GUEST POST: No One But You Can Tell Your Story by Rebecca Kanner

Consider for a moment that your story is an important one and that you’re the only one who can tell it. For some people, this is the first step to finally being able to sit down and write. In over a decade of teaching writing, I’ve discovered that whatever the excuse, the main reason people don’t write their stories is that they don’t truly believe they’re worthy of the time and effort it takes to write them.

I used to struggle with this too. Life can get so busy. There’s so much to do that sometimes it felt indulgent and silly to spend time writing. People often didn’t respect my writing time. They considered me to be “free” during those hours that I wasn’t doing paid work. A couple of people voiced concerns that I was so dedicated to my writing and unrealistically hopeful about what would come of it. But a voice within me was stronger than any of the voices outside, and it told me to write.

Sometimes when I wrote it felt like my soul was on fire and sometimes I felt like I was pushing a cow uphill. But I wrote because that’s what I’d decided I was going to do, and I wasn’t going to let my inner critic get the best of me. When I finished writing Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah’s Wife, I was actually sad that I wouldn’t get to hang out with Noah and the gang anymore. My writing time had become a sacred refuge and I felt a little lost without it. And so I wrote Esther, the story of an orphan who becomes queen of Persia and risks her life to save her people. Both books ended up being published by the Simon & Schuster imprint Howard Books, but even if they’d never been published, I’d still be glad I wrote them.

My hope is that other people will come to value and even enjoy writing. When my students bring up the names of great writers, names we all know, and ask questions such as Why should I write, I’m not Toni Morrison? I tell them, Just as you can’t tell Toni Morrison’s story (or Margaret Atwood’s, or Maya Angelou’s, or Louise Erdrich’s), neither can she tell yours.

This is the message I want to give you: Only you have fully experienced your own struggles. Only you know how you continue to struggle or how you’ve overcome your struggles, or both. Your story will help someone else find their way, or get through something they think is unbearable, or simply escape from real life for a little while.

The story I wished to tell in first my novel is the story of how some of the things that I thought marked me as ugly or unworthy in some way—my struggles with anxiety, depression and eventually addiction—ended up saving me. In Sinners and the Sea: the Untold Story of Noah’s Wife, I convey this message by giving the narrator a mark upon her forehead that is seen as the mark of a demon. Because of this mark she is considered unmarriageable and her life is very hard. But then along comes Noah, a man who knows the mark is not that of a demon. He looks at what’s beneath the surface of her skin and sees a good woman. Without the narrator’s mark, she would not have been married to Noah, she would have been married to one of the other men her father tried to get for her, men who drowned along with their wives and children when the flood came. Because she ends up being Noah’s wife, she and the sons she has with Noah get to be on the ark. She eventually realizes that her mark has saved her.

Telling my story helped me realize that I’m grateful to my struggles. They’ve brought me to the place I’m at today, which is a place of gratitude and self-forgiveness. On June 21st, the paperback of Esther came out. I spent three years researching and writing it, and I never thought I’d finish it. But I did, and so I know I can do things I didn’t think possible.

I know that telling your story will help you, too, perhaps in ways you can’t even imagine.

To learn more about Rebecca you can visit:

Website: rebeccakanner.com

Blog: https://rebeccakanner.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaKanner/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kannerrebecca/

Twitter: @rebeccakanner.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_pdt_bl_sr?ie=UTF8&field-keywords=Rebecca+Kanner

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5310434.Rebecca_Kanner

Keeping it All in Perspective!: A Guest Post by Sharon Lucas

I am honored to have Sharon Lucas stop by the blog with a guest post titled, Keeping it All in Perspective!

 

Life is a series of perspectives driven by your circumstances and as your circumstances change, so should your perspective. I have been a reader for more than 60 years, an event planner for 25, a book club president for almost 20 and a published author for one.

As I look back at my pre-author life, my perspectives as a reader, planner and leader meshed seamlessly. So seamlessly in fact, I could move from one role to another without even a blink of an eye and I, something I considered key to my success as an influencer and advocate for African American authors. After all, I primarily read works written by, planned events for and led two book clubs devoted primarily to exploring the works of the often overworked, overlooked and underrated AA author.

Then I became a published author and my life changed immediately BUT it took a while for my perspective to catch up.

