Friday, July 01, 2011

Being a novice

In June the Asia Yoga Conference was held in Hong Kong. I saw an ad about it and immediately thought I should go. (At the time I was in Hong Kong - so it was close and easy).

Many of the yoga sessions were free and there would be vendors to check out as well.

But there was a problem in my mind. I have taken yoga classes and sometimes practice at home. My practice is irregular and I am not in anyway advanced. The conference, I thought, would be filled with yoga teachers and people with far more time on a mat than me.

I began to think that I wouldn't belong there and that maybe I shouldn't go. I mean, really, I've never even been to a yoga conference or retreat.

I decided to go to one session, which is what I could make time for over the weekend. I went Saturday night and as I got closer to the conference hall I could see all the yoga people with their mats, lithe bodies and yoga clothing. I felt so clunky in my sneakers and regular workout pants and, frankly, my out-of-shape body.

After walking around the vendor area I saw lots of cute and cool gear. A little high-priced for me, considering I'd also have to fit it in luggage. And most of the yoga clothes were too small.

Then, as I stood outside the room where the yoga and dance session was scheduled, one of the conference volunteers asked if I was coming in. I said I didn't have a mat, so I wasn't sure. He said that was fine and I did see folks with no mat.

A few minutes later I found some sort of clearance vendor booth with yoga pants for a mere HK$100 and in a size I could wear. Pants purchased, I changed and went to the session.

It was set up as a yoga session with a DJ, which was why I wanted to do it. As we went through poses I reminded myself to just do what I could and not worry about being out of place. And to have fun.

After a series of poses the instructor had us begin dancing and that's when I really let go of my worry of being a novice among experts. It was so much fun to free dance around the room, even as I was careful about the ankle I sprained late in 2010. There are really so few opportunities for grown ups (okay maybe I should say middle aged folks) to dance and play anyway.

As I left I was tired and figured I'd be sore the next day. And I was so happy I'd gone to the session.

It reminds me that even though it feels like, at 40+, I shouldn't be a beginner, in many areas I am. Instead of avoiding new things because I am a novice, I really need to seek out the beginner experience.

Doing that means I need to become more comfortable with failing, being the old kid in the class and even ready to counter if people think I'm too far along in my career or life to try something new.

It's tempting to decide that at this point in my life, my career, to only do the things that I have done before and do well. And there is such value in using your strengths. I have been limiting myself, though by leaning too much on the sure things and not being willing to fail.

I will probably look foolish sometimes when I dance or try yoga or anything else. But failure and foibles happen anyway, even when I'm avoiding them - I may as well enjoy the experience.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cover turn offs (a.k.a. Read Platinum)

One of my least favorite things is seeing a display in bookstore that prominently displays “urban” fiction, when the kinds of stories by and about people I want to read are harder to find.

What I like to read are usually literary novels, mysteries and pop fiction. Unfortunately urban fiction has the reputation of being poorly written and edited. I can be a book snob and I am learning to tame that way of thinking a bit.

Really if someone wants to read something labeled “urban” that also may not be up to my standards, it’s none of my business. (Yes, I need to continue to repeat this).

What does bother me are the following:
Seeing books that don’t belong carelessly placed under an “urban” fiction display (ZNH’s novels do not belong there)
Covers art that trends toward “urban”

Covers on books make a difference. I have walked away from books based on the cover. This is not just about urban fiction. If I see a cover that indicates the book is just about finding a boyfriend or shopping, I often won’t even read the description. Often those covers are just too pink for me. A cover that evokes historic wars will usually be passed over as well – I don’t usually read military stories.

So when I saw Aliya S. King posting on Twitter about her disappointment in the cover for her next novel, I was intrigued. I haven’t been following her on Twitter very long, so I’m really just learning that she has a novel. (And if you write, go follow her - @aliyasking-, she gives great tips on writing via Twitter). Her first novel is titled “Platinum” and here’s the cover.

The cover for the sequel, Diamond Life, is here. The sequel focuses on four men. And there are no men on the cover. Kind of odd and misleading I think.

But based on these two covers, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her books in a bookstore. I am a big library user, so maybe I would pick it up at the library. If it was on display in the front where I couldn’t miss it.

However, King is very engaging on Twitter. She writes a lot of helpful and encouraging content for writers and artists. And after the cover discussion, I read about Platinum and it sounded interesting.

By the miracle that is the Kindle sample, I downloaded it to my iPhone and read it one night before bed. My phone is in airplane mode while I’m in Hong Kong, so I only download when I have access to WiFi. I was reading and really getting into the story and thinking, OMG why is Beth Saddlebrook living this way and wait, what? Is this other character, Kipenzi dead? What is going on?

That’s where the sample ended. And I was just through – stuck not able to download the novel. I knew I had to read it. Even though I had to wait until the next day to download it.

Platinum is a good read – it’s fun, based on characters in hip hop and the music industry. So much drama. But well written drama, not something that hasn’t been crafted or edited. It is what I would think of as an airplane or beach book – and I don’t mean that as a slight at all. It’s the fun book you read when you want to escape and tell your friend, “Girl! You have to read this book. You will not even believe this … “

And yeah, if that book had been on the “urban” fiction table, I never would have read it.

So I have some work to do to change my bias. But maybe the publisher could give us some covers that are a better match for the work.

When has a cover turned you away from a book that you later read and loved?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Love, Land, Legacy - If Sons, Then Heirs

Have you read any of Lorene Cary’s books? She’s the author of Black Ice, an important memoir about a Black woman coming of age and making it through prep school. She also wrote the wonderful The Price of a Child, a novel set during the American slavery era that is a powerful evocation of a mother’s love.

She has a new book, released in April, If Sons, Then Heirs. Before I read even a synopsis of the book I was hearing that it was amazing. We were so happy to be able to schedule her for #blacklitchat on Twitter.

The novel is about the Needham family and opens with Jewell Thompson, an estranged daughter, in Philadelphia. She is out of sorts after hearing from her son, Alonzo Rayne (known as Rayne to everyone, but Lonnie to her).

Rayne wrote to Jewell, hoping that he’d found the right woman – that is, the mother who abandoned him.

