Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time…Contemporary Black Poetry

Welcome to Week 4 of BlaPoWriMo!

For the uninitiated, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.
This year, we are going on a journey through the eras of black history and poetry.

How did you enjoy writing poems inspired by the Black Arts Movement? Were your poems angry? Defiant? Did your poems protest racism and the oppression of your people? Did you write your poems for and to your people? Did you “stick it to the man”? Did you put your fist in the air and shout, “Black Power”?

This past week of BlaPoWriMo was quite interesting because it coincided with the release of Black Panther, which was revolutionary itself! I swear, I didn’t plan that, but it’s wonderful how those things work out sometimes. ūüėČ

By the way, if you missed last week’s Black Arts theme, don’t fret. Remember, these weekly themes are only optional, so if you want to continue writing poetry inspired by the Black Arts Movement, or last week’s era of the Harlem Renaissance, or even our first era of slavery, feel free to do so! Just remember to tag your posts BlaPoWriMo, so I can find them and give you a shoutout!
Now, let’s journey on to the next era: TODAY!

How can we best describe contemporary black poetry? That is, black poetry of today. While we’ve seen the cultural artistry continue from many poets since the Black Arts Movement, including from some of my favorites—Gwendolyn Brooks, Toi Dererricotte, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton—in recent years, some have begun to question whether black literature, as we’ve come to study it, still exists today.

African-American literature was the literature of a distinct historical period, namely, the era of constitutionally sanctioned segregation known as Jim Crow. . . . Like it or not, African-American literature was a Jim Crow phenomenon, which is to say, speaking from the standpoint of a post-Jim Crow world, African-American literature is history. While one can (and students of American literature certainly should) write about African-American literature as an object of study, one can no longer write African-American literature, any more than one can currently write Elizabethan literature.

Kenneth W. Warren, “Does African-American Literature Exist?” The Chronicle of Higher Education (2011)

Did it die with the Black Arts Movement? With the fall of Jim Crow? Does it deserve to still have its own section in the bookstores? Is it even its own genre today? Are we still “fighting the good fight”? Does our art still provide a voice to the disenfranchised African American? Do the characteristics of today’s contemporary black literature make it stand out specifically as black literature, or is it just American literature written by black people? Should I even continue with Black Poetry Writing Month next year? Is it a waste of time? A redundancy?
For our final week of BlaPoWriMo, let’s prove that there’s still a need for black poetry/literature in today’s generation.

There is still so much to talk about. Whether it’s politically—i.e. Black Lives Matter, this generation’s Civil Rights Movement against police brutality and the justice system’s unfair targeting of people of color. Or socially—the success of movies like Black Panther shows how essential it is for blacks to see themselves represented on the big screen in roles other than the subservient or criminal ones we’re used to seeing. Or financially—despite America being one of the richest countries in the world, many blacks still live in poverty, struggling to survive paycheck-to-paycheck, resorting to drug abuse and criminal behavior, etc. And what’s wrong with going back to the past every once in a while? The neo slave narrative, a genre all its own did just that, allowing us to revisit and deal with our past traumas in a fictional/poetic way.

Black poetry/literature may not be what it used to, but there’s still a purpose for it. So continue the discussion. This week and moving forward. And to get you started, here’s a poem that’s sure to find a spot in every black person’s heart, for those who do and who [embarrassingly] don’t know how to play Spades…

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people
Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage
Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

A writing utensil, and a bottomless Saturday. We should explore
The origins of a derogatory word like spade as well as the word
For feeling alone in polite company. And also the implications
Of calling someone who is not your brother or sister,

Brother or Sister. So little is known of our past, we can imagine
Damn near anything. When I say maybe slaves held Spades
Tournaments on the anti-cruise ships bound for the Colonies,
You say when our ancestors were cooped on those ships

They were not yet slaves. Our groundbreaking film should begin
With a low-lit den in the Deep South and the deep fried voice
Of somebody’s grandmother holding smoke in her mouth
As she says, “The two of Diamonds trumps the two of Spades

In my house.‚ÄĚ And at some point someone should tell the story
Where Jesus and the devil are Spades partners traveling
The juke joints of the 1930s. We could interview my uncle Junior
And definitely your skinny cousin Mary and any black man

Sitting at a card table wearing shades. Who do you suppose
Would win if Booker T and MLK were matched against Du Bois
And Malcolm X in a game of Spades? You say don’t talk
Across the table. Pay attention to the suits being played.

