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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Temptation of John Haynes Now Available At And Online Retailers

Now Available from SJS DIRECT

ISBN 978-0-615-42592-4

Retail Price $15.00

Paperback Now Available at, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.

Also Available in E-book for Nook, Kindle and Smashwords for $2.99!

The Devil doesn't like John Haynes.

To take his soul, Lucifer recruits E'steem a beautiful she-demon to seduce him. If she can persuade John to compromise his beliefs and values, he'll allow her to join his Elect, a cadre of powerful demons in his inner circle.

To balance the playing field in E'steem's favor, Lucifer isolates John by having him fired from his job. Unemployed and emotionally vulnerable, John eagerly takes what he thinks is the job opportunity of a lifetime as CEO of Morris Phillips. Distracted by his new high-powered job and its many duties, he has no idea that Lucifer secretly controls the multinational corporation or that his live-in assistant is a she-demon placed there to corrupt him. However as E'steem becomes romantically involved with John, she's torn between achieving her theocratic aspirations and saving the man she loves from eternal damnation.

The Temptation of John Haynes Chapter 1

I stare at my reflection in the scratched plastic window of the crowded D train as it bolts into the 7th Avenue Station. I should have followed Colleen’s advice and called in sick today. Said something cute to the receptionist like I had a broken heart or something. But if I stayed home I don’t think I’d ever get out of bed again.

Even though I’m hurting I don’t want to act like a guy who just got dumped. Living in the gentrified ghetto of Harlem with a mortgage and bills to pay I can’t afford to turn into that dirty unshaven brother because my woman left me. By the end of the month the bank would be foreclosing on my condo and realtors would be posting ads for it. Besides, work will take my mind off Colleen-

I think about what she told me this morning watching the silver E train race into the station in the opposite direction. I guess over the past five years we were going in different directions. Changing into different people. The polished businesswoman I know today is nothing like the frumpy Goth I wanted to marry-

I crack a smile thinking about happier times as the subway doors close. The forced grin eases tension inside me as the train bolts into the Rockefeller Center station. I get off the train, march up the stairs, and through the turnstile. On my way to the 50th Street exit I rush through the mezzanine of underground shops outside the subway station. I’d stop off for a donut myself, but I just want to be alone in my office for a couple of minutes.

My watch reads 8:45; I’ll be able to have that moment alone if I move quickly. I hurry up the stairs and turn the corner of 50th Street to enter the Rockefeller Center office tower. I twirl through the polished brass revolving door and dart through the lobby over to the elevator bank servicing floors 2-18. When the elevator opens on the tenth floor I find my assistant Carla standing in front of the reception desk shaking nervously. I wonder what has her rattled so badly.

“What’s going on Carla? Somebody do something to you?”

Carla’s eyes fall to the floor. “Eric wants you to go directly to his office.”

Carla somberly shuffles back to her desk. Whatever her problem is I’ll talk to her about it when I get out of this meeting. I turn left and walk down a long Berber carpeted corridor then turn the corner. At the end of the hall is a tall ash colored wooden door with the name Eric Tuttleson, Vice President inscribed on a brass plaque. I open the door and the short wavy haired mocha colored man in the Birdseye business suit turns away from the picture windows he’s staring out of to greet me with a scowl. I smile at him hoping to break the tension swirling around the room.

“You wanted to see me?” I ask.

“Yes. I did John.” Eric snarls. “Have a seat.”

Hearing the twangy nasal sound of his voice makes me uneasy. He’s knocked it up a few octaves to make himself sound White. Eric peers down contemptuously at me as I ease into the smooth black leather office chair in front of his glass-topped desk. When my brown eyes lock into his green contacts I hear the anger in his voice.

“John, I’m going to be frank with you. I never really liked your work.”

So he’s not a fan of my work. He should be a fan of results. I have a long track record of successful product launches. I’ll stand behind everything I’ve done here.

“I don’t understand why you’re displeased.” I reply. “Since I’ve become Director of Marketing a year ago the public has a better awareness of our products than in the history of the company.”

“Your “thang” is not what I want representing this company.” Eric mocks. “Now you’re an excellent worker, but your vision for Sunrise’s future is not in tandem with mine. I need people on my team who can see things the way I do.”

“I see us making a lot more money than we did five years ago.”

“Productivity isn’t the issue here John.” Eric continues. “In order for an individual to grow in a corporate culture they must have values similar to those of the group. After reviewing your resume and background it’s clear you’re not going to fit in with the members of the overall Sunrise senior management team.”

Listening to his arrogant comments it seems who I am rubs him the wrong way. Since I’m just a common Negro to him and not one of those Blacks with a high-class pedigree I’m not supposed to be working in this kind of job. In his Sunrise Foods, senior management jobs are only for those Blacks who have the honor of tracing their bloodline back to their slave masters. My bad for working hard and getting promoted on the merits.

“My resume and background were quite impressive when I was hired five years ago.”

“For someone working in an entry level position.” Eric dismisses. “However, Sunrise Foods needs a creative visionary with a more refined background to supervise our marketing department. My ideal candidate would be someone whose experiences have enabled them to gain an expanded perspective of the world. An individual with a degree from a top university who worked at an internship with a major corporation. This more well-rounded individual would be more suited to the task of running our department than someone of your limited experiences.”

By using big words and jargon he thinks I won’t know he’s just insulted me. Normally I wouldn’t say anything and just walk out of the room. But this Tom has pissed me off in his pitiful attempt to patronize me. I’ll show him how smart I really am.

I get up out of my seat and put on a friendly smile. “Basically I have too much bass in my voice.”

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating-” Eric says backing away.

“I’m not insinuating anything. You said I was too “ghetto” to be a manager here.”

“I never said that-”

“You implied it.”

Eric gets nervous. Called on his game the worm shows his true colors. “In my professional opinion it was a mistake for the lower level managers to promote a person with your background to this junior executive position. Now I’ve had a substantial severance package directly deposited to your account-”

“Wait-You’re firing me?”

“I just don’t see a place for you here at Sunrise Foods John. I can’t send you back to market research.”

“You don’t want me telling the masses about your paper bag test.”

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating John. Your employment here is at will. I can terminate you at any time for any reason.”

Figures the craven elitist would use company policy to cover his actions. The coward probably researched this down to the last letter of human resource law so he could have every legal justification for firing me. It seems that this old proud Black owned company isn’t as Pro-Black or as self-aware as it purports itself to be.

“I guess I have two weeks notice.”

“Actually, I’d like you out of the building as soon as possible. I’m sorry you wasted so much time in your professional career with us.”

Eric hits a button on his intercom. The door opens abruptly and two burly security guards storm the room. I guess they’re here to restrain me in case I decide to get violent like all those thugz he sees in the gangsta rap videos. The only person embarrassing himself will be Eric Tuttleson. I’m not giving him the satisfaction.

“I’m sorry I wasted my time with you too.”

“Guys, could you please escort Mr. Haynes out of the building.” Eric requests cheerfully. “Thanks a lot.”

Oh, I’m John in private and Mr. Haynes in front of company. He’s lucky I’m a Christian or I’d curse him out. Carla nervously shuffles into the office with a white cardboard box containing my belongings. I can tell by the disgusted look on her face she didn’t want any part of this.

“I’m sorry John.” Carla says.

“Don’t be.” I say giving her a smile.

As I take the box from her, the chocolate colored brother to the left of me gestures for a canister on his belt. “Brother you ain’t got to reach for the pepper spray.” I tell him. “It ain’t going down like that.”

The guard pulls his hand away from the canister and I’m escorted down the corridor to the elevator bank. My heart pounds in my chest as I check the contents of my box. Joe Fixit Hulk action figure, Egyptian Queens calendar, post it notes, Vanessa Williams CD, Luther Vandross CD, Whitney Houston CD, Broken Batman mug I use as a pencil cup, Hudson College coffee mug, my winter gloves, stapler, legal pads, Rolodex, framed photos of Colleen and me, ten framed achievement awards that hung in my office. Carla did a good job of packing all my personal effects. Everything is all here.

One of the guards hits the down button and the officers follow me into the car. I take deep breaths to calm myself until the elevator opens in the lobby. It’s not until I twirl through the brass revolving door and walk out onto the sidewalk that they turn around and head back to their posts.