When you begin reading If Sons, Then Heirs (and you really should), you’ll notice right away that Cary’s writing is beautiful and her descriptions of even simple details elevate the story. For example, describing a building as “this shiny black cookie jar of a building.”

Without giving away too much detail, I will say that of all the very complicated and strained relationships in the story, Cary renders them beautifully. The love and respect between Lillie and Rayne; the memories Selma has of King; and the painful, but short history between Rayne and his mother, Jewell.

And the growing bond between Rayne and Khalil, his girlfriend’s son, is inspiring. You can feel how much their family of three wants the man and the boy to be father and son and how tricky and terrifying it is to state and live the connection. The possibility of heartbreak is so strong in the story – with Rayne and Khalil, and it echoes Rayne’s seven-year-old abandonment.

What’s also wonderful in this book is the use of history, land ownership and the impact of family separation and northern migration to drive the story. It’s a great story that relies on research but doesn’t get bogged down in it.

During our chat, Lorene Cary mentioned that someone had said that the American story (or American novel?) has driving as a theme. And that is certainly a theme in If Sons, Then Heirs. Rayne and Khalil go on a road trip and the trip, the time they spend down South changes their lives and the entire family.

There is so much more I could say about this rich story. Well worth reading and sharing.

(By the way, I purchased my copy of this book. I did not receive a review copy. I need to start making that clear in my posts).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pausing - side effect of artful storytelling

I’m reading If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary. It’s our May #blacklitchat book and you can join us for a discussion with Lorene Cary on May 22 at 7 p.m.

Reading it earlier today I had to stop during a scene and take a moment. It wasn’t a scene close to my own life, but the emotion of the scene and the skillful way that Cary showed what the characters were feeling made me pause. I had to turn away because I could empathize with the characters (Jewell and Rayne) and couldn’t help but think of how difficult that scene would be in real life.

I’ve had to pause or turn away from all of our #blacklitchat books in one or more scenes. There were multiple times with Davie Jones in 32 Candles, by Ernessa T. Carter (don’t even get me started!). And Zora in Substitute Me, by Lori Tharps – well, I might have talked back to the book at one point, but you can’t prove that.

Certainly, there were many difficult scenes in Aminatta Forna’s Memory of Love. The novel is set in post-war Sierra Leone and characters are haunted by personal and national tragedies.

Victor LaValle made me laugh with Big Machine, for sure. But I was a little bit scared to keep reading after the sewer scene. That might have been because I was reading it at bedtime.

Thinking about this today (during my pause from If Sons, Then Heirs) I decided that this is one of the elements of the best fiction. The writer has done the hard work and in many ways a skillful writer makes a story easy to read. The reader is drawn in, fully engaged and can see the story. And when you are there as a reader and struck by the emotional weight of a scene so much that you have to turn away, that’s artful storytelling.

I love these stories. Even when I have to pause, I know I’ll go right back in to the story. And hold on until the end.

Do good stories make you pause? Which ones? Post your favorite pause inducing stories/novels in the comments.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Savoring Silver Sparrow

I am not a person who savors things. If you hand me something lovely and wonderful (or tell me you have a surprise for me) I want it right now with the jumping up and down excitement of a six year old.

So when I received a review copy of SILVER SPARROW, Tayari Jones’ new novel, at home in Florida a few days before leaving for Hong Kong, it was so hard not to open it immediately. I wanted to stop packing, curl up on the couch and start reading. Both of Tayari Jones’ previous novels (Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling) were so good. Her storytelling is rich and she gives us characters that we don’t find anywhere else. Like children growing up amidst the Atlanta child murders in Leaving Atlanta.

I was very excited about Silver Sparrow and, having read Tayari Jones’ blog posts about the long road to completing the novel, I have been waiting for it. What would she give us in this story of families and daughters, two marriage certificates and one husband?

After I read the dedication (to her parents – and funny) and the poem by Natasha Tretheway (Pulitzer prize winner and a professor at my alma mater – Emory University), A Daughter is a Colony, I put the book in my carryon bag. I would save it for the very long plane ride.

On the plane I changed my mind. I was a little uncomfortable and tired and I wanted to be more focused when I read SILVER SPARROW. I wanted to sip a mocha in a café and really enjoy it. Not crunched up on a plane counting the hours to a shower and a real bed.

A couple of weeks after arriving in Hong Kong, I planned a day just for this. I went to a café and was very lucky; it was nearly empty and a plush red chair had my name on it. I started SILVER SPARROW. I can’t believe I was able to save it for so many weeks. It was absolutely worth it.


I find it challenging to write about SILVER SPARROW because I know my own writing is not up to the task. I’d much rather press Tayari Jones’ new novel into your hands and implore you to read it – it’s amazing.

From the first line of Dana Lynn Yarboro’s story, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.”, you know you are in for some serious drama.

And for some writers (and readers) that would be enough. A novel of he said-she said, terrible, done-me-wrongedness, and dramatic scenes and plot twists.

Tayari Jones is not that writer. As she tells us the story in Dana’s voice we also are firmly placed in the time and setting - Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s. The grownups still remember Dr. Martin Luther King as a living presence. And good hair means many things even as augmented hair (what we call weaves), becomes an option for the women without “good hair.”

We learn her parents’ romantic history and see how complicated their emotional and real world is. Dana’s mother keeps her not-legal husband’s secret in exchange for having a once-a-week family life and care for her daughter. Dana keeps the secret, too, once she is taught to understand that she can’t draw pictures of her daddy and his two families at school. But a teenager holding such a secret in a community where her friends cross over into her daddy’s other life presents a dangerous situation.

Dana goes beyond “surveilling” her sister’s life in clandestine operations with her mother, to making contact with her sister, without revealing who she is.

Dana and her mother are sympathetic characters. As a reader I loved them and wanted them to win, be rescued and be taken care of. I did wonder about her mother though – how much did she give up for not quite an even split on James. Then Jones gives us part two – Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon’s story. She is James’ other daughter. She is the second and legitimate one who has him in her house, with her mother, seven nights a week.

They do not have the knowledge that Dana and her mother have and as the girls become closer, I was anxious reading about their lives. What would happen to those teenage girls if everyone knew the secret? And does Dana really know what she’s doing?