I launched my first book “Plan It! The Complete Resource Guide for Authors, Book Clubs & Literary Event Planners” in October during the annual literary conference I host, The Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend. It was probably the worse launch ever held because I was so busy managing the event, I didn’t have or take time to manage the launch. The room was filled with book club members, avid readers and authors who could have benefitted from the information in the book but, I was so preoccupied with being the event planner, I didn’t take time to be an author. I didn’t know how to weave in time for me and was embarrassed to ask for help or support.

I thought the book would simply sell itself.  It’s okay, you can laugh – but it was not until after I planned and attended several subsequent events, that I realized if I wanted to be recognized as an author, I would have to change my perspective. I was so invested in advocating for others, I didn’t know how to advocate for me.

Then I responded to a call from Brown Girls Books who were soliciting short story submissions for an upcoming anthology. I decided submitting a short story would be the ideal approach for me to test my ability to write fiction. Needless to say, I did the happy dance when my story was one of 20 chosen from a pool or more than 300 submissions.

I am happy to say the launch of “The Ex Chronicles” was very different from my first launch because I was different. I was no longer shy about selling myself which was bolstered by the camaraderie of working with 19 other talented contributing authors. We set up a Facebook page, created events on Twitter and Facebook, and cross-supported our individual promotions. All of this hard work led to Troy Johnson at AALBC naming “The Ex Chronicles” #3 on his January/February Best Selling List and #1on the March/April list.

As for my current perspective, I will continue to read a variety of genres written by many diverse authors because reading is not only inspiring, it’s a great source of new ideas and methods and an excellent way to expand your perspective and improve your vocabulary.

I will continue to plan literary events since I love spreading and celebrating the written word and because events have allowed me to grow my literary network while supporting both the community where I live and the literary community at large.

I will continue to belong to a book club because it is an awesome sisterhood that has allowed me to have fun while reading and discussing books I might not have chosen for myself.

But I have also developed a marketing plan and budget for my business – yes, writing is a business. I plan my calendar and carefully choose the events I will host and attend. I look for affordable events that are held close to home and have a reputation for attracting an audience that will be interested in my work. When I both host and exhibit at an event, I delegate at least some of the “hosting” to others and spend time advocating for me and I use the advice I recently gave group of exhibitors:

To be prepared by arriving on or before the required time with everything I will need to set up my space and run my business including table covering, tape, pens or sharpies, scissors, bookstands, phone, tablet, charger, Square, and cash to make change. I will bring promotional items to share with the crowd and have cards or a tablet ready to capture the name and email addresses of attendees in order to grow my contact list.

To engage the crowd by smiling and standing when people approach and I will introduce myself by making eye contact and sharing information about my book. If I must make or take a phone call – I will step away from the table and keep it brief. When the crowd is thin, I will network with and learn from my fellow authors.

And last, but not least, to not measure any event solely by the number of books I sold, but will also consider how many contacts I made that will help grow my audience and brand and the experience I gained.

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sharon lucas

Sharon Lucas is the President and founder of The Reading Divas Book Club, which she started in 1998, the creator of The Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, an annual networking conference for authors and readers in it’s fifth year, the co-founder and organizer of the Prince George’s Spring Book Festival, and a best-selling author.

 

Sharon’s love of reading began in elementary school with “Nancy Drew Books”. As a teenager she would devour Readers Digest Condensed Books by day and sneak to read “True Confessions” at night. Her favorite genre is mystery and suspense and as an adult she became hooked on James Patterson and his character Alex Cross. Reading, however, took on a new meaning when Sharon read “What Seems Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day” by author Pearl Cleage, a book written by an African American author who told familiar stories about African American people. Though Sharon’s reading choices remain quite diverse, she is passionate in her support of AA authors because they are often overworked, overlooked and underrated.

 

In her “previous life”, Sharon worked in human resources and sales; she retired in 2010 after 20 years as a District Sales Manager with a major cosmetic company.  She and her husband of 38 years are the parents of three and grandparents of five. They reside in Bowie, MD with their two cocker spaniels.

 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sharonrlucas

Website: www.sharonrlucas.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/onereadingdiva1

Email: onereadingdiva@gmail.com

 

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Plan It! The Complete Resource Guide for Authors, Book Clubs & Literary Event Planners”, written by author Sharon Lucas, is a required companion that includes forms, checklists, and tips to start and manage book club meetings, author visits, and planning full-scale literary events. Not just for book clubs, this handy guide also provides authors and event planners with the information they need to make any event a resounding success.

