Promoting Children’s and Young Adult Literature

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Download the guide Children’s YOung Adult Books List.

Thank you Wade Hudson for helping with the list. Also read the article “Ten Steps to Promote Children”s Literature” on the AALBC website.

Here it is! A list of Best books written and or illustrated by Black book creators that were published in 2015. A big shout out to Kelly Starling Lyons, The Brown Bookshelf, http://thebrownbookshelf.com/ and Dr. Nancy Tolson, Assistant Director of African American Studies, University of South Carolina, tolsonn@mailbox.sc.edu, for helping to compile and curate the list. Please share so as many people as possible can be aware of the wonderful books being published. Support these book creators by making purchases. If you would like a copy of the list, please feel free to contact us.To view the list, just click on the link below. GOOD BOOKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Download the guide Children’s Young Adult Books List.

The Blackbirds by Eric Jerome Dickey

 Blackbirds-eric-jerome-dickey
“The Blackbirds” by Eric Jerome Dickey
c.2016, Dutton                        
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
519 pages
You and your girls are birds of a feather.
You flock together, preen together, share your nest when needed and, while you happily sing one another’s praises, you’d never open your beak to spill their secrets. Then again, as in the new book “The Blackbirds” by Eric Jerome Dickey, you’d never crow about all the details of your own life, either.
A mere birthday wasn’t good enough for Indigo Abdulrahaman. Oh, no – she got a birth month.
She decreed it, planned it, and made her friends follow along with her wishes. A strong-willed woman born to Nigerian parents, Indigo was the tallest of the four women, dark-skinned, with a hunger for the finer things – including men, of which she had two. And when a woman caught Indigo’s eye, she wasn’t above giving that a go, too.
Kwanzaa Browne spent the weeks before her birthday crying over a man: she caught her fiancé cheating with a Brazilian woman, which was the last straw for Kwanzaa. It would take a lot for her to forget her ex. A lot – including, perhaps, a romance with a handsome man she’d been watching for months.
Kwanzaa snagged him three weeks before Destiny Jones’ birthday, which didn’t matter to Destiny; she had nothing to celebrate. The man she loved didn’t know an important truth about her, and she didn’t know how to tell him – but before she could figure it out, he learned of her fame-not-fame, and it threatened to ruin everything.
As for Ericka Stockwell, some things were already in ruins by the time her birthday arrived: her once-abusive mother was around again, as was cancer for the second time. Even so, grateful for life, Ericka’s bucket list was full that anniversary of her birth, and it included finding the Love of Her Life. Unfortunately, once she found him, she knew she could never share the good news with her friends…
Aside from the gorgeous cover, size is likely the first thing you’ll notice about “The Blackbirds.”  At just over 500 pages, it’s a brick – and I daresay it’s an unnecessary one, at that.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a decent plot here; Oh-My-Goodness twists; and characters that are gorgeous, loyal, and cheated-upon every few pages. Since I love a good scandal, wow, that was fun – until those characters launched into mattress gymnastics and cutesy raunch-code, both of which become tiresome in short order. Cut half the ubiquitous (and rather humdrum) bedroom scenes and most of the silly faux sex-words, and I’d have been just fine. Even so, I would’ve missed the action usually found in more recent Eric Jerome Dickey novels. Sigh.
Much as I gleefully anticipate author Dickey’s novels, I didn’t think this wordy one was his best – but it’s not the worst, either. It’s not as good as his thrillers, not as good as “One Night,” but better than his more-erotic novels. So cautiously, I guess I’d say don’t discount “The Blackbirds.”
It has issues, yes, but diehard fans may still crow about it.

The Hand I was Dealt Episode 1

The hand I was Dealt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Tra Verdejo and Silk White

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Recently, Baltimore has experienced the riots. The Hand I was Dealt is based in Baltimore. Explain why you chose to set the web series in Baltimore and what makes Baltimore a unique city?

Silk White

We chose to shoot the web series in Baltimore because it’s a strong city and people there are always so alive. While shooting the final episode the riots began to break out and we actually got some footage of a few of the protest. Baltimore always shows us love so it’s only right that we show the same love back.

 

Tra Verdejo

Baltimore, because Silk and I have done a lot of business in the Baltimore, we have owned bookstores and we also filmed Black Barbie in Baltimore as well. We’re both from NY but our heart belongs to the city of Baltimore. We know the city, so it’s easier for us to find the right locations. Also, throughout the show you will see a different side of Baltimore, we filmed everything in the city but you won’t see the row houses and dirty alleys, it’s more to see in Baltimore besides what everyone saw in “The Wire” & “The Corner”

It just so happens while we were shooting the very last scene of episode 10, we ran into the protesters, so we filmed a little bit of it and we will show that, not the riots but the peaceful protest. The world scene enough of the looting. 

