Back in the Game – Part 3 of 3

11 07 2008

After the Writer`s conference it was time for me to relax. So I went to the Lakers game six playoff game versus the Spurs (they won). I took a trip to Malibu and ate a bucket of seafood on the beach. I partied with my best friend Steve. Good times were had by all.

I learned by reading her blog that Tananarive Due (author of the African Immortals Series: My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood, and Blood Colony) would be speaking at a black book fair in L.A. She and her husband Steve Barnes were speaking in tribute to the late Octavia Butler. I arrived a little late, but I thought that Tananarive had noticed me. My hands immediately starting sweating and my anxiety tripled. I knew this moment would be intense, but my reaction surprised me.

I discovered Tananarive back in 2005 while in Barnes & Nobles working on my own novel One Blood. Her novel The Between was in one of those special paperback racks and I was immediatley drawn to the cover. Upon reading the back cover, I knew I had to read the book. I read it in one sitting and immediately headed to Barnes and Nobles to buy everything else she had written. Tananarive writes in the same genre as myself and I knew I had found a kindred spirit in writing. Over the last three years we had even been in contact over e-mail. She has always been exceptionally encouraging, even offering to provide me with a blurb for my book once it is published!

After their emotional dialogue on Octavia Butler’s significance and legacy, Tananarive and Steve headed across the street for a book signing. I was one of the first people in line and got to take this beautiful photo with my writing hero! If you are a fan of supernatural suspense, you have to pick up her books, she is the best in the business.

The following morning I boarded a plane to Charlotte, NC. My parents live in South Carolina and I had planned a surprise visit. Needless to say my folks were thrilled. My Mom made my favorite foods – cabbage and sausage, cornbread, and potato salad. We went to the movies to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (great movie!). The best part of my visit happened on Tuesday night, June 3rd, 2008.

As my parents and I watched, Barack Obama effectively clinched the democratic presidential nomination. It was an emotional moment. My parents had lived through the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the beginnings of affirmative action, and the ascension of Barack Obama. As I watched Obama’s acceptance speech, I was filled with pride and a bit of fear as well. Any body who has seen the zeitgeist (http://zeitgestmovie.com) knows why I might be scared for Barack. But we focused on the positive. The amazing. The inprobable. The inevitable. Change.

I shared a poem I had written on the subject of Barack with my folks:

Change:

The restless are resting less
Because there is less assurance
Yet increased uncertainty
Certainly
These are dark days
But sun rays travel light years to illuminate the way
So who are we to lie idling by
Letting time pass us by
What will it take to make us try
Harder tomorrow than we did today
Will it take more calamities
More Darfur’s
More slain Iraqui’s and Afghani’s
Higher death counts of our troops
Higher amounts of toxins in our food
In our air
Why don’t we care about any of these things?
Why do we put so much value on diamond rings
While everyday we divorce from nature
Is it our basic nature to destroy
Or can we employ our strengths to create
What are we waiting for
We don’t have to be restless anymore
Just like we don’t need wings to soar
We just need to sweat
We need to get behind a common cause
If we can applaud our sports teams
Can we also collectively dream
Of a world community
United
Where only necessary resources are divided
Can we decide it’s time to stop laying blame
Shouldn’t we be so ashamed of the state of our home
That we hone in on each problem
And then take the necessary actions to solve them
This moment is not about the them’s and they’s
Nor is it about the concerns that mask our way
It’s about making history
And to make history we have to create a new majority
A new society built on the solid bricks of change
A new golden age where people are no longer afraid
A world where games are not played with people’s lives
A place where survival does not rival education
A nation of people chasing self actualization
Now is not the time for patience
Now is the time of freedom
Now is the time to get the job done
Now is the time for one nation
Illuminated
Now is the moment we’ve waited for a lifetime
But we can’t allow anymore time to slip away
We must embrace positive change for our children’s sake
Let us take on this new challenge
Let us all join hands
We must change the world
And together, yes we can

The next morning I boarded a plane from Charlotte to Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee holds a very special place in my heart. I spent five wonderful years there during college and grad school. There I became a man. There I developed into an accomplished spoken word artist. There I gained the confidence to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer.

I was back in town after a four year hiatus to attend the 16th Annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam being hosted by my very own Black on Black Rhyme family. Black on black rhyme is a poetry collective that has been going strong since 1998.

Black On Black Rhyme consists of over 35 dynamic poets, lyricists, songwriters, DJs and artists. Much like a large family, members maintain an ever open line of communication with one another which is essential to the maintenance of their creative essence and constant exchange of energies. Being in a room full of these poet artists has been described as “electric”, as each one is as diverse as the many origins they hail from. From as far away as Nigeria, West Africa, to exotic Trinidad on the Caribbean Islands, to the busy streets of Washinton DC, New York City, Minneapolis, Minnesota and of course, “the Dirty South”, Florida. Each and every one of these poet artists bring their own unique style and flavor, and while some members hold down Federal Government positions, others are full-time college students, one is even a college professor, but all are Family.

The Southern Fried Poetry Slam is the premier showcase for poets from all over looking for their entry pass to the National Poetry slam. More than 200 poets and 40teams embarked to Tallahassee looking for fellowship and a shot at glory.
In both the early rounds and the final competition, individual poets and teams squared off to compete. The audience acted as judge. I was participating in the slam as a volunteer although I did get to spit one poem.

A slam is part spoken-word performance, part storytelling session, part improvisational theater and part motivational speech. Poets competing in the Southern Fried Poetry Slam brought their best. There were other exciting events going on as well: a youth slam, a haiku slam, a beauty vs. brawn competition, an erotica open mic, among many.

