Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Friday, December 31, 2010

All About Marilyn: The Novel Chapter 3

I take a deep breath as the elevator doors close. My heart feels like a rock in my chest. I can’t believe what I’m doing. But there wasn’t anything else I could do. I need to work. What other job could I do besides acting?

I’d love to follow Sabrina’s advice and get out of the business. But I can’t right now. I just can’t crack open a copy of the Los Angeles Times and search through the want ads to look for some office job. What am I going to put on my resume? Actress for seventeen years? Proficient in Drama and Comedy? The whole idea of me working in an office job is like a real-life episode of All About Nikki. Except it’s not funny. Most people wouldn’t have the patience to put up with all the mistakes I’d make let alone the disruption to their business from people recognizing me. I’d last a week, two tops.

Bri wants me to go out and have some fun. Not with $515.98 in the bank. Not with bills coming at me every month. Like it or not I’m in this business. With or without an agent I’ve got to find a way to make things work for me.

The elevator opens on the lobby. I hustle through the quiet marble and brass mezzanine and twirl through the revolving door. When I reach the sidewalk, I reach into my pocket and pull out my keyless entry, start up my old faded red 1992 Mercedes convertible and get in. It’s got 185,000 miles and some scratches, but it runs great and gets me where I need to go. And where I need to go is Church. God, I need some spiritual counseling. I hope Lucy can spare a couple of minutes.

The sun beams down on the Burbank city streets as I take the twenty-minute drive cross-town to Burbank Baptist Church. I ease my car into a parking space in front of the squat gothic building with colorful stained glass windows. I get out of the car and hustle up the front stairs. As I head into the foyer, I start to relax. I always feel so peaceful when I come here. In some ways this Church is like my home away from home.

The board states Breakfast at the soup kitchen ended about ten minutes ago, so Lucy should be in her office. I make a left around the back pews and head down the hall. I turn another corner and find the slender young Mexican woman in sitting at her gnarled wooden desk dressed in jeans and a crisp white blouse. Her eyes light up as she peers up from the keyboard of the old IBM PC she’s typing on.

“Marilyn.” Lucy greets with a warm smile. “How’d it go with Sabrina?”

I hate to give her the bad news. “Sabrina is retiring.” I sigh.

Lucy’s face turns gray. She hides her sadness with a polite smile. “It’s for the best. God knows what he’s doing.”

“She says she did it for me to wake up.”

“The life of an actress is like a dream.” Lucy continues. “No matter how bad the fantasy is, sometimes it hurts more to wake up and face reality.”

“She wants me to get out of the business.” I snarl.

“Maybe it would be best.”

“Lucy, what would I do? I’m a 34-year-old woman with a high school diploma and no skills. No one is going to hire me to do anything but acting-”

“You could go to college-”

I put my head down thinking about how I blew that opportunity seventeen years ago. I had a full paid scholarship to Stanford waiting for me right after graduation. Room, board, tuition were all paid for. Me, Lucy, and my best friend Shayla were going to room together in the same dorm and hang out just like we used to do at Burbank High. All I had to do was show up in the fall. Then I got the offer to do the pilot for All About Nikki a week before graduation. My parents got stars in their eyes and all my dreams of college went out the window. They thought the show was a once in a lifetime opportunity and insisted I do it. They told me I could go to college after the show ended. How I was going to have so much money I could do whatever I wanted. Someone should have told me about all the bills an actress accrues doing business in Hollywood.

After I paid Sabrina’s ten percent commission, I had to pay my former manager’s fifteen percent commission. The other seventy percent went to Publicist fees. My former assistant’s salary. My former accountant. My former lawyer’s retainer. Taxes. Property taxes. The mortgage on my condo. The mortgage on my parent’s home. Rentals of gowns for events. Limo rentals. Airfare. Taxis. Groceries. Dry cleaning. Food for parties. Cleaning service. DJs. Clothes for parties. Hairdressers. Make-up. Dinners at four-star restaurants to network with producers. Dinners at four-star restaurants to network with directors. Tips. Gas to drive to auditions. Gas to drive to follow-up auditions. Gas to drive to final auditions. Tune-ups. Oil Changes. Healthcare. Dentist. Photographer. Headshots. Fed Ex. Postage. House Phone. Cell phone. Internet. Hotel Suites. Vacations. Car rentals. Christmas presents. Christmas cards. I’m lucky to have $515.98 in the bank.

“You know it’s too late for that Lucy-”

“Come on, you used to get all A’s when we were back in high school.” Lucy comforts. “I know you could do it.”

I have to admit I was pretty smart back in the day. Honor Roll, Dean’s list. 3.99 GPA. Even voted most likely to succeed. But it’s been years since I cracked a book open. And college costs thirty or forty thousand dollars a year these days. I doubt I can swing that with no job skills and $515.98 in the bank.

“And how would I pay for it Lucy?” I plead. “I’m not exactly making a superstar salary nowadays. I actually do work for food around here.”

Lucy snickers at the joke. “God has always made a way for you Marilyn. He’ll make a way for you to go to school if that’s what you want to do.”

“Yeah, it has been a miracle how I’ve been able to keep my bills paid these past five years. I owe you guys a couple of thousand dollars alone for all the groceries I’ve taken from the pantry over the years-”

“You don’t owe us anything. You work hard around here-”

“Still, I’d love to give guys a big donation to pay you back for helping me out-”

“You do enough. In between helping us cook in the kitchen, serving up meals and delivering groceries to the seniors, I wonder where you have time to go to auditions.”

Easy. I don’t get that many auditions. “I have my car with me today. I can deliver those groceries to the seniors-”

“No. You make it All About Marilyn for a while. Figure out how to help yourself. We’ll take care of ourselves for the time being.”

Lucy reaches behind her desk and puts two plastic grocery bags full of canned goods and cereal on top of it. I give her a look. “Lucy…”

“Hey you were going to mooch it off us anyway. This saves you a trip.”

She makes my day with the joke. “Thanks Lucy.”

As we ease out of our chairs I give her a hug. “Just remember. You don’t have to be a star to be a light.”

I remember when she first gave me that advice seventeen years ago. It was when I told her and Shay I couldn’t go to Stanford with them. It’s kept me humble throughout my acting career and most of my adult life. I wonder how I can apply those words of wisdom to this career crisis.

I smile at her as I take the groceries off the desk. As I leave the church, I check my watch. Nine thirty. I have to get to the Jim’s. I promised to meet Shay at the gym at ten. She hates it when I’m late.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All About Marilyn: The Novel Chapter 2

Well, Bri gave me my big break. It’s just not the one I was expecting.

At least she did things face-to-face. In this town agents are so cold they cut you loose via E-mail, snail mail, a Fed Ex, fax or they send their assistant to tell your assistant to tell you the bad news. Telling me things face-to face shows how much she cares about me.

As I leave her office one question keeps running through my mind. What am I going to do now? Without an agent I can’t get work. At least the kind that pays decent money. Bri had the connections to get me auditions with the minor studios. Without her making my case after an audition, most casting directors wouldn’t even think about returning my calls. I’m so typecast they call me Nikki Desmond when I walk in the room.

I could start auditioning cold on the arthouse circuit. But most of the directors and producers on that side of the lens don’t have much use for an over thirty former sitcom star on their projects either. The ones I’ve talked to tell me I’ll “ruin their artistic vision and compromise their story integrity.” In layman’s terms they don’t want people pointing to the screen and screaming Nikki Desmond during a showing of one of their serious films.

I hear the fast clop of high heels rushing behind me as I open the tall glass door of the AATA office and head out into the hallway. It’s not Bri. She doesn’t reek of ambition.

Before I reach for the down elevator button Ava, Sabrina’s latest assistant cuts in front of me. She pastes on a smile and extends her hand.