At a key point in the novel there was so much tension that I had to put it down, get up and walk around. I really wanted to keep reading, but I was so worried about the girls and their mothers. There was no easy winner or loser, just three households of broken hearts.

As this drama plays out, Jones gives us dialogue and descriptions that are beautiful. Dana and her mother are take care to think about and talk about who they are and how they are labeled (or would be if the secret was revealed). And there is an entire discussion in this novel about beauty, girlhood/womanhood and power. Only some of it takes place in Laverne’s (Chaurisse’s mother) beauty salon.

SILVER SPARROW is a wonderfully written book about a terrible web of family secrets and pain. And the emotional power of knowing.

As Dana tells us early in the novel, “Life, you see, is all about knowing things.”

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Something to celebrate with #blacklitchat

When I hear that a favorite author of mine has a new book coming out, I get excited. No surprise, right? However, even as much as I read about books, browse for books, talk about books, etc., I sometimes miss new titles or the latest from an author.

There’s so much “noise” in our lives now that while we have more sources for information, we have so much information that we can’t keep up. Well, I can’t keep up – can’t speak for everybody else.

So I want to begin celebrating the publication dates of books that I’m excited about on social media. I think that publishers and bookstores probably look for books to do well very quickly and if they don’t then it’s probably a little bit over for them.

Beyond my own need to keep up with what’s new on the shelves or on our e-readers, I want to drum up a little excitement (oh, a lot actually) for Black books.

You are, of course, invited to join in. And this is really simple. Just post, tweet (or RT) a congratulatory note for a new book on the day it’s published. That’s it. It of course would be great if you would also pre-order or buy the book.

I know that publication dates shift and books ship early sometimes (I LOVE that), but I’ll use the date on the publisher’s web site or on

Here’s my list of select* upcoming publication dates:

You Are Free, by Danzy Senna – May 3 (I missed this one actually – but so happy to see it.)

Just Wanna Testify, by Pearl Cleage – May 10

Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones – May 24 (but this one is shipping early!!!)

No One in the World, by E. Lynn Harris and RM Johnson – June 7 (Still sad ELH is gone).

Money Can’t Buy Love, by Connie Briscoe – June 27

32 Candles, by Ernessa T. Carter (paperback) – June 28 (one of my favorites from 2010)

Children of the Street, by Kwei Quartey – July 12

*Please do post upcoming titles that you hear about (or have coming out) in the comments section. Please do not be offended if I don’t add your suggested title to this list. I will add some, but I won’t promise to add every title that is sent my way. Thank you.

Re-thinking my investments

In the past month I’ve had more time to myself than I’ve had for more than 10 years. I’ve been in Hong Kong without my family for nearly 5 weeks now.

During that time I’ve been thinking about my writing and all the things I already know about why I’m not writing more, completing work and submitting work. The two biggest hurdles are fear and time. (And the time is very much connected with the fear. It is so much easier to focus on other things than the big bad monster of rejection).

I also don’t make the necessary investment in my writing. I don’t put my whole self into it; I am still holding back (fear!) and I don’t act as though I own it.

My commitment is lacking and I can see that in how I decide to spend my time. I’m a working mother and wife and I have a long commute and blah blah blah with my excuses. Everyday I’m choosing the time drains that take energy and time away from writing. Or choosing fear – this idea’s not good enough, you’ll never finish, so-and-so can do it better, blah blah blah.

Then there’s where I put my money. Writing can be done without a big financial investment, but it is important to get help/coaching/editing when you need it and resources, too.

One of the things I’ve wanted for a long time is to settle on one of my many ideas and complete a book proposal for it. I start and stop and switch ideas and am spinning around producing no finished proposal.

I know myself. I love research and sharing information and writing. I also know that I need someone to nudge me (push me). There’s a reason I do well in classroom settings, but struggle with open ended, non-dated, big goals.

So, I am going to start working with a coach on getting a project finished. That’s another thing – I don’t like to ask for help or admit I need help. I have to claim that little step, too.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time – years. And I’ve been a fan of Deesha Philyaw’s magazine writing and platform-building for more than a minute - starting back when I read her work in Wondertime and Bitch magazine years ago.

She consults with writers to help them write, finish and polish book proposals. I’m going to start working with her soon.

This is what I need to keep moving forward. And I decided to switch my investment strategy to put my money where my dreams are.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Seeing the Tian Tan Buddha

On Saturday I went to see the Tian Tan (or Big) Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

I’m so glad I went. To get to the Big Buddha you can take a bus or a cable car. I took a bus roundtrip – not sure yet about getting in a cable car.

About midway through the bus ride I turned to my right and saw the Big Buddha. We were still a ways away, but the statue (not sure if I should call it a statue or structure – it is so big) was easy to see.

I won’t pretend to do a travelogue about it. You can read more about the site here and here.

Actually, I wish I had read more before I went to visit. For instance, I didn’t know about the Heart Sutra on the Wisdom Path – so I stopped before I got there. I want to go back to see that. I’m thankful that I’ll probably have another chance to visit before I leave Hong Kong.

This is the largest Buddha statue in the world. I walked up the more than 200 steps to see it and also go inside the structure beneath the statue. Inside there is a relic from Gautama Buddha’s remains and historic artwork and inscriptions as well as information and history about Buddha and the statue.

I took many photos outside. Photos are prohibited inside the structure beneath the Buddha. It is very interested to be there and see the mix of tourists and Buddhists. Especially seeing people stop in front of various statues, kneeling, and lighting incense. I was continually reminded that this is a religious site and experience for many people and more than another tourist site.

Throughout the area there are signs reminding people that no alcoholic beverages or meat are allowed. So if you go and take a picnic, remember that.

There are two vegetarian restaurants there and a vegetarian snack bar. I really enjoyed the vegetarian lunch I had. The stir fry of vegetables and cashews was so brightly colored – the way fresh vegetables that haven’t been cooked to death are supposed to look. Asparagus, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, mushrooms made for a wonderful lunch. There were also spring rolls, soup, more mushrooms, a green that I don’t know the name of, but was thankful for. I didn’t take pictures of the food because of the no pictures signs in so many places. I wasn’t sure if pictures were allowed there or not.