The object of the game is to communicate invisibly
With your teammate. I should concentrate. Do you suppose
We are here because we are lonely in some acute diasporafied
Way? This should be explored in our film about Spades.

Because it is one of the ways I am still learning what it is
To be black, tonight I am ready to master Spades. Four players
Bid a number of books. Each team adds the bids
Of the two partners, and the total is the number of books

That team must try to win. Is that not right? This is a game
That tests the boundary between mathematics and magic,
If you ask me. A bid must be intuitive like the itchiness
Of the your upper lip before you sip strange whiskey.

My mother did not drink, which is how I knew something
Was wrong with her, but she held a dry spot at the table
When couples came to play. It’s a scene from my history,
But this probably should not be mentioned in our documentary

About Spades. Renege is akin to the word for the shame
You feel watching someone else’s humiliation. Slapping
A card down must be as dramatic as hitting the face of a drum
With your palm, not hitting the face of a drum with a drumstick.

You say there may be the sort of outrage induced
By liquor, trash talk, and poor strategy, but it will fade
The way a watermark left on a table by a cold glass fades.
I suspect winning this sort of game makes you feel godly.

I’m good and ready for who ever we’re playing
Against tonight. I am trying to imagine our enemy.
I know you are not my enemy. You say there are no enemies
In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.

Terrance Hayes

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general, there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “Black Art” poems to this post) so others can read your poem. You can also tag your posts BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time…Black Arts Movement

Welcome to Week 3 of BlaPoWriMo!

For the uninitiated, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.

This year, we are going on a journey through the eras of black history and poetry.

How did you enjoy writing your Harlem Renaissance-inspired poems? Did you have an explosion of creativity? Did you use other genres like art or music to inspire your writing? Did you improvise your work, showing off the innate genius that has always resided within you?

Did you get sick in the middle of the week like I did and miss out on all the fun? Well, you’re in luck. Remember, these weekly themes are only optional, so if you want to continue writing poetry inspired by the era of the Harlem Renaissance, or even go back another week to revisit the era of slavery, feel free to do so! Just remember to tag your posts BlaPoWriMo, so I can find them and give you a shoutout!

Now, let’s journey on to the next era: The Black Arts Movement!

The Black Arts Movement began in 1960 and lasted through about 1975. These years were troubling politically, especially for blacks in America. This was also the era of the Civil Rights Movement, when leaders and outspoken orators like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rose to speak out for the freedoms of their marginalized black brothers and sisters. There were sit-ins and marches, boycotts, peaceful and violent protests. Black freedom seekers were often sprayed down with firehoses, attacked with police dogs, their churches and homes bombed by white supremacists.

As a result, blacks became angrier, more militant and radical in their activism. This decade also saw the birth of the Black Power Movement and the notorious Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. With all of this going on, it would be foolish to limit the Black Arts Movement to just that, an “arts” movement. No, it was just as much political and social as it was artistic.

The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America . . . The Black Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for self-determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic.

—Larry Neal (quote pulled from the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Second Edition, edited by Henry Louis Gate, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay

The Black Arts Movement is without a doubt one of my favorite artistic and literary movements.

Not only because it was pioneered by black writers like myself, but because it was so unapologetically BLACK! These were people who were FED UP, and they didn’t give a flying fuck about political correctness. They were going to provide a voice to the revolution, a voice to the people who had been beaten and shut down by white supremacy. They were going to fight by any means necessary for the liberation of black people in America. Slavery might have ended 100 years prior, but they were by no means free…yet.