“Ms. Marie?” Ava asks.


“Ava Gardner. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Sabrina-”

No, you couldn’t help but eavesdrop. I shake her hand so she won’t be offended.

“I’m no longer her client.” I say politely.

“Well, I’d like to offer you my services of representation.”

And I thought the clown in reception was delusional. If she thinks she’s going to book me jobs in between getting Bri coffee, answering her phone, and making copies she’s crazy. I need to get her back to reality before she gets herself fired.

“You’re an assistant.”

“Agent-in-training.” Ava continues. “I’m building a valuable list of clients and I’d love to have a valuable AATA property like you on my list.”

If she had her Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA licenses she’d have a cubicle in the boiler room with the rest of the junior agents. She wouldn’t be pitching to me out in the hall. Most of those guys have more business than they can handle from the kids in the waiting room. They wouldn’t want to waste their time with me after I’ve been cut loose by a senior agent. Unless I was a D-list superstar with some solid direct-to-video sales it wouldn’t be worth it to get on Sabrina’s bad side by picking me up.

“Sabrina’s body isn’t even cold yet and you’re harvesting organs.” I joke.

“I can get you a supporting part in a movie.” Ava pitches.

“You can get me a part in a movie. Yeah right.”

I need to get out of here. I reach for the down button. She grabs my arm. “Look, this gig pays more than you’ve made in years-”

“Please. You don’t even have a SAG card-”

“Look, I have access to Sabrina’s breakdowns and all the call sheets for this movie.” Ava pleads. “I’ve networked with the producers on this set. I can get you this job.”

Okay she has a point. The admins do get to read the breakdowns before the agents get them on their desks. So she would have access to inside information on the casting of a movie before the public would. But I just don’t like going behind Sabrina’s back. It doesn’t feel right.

“Sabrina’s a friend of mine. This wouldn’t be right going behind her back-”

“Look, I know about your financial situation Marilyn.” Ava pleads. “I just want to help you-”

In addition to being an agent trainee she’s now psychic. “I have money-”

“If you had with money you wouldn’t be walking in here wearing old Gap clothes and rundown Saucony sneakers.” Ava says looking me up and down.

Ouch. Busted by my own gear. Well, it’s hard to buy Prada and Gucci when I only have $515.98 in the bank. Most of the limited income I get now goes into paying for important things like property tax, insurance and maintenance fees on my condo. I’d rather keep a roof over my head than wear the latest. If this alleged gig paid enough money I could probably afford to own clothes made in this century.

“How much?” I ask.

“I’ll call you with all the details this afternoon.”

Ava smiles at me smugly as she presses down button for me. I get on the elevator with butterflies in my stomach. I have to wonder, is getting work worth betraying the trust of a friend?

Chapter 3 Up this Saturday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Surprise! All About Marilyn: The Failed Novel Attempt Chapter 1

I’m gonna be busy all next week and the beginning of next year. I’m in the middle of final edits on The Temptation of John Haynes. The cover is done, and now I’m proofreading and line editing from a Lulu test copy, writing a press relase, trying to fit in the back featurette so it’ll cost out, developing the final layout and…making myself crazy.

I’m 175 pages into proofreading  this 400 page book and I’m hoping to have the final book up on Lightning Source soon and up on by the end of January/early February. But I still want the blog to have content. So until Next year the blog will feature…Chapters of an unfinished story from the depths of my old Dell Inspiron 2500’s Hard drive.

But not any unfinished story. It’s gonna be All About Marilyn: The Novel.

After I wrote the All About Marilyn screenplay, I tried to write an All About Marilyn novel. I wanted to see if I could write the same story in a different medium and how both stories would compare with each other. I didn’t get past the first couple of chapters Just couldn’t make it click.

So until The Temptation of John Haynes drops in 2011, it’s still All About Marilyn. Merry Christmas!


Scene 3,498,768,365,838. Take 1.

Fade in on me:

Sitting on a leather sectional in the waiting room of the All-American Talent Agency. I’m wedged between a clown lost in his ipod and a mime chatting on her cell phone. It’s a crazy manic office space. There are files all over the reception desk with fresh headshots jutting out, the phone is ringing constantly and the poor receptionist is about to lose her mind. I anxiously clutch my cracked black leather portfolio and wait to see Sabrina Lowenstien, my agent. My Mentor. The closest thing to a mother I have in this crazy town. She left a message on my cell phone last night saying it was urgent. Maybe this will be audition for the role that’ll break this slump I’ve been in for the past ten years.

I check my watch and look around the packed waiting room. 8:45. There must be fifteen, twenty people here already with more coming through the door. Typical of the usual C or D agency, places like AATA will take anyone with a modicum of talent. They represent for everything, but specialize mostly in finding talent for work in TV shows and B-Movies like some of the larger budgeted independent films or direct to video. Sometimes they handle extra work on the blockbusters. It’s the kind of place people get their start at before they move on top level B agents or low level agents at A-List places like ICM, CAA, or William Morris. I should have moved on from here ten years ago when my sitcom All About Nikki ended its run-

Man, those were the days.

I gaze up at the series of posters on the wall across from me and see my eighteen-year-old self in designer 1990’s clothes sitting on the hood of a candy apple red 1989 Mercedes 500SL convertible with a smug smile on her face. The rest of the supporting cast playing my family, the maid and the butler stand on the steps of a mansion set looking annoyed. I thought I had it made when I took the picture for that promotional poster way back in 1992. If I could go back in time I’d slap myself up the head and tell myself go to college instead.

I remember the day of that poster shoot. It was June 28, three days after I graduated from Burbank High. We just finished shooting the pilot and got the order for a 13-episode run from the network. It was half a season, but at least we were on the fall primetime schedule. At eighteen I had no idea how big this was, I was just happy to be on TV. I thought it would go on forever-

Unfortunately, forever is actually six years in Hollywood time.

That’s how long All About Nikki actually ran on the network. In TV years it was a good run; we were even able to tape a series finale to wrap Nikki Desmond’s story and give her a happy ending.

My story is well… a work in progress.

When the show finished its run in 1998, I was ready to start the second act of my career: Marilyn Marie, Movie Star. Apex Studios, the people who made my hit TV show were ready to take me to the next level. They cast me to star in this big budget movie called Dark Ride. A horror-thriller. A summer blockbuster. A “tentpole” movie. They told me it would make me a star. They told me it would show the world a different side of me. I should have read the script before I signed the contract. I never knew anyone could pack so much nudity in a screenplay.

But I signed the contract and I had to soldier on. During filming they told me not to worry about my co-star even though he was so drunk he made no sense. They told me not to worry about the director even though he was so high he made no sense. One test screening of the finished product and they stopped returning my phone calls.

So try again. Career, act two, take two. Marilyn Marie struggling actress. A 24-year old woman who hauls herself around Burbank in her shiny red 1992 Mercedes 500SL convertible going from audition to audition trying to get whatever part she can to pay her bills. Popular enough to be recognized, on the street by the public, not popular enough to find steady work with producers. In the past ten years I’ve played everything from Hookers to Hot dogs in B-movies, cable sitcoms and made-for-video nonsense even I don’t want to see. I’ve even worked every comic book convention in the Los Angeles area signing autographs and taking pictures. I mean, I don’t mind working the comicons; most of the people who attend are kind of nice. But I know working comicons for an actress is just one step away from rock bottom. That’s why I’m praying Bri comes through with my big break today. I’m this close to being washed up.

The clown comes out of his ipod daze as the gangsta rap song he’s listening to ends. He yanks the buds out of his ears as he looks at me then at the All About Nikki poster. Oh God I’ve been recognized.

The awe-struck clown looks at me like he’s got a thousand questions he wants to ask. Underneath the white greasepaint I see the bright blue eyes of a young kid no more than nineteen or twenty. He probably watched the show religiously when he was little. I can spare a minute.

