How To Write Black When U Ain’t

Or….Gettin’ Jiggy Wit Dear Gentle Writer…

So you want to write black characters but you’re afraid of getting it wrong.

*Biting Lip to hold back from making inappropriate yet terribly funny side comments*

Never fear!  Biraical Girl Is Here!


No seriously, I was watching Wanda Sykes on HBO the other night and I nearly peed my pants.   She did this whole monologue on coming out.  Wanda’s a lesbian and also black.  And she turned the whole ‘telling your parents you’re gay’ thing into a ‘telling your parents you’re black’ thing.  HYS-TERICAL!!! Then she started talking about what having a black president meant to her–namely that she could now go buy a whole watermelon and not feel ashamed or embarrassed.  So even though it’s not Friday and this isn’t “technically” Dear Gentle Writer, I thought, after some stuff I had read recently that maybe I could help a white sista out…(yeah cuz I’m the internet’s foremost expert on all things black).

I’ve written one–count it people–ONE black character. Technically he was mixed (black and latino. It’s been so long I THINK he was black and Puerto Rican but I don’t remember).  I also wrote a biracial (black/white) character.

Hey! Does writing two biracial characters = writing 1 black character? = TOTALLY QUALIFIED TO TALK ABOUT WRITING BLACK CHARACTERS?!

New Jack City

Anyway…I knew when I sent it to my CP that she would bust me on any, let’s call them, inconsistencies which brings us to….

RULE 1: Get a black critique partner or barring that, a black beta reader.  Worst case scenario, invite your child’s ONE BLACK FRIEND over for dinner try to con them into introducing you to their mother.

RULE 2: EAT LOTS OF WATERMELON  Google “HOT BLACK MEN”.  Watch BOYZ IN THE HOOD over and over until you’re threatening to bust a cap in your kid’s ass and you own a wide assortment of bandannas…ORRRRRRRR watch NEW JACK CITY until you find yourself overcome with the need to buy a pimp hat and/or strip down and fill bags with yellowish-white rocks.  Worst case scenario–like if you can’t find either on DVD–check out THE WIRE.  Cuz nothing says “BLACK” like little kids slingin’ drugs in the ghetto–not even fried chicken and rap music. Be sure and take lots of notes, so that you GET IT RIGHT!!

Never fear…if you need to undo the blackness, just watch WHITE CHICKS until you’re dancing like Brittany Spears! Hmmm maybe I should have chosen LEGALLY BLONDE instead?

What? You hesitate?  Still afraid of getting it wrong?  Come on people! How many of you have killed someone on paper?  How many of you practiced on a REAL LIVE PERSON first?  (or you know, had sex with a real live werewolf cuz, like that is so TOTALLY REALISTIC)  … uh you in the back…that was a rhetorical question.

(Somebody call 911! We got us a live one here!)

RULE 3: Do your research.  Read books by black authors.  And uh Toni Morrison or any book by a black author that was also an Oprah selection don’t count.  Go get yourself some good old fashioned Urban/Thug/Street lit or whatever the kids are calling it these days.  That way you’ll get the slang right. Black folks and JR Ward fans will appreciate that cuz they hate it when you get the slang wrong.  (Don’t’cha know!)

RULE 4: I know this one is kind of a given — but listen to black music–and none of that sappy-ass I’ll Be There Michael Jackson/Aaron Neville/Boys II Men acapella mashup crap either. Get yourself some Tupac, some Fitty Cent and Lord love ya chile while you’re at it, be sure and get you some Eazy-E or NWA cuz everything you really want to know about being black you can learn from rap music (ZOMG ICE CUBE WAS REALLY BLACK BACK IN THE DAY!! Who Knew?).  If you’re too embarrassed to buy your “black” music at Target or Wal-Mart, you can try iTunes.  If you’re afraid of making BAD CHOICES, just hit the club instead and discretely jot down the titles of any songs that catch your ear.

RULE 5: Hit your local neighborhood black club.  If you’re not sure how to spot a black club, check the parking lot.  Most of the cars will be sportin’ rims that cost 3X what the car is worth.  A word of caution:  If you are cursed with a less than endowed ass, stuff pillows in the back of your jeans to fill it out.  If you are also cursed with a less than well-endowed topfront-side, I recommend stuffing your push-up bra too (cuz all black women have big breasteses).  This way you can blend in better.  Be sure to take your child’s black friend’s mother with you.  She knows the secret handshake that will make the shorties teach you how to “get low.” Just don’t order a martini.  Black folks don’t drink martinis.  And when you leave the bar, do NOT roll down your car window and sing DEPECHE MODE or DEF LEPPARD at the top of your lungs.

(BTW If you listen to Akon, you have to listen to all of it–not just the really cool sorta white sounding songs that remind you of that HAWT black guy from when you waitress-ed in that strip club that you wished you’d let hit it–k?)

That’s all folks.  You’ve reached the end of the lesson on how to write black if you ain’t.  Please note: No fried chicken was harmed in the making of this blog post.

If you made it this far, please email me your snail mail address so I can send you my super-special “I’m qualified to write black folks” ribbon.  You can stick it to your badge the next time you hit an RWA conference.


DISCLAIMER: If you suffer any physical harm/injury or death in the execution of these tips, I will not be held liable. I’m only half black, I was raised by whites and while I’ve never lived in the hood, I’ve driven through it a few times.

DISCLAIMER #2: This is all in good fun/tongue in cheek and should be taken as such.  If you have no sense of humor, please hear me when I say that while I’ve never set a man’s car on fire or busted out his windows, I do a superb angry black woman.  Peace OUT!