I keep my eyes down on the contents of my box as I turn the corner. I need to get down to Tiffany’s and get my money back from Colleen’s engagement ring-

I’m sorry.

Thankfully the tall red-suited stranger doesn’t appear upset by my violation of his personal space. I’m about to apologize, but the warm smile on the burly Black man’s face tells me there’s no love lost.

“I’m sorry.” I say.

“That’s all right brother.” The smooth voiced stranger says. “You have a good day.”

“Thanks man.”

When the stranger turns and walks down Sixth Avenue, I continue walking up towards Fifth Avenue. The faster I get this refund, the faster I can get started on my job hunt.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why There are No Black Nominees at the 2011 Oscars

This year there were no African-American Academy Award nominees.

There’s a reason for that.

There were no good performances by African-American Actors in 2010.

There were no good movies by African-American filmmakers in 2010.

It’s an all-White Academy Awards for the first time in ten years. And that’s Black America’s fault.

African-Americans have been spoiled by years of good performances and years of Oscar Nominations. Many Blacks in Hollywood took their position for granted and didn't bring their best to the table this year.

Sorry, but an Oscar nomination is a privelege and an honor. It's not a right. There is no minority quota slot for any Academy Award category. Academy Award nominations are EARNED, not handed out for just making a movie or starring in one.

The quality of Black cinema has been CRAP over the past decade. Poor screenwriting, inept direction, and bad acting are all hallmarks of most Black films nowadays. Not to mention poor editing and cinematography. Do Black Filmmakers know how to frame a damn shot? Do they know how to transition between two scenes properly? Do they know how to set up a series of film sequences to make them flow into a cohesive film? Do they know how to infuse artistry into their cinematic vision and give moviegoers a unique experience? Do they know how to write a tight screenplay with well-developed multidimensional characters? Do they even CARE?

Look at this year’s pitiful offerings made by Black filmmakers or producers this year: Why Did I Get Married Too? Death at a Funeral? Our Family Wedding? Lottery Ticket? Just Wright? For Colored Girls? Frankie & Alice? These are supposed to be Oscar worthy films?

I don’t think so.

None of these films are even in the league of Black Classics like Do the Right Thing, or Boyz N The Hood Malcolm X, or What’s Love Got to Do With It. They’re not even in a league with good films like Antwone Fisher, The Longshots, Pride, and The Great Debaters.

Seriously, the only noteworthy films for the whole year I can think of featuring African-Americans were Book of Eli and Night Catches Us. And even they had their flaws.

An Oscar quality film is supposed to be the best. This means a film that is so cinematically well crafted it flows from first frame to last. The story is on par with the classic literature of a great novel. It’s a movie with themes and messages that transcend time and appeal to universal truths about the human condition. It’s unique, distinct and something special.

What was unique about Why Did I Get Married Too, Death at a Funeral,  Our Family Wedding, Lottery Ticket, Frankie and Alice, Just Wright Book of Eli, For Colored Girls or Night Catches Us? I can’t say any of these films were as visually unique or distinct as The Great Debaters or any of Spike Lee’s films. I can honestly say none of them featured stories that spoke to the human condition the way Do The Right Thing or Malcolm X did.

Yeah, Hollywood is racist, sexist, homophobic and insensitive. But I can’t use that as an excuse for the lack of Black nominations this time. A lot of Black filmmakers have been following Tyler Perry and and Lee Daniels and half-assing it for a couple of years now and they’re just reaping the rewards for their own laziness.

How seriously are people supposed to take Black cinema when there are THREE films featuring FIVE Black men in dresses this year? And a movie about BLACK MAIDS in JIM CROW AMERICA?

If this is our BEST for 2011, then Black America better get prepared for another year of all-white Oscar Nominees.

Plain and simple Black Filmmakers are gonna have to GET IT TOGETHER. If Black Filmmakers, Black actors and Black Directors want to earn critical acclaim, they’re gonna have to improve the quality of their films. This means writing tighter well-crafted screenplays featuring unique stories. Actors doing more self-examination before taking a part; digging deeper and doing more research on roles. Directors having a vision for a film before shooting starts. Cinematographers learning how to frame a shot. Music that sets a proper mood. Film Editors learning how to cut a film so the sequences transition properly and it flows as a cohesive story. Everyone is going to have to come together and work as a TEAM so the finished film will be the best it can be.

If Black actors and Black filmmakers want to work towards winning an Oscar they’re gonna have to STEP IT UP. BECAUSE THE BEST THEY OFFERED LAST YEAR JUST WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH.


I know i said a return to articles are was gonna be delayed for a while but I had to post this as I was feeling very passionate about this subject.

But there's Big News still coming on Monday!

All About Epilogues and a final Note

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read these chapters of the All About Marilyn Novel. I hope you enjoyed it.

I left the original first draft unfinished in the middle of Chapter 9 in 2007. But I decided to finish writing that chapter this week so I could conclude the first act of All About Marilyn with a cliffhanger.

So why didn’t I finish the book? Well, I felt most of the depth and substance was lost in the translation between the novel and the screenplay. In the screenplay there were these powerful elements of contrast, irony, foreshadowing and symbolism. The characters there were a lot richer, more complex, and more layered. I really felt the novel’s story was kind of one-dimensional compared to the screenplay.

It frustrated me how theme of contrast was missing from the novel. In the screenplay, the contrast theme is a critical component to the structure of Marilyn’s story. In the script I set up a series of visual contrasts so the reader could see the difference between Hollywood’s celebrity fantasy and real life. That theme wasn’t coming across clearly in the early draft of the novel the way I wanted it to.

I also felt a major piece of symbolism was lost in the novel translation. In the novel the reader really doesn’t see how Marilyn’s life is fragmented in the scene where she’s in her apartment. In the screenplay we clearly see the two worlds Marilyn Marie lives in with the pictures in her living room and her bedroom. In the living room, the public space in a home the pictures tell the story of the Marilyn Marie the public knows, a faded Hollywood starlet. Meanwhile the bedroom the most private space in a home the pictures tell the story of the Marilyn Marie her friends know, a kind Christian woman with close family and friends. The symbolism of the two rooms is supposed to be concluded in her New York apartment when all the pictures come together to tell the story of a whole Marilyn Marie, with the final nude sketch, a rough unfinished work representing her future.

And it wasn’t coming across how Marilyn’s Television show All About Nikki was actually a reflection of the world she lived in with the novelization. I wanted readers to ponder: Does Television influence real life? Or does real life influence Television? When Marilyn is tormented by the Nikki Desmonds of the world like Lori, Natalie, and Holly in the screenplay it feels like she’s been living in the Twilight Zone for the past fifteen years. However, in the novel it didn’t really come across that Marilyn was being victimized by twisted reflections of the character she played on television.

I also felt readers wouldn’t really get to see Tabatha’s meth fueled insanity clearly. Since the entire book would have been told from Marilyn’s perspective, I felt readers wouldn’t understand Tabatha’s motivation or the reasons for her paranoid Meth-fueled rampage. With the screenplay we really see the paranoia associated with Tabatha’s meth use and how her drug-addled fear builds into the powerful climax at the conclusion of act one.

Even more frustrating to me I felt the novel really wouldn’t convey the surrealness of the fight between Marilyn and Tabatha. From the Master Shot perspective of the screenplay we see the fight as the kids see it, a catfight between Tabatha Strong and Nikki Desmond. In the kids’ eyes, Marilyn and Tabatha aren’t people; they’re characters they see on TV. So the fight happening in front of them is like some tabloid TV show footage. It doesn’t become real to the Clown (His character is the representation of people in the real world) until Marilyn is losing, and reality really doesn’t sink in for the rest of the kids in until Tabatha’s meth-fueled violence gets bloody. That’s when the dream twists into a nightmare that makes the audience see the real people behind their fantasies.