“Hey, aren’t you Nikki Desmond?” The clown asks eagerly.

Dammit, doesn’t anyone read the credits at the bottom of the screen? My name is right there in big bold letters at the start of every episode. “Yeah. I used to play her.” I reply politely.

“Man I used to love that show when I was a kid!” The clown gushes. “I loved how you used to tell people off and shit-”

I smile at him. “I’m glad you enjoyed the performance.”

“Man I wish I could be like you. I’d tell my boss where he could stick this clown suit.”

He must be fresh off the bus from Iowa or Indiana. The last thing any seasoned Los Angeles resident would want to do is quit their day job. It pays for all those wonderful amenities we struggling actors enjoy between gigs like rent, electricity, and ramen noodles. I need to get him back down to planet Earth with me.

“So…you’re a clown?” I inquire.

“Yeah, it’s just something I’m doing until I get my big break. Y’know Nikki, in a couple of years I want to be just like you. Nice car, big mansion-”

“Marilyn. My name is Marilyn.”

The Clown gives me a puzzled look as he examines my face. “I thought you were Nikki-”

“Nikki Desmond was the character I played on TV. My name is Marilyn. Marilyn Marie.” I say extending my hand.

“I-I’m sorry er-Ni-Marilyn.” The befuddled clown continues as he shakes my hand. “I guess I got caught up in the character.”

“It happens.”

The clown quickly recovers from his gaffe to ask me more questions. “So what are you here for? Pick up a big royalty check? Inside track on a movie-”

I wish. “A call just like you.”

“I guess your agent swore you to secrecy on this project? What is it? Drama, Comedy, Reality Show? I bet it’s something to give Paris Hilton a run for her money-”

“I’ll find out when she tells me.”

He looks down at my yellowed white poet blouse, faded baggy bleached blue jeans and well-worn Saucony running shoes eager to ask me more questions. “Are the clothes for the role too? What is that? Vintage Gap? All you need is the Blossom hat-”

Vintage Gap? Boy, this was the style way, way, way back in 1993. I wore this exact same shirt with these exact same jeans and some Doc Martens on the cover of YM fourteen years ago. If the black velvet Blossom hat hadn’t faded to purple I’d really show you something about style.

Before I get a chance to answer the Clown’s question, the weary receptionist peers up from the stacks of files and pastes a smile on as she looks in my direction. “Ms. Marie, Sabrina will see you now.” She says politely.


I ease up out of my seat and stroll past the reception desk into the boiler room. It’s even more chaotic back here than reception. A dozen junior agents sit in their cubicles with a headset wrapped around their heads while they frantically type on computer keyboards like they were extensions of their own bodies. Interns and assistants hurry around me like a racetrack pit crew handing them coffee and copies as they network and make deals. Anything to set up an audition or turn a bad audition into a booked gig so they can get ten percent off the top. The rank smell of ambition is so strong in the air I can smell it.

I turn the corner at the water cooler and head down the hall. The ambition smell mellows to a musk as I read the names of senior agents on the brass plaques of the ash wooden doors. Seventeen years since I first came here and the usual suspects are still in their offices. Henry Jacobs. Mark Horowitz. Amy Plant. Louise Rosenbaum. Jerry Titus. Shawn James. Shawn James? Hold on, he must be new.

Sabrina’s office is at the end of the hall; I pause at the circular red marble reception desk in front of it waiting for permission to go in from her latest assistant Ava. The willowy brunette dressed in a designer gray sharkskin skirtsuit peers up at me from her computer terminal and headset then gestures for me to go in.

Butterflies bubble up in my stomach as I stroll into Sabrina’s huge corner office. The tall slender silver haired beauty dressed in a tailored gray business suit hears my footsteps and stops staring out at Downtown Burbank from her huge picture windows. Her dull blue eyes light up at the sight of me.

“I got your message. What’s up?” I ask

“Close the door Marilyn. Have a seat.” Sabrina replies.

Sabrina leads me over to the two leather chairs sitting in front of her glass-topped desk. As I ease into the soft leather seat she takes my hand and gives me an earnest look. My heart races in anticipation of hearing her big news.

“I’m retiring.”

Oh my God. “I-I don’t know what to say-”

“Nothing to say honey. I’ve been in this business for forty years. I’m tired of it.”

I can’t say I blame her for retiring. After forty years of putting up with us I’d be tired of this business myself. It can take a lot out of a person dealing with our crap day in and day out. Bri is the one who dries our tears after a bad audition and listens to us complain when we get an audition for a good part we don’t want. She gives us pep talks to get us ready before an audition, and makes our case with casting directors who are on the fence about us. She’s the one who makes sure the studios give us decent paying contracts and makes sure we get our checks on time. She insists the studios accounting offices do audits of their books so we got every last cent of residuals due us. Then she watches us grow up, move on and sign with a bigger agent who has better connections.

“It can take a lot out of you working these long hours-”

Sabrina lets out a chuckle. “You’re so sweet Marilyn. That’s why I’m telling you this face-to face.”

”I take it everyone else is getting a form letter.”

“Everyone else will have another agent by the end of the week. At least you care about me.”

“So this call isn’t about a gig?”

“No. I wanted to give you some advice before I closed up shop. Get out of this business Marilyn. Get out before it kills you.”

My eyebrows cock up at her request. Get out of the business. Stop acting. Retire? She can’t be serious. I’m only thirty-four. I’m in my prime. I still have some time left.

“You want me to retire?” I bristle. “I’m 34-”

“That’s exactly why you need to get out.” Sabrina continues. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”

To do what? All I have is a high school diploma. No one is going to hire me to work in their office as an assistant or a receptionist with my Hollywood past. Who’d want TV’s favorite bitch sitting at their front desk?

“Bri I’m still getting work-”

“Come on Marilyn get real. You’re so typecast the only auditions I can send you on nowadays are guest spots on cable shows, bit parts in B-Movies or you work some bullshit comic convention signing autographs. You don’t want to spend the next twenty years dealing with that shit.”

She makes a good point. Do I really want to do this for the next twenty years? I’ll be 54 then. Probably middle aged with graying hair. Would I still want to be driving around town all day going to auditions for no-budget productions then? And what kind of parts would I play at 54? There are hardly any good roles for an actress my age now, let alone for parts for an older black woman. I mean, how much longer can I keep doing these two-bit jobs for a couple of hundred dollars? I mean, it was fun working the comicons when I was 27, but these days it just feels weird. Last week when I attended the Comicon at the Great Western Forum I spent more time trying to answer stupid questions about scene errors in All About Nikki episodes than signing autographs. Would I really want to deal with that nonsense for twenty more years?

“Bri, all I need is one good role to make people forget about Nikki-”

“Marilyn you can’t keep doing this to yourself-”

If I could I’d try something else. But I don’t know how to do anything else. Acting is all I’ve known since I was seventeen. What else can I do besides acting?

“I have to work-”

“At what cost?” Sabrina pleads. “Nikki’s living the high life in syndication and you’re losing your best years trying to get away from her ghost.”

“This is just a slump-”

“Slump? It’s been ten years since you last worked steady. You’re in freefall.”

“Bri it’s not that bad. I’m still making money. I still get royalties-”

“Honey I’ve seen those checks.” Sabrina says. “They’re so small I don’t even take my ten percent. All About Nikki residuals won’t even get you a whopper and fries at the Burger King downstairs.”

Yeah, that last quarterly check she sent me was what $646? I think the only place they still run All About Nikki reruns is a small town in Arkansas. And that’s probably because Gilligan’s Island episodes cost too much.

“That’s before taxes.” I concede.

