About twelve years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and I mentioned that I wanted to be a director. At the time, I was taking screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension and had completed my first script, Bless the Mic. Film school seemed like the natural progression in my quest to create compelling, entertaining and memorable vehicles for people of color to star in.
The word “director” hung in the afternoon air, mingling with the laughter of the UCLA students dining at a nearby table and my friend’s cigarette smoke. It was the first time I had mentioned the desire to direct, and I was as surprised by this pronouncement as she was. My friend took another puff of her elegant cigarette, shook her head and mused that film school meant “years and years of extended poverty.”
After a few moments of hesitation, I agreed with her. After all, I was still saddled with student loan debt from undergrad and, newly arrived in L.A., was struggling to pay the bills on a secretary’s salary. Directing wasn’t my heart’s desire, like writing, merely a small bubbling of possibility in my chest. The conversation shifted back to our favorite topic — hatred for our day job — and then my friend stubbed out her cigarette and my burgeoning dreams in one motion.
Oh, and I’m back from hiding, hibernating, hiatusing or whatever you want to call my year-plus absence from the blog.
I hate the idea that I abandoned my blog. Beckyville was my digital block, my hood, a place where I felt at home and could express myself freely with my peeps. Being MIA is also akin to abandoning my dreams, although I do wrestle with that notion often, if I’m really worthy of them. I apologize to folks who were regular readers of the blog and often encouraged me along the journey. Continue reading →
(My short story The Stiffening was originally published in The Absent Willow Review)
I was eight years old when I realized that I never saw my mother sitting. Ever. Or lying in bed or immersed beneath a blanket of suds in our old claw foot bathtub. She was always upright. Afternoons would find her in the kitchen, tending something on the stove or wiping down counters with a dish rag.
This is how I remember her: Thick black hair spilling over broad shoulders and sturdy legs clad in a print skirt and Woolworth stockings. She loved to cook, to bring a steaming and pungent plate of collard greens to the table, to serve my sister Trina and me a slice of her famous orange pound cake. Even though she was on her feet all day mixing batter at Xavier’s Donuts, the sound of a metal spoon clanking against a pot usually met me and Trina when we came home from school.
I’ve blogged about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the criminalization of black males. The tragedy still weighs heavily on my mind, especially in light of the smear campaign launched against the slain teen. Author and colleague Alicia McCalla came up with the brilliant idea of writing a science fiction response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The following short story is my tribute to Trayvon and hunted black boys everywhere.
It was a deadly time to be 18, black and male. All across the country, these young outlaws were being killed. They yanked them from their cars and lynched them in Texas, stormed their homes and gassed them in Philadelphia and lay in wait for them outside of barber shops in Chicago and Los Angeles. Continue reading →
I’m typing this at my cousin Ranae’s dining room table in a snow-covered subdivision in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Ranae bustles around her kitchen preparing Spanish rice, refried beans, cauliflower and broiled pork chops for our dinner. Her daughter Matison finishes her math homework at the table next to me, and her son, Gabe, plays Angry Birds on my iPad. Lola, my mother and road dog, alternates between watching “Family Feud” and checking her email. A newly decorated Christmas tree casts multicolored shadows along the wall in the living room filled with wreaths, red stockings and other holiday ornaments. In the morning, Lola and I will hug and kiss our relatives goodbye before we make the fourteen-hour trek back to Los Angeles. But for now, this is home, a place I’ve missed in the more than four months that I’ve been on the road. Continue reading →
“Ain’t no mountain, ain’t no sea/Maki-da-da/Keep my sister ‘way from me/Maki-da-da” –The Color Purple
African-American lit has always informed my views of true friendship. Not that I didn’t have good homies in real life, but who could compete with Janie and Phoebe’s kissing-close bond, Celie and Nettie’s sisterly love and even Nel and Sula’s fragmented friendship, surviving separation, distance, ill health and even betrayal?
Recently, I had a few Maki-da-da moments when saying my goodbyes to sisterfriends on the East Coast. When the Escape from Beckyville book tour stalled temporarily (okay, for three months) in my hometown of Norristown, PA, I reconnected with several friends from high school and college that I hadn’t seen in years. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced about old times, and their love seemed undiminished by the passage of years. It was sweet sorrow pulling out of my mom’s driveway in Pennsylvania, en route to Los Angeles, leaving behind those beloved faces. Continue reading →
While I was in New Orleans a few weeks ago doing a book signing at Community Book Center, I prefaced my talk (as I do many of my readings) by chronicling the journey that brought me from L.A. to New York and back to the Left Coast again. I told the seven or so souls gathered at the store that I walked away from my job six months ago to publish Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. I spent four of those months on the road in a van I dubbed the “Beckyville Bookmobile,” traveling the country to spread the word about my project.
