Random Stuff, Writing Stuff

On Sanaa and Mon Finding out They Almost had Another Mother

All the Little Things Random Things
Spoilers for Best Laid Plans and Gone Awry

Sanaa and Mon grow up going to California for Christmas every year. Their favorite part is seeing their Aunt Lene, who dotes on them with funny stories from her and their dad’s childhood. One year, when they’re around ten, they come across old photos of their aunt and their dad. In particular, one of them with their dad holding their Aunt Lene’s hand out and showing off a sparkling engagement ring.
Naturally, they go confront their aunt, dad, and mother, and demand to know what the picture means. To which their mother casually shrugs and says, “That must be back when your dad was engaged to your aunt. Probably a couple of years before he met me.”
Sanaa and Mon have a lot to say about that:

“You mean Aunt Lene was almost our mom?” Mon asks.
The two girls exchange a look before their eyes light up and Sanaa exclaims, “That would have been so awesome!”
“No offense to you, mama. You’re awesome.”
“Most of the time.”
“But Aunt Lene is an awesome aunt. She probably would have made a more awesome mom to us than she is aunt.”
Their mom and dad look at each other with a smile before looking over to their blushing aunt as their mom says, “Yeah. Your Aunt Lene is pretty awesome.”

The twins run to tell their cousin, ‘She, about their findings.

Time and circumstance have certainly healed any wounds that might have formerly been between Bilal, Spring, and Lene.

Perspective, Real Talk, Writing Stuff

On Writing Black Characters in Fiction

I’ve been writing fiction for a long time. Since I was ten. And since I was ten, my characters have always looked like me, black, even before I really know what it meant to write black characters in fiction. Especially in contemporary and urban stories. But recently, I’ve been reflecting on that means when I write.

I’ve been writing fiction for a long time. Since I was ten. And since I was ten, my characters have always looked like me, black, even before I really knew what it meant to write black characters in fiction. Especially in contemporary and urban stories. But recently, I’ve been reflecting on that means when I write.

I say this because in real like, as a black woman, being black is constantly with me. Sure it’s with me in obvious ways. The color of my skin, my kinky hair, big lips, etc., but it’s always with me in my thoughts and how I walk in the world. I’m very aware that in this law career that I’m currently embarking upon, some employers are going to pass me over because they won’t think my twist/braid outs or wash ‘n’ gos are neat and “professional.” They’re going to overlook me because I’m not afraid to talk about race and the injustices in the system of law that I’m being taught and that my teachers are trying to teach while balancing the thin line between trying to justify the law while at the same time being unable to deny how insane some of it is. When my 1L class was given the advice to clean up our social media or make them private because employers might look at them and dislike our opinions, I had to make the conscious decision to not hide who I am at the risk of an employer not hiring me.

And all of that’s okay with me. If an employer is upset about how I do or don’t wear my hair or what color the shirt under my suit is or me conforming to a profession where white men made the “rules” we should follow, then that’s not somewhere I want to work. I’ll be led to the right place to work.

It sounds like I’m just trying to be rebellious. But my very unapologetic existence as a black woman who relishes in being a black woman in American is an act of rebellion in and of itself in a world that tells me I should be ashamed of it. Tough. My blackness is part of me. I can’t get away from it.

All that to say, just like that experience shapes me, the black experience shapes my characters and the way they move through the world. In my early writings from when I was a teen and even a little into my early twenties, I didn’t understand that. Though I was unaware at the time, I wrote my stories in a way that showed that I had internalized the racism that I’m faced with every day through how I wrote my characters.

I tried to avoid names that sounded “too black.” I tried to write not to write lines that might be too “controversial.” I tried to write the black people in a way that a more “sensitive” audience might accept it. Essentially, while the color of my character’s skin was black, they could have just as easily not have been. But in doing that, I was severely limiting my potential as a not just a writer, but a black female writer.