But seeing where I made my mistakes four years later, I’m tempted to finish writing the remaining two acts of the All About Marilyn novel and abridge the first act with the new opening scenes from the final draft of the screenplay. From the chapters I’ve already written I feel the novel has promise. I wonder if I can fit those layers and substance in the story and make the novel as rich and multidimensional as the screenplay. While the story is simple, there’s so much great subtext in Marilyn’s story. It’d be a challenge to translate all those great literary elements going on between the lines of the screenplay to the pages of the novel and try to capture the spirit of the screenplay in a new medium.
A return to articles are gonna be delayed for a while. Big News on the reason why on Monday!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All About Marilyn Final Chapter and another note

The clock on the dash reads 6:55 as I drive down Wilshire Boulevard. Production trucks, trailers, and production crews are all over the street. There’s a movie shooting here and from the looks of things it’s a big studio feature. There must be at least a four or five hundred people here. If I get this job, I might be able to pay bills for a while.

I find a parking space on a side street and fix my hair and make up. After I check myself out in the rearview mirror, I get out of my car and make my way through the crowds on Wilshire. A group of burly guards in yellow security jackets checks names with the lists on their clipboards as they let people through the barricades that separate the location from the street.

“Name.” One of the guards gruffly requests as I approach him.

“Er…Marilyn Marie.”

The guard looks down at his clipboard. “Don’t see a Marilyn Marie here.”

“There must be a mistake. I was told there was an audition here. I’m supposed to be on the list-”

“Audition?” the guard inquires with a quizzed look on his face.

Ava cuts through the guards and smiles at me. “Er…She’s with me.”

The guards give me a once over then grimace at Ava’s smile as they open the metal barricades to let me through. That’s odd, usually when I’m doing a reading I’m on the list and everyone knows it. Well, I did get the audition yesterday afternoon. Maybe no one had time to revise the call sheet.

Ava leads me over to the commissary tables where a bunch of extras and crew are chowing down and schmoozing. I get some answers to some lingering questions.

“Why wasn’t I on the list?”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“Why shouldn’t I? You don’t have a script, I’m not on the list, is there a job here or not?”

Ava gives me no answers as a PA approaches us. “Ava, you should get your extras up over by the commissary tables for attendance.”

So that’s why she didn’t have a script. She was supervising extras!

Ava smiles back at the PA. “Will Do.”

Ava turns away to address the extras. I’m not through with her. “Extra? You said this was a supporting role!” I snarl grabbing her arm.

Ava pulls out of my grip and scowls at me. “Look, you do the extra work, network with the producers and maybe you can work it into a larger supporting role.”

Work it into a larger supporting role? That’s bullshit and she knows it. Once the producers and directors cast their roles and contracts are signed, nothing changes. Extras do not work their parts into larger supporting roles. Stunts like that would bust a production’s budget.

Ava pastes on a smile to reassure me. “Look, this is gonna work out. Trust me.

Clearly I’m not working with someone who is professional or ethical. Bri would never pull something like this. Sure people steal clients all the time, but no one lies about having jobs they don’t have. That kind of stuff can cost an agent their reputation and their license.

I have to get out of here; the longer I stay the bigger the chance I put AATA’s reputation at risk. The entire agency could lose its business if the producers found out what Ava was doing.

I’m rushing past the commissary table when a familiar face spots me. I light up as one of my best friends on the set of All About Nikki approaches me.

Man, I haven’t seen Garrett in over 15 years. The tall muscular chocolate colored man dressed in jeans, a button down shirt, and spice tan Timberland boots looks much sexier than the slender kid with a high-top-fade who used to run around our set making copies and getting coffee for everyone. I wish I looked a bit more presentable.

It looks like the business has been treating him well. From the looks of the production tag around his neck and the binder he’s carrying seems to be a big wheel on set. Maybe he’s a script supervisor or an assistant director. I wonder if he’s married yet.

“Mari. Man, I haven’t seen you in years.” Garrett greets giving me a big hug. “How you doing girl?”

“Surviving Garrett.” I reply. “You still a PA?”

Garrett smiles proudly. “PA? Man, I’ve come a long way since your show back in the day. I got my greenlight.”

I can’t contain my excitement. “This is your movie?”

“Yep. We’re finally shooting SELL OUT.” Garrett says handing me his binder.

I flip through the shooting script; it’s almost word-for-word to the screenplay we tried to pitch to Apex Studios fifteen years ago. Except back in 1996 they said it was too “urban” and it wouldn’t appeal to my white tween and tween demographic. But it was okay for that same demographic of kids to see me naked and having sex onscreen in Dark Ride. Whatever.

“It looks like they didn’t change it too much.” I say handing him the binder back.

Garrett smiles at me. “It’s a miracle it made it through this much intact. But a brotha is getting a nice fat production budget for making the changes they asked for.”

“How much?”

“$100 million.”

“Wow. The studio must really be behind you-”

“This is Apex Studios’ tentpole movie. We’re set for a July 4 release next year.”

I ask a question I probably know the answer to. But I just want some confirmation from someone on set who would know what’s going on. “Are you still casting?”

Garrett grimaces at me. “Man, we completed casting six months ago. The only scene with a lot of extras is this one.”

That confirms my suspicions. Ava had no connections. She was jerking my chain. Probably looking to use my name as a way to pitch to the list of younger clients she planned on stealing from Bri.

“Just like your old draft.” I say.

“So what bring you by Mari?” Garrett inquires.

I’d love to tell him what I’m really here for. But it’d be embarrassing to tell him I’m working as an extra on the same movie I helped him pitch to the studio fifteen years ago.

I paste on a smile and come up with an excuse as I extend my hand. “Er…I just came down to…congratulate you. Good luck on your project Gar.”

Garrett shakes my hand. “I’ll be looking out for you in my next movie.”

A PA runs up to Garrett and grabs him. They rush into a trailer down the street. I slink past the commissary tables and disappear into the crowds. Marilyn Marie can’t let Nikki Desmond ruin Garrett Williams’ movie.

I’m about to make a clean getaway. Then I pass by someone else who recognizes me.


I turn around; it’s the Clown I met yesterday out of his greasepaint and dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt. He lights up as he and his two friends approach me.

“I told you my name is Marilyn.” I snap.

The Clown swats his one of his friends on the chest. “See man, I told you I met Nikki Desmond yesterday!” He tells him.

“Can-can we get a picture?” One of the Clown’s friends asks nervously as he eases a digital camera out of his pants pocket.

I catch the awe-struck look on the kid’s face. It’s the first time he probably saw celebrity in his life. It’d break his heart if I said no to him. Guess I can spare a second.

“One picture.”

The kids hurry around me as the Clown’s friend hands his camera to another of the Clown’s friends. The Clown and the kid who asked for the picture stand on either side of me. When the flash explodes in our eyes we take a picture with big smiles.

The flash of the kid’s camera sets off the rest of the extras and the production staff on the street. As the Clown and his friends look at our picture in the viewscreen of their digital camera, a herd of people rush up to me pulling cell phones, ipods, and digital cameras out of their pockets. Others pull out sheets of paper and pens. As they recognize me, I hear them scream her name.

“HEY THAT’S NIKKI DESMOND!” A girl exclaims.

“OH MY GOD! IT IS NIKKI! Another girl squeals.

The giddy mob of young adults regresses to a bunch of screaming children at the sight of me up close in person. I had to wear mules today.

I’m swarmed by young adults shoving digital cameras, cell phones, and sheets of paper in my face. There’s no way I’m going to make a quick getaway in these shoes; I’m going to have to work my way through this crowd if I’m going to get out of here.

I look down at the barricades a few yards away as I smile and sign autographs. If I plan this right I can get out of here in one piece.

“Oh, I used to watch your show all the time! A girl tells me as she hands me her call sheet. “I even had your doll!

“OOOOOOH! I can’t believe this! Another girl gushes as she hands me her schedule. “Can I get your autograph Nikki?”

The flashes of a dozen digital cameras explode in my face as I sign the girl’s schedule. The frenzy of the crowd reminds me of an appearance I did at the way back in 1994 at the height of Nikki’s popularity. I’d love to soak up the energy, but I know this isn’t about me. They’re just remembering the good times they had watching Nikki Desmond on Monday Nights.

The security guards at the barricades don’t seem to be caught up in the nostalgia, they see me trying to get away. The men hurry away from their posts and start making a wall between me and the hundreds of extras and production staff. I’m only about twenty feet away from the barricades when I pass by a trailer. Just a few more autographs and I’m outta here.

The flashbulbs of the digital cameras pop like firecrackers and the screams of the crowd turn into a roar. The crowd can’t be that excited about seeing me leave, someone else must be coming out of that trailer. Someone more famous than I am.