I was very proud of my poetry troupe for the organization of the event. Everything went off without a hitch and the poetry was off the chain. In the end the team competition was won by The Minoriteam from Tampa. The indie champ was Big Mike (he was original and hilarious!)

On Saturday afternoon, I boarded yet another plane and headed back to Sao Paulo. I was juiced like I had been pumped full of Growth Hormone. And in a way I had been. My mind had grown in different directions on this trip. I had been surrounded by passionate artists, some of whom live off of spoken word. I had been reinfected by their spirit!

As I closed my eyes for some well-deserved shut-eye, I knew that this trip had changed me for the better! I had traveled from coast to coast and had seen some of the best people that America has to offer. God, I miss home…





Back in the Game – Part 2 of 3

8 07 2008

It was deja vu, all over again…

I woke up in my Westin Heavenly Bed™ at around quarter of 8 am. I usually take at least four or five snooze buttons to emerge from slumber, but not on this day. On this day I bound from the bed, ran through the shower, and was dressed in minutes – the euphoria never leaving me.

See I was headed to the Book Expo America writer’s conference and I was ready to face the fifty or so agents who had “volunteered” to participate in the annual pitch slam.

A pitch slam is where the author has exactly three minutes to convey the key elements of their story, tell a bit about themselves and answer any questions the agent may have – all in the hopes of getting the green light to contact them post event. Why is this so important? Well in previous blogs I have detailed just how difficult the business of publishing can be. Being a literary agent is like being bombarded by junkmail – loads and loads of junk mail that you are obligated to sift through – all in the hopes that you may have won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

Participating in a pitch slam is like the junk mailer (writer) getting face to face time with you (agent). The likelyhood of you (agent) throwing said piece of mail out diminishes once you have seen the living breathing organism (writer) that put their blood sweat and tears into said mailing. Or so you might think.

The one thing I have learned so far throughout this whole process, is that literary agents are tough. They don’t really give a damn about throwing away junk mail – be it in person – through e-mail – or snail mail. They are ancient gunslingers whose bullets are NO’s, blowing holes through the hopes and dreams of writers like myself.

So obviously as a writer you have to really prepare for this once a year opportunity to get shot down to your face.

How did I prepare, you ask? Well, having already participated in the 2007 pitch slam in NY gave me a heads up on the competition, plus I had great support from fellow writer-in-arms Stephanie Casher (www.stephaniecasher.com – read her blog!). It’s really all about putting your mind in a positive space and being open to hearing criticsm.

In 2007 I pitched 5 agents and 4 of the 5 requested pages from me (The DREAM). Then those 4 proceeded to summarily reject my work for every reason from my sentences being too long, to lack of identification with the characters, to no explanation whatsoever. And I was excited about the opportunity to relive this, you ask? Am I mad?

No. Yes. Maybe.

Look, I would rather take the chance at being shot down to my face, once a year, than to suffer through mailing query after query to agents who don’t know me from Adam. At least live I could make the agent feel my energy and zeal and attempt to make some sort of connection. But I still felt like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness – working up my client list.

So after drinking my grande chai latte from Starbucks in the convention center atrium, I ascended the escalator into WRITER WORLD.

Let me be the first to tell you – writer’s are some interesting folks. Most of us stick out like a porcupine’s thorns. The caffeine induced lively eyes and jitters. The fashion sense of a color blind private eye. Computer screen induced ocular corrective devices. The disturbing habit of conversing with the people in your head. You’ve seen us. We are the fiction writers.

Then there are those perfectly coifed, gym toned, well-dressed (and even more well spoken), confidence oozing individuals who are of the non-fiction sect – of the self help variety.

Throw us into a giant conference room together with six hours and counting until the pitch slam and you could tranquilize North Korea with all the anxiety medication working that room.

I had the opporunity to participate in a number of interesting workshops during the day as well with titles like: Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can’t Put Down, Revising Said Novel, and the keynote speech on the elements of all great stories. It can’t be said enough that writer’s must do two things to be successful. They must read incessantly and they must have a relentless dedication to improving their craft. I will provide some of the tips I learned in another blog, but I definitely got something out of the workshops.

So after a morning workshops, an excellent plated lunch (with cheescake for dessert!), and one workshop in the afternoon, it was finally time for the pitch slam.

Here’s how it works. Each writer received a conference booklet upon registration. Within this booklet, amongst other useful information, was a list of each agent, their background, and their respective interests – fiction, non-fiction, and/or screenplays. With more than 50 agents in attendance, it was up to the writer to sift through the list and prioritize the 5 or 6 agents who represented the writer’s respective genres. Hopefully the writer also did some research prior to the conference – googled each agent, read their blogs, tried to find out their track record – in order to be even more precise in agent selection.

I cannot stress this point enough. As a writer, choosing your agent is like choosing a midwife. Would you trust just anyone to shepherd your baby into the world?

So after providing the ground rules, the meeting organizer provided a list of room numbers and names of each agent. Up until this point, none of the writers had any idea where their respective agent choices would be located, so imagine 400 so coffee crazed scribes trying to get their hands on that list.

To make a long story just a little bit longer, I managed to pitch 7 agents during the 2 hours alotted for the pitch slam. All 7 agents requested pages (The DREAM!). I was exhausted and elated. Stephanie did very well also.

We went to this place to celebrate. I drank a cayenne pepper laced martini that nearly burnt my mouth off. The Celtics beat the Pistons. All was right with the world.

Little did I know that a month later I would be re-writing my entire novel…