 

After years of writing, selling and publishing books, what made you venture into film?

Silk White

Well we always wanted to do films and bring our stories to the big screen but some times its all about timing and i think now was the perfect time for The Hand I Was Dealt

Tra Verdejo

Prior to filming this Web-series, Silk and I wrote and Directed 2 films (No Way Out and Black Barbie) and I wrote and directed a short film (The Naked Monster). The filming itch was there. My fans always told me they could envision my words. Lately the book industry has not been as lucrative as it was in the pass, so we are trying to put more energy into the film industry   

How did the web series “The Hand I was Dealt” come about?

Silk White

I had the script already done went and talked to my partner Tra Verdejo and we worked out all the details and a month later we had a finished product. We put in a lot of hours behind the scenes to make this project come to life.

Tra Verdejo

Silk called and told me about the project, we were trying to figure out our next moves. We both have our own companies and projects but our work chemistry is straight magic so when he called me I was like I’m all in, let’s do it. Real talk when we were filming Black Barbie back in 2011, Silk had an idea about a web-series, the timing was right

 

How did you come to the decision to act in the web series as well as direct?

Silk White

We felt that we needed to be the directors because no one knew the story line better than us and we knew exactly how things needed to play out and be shown on the screen. As far as acting it’s just something that we love to do and continue to get better at.

Tra Verdejo

We are Bosses, so unless a big time Director comes along, we would handle it ourselves. No one knows your vision better than yourself.  It’s the same attitude we had in the book game. We are independent with the mentality of a major company.  The acting part is fun, but like Silk said we are getting better at it.

Is the web series an original script or based on any previous books? Characters?

Silk White

This web series is an original script. Just wanted to give the people something fresh and new.

Tra Verdejo

Silk wrote it as a web-series. We didn’t want people to compare it to anything or say the book is always better than the movie / web-series.

What was the biggest challenge getting the web series completed?

Silk White

The biggest challenge in getting the web series done for me was getting everyone on the same schedule. With everyone being so busy everyone has to work on each other’s schedule and some times that can a hassle. Also finding these locations was a challenge

Tra Verdejo

I agree with Silk, getting everything and everyone scheduled was crazy because we had people from NY, DE, MD, DC & VA.  Also the promoting of the casting call making sure the right agencies knew about it so we could find the right actors.

 

What was your favorite scene shooting in episode 1 of the series? Why?

Silk White

My favorite scene in episode 1 would have to be the opening scene with Macho and Missy that’s the scene that gets everything started.

Tra Verdejo

My favorite part from Episode 1 was the whole Big Time scene, when he pulled up in the red car looking for Zoe. It just reminded me of the good old hustling days in the hood.

 

When will the second episode be released? How frequent and how many episodes in the series?

Silk White

The second episode will air Tuesday 5/12/15 and an episode will be aired every Tuesday at 8PM

 

Watch episode 1.  Additional Episodes will be shown here

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“It Ain’t Hard to Tell” by Kenneth Hicks


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“It Ain’t Hard to Tell”: Authors Old and Young are Inspired by the Sounds of the Struggle
By Kenneth Hicks

Inspiration can blossom from literally anywhere. As an artist, creativity can be drawn from a conversation, from the art of others or merely by taking a walk around their own neighborhood. Hip hop is one art form in which artists have benefited from varying sources of inspiration, and some of the greatest works in hip hop history have arisen from this formula. Conversely, Hip hop culture has succeeded in permeating all other mediums of artistic expression. For over 30 years rap music has served as a mirror reflecting the imperfections of social ills and the beauty hidden within those very same problems. When it comes to capturing these elements, however, few lyricists have managed to capture them quite like Nas did with “Illmatic”, T.I. did with “Trap Muzik” and Kendrick Lamar did with “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City”.

Each of these projects eloquently described the mindset of a young black man in their respective cities at their respective times. Nas’s groundbreaking first album “Illmatic” spoke of the perils and struggles he witnessed in New York City’s notorious Queens Bridge housing projects. T.I. introduced his fans to “The Trap” (southern slang for a drug spot) and conversely the “traps” that come along with it. Kendrick Lamar gave us the untold story of what becomes of a teenager caught in the midst of Los Angeles gang culture at its peak. The stories told, and the emotions invoked within these Hip Hop gems is reminiscent of the same stories and emotions found within Jazz music during the Harlem Renaissance, and just as Jazz served as the muse for many authors of that time period, many of today’s young authors find that same creative spark through hip hop.