So now, while my books aren’t “issue books,” for lack of a better term, the struggle of the black experience walks with my black characters just like it walks hand in hand with me every day. Rafael, for instance, is self-aware that he’s a tall black man and notices when people watch him in the store. In All the Little things, his sister warns him not to speed before he leaves on a trip, so he doesn’t get stopped by cops because South Georgia isn’t very fond of young black men. Akilah doesn’t have the luxury of liberally talking about the fact that she used to hold onto marijuana for a dealer as a teenager to make more money because while the American bar and law schools may forgive a white person for doing it, she might not get that same forgiveness as a young dark-skinned black girl. And when confronted with her friend’s abusive husband in public, Spring has to weigh how she’s going to act carefully or risk the potential ire of a white man that she knows is a gun owner while she’s pregnant.

But while I don’t shy away from the everyday struggles, I also don’t hide the good, the endearing quirks, and the magic of the black experience. I liberally use “kinda” and “wanna” and “ain’t” in my text first-person present POV narration and dialogue because that’s the way me and my friends talk in casual settings. Rafael finds a sense of brotherhood in black greek life. Bilal uses the black experience to create a popular alternative history webcomic and TV show. Akilah is faced with the “problem” of trying to maintain her hair while having an active sex life, and Spring is always telling Bilal not to play in her hair because of the maintenance involved in natural black hair.

While my stories are far from about spirituality, spirituality plays some role in my black characters. Like in real life, that spirituality takes different forms based on their experiences. Rafael has an agnostic leaning though sometimes he thinks there’s something beyond him that may or may not have been looking out for him when he was a teenager. Akilah claims no religion but is very spiritual and is open about the fact that her “spirit” guides her. Spring is influenced by her dad’s African upbringing and Muslim leaning and lives by what she feels is her truth. And Bilal is influenced and leans toward, though doesn’t dictate or live his life by, his Baptist Christian upbringing.

And when you read Akilah’s name or Bilal’s name in the summary of my books, you already know you’re about to read about black people.

Not only were they purposeful choices, but they were also natural choices to make given the people I was writing about. To take all that away would be to end up with a story where if someone decided to make a movie about them (Ha! In my wildest dreams) they could plug in my characters with any race of person. While their stories aren’t about the black experience, that experience shapes my characters as I tell their stories.

That’s why it’s so important that black writers writing about black people in every aspect of life is so important. I’m not saying other people can’t write black characters. Have at it. But writing black characters in fiction, especially novels based in historical, contemporary, and “urban” (I hate that word, but you get it) settings, is about more than just saying that your character has brown skin in their introduction and leaving it at that. There’s another piece to it that I think that only a black person writing about black characters can fully bring to a story.

Writing Stuff

On Rafael and Akilah’s Children

All the Little Things Random Things

SPOILERS FOR ALL THE LITTLE THINGS!!!

While it took Rafael ten years and the birth of his first child to finally come around to the idea, he and Akilah eventually end up with five children.

Ayah (January 8th, 2027 ): Their oldest child and first daughter. A daddy’s girl from the day she was born. When Akilah went back to work when she was three months, Rafael frequently took her to the gym with him. Ayah was so close to her dad as a baby that she didn’t want to breastfeed from her mom anymore after four months because she preferred the bottle while lying in her dad’s arms. Physically, she favors her dad more than her mom, and she’s the only one to inherit his grey eyes. Personality-wise she’s a serious child who notices just about everything and knows a lot more than she let’s people know she does (like her dad) with a healthy does of her mother’s curiosity with an outgoing personality that neither Rafael or Akilah are sure where she got from. Some of her grandfather coming out of her, Rafael’s mother thinks. She spends most of her time at the gym helping her dad run and expand his gym by getting more donors, doing fundraisers, and organizing outreaches.