I almost didn’t go to the Big Buddha on Saturday. It was a little rainy and overcast and I thought it wouldn’t be a good viewing day. Then I decided that if I put off the trip until a good weather day, I might miss it altogether. When I got there it was fine – not rainy and only a little overcast. It would have been fine if it was raining also. I can’t control everything and I don’t want to miss life waiting on the perfect conditions.

The day didn’t go just as planned. And it was wonderful.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

From pages to screen

Before my extended trip to Hong Kong, I decided that I should get an e-reader. When I have time I read a lot. As much as 1 – 2 novels a week. There was no way I would (even if I could) carry that many hard copy books with me going or coming.

In 1998 when I had an extended stay in France I did take quite a few books. I had received a book allowance for graduate school and was able to use that to buy titles for the trip. I donated several of the books to the English library at a French university. The staff of the library had let me read books there – at first, because I had no status there (not student, not faculty) they would only let me read in the library. Eventually I was able to take books overnight. I so appreciated that – and it helped me study for my exam in graduate school the following semester.

Anyway, I’m just saying that I’ve carted books overseas before and they’re heavy. It’s not practical.

This time, I started looking at e-readers. But my practical side kicked in. I really didn’t want to quickly decide on an e-reader without more time to research and well, delay the decision. I also started to understand that while I love web-based tech-related things like new social sites and multimedia tools, I am not really an early device adopter. I have an older laptop, an old iPhone and whenever a new thing comes out, I’d rather wait. I love playing on new devices and getting to know why they’re cool, but I don’t necessarily want to take them home right away.

I like to wait until the next generation comes out and I can get a deal on the first one.

So I didn’t buy an e-reader.

One of the other factors in my decision was that I just do not want one more device to carry around. I usually have an iPhone, a BlackBerry and a laptop. The electronics can weigh me down.

Just before I left I downloaded the Kindle app for iPhone. I bought one book – Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, and crossed my fingers that I would enjoy or tolerate reading on the phone screen.

I wasn’t able to try it out until a couple of weeks into my trip. But when I did, I really liked it. I’m sure reading on a bigger screen is better in some ways. I know that carrying one less thing is better for me right now.

And I can use what I would have paid for a Kindle to buy lots of e-books. That I love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

You must read Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle was our author guest for #blacklitchat last night on Twitter.

If you haven't read his work, you really must. Smart, funny, surprising, challenging. We focused on his novel Big Machine which has been described as horror, satire, fantasy and includes heroes, religion, and evil beings.

I had not read any of his work before. And I am going back to get both The Ecstatic, his previous novel, and Slapboxing for Jesus, a collection of short stories.

We were very lucky to have Victor join us. He has a Twitter account, but isn't active on Twitter and made an exception to join our chat. Which is very interesting as well because he is so good and, judging by the novel, would have us cracking up (and thinking) with tweets.

But if he is going to put all his typing energy into writing more stories and novels - it's all good.

So, usually I post a link to a transcript. But the site I've been using can no longer provide a transcript - some TOS thing with Twitter. I'm sure there's another way to provide a transcript that shows everyone's comments (lots of folks joined us - yay!) - but I don't have it today. [Edited 4/18 - What did I tell you about Dee Stewart? Of course she has a transcript link!]

Instead I grabbed the questions to Victor and his answers. Here's the Q&A (led by Dee Stewart - who shouldered the work for this one and did so with very little notice. Appreciate my co-host always.)

Oh! And Carleen Brice, author of Children of the Waters and Orange Mint and Honey, hosted a giveaway on her blog to help promote the chat. That was a surprise from her (though it's no surprise that she supports the chat - she was one of the first people to do so!). Thanks, Carleen.

Q1 - In your words, in less than 150 char, what is Big Machine?
A1:Big Machine is the whole United States today shrunk down to one easy to swallow capsule. Easy-ish.

Q2: Scary description. I know you intended to write a horror novel, why should we be frightened with Big Machine?
A2: Evocative sewer landscapes, homeless terrorists with bombs on their chests, monsters, and, of course, the specter of love.

Q3: There are so many nuggets to get. I've (@deegospel) reread chapter 55 too many times. What's your process?
A3: I'm pulling the book down now. Let me see what chapter 55 says!
A3: Chapter 55 - the wasp larva and the needle. Good times.

Q3b: I don't want to share any spoiler, but did you know before you wrote the story Ricky [would] be in that situation?
A3: Funny, but that's one thing that was there from the start. I couldn't get rid of it! I wrote the rest to find out why.

Q4: Did you build Big Machine differently than the Ecstatic? If so, what was different, if not how do you do it?
A4: The ecstatic was built on voice and personal history. Big Machine was built on old school narrative. That's the difference.
A4b: When I wrote Ecstatic I didn't understand what a plot was. Not really. With Big Machine I learned.
A4c: The big thing: the first third of book is only about posing questions. Different from stories!

Q5: When you decided to write Big Machine, you used narrative voice to write Ricky's story or you wanted to tackle nv?
A5: I felt sure about voice so it was about plot, pacing. I went back to classics to keep readers turning pages.

Q6 via @sweat_btwn: What is your inspiration to write? What’s in your room? Any ritual or routine?
A6: Right now I'm still inspired by Thom Yorke's dancing in lotus flower video!
A6b: By which I mean pure abandon.

Q7: via @carleenbrice There has been word that you're writing a screenplay for Big Machine. What is that process like?
A7: I'm writing it for sure. It's been an education. Learning to switch from written language to visual language. Tough as sh*t.

Q7b: How much of a challenge was it switching from short story to novel?
A7b: Very tough. Story is abt. problem on p1, solution on p.25. Novel is problem on p1, solution on p400!
A7c: So in novel you have to come up with many other questions/answers so you can put off the big answer til the end.

Q8: via @EvelynNAlfred Which classics did you read to help you with plotting Big Machine?
A8: Moby Dick. Narr. of Olaudah Equiano. Various Jane Austen. Bible. For reals!
a8b: Jane Austen was an atom smasher!

Q9 Big Machine has been described as horror, fantasy, satire. How (if u do) wld u categorize? Is it limiting to do so?
A9: I really think the best books are the hardest to categorize. What's Gayl Jones? Literary? Horror? Feminist? Poetry? Yes!
A9b: not really the humblest answer, was that? Oh well.