I find out who it is as I hear footsteps rushing behind me. I’m violently grabbed by the shoulders and my body is twisted around to meet the twisted scowl of Tabatha Strong.

“JUST WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE COMING ON MY MOVIE!” She screams at the top of her lungs.

The glassy look in her eyes of the tall blonde-haired-blue-eyed-starlet clad in only a bathrobe and Ugg boots tells me she’s high as a kite. It’s Meth; I saw it a dozen times on the set of Dark Ride.

My heart races in my chest as Tabatha’s manicured hands clench into fists. Maybe if I explain things to her she’ll go back to her trailer.

“I-I’m just trying to get out of here.” I explain.

“No, you bought your washed up ass here to take my job!” Tabatha orders.

“Tabatha, she can’t take your job. She’s not under contract.” a blonde woman in a black suit says.


The handler cringes on the threats; Tabatha turns her attention from her back to me and I feel her cold blue eyes cutting into my soul. The world is like it’s in slow motion; I feel the heat of the flashbulbs, I hear the screams of the crowd but I dare not make a move. Meth is a crazy drug. There’s no telling what she’s capable of doing.

“You’re not gonna take my job.” Tabatha orders.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I plead.


The crowd gets antsy in anticipation of something big happening between us. The flashbulbs and the chatter make the air tense. I’ve got to find a way to diffuse things. Maybe I can still reason with her.

“He’s a friend of mine. I just wanted to wish him luck-”

“You just wanted to take my job. Well, You’re not gonna do it. I’m not gonna let you do it. This is my job! I earned it and you’re not gonna take it from me you understand you’re not gonna take it from me not gonna happen you hear me-”

Her paranoid rambling gets to me. “You’re high. Go sleep it off.” I dismiss.

Tabatha puts her finger in my face. “Bitch you don’t tell me what to do, it’s not All About Nikki around here-”

The crowd is hot and looking for a fight. Something to make the tabloids. The Nikki comment gets under my skin. I catch myself before I say something I regret. “Look, don’t make a scene-”


The back of her hand swats against my cheek; I hear a smack then the screams of the crowd erupts into a roar. I’m hit so hard I’m knocked out of my shoes.

Camera flashes explode in my eyes like fireworks as I tumble to the ground; I put my hands in front of my face to protect myself from the violent onslaught. As the kids charge in for a better shot, Tabatha’s sheepskin and rubber boots kick me in the gut.

“THIS IS MY MOVIE!” Tabatha growls as she kicks me in the stomach again and again. “MY MOVIE!”


“SOMEBODY GET HER OFF HER!” Another girl barks.

Me having the crowd behind me infuriates Tabatha; her kicks and stomps become more violent. I gasp for air as I feel her boots stomping into my back, my kidneys and my ribs.

“HEY! LAY OFF MARILYN!” The clown yells.

I want to tell the kid to get out of here; he doesn’t know what he’s dealing with. This chick is high on meth and in a rage. I cough up blood as I try to catch my breath.

It’s hard to breathe; her kicks and stomps must have broken a rib or two. I’m sick to my stomach as I peer up and watch as the Clown charges at Tabatha. The crazed junkie takes the fight out of him with a kick to the nuts. The kid collapses to the ground.

A guard pulls him away and the other guards do their best to push the kids back. The crowd sees me bleeding and fights even harder to get pictures of the catfight between two Hollywood stars on Wilshire Boulevard. I’m on my knees when I hear footsteps charging at me then feel fingernails digging into my scalp. I see the hem of her white bathrobe as my face smashes into the pavement.

My blood spatters on the asphalt and I feel my forehead tearing from my scalp as Tabatha pounds my face into the asphalt four more times. My body goes limp; she stands over me and the kids who were eager to take pictures a minute ago are freaked out.

“OH MY GOD SHE’S KILLING NIKKI!” A girl screams.

“SOMEBODY HELP HER!” Another girl calls out.

“LEAVE HER ALONE!” Another cries.

Blood pours from my forehead; I’m so out of it I can barely think to wipe it from my eyes. I feel Tabatha staring a hole through me; I sense the feral woman’s footsteps as she stalks about my body for signs of life. She takes her eyes off me for a moment and I get to my knees and stumble into a crouch. As I scramble to get away from her, she grabs the back of my slipdress. I hear it tearing off my body as I make it to my feet.

I wobble several times; I try to keep my balance as I stand up. The world is a blur of screams and colors; I can barely make anything out but the shape of those steel barricades as I stagger about. Out of the blurs of sounds and colors in the crowd, I catch the crazed look in Tabatha’s blue eyes. Meth has turned her into wild animal; she’s not gonna stop pursuing me until I’m in a body bag.

The world goes from blurs of colors and sounds back in and out to blackness and silence. It takes all my concentration force my hands into fists. Blood pours into my face as I grit my teeth and focus. For a moment adrenaline clears my vision and I see Tabatha clad in her bloodstained white robe, her pale skin a beet red color from the rage she seethes in.

I put all my strength into one punch; I feel a fist slam into my jaw as I connect with air. The force of the blow is like a hammer; I crash to the ground and my head bounces off the asphalt. I barely make out the sinewy silhouette of a man in a black suit among the blurs of colors, sounds, and blackness.

“YOU DON’T TOUCH TABATHA!” Her bodyguard growls.

The blur of colors and sounds turn into long periods of blackness and silence. I hear some kids crying and screaming, others making calls to 911. I push myself to stay conscious. As I get another adrenaline surge, I see my blood dripping on the asphalt, my shoes scattered ten feet away from me, and the feet of the guards pushing kids back.

In the distance I hear Tabatha muttering about me not taking her job then glass breaking. The kids scream at me; “NIKKI GET UP! NIKKI GET UP!” I try to move, I try to push myself to get up; my body doesn’t respond. As I flutter in and out of consciousness, I hear footsteps rushing towards me.

My heart races as Tabatha’s bloodstained boots approach. I feel the weight of her body on top of me. She grabs my head by the hair and smiles at me; I let out a scream as I see the jagged edges of a broken bottle swung at me.

Tabatha looks me dead in the eyes as she smiles at me. “Now it’ll never be All About Nikki again.” She chuckles.

Tabatha jumps off me; I hear the bottle breaking in the distance as I feel blood running down my neck. My head slumps to the ground, my heartbeat slows, the world turns back into intermittent moments of silence and darkness then blurs of colors and sounds. I hear the sounds of kids screaming and crying. I make my last prayer to God before I die.

Father forgive me for the sins I participated in today. For betraying Bri. For disrupting Garrett’s movie. I’m sorry for all I’ve done. Just don’t let them suffer for what I did.

I hear my heart struggling to make beats, Garret crying, the sound of sirens. The last thing I hear before everything turns black and silent is a girl screaming:


There will be an epilogue explaining why I didn't finish the novel This Saturday. Then this blog will return to articles until the release of The Temptation of John Haynes on amazon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

All About Marilyn Chapter 8 and another note

The sounds of the morning news broadcasting from the TV wake me of a restless sleep. My eyes scan the room for the screen where I catch the Entertainment reporter interviewing Tabatha Strong. Man, I can’t believe she’s a star now. I remember when she was a shy little eight-year-old kid doing guest spots on my show.

The plucky twentysomething blonde dressed in the latest designer clothes smiles as the reporter shoves a microphone in her face. I manage to catch a snippet of her interview as I stir up.

“Yeah, on location shoots are like, so cool” Tabatha says through a pasted-on smile. “I just love interacting with my fans on set. You never know who you’re going to meet and you never know what’s going to happen-”

I catch green numbers on the VCR clock under the Television and my eyes grow wide. 6:07! Man, I can’t believe I overslept! I should have been up a half-hour ago!

I push my half-sleepy half-naked body out of bed and race over to the closet. No time to shower or do make-up; I’ve got 53 minutes to get downtown before the freeway traffic really gets crazy.

I rifle through the out-of-style clothes on the closet rod in my wardrobe and manage to find a black and white floral print slipdress from 1995 that’s passably stylish, step in some black cowboy mules from 1990, grab my portfolio and rush out of my apartment. When I get off the elevator, I make a frantic dash for my car in the parking lot and burn rubber driving out of the Serenity Towers Complex.