Salil (November 17, 2028): Their second child and oldest son. Raising Salil is a lot less intuitive and feels less natural to Rafael than Ayah was, so for the first few years of Salil’s young life, Rafael lets Akilah take the lead with him. They don’t really bond until Salil is a toddler and he climbs on the couch and pulls on a lock of Rafael’s hair. It reminds Rafael of the only memory he has of his father and how he always vowed not to be an absentee dad to his children, but in not even trying with Salil, he is. Since Salil seems to take after his mother’s love of words and reading, Rafael begins to take him to the bookstore once a week to pick out a book to buy. By the time Salil is a teenager, the walls of his room are covered in shelves of books and notepads filled with story ideas that he refuses to throwaway after his Uncle King showed him the office full of his old drawings that he kept over the years. He insists on having hair as long as his dad’s, much to Akilah’s dismay because she almost always ends up being the one to take care of it.

Hadiyyah (December 21, 2031): Hadiyyah, who shares a birthday with Rafael, inherits her father’s kindness and desire to help people and Akilah’s outspokenness and ambition. Not even Akilah can keep up with Hadiyyah in an argument. However, she’s also very sensitive and gets frustrated to tears in her passion and desire for fairness and what’s right. Frequently, both Akilah and Rafael have to ban her from the internet and reading (of all things) because she takes the plight of others so much to heart. For a while, her sensitivity causes her to be a very sad child and not even therapy seems to be able to break her out of her funk. And then when she’s eight, her Aunt Spring introduces her to the Pokemon video games which gives her a way to take out her frustration and sadness while also having fun. She looks like neither of her parents, not obviously anyway and takes after her maternal grandmother in looks and is often mistaken as Zenobia’s daughter.

Hana “Royalty” (February 5, 2034): Hana is the child of Akilah and Rafael that whom they look at each other and ask where she came from. She’s puts the queen in “drama queen” and from a young age has never settled for anything except what she knows she wants. She’s quick to try something and then quit if she decides she doesn’t like it, and she usually figures this out in a short amount of time. Thus she can be seen as flighty. But the things she takes a liking to, she sticks to. Acting is one of those things. Her uncle’s primary TV director met her once and after ten minutes insisted she be cast in something. It’s her older brother that gives her the nickname “Royalty.” It starts off as a teasing name in an argument, but Hana decides she likes it and by the time she’s a teenager, she’s adopted it as her stage name. She’s the spitting image of her mother and is the tallest of all the girls in the family at 5′ 10″.

Tariq (October 31, 2039): The surprise child. Rafael and Akilah were pretty sure they were done, mostly because Akilah insisted she wasn’t having any children in her forties. Lucky for her, she got pregnant with their last child and last son so that the birth just missed her 40th birthday by two months exactly. He’s a lot like his older sister Ayah except much less outgoing, preffering to sit in his room with his video games. He and Haddiyah frequently bump heads as he’s one of the only ones who takes her opinions to heart enough to argue back with her. In fact, the only reason he decides to go to law school eventually is because Haddiyah goes and starts winning more of their arguments because of what she learned in school. In looks, he’s almost identical to his dad except for his mother’s brown eyes.

Writing Stuff

On How Zenobia Helps Rafael with Ayah

All the Little Things Random Things:
(Spoilers for Rafael and Akilah’s Story)

Zenobia is instrumental in Rafael’s relationship with his first child and oldest daughter, Ayah. Particularly as Ayah begins to get into adolescence. Before then, parenting is easy for Rafael, and he’s a very hands on parent. From a baby, Ayah is used to her dad holding her and hugging her and letting her snuggle up next to him. But when she’s around nine, Rafael’s fear of hurting her like his stepdad hurt him begins to bother him and begins to distance himself from Ayah, retreating from the girl’s hugs and kisses and attempts to snuggle up under him like she’s always had the luxury of doing. Akilah, of course, notices and constantly voices her disapproval and insistence that the fear is all in his head. She even gets his mother to try to talk some sense into him. But even Akilah’s pushiness doesn’t move him. And therapy doesn’t even help.
When Zenobia finds out, she blatantly says that he’s being stupid and that he proved he wouldn’t be a monster when he raised her into adulthood and didn’t hurt her. That helps, a little. But what really helps is Zenobia taking Ayah aside:

“You know when your mom and dad taught you about your body and the places that are only for you to touch to make you feel good or to share with someone when you’re ready one day and you give them permission because you’re sure you want to feel good with them and want them to feel good too?” Zenobia demands.