Likewise, the poetry produced in this era was revolutionary. Famous poets of the time include Amiri Baraka, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and many others. The poems of the Black Arts Movement were simple, their messages made plain as the words written on the page. These writings weren’t meant to prove to whites that blacks were competent, or could understand sophisticated literary tropes. Nah, writers of the Black Arts Movement were done kissing up to Uncle Sam! Their poems were a communication to their fellow African Americans… Rise up. Be proud of who you are, of what color you are. Stand. Fight. Poems were usually performative, almost like what spoken word or SLAM is today. Usually written in free verse, the poems were very conversational, often musical, and adapted the vernacular characteristics of “black mass speech,” like a preacher’s sermon, for example.
One of my favorite poets of this time period was Amiri Baraka, who recently passed away in 2014.

His poem, appropriately titled “Black Art” sums up what this literary, artistic, social, and political movement was all about. To fully understand the scope of this powerful poem, you really must hear it, which is why I’m switching things up and giving you an audio poem to inspire your week of writing Black Art. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general, there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “Black Art” poems to this post) so others can read your poem. You can also tag your posts BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Decoding Poetry: #BlaPoWriMo, ‘The Young Ones'(Poem)

For BlaPoWriMo, my friend Ericajean shares her thoughts on Sterling A. Brown’s “The Young Ones.”

Looking specifically at the lines, “It‚Äôs as far as they‚Äôll get / For many a year; / Cotton brought them / and will keep them here,‚ÄĚ she raises two questions: What brought us, and what is keeping us here?

A question I would like to add is: What is “here”?

What are your thoughts? Please respond directly on Ericajean’s post, as comments here will be disabled.

–N

The Write Web

assorted colors of threads by Tim Savage

Welcome back fellow bloggers! It is BlaPoWriMo time again and this time we are traveling to the Harlem Renaissance era.

Today’s poem to decode is by Sterling A. Brown. He has deveoted his life to the development of authentic black folk literature. He was also a poet, critic, and teacher at Howard University for 40 years.

The Young Ones(July 1938)

With cotton to the doorstep

No place to play.

No time: What with chopping cotton

All the day.

In the broken down car

They jounce up and down

Pretend to be steering

On the way to town.

It’s as far as they’ll get

For many a year;

Cotton brought them

And will keep them here.

The spare-ribbed yard dog

Has gone away;

The kids just as hungry,

Have to stay.

In the two-roomed shack

Their mammy is lying,

With a little new brother

On her arm crying.

-Sterling A. Brown

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Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time…Harlem Renaissance

Welcome to Week 2 of BlaPoWriMo!

For the uninitiated, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.

This year, we are going on a journey through the eras of black history and poetry.

How did you enjoy your first week of writing slavery inspired poems? I’ll admit some days were harder to write than others. Having to open those wounds that run deeper than the generations can be troubling. The fact that human beings could commit such atrocities against other human beings, often using Christianity as a defense of their actions, is still baffling to me.

If you want to continue writing poetry inspired by the era slavery, feel free to do so! The themes I provide each week are only optional. Just remember to tag your posts BlaPoWriMo, so I can find them and give you a shoutout!

Now, let’s skip¬†ahead to the next era:¬†The¬†Harlem Renaissance!

I know. I’m brushing over about 50 years worth of great literature from the post-Civil War /¬†Reconstruction era, but I need to leave something to be desired for next February, right? ūüėČ

If you want to do your own research on the poets of this era, one of the most well-known was Paul Laurence Dunbar. (His poem¬†“Sympathy” inspired Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.) Another poet from this era was James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.

The Harlem Renaissance took place during the 1920s and lasted until about 1940.

The Harlem Renaissance was like a great awakening of art and literature¬†for Black Americans. During this period, Black America saw a cultural explosion of creativity. It’s center was in Harlem, a district in New York¬†City, though it wasn’t¬†limited¬†to black writers and artists living in New York. In fact, it inspired a similar movement¬†known as N√©gritude among French-speaking blacks across the African diaspora, including in France, the Caribbean, and the West Indies.

While the era of slavery can be described as a time when most whites questioned the intelligence of blacks (remember those authentication papers written for Phillis Wheatley), the Harlem Renaissance was the confirmation of black intelligence, black excellence, black achievement, black genius, and all the above. There was an outpouring of publications not only in poetry, but also in the genres of fiction, drama, personal essay, music, dance, and visual art.