“I’ve seen a lot of good kids like you lose everything because they were too scared to move on.” Sabrina continues.

“Is that what you’re afraid of? Me winding up on drugs or a mental case-”

“No, something worse. I’m afraid you won’t let the acting bug go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Kids like you hold on to acting because it’s all you know. You’re afraid to try something else. You know the boat is sinking but you’re so scared of drowning you go down with the ship.”

“Either way I’m in the water.” I sigh.

“I don’t want to help you drown.”

“Is that why you’re retiring?”

“It’s my job to look out for your career. I’m hoping this will get you swimming to land before it’s too late.”

“If I’m not acting, what do you suggest I do to make a living?”

Sabrina gives me a sly smile. “Go out and have some fun.”

Not the advice I expected. “That’s not an answer-”

“It’s not supposed to be. Just give yourself a shot out there.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Sabrina pats my hand before we ease out of the office chairs. She smiles at me proudly then gives me a hug. The embrace is warm and full of love. Tough love. The kind that hurts.

I break the embrace and catch Sabrina’s dull blue eyes. I’m going to miss having her as my agent. She’s one of a kind.

As I leave her office I suck up the pain, choke back the tears and ask myself a tough question: What am I going to do now?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I Won't Give Up

Last week was rough for me.
It was one of those weeks where I really pondered why I was writing and if I really wanted to continue writing and publishing my titles. I was discouraged for a couple of days but by the end of the week I was more dedicated to my mission than ever.

As a novelist and a screenwriter my mission is to create positive stories about the African-American experience. I want to create stories that inspire and uplift my brothers and sisters and show them all the experiences of black people. There’s more than one shade of brown and the ghetto isn’t the only place where black people live. What about the stories of black people who grew up middle class? What about the stories of black people who grew up wealthy? Stories about black owned businesses? black movie stars? A story about brothers and sisters going to college? A story of an All-Black Suburb? These are stories we rarely read about in mainstream media and I feel they need to be told. Moreover, I believe there’s an audience for them. There are a million different black worlds outside of the inner-city, and I want to give those stories a marketplace.

As a publisher my goal is to expand and diversify the genres African-American section at the local bookstore, vendor tables, and online at and Barnes& Noble. My dream is to see an African-American Fiction section where black readers can find books in genres like Fantasy, Science Fiction and Screenplays featuring characters that look like them.

Working towards that mission I’ve learned people are resistant to change. And black people are terrified of it. At the Harlem Book Fair I had to persevere as people ignored the books on my table and hurried over to buy Street Lit two years in a row.

Moreover, those same masses are resentful to those who seek to show them the truth. I learned that at the message boards and the imdb boards this week.

But I realize I can’t get discouraged and I can’t give up. So many of our brothers and sisters are lost, confused and have no idea who they are. The blind are leading the blind and driving the black community into a ditch. I have to keep speaking even if the audience doesn’t hear me or appreciate what I have to say. I have to continue offering an alternative to the nonsense that’s damaging the fabric of the African-American community.

I grew up in a period of tremendous Black Pride. At CES 132 I was taught about all the great African-American achievers and all about African-American history. As A child I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a black person in a prominent position or black people in a positive light. On TV I watched, Benson, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Sister, Sister, Smart Guy and countless other shows featuring African-Americans living a variety of different experiences. Robert Townsend, Spike Lee and other black filmmakers were making great movies with black people in lead roles. Alice Walker and Toni Morrison were writing Award-winning literature, and Terry McMillan showed publishers there was a huge market for African-American fiction. There were a dozen genres in Hip-Hop and black people were free to express themselves. I didn’t know how blessed I was growing up nor did I understand the impact all that media had on my life until I was an adult.

African-Americans growing up today aren’t blessed to see all those positive images in the media like I did. A generation later brothers and sisters don’t see prominent African-Americans in media and they aren’t being taught about their history or their heritage in school. And this is in an age with the first African-American President.

From birth young black males are bombarded with images in the media of black male entertainers who promote drug use and crime as what’s “real” and that education is “acting white”. They’re taught profanities like “NIGGER” and “FUCK” are a noun, pronoun, adjective verb, adverb and prepositional phrase prefix suffix, and that this is the way black people are supposed to Speak English in street Lit. That going to jail is more important than graduating High School and going to college and aspiring to be a gangsta, hustler, or a drug dealer is a career path instead of aspiring to be a doctor, lawyer, fireman or police officer.

That same media teaches little Black girls they have no value as human beings. In music videos they’re taught that they’re sex objects by scantily clad booty shaking video vixens. In those same videos they learn that it’s okay to be called a bitch and ho instead of their name. Moreover they learn black girls are not worthy of the love of anyone, and that living in dysfunction is a normal way of life. In movies like Monster’s Ball, Precious, and Tyler Perry films they see black women as victims who are routinely being abused and degraded. They see young sistas with options in their real life like Montana Fishburne choosing to star in pornographic films, and they read about prostitution as a career path in Street Lit novels.

A few years back Don Imus called The Rutgers Women’s basketball team “nappy headed hoes”. Want to know where he and his producer got that idea from?

The same place your children are getting it from.

Some may see this media as entertainment but I see the bigger picture behind those pictures. I understand how imbibing these images, words, and ideas over a decade or so shapes the way black people see the world and how the world sees black people. More importantly, it shapes the way we see ourselves.

And I’m seeing the damage all this media is doing to the black community almost two decades later. A nationwide 50% dropout rate, a 70% incarceration rate, and an 80% unemployment rate. Brothers and sisters who are illiterate, ignorant and unable to function in a society that’s becoming more technologically advanced. A black community that’s falling apart at the seams.

Which is why I have to stay the course and keep writing.

I understand what’s at stake, and I can’t take the shots taken at me personally. Many brothers and sisters may not want the books I write right now. They may not like the books I write right now. They may not even understand why I’m taking my little money to self-publish. Someone has to offer brothers and sisters a choice even if they don’t choose to take it. Long-term I know my work will have an impact on the black community, which is why I have to stay committed to my mission and sharpen my resolve in the face of so much Resentment, Resistance and Racism.

This isn’t about me. It’s about the people around me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shawn's New Policy on Review Copies

I’m changing the way I distribute promotional and review copies.

As of right now, I’m no longer being generous about offering free copies to book clubs, vendors, or Black bookstores like I used to be. Starting with The Temptation of John Haynes I’m only sending out a handful of review copies to a select group of book clubs. A very select few. Like the two clubs who actually wrote reviews for All About Marilyn.

I started scaling back sending out review and promotional copies last year after giving away close to 40 copies of The Cassandra Cookbook in 2008. For the All About Marilyn promotion, I only gave away eight review copies. A promotional copy was given to the Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem and one book vendor Uptown (Everyone else wasn't there that morning). I also sent the book to two popular book review sites (RAWSISTAZ, Apex Reviews) who say they review everything in January of this year.  According to the postal Service's Delivery Confirmation records they got their books way back in early February.  However, almost a year has passed an no review has been written for Marilyn yet at either site. However several recent Street Lit books, books by celebrities, and other self-published titles have had reviews of their books posted.

In the wake of the incident, I’m further reducing the number of free review copies going out even lower than the eight sent out last year. Printing these books, buying envelopes, and paying for postage to ship them costs me money and I don’t have it to throw away on people who request books for review, don’t read them, don’t write reviews for them and throw them away.
With reviews having no impact on sales (Both Cassandra and Marilyn have glowing reviews, but not huge sales from them) I’m going to try some other promotional methods like business cards and club flyers to get the word out about The Temptation of John Haynes. And from here on in I’m no longer sending personalized e-mails to black book clubs telling them about my books. Instead, I’ll be using my blog, and social media like Facebook and twitter to promote my titles.