“Zen, what are you talking about?” Ayah groans.

“Do you remember or not, kid?”

“I remember. And I’m ten. Not five. I know what masturbation and sex is. You can say it. Mom and Daddy do.”

Zenobia ignores Ayah’s precociousness as she adds, “When your dad was your age, someone started touching him that way without his permission and it hurt him for a long time and it still hurts. And he doesn’t want to hurt you that way. That’s why he hasn’t wanted to be around you. He doesn’t hate you. He’s doing it because he loves you so much.”

“You’re trying to tell me someone raped Daddy, and he’s afraid he’d do that to me because someone else did it to him?”

“So much for tact,” Zenobia mutters and then adds, “Don’t tell Rafael and Akilah I told you that.”

“I already knew about it.” Ayah then pauses for a long time before saying, “And that doesn’t make any sense. It’s stupid.”

“Not really,” Zenobia says. “But, you won’t understand that even if I explain it to you. I’m just telling you to give your dad some time. He’ll come around.”

Of course, Ayah does the exact opposite of what Zenobia tells her to do and confronts her dad. She tries to snuggle up next to him on the couch that evening and when he withdraws, she levels him a look and says as gently as a ten-year-old can, “Zen told me someone hurt you. I’m sorry they did, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to hurt me. I know you won’t. So can I lay on you now, Daddy?” Rafael can only smile a little and bow his head in shame before saying, “Yeah, Ayah.”

With Ayah’s determination spurring him to go ahead and get over himself, Rafael does come around just like Zenobia said he would. And because Rafael doesn’t find out from his children until much later that they all knew early on that he was sexually abused as a child, he definitely chides Zenobia later about telling Ayah something so personal. But that doesn’t stop Zenobia from letting Ayah in the know about things so she can deal with her dad sometimes. And it definitely doesn’t stop Ayah from going to Zenobia herself when she can’t comprehend her dad and even her mother won’t give the total truth.

Writing Stuff

On Ayah and Emma

All the Little Things Random Things:
SPOILER’S FOR ALL RAFAEL AND AKILAH’S STORY





Akilah’s rottweiler, Emma, dies when she’s six months pregnant with her and Rafael’s second child. At the time, Ayah is only eighteen months old and not understanding what happened, she walks around house calling Emma’s name and burst into tears every day for weeks when the old rottie doesn’t come to her when she calls and when she can’t find Emma in their favorite corner of the living room where Emma would sit with Ayah while she played with her toys. Akilah and Rafael, having been unaware of the impression Emma had made on their young daughter, try to get her to be content with Doom, their two-year-old rottie puppy. But Ayah isn’t a fan of the pup’s high energy, and, if anything, the attempts to placate her make her “missing Emma Tantrums” worse:

“Daddy, where Emma?”
“She can’t come back, Ayah.”

After a rough couple of weeks of Akilah and Rafael trying to comfort Ayah, Doom seems to learn that Ayah enjoys her quiet moments playing with her toys and learns to sit with her while she plays and tries to teach him to count. And eventually, Ayah warms up to Doom and his high energy. They become close companions and give Akilah and Rafael their money’s worth of trouble even into Ayah’s teen years. And even though she was barely tall enough to reach her mother’s knee when Emma died, Ayah has vivid memories of the old rottie into her eventual adulthood.

