Happy 70th Birthday, Alice Walker!

Alice Walker’s 70th birthday was this past Sunday. Her writings only saved my life. I first got into her work when The Color Purple movie came out. This was right after my grandmother passed away. That movie was the only thing that pulled me out of that funk. “You took my sister Nettie ‘way from me. You knew she was the only somebody who loved me…” Whoa! Celie was speaking my grief. Ma ki da da.

Through the movie, I was introduced to the novel and, in essence, the world of African-American women’s literature. So um, this blog you’re reading right now? Thank you, Alice Walker.

I’ve kinda been in Ms. Walker’s presence at least 3 times in my life. The first was a book signing in Brooklyn for the Possessing The Secret of Joy release where they rushed us past her. (Boo!) Then she stayed in the guest rooms in my dorm during my freshwoman year at Spelman College, but we never saw her. We tried though. Like casually hanging out by the door to her hallway tried until some staff member ran us off. But those instances were teasers really. It’s the third encounter that matters.

I was finishing up my lunch at Whole Foods in midtown Atlanta. I look up and see Alice Walker walking toward the restroom. My first reaction was “WTF!” And my second reaction was “Oh, no!” You see, I had to go to the bathroom too. And there was no way that I was going to be one of those rude fans who slides pen and paper under the stall door while a celebrity was trying to handle their business. And I didn’t want to miss her if she left while I was handling mine. Besides, I already had her autograph (reference my Alice Walker encounter #1).

Well, I really had to go. So I went. And she washed her hands and left out before I was done. Oh no! Foiled by the elusive Ms. Walker again. I washed my hands and went back into the store. By now, I was gonna be late if I didn’t start heading back to work. But eff that. This woman’s work only had a major influence on the person I have become, right? So I look around. She was talking to her companion and was about to push her cart into the main part of the store.

I gently tapped her on the back. She turned and I… Well, what do you say to Alice Walker when you unexpectedly bump into her at the grocery store? I came up with pure brilliance in that split second, if I do say so myself.

“Excuse me, Ms. Walker. I don’t mean to bother you. I just wanted to say thank you.”

Alice Walker’s response was to open her arms and say “Give me a hug.” She wrapped her arms around me. And I turned into a babbling idiot. “Oh my god. I don’t want to bother you. Your writings mean so much to me. I started writing because of you. Blah blah blah…” And then I think I sobbed. Nooooo!

By then the dreadlocked stock girl was looking at us funny. Causing a scene was the last thing I wanted to do. I could easily the berries & juices folk mobbing this poor woman while she tried to do her grocery shopping. I quickly gained my composure and said my goodbyes. But when I stepped out into the parking lot? I. Started. To. (Gasp). Cry.

I was such a mess. I returned to the hair salon/spa where I was working – hella late – in a daze.

“What’s wrong with you, Kaia?”

“I just bumped into Alice Walker. She hugged me.”

“Who’s Alice Walker?” My co-workers were total buzzkills that day.

And that, my friends, is my “I Bumped Into Alice Walker at Whole Foods” story.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker. I’ll never stop saying thank you.

Now go read The Color Purple. Followed by The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (in that order). And the essay “Looking For Zora.” That is all.

Note: The documentary “Alice Walker” Beauty in Truth” is currently showing as part of the PBS series “American Masters.” Check your local listings for broadcast times.

Heads Up, Writers
Carina Press editor Rhonda Helms said on Twitter this last week that she is “desperate” for PoC (people of color) historical romances, from 1850s on. She’ll look at any heat level from sweet to super spicy. So please finish writing your African-American historical romances and send them to her.

Gwen Hayes at the historical imprint Scandalous at Entangled Publishing is also look for PoC historical romances.

What I’m Reading Now
I’m still on my African-American educational history kick.  I’m currently reading The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 by James D. Anderson. I’ll do a write up on it once I’m finished. But so far it’s been both an eye-opener and a pissed-me-offer.