It’s Saturday…that means it’s Dear Gentle Writer Time!

Wednesday night’s football game got rained out so we have football today! I am SO READY for Basketball season to start!

Today’s Dear Gentle Writer question comes from Kelly in Kansas: I’ve been writing for five years now with little success beyond requests for partials, but that’s not my question. My question is what to do about my family. I’m a stay at home mom with two teenage children, a husband and lots of family nearby. We’re very close-knit and get along well–except on the subject of my writing. I write during the day while my children are at school, I never forget to pick them up, or the husband’s drycleaning. I’m a good wife, a good mom, a good sister and a good daughter, but I get no respect–and neither does my writing endeavors.

Last week I was late for lunch with my mom because I had to stop at the post office and mail a requested partial. I’m normally quite punctual and I did call to let her know but when I arrived, she was downright rude about it. She really hurt my feelings! When I told my husband what happened, he sided with her! Then told me, not for the first time, that all my contest entries and partials to agents were, “a waste of time.” And that I was taking food from our children’s mouths. And believe me, it’s not like he doesn’t make a good living. It’s almost made me want to get a job so I don’t have to rely on “his” money to pay for postage and contest fees but that would severely cut into what writing time I have. Or quit.
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Happy Birthday Baby Elvis!

So um, sixteen years ago today I gave birth to a redheaded baby boy. If you’ve seen photos of me with my dark hair, I promise, it was a fluke. (the red hair — not the baby. I know where he came from! LOL). Anyway, I can guarantee you that #1 son is like 99.8735% his mother’s son. He’s so much like me, I feel as if I should send the world a memo of warning (except, of course, for the whole ‘not reading’ thing). Since a new car is/was not on the horizon for this auspicious birthday, I had a really hard time deciding what to get him. He’s not exactly the easiest child to buy for–clothes horse thy name is Elvis! Needless to say, because we ARE so much alike, we have been known to have our knock down drag outs squabbles. For that reason, I chose to write my son a letter for his 16th birthday and I thought I might share some of the highlights. I’d share the entire thing but it ended up being like 5 1/2 pages long. Sorry for writing, like, the longest blog post ever!

Dear Elvis…I thought long and hard about what to get you for your birthday—other than a car that is. I finally decided that the best gift I could give you was to tell you some of the things I wish someone had told me at your age. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes or maybe even smirking or maybe you won’t even read all of this but I hope you do. And yes, it’s okay to laugh at your old silly mom, but I hope you’ll save this letter and look back on it in thirty or forty years and think to yourself that I was right about some of it if not all of it.

I promise not to say anything gushy about the day you were born—other than you were a gorgeous baby and I’m glad I had a c-section so your head wasn’t all smushed and funny looking.

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Another Q for the Gentle Writer

First off, if you’re not reading Jane Friedman’s blog, you should be (she’s the editorial director for Writer’s Digest books). She’s like Paperback Writer–honest and funny and educational and entertaining — can we ask for anything more? You can find Jane’s blog here.

Second, if nothing else, go read Jane’s post on the state of publishing. It’s well worth your time. Trust me on this. And thank you to Jeanne (Best Pimp Ho Evah!) for introducing me to Jane. Jane’s post reminds me of Mel’s Monday post here at SFC and my own post on Tuesday at NAS–just from a very different perspective. While I subscribe to the theory that we writers need to keep our head down and just write, I also think it’s shortsighted of any writer to ignore the current changes taking place not only in publishing, but in our world at large. A topic I could go on and on about but will probably save until Monday.

Third check out Jane’s interview on Writers and the Recession.

Fourth, I have BONESHAKER. *sticks out tongue*

Ok enough pimpage! Today’s Dear Gentle Writer question comes to us from Paula who hails from the Pacific Northwest: What’s a unagented writer to do when they’ve submitted to an editor (at a small press), had great e-mailed communication back and forth (over the course of several months) with praise and promises from the editor for a swift response. The editor says she has notes coming, yet more months later, the writer is still waiting for them. Forget it and move on? Submit something else, though their policy says only one submission at a time? E-mail again, though doing so hasn’t helped?

Dear Gentle Writer….What a quandary you’re in! I totally feel your pain too, and I’m sure you are not the only writer to be in this particular position.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you a couple of suggestions. I hope when this matter is resolved, you’ll email me so I can post an update.

A) If it’s been at least six months, I’d write her again, give her one LAST shot (say 30 days)–then cut your losses. Rapport or not, this is a business and to be frank, I subscribe to the Madonna School of Business. Your time is JUST as valuable as the editors. And while I realize editors are busy people and the work of current writers comes first, if you say you’re going to do something, then I feel you should do it.

B) If you have something else to query her with, and you really want to write for this publisher, go ahead and query her with it. What’s she going to say (since she’s been sitting on your work for months??)? No? Don’t do that? You’re a bad girl? Shame on you! WHATEV! Stop being so nice! (This from a girl who never sent out only one query letter at a time…I also rip the tags off my pillows and mattress–someone call the cops me on already).

C) While you wait over the next 30 or so days, formulate a back-up plan for that manuscript. Where else can you send it? Who else can you query with it? Don’t just sit around wringing your hands and clicking the refresh button on your email program! 😀 And then, on day 30, start sending out those queries!

Anyone else have any thoughts or advice for Paula?

Next week on Dear Gentle Writer….the family that “just don’t understand.”