The notion that literature can be influenced by music is not a new one. On a panel at the Newport Casino Theater during the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival called “Jazz and Communication”, Langston Hughes described the work of himself and some of his contemporaries as “Putting Jazz into words.” Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do (To Be So Black and Blue”) was the centerpiece of Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece, Invisible Man. Jazz birthed “Jazz Poetry” a precursor to what we know today as hip hop. The legacy of Hip Hop is clearly tied into that of its predecessor, Jazz. Similarly, the expression of music and literature has long been intertwined as well.
Following this notion of finding inspiration in song, my latest work stems from the artistry found in Hip Hop such as the aforementioned Nas, T.I., and Kendrick Lamar records. An author’s ambition should be to write a story so vivid that when the character stubs their toe, the readers say “ouch!” That being the case, the best way to achieve this is to give the audience as much insight into who these characters are as possible. Hip hop music serves as a great identifier. It can give the readers context for a situation. It can help provide ambiance. It can even provide clarity into how a character may dress, their temperament and even how they interact with one another.

In sitting down to pen my newest novel Natural Life, I wanted to produce a story that was true to the lives of young people growing up in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. In order to paint this picture I intended for the story to look, smell and sound like Cleveland. Overlooked during the East-West rap beef and the uprising of the South, the Midwest has always been open-minded to the very best of all incarnations of rap music (even when it wasn’t cool to be versatile). Whether listening to Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs while writing or referencing Bone Thugs ~N~ Harmony in the novel, there was no way for this story to be told without the lifeblood of hip hop coursing through the pages.

Much like the music, the writing serves as a platform to speak to how the people are living. Addressing issues like racism, materialism, classism, crime, education, the prison industrial complex and more Natural Life keys in on recurring themes in urban communities like Cleveland across the nation. The only difference being that a novel often times has the capacity to go more in depth on a subject than a musician can with a four minute song. By speaking to not only the effects, but the causes of these problems, art can open a dialogue on what can be done to improve on these ills that plague our society. By feeding off of the Hip Hop music at the heart of the book, the literature takes on the bass heavy rhythms that so many of us have already come to know and love.

Kenneth Hicks is a published novelist from Cleveland, Ohio. His fourth book, Natural Life will be released in April 2015. www.obeliskmediagroup.com

OWL Feature with Ashley Antionette Part 1

Ashley Antoinette is a bona fide literary success story. She is a New York Times bestselling author in her own right, as well as half of the superstar-writing duo Ashley and JaQuavis. With over 40 books published, including the popular The Prada Plan saga, she is a force to be reckoned with. Not content to rest on their laurels, the partners have added a new job title to their already impressive resume: publisher. Below Ashley chats with Urbania about her writing process, what’s she’s working on, and why now is the time to take on the publishing world.


How do you think the writing with your husband makes your books better? What does that partnership add?

Writing with my husband gives me an advantage over every other female writer. I don’t have to guess about the male perspective because he provides that in our story lines. Our characters are authentic and the readers can feel them because they are accurate in their depictions and portray a true tone from both the male and female voice.

How is your creative process different when you work alone? Do you find you focus more on your female characters?

When I work alone I find it takes more concentration. I have to supplement for that loss of talent when I work without JaQuavis so I tend to overcompensate with my male characters. My novels are definitely female driven when I work alone and the story lines are less defined from the beginning. I oftentimes work unrestricted and without direction when I write solo. I let the characters lead me where they want to go, instead of already having the destination plotted out which is the strategy we use when writing together.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a project for Vh1 right now and also Prada Plan 4. Both will be extremely entertaining. I also have a novel entitled, The Pretty Circle, in store for my fans. That book will elevate my career to another plateau. I’m excited about that one.  JaQuavis is working on individual film projects for legendary rappers, Prodigy and Scarface. He is also producing an innovative film project called, The Ruse. On top of that Murderville 3 drops September 3rd. So we are very busy. We never stop working.

Has your goal always been to start your own publishing company?

Absolutely. JaQuavis and I have always valued the idea of ownership. We knew that we had to work our way from the bottom of the totem pole to the top and learn as much as possible along the way, before we embarked down the road of publishing. We’ve been in this business for 8 years and we are now equipped with the knowledge and experience it takes to run a successful publishing company. You can’t publish bestsellers if you’ve never been one. You have to know how to get to a destination before you can be a map to someone else. So we built our A&J brand and we worked hard until our careers were at that level. Now its time to pass down what we’ve learned and share the map of success with those we feel have the same talent and drive. OWL is something that we are both very proud of.

After years of having success with a publisher, what was the reason for starting your own company?

At a certain point in your career it just becomes time to spread your wings. We’ve done the most that can be done being signed with a publishing house. We’ve become best sellers. We’ve helped to grow someone else’s company. We’ve made history in African American literature. Now its time to use our talents to grow our own house and groom our own authors. We want to change the face of publishing by contributing only the best pieces of literature to the business. The team of writers that we have gathered are doing exactly that.

