Booking the Book Deal: First You Have to Write It

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things.” Words of wisdom from award-winning horror genre author Stephen King

The first book I wrote was for my mother. I took my time researching and writing it and gave mother some of the first draft’s initial chapters to read. Several months later, we learned that she was terminally ill. I rushed to complete the book, but death won the race. Mother died 11 months before Legacy was published.

Not long ago, I reread the book and discovered what I perceived as some editorial shortcomings. The downside of being a perfectionist is that you want everything you produce to be flawless. There are times when I contemplate updating the book, but then I imagine mother reiterating what she used to say often throughout her life, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

I’ve been working on my second book for a while. But procrastination is my nemesis. I can create a blog post in a few hours, but writing a book is ten times more challenging, as anyone who has attempted it knows. As passionate as I am about writing, it is a time-consuming and tedious process, and I have to be in a creative frame of mind to tackle it.

I was a bookworm long before I learned Stephen Kings’ advice about reading to improve writing. However, unless you are fortunate, like some renowned authors, to have a secluded retreat where you go to ply your trade, your writing time could be hindered, as mine often is, by constant interruptions. And interruptions aside when it comes to writing books, time is not our friend.

For instance, I am currently reading The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. It is a fantastic five-star worthy publication. It clears up factual disputes and provides the reader with significantly more details about Malcolm X than the autobiography. The author, Les Payne, worked on The Dead Are Arising for 28 years. Sadly, in 2018, he died of a heart attack before he could finish the final draft. His daughter Tamara Payne, her dad’s research assistant, completed the book with their editor Robert Weil’s help. It was published last year.

Speaking of time, who hasn’t read The Catcher in the Rye? J.D. Salinger took ten years to finish it.

Writing her book was also a decade-long journey for Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell.

Alex Haley co-authored The Autobiography of Malcolm X and later wrote the acclaimed, 704-page Roots. Factoring in research time and intercontinental travel, it took Haley twelve years to write that book. And boy! It paid off in numerous ways.

Aware of the truth that time waits for no man (or woman), it is inspiring to know that some people don’t hit their literary stride until they are senior citizens.

J. R. R Tolkien took 16 years to finish The Lord of the Rings. He was 63 years old when the book was published.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Frank McCourt, was 66 when he wrote his bestselling memoir Angela’s Ashes.

And the oldest debut novelist on record award goes to Lorna Page. She was 93 years old when her first novel A Dangerous Weakness, was published.

The time it takes to write a book depends on many things, the book’s length and genre, the period spent doing research, and the author’s day-to-day writing routine.

Occasionally, one of my friends will ask my advice on how to publish their book. Here is my two-minute rudimentary pitch.

There are two methods of getting your book in print: self-publishing or traditional publishing.

Self-publish, and you maintain ownership of your book and can keep much of the profits. However, self-publishing necessitates that you do a lot of leg work after writing your book. That means everything from producing a professional product (editing, cover, format, etc.) to marketing it. If you have money to spare, you can pay professionals to help with those things.

Traditional publishing is more costly than self-publishing. It involves hiring a literary agent. The agent will help you put together query letters, a book proposal, a contract, a  marketing plan, book tours. He or she will be your overall pitch person. Literary agents charge a commission (about 15%) on any money that you earn. For every amount they get you in advances or royalties, speaking engagements, or other perks, they will take their cut. They will handle the heavy lifting. You may get an advance, but you’ll give up rights to your book, and everybody makes money off of it.

When I self-published my book, I had to learn the ropes through trial and error. I am still learning, but this time I am a little bit wiser.

Unless you have name recognition (say Terry McMillian or Walter Mosley), self-publishing is the way to go. The investment in self-publishing could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. How much you want to spend on your book is your call. For Legacy, I hired a fantastic copy editor before sending my book to a premier (POD) print-on-demand service for self-publishing authors. Comparing the royalties earned from self-publishing to traditional publishing could be like equating a child’s piggy bank filled with pennies to a five-gallon jug filled with quarters and greenbacks. But everything is relative.

