, Supernova, at Bowery Poetry Club next week. It's initiated by one of my VONA colleagues from summer 2004.
My editor at Kensington presented me with the first wave of blurbs/quotes turned in for my next novel, Right Side of the Wrong Bed, coming in Fall 2007. I got some good ones so far, and expecting a few more. But here's the first one on the list, from Fiona Zedde, that I'll share with you.
“Open Right Side of the Wrong Bed to join Fred Smith on a fun, rollicking ride through L.A., where the men are fabulous and the wit is as sharp as the latest pair of trendy jeans. By turns sexy, funny, and heartbreaking, this book is sure to please.” – Fiona Zedde, author, Bliss and A Taste of Sin
So yeah, the book is actually on it's way through the production process. And Fiona's on the Kensington label, too. I guess I should disclose that... new FCC/blog rules and all.
The other good news... is I hope one of our favorite writers and bloggers has some good news on his novel his agent submitted. I'm sure we'll read about it on his blog if the news is good... and I suspect it will be good. That's all I can say.
OK. Now for the news that's not good, but not bad either. It is what it is.
I am having the toughest time getting up and doing my 5 am morning writing. You might recall from reading about my writing journey, that I am a morning person, and that I have produced both my novels using the hours before I leave for my day job... 5 - 7 am, and also on weekends. It's worked wonderfully. I write in morning. I think about and jot down ideas during the day. And I get up the next morning and write.
Something about 2007, and getting started again with mornings has been challenging. My clock goes off at 4:45. I don't go anywhere but to the other side of the bed.
One book, or even two, does not make an author career... as written about in one of my favorite blogs, Tess Gerritsen (One Book Is Not A Career)... And even with the knowledge and reality that authors need to PRODUCE products on a regular basis -- to make a living, AND to keep your name relevant -- I have been slow to get back into the groove.
For you who write, how do you keep going? How do you manage your time?
In the meantime, I did make significant progress on Novel #3 during holiday break. And this evening at the gym, while on the stair climber, I got an idea for where I want Novel #3 to go... and this may motivate me to get up and actually write at 5 am...
Hot book cover. Great film. Scandalous topic that makes good drama and conversation.
Notes on a Scandal is one of the lesser talked about films of the 2007 awards season, but nonetheless, the performances, conflicts, and dialogue in this film are definitely noteworthy and quite exciting.
The film stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett as teaching colleagues -- Judi Dench's character is the seasoned teacher who discovers that Cate Blanchett's character has started an affair with a fifteen-year-old student at their school. It's not just the affair that the scandal. It's Judi Dench's character's loneliness, idiosyncracies, and staying in the closet FOREVER that drives her responses throughout the film.
We all know those "interesting" types who never come out, but we know they ARE, but they cling on to any hint of friendship from someone they admire... possibly even "creating" a relationship in their mind. I'm sure we also know types who are lonely in their romantic relationships, and just want an escape... even if it's a scandalous, temporary escape.
Happy New Year. Wow. 2007. And in just a few short weeks, if we don't get this one right, we can start the year again with Lunar New Year in February.
Oh, but anyway have you heard the dirt?
Well, it's not my dirt, but it's a new F/X show: DIRT. Debuts Tuesday night. All about the world of tabloids, celebrity gossip, getting the scoop and dirt on those in the public eye. Sounds fun.
Already have it in the DVR/TiVo. I've heard some good things about it. Might become the new water-cooler conversation show on Wednesday morning. Let's chat about it then.
As for me. My dirt. Well, I spent New Year's Eve slightly stranded in a snowstorm in Minneapolis... a silly layover... that had me celebrating New Years in three different time zones while in the air heading back to California. That was cool. But I didn't get home from the airport until 2 am.
Author of 3 QPOC/LGBT novels: Down For Whatever (05); Right Side of the Wrong Bed (08); Play It Forward (January 2015). www.FrederickLSmith.com @fsmith827
Student Affairs/Higher Education Professional. Cultural Centers. Cal State LA. ACPA. CaCCCHE. ACUI.
Detroit. Chicago. L.A. The World.