Any other Black book clubs who want to read my books can head over to and buy them. Vendors who want them for their tables can head over to Ingram and order them with the ISBN. In both those outlets they’re available at discounted prices. Perhaps if brothers and sisters have to pay for their own books they’ll think twice about throwing them in the trash.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Folks Throwing Books in the Trash Makes ME ANGRY

Dealing with the Douchebags on the forum, I learned some disturbing information:

Someone threw out books I wrote.

No, scratch that, someone threw books in the garbage.

Now I don’t know if it was a book club, a bookstore like Hue-Man, or a vendor I gave books to, but the people on that board state they found my book in the trash along with some other books. That really upsets me. It upsets me more than the mocking my work got on that board.

Now I have books from other authors. Some I like, some I don’t. I don’t throw them away. I feel throwing books away is a step away from fascism and two steps away from barbarism. The only thing more savage than throwing away books is tearing pages out of a book or burning them.

Anyone who willfully throws books away or destroys them does not deserve to enjoy the freedom this country offers them. It is an act of malice of forethought. They’d probably do well as a member of Hitler’s SS or the Taliban. Those fascist regimes like many others throughout history thrived on keeping knowledge from the masses and utilized the suppression of information to keep people oppressed.

I worked in a public college library and that brief experience taught me how valuable books are. From the Circulation Desk I watched poor students fight to use the few reserve copies of textbooks in that collection every day. I also watched as students were forced to do research from books with entire chapters torn out of them and pages ripped out of them. And it hurt my heart to tell students who were looking for books they needed for term papers they were lost or stolen by irresponsible patrons. I hated seeing the disappointed looks on their faces when I had to tell them that books that were listed in the Library’s catalog weren’t on the shelf. That’s why I’m so angry that someone just callously threw away one of my titles along with a bunch of other books.

In between the pages of books are knowledge. Knowledge can empower people, inspire them, uplift people and make people grow. And that’s why no one should EVER throw a book in the trash.

Instead of tossing my book and others on the street, the individual who callously discarded them should have made an effort to find a library to donate them to. From my experience working in that college library, I learned many of the books in the library’s collection were lost, stolen, and mutilated by patrons. And when books are lost or stolen or mutilated in a library’s collection, they don’t get replaced by librarians for YEARS. Why? Libraries just don’t have the money. Every year the state cuts their budgets and that forces them to make harsh decisions regarding opening hours, computers and the condition of their crumbling collections.

Even if my book didn’t make it to the shelf of that library, it could have been used in their book sale to help them raise funds to buy new books to replace damaged, lost or stolen ones in their collection.

Another place they could have taken those books to is a homeless shelter. Having volunteered to help the homeless a couple of years ago in Americorps* VISTA, I can tell readers homeless people never get enough books. People who live on the streets know how important knowledge is and devour literature like it was candy.

And another place they could have taken them is the courthouse. Jurors are always looking for something to read to pass the time in the jury room during Jury Duty.

All of these were better alternatives than throwing books in the trash. Some of these options were even tax deductible. Heck, even Ebay is a better option than throwing books in the garbage.

As an African-American I’m really upset about this callous discarding of books because I know who I gave my books to: African-American book vendors, African-American bookstores and African-American book clubs. I’d think those brothers and sisters would understand how valuable books are historically moreso than anyone else. I’d think they’d understand how our slave ancestors fought and scrapped to learn how to read when states like Georgia and North Carolina passed laws making it illegal to teach a black person to read or write during slavery. For them to throw books away is a SLAP IN THE FACE to every black person who fought so black people could overcome Slavery, Jim Crow and other forms of oppression the course of 400 years.

For a black person today to throw a book away to me is just egregious. It shows me how brothers and sisters take their freedom for granted these days. It also shows me how so many brothers and sisters have no understanding of the sacrifices our slave ancestors and relatives made and still make so they can be where they are today. And it shows me how little brothers and sisters value the power a good education can give them to change their lives.

In the film How U Like Me Now, BJ Brown states “The easiest place to hide information from a brotha is in between the pages of a book.” Chris Rock also stated this in one of his comedy sketches back in the day. Sadly, as I continue to self-publish books I’m finding the truth in what they said. In the book that was thrown away was a recipe for success in the business world. I wrote it culled from lessons I learned in the STRIVE job readiness workshop and things I learned on my own working in the business world over several years. Enmeshed in that story were tips on how to survive in the business world, how to dress professionally, how to apply soft skills such as networking, presenting and how to handle conflicts in the business world, tools black folks desperately need to survive in the world of the work.

Along with those tips I wanted to show how much fun work can be. I wrote this story so it could inspire brothers and sisters and so they could see what careers could be available to them in foodservice, and that African-Americans owning businesses and working at a job is not a “White” thing but has always been a “black” thing since before Slavery. Black folks do aspire to be other things than criminals, hustlers, gangstas, entertainers, clergy, and sports stars, but the media rarely ever tells the stories of those hardworking brothers and sisters with the college educations and the careers. That’s why I’m so passionate about publishing my books and so angry when people just throw them away.

This experience has shown me how far behind my brothers and sisters are. Even after electing the first African-American President, there’s work we all still have to do. As a writer I have to work harder in finding ways to share my knowledge with brothers and sisters, and ways for them to understand why that knowledge is valuable. When black folks throw away books written by other black folks, there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with the state of our community.

Dealing With Douchebags on the message boards

Checking out the stats section of my blog yesterday and ran into this link:

Seems like someone has an issue with my writing.

Well, I have an issue with the douchebags on this board and I went back to their site and gave them a peice of my mind.  My books the worst they ever read? They must not do a lot of reading. Have they read any Street Lit lately?

As a black male author I really take offense at a swipe a poster takes at me not being a good black male writer. I have presented my work to literary agents in New York and Los Angeles who have told me my work is well-written and well-crafted. Book Clubs across the country have given my self-published books high marks. This blog is getting more and more readers every day.  And my writing is so solid I was offered a feature writer position with where some of the same articles on this blog are simulcasted.

Now I can take constructive criticism, but I can't stand a coward who posts on a message board instead of the comments section. Anyone have a problem with my work? There's a comments section here and on Onixlink, MySpace. My E-mail is in the front matter of every one of my books. My Facebook page is listed in the links section. Come talk to me about your issues in a professional manner.

I know some of my earlier books have some grammar and spelling issues. But hey, I'm one man working into the dead of night from lulu test copies and .pdfs without a support staff. As a poor unemployed brotha who publishes these books out of his limited savings, I can't afford to hire a free-lance editor who charge $2.50 a page or proofreaders who charge $40 an hour.

Anyone have an issue with the fonts I used in the page layout? Sue Microsoft, Adobe and Lotus cause those fonts came with Word, Wordperfect and Photoshop.  You have an issue with the cover? Give me some money and I'll change it.

Look, this is self-publishing. I can't  afford graphic artists who charge $400-$1000 to do covers for every book or a bunch of editors who cost thousands of dollars. Right now I'm unemployed and doing the best that I can to publish my materials without the luxuries those formerly big-shot authors at the publishing houses used to take for granted. 

The Narrative style I write in for most of my novels is a revolving first person perspective. It's a narrative style that is written like people think. And the way we think isn't perfect English. It's a character-driven style that focuses more on action defining the characters than prose describing everything for the reader.

I use this style because it allows the characters  to tell their own stories in their own "voices" and for the reader to draw their own conclusions and make their observations about the action transpiring in the storyline.  To me, revolving first person is much more effective than reading a story in third-person Narrative where the action is dictated to the reader. I want my readers to THINK, about what they're reading, not have the story THOUGHT out for them.

My mission is to write positive stories about the African-American experience. If the posters on that board would go to a bookstore and look around, they'd see not that many black men producing those types of stories like I am currently. How many publishers are willing to publish African-American Fantasy? Howw many are willling to publish stories about succesful black businesses and businesspeople? How many black publishers are willing to publish a screenplay so African-American readers can learn the craft of screenwriting?