Release Date: October 2015

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“The Ex Chronicles” is an anthology of twenty short stories centering on relationships that falter…. among spouses, lovers, family and friends. Sharon Lucas is one of the twenty talented authors who contributed to the anthology. Sharon’s story, “The Circle of Life” introduces us to lovers Jill and Jason for whom lasting love was never meant to be.

Release Date: March 2016

 

Both books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  and www.browngirlsbooks.com ; both are available in print and on eReader.

Why Isn’t Reading Color Blind? By Brian W. Smith

“Brian, I could probably get your mystery series picked up if you made Sleepy Carter a white man. That’s the harsh truth.”

The words of the successful literary agent left me speechless. I couldn’t believe she’d said that. Did she realize how racist her comment was? Did she care?

The muscles in my stomach tensed. My bottom lip quivered. The fingers I’d used to type the sixty thousand words of my first mystery novel, The Audubon Park Murder (A Sleepy Carter Mystery), strummed the desktop of the antique wooden desk I’d recently purchased.

As I sat there trying to decide how to respond, I couldn’t help recalling the feedback I’d received from a literary agent based in California, a few days earlier. The California-based agent apologetically said to me, “Brian, the concept is great. Your writing is very polished and your literary resume is impressive. However, I’m going to pass on the Sleepy Carter Mystery series.”

When I respectfully asked her why she wasn’t interested she said, “Honestly Brian, I don’t think there is a market for it. Your current fan base is predominantly black. It’s going to be a struggle getting your black readers to support the Sleepy Carter series because black readers aren’t big buyers of mystery novels. White readers love the mystery genre, but traditionally, they don’t support mystery series centered on black sleuths. When was the last time you read a mystery series about a black detective or seen a television show with a black detective as the lead character?”

I blurted out, “Walter Mosley. He writes the Easy Rawlins series.” To which she quickly replied, “That’s one, but he’s an outlier. Can you name another?”

I thought for a moment and then said, “The television show, Luther, starring Idris Elba is good.” She calmly replied, “That show has struggled to find an audience.”

I thought for a second and then reminded her of the successful Alex Cross series. The agent said, “Yes, the Alex Cross character is black. But, the series is written by James Patterson—a white man.”

My trip down memory lane was ended abruptly when the New York agent that I was talking to called out, “Brian, are you still there?”

I was still there, but I wasn’t in a good mood.

Anger swirled in my mid-section and slowly moved toward my mouth. I adjusted my posture and cleared my throat, preparing to let the vitriol spew from my slightly parted lips. And then something happened—the phrase, don’t shoot the messenger, popped in my head. After all, these agents know what publishing companies are looking to buy; therefore, they don’t waste their time pitching manuscripts that they know won’t be picked up. On top of that, the agents I spoke to (like more than 90% of the literary agents out there) were white. They know the buying patterns of their race better than I do. So who was I to argue with them?

I took a deep breath to regain my composure, thanked her for the honest feedback, and hung up the phone. Still, my emotions breakdanced in my chest while I stared at a printed copy of my rejected manuscript. I made the decision that day to self-publish the Sleepy Carter Mysteries. The first two books in the series have 5 star ratings on Amazon and became Amazon Bestsellers in the Mystery genre, but the bad taste left in my mouth from the remarks of both agents still remains.

The aforementioned discussions with those agents took place in 2012, but the issue that fueled their comments is still very real—white people are reluctant to read books (regardless of genre) written by black authors. How do I know? Because as recent as the summer of 2015, when I contemplated writing a new mystery series, my current agent and I discussed the “pros” and “cons” of making the protagonist of my new series a white man. We even tossed around the idea of me using a “white sounding” pseudonym to improve the crossover appeal of the new series…that series idea has been shelved indefinitely.

Now, I know there will be white people reading this who will say, ‘that’s not true, I’ve read books written by black authors.’ To those of you who have—I applaud you. However, based on what I’ve witnessed during my ten year literary career, you “inclusive” white readers are outliers. In fact, I don’t believe it’s hyperbolic when I say, the odds of seeing a white person sitting in a coffee shop or in the airport reading a novel written by a black author (that wasn’t endorsed by Oprah) are comparable to seeing a unicorn racing in the Kentucky Derby.