With determination, perseverance, and a little bit of luck, any well-written book could mean the difference between a mediocre publication and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. There will be time for learning the ropes of getting your book published, but first, you have to write it.


Reflecting on Inauguration Day

Talk about being a crybaby. I can’t help myself. When it comes to pomp and circumstance, I am a waterfall. Weddings. Graduations. Funerals (Funerals don’t count. A lot of folks cry at funerals.). A good book or movie can also bring on the waterworks. Sometimes when I am angry I cry Quasimodo ugly, but when I am happy, I shed tears of joy.

Yesterday’s Inauguration ceremony was a happy crying time. Like numerous other Americans, I had been looking forward to that day since November 3. After climbing out of bed and showering I brewed a pot of coffee. (Hazelnut, delicious!) Then, I turned the television on to my favorite all-news channel and hopped on my stationary bike. From 8 a.m. throughout the day, until near midnight, I watched all things Inaugural. My planned bike riding marathon lasted an hour.

As the reports of the activities and events leading up to the Inauguration were broadcast, I got weepy. It wasn’t the fact that the long-awaited transition of power was almost over that made me emotional; it was the beauty and solemnness of the ceremony. I can’t remember how many times I snatched a tissue from the Kleenex box.

Knowing that I have a hair-trigger emotional switch, I always fight to hold back the floodgate, but there are times when the safety lock fails. Take Tuesday evening, for instance. I was watching the commemorative service held at the Lincoln Memorial for the COVID victims and was doing well until Yolanda Adams sang one of my favorite hymns, Hallelujah. That did it. Crying time.

Then yesterday, my eyes welled with tears as the Bidens’ motorcade arrived at the Capitol. As the first couple exited the limo, joined hands, and walked up the steps (steps that on January 6 looked like a scene from Night of the Living Dead), I had a one tissue, two teardrops moment.

Seeing Kamala Harris and her husband descending the steps to be seated in the ceremonial area was a two tissues moment. More tears fell later when Kamala was being sworn in.

But before the swearing-in ceremonies began, when the Obama’s arrived and walked through the passageway and down the blue and red-carpeted steps leading to their seats, I lost it. The dam broke. I emptied the Kleenex box.

At one point during the program, MSNBC political commentator, Joy Reid, said that she was having a goosebump moment. Excuse me, Joy, but I had flash floods. I later learned from many of my Facebook friends that they also turned on the waterworks during the ceremony.

I know that there are some people who may not have shared the joy that so many of us felt yesterday. People have different ideologies regarding politics, and this not so “perfect union.” Some of the nonconformists are my friends. Like them, I am aware of the odious acts of violence and other racial injustices committed against Black and Brown people in this country. As many objectors do, I protest against it, speak out against it, and do what I can to try and bring about change. But I refuse to walk around every day feeling disgruntled about the status quo. Life is too short, and that baggage is too heavy to carry. Sometimes I choose to set aside the load and be happy, if only for a few hours. If only for a day. I heed the advice of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Yesterday was a day to feel happy.


Reflecting on My Time Spent on Capitol Hill

My first time going to the Capitol building was in the 1980s. I was charmed by the splendor of the place and was no less enchanted each time I went there after my initial visit. Unlike some of my acquaintances who worked in Capitol Hill offices, I did not, nor was I ever a tourist. And I certainly wasn’t part of a mob of homegrown terrorists like those that swarmed the place on January 6. I was there on official business.

For 13 years, I worked in the K Street corridor as a staff assistant for two different lobbying firms (or as the head honchos prefer to call them Government Affairs offices). For the majority of my ten years with the initial association, our office was located on the same block as what is now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza. In addition to other duties, my gofer responsibilities required periodic trips to the Capitol to deliver official papers or PAC checks, retrieve copies of bills from the Senate or House document rooms, and occasionally attend Congressional committee hearings.