Head into a bookstore and GO to the African-American section.  Most of the books today on the shelf from the big-shot publishers are  Street Lit or Erotica.  These books are filled with graphic violence, graphic language and graphic sex.  They glamorize drugs, crime and perpetuate the worst stereotypes about  African-Americans.  But people love them and buy them like potato chips.

And the publishing houses who produce these books really don't give a shit about spelling, grammar or punctuation on their New York Times bestsellers. And they have editors and proofreaders. As long as they take a nigger's cash it's all good.

But those people want to attack a one-man operation for  trying to write positive stories, and laugh at my work. They wat to ridicule me for making a few mistakes that books at the big six publishing houses make with impunity and with a hundred times the budget I have.

Now I could not give a fuck either like the writers who publish the stret lit do. But I care. I care so much that I spend thousands of dollars my own money to publish my stories to give readers an alternative to the nonsene and inspire. I do this even though I lose money with each title I publish.

And I'm working on improving quality control on my titles. I'm studying style manuals. Working day and night on getting better.  Getting better with each new book. Perhaps the people on this board need to read All About Marilyn or the upcoming The Temptation of John Haynes or All About Nikki. And it pisses me off that people like on this board want to make fun of my work.

Look, nobody starts out writing perfect out the gate.  And people who start out acclaimed (James Frey, Jayson Blair, Kavvya Vishwanthan)  are usually caught stealing from other writers. Writing styles evolve and they change.  The way I wrote back in the 90's is not the way I write today. It takes time to get better and even the best books aren't perfect.  If anyone thinks they can do better than I can, go out and get your computer, write your own book. Then try to go out and publish it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

America Needs to change its Attitude towards The Long-Term Unemployed

As a person who is on his third period of long-term unemployment of two years or more I don’t like what I’m seeing or what I’m hearing. Not about the economy, but the attitude responding towards it. From the government to the private sector, it’s like everyone has given up.

I recently read that Ben Bernanke, Chief of the Federal Reserve said that unemployment rate won’t change for the next four or five years. Another article stated that Americans should get used to 9 and ten percent unemployment rates. And another article stated Americans should get used to an underclass of underemployed and unemployed people and a welfare class like Europe has.

I’ve also read about employers thumbing their nose at long-term unemployed during job interviews. Scoffing at the gaps in prospective candidates resumes, dismissing unemployed people’s efforts to improve themselves by taking the time to go to school and asking questions in a rude and condescending tone. Some of the more arrogant interviewers smugly ask what a person has been doing since they’ve been laid off!

And I’ve read about people on the street not being supportive of long-term unemployed people. People saying that unemployed people are lazy and don’t try hard enough, that being out of work is their fault. That they should take any job and they should get out from in front of the computer and go out and pound the pavement to look for work.

These reports showed an apathetic and indifferent response from the rest of America to fifteen million people who are out of work. Fifteen million people who struggle to pay bills. Fifteen million people who struggle to keep their heads above water on Unemployment, Food Stamps and donations from charity. Reading those reports I felt everyone from government to big business has thrown up their hands in frustration and walked away from fifteen million people.

Sorry, but I refuse to accept that diagnosis of our economy. And I refuse to accept that response to my unemployment situation.

Reading all that I wondered what happened to the heart of the American People? What happened to the American Dream? The Entreprenurial spirit? You know, Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness? Isn't this the land of opportunity? A capitalist economy? The stuff of a great nathon? Did 9/11 crush America’s soul? Were the American people’s hopes and dreams pummeled to dust in the debris of the World Trade Center? Or has everyone become too scared by terrorism to take risks anymore?

Like the pioneers in the 19th Century and the Immigrants in the 20th Century, I refuse to give up in the face of adversity. Even though I’m out of work, I see long-term unemployment as a tremendous opportunity. This is not the time for me or anyone else out of work to give up on themselves. So there aren’t any jobs. Big deal. There weren’t any jobs when this country started over 200 years ago. However, men and women with vision and imagination created their own pathways to success.

Yeah, it’s a recession. But it’s also rock bottom. The ground floor. The starting point of something new. Something exciting. Something different. Something exciting. Unemployed Americans like myself just have to have the determination and passion to bring the success we imagine into reality.

So instead of looking for someone else’s job and working towards finding work that makes someone else rich, I feel long-term unemployed people like myself need take their employment situation into their own hands. Scratch that, take our LIVES into their own hands. Stop waiting for the government. Stop waiting for big business. Stop looking for a job and stop waiting for someone to make a decision to hire them at their raggedy job. Stop waiting for someone else to make a decision on what happens in their lives and make it happen themselves.

Fifteen million Americans don’t have four or five years to wait for the economy and the job market to get itself together. Now is the time for unemployed Americans like myself to roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty in the trenches. Make our own jobs. Find those new businesses. Create those new markets. Do the back-breaking labor and carve their own path like the pioneers and the Immigrants did. Our Forefathers and Grandfathers didn’t have college degrees, or lots of money like many of us have today, but they built multibillion dollar businesses and industries that employed millions of people for decades because they believed in what they did and did it to the best of their ability. To build those businesses, they took risks, trusted God and had faith.

I’ve been unemployed for the past two years. I’ve struggled to look for work in that time, and I haven’t found a job. But I’m not giving up. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Now I’m self-publishing books on the side print-on-demand and I don’t know where it’s gonna go. But like the pioneers, explorers and Immigrants who came to America for a better life, I’m sure gonna see where it takes me. Who knows? I might be the next big publishing magnate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The enduring popularity of Isis

Isis remains one of the most popular titles out of all the books I’ve self-published. At book fairs and book signings, the book continues to stir interest among readers and casual passersby. Eight years after publication and almost a decade after I wrote it, I’m still trying figure out what about the book makes it popular.

I wish I could talk to readers and pick their brains. Do they like Isis because it’s inspired by Egyptian Mythology? Do they like the action and adventure in a fantasy setting? Is it seeing a strong black female heroine as the lead character in a story? Is it my cover? What about those elements makes people pick up the book? What endears them to the story?

With the book continuing to be popular with readers, I’m thinking about doing some more Isis stories. I originally planned a series like Harry Potter and Twilight way back in 2002, with an expanded universe of characters but scrapped those plans when I was told by early readers the book read too much like a comic book for them.
Would you buy an Isis doll
Instead of a Disney Princess
for your kids?
I wasn’t trying to write a comic back then, but an all-ages fantasy story I felt would appeal to young African-American readers, especially black girls who I felt were in desperate need of their own heroine. I mean white girls had Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Xena Warrior Princess, She-Ra and the Disney Princesses, but little sistas had no heroines of their own. It saddens me to watch young black girls try to play Hannah Montana or Disney Princess with yellow scarves as imaginary blonde hair, when there are heroines available from their own history readily available to adapt into stories for the black audience.

With Isis I wanted to make the Egyptian gods and Egyptian mythology accessible to younger readers, and make the genre of fantasy fun and exciting for African-American tween and teen audiences. I wanted to give black girls their own character they could relate to and identify with. A superhero. A goddess. A princess. A woman with hair like theirs, problems like theirs and dealt with the issues they faced. Someone who made them feel proud of being black and being themselves.

Recent portriat of Isis by me.
And since I was writing the book with younger readers in mind, I’ll admit there was a bit of comic book influence. When I was writing the story back in 1999, I followed the models of superhero storytelling established by Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and the Late Jack Kirby while throwing in some of the contemporary elements of fantasy storytelling I learned watching Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi’s Xena: Warrior Princess and Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But is that a bad thing?