What indicators in the industry or in your personal writing career made you feel like now is the time?

I knew that it was time to start OWL when I got a 7-figure check and was disappointed because it was signed by someone else. I don’t want anyone cutting checks to me. JaQuavis and I are business-minded individuals and have always been in boss positions behind the scenes. It was time to put in the work and make it official at our own company.

What is the significance of the name?

The Official Writers League is significant in many ways. Only those who are breaking bread at our table truly know its significance, but what we will share with the world is that we only specialize in the highest level of storytelling. Everything we publish is phenomenal and personally stamped by the two of us. We vouch for all of our writers.

The book publishing industry is rapidly and dramatically changing. How will your publishing company cater to the modern reader? 

At the end of the day its about producing quality material for readers. I don’t believe in gimmicks. I don’t want to trick readers into purchasing novels based on anything besides the body of work. Good literature is timeless so whether you’re a modern reader or someone who has had a love of reading since childhood, you will be able to appreciate what OWL has to offer.

Will you be focusing on publishing up-and-coming or established authors?

OWL is a mixture of both. We have some very established authors on the roster like JM Benjamin, Amaleka McCall, and Danielle Santiago, but we also have some new writers who are just as talented with their pens. C.N. Phillips is a young lady that I hand picked to mentor. We call her ‘The Protege’ because she reminds me so much of myself. She definitely has next and will take this business by storm with her next few projects. She’s studied my technique for years and she has a unique voice of her own that captures you from the first sentence. With that combination she can’t lose and she can definitely compete with anything that is on shelves. We also have a new writer, Ms. Keisha Tyree who is getting excellent reviews on her first novel, Heavy. Our team is strong and we aren’t biased to established writers. We just appreciate people who understand the art of storytelling. There are a millions writers. The genre is becoming over saturated, but very few people are true storytellers. That gift is rare and everyone on our team has the ability to do that. We just signed quite a few new authors as well, whom we can’t wait to announce.

What do you think a smaller, more independent publisher can offer an author that a big house can’t?

I can’t speak for every small publisher, but I know JaQuavis and I can offer a few things that a big house can’t. For one we are at the peak of our careers and from association only, our writers have an inherit fan base. We are also doing more than just publishing. We are actually mentoring our authors. We are giving them the knowledge that we wish someone had given us when we first began our career. JaQuavis and I are a brand and no one built it but ourselves. We are teaching our writers the importance of building their brand. We show them how to build it, nurture it, protect it, and grow it. We also invest our time and money into our writers before they ever make us one red cent. We want them to look a certain way, to behave a certain way…OWL is more than a company. We are truly going above and beyond to make this feel like home. We are all supportive of one another. We are grooming publishing executives and we are competitive with everyone outside of our camp, but within OWL we are each other’s biggest promotion.

Why haven’t more books, specifically urban fiction books been bought to film?

Because the writers of urban fiction books sit around and wait for others to bring their books to film. JaQuavis and I are so fortunate to have a major motion film deal, but honestly if that didn’t happen we would have still had plans to transition our books to film. That has always been the goal. So while the majors are working on producing The Cartel for the big screens we are also working on three other independent film projects. We don’t wait on anyone to make things happen for us. We speak and act things into our own existence.

The Delphine Queen – Tamika Newhouse

The Delphine Queen – Tamika Newhouse

Today’s publishing world is full of trick steps, strokes of luck, heartbreaks, and incomprehensible (see inconsistent, changeable) standards. Writers find dozens, sometimes hundreds, of obstacles between them and their dream of publication.

But the savvy have learned how to dance through those tricks steps, outsmart luck, endure heartbreak, and forge their own paths. One such writer is Tamika Newhouse. A writer, publisher, public speaker, radio host, award winner, and entrepreneur, Newhouse has overcome great odds to carve out a literary niche that allows her to tell truthful stories about African Americans and her own experiences as a black woman.

“I have been writing since I was eight years old. I didn’t begin to write it’s just something I have always done. I always tell people I didn’t choose to write I was born to write… [I write] stories that display black love in its ugliest form as well it its most beautiful form. Love isn’t perfect so therefore I never write a perfect life.”

Newhouse’s first book, The Ultimate No No, delves into the complicated and treacherous nature of love and revenge. “Publishing that first book was the biggest and [most] important step. Without that accomplishment none of this would exist. I would still be lost not knowing what to do with my life.” Despite the criticism that her plot was mediocre and the difficulty she faced in spreading the word about The Ultimate No No, Newhouse says, “I didn’t want to wait for someone to say they wanted to publish my book. I went ahead and made it happen myself.” With that determination, she formed her own publishing company, Delphine Publications (named in honor of her mother) at the age of 21. The company now publishes the work of other up-and-coming urban authors as well as continuing to publish Newhouse’s work.