Until next week,
Kaia

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Happy Halloween!

voodoo_dreamsThe last week in October can only mean one thing: Halloween! That one day of the year dedicated all things eerie and spooky and creeping in the night. What better time to read about the hoodoo woman falling in love or the fine brother who turns into a werewolf (or a bear) when the full moon comes out, right?

I was curious to see if there had been any paranormal historical romances written with African-American heroines and/or heroes. Guess what? I actually found some romance and women’s fiction titles. Looks like it’s time to load up the e-reader with some spooky goodies:

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llano-Figueroa
Fela is an enslaved women in mid-19th century Puerto Rico. She carried the essence of her unborn child with her from Africa within a stone. She unleashes the essence after she lays with the plantation owner. The result is a daughter who is a powerful healer. This is a mother-daughter story seeped in the Afro-Puerto Rican tradition.

Voodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes
A fictionalized telling of voodoo priestess Marie LaVeau’s story. Set in 19th century New Orleans. (This book is the first in a trilogy. The sequels Voodoo Season and Yellow Moon are contemporary thrillers about Marie Laveau’s great-granddaughter.)

Given by Lisa G. Riley and Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
An erotic paranormal shape-shifter romance about a mysterious Underground Railroad conductor who is a member of the Eshu, who can shift into any animal at will.

Stolen by Lisa G. Riley and Roslyn Hardy Holcomb
The Eshu heroine is determined to become both and Underground Railroad conductor and a doctor. But the local stationmaster decides that he rather have her in his bed than risking her life on such a dangerous adventure. Interracial. Erotic.

Have you read any of these titles? What did you think of them? Please share any other paranormal historical that I might have missed.

Do It Revolutionary Style

Brownie Harris/FOX

Brownie Harris/FOX

The Revolutionary War and the Colonial era in general have been on my mind lately. First, the new Fox show Sleepy Hollow debuted a few weeks ago. This delicious supernatural thriller, inspired by Washington Irving’s classic Headless Horseman tale, feels like a brand new horror flick each week. And I hate horror flicks. But the story lines make it so hard for me to stay away each Monday night. The flashbacks to the Colonial era and the Revolutionary War set my historical geek heart a-flutter. Then, there’s Nicole Beharie playing the lead character Abbie Mills. I absolutely adored her in the film 42, where she portrayed Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel. I can’t wait to see how the sparks flying between Abbie and Ichabad Crane will play out in the long run.

Then, I read the novel Her Wicked Sin by Sarah Ballance a few weeks ago. (Yes, I purchased it.) When I saw that this historical romance was set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, I couldn’t download it fast enough. This author’s use of dialogue to establish the historical setting was awesome. I thought the first half of the book read like a dream. But when the heroine Lydia mentioned Tituba in the text, bells went off in my head: there are some African-American romances and women’s fiction set during this time period too! Let’s talk about them. (Yes, I purchased all of these books too.)

Midnight by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 978-0061547805
midnightThis historical romance novel is set in New England during the American Revolutionary War. It is based on the real life female spy Lady Midnight, who provided crucial information to help Colonists. Lady Midnight’s true identity was so well hidden back then that nobody can say for certain who she really was. So Beverly Jenkins figured that meant Lady Midnight could have been African-American and proceeded to write Midnight.

 

 

 

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 0-345-38420-2
titubaIf you are familiar with Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, then you already know something about the real life Salem Witch Trials and the enslaved woman Tituba who was one of the accused witches. But did you that there was also a retelling of the story written from Tituba’s perspective? Thanks to Maryse Conde (and to her husband Richard Philcox, who translated the original text from French to English) there is. This was one of the very first books I was assigned to read in college. It blew my mind. It is more literary women’s fiction. However, there is a bit of romance in the very beginning of the story. It is worth the read. The hero left a strong impression all those years ago. My classmates and I all wanted to know where we could find a man like that.

