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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Thetas Easter Eggs

I started writing the story that was to become The Thetas way back in 2011. Originally it was to be called, The Sorority, but I felt that was too generic, I then called it The Sisterhood, but I hated that title, I settled on the Thetas. I felt it sounded more like a sorority.

Colleen Anderson is actually one of my oldest characters. I created her way back in 1989 as the girlfriend of a superhero character I created called Blackwolf. I later used her in the early 1990’s in my early failed John Haynes stories.

The Thetas is the first book to feature a single character first-person perspective. Normally when I do first person perspective stories I use multiple characters so readers can have contrasting viewpoints. I feel these contrasting viewpoints allow the reader to be an observer of the action and come to their own conclusions about the characters and what’s going on.

But because pledging a sorority is so personal, I felt a single character perspective would give a reader an understanding of Colleen’s fears, insecurities and feelings of inadequacy regarding the experience.

The Thetas is set approximately about seven or eight years before Colleen met John Haynes in my unpublished book The Changing Soul.

And The Thetas is set 11 years before the events of The Temptation of John Haynes. And for you continuity hounds, The Thetas takes place 40 years after Isis: Death of a Theta and 125 years before the first Isis.

The Thetas was written to work as part of the continuity of stories between the Isis series and The Temptation of John Haynes. Following the story model of Marvel Comics I designed the novel to be an entry point with its own beginning middle and end. Readers have the option of reading it as a stand-alone novel or going on to read other books in the Isis series or reading the book the adult Colleen is featured in, The Temptation of John Haynes.

Colleen was originally supposed to get an expanded role in The Temptation of John Haynes. Unfortunately E’steem’s tale of redemption was just too compelling and Colleen got given a smaller role in the story. And when The Temptation of John Haynes took off and E’steem got a following in 2011, she got the push and Colleen got sent to the back burner.

Colleen wasn’t originally going to be the main character in The Thetas. I originally planned to introduce a brand new female protagonist but got lazy. 

Visually Colleen’s original design in my original sketches eerily looks like a Black Daria Morgendorffer in dress clothes. And her character personality mirrored Daria’s. I found this odd since I created the character way back in 1989 when MTV was actually broadcasting music videos and The Bronx didn’t have cable.

Because Colleen looked and talked like Daria, I wound up making major changes in her for The Thetas. That’s why Marcy and Abby take her glasses in the Rolls Royce. It was a sly way of implementing my Colleen redesign. Not to mention a fun way to symbolize how the glasses were the mask Colleen used to hide behind.

Throughout the story we see Colleen shopping for different pieces of clothing. It’s actually the original outfit she wore when I first created her.  She also wears that blouse, skirt and boots actually make an appearance in one of the middle chapters of The Temptation of John Haynes when she’s leaving him.  

Whenever I write Colleen, she sounds like actress Robin Givens in my head. It’s kind of a quirk I have. To me, Robin Givens has the perfect voice for a Black female sophisticate.

Colleen’s Aunt Margaret was inspired by Hyacinth Bucket, the character British actress Patricia Routledge played in the UK sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.  And like Hyacinth, Margaret puts up a prim & proper fa├žade to hide her dysfunction behind.

Colleen’s Aunt Margaret was a character who sat on my shelf for over 20 years. I never wrote a single story with her until The Thetas. Because Colleen sat on my shelf I never had to dig that deep into her backstory.

Colleen’s father Jack Anderson was inspired by actor Harry Belafonte. I thought he’d make for a great model for a distinguished father.

Dean Mother Linda Carver is inspired by actress Angela Bassett. Angela Bassett has a regal presence that I felt fit the formal demeanor of the most distinguished dean mother.  

Dean Mother Carver’s name Linda Carver is a reference to Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman in the 1970’s.

Dean Mother Dr. Reed is inspired by Vanessa Williams. Whenever I watch a Vanessa Williams performance I saw a lot of humanity and grace. And with Dr Reed being the most compassionate of the women I felt her voice best fit the character.

Grand Mother Edna Flowers is inspired by  professor Janet Flowers the woman who taught me introduction to Business and Organizational Behavior at Monroe College.  I learned a lot in her classes and really enjoyed the way she taught business.

Marcia Duvailer and Abigail Montgomery are inspired by actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry. The Mowry sisters and their passion for Christianity gave me the idea for Colleen’s sorority Big Sister. I was a big fan of Sister, Sister back in the day and I always wanted to base characters on the twins.  

Marcia Beaumont made her first Appearance in The Temptation of John Haynes. She’s a wealthy woman who made her fortune in Black hair care. She’s a running gag character inspired by actress Jackee Harry.

The address Colleen lives at  3430  Park Avenue is a nod to the apartment building I lived in growing up as a child 3430 Park avenue in the South Bronx.  I couldn’t fit in #3C to reference the apartment I lived in this time.

The Thetas formal dress and formal demeanor is a nod to the graceful Black Ladies of the 1950s and 1960’s such as Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz and Dihann Carroll.

The Statue of the goddess on the lawn of the Theta House is Isis.

Andrea Robinson is actually the former secret identity of Isis from the Isis series.

I used the Thetas as a gateway to bring the Isis character into the modern age.