The proprietor, Mama Jennifer, listened with interest as I described the cities I visited with my mother and road dog, Lola. A silver-haired woman rocking a short natural, Mama Jennifer is a walking vault of wisdom. She said it’s one thing to discuss your travels, and it’s another to show them. Nuff said. The above video chronicles our four-month journey. I like to call it Lola and Nikki’s Excellent Adventures. I hope you’ll watch it, share it and be inspired to embark on your own adventure. And take plenty of pictures!
When I was 11, I had a paper route, delivering The Times Herald in the Pennsylvania community of Whitpain Hills where I lived. It was my first job. I was excited about folding the stack of newspapers and placing the bundles in a white cloth bag that I slung around my shoulders as I made my rounds through the subdivision of about 200 townhouses. I wasn’t the best paper girl. Sometimes I would toss the paper in the bushes or forget which customers paid what. Then I ended up double charging them or would be too afraid to collect money at all.
You never know what sands you’ll cross, what mountains you’ll climb, what oceans you’ll swim.
On January 1, 2011, my main resolution was to travel more. I was eagerly finalizing the itinerary for a trip to New Zealand that I had splurged on for my birthday the following month. I couldn’t wait to visit God’s Own Country by myself to bungy jump, canyon swing and just relax in an outdoor hot tub. In addition to my travel plans, I made the usual goals to exercise, eat healthy, volunteer more and write, but my main focus was to become an intrepid solo woman traveler.
No white woman has ever told me my hair feels like Cheetos, but I can relate to most of the Becky behavior spoofed in Franchesca Ramsey’s video “S**t White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” It’s a provocative piece that riffs on the “Can I touch your hair?”question many sisters field in their daily lives, among other issues. It may be uncomfortable viewing for some, but the video is brilliant in highlighting casual racism and unchecked privilege. And it’s hilarious.
Take a look and judge for yourself. Is it over-the-top or spot on?
Now that I’m no longer on the road and I’ve settled back into my everyday life in Los Angeles, I’ve been contemplating what to do with the Beckyville Bookmobile. I love my dainty purple chariot, but let’s be real: it feels funny (often downright embarrassing) to be whipping a wrapped van around town for simple chores like mailing a letter or picking up a few items from the grocery store. Continue reading →
Virtual book club, anyone? I’m pouring the (cyber) Riesling and Pinot Noir. You bring the convo.
I knew I was overdue for a community to discuss Escape from Beckyville. Lynda, a super talented artist I met in Philadelphia a few months ago, reminded me of this. She recently posted on my Facebook fan page that after reading several stories from the book, she longed to have a conversation with other readers in her area. A smattering of people from the City of Brotherly Love have purchased Escape from Beckyville, but I knew of no book club currently featuring it. Continue reading →
January is one of my favorite months. Not only because this time of year signifies transformation and new beginnings, but we also celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and renew our commitment to issues of social justice. It’s like a preamble to blackness, the forerunner for events showcasing the contributions of African-Americans that are sure to follow in February for Black History Month.
In the spirit of celebrating blackness, I’m super excited (dare I say geeked?) about the opportunity to participate in a blog carnival with fellow writers of science fiction and fantasy. For the next seven weeks, we’ll be discussing the state of black sci-fi and speculative fiction on our respective blogs.
As a child, mangled bodies cluttered my literary landscape. My mom had to pry me away from Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels, not to mention Fangoria magazine. No doubt she thought she had a budding psychopath on her hands. At age nine, my foray into sci-fi was Stan McMurtry’s wonderful book The Bungee Venture, about two kids who race to rescue their time-machine-building father from the pre-historic era he accidentally travels to. I was so impressed with that novel that I set out to build my own time machine from a baby carriage and nuts and bolts laying around my grandmother’s cellar. Even though the protagonists in McMurtry’s tale were white, it never occurred to me that I, a rowhouse dwelling black girl from a former mill town (population 34,000) couldn’t fly, couldn’t teleport myself to a future (or past) society that would love and nurture me. Continue reading →
What if we lived in a society where authors were banned from writing about the lives of African-Americans? What would you do if black folks were forbidden from publishing at all? How would you feel if, in this future world, existing works of literature by and featuring minorities were burned?