 

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 1-56947-216-5
winward_heightsI can’t talk about Maryse Conde and I, Tituba without mentioning Windward Heights. It starts in the middle of the Cuban War of Independence, right before the United States entered the fight. In the United States, we know these hostilities as the Spanish-American War. (Yeah, I know that was in 1898. But it’s still colonists fighting for their independence from another country, right?) This book is about a low-born man who returns to his childhood home, only to find that the girl he loved in his youth is married to the rich guy who lived next door. Sounds a lot like Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is. Windward Heights IS Wuthering Heights, except that it’s set in the late 19th and early 20th century Caribbean, Heathcliff is African and Cathy is a mulatto. Intrigued yet? Good, go read it. (For the record, I hated Wuthering Heights and, to this day, have yet to finish the book. But I loved Windward Heights. Like a lot “loved it”.)

Have you already read any of these books? What did you think of them? Are there any Revolutionary War or Colonial era African-American romances or women’s fiction titles that I missed? Please share in the Comments.

 

What I’m Reading
369th_InfantryRight now, I’m working on my own historical romance set in the 1920s. The hero is a World War I veteran who served with the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. I wanted to know more about the 369th Infantry’s experiences during the Great War since I’m still getting to know this character. Through my internet surfing, I stumbled upon Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I by Stephen L. Harris. Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, this book is soooo good. Not only does Harris give you a detailed account of this Infantry from its beginnings as the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, but you get an unexpected lesson on the early history of jazz in New York City as well as the city’s Draft Riots during the Civil War. My historical geekiness includes all things African-American musical history and the Civil War. I practically drooled as I read about the formation of their military band whose members included James Reese Europe, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. (Hardcore old, old school jazz fans know what I’m talking about.) This book is turning out to be an excellent resource for a number of historical events outside the scope of the Harlem Hell Fighters. I’m only halfway through it right now, but I highly recommend it.

Destiny’s Surrender & So You Think You Can Write Contest

destiny_surrenderWhat an exciting week in the world of African-American historical romance! I have some exciting updates for you guys. First, the new Beverly Jenkins historical romance came out last week. It is the California-based follow-up to Destiny’s Embrace. It features the second Yates brother Andrew.

I devoured Destiny’s Surrender in two nights. I’m not sure how to talk about this latest heroine Billie without dropping spoilers. This young lady is not your typical romance heroine…which you will learn the second you open the book. In first page, first paragraph, first sentence, this woman is literally screaming, “Hello, world! This is me.”

It is hard for me to pick just one favorite historical romance heroine. But I think Billie would rank pretty high on that list. Who would you pick for your historical romance heroine(s)?

 

For those of you who follow the world of publishing, you already know that Harlequin’s annual So You Think You Can Write has begun. I was so excited to see the submission from Piper Huguley under the Love Inspired Historical line. The title to her inspirational African-American historical romance is The Preacher’s Promise. It is about an Oberlin College-trained teacher in Reconstruction era Georgia and the local preacher. You can read chapter 1 here: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts-sytycw-2013/the-preachers-promise/#comment-166463

If you like it, help Piper move on to the next round by posting a comment. You can learn more about Piper Huguley on her blog All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: http://piperhuguley.com/about/
(Disclaimer: I know Piper in real life. I had no input on her contest submission. My first time reading it was today, on the Harlequin blog, after she submitted it.)

That’s all I have until next week. I’ll be talking about the new Sleepy Hollow television show and Black romances and women’s historical fiction set in the Colonial era.

Countdown to the Next Beverly Jenkins novel: California

Happy Birthday, California!

California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance novel Destiny’s Embrace, I learned that the word “California” comes from Queen Calafia, ruler of a fictional paradise populated by Black Amazons. (Sounds a lot like the Wonder Woman origin story to me.) So that means the state is named after a black woman. Who knew?

In honor of today being California’s “birthday,” I decided to highlight the published African-American historical romance stories and women’s fiction set in the state. You didn’t think Destiny’s Embrace and Destiny’s Surrender were the only ones, did ya?

Kissing The Captain by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1466208377. A sweet novella featuring an African-American heroine and a Spanish sea captain hero. Set in 1879 California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Preacher’s Paramour by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1475034875. A sweet novella featuring a sassy African-American heroine and a preacher hero. Set in 1880s California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

(I believe that Kianna is working on 1-2 more stories set in late 1800s California.)