The Harlem Renaissance laid the ground work for black expression.

The creativity of black writers and artists of this period was driven by a sense of purpose, the artists using their craft to express a response to social conditions and to proclaim their dignity and humanity in the face of poverty and racism.

The most famous poet of this time period is of course Langston Hughes. Others include Countee Cullen—whose Color (1925)¬†was the first book of poetry written by an African American to be published by a major American publishing house (Harper¬†& Brothers)¬†since Paul Laurence Dunbar—Jamaica-born Claude McKay (though he wasn’t the first “African American,” his Harlem Shadows was published in 1922 by Harcourt, Brace), Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Sterling A. Brown, and many more.

To get you started with this week’s Harlem Renaissance-themed poems, I won’t share a poem by Langston Hughes. No, that would be too easy. Everyone knows Langston Hughes!¬†Instead, I’m giving you this poem by the lesser-known Anne Spencer to inspire you for this next week of writing. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.

White Things

Most things are colorful things—the sky, earth, and sea.
Black men are most men; but the white are free!
White things are rare things; so rare, so rare
They stole from out a silvered world—somewhere.
Finding earth-plains fair plains, save greenly grassed,
They strewed white feathers of cowardice, as they passed;
The golden stars with lances fine
The hills all red and darkened pine,
They blanced with their wand of power;
And turned the blood in a ruby rose
To a poor white poppy-flower.

There are many different versions of this poem online. The above version came from the Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000), edited by Michael S. Harper & Anthony Walton

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space¬†for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and¬†your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general, there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “Harlem Renaissance” poems to this post) so others can¬†read your poem. You can also tag¬†your posts¬†BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time… Slavery

February is finally here! Did anyone else think January was way too long?

…And too cold; it was definitely too cold!

If February is your month to reset your New Year’s goals¬†(particularly your writing goals),¬†here’s a suggestion for you…

Why not join a new writing challenge?

That’s right. Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) has returned for a third year, and this time I hope to see lots more participation. ūüėČ

For the uninitiated, BlaPoWriMo is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.

Over these three years, I’ve explored various themes for the challenge. During its inaugural run in 2016, I gave you daily prompts based on poems from some of my favorite black poets, and last year, we spent a fortnight writing black love poems.

This year, I want to take you on a journey through the eras of black poetry/literature and art.

We’ll look specifically at the eras of slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and contemporary/today…

…Does black literature (as we know it)¬†still exist today? Some will make the argument that it does not

What are some of the reoccurring themes in these particular eras? Do poems from certain eras stand out more than others? Can you name the poets best known for their works written during a particular era?

Let’s kick off our first week of poems by exploring one of the most difficult and painful era’s of our country’s history: Slavery.

Not America’s brightest moment, when human beings were put in chains and treated (or should I say mistreated) as property all because their skin complexion was a few shades darker. But despite the hardships, the abuse, the oppression, many bright stars shined through.

I talk a lot about Phillis Wheatley, but did you know she wasn’t the first African American to publish a poem? While she does hold the titled of first African American to publish a book of poetry (Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773), the trophy for first African American slave to publish a poem belongs to Jupiter Hammon. Other poets of this era include George Moses Horton, also a¬†slave, James Monroe Whitfield, Benjamin Banneker, and Frances Harper, just to name a few.

Black poetry written during this period typically opposed slavery. The theme of freedom/longing for freedom ran deep within the lines. Some poems were often spiritual/religious in nature while others¬†revealed a strong influence¬†by the classics, signifying the intelligence and genius of blacks, which was pretty unbelievable to the whites of that time. In fact, Phillis Wheatley’s Poems¬†on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral opens with several authentication letters signed by white men to confirm that she, a black enslaved woman, truly¬†wrote the poems!

Ever since I was a child, Phillis Wheatley has always been an inspiration when it comes to poetry writing. And when I learned that I had a little Senegal and Gambia in my DNA, it basically solidified in my mind that I am related to her in some way or another. (A distant auntie, perhaps?)

To get you started with this week’s slavery-themed poems, I’m being a bit biased here and¬†sharing with you a poem of¬†Wheatley’s that I’ve posted in the past. It’s truly my favorite, and so eloquently written. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.