Tapert, Raimi and Whedon created some of the strongest heroines in the fantasy genre with Buffy Summers and Xena. In between the action scenes of the storylines they showed the strong bonds of love and friendship between women with Buffy and Willow, and Gabrielle and Xena.

And from what I’ve seen Black women often share the strongest bonds of friendship like those characters; many sistas love each other like “sisters”. When I was younger (26) I often wondered why didn’t anyone show that relationship with black female characters? Moreover, I wondered why wasn’t there a black female superheroine who reflected what sistas were really like? And why couldn’t we have an action adventure series that featured the adventures of a strong black woman? Why can’t there be a fantasy series with a black female hero in the lead role?

Recent concept art of Isis
by me.
With Isis I sought out to do what Tapert, Raimi, and Whedon did for white audiences with Buffy and Xena, but with African-American characters in the lead roles. My goal was to create a contemporary fantasy story with action and adventure that made a commentary on the modern black family. In my re-interpretation of the Egyptian legend I wanted there to be an emphasis on black culture and black history, while showing the building of a relationship between a father, stepmother and a stepdaughter, with an emphasis on the relationship between the stepmother and the stepdaughter.

For some, that’s comic book.

But when I was writing the story I saw legions of fans that loved characters like Buffy Summers and Xena and still follow them to this day.

Just like readers still seek out Isis today. To date, it’s still my best-selling title.

I never did any promotion or sales for Isis in eight years it’s been in print yet it still sold and still sells today. I’ve always wanted to do more to promote the book, but I never had the money. I always wanted to do more to develop the series, but I never had the time. But with the series continuing to garner interest among casual readers for so many years I’m wondering if it’s time to actually do something serious with Isis and her cast of characters.

I love the characters and I’m eager to work with them again. However, the only issue I have with writing Isis stories again is adapting them to my new writing style. The way I wrote at 26 isn’t the way I write at 37. If readers compare the simpler style of writing I used in Isis when I was younger to the more complex style I used in All About Marilyn or The Cassandra Cookbook now, then they should understand it’s going to be a challenge getting back into the Isis groove.

Coming Soon!
What do you think of
 this cover?
In the meantime, I’ve pondered releasing a new Isis title as my sixth book. I have an Isis story ready for print; Trial of the Goddess. It’d be short, (about 84 pages) but I feel that size is much easier for younger readers to handle, and a jumping on point for new readers to start the Isis series. Trial is a prequel detailing the events of Isis’ trial before she was banished to the Island of Solitude. I feel it’d be a way to re-introduce Isis and the Egyptian gods to new readers and get them excited about the character.

With the tenth Anniversary of Isis’ publication coming up in two years I want to do something special to celebrate it. On and off I’ve been working on a new edition of Isis where I revise grammatical issues and clean up some of the dialogue in the first book. If I have enough money, I want to release that new edition as my seventh book.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is Life Really As Miserable For Black Women As Portrayed In The Media?

Misery, misery, misery.

That’s what’s playing at the movies these days for Black audiences and at the bookstores for black readers.

In recent movies the lives of black women are depicted as miserable. In Monster’s Ball Leticia Musgrove is abused by landlords, employers and taken advantage of by white racist guard Hank Grotowski, the man who was part of the team that executed her husband. In Precious, Clarice Jones is molested by her father and physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her mother. And in every Tyler Perry film women are routinely abused by their evil husbands. In the face of so much media depicting so much pain in the lives of sistas I have to wonder: Is life that miserable for Black Women today?

I know sistas struggle with racism and sexism and have their issues with black men, but almost every piece of media nowadays is so depressing regarding the state of black women. From Tyler Perry movies to books like Terry McMillian’s Getting To Happy, it’s like there’s a big storm cloud around sistas these days. I mean I can’t go anywhere without being confronted with the face of an angry sista frowning at me.

I know Zora Neal Hurston said “black women are the mule of the world” in her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, but seriously is life a constant state of misery for black women? Does it always rain in the every day in the life of a black woman? Do sistas ever experience sunshine? Don’t Black women ever SMILE anymore?

I mean, whatever happened to the strong independent black woman of 1990’s media? You know the “I’m every woman” sista who was proud of herself. The one who took responsibility for her actions. The one who took charge of her life. The sista who saw her mother’s bad situation and changed it by going to college and getting her dream job. The sista brothers to bring home to their mothers. The sista brothers wanted to marry. She used to laugh. She used to smile. She used to have a good time. When did she get so difficult? When did she get so whiney? When did she get so High Maintenance? When did she get so EMO?

I think the depictions of black women onscreen made a wrong turn was somewhere between Joan Clayton on Girlfriends and Patience Phillips from Catwoman.

I’d really like to see some balance in the depictions of Black Women onscreen in the media. Instead of these one-dimensional films featuring sistas as perpetual victims of an evil abusive black man, how about some stories celebrating the beauty of a black woman? Can we get a movie that celebrates the joy of being a black woman? How about a film where we see black women smiling, laughing and having a good time? How about a film where a black woman has a healthy relationship with a black man? How about film about a black woman who is loving, caring and supportive and KIND?

I don’t mean to plug my own work but I write those types of stories. I’d love to see a story about a happy black woman like Cassandra Lee at the movies where a woman deals her problems and works through her issues with the support of her strong black father and good friends. Or a story like All About Marilyn where a Sista takes responsibility for her own choices and decides to get out of a miserable situation and find her own happiness.

Seriously, if the Media insists on showing this misery, then they should stop showing images of black women as victims of evil black men and present a bigger picture to the audience that’s more objective. I’d love to see a story that allows viewers to come up with their own conclusions regarding the situations of these poor downtrodden black female characters. Along with the images of those violent abusive black men, show viewers how shallow sistas make the choices that lead up to that misery. Show the audience how sistas choose to be with toxic men in spite of numerous warning signs like explosive anger, drug problems, or mental illness. Show the audience how sistas ignored the warnings of family and friends and built worlds around these bad brothers. Show the numerous psychological reasons sistas to stay in these bad relationships like their own insecurity and their arrogance. Show how sistas use numerous manipulative stunts to keep a toxic man and how these efforts blow up in their faces. Then show the outcomes of those relationships at the end of the movie which are the miserable situations so many sistas wind up in. Then the audience can understand how like attracts like and how misery loves company.

And just like I’d like to see some balance in the depictions of black women in real life I’d love to see sistas put some balance and perspective on their realities instead of taking this slanted media as truth. Black women today are more educated and successful than they’ve ever been in the history of Black America. Sistas have tremendous power; they’re the breadwinners and heads of households in most cases in the black community. Who’s responsible for all their misery? Brothers? The White Man? God? Or is it them?

I’d love to see sistas in real life who play the victim own up to the fact that the “miserable” situation they’re in is the sum total of all their own bad choices. Own up to the fact that just like they choose to be in a miserable situation, they can use all the talents and skills and choose to make changes to get out of it.

Zora Neale Hurston may have stated that “black women are the mule of the world” but I feel she wasn’t just talking about abuse women suffer at the hands of men. When she compares black women to mules, it’s also because she probably observed how so many sistas are stubborn, headstrong, and arrogant. Like Janie Crawford, many sistas go their own way and wind up in a series miserable relationships and miserable situations because they refuse to listen to reason. And just like Janie they go after the materialistic Joe Starks, stale Tea Cakes, or are forced to settle for the sleazy Logan Killicks of the world because they’re so busy trying to please people that they don’t take the time to discover what’s valuable about themselves.

And just as we make our own misery, we make our own happiness. No one can stay a victim unless they allow themselves to remain in that situation. God gave us all free will; we all have the power to leave any situation and move on to build a better one. I wish Hollywood would understand this about Black women. I wish Black women would understand that about themselves.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jessica Alba Needs to Get Over Herself

I was a big fan of Jessica Alba’s. I liked her work in Flipper and Dark Angel and never missed an episode. I thought she showed a lot of promise as an actress and felt it was a matter of time before she got her breakthrough role at the movies.