The blog will return to articles the Saturday after Next. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All About Marilyn Chapter 7 and a Note:

…Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Lori is walking down the driveway by the time I finish counting. I can’t believe her! She’s going to give me a ticket for a car I’ve driven in and out of here for fifteen years! Even though I’ve told her time and time again over the course of two years I can’t afford to replace it. God, where am I going to get the fifty bucks to pay this?

God, the month hasn’t even started yet and I’m fifty bucks in the hole. I grab my stuff and storm towards the front door. Carl, our doorman gives me a sympathetic smile as he opens the tall polished glass door for me. The gray-haired chocolate colored man takes my bags and walks me through the lobby over to the elevator. I reach into my wallet and pull out a five. Carl shakes his head no.

“Put your Money away Mari.” Carl says. “I can’t take your last.”

“C’mon you earned this Carl.” I plead.

“Girl, all the twenty dollar tips I get I should be giving you money.” Carl laughs. “You have a good day.”

“Thanks.” I say as I stick the five-dollar bill back in my wallet and get on the elevator.”

Carl waves at me as the elevator doors close. I take a deep breath during the short elevator ride. When the car opens on the third floor I’ve cooled down enough that I don’t want to punch someone in the face.

I storm past the painting of three maidens down the Berber carpeted hall to the front door of apartment #3C. I unlock the door, drop my bags in the living room and find the perfect place for Lori’s ticket: The wastepaper basket right below the framed sheet posters of All About Nikki and Dark Ride in the foyer. I’ll put this stuff away later. Right now I need a break.

I let out a sigh as I follow the Shrine to myself through the living room. Pictures of my TV alter ego are on framed covers of Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Tiger Beat, Teen, YM, and TV Guide right next to a photo of myself wearing a fabulous aqua colored gown underneath a caption stating I’m #36 of the 50 most beautiful people from a page in People Magazine. Right next to the article are a series of pictures of me with the beautiful people at famous events. The Golden Globes, the Emmys, and even one of me at the Oscars. The big premieres of some of the big 1990’s movies like Jurassic Park, True Lies, The Lion King, Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and Titanic. The openings of all the top Beverly Hills restaurants. Funny how all those famous people I used to know forgot my phone number when I stopped being popular. I don’t think I ever smiled for real in any of those pictures.

I pass by the cardboard standee of my TV alter ego in her Chanel Suit and scan the bookcase next to it. I’m careful not to jostle any of the props on the top shelf. In between A crystal clear bowling ball, a lime green Swatch watch Nikki wore all the time, and a neon sign that decorated Nikki’s bedroom are between two boxed All About Nikki dolls and a pair of rhinestone covered pumps. I can’t believe how many kids wrote me thinking these were real diamonds. I still laugh when I read those letters.

Below the props are videotapes of every episode of All About Nikki cataloged in the sequence they aired. I grab episode 13 from the second season off the second shelf. It always makes me feel better after days like this.

As I turn the corner into the bedroom, I smile as at the series of photos of my present-day life on the dresser. The intimate pictures show me helping Lucy in the Burbank Baptist kitchen, teaching kids the bible in the Sunday School, Posing in Jim’s gym with Shay and hanging out with Bri at the beach. I have none of the money but all of the fun. I pop the tape in the VCR in the adjacent armoire and push play. As the soft rock theme song starts, I flop on the bed, kick off my sneakers and socks and let myself escape to a simpler time in my life.

The show fades in on Nikki waiting impatiently down the stairs for Rosa as she timidly shuffles down with a Red Cashmere sweater.

“Miss Desmond, Your Red Cashmere Sweater.”

I watch as Nikki snatches the sweater away from Rosa and glares at her. “This isn’t my Red sweater! This is my crimson Sweater! Nikki shouts.

“They look the same”

“Maybe they’re the same in your country, but not here in America. Now go upstairs and get my red sweater!”

Rosa shuffles up the stairs as My TV butler Rumsfeld walks in on cue.

“Miss Desmond, which one of the cars shall I bring around?”

Nikki Flashes a wicked smile. “I really want to make the kids jealous.” Nikki says with a grin. “Let’s take the Rolls to school today Rumsfeld.”

My TV Dad strolls in dressed in a double breasted Armani Suit on cue and gives me a stern look as he tells Rumsfeld. “Rumsfeld, hold off on bringing the Rolls around. Nikki’s not going anywhere until she apologizes to Rosa.”

Nikki turns to her father and smiles. “Dad, Rosa’s not people. She’s help.”

The upset TV dad tells her “She has feelings just like you do.”

I wish people understood that I have feelings just like they do.

I always wondered why I identified so much with Rosa’s character. Now I know.

I am Rosa.

I’m not a person. I’m help. I dress up in a uniform, go to people’s homes for thirty minutes, make them laugh, make them feel good and then I leave. I clean out all the miserable feelings they pile up during of their workday and leave them ready to shovel more crap in the next day.

And just like Rosa, the Nikki Desmonds of the world who I work for don’t give a shit about my feelings. I look like a dude? I wish I could have turned the other cheek by punching her in the face-

The phone rings and interrupts the violent thoughts I’m imagining about beating the shit out of Natalie and Holly. I ease the cordless out of the cradle on the night table and cock it to my ear before greeting the caller with a pleasant professional tone. “Marilyn Marie.”

“Marilyn, this is Ava.” Ava says. “I wanted to talk to you about the project. It’s shooting at 3800 Wilshire Boulevard tomorrow at seven AM.”

This doesn’t sound right. Usually I get sent a side or a script for a part I’m reading for. What kind of job is she sending me on?

“Hold on. Casting in the middle of shooting? I don’t like where this is going-

“Look, this is a great part.”

“If it’s such a great part, you should be Fed Exing me a script right now-”

“Don’t worry. This is a great project. It’s gonna pay six figures.”

Six figures? That’s more money than I’ve had in a long time. I grab a pad and pen off the night table. “3800 Wilshire?”

“See you tomorrow morning at seven.”

I spring out of bed and hurry out to get my groceries. I’m hoping this is the last night I have to eat cereal for dinner.

I've approved the paperback edition of The Temptation of John Haynes with Lightning Source. So it should be up on Amazon and online bookstores in a couple of weeks. Readers will eventually have the option of paperback or e-book. This will be the first time ipad and Kindle readers will have a chance to buy one of my books!

There will be two more chapters of Marilyn, and then I'll be switching the blog back to articles until The Temptation of John Haynes hits Amazon.  When the book drops, I'll be posting sample chapters!

Friday, January 14, 2011

All About Marilyn Chapter 6

I turn the corner and drive down a palm tree-lined private driveway passing a gold and white billboard with the golden scripted Serenity Towers logo on it. I follow the arrow at the bottom of the sign and stop my car at the checkpoint tower in front of the tall white gates.

Charlie, our guard smiles at me as I punch in my private security code and flash my ID card. As the tall white mechanical gates slide open and I drive up the quiet cobblestone driveway, I peer up at one of Downtown Burbank’s most exclusive condo tower complexes. Three gleaming skyscrapers with a great view ocean view on the East and Downtown Los Angeles on the West. A gated community safe from the criminals and crazies who run amok in L.A.’s counties. Unfortunately, no one can protect us from ourselves.

The cobblestone driveway transitions into a black asphalt path as I drive past the fountains and manicured lawns of the front yard into the parking lot in the back. I drive down rows of top-end luxury cars find parking space 3C between a white Range Rover and a Blue BMW 7 series. When I shut off the purring engine, I hear the hiss of a seething woman.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of my parking space is Our Condo Association President and resident busybody Lori. The short, pudgy blonde woman dressed in an Italian tailored black business suit peers down at her clipboard as she scowls at my car. I wonder how long she’s been waiting for me to get back.

I get out of my car and get my groceries and gym stuff out of the trunk. As I approach Lori, she scowls at me then at my car. I’ll do my best to keep the peace.

“Good afternoon Lori, What can I do for you?” I ask easing my bags onto the sidewalk.

“Marilyn, I’d like to talk to you about the condition of your vehicle.” Lori snarls. “The other tenants don’t feel it reflects the image of Serenity Towers.”

I wonder who these “other tenants” are since I never hear anyone complain about my car at any of the tenant meetings. I just love how she projects her opinions onto everyone else. I’ll try to explain to her why I can’t buy a new car. Again.