Since that first novel, Newhouse has gone on to write and publish nine other books, including Trust No Nigga, published by SBR Publications. I was approached by… David Weaver on creating a story that can empower women but also show how we can react in certain situations. The title itself is risky and controversial as society has dubbed it as a horrible word. However this version of the word “N” refers to man or homeboy. It is a strong word and for Trust No Nigga there was no other title. I simply had to take from my personal experiences with men and from others I know and create an original plot. The drama is realistic and it is meant and portrayed this way to create a reaction.” In addition to heart rending personal situations, Newhouse does not shy from addressing the economic and racial issues faced by many African Americans. Indeed, she hopes to raise awareness of the continued plight of many throughout the United States.

Self-publishing is always an exhausting prospect. Authors have to take on the role of their own agent, publicity, marketing expert, delivery person (in many cases), secretary and much more. “The marketing aspect is always hard because there is always someone who hasn’t read my book so I have to creative with getting the word out.” When asked about the benefits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, Newhouse remarked, “Working with other publishers I am able to gain exposure through their reach. I am always excited about opportunities to be exposed to new readers. [Though] I am able to make what they give me in a year in a month… the exposure is worth it.”

That exposure, coupled with her own enormous marketing efforts have made Newhouse a bestselling author and winner of numerous awards and accolades including the 2009 African American Literary Awards Self-Published Author of the Year Award; in 2010 she was inducted into the Who’s Who in Black San Antonio; a nomination for the 2011 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award; the 2013 Author of Distinction E. Lynn Harris Award; and the 2013 African American Literary Award for Self-Published Author of the Year.

As a natural offshoot of her writing and publishing career, Newhouse tours the country to do public speaking events. Her main message during these events is “That in spite of mistakes, economical reasons, and lack of faith you can make it happen. You can follow your dreams but it’s all up to you. No one truly controls your fate but you.”

To share her passion for books and literature, Newhouse founded African Americans on the Move Book Club (AAMBC), which seeks to bring together radio, online chat groups, and the book club format in an innovative and exciting new platform.

While nurturing her public speaking career, helming Delphine Publications, and running AAMBC, Newhouse has several new writing projects on the horizon including a planned erotica series; Trust No Nigga 2; a spin-off series from The Ultimate No No; and a new series called The Illest Na Na now out in digital format.

Links:

Twitter @TamikaNewhouse
Instagram @BossladyTamika
www.TamikaNewhouse.com
Blog; www.PassionateSpot.com

Lashonda DeVaughn, Urban Warrior and Success Story

LaShonda DeVaughn, Urban Warrior and Underdog Success Story
by Robin L. Martinez

From its earliest beginnings, the United States has rallied around and idolized those who found a way to overcome less than ideal circumstances. Our history is rife with stories of individuals who used ingenuity, pure grit, and not a little chutzpah to make something out of nothing, to grab the American Dream and make it reality.

Mother, writer, entrepreneur, warrior, LaShonda DeVaughn has achieved the pinnacle of success and self-actualization even though her start in life gave her little with which to work. Her personal and professional triumphs stand as testimony to her tenacity and power of spirit. “No matter where you come from, your family and your loyalty will be tested. You either survive or you fold,” she says, encapsulating the quintessential trait of those who can spin straw into gold.

A veteran of Boston’s troubled streets, DeVaughn watched as her mother, a hard-working single parent, sacrificed meals so that her children could eat. From this introduction to poverty she learned the lessons of frugality and household management that would prove essential to her later when she began her own business. Living in the decaying neighborhood of Dorchester, DeVaughn also stood as an unwilling witness to street and gang violence. Both her teenage sweetheart and her beloved younger brother lost their lives to the streets at tragically young ages. These early heartbreaks would leave indelible impressions on DeVaughn and her writing.

Similar living conditions and hardships have consumed millions of people, suffocating them with despair and killing whatever gifts they possessed. But in a high school creative writing class, DeVaughn found a way to fight her own desolation and give voice to the anguish and ingenuity of the urban jungle in which she was raised.

“…my teacher used to always display my stories to the class as an example of how to be descriptive as opposed to just telling your story.” DeVaughn used her knack for description to pen some of the most moving and honest urban tales in print. Her first full-length novel, A Hood Chick’s Story mined DeVaughn’s own conflicted past for its gritty, no-nonsense tale of Tiara James. Like DeVaughn, Tiara endures personal tragedy and loss. At some point, Tiara, like her creator, has to make the choice to either be defined by tragedy or empowered by it. The novel did so well that it spawned two sequels.