Does it sound like a modern day version of Fahrenheit 451? I can’t imagine those firemen trampling through Barnes & Noble in their black boots and turnout gear to torch the Af-Am lit section. Continue reading →
We’re four weeks into The State of Black Sci-Fi 2012 blog carnival, and I want to thank everyone who’s been contributing to such a great discussion. I’d also like to congratulate the winners of my Escape from Beckyville giveaway – Lisa Cheby and Envy McKee. The ladies will receive a signed copy of Escape from Beckyville and a $10 Amazon gift card. There will be a major giveaway on February 27, so keep those comments, tweets and FB “likes” coming!
The night before Whitney Houston died, I was skimming a gossip website when I happened on the headline “Whitney Houston is a Bloody Mess.” The accompanying pictures revealed a familiar scene — the singer was sweaty, disoriented, her wig tangled — but this time, blood flowed from scratches on her arms and legs. I didn’t read the comments section of the article. I knew folks would joke about how busted she looked, would speculate about her drug use and mighty fall from the perch of pop stardom.
Initially, I wanted to offer a 30 percent discount on Escape from Beckyville at the beginning of Black History Month. I’m late, I know. Blame it on extreme CPT.
Since February is half over, I’m extending the sale through Women’s History Month. Now, until March 31, 2012, take 30 percent off the book and digital copy of Escape from Beckyville. If you haven’t had a chance to cop the book or to download the electronic version to your Nook or Kindle, now’s your chance! This discount is offered exclusively to readers of the EFB blog and newsletter. How special are you?
Click here to take 30 percent off the hard copy of the book. Regular retail price is $14.95.
To redeem the 30 percent off digital coupon, click here and enter code RX62S at check out. Regular retail price is $4.99. That’s less than a grande soy mocha with whip!
Thanks for your continued support and for helping me spread the word!
Last August, when my mother, Lola, and I packed up the Beckyville Bookmobile and pulled out of my garage in L.A. for a cross-country book tour, Onyx Con in Atlanta was supposed to be the final stop on our itinerary. As a member of the Black Science Fiction Society, I’d been hearing about this convention for African-American writers of sci-fi, fantasy and comic books for some time. I’d never attended a convention before, had really just started to embrace the title of speculative fiction writer. Yet, I was intrigued by the chance to network with fellow scribes. One of my mentors from grad school, Tananarive Due, and her husband, the writer Steven Barnes, were among the featured speakers at the event. Knowing that Onyx Con was waiting for me on the opposite coast made the 3,000 mile journey a lot less lonely.
Curiosity about the unknown has no boundaries.
Symbols, images, place and cultures merge. Time slips away.
The stars, the cards, the mystic vigil
may hold the answers.
By shifting the point of view an inner spirit is released.
Free to create. — Betye Saar
My introduction to artist Betye Saar came about in an unexpected way. Three or four years ago, my mother and I took a weekend road trip to San Francisco for Thanksgiving, and we stopped by the Museum of the African Diaspora on a sightseeing tour. After checking out several exhibits, we rushed through the museum’s gift store, which was about to close for the night. In my haste, I picked up a boxed set of greeting cards entitled “Memories,” intending to present it to someone as a Christmas gift. Months would pass before I looked at those cards again and learned more about the artist, Betye Saar. Continue reading →
After Rihanna and Chris Brown dropped their collabo for her song “Birthday Cake,” reaction from the Twitterverse, entertainment blogs and feminist sites was swift and often merciless. Commenters seemed to be divided into three factions: Those who believe the Bajan beauty is continuing a cycle of abuse and letting down her young fans, people who celebrate the reunion and say RiRi is her own woman, and #TeamBreezy fans who feel the “Turn up the Music” singer has served his time and deserves to be forgiven.
I’m still trying to process how I feel about this musical olive branch extended between the once-volatile songbirds. Part of me feels disappointed that Rihanna seems to be in collusion with the boyfriend she once feared enough to file a restraining order against. Another part of me wants to reserve judgment because I understand the incredible burden survivors of abuse carry. We’re considered stupid for letting our partners hit us in the first place, and even more idiotic for staying in the relationship.
All good things must come to an end, and that includes the seven-week blog tour exploring the state of black science fiction in 2012. I have to thank the brilliant Alicia McCalla for coordinating the blog carnival and inviting me to participate in such a spectacular online event. It was a pleasure reading the work of my fellow scribes as we grappled with questions of race and injustice in sci-fi and speculative fiction and paid tribute to our literary [super] heroes.