After showing my work ID card to the Capitol Hill police officer and going through the security screening process, I would be allowed inside the building and, if necessary, given directions to the destination office.

Sometimes while walking past the rows of offices in the pristine hallways of the historic building, I’d think about the enslaved blacks who played a significant role in erecting the structure. I took pride in knowing that numerous black legislators, many of who may have been descendants of slaves, were holding positions of power in the Capitol, or they had been there and left their legacy.

During my years of working in the political arena, I embraced some notable lawmakers as my she-roes and heroes: Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Bella Abzug, and Diane Feinstein. Representatives William (Bill) Gray, III, Kweisi Mfume, John Lewis, Bobby Rush, and Daniel Moynihan were also on my most admired politicians list. I never had the opportunity to meet any of those previously mentioned except one. When our Governmental Affairs office held its annual legislative reception, I met Moynihan, Senator Ted Kennedy, and others who slip my memory. I would eventually meet Speaker John Boehner, a good friend with one of the firm’s vice presidents.

There was one brilliant and charismatic politician who I admired above all others. Not only did I meet him, he graciously posed for a picture with me. He was the Illinois State Senator who would announce his intention to run for president within months after our meeting. He ran. He won. And I will forever treasure my photo taken with Barack Obama.

Few people know that beneath the seat of government, the legislators have a private subway. The Capitol Subway system connects the Capitol with Senate and House office buildings. I had the opportunity of riding the train a few times back then. Since then, the system has been significantly modernized.

My reflection of better times brings me to the shocking and disgusting event that occurred at the Capitol on Wednesday. I never thought I’d see anything like it in my lifetime, radicals busting through doors, breaking windows, climbing over balconies, hanging on the walls, and trudging devilishly through the galleries.

People worldwide watched the insanity on their televisions as mobs of MAGA cult members and insurgents breached the Capitol building. I could visualize Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Xi Jinping enthusiastically wringing their hands, grinning madly, and chomping at the bit.

I cannot end this post without mentioning something that has occurred to countless people, including me. I have expressed this on my social media page, as have numerous other people. We know, WE KNOW, that if Black Lives Matter or any other black organization had breached the Capitol as the MAGA cult did, the outcome would have been very different. I can imagine the Capitol columns blemished with red splotches and rivers of blood streaming down the steps. Instead of five dead white people, there might have been 500 black corpses scattered all over the property. There wouldn’t be enough body bags in the city to handle the carnage. My opinion on the body count may be extreme, but fair-minded Americans will agree with the premise. Even President-Elect Biden acknowledged as much during his news conference on Thursday.

For the rest of my life, memories of the times I spent on Capitol Hill will be tarnished by the horrific event of January 6 because I cannot erase the scenes from my mind.

My condolences to the family of Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick who lost his life during the lawlessness and mayhem on January 6, 2021.



Reconciling a New Year, Old Resolutions, and Pet Peeves

Wow! A new year rising. Who would have thought after the last hellish four years that any of us would survive to see 2021? Many of us did. Sadly, numerous souls did not. They succumbed to various causes, including more than 300,000 deaths related to the COVID pandemic.

Enough about the dark side. I promised myself that my first blog post of the New Year would be upbeat so, let me get back on track.

First off, I wish good luck to those ambitious folks who are making a list of resolutions for the New Year. I don’t do it. For years, I tried, to no avail. Then, one year, I created what I determined would be my final list of New Year’s Resolutions. I wrote.

Number one. Win the Mega Millions lottery. Too farfetched. You have to play to win. I don’t play. I scratched out number one.

Number two. Find and marry an African Prince. What was I thinking? I’d rather be a queen than a princess. Scratch number two.

Number three. Nah. Too risqué. Scratch that one, too. (Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?) I balled up the page and threw it in the trash.