Uncategorized

On What’s Next After Gone Awry

Why has it been three months since I’ve posted anything on here? Well I don’t even know. Well, actually. I do. I was working on Gone Awry. And compared to my other books, I was so chill about that launch. No fanfare. No book tours. No email lists. I just released it. It also helps that next week I have a BookBub on All the Little Things so it’s pretty much free publicity.

Anyway, what’s next?

To be honest, I thought Gone Awry was it. I usually have three or four ideas in the pipeline that I’m itching to get to. But this time, as I was writing Gone Awry, I had nothing…. Until Lene, the ex fiancĂ© of the hero in Best Laid Plans, began to speak to me. Even then though, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to do with her. I just thought she was an intersting character. But as always happens when a character speaks to me, I start to unconsciously pull ideas for that character in my every day life. Things like fanfiction (I’m comfortable enough in my nerdiness to admit I read it), relationship podcasts, just every day dealings with people. And then not only was Lene speaking to me (which I ignored for a while), she was yelling for my attention. And then inspiration really hit, and the title came to me: A Leap of Faith.

So yeah. She’s the next feature MC. Problem is that her hero isn’t speaking clearly to me. He’s whispering. I’ve got an idea, but I’m not sure. Then again, he may end up like Bilal was. I came up with Spring, and I got to know Bilal as she did as the story progressed.

All that said, I’m almost disappointed that this was what I was inspired to write. I really wanted to get back into the male point of view. Maybe Rafael was just a fluke for me. I don’t know. But I actually think I have another story for him and Akilah… An All the Little Things 2.5 (those first two years in college) and a 3.5 (a novella about Rafael, Akilah, and his mother). And a 4 (you really thought I’d be able to leave Rafael’s unfinished business in Miami alone). Yeah… definitely not done with those characters. I’ve got an itch to write about them.

Okay, so it’s either going to be another Rafael and Akilah novel or it’s going to be about Lene and… whoever Lene’s hero is. I don’t when I’m going to write it. I need a little break. . In the last two years, I wrote five novels; three of those in the last ten months. Probably won’t start writing seriously again til September or October (realistically August because I’ve never had ideas this fleshed out and been able to resist them long). Won’t press publish on anything until probably spring of 2020. Winter 2020 at the earliest. But that’s the direction we’re going in.

Perspective, Real Talk, Writing Stuff

On How We Got to Best Laid Plans

Best Laid Plans was just released today and I’m a little apprehensive because I invested a lot of work into this and am worried it’s going to phenomenally fail despite my best efforts and planning this time around. Anywho, here’s how I got to writing this story and how it got to you.

The initial working title of Best Laid Plans was One of the Lucky Ones. When I first started it in Spetember of 2017, Spring’s “favorite word” or her “catchphrase,” so to speak, was going to be “lucky” or some variation thereof. It was going to be a lot of her seeing other people around her get the things she wanted despite all her efforts and her sum of what appeared to be their blessings was going to be “lucky.” And since she thought herself to have bad luck, at least in the area of romance and relationships, the story started out with her deciding to hell with things to do with luck and out of her control, getting pregnant from an artificial insemenation, and then meeting Bilal.

The story would then explore where is the fine line between being grateful for what you have but wanting more and just being flat out ungrateful while not realizing that sometimes the people that you think got what you wanted are really in a worse position because of it. I wanted to explore how you can be grateful for what you have, be grateful for who you are, be grateful for where you are in the moment but also be allowed to experience disappointment with what you have and who you are and where you are in the moment without being ungrateful.

I wanted to explore that because I was at a time in my life where I was very disappointed with my lot in life at the time and people were telling me to be grateful and have faith, but no one could tell me how to reconcile that with the ambitious go-getter that I was. Because things don’t always work out the way you think they will.