DeVaughn’s more recent works continue to tackle issues that plague young women today: Does love or money make life complete? What do you do when your life falls apart and those you trusted most flee the rubble? She also delves into complicated issues like infidelity, domestic abuse, sexual freedom, and drug addiction. While her work focuses on urban living and Black American issues, DeVaughn works hard to make her work relatable to a variety of people. “All of the characters in my novels are survivors and I can put money on the fact that you know at least one person who is living or has been through some of the situations I write about. All of my stories are deep and it’s for a reason, I purposely try to touch people to the point where they are thinking about my books long after they have read them.”

Keying in to current trends and issues, DeVaughn’s story “The Skeletons in My Closet” and its sequel I’d Rather Be Single Pt. 2 investigates the lifestyle behind such popular shows as Basketball Wives and the many Housewives series. The supposed glamor of dating or marrying a celebrity is exposed in DeVaughn’s characteristic gritty style. “I showed women that all that glitters isn’t gold. Especially when cheating is involved, jealousy and family issues clash,” she said when asked about the inspiration for Tyra and Rosslyn’s story.

Not content to sit only in the writer’s chair, DeVaughn owns her own imprint, LSDV Productions. The publishing company helps launch the careers of other up-and-coming writers such as Tracee Boyd, Mimi Renee, Tysha, Kaie Golson, and India all of whom also focus on urban tales.

Wading through the difficulties of starting a publishing company – forming an LLC, ensuring contracts were in order, and working with attorneys to get all the details in place – DeVaughn has never lost sight of her love of writing and publishing. It is that love that has driven her to perfect her business skills in order to offer her readers and authors the best experience possible. “I do it for my readers, for the underdogs and for everyone who thinks about giving up when the odds are against them. If I could make it, so can you!”

One of DeVaughn’s goals as a writer and publisher is to widen the reach of urban authors and stories. “The toughest criticism [I get] would be from readers who dismiss urban fiction. Often at booksignings [sic] you get avid urban fiction readers or you’ll get readers who vow against reading urban tales. As a writer and a publisher, you’re also a sales person so you have to explain why the consumer should read your story. You’d be surprised how many non-urban fiction readers fall in love with my books, especially A Hood Chick’s Story.”

DeVaughn has not shied away from doing the grunt work involved with marketing her own books and the books of other urban writers. When she first entered the business in 2007, she had to go state to state and personally pitch her books to retailers, convincing them that her work had a place on their shelves. She even did book signings on the street, handing out copies of A Hood Chick’s Story and promotional flyers to anyone who passed by. “Six years later, I’m a National Best Selling Author and I’ve NEVER been signed to a major [publisher]. It was all hustle and grind that got me to where I am today. I thank my past for that.”

As a savvy businesswoman, DeVaughn has steered LSDV Productions into multimedia platforms and formats. Most of LSDV Productions titles are available as eBooks for Kindles or Nooks and a film version of DeVaughn’s popular novel If All Men Cheat, All Women Should Too! is in preproduction.

Another facet of publishing that DeVaughn has been deeply involved in is the cover design of LSDV’s books. Since A Hood Chick’s Story, DeVaughn has been the model for all of her novels’ covers as well as many of the anthologies in which her short stories are featured. “When I first wrote A Hood Chick’s Story I felt like I was the only person that would be able to display the kind of pain that the character in my story had hidden behind her eyes…  After that, I kept that movement going. It’s exciting getting into the character of the women in my stories and portraying them on the covers. Plus it’s cheaper than paying models for something that I can do myself!”

From tremendous pain to the heights of success, LaShonda DeVaughn has run the gamut of human experiences in her short life. She has reinvented herself from “hood chick” to heroine. She acts as a touchstone for others who seek to leave behind destructive influences and make positive differences in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. But, most of all, LaShonda DeVaughn offers damn good stories that are fresh, relatable, and entertaining. Look out for more excitement and innovation from this up-and-coming underdog!

 

Spreading the Fire: Darlene Aiken and the Empowerment of Women

Spreading the Fire:
Darlene Aiken and the Empowerment of Women
by Robin L. Martinez

Today’s child “experts” and psychologists are very fond of handing out advice (much of it contrary and impractical) on how to raise a child. Parenting magazines print endless lists of skill-building activities and kid-friendly recipes to entice readers. But not many parents and guardians receive the essential lesson of how to raise a child rich in self-confidence. Many well meaning parents stumble over this building block of childhood and watch with bewilderment as their adventurous and audacious little one withers during her preteen and teen years. How do we prevent or reverse this? Darlene Aiken, founder of Inner Beauty Solutions and founder/director of the Miss Black Collegiate USA Scholarship Pageant™ has dedicated her professional career to answering this question.