Q10 via @conniebriscoe Are you teaching yourself to write the screenplay? Or working with someone?"
A10: tried to teach myself years back and FAILED! Took a great course at a program: @BingerFilmlab. Amazing.

Victor (at the end): Thanks again for having me. Hope you had as much fun as I did.

We certainly did!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blacklitchat with Victor LaValle - April 17

We're reading Big Machine, by Victor LaValle for #blacklitchat on Twitter this month.

This is the first book by LaValle that I'm reading - he has two others: Slapboxing for Jesus (a story collection) and The Ecstatic.

Here are a few reasons we chose Big Machine for this month's book - and reasons you should start reading it so you can join us.

-- LaValle is a funny and sharp writer - I am already laughing out loud with this book.
-- The images in the book go beyond the obvious. There's an "easy way out" way to describe something and then there are writers who find just the right and surprising way to show you what characters see. LaValle doesn't take the easy way out.
-- Big Machine is a big award winner. Among other accolades, Publishers Weekly named it one of the 10 best books of 2009 and it was seleced for the 2010 Ernest J. Gaines award for literary excellence.
-- It's our first science fiction book for #blacklitchat.

And if you're just finding out that Big Machine is our book for April - you can still join us. Come listen or ask a question about writing. We have people who join because they're interested in a book, even if they haven't read it yet. And you can start reading it now with this excerpt.

We've moved the chat to 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 17 so that I can still participate (it will be 7 a.m. Monday in Hong Kong where I am). You can join the chat here by logging in with your Twitter account.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Chopsticks: Or not using the fork option

At home when we eat at a restaurant that has chopsticks, I use a fork and knife most of the time. Chopsticks

(Photo by sparktography via Flickr)

I had sushi for the first time on a date with my husband (in the last 2 - 3 years, definitely tardy to the party) and I didn't know what to order or expect and certainly didn't think I could handle chopsticks and sushi. I ate it with a knife and fork.

When I have used chopsticks I've felt very self conscious and clumsy. Actually I was actually clumsy, not just a feeling - it was my reality.

And I was sure that I was doing it wrong and would make a fool of myself.

So I avoided them as much as possible to keep from being foolish/looking foolish.

In the weeks I spent getting ready to come to Hong Kong I never once thought about chopsticks or the fact that I might need to develop the skill to use them.

When I sat down to my first dim sum I was told that there would be some places where a fork would not be available. So even though I probably could have requested a fork in that restaurant, I didn't. I knew I'd have to get used to using chopsticks.

I also was very hungry when we sat down, so I was going to eat whether I looked like a clumsy American tourist or not.

I'm not particularly good at using chopsticks yet (I've been here less than a week). And I may always look like a tourist - even after weeks here. But not giving myself the option to ask for a fork was a little mind trick that made me adapt, try harder and focus enough to have a wonderful meal with chopsticks.

Were there faux pas? Probably. I survived, though.

It's a small internal triumph for me. One of the ways that I know I'm up for this cross cultural adventure - I'm willing to try most things and working on not being so self-conscious that I limit my experience.

A taste of Hong Kong

I'm in Hong Kong for the next three months and in the first 48 hours I've learned that the food is amazing. (I've learned a lot of other things as well, but I can't share everything all at once).

Though I've had only a little time to explore (and am glad to have people guiding me through my first few days), I can already see that the dining choices are almost too plentiful.

Naturally there are Hong Kong and Chinese cuisine options and Japanese and Indian and  tonight we had pizza and pasta. The world's food cultures are represented so well here. I will have to be very careful not to go too far overboard!

In addition to the dinner tonight, I was able to go into the city this afternoon and  walk around the area of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was busy of course - we even saw a bride and groom taking pictures as well as plenty of local people and tourists with cameras.

One of the amazing things about Hong Kong is the number of malls in the city/region - this afternoon I browsed a bookstore, Page One, at Festival Walk. It was a little overwhelming, but wonderful as always to see books. Many of the books are shrinkwrapped, though there are copies that are open for browsers to flip through. Very interesting to see the shrinkwrapping.

I saw lots of familiar authors and titles in the English section. I didn't even make it to the magazines, but I'm sure I'll go back and spend an entire afternoon there.

I will post some of my photos and what I've been able to see and experience in Hong Kong here. I'm not sure yet whether I'll pick a standard format or, like tonight, just string together a few thoughts.

But I do know that my excitement about Hong Kong is absolutely growing each day as I see more things to do here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A place for rough drafts

This post is just a draft. The kind of post draft that I compose almost daily in my head and (as you can see) rarely post.

I have an idea, an experience to share or just a question. But it comes while I'm driving to work or running an errand or any of the "supposed tos" in life.

And when I am online, mostly at night or very early in the morning, I can't remember it. Or I remember it, but think it's not worthwhile or no one is reading this blog anyway, so what's the point?

If I make it past those minor hurdles I wonder if I can write it in a way that is useful, meaningful or even interesting.

I decide that I can't. Maybe if I had more time or focus or [fill-in-the-blank quality].

And I post nothing.

I'm too tied to not putting my rough drafts out in the world. Sometimes that means I never float a draft -story, blog post, business idea. Later I try to remember what it was that seemed like such a decent idea when I was thinking about it. But there's not even a rough draft to go back to.

And I'm stuck with nothing.

There's always something missing - something that isn't quite ready in my life. So that's one of my excuses for not doing. A lame excuse.

This post is rough and I don't think I can even close the circle of the idea. It's a rough draft. But I wanted to do something other than nothing tonight.

Walking away from even casual writing and opportunities in general because things aren't perfectly in place is one of my weaknesses [edit: opportunities for growth :)]. Everybody needs  rough drafts. Nothing is finished without a draft, a first attempt.

[Of course Anne Lamott writes about this so well. I need to re-read Bird by Bird.]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

#blacklitchat with Heidi Durrow

We had a wonderful discussion on March 20 with Heidi Durrow, bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. This is her debut novel and it won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.

Heidi was a great guest host and we learned a lot about her journey with the novel - which was rejected dozens of times by publishers who thought there was no market for a story about an bi-racial girl. I think that's astonishing. It seems to me that anyone who is paying attention would know that a beautiful novel that speaks to both the adolescent experience as well as the multi-racial experience would resonate with contemporary readers. But I'm just a reader ...