I could have stuck with traditional resolutions — eat better, exercise more, and swear less. They are run-of-the-mill but attainable. Instead, I got resourceful. I created a list of non-resolutions and combined it with my growing list of pet peeves (You know, those things that annoy you like an eyelid twitch.). At the end of each year, I evaluate my list of Peevelutions. (You are right. I made that word up. Peeves plus resolutions equal, you got it, peevelutions.) At each year’s end, I either applaud my successes or move a goal from a lower status to higher on the list.

Some of the Top 20 items below are carry-overs from previous years; others are works in progress.

In 2021, I will . . .

  1. Stop squeezing my butt into Victoria’s Secret undies and start wearing big girl drawers.
  2. Conceal my weight gain by wearing baggy clothes.
  3. Stop hoarding paper towels, toilet paper, and coffee in the storage locker.
  4. Enroll in a 12 step program for political junkies. The last four years took me to rock bottom.
  5. Learn another foreign language besides pig Latin.
  6. Stop fake-smiling during a Zoom meeting, even when it is as tedious as folding fitted sheets.
  7. Finish reading a book before starting another, instead of reading two or three books concurrently.
  8. Stop letting my audiobooks read me to sleep at night, forcing me, the next day, to rewind and figure out the point where I dozed off before I can resume listening.
  9. Stop procrastinating and work on finishing my book instead of playing online word games.
  10. Devote myself as enthusiastically to working-out at home as I did when I was going to the gym.
  11. Stop unfriending people on Facebook who get on my nerves; continue to ignore them instead.
  12. Stop grumbling when the person delivering my groceries arrives 30 minutes early while I am still in my jammies; better that I complain to him about being 30 minutes late. At least I will be presentable by then.
  13. Acknowledge that Smart Phones, Smart TVs, and other alleged smart devices are fallible and, when they malfunction, are dumb as soap.
  14. Have more tolerance for people who never contact me unless they want something, forcing me while cheerfully saying, “Oh, hello, there!” to think hypocritically, What do you want this time?
  15. Resist rolling my eyes when I hear corny phrases like, “wrap my head around it” and “it is what it is.” The first expression sounds like you are doing mental gymnastics, and the other one begs the sarcastic response, “And what if — what it is — isn’t?”
  16. Avoid reading a book before watching the corresponding movie; then I won’t gripe about what was omitted in the film.
  17. Avoid feeling pissed-off when someone does not reply to my email or text or acknowledge receipt of a gift I sent them. Who doesn’t know that it is fricking rude not to respond?
  18. Be more tolerant of people who sit down beside me in a communal place, like on a park bench or in a waiting room when I am enjoying some quiet time, and begin chatting with me like we are old friends. I’d rather they pretend that I am an insect repellant and bug off.
  19. When I am dining with someone who not only talks with their mouth full but keeps shoveling it in while talking, stop pretending that it’s okay and don’t resist the urge to ask him or her to please shut up and eat.
  20. Keep being the good-natured person I’ve always been and remember the words of William Arthur Ward, “A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.”

Happy New Year!


Keeping the Merry in Christmas

While radio and television programs are broadcasting Yuletide carols and reminding us to be jolly, COVID is sucking the merry out of Christmas. That sad reality is the reason why this usual glass-half-full optimist is fighting the pandemic blues. I am not alone. I know this because many of my friends tell me that they feel it, too. We compare our symptoms. Short tempers and long-lasting anxiety. Mood swings from hopeful to hopeless. And the WTF (where’s the food) all we can eat syndrome.

Since the pandemic began ten months ago, it has dragged on from season-to-season, and the set of new rules to live by has become old. We’ve all got the instructions memorized. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid large gatherings. Socializing with family and friends at birthday parties, reunions, holiday get-togethers, even weddings, and funerals is a no-no. I imagine that some employees are not too happy that this year’s Christmas office parties are zooming. Who doesn’t feel like screaming, “WHAT THE ELF? ENOUGH ALREADY!”