Raised by two loving and encouraging parents, Ms. Aiken nevertheless fell victim to bullying as a child. Above average in height and overweight, she soon came to believe what her bullies said about her: that she was ugly and worthless. As an escape from this harrowing self-image, Aiken herself became a bully. She longed to be someone else, someone beautiful and successful and popular. Then, in middle school, she learned a very important lesson. A girl named Tanya, whom Aiken believed to have a charmed life, opened up to her and told her that she was in foster care and had been separated from her siblings. From this confession, Aiken learned that physical beauty told very little about a person or a person’s life. In fact, it often masked ugly realities. From that day on, Aiken never desired to be anyone but herself. As she moved through life, she took that vital message with her and made a mission of passing it on to others.

In 2001, she founded Inner Beauty Solutions, a revolutionary non-profit organization that provides training to young women and their parents on the attainment and nurturing of healthy self-esteem. Inner Beauty Solutions provides workshops that give young girls and women tools to change their worldview as well as the view they have of themselves. “Acceptance comes from self, first and foremost,” Aiken said. “I’m of the mindset that wherever I am, I belong, just by virtue of my being born. If I did not belong, God would not have made it possible for me to be here. In addition to belonging, I have value, talents, gifts, and ability and it is incumbent upon me to share these gifts, talents, and abilities or what is the purpose they serve[?]” This belief forms the foundation of Aiken’s entire mission and the lessons she hopes to impart to young girls and women across the country.

Inner Beauty Solutions also works with girls who have or are experiencing bullying. Aiken and her staff teach workshop participants techniques that will not only galvanize their self-esteem, but also help to neutralize bullies by making them pause and reevaluate their bullying behavior. Parent workshops dovetail into the girl-specific sessions by equipping parents and caregivers with strategies and advice that will enable them to facilitate and support their daughters’ empowerment and fight to be free of bullying.

The seeds for the Miss Black Collegiate USA Scholarship Pageant™ were planted in Inner Beauty Solutions. In 2011, the organization, along with their partners Felicity Hair Salon for Girls and New York TREND Newspaper, held a pageant that sought to celebrate the beauty in ALL young women and give one talented winner a boost towards a college education.

In 2012, the pageant became the Miss Black Collegiate USA Scholarship Pageant™ and, in that first year awarded over $10,000 in scholarship money and won the support of major sponsors including Macy’s Bridal Salon by Demetrios, R. J. Graziano, Curtis James, Style Evolutions, Palmer Event Strategist, The Event Strategist, and Iman Cosmetics. But the pageant’s birth was not without difficulties. “During the formative years… [of the pageant]… there were many many naysayers. People didn’t believe it could be done for many reasons,” Aiken said. But she and her dedicated staff proved all the critics wrong and are, even now, gearing up for the pageant’s second year.

The goal of the Miss Black Collegiate USA Scholarship Pageant™ is more than awarding scholarship money. In keeping with Inner Solutions’ organizational mission and Aiken’s personal values, the pageant fosters the belief that spirituality, academics, and community service coupled with a strong sense of self-value are key to having a rich and productive future. And, because “life is not always so serious,” the pageant incorporates the idea of wholesome fun and the building of strong friendships.

Ms. Aiken’s many accomplishments also include publishing. Her book, How to Be a Young Lady: Your Total Guide for Being the Best Possible You! was published in 2006 and furthered the philosophies and teachings of Inner Beauty Solutions. She also has a contribution in the upcoming Network to Increase Your Net Worth compiled by Toni Coleman-Brown. This volume focuses on business professionals and those hoping to enter the business world.

“Being a trailblazer is never easy, so I go into everything expecting favor from God and opposition from many.” Darlene Aiken has put that life philosophy to the test time and again with amazing success. Hinging her business and life decisions on her Christian ethics and the principles of self-sacrifice and hard work she learned from her father, Aiken has plowed through difficulties and disproved critics in order to build an organization that is making a fundamental difference in the world.

Francis Ray Interview

Interviewed by Ni’cola Mitchell

Francis Ray is a literary legend with too many books to mention. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss writing, publishing and the inspiration and hard works to keep moving forward. Unfortunately she past away before we were able to publish.

1.What inspires you to write?

What inspires me to write is the desire to write a story where love triumphs despite overwhelming odds.  Long term, lasting relationships take time to build and require honesty, commitment, trust and love.  In any relationship there will be problems.  The degree of happiness your achieve with depend on the factors I mentioned previously.