We asked Heidi about whether Nella Larsen's work influenced her. And we learned that she considers Nella Larsen to be her muse and that Heidi placed a marker on the author's grave. Heidi wrote about that here: My Nella Larsen: Remembering Her.

Read our chat transcript to catch up.

Learn more about Heidi and the novel on her web site, Follow her on Twitter (@heididurrow) and/or Facebook.

And check out the festival she co-founded, the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. It's scheduled for June 11 - 12, 2011 in Los Angeles.

I'm so looking forward to reading more of Heidi Durrow's work. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a beautiful story and exactly the kind of book I want to highlight through #blacklitchat - beautifully written, engaging, and bringing something new to our understanding of culture and literature.

If you haven't read it, add it to your "to be read" list.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Save the date: UCF Book Festival, April 16

2011 UCF Book Festival
Saturday, April 16
For book lovers of all ages.

Last year I heard about the UCF Book Festival (I can’t remember where I saw it first) and was immediately smitten. A book festival, right here in Orlando, at the university where I went to grad school – that is almost too easy to love.

Naturally I couldn’t just put it on my calendar. Nope, I had to stick my nose into things and find a way to volunteer and bring my literary passion and professional skills together for a good cause.

And I ended up connecting with Rich Sloane, who I’d met years before, and pitched in to help promote the festival.

On the big day I took my kids, hoping they would enjoy it, too.

Turns out we all had a great time. I’ve been to many book festivals as an attendee and also serving as publicist for an author. It’s always good to be around so many people who love reading and to have an opportunity to talk to the authors behind the work.

What really stood out for me as a mother was just how robust and fun the “kids” section of the festival was. It was not some corner tucked away from the action. The kids section was the central area of the exhibit hall and it’s clear that the festival organizers want to make sure that families get a lot out of the event.

There were interactive performances throughout the day (story tellers, reading buddies, and Storm Troopers and Princess Leia). As we walked the exhibit hall many of the vendors had items to give kids, including books, so the festival does live up to it’s ideal of helping to promote literacy.

I wasn’t able to go into any of the author panels for adult titles – I didn’t think that my kids would sit still for it and it’s not really appropriate for them to hear a reading from a book that’s for grown ups. However, I did get to see and meet authors in the big hall where they did their signings.

For us a Saturday that includes stories, songs and games, books for mom and kids is a winner.

I’m very excited to be volunteering with the festival again this year. As part of my commitment to the event, I’ll post some blogs over the next few weeks about the festival and the authors who are coming. But don’t wait for me, check out the author list now. You can also get updates on Twitter - @UCFBookFestival or on Facebook.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#blacklitchat with Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wow! We just finished a wonderful chat with Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Wench.

She was our guest author for our February 20 chat, our second one this month. And the questions and comments were flying. Wench is a New York Times bestseller and the story imagines the life of slaves who spend summers at a northern resort with their Southern masters. The novel began with a slender bit of history that Dr. Perkins-Valdez noticed in a book about W.E.B. DuBois. The resort in the novel actually existed.

The novel raises questions about the nature of love in the midst of slavery and whether or not the slaves, given the opportunity, will try to escape.

Check out the transcript.

If you haven't read it, put it on your to-be-read list. And check out Dr. Perkins-Valdez' tour schedule on her web site. One of her upcoming events is the UCF Book Festival in Orlando, April 16, so I'll get to hear her in person!

Gourmet Saturdays ...

Last week my oldest child said we should start having "Gourmet Saturdays" and pick a gourmet recipe each week and make it on Saturday. He's a true "foodie" and likes to try new foods, make up recipes and just learn about food.

Last night (Saturday night) I remembered pretty late in the day that I'd said we could start having Gourmet Saturdays. Instead of making excuses and putting it off for another night, I decided to find something simple we could make and achieve the goal.

Fortunately we'd been to the public library earlier in the day and I had checked out Rachel Ray's Yum-O! family cookbook.  While the kids played at a local playground, I looked for something easy and quick.

I chose the Farmer's Stack Pancake Dinner. The kids agreed. We still had to make a trip to the store for some ingredients, so it was a late dinner.

I know, pancakes aren't exactly "gourmet", but I knew I wasn't up for anything more complicated or with more exotic ingredients. Plus, I'm confident I can make pancakes. The kids enjoyed the pancakes and fruit / maple sauce, but not the sausage. I enjoyed the whole thing. :)

Hopefully, I'll plan better for next Saturday and we can make something that's closer to gourmet.  I love the idea and I really want to continue to support my son's willingness to try new foods and his interest in food. He's not been a picky eater and he's willing to think about healthful food options. And I'm thankful for that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stop and eat the roses

One of my challenges is that I delay even the things I want to choose for myself. Even simple things.

For years, since I first read that it could be done, I've wanted to have crystallized rose petals. The idea of eating sugary flower petals seems so fancy and ethereal.  What would a rose taste like?

Every year before Valentine's Day I think about making those rose petals. And I then let the date pass while I beat back my "silly" idea because:
I'm the only one who's interested.
It's frivolous.
I should wait until I have a grand dinner party.

This year, I beat back the excuses and made them. On a whim. I saw containers of organic rose petals while shopping at Whole Foods (which is my favorite place to shop even though it's expensive, impractical, etc.).

My daughter really wanted roses on stems, so we go those instead. Still organic and edible.

And that night I found this recipe on the NPR site and my son and I made the crystallized rose petals (we also used organic sugar). It was simple and the next day (they have to dry overnight) the petals were wonderful. Very light and like a little taste of beauty.

I didn't make an elaborate cake and use them for garnish or have a fancy Valentine's Day dinner. Just the rose petals. And they were worth it. I will try to remember them and remind myself not to wait for the perfect this or that; and not to diminish the wonder of everyday. Will I remember not to delay and to do even simple things just because I want to? I don't know. The rose petals are one of the things that were on my list of "I wish I had ..." and hopefully I'll take more steps to just do those things.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#blacklitchat transcript: Aminatta Forna

I'm pretty late in posting our transcript from the Feb. 6 #blacklitchat with Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love. (She is @AminattaForna on Twitter.) Here is the transcript of our conversation with her, which she made time for during her U.S. tour (she lives in England and Sierra Leone).