As an (often mild-mannered) spiritual person, I wonder if the global pandemic is a Biblical prophecy and punishment is being levied on humankind for our sinfulness. I suppose that atheists and scientists would dispute that statement; it is an ever-lasting argument. So, I’m going back to talking about Christmas. Foremost, December 25 is a day held in reverence. It also happens to be my cousin Jo Jo’s birthday (a shout-out to you, Cuz), and for wide-eyed children everywhere, it is the day when Santa Claus makes their day.

Unlike Scrooge, I don’t need spirits to show me Christmases past, present, and future. I remember, and I envision.

In my mind’s eye, I am about seven-years-old. My mom and my siblings, and I are cheerfully jockeying around the live Christmas tree in the living room. Dad is seated on the sofa, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, clutching a Kool cigarette between the index and middle finger of his right hand. He is all into watching a John Wayne western on the old black and white TV set as I am into hanging my made-in-school decorations on the tree. Occasionally horizontal line interference forces dad to leave the sofa and walk over to the TV. He sticks his cigarette between his lips, takes a long drag, and then removes it, exhaling a puff of white smoke before tightening a small piece of aluminum foil that is wrapped around the tip of the rabbit ear antenna. The picture clears up and dad returns to the sofa. As he is sitting down, he glances toward the tree at our handiwork and nods approvingly. We continue hanging decorations. Simple ornaments created with Popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, pipe cleaners, colored beads, and a red and green chain garland made from construction paper share space on the spiny branches alongside store-bought string lights, shiny, fragile bulbs, and long strands of silver tensile. Some years, we add tiny candy canes – and then we wait. Christmas morning is only days away.

During the evenings leading up to the big day, mother sometimes lets us stay up past our 8 o’clock bedtime to watch televised seasonal specials about Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Old St. Nick. On Christmas Eve, she doesn’t need to tell us to turn-in. We eagerly hurry to bed because we know that the next day will be magical when we awake. In the morning, the joy and laughter of enchanted children fill the air as we gush over the gifts that Santa left under the tree. Our family’s meager income prevented us, four kids, from getting many presents. And often Santa didn’t bring us precisely what we asked for, but we always got a few things each, and for that, we were thankful. Mother’s lessons of expressing gratitude for everything were not lost on me even to this day.

The sweet scent of fresh pine needles lingers in our apartment for days, and it seems to take forever before every stubborn spike that lodged in the rug or slipped into a crack in the aging wood floor bordering the carpet has is gone.

In the postwar era, many parents observed – and children believed in – the long-standing tradition of Santa Clause. Some of today’s contemporary parents feel that deceiving children about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other fictional characters hinder a  trusting relationship with their children. So, they don’t adhere to any of the rituals that created beautiful, lifelong memories for their grandparents and parents.

Christmas wasn’t the only day that held magic. I was a curious child. Whenever I would shed a tooth, I would place it under my pillow before going to sleep. The next morning I would wonder and sometimes ask mother how the tooth fairy could lift my pillow and replace my tooth with a shiny coin, usually a nickel or dime, without waking me. Mother played along, leading me to believe that she was as perplexed as I was. I treasure those memories, and I think that mother enjoyed the games as much as we children did.

I know that it is the parent’s prerogative when it comes to observing traditions with their children. Still, I’d bet four calling birds that some of the same parents who say that they don’t want to lie to their children about imaginary characters don’t hesitate to fib to them about other things when it serves their purpose. As I see it, our parents fooling us with myths about the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and the Easter Bunny may have been telling us lies, but they were good lies.

Sometimes, when I am stressed and longing for a temporary respite from everyday living’s harsh realities, reflecting on traditions involving make-believe activities that my family observed during my childhood makes me happy.

Christmas present is eight days away. I doubt if many folks would disagree with me when I say that the best stocking stuffer all of us could receive would be a miraculous, immediate, and complete disappearance of COVID. I’m not promoting fake news, I know it’s not a reality, but nevertheless, that’s my wish for this Christmas.

My visualization for Christmas future, 2021, and all years after that is for love, brotherhood, joy, and peace in the world. That, along with good health, is my wish for my readers and all of humankind.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may God bless you all!