“Look, I can’t afford a new car right now-” I reply.

“We understand your financial situation.” Lori continues. “But we feel you could use some of the equity in your apartment towards the purchase of a new vehicle-”

Hold on. Let me get this straight. I’m supposed to take out a second mortgage on the condo I paid off to buy a new car that reflects her image of Serenity Towers. Does she even listen to herself?

“Hold on Lori. You want me to go back into debt because you feel my car doesn’t fit in with the other cars around here?”

Lori gives me an indifferent look. “It’s part of the rules of occupancy. Code 13. Section 8. All tenants must keep well-maintained vehicles in the lot.” She parrots.

Lord give me strength. The parking lot rules were written to keep tenants from parking old rusty Junkers in the lot and leaving them. Our cars have to be in drivable condition. If I can drive it in and out of here I’m good.

“My car is well-maintained I just took it to the mechanic a few months ago.”

Lori walks around my car, peers down at the odometer and sneers. She strolls over to me and starts writing a summons. “Compared to other vehicles in the lot, this is not a well maintained vehicle. There are 185,667 miles on the odometer, the paint on the bumper is scratched, the body is faded and your headlamps are yellowed-”

“That’s normal wear and tear on a daily driver. I wonder how beautiful all these luxury cars would be after ten or eleven years up and down the freeway every day.”

“In order to maintain a good quality of life for all our tenants we need everyone to follow the Community Standards-”

Community Standards. She uses those two words to justify oppressing everyone around here with her totalitarian rules and regulations. If something doesn’t fit in her twisted interpretation of Community Standards it doesn’t belong here. She’s so caught up in enforcing her rules she’s forgotten the people she serves.

“I can’t believe you’re going to write me up over a car I’ve driven in out of here for over fifteen years-”

“Look, this isn’t the set of All About Nikki. You have to follow the rules around here just like everyone else.”

Dammit, it’s like talking to a brick wall. “You know I can’t afford a new car right now-”

Lori rolls her eyes. “If your financial situation prevents you from conforming to Serenity Towers Community Standards, then perhaps you should consider relocating. You have 45 days to buy another vehichle or we take you to the board. Good day Ms. Marie.”

Lori glares at me and hands me a pink copy of the ticket. She turns and struts down the driveway. I clench my fists and point daggers at her. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Harlem Book Fair 2011

I got an e-mail with an application for the 2011 Harlem Book Fair. It’s scheduled to for July 23, 2011.

Unfortunately, I’m sitting this one out.

Why am I staying home? I make no money at this show. In 2009 I spent over $400 to make $10. In 2010 I spent $300 to make $5. And I was selling books at discounted prices last year. As much as I’d like to help the community by trying providing a choice to brothers and sisters I just can’t afford to provide that choice to readers at the Harlem Book Fair this year. I’ve been out of work for two years now, my unemployment is exhausted, and money is tight. I have to cut my costs.

On top of the losses I ate for two years in a row, the rate for a table has gone up from $225 to $325. That’s too much money for a self-publisher like me to spend on a show I continue to lose money on. And from what I’ve observed over the past two years, the Harlem Book Fair isn’t a place for books like mine. The fair is more a venue where street/urban lit is sold; authors of contemporary African-American fiction like I write just get ignored for most of the day. Sadly during the fair I had more inquiries from white and Latino readers for Marilyn than black readers, and a handful of inquiries about Isis and Cassandra. That’s not enough support for me to invest money in getting a table.

Although I’m unable to attend the fair, I’ll still be persevering towards getting the word out about my books online. Instead of spending money for a table, I’ll be putting my limited resources to work towards releasing my last two books The Temptation of John Haynes and All About Nikki. In addition, my promotional efforts for all my titles will continue online with twitter, facebook, and MySpace.
I’m asking readers who would have attended the Harlem Book Fair looking for my work to buy my books on amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

All About Marilyn Chapter 5

Shay and I are in good spirits when our workout ends. We’re hot, sweaty and smiling. In between the bench presses, leg lifts, butterfly curls, crunches, sit-ups, and chin-ups, there was the usual ribbing, joking and talking about family. It felt great to hang out for a couple of hours and not think about my problems.
I check my watch as we stroll into the locker room. 1:26, the place is empty. It’s the calm before the storm. After three this place turns into a social club the equal of any on the Sunset Strip. The Snobber Moms and the Golddiggers storm the place looking to mack the actor wanna-bes, producers, and professional jocks who come here for their afternoon workouts. We should be able to grab a shower and get out of here before two.

I pop my locker open and unzip my bag. I pull out my flip-flops, and store brand bodywash. The sliver of green glop in the bodywash bottle doesn’t even drip down to the cap when I turn it upside down. I don’t think I’m going to get past lather and rinse today.

I hear Shay grunting. I turn around and the naked woman hands me a new bar of soap in the box. Wow. Dove. The last time I was able to buy this brand was five years ago.

“Thanks” I reply.

“Beats trying to stare that trickle of soap down to the bottom of the bottle.” Shay quips.

“I’m going to pay you back.”

“Just get me out of here by two and we’ll call it even.”

I check my watch. 1:28, enough time to lather and rinse. Still have a two-minute window if I have to repeat. I quickly peel out of my stale gym clothes and step into my flip-flops. We stroll over to the showers, wash off the morning’s sweat and towel off. I check my watch again as we change into street clothes. At 1:54. Shay smiles at me as she zips up her skinny blue jeans and tucks in her fitted red blouse. She’ll be right on time to pick up Thomas from Daycare.

I sling my gym bag over my shoulder and we head out of the gym out to the parking lot. Shay reaches into her purse as we pause in front of our cars. She counts off three one hundred dollar bills and smiles at me. I frown at the money. I thought we discussed this.

“Put your money away.” I plead.

“Girl take this money.” Shay insists. “We go through this every week-”

“Shay you know I’m not certified-”

“Look, I’d have to pay a trainer twice as much to get a body this foine.” Shay says posing for me. “You are worth every penny.”

Okay, I’ll take the money. This time. I really could use it to put a down payment on this month’s maintenance fee on my condo. And maybe a slice of pizza. But she has bills too. Shay might make six figures from her books and teaching classes at Stanford, but she can’t keep taking money away Terrence and Thomas to help me out.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

Shay gives me a look. “I’d rather watch you spend it on groceries than watch Terrence spend it on Playstation.”

I stuff the money in my front jeans pocket and smile. Since she puts it like that I don’t mind.

“I’ll see you Friday.” Shay laughs.


Shay gets into her SUV and I get into my convertible. We drive out of the lot and head in different directions. She heads uptown to the Day care, I head back cross-town eager to get home to learn the details about the six-figure job Ava wants to book.

Friday, January 7, 2011

All About Marilyn Chapter 4

It’s 9:33 when I get into my car and drive away from Burbank Baptist. With the traffic lights in my favor I arrive in the parking lot of Jim’s Gym around 9:45. I have fifteen minutes to get changed before meeting Shay for our workout.

She’s here; I see her black Mercedes SUV parked next to a Bentley. My old Mercedes sticks out like a sore thumb as I ease it into the parking space in between her truck and a polished pearl white Lexus LS 460. I get out, lock it up, open up the trunk and grab my gym bag and I hurry through the lot. I enter the gym through the polished clear glass front door, fumble through my bag, swipe my membership card at reception, and rush down the teak hardwood floors into the locker room. I catch my breath as I drop my bag in front of my locker.

I twist the combination, pop my locker open and look across the locker room for Shay. The fit bronze skinned woman dressed in only a pair of powder blue terrycloth sweatpants flashes me a smile as she catches my eyes. I smile back at her and unbutton my blouse. I’ll be ready for her in a couple of minutes.

I’m wrapping a red scrunchie around my hair when I hear high heels storming across the locker room floor. I turn around and my brown eyes meet the cold blue ones of fellow platinum club gym members Natalie Jacobs and Holly Evans. Snobber Moms. Rich women who have it all. Kids, career, a home in Beverly Hills and a rich husband to pay for everything else. I’ll try to turn the other cheek and keep the peace.

The two toned, tanned, well-dressed bleach-blonde women lean on the lockers between mine and fold their arms across their chests. Natalie brushes lint off the lapel of her blue tailored Italian business suit as she scowls at me.