To celebrate our final post, each member was asked to write a short piece using the prompt of a bracelet. My short story is below, and I encourage readers to check out the offerings of other members. I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the weekly discussions – whether on Twitter, Facebook or on the blog. The winner of a signed copy of Escape from Beckyville and an Escape from Beckyville T-shirt is L.M. Davis. Continue reading →
They were women then
My mama’s generation
Husky of voice—Stout of
With fists as well as
How they battered down
How they led
To discover books
A place for us
How they knew what we
Without knowing a page
If you haven’t had a chance to read Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage, what are you waiting for? During Read an E-Book Week, I’m offering a 75 percent discount off the digital version of the book. Instead of $4.99, you’ll pay only $1.25. That’s much less than a slice of pizza or a cup of java, without the unwanted calories or caffeine.
To take advantage of this 75 percent discount, click here and enter REW75at check out! The special discount expires on March 10, 2012 at midnight.
My travels may have slowed down (for now), but I’m still spreading the word about Escape from Beckyville locally until I can get back on the road.
Recently, I was invited to be a speaker at SistahSpeak: Africana Women’s Cultural Entrepreneurship in Creative and Aesthetic Industries for Women’s History Month. I’ll be discussing my self-publishing journey and how I balance my passion with the business side of things. The event takes place next Thursday, March 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Cal State University, Dominguez Hills. The evening culminates with a natural hair show from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.”
– Frantz Fanon
Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning. A few months ago, I didn’t have one.
During the first few days of January, I was thrilled about the prospects for Escape from Beckyville and was looking forward to another cross-country tour. By the second week, I was despondent. I moped around my apartment in my robe for two and three days at a time, sometimes not bothering to shower or brush my teeth. I felt that my life lacked purpose and meaning. It’s been nearly nine months since I walked away from my job at a top-rated talk show to pursue my dreams, and I’m still surviving. I had to sell my car and make a few other life adjustments, but I’m still here. Cubicle free and all that. Sure, if it came down to it, I could get another job if things got too scary. But the reason I lay in bed for hours with the blinds closed was because I had to face a scary thought: maybe it was finally time to leave L.A. Continue reading →
Five years ago, I attended the funeral of a 17-year-old boy who’d been murdered. His name was Jamiel Shaw. I didn’t know him, wasn’t acquainted with his parents. I have never gone to the homegoing ceremony of a total stranger. I’m not that nosy old lady who scans the local obituary column searching for a random burial to bumrush. I wanted to show my support for his family, to let them know their son’s life counted for something. Continue reading →
“When I can stand before a class of black students who refuse to believe that conscious decisions and choices are made as to what roles black actors will portray in a given TV show, I feel compelled to name that their desire to believe that the images they see emerge from a politically neutral fantasy world is … part of a colonizing process.”
— bell hooks
During grad school, I abstained from watching television for two years because I didn’t want anything to distract me from my studies. I missed out on water cooler discussions of Dexter’s latest killing and the highly anticipated series finale of Lost. I’m utterly unhip, but I’m used to being an outsider. After all, I was the only black girl on my block who couldn’t jump Double Dutch and didn’t know how to dance. Prior to my voluntary disengagement from the boob tube, I hadn’t picked up a remote control in months. Mainly because there were few shows that depicted black folks — particularly black women — in empowering roles. Continue reading →
For the past several months, many readers have asked where to purchase the Escape from Beckyville T-shirts. The supply I started with at the beginning of the journey has since been depleted, and it was hard finding a vendor I trusted so that I could offer the tees for sale. Well, the wait is over! The EFB tees are in, and they’re now available in three different colors: Rockstar Noir, Rockstar Iris and Lolita Heliotrope. I really dig the last shirt, because it brings to mind two of my favorites — my mother, Lola, and the color purple. Royalty.
Check them out when you get a chance. For the next few weeks, I’m having an introductory sale on the shirts as well as a discount on the book Escape from Beckvyille. I’d love for you to post a pic on my Facebook fan page rocking your new tee!
Click here to visit the Escape from Beckyville Boutique. I’m also offering 10 EFB Rewards Points (valued at $10) for every person you refer who makes a purchase!
I welcome intelligent debate and critique on my site. Unfortunately, I've had to moderate comments because of Trayvon Martin Derangement Syndrome and women who are offended by the word "Becky" (Not by Becky behaviors, mind you -- like trolling a black woman's website and being offended that she has the nerve to point out white privilege and racial microaggressions when she encounters them -- just the moniker.) This is a safe space for black women and our allies and if this offends you, find another site to troll. Sorry, my house. My rules.