We're doing two #blacklitchat conversations this month, a first for us (me and @deegospel, my co-moderator). We also did the chat with Aminatta Forna at 7 p.m., earlier than usual.

And I realized a couple of weeks after we scheduled it that Feb. 6 was also Super Bowl Sunday. So many of our readers were focused on football. Some folks were able to join and we gave away a book during the chat - another first for #blacklitchat.

Reading The Memory of Love was wonderful. It's a beautiful novel and transports the reader to Sierra Leone in the years after the civil war there. My reading has been very U.S.-focused in the past few years; The Memory of Love makes me want to do more international, specifically African reading.

If you missed our chat, you can learn more about Aminatta Forna and her work via one of the links below:
Interview on BookPage
On the Diane Rehm Show
Review in NYTimes

And here are her upcoming tour dates.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A handshake moment

I went to a reception for playwright David Henry Hwang this week. (He is a prolific writer and wrote M. Butterfly, Aida, Yellow Face and many other plays as well as film scripts.)

The reception for him was one where I was meeting nearly everyone for the first time - as opposed to an event that is filled with people from my regular circle(s). 

Thus I shook many hands.

Near the end of the reception a gentleman extended his hand to me and introduced himself. I took his hand shook it.

Then, a few moments later, he apologized. I had no idea why he was apologizing, so I asked him why. And I learned something.

He said a man isn't supposed to extend his hand to a woman first.  I assured him that didn't bother me at all and that I was not even aware of that rule.

I did think about the rule though. And I remembered moments in the past when I've met men of a certain age who did not extend their hands to me or even properly introduce themselves. 

They offended me. I couldn't imagine a reason why they wouldn't extend a hand to me other than race. 

And that may have been the case. But hearing about this handshake etiquette of men not extending their hands first to women made me think that maybe there were other reasons and other history involved. 

I'm glad this gentleman thrust his hand out and shook mine. I learned l something and will be thinking on that the next time I think a handshake is being withheld. I'll offer mine and hope they take the second chance to connect.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zora Neale Hurston festival love

The 22nd annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities was held this week in Orlando (if you’re reading this on Sunday, Jan. 30, you can still catch the last day of the street festival.)

The festival is in Eatonville, Zora’s hometown, just north of Orlando, Florida. (If you don't know much about Zora, read this brief bio).

And the events have a big impact on Orlando (at least to me). Every year the festival organizers bring writers, academics, musicians and artists to town to give talks, exhibit their work and perform. The people who are featured are luminaries in their field. It’s one of the best times of year in Orlando if you are, like me, a person who is intensely interested in and passionate about the African diaspora.

On Jan. 26 I went to Eatonville to hear Tara Betts (poet and writing professor, NYC) read at Club Koha. Tara participated in the VONA writing retreat in 2010 and I met her there. She tells stories with her poetry, powerfully. I have been looking forward to her event at the Zora Festival for two months.

And her reading was wonderful. The club was a great venue for the reading and was preceded by a reception opening the festival. The food was wonderful, done by a new empanada truck which will launch in Orlando soon (hopefully very soon – the Moroccan lentil empanadas are worth tracking).

In addition to hearing Tara read and getting a copy of her collection, Arc & Hue, I met and made new friends at the event. Poetry + friendship + food = win.

Today our family went to the street festival, which I go to nearly every year. The festival features artists, vendors and music (Ashford & Simpson headlined this year).

I was so excited to see the Haiti pavilion – a section with booths for a group of Haitian artists. There were many pieces of metalwork. I have one from a previous, non-Zora event, and it is one of my favorite and most beautiful things. Today I bought another and my kids chose it. The new piece is painted and fits perfectly with our sea-themed bathroom.

One of the reasons I love the festival is for, don’t judge me, the shopping. There are so many things that I don’t see often in Orlando (African inspired clothing, music).

Sometimes, honestly, I wonder how many people actually have read any of Zora’s work at the festival. And I think about how vendors and pop music connect to her work – novels, anthropology, history.

Today it seemed very clear. As I spoke French to Haitian artists, bought a mudcloth and denim skirt from an African designer, and purchased a CD of Zouk music from Congo (the gentleman next to me was Congolese), I felt like the festival definitely aligns with who Zora was.

She was global, a writer and thinker who could see the connection from Florida work camp songs and Negro spirituals to Haitian spiritual practice and herbal medicine.

We are all connected and the art and cultural pieces at the festival, as well as the diversity of the people, represent an opportunity for us to remember how we are family. A dispersed family, but with some roots in common.

Our walk through the festival today was wonderful and fun. And I will keep sharing stories and music and art with my children so they can see how they are connected as well to the African diaspora.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Open Mic opportunity for writers and artists

Last year I posted a couple of items to Lisa Hsia's open mic blog. They were the beginnings of stories and I needed feedback. And people are still reading and posting comments to the stories. It's a wonderful forum for writers and Lisa has spots available if you'd like to post work - she also accepts artwork. Here's what she says about the Open Mic:

Art blog's Open Mic looking for contributors!
Greetings! My name is Lisa Hsia and I write a daily weekday blog about my journey as a writer and artist. Every Friday, I host an Open Mic for artists, right on the blog. Usually there's a featured guest post, and other artists are invited to add their own work in the comments. We have had all kinds of things on the Open Mic in the past: paintings, sketchbook pages, funny essays, poetry, first-draft fiction. Read previous Open Mics at It’s a great opportunity to share your work in a public forum without stress or having to actually perform in front of people! The Open Mic received an enthusiastic reception when I started it last year; you can read a little more about it on Anthem Salgado's awesome "Art of Hustle" blog:

I'm now looking for guest posts for Fridays in 2011. Will you contribute? Here's how it works:

1. You choose a date for your guest post. I'm also happy to schedule posts well in advance if you like a deadline to work toward.

2. Sometime before the date of your post, you email me your piece, a short introduction, and a bio, and I do the rest. The piece can be anything: an image, video, or text. The intro helps establish context and piques readers' interest; you can compose the whole thing for me to use verbatim, or just give me bullet points and I'll put them together. It can be as short as one line or as long as several paragraphs. The same goes for your bio. If you have a photo of yourself, or link(s) for your website or blog, I'm happy to post those too.