However, I was deeply offended by her statements in the December 2010 issue of Elle Magazine. In it she states:

“Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.”- Jessica Alba Elle Magazine December 2010

The fan in me wanted to forgive her, but the writer in me felt she crossed the line. As a writer and a film buff I know the screenplay is the most important part of a film project. If no one used the script there would be no movie. The writer may be the bottom person on the totem pole of a production, but without us writers, there’s no foundation for the structure of the film to be built on.

And as for good actors not using the script:

Tell that to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh uses the script to breathe life into her characters. To prepare for a role, she writes notes and diaries in the character’s voice and does extensive research. As a method actress, she couldn’t start doing her research without reading the script first.

And tell that to Hilary Swank. Swank is known for her meticulous research, from visiting a gym and practicing boxing in Million Dollar Baby to studying the life of Betty Anne Waters for Conviction. She couldn’t do her research without reading the script first.

Both Leigh and Swank have a resume of amazing performances and the awards to back them up. Swank is a two-time Oscar winner. Leigh has won every award but the Oscar, and it’s a matter of time before she gets one of those gold statues.

And how many awards has Ms. Alba won with her brilliant technique of not using the script?

That’s right ZERO.

Maybe Ms. Alba needs to learn how to read those scripts she doesn’t use and do research so she can give a strong performance like Swank and Leigh do. Then maybe she’d finally have that breakout role that would get audiences looking at her from the neck up and not the chest down.

She also goes on to say: “I know I haven’t been swimming in the deep end with some of the movies I’ve done. I wasn’t trying to. I knew what they were.”

Well, if Ms. Alba knew she was starring in movies with weak scripts then she should also know how important it is to find a good screenwriter and STAY very close to them. Screenwriters like myself are eager to tailor a script to an actor; many more would have been eager to create a character that would play to Ms. Alba’s strengths if she’d go out and seek out one.

Most of the Oscar-Winning actresses like Hilary Swank go out and LOOK for writers with fresh material. They form personal relationships with writers so they can craft dialogue and stories tailored to fit them. It’s to Ms. Alba’s advantage to find a writer and have them at her side when she pitched a project. With the help of a good screenwriter she’d have a better opportunity to produce material that would allow her to show the range I know she has but rarely uses in the string of forgettable movies she’s starred in recently.

Unfortunately, because of her comments Ms. Alba is going to have a harder time getting access to the projects which use “amazing writing”. Early on in the pitch process, it’s us writers who suggest performers to producers to cast in the lead roles. The producers oftentimes bring those actors in for readings before hiring a casting director. Those jobs are often a lock.

What’s even crazier is how later on in the piece Ms. Alba goes on to say she’s all about directors now. Er…many if not most good directors WRITE their own scripts. Directors also often re-write the scripts of other writers to get things just right during shooting. And directors don’t take too kindly to actors saying what they want to on their sets.

I doubt Ms. Alba would get away with saying what she wanted to say on the late Billy Wilder’s set. Or the late Elia Kazan’s set. Or George Lucas’ set. Or David Fincher’s set. The late Billy Wilder FIRED actors who went off HIS script. And he worked with legends like Marilyn Monroe. The late Elia Kazan was an “actor’s director”, but I doubt he’d put up with crap like an actor not staying on script. In the last Star Wars Trilogy, George Lucas micromanaged how every line was said and how every movement was made. David Fincher is notoriously meticulous for re-shooting scenes a hundred times to get things just right, and is very picky about his scripts.

I find it funny how Jessica’s all about directors but has a hard time taking direction from a second-rate director like Tim Story on a B-Grade Fantastic Four sequel. In the same article she says:

"I wanted to stop acting. I hated it. I really hated it.”

"I remember when I was dying in 'Silver Surfer'. The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica. ...'

"And then it all got me thinking: Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough?... And so I just said, 'F**k it. I don't care about this business anymore.'"

She hates acting in a B-Grade action movie with a director who asks a little of her but wants to work with more serious directors who will ask more of her.


If Ms. Alba is having problems working with mediocre directors like Story, how is she going to work with some of today’s best directors like David Fincher, Zack Snyder, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard or Clint Eastwood? Directors who stick to the script. Directors who put actors through HELL to get the shots they want?

Later on in the piece, Ms. “All About Directors” goes on to blame all her recent box-office failures on “First-Time Directors” she’s worked with.

Has anyone told Ms. Alba that in order to work with the great directors and the screenwriters with the “amazing writing” an actor has to pay dues? That sometimes paying those dues may mean years of working in projects with first-time directors, filmmakers who are a usually a LOT more receptive to hiring unproven talent like her? That’s usually the way an actor works their way up and hones their craft until they get to their breakthrough role which gives them an opportunity to work with the bigger directors.

I’m sure Julia Roberts loved working in Satisfaction before she found critical acclaim with Mystic Pizza and had her breakthrough role in Steel Magnolias.

I’m also sure Reese Witherspoon had her share of forgettable films like Fear before she broke through with the Legally Blonde series.

But Jessica Alba who has proven she can’t follow a script or take direction in lesser films feels entitled to work with top directors and doesn’t have to use a script unless it’s amazing writing.


In defense of all those first-time directors and screenwriters, I have point out Jessica Alba hasn’t actually proven she’s been bankable or a strong actress. In spite of numerous lead roles, she hasn’t shown she’s been able to carry a film from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Nor has she proven she’s got the star power to open a film on her own in its debut weekend. Angelina Jolie Jessica Alba ain’t.

But Ms. non-bankable mediocre talent feels she has the star power to badmouth people behind the camera.

Unfortunately, she has no idea how badly she’s ruined her stalled career.

As an actress of color, Jessica Alba has been blessed with roles and opportunities other Latina actresses like Christina Vidal, Sofia Vergara and Eva Longoria would be eager to have. Lead parts in movies. A lead role in a television series created by Oscar-winning director James Cameron. Playing Sue Storm, a role that was originally a white woman in the adaptation of Marvel comics’ flagship title Fantastic Four. It’s not like all those White Hollywood writers usually wrote roles regularly for women of color, but she was cut a lot of breaks. Instead of counting her blessings she bites the hand that feeds her.

Too bad she doesn’t understand how that hand strikes back in retaliation at actors of color.

In a racist sexist town like Hollywood, alienating screenwriters, producers and directors is the easiest way to make opportunities dry up for a young actress of color. Those screenwriters who considered her for their projects are now probably thinking of other actresses when they pitch their scripts to producers and executives. I truly doubt they were considering that many actresses of color on their short lists, but at least she was on them.

As a brotha who writes novels and screenplays, I know how hard it is to get a screenplay greenlit. And I know how much harder it is to get a screenplay greenlit featuring characters of color. And I also know it’s a struggle to maintain the integrity of that script as it goes through the hands of White directors and White producers. In an industry where only two percent of the screenwriters are African-American and even less are Latino, writers who write roles for actresses of color have to fight tooth and nail throughout the pre-production process to keep those roles from being changed to White roles. That’s why it frustrates me when I read about someone like Ms. Alba making ungrateful comments about not using the script and badmouthing directors. Actresses of color already have a hard time as it is finding quality scripts to work with because almost no one writes for them. Statements like Ms. Alba’s don’t give those writers more incentive to write more roles for women of color.

I was seriously considering writing a story with Ms. Alba as the inspiration for the female lead character. It was gonna be a romantic comedy. I scrapped those plans after I read the Elle article. Now I may be a nobody right now, but whenever I do become somebody, I’d rather write for someone who will value my script rather than someone who won’t use it.