Some of the black people reading this may be wondering why I’m making this an “issue.” I’ll tell you why. It’s because I routinely see black readers in coffee shops, libraries, book stores, and in airports, reading books written by white authors, but I don’t see the practice being reciprocated.

I often visit Facebook reading groups and see avid black readers discussing (and in some cases boasting) about the books they’ve read that are written by white authors. Black readers in many of these groups urge other black readers to expand their reading taste by reading books written by non-blacks…but, I don’t see that practice being reciprocated by white readers either. How do I know? Because, I am a member of a few Facebook reading groups that are predominantly white, and I have NEVER seen white readers issuing any “expand your reading taste” pep talks or “read a book by a black author” literary challenges to each other.

So, with all of that hands-on experience and non-scientific market research in my back pocket, I still find myself stumped by a very challenging question…why don’t white readers routinely—or even occasionally—read books written by black authors?

White people, that’s not a rhetorical question. I really want to know because I’m confused. I know y’all enjoy listening to music by black performers—I don’t hear country music being played during timeouts at professional basketball and football games. What I hear is hip-hop music—the most “urban” of all music forms—blaring through arena speakers.

I know white people enjoy the entertainment provided by their favorite black athletes—LeBron James and Stephen Curry jerseys sell faster than water bottles in the desert. Denzel Washington and Will Smith are two of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, so I know exceptional thespians are getting the crossover love.

Hell, if it weren’t for the support of white people, Barack Obama wouldn’t have become the first African-American President of the United States—proof that even politicians can have crossover appeal.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the common thread between singers, athletes, and actors is that they are all entertainers in some form or fashion. So, I’m left wondering if white people are only comfortable supporting blacks when the service provided is some form of entertainment. Do white people realize that writing is a form of entertainment? In fact, I can make a cogent argument that writing is the most cerebral form of entertainment. Yet, white readers avoid books written by black authors like the pages were laced with cyanide. Why?

The only thing I’ve seen in my forty-six years on this earth that rivals this phenomenon is the scarcity of little white girls playing with black baby dolls. Meanwhile, black folk have routinely purchased blonde hair, blue-eyed, Barbie dolls for decades. When was the last time you saw a white parent buying or encouraging their child to play with a black baby doll? Don’t spend too much time thinking about that right now…that question was rhetorical.

Let me be clear, it’s not my intent to cause some type of race war with this article. It’s also not my intent to try to beg white readers to read my books (if that was the case then I would have changed the Sleepy Carter character to a white man and inked a lucrative publishing deal for the series four years ago). Readers who have followed my career can attest that sitting around waiting for a “break” has never been my style. I take great pride in my work ethic and “hustle” skills. I take even more pride in my faith. Even without crossover success, God has sustained me to the point that after being laid off from a six-figure job in 2009 during the recession, I haven’t had to return to Corporate America. But, don’t get it twisted, just because I believe God will always “have my back” that doesn’t mean my willingness to address things that others ignore has dissipated.

My primary objective with this piece is to evoke thought and facilitate constructive dialogue between readers of all races. And the diverse audience of the Reading in Black and White blog seems to be the perfect forum to cast a spotlight on this literary pink elephant.

While those who read this piece may debate its merits, I will deal with my own ignorance. After all, I’m the one who foolishly entered the literary world assuming that good literature, regardless of the race of the author, was the one thing that was immune to society’s racial hang-ups. Boy, was I wrong. And as a result of my own naiveté, any damage done to my confidence during this literary journey is a self-inflicted wound.

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bws

Brian W. Smith is the bestselling author of fifteen novels. His novels have appeared on several bestsellers list to include: Dallas Morning News, Amazon, Black Expressions, and others. Brian has owned a publishing company and is currently signed to an imprint of Simon and Schuster. He is also the host of the popular literary internet radio show, The Scribe Spot.

Brian holds multiple college degrees to include an MBA. When he is not writing novels and touring he serves as an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at Collin College and Dallas Community College in the Dallas, TX, area.

Website:    www.authorbrianwsmith.com

Facebook:  www.facebook/HollygrovePublishing

Instagram:  @authorbwsmith

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Brian’s next novel, Glass Houses will be released on July 28, 2016.