“Hey Holly, look. It’s the movie star.” Natalie mocks.

“Is the gym crowded?” I ask.

“No. Everyone else is at work.” Holly snarls rolling her eyes. “We have jobs to go to.”

Shay cuts me a concerned look as she gets into her matching tank top. I telegraph a look back to her. I’m handling it.

I take off my blouse and hang it on the locker door. Natalie snatches it away and holds it up in the air. “Oh, a poet blouse.” She teases. “I haven’t seen one of these since college. Fourteen years ago.”

“Y’know what I tell my butler to do with old rags like these?” Holly says taking the blouse from Natalie.


“Why I tell him to use clothes like these to wax the Rolls.”

“Hey, isn’t that what Nikki Desmond used to tell her butler Rumsfeld to do with crap like this?” Natalie quips taking my blouse from Holly.

Great. Now they’re using jokes from the show to rub it in. “It was for an audition.” I snap snatching the blouse back.

“Are you really an actress?” Natalie snarls. “Outside of that stupid show I never see any of your alleged movies at the theatre or on cable-”

I pay no attention to their catty insults as I stuff my blouse in the locker and kick off my sneakers. As I step out of my jeans, I feel Natalie and Holly’s eyes on my body. The claws come out when they get a good look at my cut stomach and defined legs. Got to remember what Bri told me years ago when I read a story in the Sun that made me look like a junkie. They’re just words. And words can’t hurt me.

“Oh wait Nat- we did find one of her movies.” Holly retorts. “Down at Ralph’s in the 99 cent bin.”

“Yeah, we laughed our asses off watching it Saturday night.” Natalie teases.

More royalties for me. Thanks for the support bitches.

“Was that supposed to be a drama?” Holly jokes. “Cause it was the funniest piece of shit I’ve seen in years.”

“You did a great job handing change to that customer in that store scene.” Natalie says. “Maybe you’ll be ready for the real thing in a couple of years.”

Holly checks her Rolex watch then storms over to her Italian leather attaché on the bench across from me. “Come on Nat. We’ve got to go to work. We can’t be like the movie star here working on our six pack and our tan all day.”

Natalie isn’t through with me. She pats on my six-pack. “Better lay off the abs movie star.” She ribs. “You’re starting to look like a dude.”

Dude? Heifer, you wish you had a body like this. I put my head down and clench my fists. Natalie smiles at me, and grabs her purse. She flashes the multicolored Louis Vuitton pattern at me and slings it over her shoulder. I count backwards from ten as toss I my jeans into the locker and unzip my gym bag. I quickly change into a red spandex crop top and shorts, step back into my sneakers and wrap a white towel around my neck. By the time I reach zero Natalie and Holly are out of the locker room.

That crack on my abs sticks in my head; I throw my bag and portfolio in the locker and vent my frustration by slamming it shut. The few hardbodies standing around getting changed look at me funny; I count to ten again to keep from losing it. Shay gives me an understanding look as I storm out of the locker room and onto the gym floor.

Thankfully, the action on the gym floor is light; most of the machines are available. Shay and I should be able to get through our circuit in time for her to pick up Thomas from Day care at three. I head over to the treadmill stations near the picture windows. I punch in the program and start jogging to loosen up. I’m building up a good stride when Shayla strolls over to the treadmill next to mine. She punches in a program and starts a light jog. She smiles at me and I start to relax.

“Nikki Desmond would have told both those bitches off.” Shayla says.

“I start acting like her and I’ll never be myself.” I reply.

“And the fantasy will become your reality. One of the Catch-22’s of being typecast.”

“The other is being popular enough to be recognized, not popular enough to find work. I’d love to just get away from Nikki once and for all. Find a character that makes the world forget she exists.”

“You still wouldn’t be yourself.” Shay quips.

“I’d be working.” I retort.

“You still wouldn’t be yourself.”

“I’d be somebody to them.”

“But you still wouldn’t be yourself.”

“I can never be myself Shay. I play other people for a living.”

“You’re yourself with me.”

“You don’t watch TV anymore.”

“That’s why I’m so well-balanced. So how has life been treating you Marilyn?”

“Kicking me in the tits as usual.” I sigh. “Sabrina is retiring.”

Shay takes the news in stride. “I’m sorry.” She says as she picks up her pace to match mine.

“You know what’s funny?” I continue. “I come out of the meeting and her latest assistant starts pitching to me. Says she’s going to get me a part in a movie.”

Shay gives me a look. “Sounds like standard business in this town. Watch out.”

“I’ll give her a shot. I want to do one last job.”

“Marilyn, this girl doesn’t have a SAG Card-”

“I just want enough money to pay for college-”

“You’re talking like you’re retiring-”

“It’s not like I have offers pouring in lately.” I continue. “I’ve had what-three auditions in six months. Out of the three I only got one job.”

“Still, you’re just a little young to be talking retirement-”

“I’ve got what five six good years left on my acting career. I really need to start thinking about my future. And I always wanted to go to college when we were kids-”

“But you were taping the show back then. By the time I was finishing Grad School you were shooting that movie-what was it called - Dark Ride?”

My stomach turns hearing the title. It was the single worst experience I ever had shooting a movie. No, scratch that. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life. In between takes there were drugs, alcohol, and more drugs. The rest of the cast and crew were so stoned I swear that’s what they spent most of the production budget on. If it weren’t for God being with me I would have wound up a junkie like everyone else on that set.

Not too many people remember that steaming pile. I think it went direct to video-”

“I read the box. It sounds like something out of a MST3K feature.”

I give Shay a look. She smiles back at me slyly. I think she also found a certain DVD at the Burbank Ralph’s. “Don’t tell me you found it-”

“I was buying fruit for Thomas and they had it on the bargain video rack. I had to buy it.”

Thanks for the support Shay. I’m eager to gauge what an intellectual like Dr. Shayla Sims thinks of my acting in such a wretched mess.

“So what did you think Dr. Sims?” I ask.

“You better go to college girl.” Shay laughs.

Can’t argue with a professional opinion. “That bad?”

“That bad. Look, why don’t you come out to New York with me?” Shayla requests. “You could stay with us-”

I’d love to take Shay up on her offer. But she’s going to have her hands full juggling her four-year-old, her husband and her new teaching job in the city. She doesn’t need me getting in the way. Besides, if I moved out there I wouldn’t be able to work at all. Outside of the theatre, there aren’t too many auditions to go to on the East coast. I need to be here if I’m going to work.

“You know Terrence wouldn’t go for it.” I quip. “I can hear him ranting right now. “I don’t care how many TV shows the heifer been on she ain’t stayin in my house!”

Shay lets out a laugh at the dead-on imitation. “Come on Marilyn, back in the day we used to invite you in our house every Monday night. This wouldn’t be any different.”

That was TV. This is real life. “I left when you changed the channel.”

“I don’t want to leave you like this-”

“This is something I have to do for myself. Sink or swim, it’s on me.”

Shay gives me an understanding look as we pick up the pace. I hear my heart beating a mile a minute. We’re ready to do our circuit.

“Want me to spot you on the bench?” I ask as we get off the treadmills.

“Yeah.” Shay replies catching her breath. “How long are we staying?”

“Until two. We’re going to do a circuit.”

Shay glares at me as she slides off the treadmill. “Am I going to be in one piece when it’s time to pick up Thomas from day care?”

Okay, I know my workouts are kind of- grueling. But she can’t complain about the results. Four years after starting the Marilyn Marie workout plan she’s lost all her baby weight, gone from a size 12 to a size 4 and looks better in a bikini than I do. If I had my certification I could probably package my workout secrets on an infomercial and become a millionaire. But there’s no market for a workout video from a black woman. Sistas love their fried chicken and collard greens too much.

“I’m not going to work you too hard.” I tease as I ease off my treadmill.

Shay and I head for the weight training equipment across the room. It’s ten twenty; I’ll try to get everything in by around one-thirty for both of us. That’ll give us enough time to shower before she goes to pick up Thomas.

*Chapter 5 will be up next Thursday!*

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goals for 2011

Last year I made a lot of progress as a self-publisher and grew in my craft as a writer. Over the course of 2010, I met or surpassed many of the goals I wrote for myself. As I reflect on all the work I’ve done over the past year, I’ve come a long way.