2.  What type of time management skills do you utilize to maintain consistency when writing several books at a time?

I wish you could see me laughing. I’m really not sure how I managed to write those 4 books within a year.  I did have a 10 page daily word count, but I don’t recall paying it that much attention.  I believe the main thing that helped get the books written was the pull of the story itself.  I wrote more and goofed off less.  Also, I had a well-defined synopsis for each story.  I knew where I was going, and didn’t have to “plot” as I wrote.

3. Authors sometimes use their characters to send a general message to their readers, what message if any do your characters send?

I always try to let my readers, especially woman, know that life can flatten you at the least unexpected time.  You can’t wallow in self-pity or poor me.  You have to get up, fight and overcome whatever obstacle that’s in your way.

4. How long does it take for you to write a book from start to finish?

Length of time to start/finish a book varies. My romance books are a bit shorter than my mainstream, but I might have to do more research on the romance books.  I’d say an average of 4 months.  But as I said earlier, that can change as it did when I wrote the last books.
5.  What suggestions would you give writers on how to obtain multiple contracts at the same time?

I’m not sure I’d advise multiple contracts at the same time.  You have to figure in research, writing the books, revisions and marketing are just a few things you’ll have to juggle.  Then, too, you want to meet all deadlines so your editor will know you’re dependable.  I’d much rather have a multi-book contract with one house.  If you’re talking about how to obtain multiple contracts ( 3 or more) from the same editor/publishing house, I’d advise turning in consistent, high-quality, on-time manuscripts.  Let your editor/agent know you’re ready to move up a bit.  The more work you turn out, the more reader recognition you’ll have.

6.  Tell us about all of your titles that are scheduled to be released this year. Which one is your favorite and why?

ALL I EVER WANTED, A Grayson Friends Novel # 8 – February 26, 2013 : A woman and her small daughter are looking for a new life away from her ex-husband..

ALL OF MY LOVE, eBook May 14, 2013: A divorced couple find their might still care for the other.

AFTER THE DAWN,   A Family Affair/Hidden Legacy novel # 3 – June 18, 2013: The well-being Elms Fork depend if two people fighting an irresistible attractions can work together.

ALL THAT I NEED, A Grayson Friends Novel # 9- July 2, 2013: A man has to learn to trust with his heart.

ALL THAT I DESIRE, A Grayson Friends novel # 10 – October 29, 2013: A security expert is trying to remain professional while protecting a woman he desperately wants in his bed.

My favorite is ALL THAT I DESIRE.  Readers have waited years for Rio’s story.   Rio is gorgeous and can look through a woman.  A highly trained security expect, he takes orders from no man – not even his boss – unless he wants to. He doesn’t want home and hearth, but that’s exactly what Skylar wants for him.  Let the games begin.
7. All you books get nothing less then 4 stars when it comes to reviews, what do think sets your works apart from others?

I’m so grateful for the wonderful reviews.  I try so very hard to write the best book each time.  I really enjoy writing about the inner workings of family dynamics.  I also enjoy seeing women triumph over the odds against them.  Perhaps, these themes appeal to reviewers.  In any case, I really appreciate them,and hope and pray the good reviews continue.
8. Who are some of your biggest influences and why?

Publishing is changing so much these days it’s difficult to pin-point my biggest influences.  With the rise of electronic books, one influence could be seriously looking at independent publishing.  The success of Indie authors can’t be denied.  However, as in mainstream, not all Indie authors will be successful.   Then you have your veteran writers like Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz and Kimberla Lawson Roby who continually just get the work done. They’re a huge influence.   Book after book, they just do the work.  These great writers tell a compelling story with a satisfying ending.  I marvel and hope I’m around as long.

9. What is the biggest advice you would give any aspiring author?

The biggest advise I’d give an aspiring writers would be to join Romance Writers of America – http://www.rwa.org/, the local chapter, and attend conferences when possible.This is a new stance for me.    However, now there is so much going on at the local level where the aspiring writers can learn the craft and the business end of writing.  To succeed he/she will have to know both.  To those looking at multicultural, there is a multicultural chapter in RWA.  Also, independent is Romance Slam Jam, rwaslamjam.org, an independent organization devoted to honoring readers.  Once you see that book, you’ll need readers.
10. Random question: What was your favorite childhood book?

Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Even as a child I loved the possibility of the unexpected happening, and happy endings – although some stories did not.
11.  If you had to describe your style of writing who would you say it was most similar to?

I’ve often thought about this questions, and have to admit, I haven’t come up with an answer.  I’d love to say Kristen Hannah because of the family ties.  All I can say is that I’m trying.
12. If you could make anyone of your novels into a movie which one would you pick to be on the big screen and why?

If I could make any of my books into a movie it would be AFTER THE DAWN.  I’m pick Morris Chestnut as Dillon Montgomery because not only is he handsome, but he has a boyish, enduring quality that appeals to people.

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