Dark Sun Rising by B.L. Bonita. http://www.bonitasromance.com/dark-sun-rising.html  ISBN: 978-1-61921-163-6. An erotic interracial western novella set in an 1800s California mountain town. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita. ISBN: http://www.judyjuanitasvirginsoul.com/book/ . Historical fiction set in 1960s San Francisco. A college-aged woman joins the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Available in hardcover and ebook formats.

 

These were the only African-American historical romances that my helpers and I could find. If you know of any others, please post the title and the author in the comments.

Book Alert: Freedom’s Embrace by Kianna Alexander

Disclaimer: Yes, Kianna Alexander is my friend in real life. Yes, I paid for my copy of this book. No, I’m not afraid to write an honest opinion of this book.

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Folks, we have a new African-American historical romance novella hot off the electronic presses. 1849 pre-Civil War setting. A hottie doctor for a hero and a runaway slave heroine. And, published by Ellora’s Cave. Ooh-wee!

Freedom’s Embrace is not Kianna Alexander’s first published title. She has 6 self-published titles out, 2 of which are also historical romance (the sweet novellas Kissing The Captain and The Preacher’s Paramour). This one is still a little different. In Freedom’s Embrace, my girl – FINALLY! – gives us a peek behind the bedroom door. I have been harassing emailing this poor woman for the last year demanding to know when she was going to give me my “good parts.” Well, here they are at last.

I love that this story touches on colorism, the tension between runaway slaves and free people of color, and the threat that the Fugitive Laws posed to all African-Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line. I do wish that Kianna had played more with her hero’s ability to “pass” – when a person of color’s skin is light enough to be mistaken for a Caucasian. I think that would have cleared up the confusion I had about the hero Jonathan’s appearance. We are told that he sometimes “passes” when it is convenient but then he is later described as having a caramel complexion.

I loved our heroine Naomi’s spirit. I couldn’t help but admire her bravery. Thank you, Kianna, for giving us a realistic glimpse of the runaway slave’s physical AND emotional journey to freedom. My biggest complaint about Naomi was that she could’ve spent more time acting on her feelings about Jonathan instead of doing all that thinking about them. The same goes for Jonathan too!

Overall, I think this was a good early work of a developing talent. You will get a great sense of the historical setting with a nice dose of sexy time toward the end. I look forward to watching you grow as a writer.

Link to the publisher’s page for Freedom’s Embrace: http://www.ellorascave.com/freedom-s-embrace.html

What Is African-American Historical Romance?

This summer, I began compiling a list of all the African-American historical romance novels I could find. This was not a solo project by any means. A special shout out goes to Beverly, Erica and Shantal, three very special ladies who spent their free time surfing the internet for all things African-American historical romance and Black women’s fiction in general. Together, we have found 154 titles so far.

However, I was surprised by the types of questions that came up as we created this list:

  •  Should we include titles written by non-African-American authors?
  •  What if the hero is African-American but the heroine is of a different background?
  • And, what if the neither the hero nor the heroine are African-American but the author is, as in the case of Francis Ray’s Regency The Bargain, Vanessa Reilly’s inspirational Regency Madeline’s Protector and Mallory Malone’s Devil’s Angel set in medieval Ireland?
  • What if the historical portrayal of African-American women is controversial, like The Help, or even offensive?
  • Which time periods are considered historical?
  • What if the novel is a love story that was not “historical” at the time it was written, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God?

These questions forced me to consider exactly what type of book is considered “African-American Historical Romance.” For example, Beverly Jenkins’s historical titles are no-brainers. She is an African-American author writing about African-American heroines and African-American/ multicultural heroes. But for the other scenarios, it’s not so clear cut. I personally prefer stories that depict an African-American woman falling in love. And, I would consider a setting as late the Black Power Movement to be historical. But there are so many other good books that fall out of that narrow definition.

What is your definition of African-American historical romance? What types of books would you like to see featured in this space?