Rumsfeld and Rosa are an in joke referencing the fictional sitcom All About Nikki featured in All About Nikki-The Fabulous First Season.

 In stories set in the Isis and John Haynes series, All About Nikki is a fictional TV series to those characters. And In All About Nikki stories All of my other books like The Thetas, Isis, and The Temptation of John Haynes are fictional stories to Nikki.

All About Marilyn’s story model has a heavy influence on The Thetas. The All About Marilyn story model was one of the most successful ones I’ve designed. A mix of action, drama and comedy, it’s a story model allowed for the development of multi-dimensional female characters and rich storylines female readers enjoy.

After refining the story model in a screenplay format, I decided to start writing novels with it. I’ve used it on several older female characters such as Isis and Colleen and it’s helped readers relate to and identify with them.  

I didn’t think it was fair that Marilyn and Nikki got the better story model and my older characters didn’t get any of that rich storytelling and complex character development. So I’ve been working hard to give my older female characters a development upgrade.

A lot of research went into The Thetas.  A Lot. I had to remember what I read in classic books like E. Franklin Frazier's Black Bourgoisie, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and Lawrence Otis Grham's  Our Kind of People. I also read dozens of articles about the Black Elite so I could make the for the character backgrounds as realistic as possible.  These books were also used to reinforce my points about building Black businesses and wealth in the Black community. I wanted readers to understand that entrepreneurship and self-empowerment were things Black people such as Benjamin Banneker, Madame C.J. Walker and Ida B. Wells used to build themselves up during slavery and Jim Crow, and that Black people have always worked hard to achieve success.

The Book Pledged byAlexa Robbins helped me get a better understanding of sorority life. While Dan Freeman’s video Hazing is for Bitches (one of many great videos deleted when his third YouTube account was flagged and deleted) gave me a better understanding of modern Black sororities.

I read dozens of articles about sororities and visited dozens of websites to get a better understanding of sorority life. I wanted to make the pledge experience feel as real as possible. Many of the activities pledges participate in are to build character and to help them form a strong relationship with their fellow sorority sisters.

My original plan was to present The Thetas as a dark dysfunctional picture of sorority life. But around 2AM one night God told me I was going in the wrong direction.  Listening to him for the second time (the Cassandra Cookbook was the first) I changed the direction of the book to a more positive lighthearted one.

The Thetas almost didn’t get published. After I wrote this story, I hated it. Really hated it. In spite of my best efforts I felt it didn’t come together as smoothly as my best work The Temptation of John Haynes and All About Marilyn. In those stories readers could see the elements such as irony, foreshadowing and symbolism clearly. I felt I struggled presenting those literary elements and I thought readers would miss my points about womanhood and female identity.

I also feared many would not get all the artistry behind the examination scene, where Colleen is stripped naked and questioned by the Dean Mothers. I feared The irony of how the supposedly feminist “strong independent Black woman” Colleen was forced to show true strength of character by accepting the support of the Sorority sisters after falling on her face would go over people’s heads. The way I saw it some would take that scene and sexualize it. When my point was about how the emotionally vulnerable Colleen showing the strength of character to swallow her pride and realize she needed help.

I was also uncomfortable about the references to masturbation, pubic hair waxing and feminine hygiene. With The Theatas being a Young Adult novel, I feared many teenage girls and young women would get offended regarding my views about female health.

The way I see it more women, especially Black women need to get a better understanding of their bodies and how to care for them. Too many Black women who grow up today are taught from an early age to be ashamed of their bodies by Mothers who are ashamed of their own sexuality.

I believe it’s this sexual shame is what prevents generation after generation of Black women from learning how to care for their bodies properly.  Many Black women need to understand that their bodies aren’t nasty, they’re natural. I feel if more Black women start talking about their bodies and see them as natural instead of in a sexual objectified way, they’d become more comfortable with them.

I also wanted to give teenage girls and young women understand that certain types of clothing like thongs, and g-strings weren’t sexy in and of themselves. Underwear has a form and function. Any sexual connotation placed on Women’s lingerie is something Madison Avenue And Hollywood use to sell products to men and women.

The way I see it, the sexualization of these garments is what prevents many from wearing them for the right reasons. Sometimes a woman needs to wear a thong or a g-string under a close fitting or low-rise garment, or to get more freedom of movement under her clothes.

One of the things I make an effort to do in my stories like All About Marilyn, and The Thetas is to desexualize female nudity. I really want girls to understand that while they are sexual, their bodies aren’t sex objects. It’s a person’s actions that are sexy. Sexy is a state of mind.  A nude body by itself is not sexy. It is the person’s actions while nude that can be considered sexual.

Because I was so disappointed with The Thetas I planned on abandoning the script. But since I put over two years worth of work into it, I decided to let the audience decide whether they liked it or not.

And to my surprise the audience likes it a lot.

The eBook version of The Thetas with over 1,000 downloads since I published it in May 2013. I was surprised with the numerous enthusiastic five-star and four-star reviews the book has received. I had no idea that the book would be that well received.

I’d love to do a paperback run, but I just don’t have the cash right now. Maybe if I start getting more sales I’ll see about offering a paper version to readers. 

Until then, You can pick up a copy of The Thetas for Kindle today! 

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