3. After your post goes live, check in on Friday and over the weekend, and enjoy the discussion and applause!

Email me at satsumabug AT gmail with questions or to reserve your Friday spot!
Even if you're not currently ready for a guest post, I hope you'll visit the Open Mic some Friday to support your fellow artists. Feel free to pass on this call to anyone else who might be interested.
Thank you and happy art-making,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blacklitchat - Jabari Asim and Feb. guest

We had a wonderful #blacklitchat discussion on Twitter Sunday night with Jabari Asim about his story collection, A Taste of Honey. I really enjoyed the book and was in love with many of the characters. There are gangsters and saved people, kids, wannabe revolutionaries, artists and so many characters you want to know more about. The stories are set in 1968 so the events of that year are all around the little town of Gateway and make an impact on the good folks in town.

Jabari also gives readers more than a few surprises in the stories. It's definitely something to put on your to-be-read list if it isn't already.

You can read the transcript of the chat.

Jabari is working on a followup to A Taste of Honey, featuring one of the most dangerous characters. He also has a new children's book coming out about Booker T. Washington, Fifty Cents and a Dream.

Next up for #blacklitchat is Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love. We'll have a discussion with her at 7 p.m. EST (a new time for us) Sunday, Feb. 6.

Save the date for Sunday, Feb. 20 as well - we'll do a special Black History Month chat with a guest author.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Erasing cultural history and avoiding the conversation

A new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer comes out in February. (February!)

And I'm surprised and upset about the changes the editor has made. As the saying goes, I feel some kind of way about it.

Alan Gribben (Auburn University) edited the new versions for NewSouth Books. The 2011 versions will remove all mentions of the "n" word and replace it with "slave." Also edited: Injun Joe becomes "Indian" Joe and half-breed becomes "half-blood."

Gribben made the changes to make the books easier for teachers to use in the classroom. He says schools do not teach the books because of the offensive language.

I get it. I know that those words make people uncomfortable. I certainly don't like hearing the "n" word.

But as a mother, writer, Southerner, African American and literature geek (and all my other selves), I say this is a wrong and even damaging way to think about literature. And I'm very concerned that, if Gribben's volume gains traction, it will become the only version of Twain's novels that we read.

And it will be the wrong version, altered from the author's intended text. Altered in a way that pretends that the words Twain wrote were not actually in use during his time. Altered to make it "easier" to teach - meaning it will help teachers avoid providing deeper context to explain how stories reflect the cultural and historical moment; how writers weave in imagination and realism; and what has happened since Twain's lifetime to shape how we say, write and hear the "n" word, "injun," "half-breed" and other offensive terms.

In making the work "easier" to read, Gribben takes away some of the big lessons that we can find in reading.

And I think that "easier" really means that teachers won't have go take some uncomfortable questions from students, but also teachers, administrators and school boards can take the easy way out when parents challenge the book.

Wouldn't it be better to teach Twain's work as part of learning about American cultural history and give students a better grounding in what our country was like for people who didn't look like or live like the founding fathers?

Perhaps by seeing the words used in literature it will help everyone understand what's at stake when those words occur in contemporary popular culture.

I certainly don't want my own children reading sanitized versions of literature. They can read the books as they were written and we certainly would help them understand how the work fits into it's historical period and what has happened to change the way we talk to and about one another.

I want them educated and readied for the world, not raised with a cleaned up version of their own American cultural history.

Read more about the new editions in stories posted at NPR and Publishers Weekly.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Things I'm loving right now

Jevon Bolden's Black Book Tweets round up - a great way to catch up. If you tweet about Black books, let her know.

Pearl Cleage has a book coming out this year *happy fan dance!* It's Just Wanna Testify and it's coming out in my birthday month AND I'll be in Atlanta in May. I hope I can see her do a reading there.

The Zen Habits web site. I read this site a few years ago and knew it was good, life hacking and improving content. But I didn't heed what I read. I'm going to try to do better this year. I have a lot of things to work on and, because I really can't abide self-help books, this is perfect for me. Wisdom in small chunks.

Carleen Brice is taking a blog hiatus in January. Luckily for us, she gave good links for finding book recommendations while she's gone. (Carleen is author of Orange Mint and Honey - the basis for the Lifetime Original movie Sins of the Mother and the novel Children of the Waters).
via Carleen: Go On Girls! book list for early 2011
The APOOO books in 2011 list.
And Carleen shouts out #blacklitchat as well (Jan. 23, 9 p.m. ET with Jabari Asim).

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Passing or not? Does it matter?

This article in the NYTimes about a new edition of Jean Toomer's Cane, caught my eye. Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Rudolph Byrd (shoutout to Emory!) write that Toomer was passing during his life according to what they found while researching the new edition.

I've long been interested in the idea of passing - not as an ideal, but as an intriguing condition. What was it like to be able to shift across the very clear dividing line of race?

In the 90s, during a brief stay in France, I sat in on an American literature class and Cane was one of the texts. The class was for undergraduate students and while I had no status at the university, I asked the professor if I could visit the class just to listen. (I also sat in on a class about Edgar Allen Poe).

One of the moments that I remember from the class is hearing a French student, who looked to me to have some African lineage somewhere in her history, ask "what is miscegenation?"

It was very interesting to hear the professor explain it and remark on how interesting is that Americans have a name for that kind of mixing. Hmmmm.

I wonder if there is some professor who will teach it this spring or fall and whether the idea of Toomer passing will affect the discussion in a university classroom over there.

It's the kind of discussion and questioning that I miss from the world of academia. Finding new ways to look at things as well as support for your theories and having an impact on the way we understand history and culture.

And, of course, passing narratives make for engaging stories.

Unfortunately I don't have a good recall of Cane. Maybe I'll re-read it someday. I'd like to see if it reads differently now that Gates and Byrd say Toomer was passing. Of course that knowledge changes the way I read it - Toomer was always himself and we'll never know what was happening inside his mind and heart.

Does the work change because our understanding of the author's life changes?

What other books have you read that are so affected by what you know about the author?