 While I work  towards publishing two new titles in 2011, I want to continue building on the success of last year. My goals for the coming year include:

Increasing the sales of my titles. This is my primary goal for the year. While I have a growing audience of readers online, I’d like to see more of those readers buying my books on a regular basis. Self-publishing costs money and eventually I’d like to see some return on my investment. To get people spending money on my books, I’ll be trying new approaches to get the word out about my titles such as handing out club flyers or posting up sample chapters up on the blog. My lifelong dream is to have a best-selling novel, and I’m working hard towards that goal.

Expanding my audience. While I usually target my books at African-American readers, I’m surprised to find that I have white and Hispanic readers as well. Last year more white women bought copies of All About Marilyn than black women! At the Harlem Book fair last year, I had inquires about Marilyn from several white and readers in addition to Black readers. In the wake of that interest, I’m thinking of ways to persuade readers in other demographics to try my books.

Expanding my public presence. Currently I’ve used social media such as my blog, twitter, and facebook towards expanding my reading audience. But I enjoy doing events like the Monroe College Bookstore Booksigning and interacting with readers. I think my audience likes me and I’d like to get to know them better. I’m gonna try to find some way to do more events.

Improving my interpersonal skills. As a writer, I’m pretty articulate. As a public speaker, I struggle. I’m going to work on developing a sales pitch so I can discuss my titles with customers and make myself more engaging to them.

Developing books with an enjoyable reading experience. A book is not just a story. It’s a product. And customers need to be satisfied with that overall product if it’s going to sell. One of the things I’ve worked on since I was in my mid-20s was designing book interiors that were more reader friendly. When books are designed to make them easier to read, more people buy them and recommend them to their friends. I’ve learned little things like white space between paragraphs and bigger fonts can turn a good story into an enjoyable reading experience, and can build a publishers’ reputation. With each SJS DIRECT title I’m working towards making sure all the books produced from my imprint having a unique and distinct house style. I want to make sure there’s one uniform standard for screenplay books and one for novels.
Expanding my e-book catalog. Currently, All About Marilyn is available for the kindle. Next year I’ll also be offering my new book The Temptation of John Haynes in ebook format for the nook and the kindle and Marilyn for the Nook. Right now I’m learning the ins and outs of how to format books for the nook and the kindle, and I’m working towards making sure these books are the best quality possible.

Releasing more than one title. Next year I’ll be releasing two titles, one in the winter and one in the spring or summer. I’m hoping more titles gives readers more options. If I can work the kinks out of it and I still have income, The Isis Prequel, Trial of the Goddess will be released next year as well.

Working towards increasing quality control on finished books. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about errors in my earlier books like The Cassandra Cookbook. But I’m working on it. I study Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, The Chicago Manual of Style and The Bedford English Handbook regularly. I study online grammar sites. I’m working hard towards making sure that readers get a book with as few errors as possible. Eventually, I’d like to publish a book that looks like it can compete with the titles at a publishing house.

On covers, I’m working towards creating an attractive image that grabs the reader. Last year I tried outsourcing a cover and…It didn’t’ work out. This year I’m studying art so I can craft better art pieces to tell my stories in pictures on the front covers.

Do More Movie Reviews. I’ve watched a few movies like Black Dynamite that I enjoyed and I’d love to get some reviews up on Amazon and up here on the blog. But I’ve been so busy I haven’t had the time. Gonna try to get a review or two up next year.

Start a new fiction project. It used to be I wrote a new novel every year or every other year. The last piece of fiction I wrote was All About Nikki in 2009. Last year, I’ve focused most of my output on researching and writing blog articles, and outside of a couple of All About Nikki Season 2 episodes (4 completed so far) I haven’t written much fiction. I really want to start working on a new fiction project sometime this year. I have a few ideas rolling around for that next novel, but nothing to outline. Yet. I really want to maintain the level of quality I’ve established and I don’t want to give readers a substandard book.

I may not be there yet as a writer and a self-publisher, but I feel like I’m on my way. I see myself headed towards that next level. I’m hoping 2011 is my breakthrough year.

* Chapter 4 of All About Marilyn: The Novel will be up this Saturday* 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Screenplay Contests- Save your Money

It’s a new year, and that means the start for a new season of screenplay contests. There will be promises of cash prizes, more promises of getting a finalists’ screenplay read by Hollywood executives, and even more promises of winners securing representation from a Hollywood agent. Many aspiring writers with stars in their eyes enter these contests thinking they’re a gateway to getting their script sold.
Don’t believe the hype.

In 2009, I entered a couple just to see what it was like. It was a waste of my money and time. From what I learned during that experience many screenplay contest judges and readers don’t even read the thousands of screenplays submitted to them. Many outsource the reading of those scripts to complete strangers like friends, family, even people like their mailman! Others recruit readers from places like Craigslist for slave wages or no pay at all. So the chances of an aspiring screenwriter getting an objective reading of their work from a professional are slim to none.

Worse, those screenplays that do get read by this group of “readers” don’t get read all the way through. Some readers will pass on a script at the title page. A few will flip through to the last page and if the number is past 110 or 90 they won’t read it. Others will chuck a script after two or three pages. A majority read about 10 pages, and if they don’t like a script they trash it.

Some say, that’s how Hollywood works. But that’s now how Studio readers do their jobs. Studio readers are Union employees whose job is to read scripts regardless of how good or bad a script is from beginning to the end. The studio needs them to read an entire script and provide notes so an executive knows whether or not to consider a script, recommend a script, or pass on it. Their notes are extremely influential on whether an executive chooses to invest millions of dollars on greenlighting a project for production into a film.

Because their job is so critical to a studio’s business, Studio readers have to follow rules established by the Writer’s Guild of America and studio management regarding the handling and reading of screenplays. They can’t just chuck a script they don’t like after a couple of pages; the notes they write after reading the entire script detail the reasons why they’re passing on the material. If studio readers they’re paid to read the entire script, why should screenplay contest readers and judges be exempt from following industry standard protocol regarding the reading of scripts?

When Screenplay contestants pay a fee to enter a contest, it’s because they believe their COMPLETE script will be read and judged by film professionals. They pay a $50-$85 entry fee in the hopes of receiving an objective assessment of their writing and objective feedback from someone with an understanding of film and how screenplays work. Contestants don’t pay that kind of money to have a contest coordinator’s friends, mailman, or some dudes from Craigslist looking for a few bucks judging their writing.

From my experience and what I’ve been reading about most screenplay contests are nothing more than a cash grab for contest coordinators. Doing the math on screenplay contests:

$50x 3200 people = $160,000.00.

$60 late fee x 500 people $300,000.00.

Subtract about $15,000 for cash prizes and the rest is profit. And that’s just for the contests by themselves.

Many writers opt for the additional script coverage which costs $175-$250. The math on these numbers are:

$175 x 3,200 for detailed script coverage = $560,000.00.

$250 x 3,200 $800,000.00.

In addition to the contests and the coverage throughout the year, Screenplay contest coordinators offer workshops, seminars, and other events like networking with industry pros to help contestants “improve” their writing. This keeps gullible writers plunking down cash and keeps a steady stream of income into contest coordinators pockets out of writers’ wallets.

Doing the math again:

$250 a head entry fee x 50 people at the Sheraton/Holiday Inn for whatever event = $100,000.00.

$100,000 x 10 cities = $1,000,000.00.

Screenplay contests are a multi-million cottage industry for contests coordinators, but at the expense of aspiring screenwriters. Now the greedy coordinators feel so complacent about their steady stream of revenue from writers they don’t have to do things like read the scripts submitted to them. I say it’s time for writers to put down the pen and fight back. If screenplay contests are to be the gateway to selling a script, then they should have to follow the same standards regarding the reading and handling of scripts as outlined by the WGA.

Shawn’s advice to aspiring screenwriters: With the exception of the Nicholl Fellowship and the Sundance Film Festival, (where scripts are actually READ) avoid the screenplay contests and keep your money in your pocket. Instead of paying contest entry fees, invest in getting script coverage from a professional screenwriter or sending query letters to production companies. In either case, a screenwriter has a better chance of getting their entire script read by an industry professional and getting a fair and honest analysis of their writing than entering a screenplay contest.

*We interrupt the regularly scheduled content for a special report. All About Marilyn Chapter 4 will be up Next Saturday.*