I got through five chapters of that story in September 2017 and realized I was failing phenomenaly at exploring the nuances I wanted to. Spring was coming across as more of a spoiled brat throwing a tantrum that things didn’t go her way than this nuanced woman who was enjoying life but just wanted to mine more out of it. I realized I just wasn’t ready to write that story. So I saved it in a file to get to later and continued studying for my LSAT, and after that, continued working on the All the Things Series. For some reason, even though I don’t have a lot in common with him, Rafael’s story was easier for me to write.

Fast-forward to the beginning of 2019 and what a world of a difference a year and some change makes. A lot happened. I’ve gone to law school; lived by myself for a while; realize that I’m only two and a half years from thirty which is a lot closer than three and a half years; my body’s changing again as I come into the curves of a woman and I go from what was more pearshaped to what is definitely an hourglass figure; and I understand more what a single woman like Spring, who has learned to be by herself and take care of herself and is what a lot of people would deem “successful” while at the same time wanting companionship, would think like. That fine line between, yes I’m an independent woman, yes I can take care of myself, but sometimes I don’t want to and I want to find someone physically there I can trust to be dependent on all the time.

So I wrote Spring’s story. And it’s very different from its original inception. It’s still a story of gratitude and how you deal with disappointment, but it’s also a story of hope and faith. Of a black woman who really wants something but won’t settle for less because she’s not here for the bullshit. But because she’s never been here for the bullshit, she’s not sure whether when something that looks good comes along is full of bs and too good to be true or the real deal and just flawed like everyone is. And well, you know, read the book to see how she explores that.

But after writing this better more fleshed out story, her initial gimmick didn’t work well with this newly defined tone and thus, neither did the title of One of the Lucky Ones. And before I could commision a cover, I needed a title.

So after staring at the document for way too long and trying to figure out what the heck the title of this story was, I did what I always do when I have writer’s block. I took a step back. I closed my laptop, and I said the following prayer: God, You’re the one who gave me the idea; You’re the one who helped me flesh it out; You’re the one who, for some reason, wanted me to write this story; so please, give me the title because I don’t have a damn clue what it is.

And then I went to bed because it was late, and I was tired and I probably needed to get up for school the next morning. And while in bed by myself and hugging my pillow, I got a little lonely and went through one of my I really want a man in my life moments and someone to cuddle up with and a I was a little horny–Come on. Don’t trip. Wanting sex isn’t just for guys and just because you’re trying to hold out to marriage doesn’t mean hormones don’t bodyslam you sometimes.

Anyway I wondered if I did something wrong to not deserve that or if it’s not in the cards for me and because it seemed like people who supposedly did everything “wrong” somehow got all the best things. You know, part and parcel of the self-pity party.

Then I thought to myself that sometimes it has nothing to do with anything you do. Just sometimes despite your best laid plans, things don’t work out the way you want them to or thought they might. Half sleep, I instantly opened my eyes and knew that was title of Spring’s story. And when you get inspiration like that, you put it to paper immediately. So I grabbbed my phone from where it was plugged, pulled up the document, crossed out One of the Lucky Ones, and put Best Laid Plans right at the top. I also looked up the entire phrase those words came from, and I got the title to the sequel, Gone Awry.

Writing this story caused me to do a lot of self-reflection. I mean more self reflection than I was already doing as I inch closer to 30, and I start witnessing the decisions my peers made around their very early twenties start to unravel and cause havoc in their lives.

I don’t think I would have been able to write Spring’s story if my life had gone any different than the way it did. My head would have been in a different place. I would have been worried about other things. I wouldn’t have been asking myself those nuanced philisophical questions because I wouldn’t have had a reason to ask them. It wouldn’t have felt as authentic. And if I had pushed through writing it in fall 2017 rather than winter 2019, I wouldn’t have had the time to let my emotions settle and witness and experience things that informed the telling of this story.

And now I’m halfway through writing Gone Awry and starting to wonder what life will inspire me to write next because I got nothing on deck after this. I don’t even know if I have another story in me to tell. Then again, I’ve been saying that for seventeen years, and I always get an idea eventually.