On Being Brought from Africa to America

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

I truly hope you will join me for another month of writing black poetry. You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space¬†for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and¬†your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “slavery” poems to this post) so others can¬†read your poem. You can also tag¬†your posts¬†BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Insecure Writer‚Äôs Support Group: Writing Beautiful Music Again

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of making New Year’s Resolutions…

Lose weight, eat healthier, save money, blah, blah, blah…

I’m sick of the “New Year, New Me” status updates on Facebook…

Starting at 12:01 AM, January 1, 2018, things will be different. I’m making big changes, people, BIG. And they’re gonna be huge (“h” is silent).¬†

I’m sick of setting goals I’ll forget about by February…

Write at least 10,000 words a week, post on my blog every day, publish my book, start a business, take morning jogs, drink 2 gallons of water, lose twenty pounds, adopt a furry, four-legged child, own a home, get married, find a cure for AIDS, solve world hunger… ¬†

For the past two years, I’ve been running around like a chicken with her cut off, worrying about career goals, life goals, accomplishments; comparing myself to former colleagues, former classmates, even kids younger than me who all seem to be doing better; questioning if I truly have support from my family and friends or if all they really care about is money; stressing over income, how to make a living, whether or not I can truly survive in this big, bad world on my own as an adult without mommy always having to hold my hand; feeling crowded because I put everyone else’s opinions and aspirations above myself.

I’m done. Stick a fork in me–I am cooked!

I miss who I was in 2015, when the memory of college was still fresh on my brain; when walking into the office on Monday mornings didn’t slowly kill my soul; when I could sit in front of that computer, or notebook, pen in hand, and the story flowed seamlessly, like I wasn’t even writing it, just listening and following along; when I was prolific in my writing; when I was submitting poetry and fiction to magazines on a daily basis; when the pressure of being “good enough” to get published occasionally arose but didn’t completely weigh me down to the point where I couldn’t write, when my dreams of being a published writer weren’t bogged down by thoughts of “How can I make a living being a published writer?”; when all I did was write instead of think, over-analyze, start on new project after new project to “get rich quick,” lose focus on my first love because I was busy doing so many other things…

In 2018, I want to go backwards, remind myself why I started this blog in the first place. It’ll be four years next Tuesday. Back then, writing was simple. I didn’t care who was reading; I didn’t even care if they liked it. The only thing I cared about was whether or not I liked it. And if it spoke to me, if it sang to me, if it soared above the clouds and made beautiful music to my ears, I hit that publish button.

That’s what the Countdown series did for me these past several weeks. That’s what Love Poetry did for me in 2015, Black Poetry Writing Month in February of 2016, and 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths that April, before my meltdown and the subsequent on-again, off-again battle with writer’s block.

So for 2018, my goal is simply to relax. To go back to writing beautiful music to my ears and sharing it with the world when it’s ready. To stop putting so much pressure on myself to be better than the year before, or to be better than or just as good as the next person, which has only led to anxiety, sleepless nights, and stress-eating. To stop worrying about “plans” and to simply enjoy life; not to let the year get away from me like that last two have. To take a vacation every once in a while, treat myself, read a book, read more books. To remember to take things one step at a time; not to force something ahead of it’s time, but only when I’m ready for it. To learn to say no, I just can’t do that. To put myself first—if I lose even a minute of sleep over it, I know it’s not for me. To figure out what is most important to me, and to do that and only that.

The last time I talked about goals, I had seven of them, but one shouts to me the loudest right now…

CHILL THE FUCK OUT!

Tune out the rest of the world. Find a happy place. Read. Journal. Write. Write some more.

Nortina


This post was written for Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This month’s optional question is: What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

What Types of Stories Do You Write?

“Oh, what types of stories do you write?”

I was recently ask this question, and would you believe– it stumped me!

For any writer, when it comes to communing together with family and friends over the holidays, it’s almost a guarantee that the subject of one’s writing career will be brought up.

When’s that book coming? Post anything new on your blog lately?¬†And the ever-depressing,¬†Do you get paid for it at all?

They show just enough curiosity to make it look like they care, but not enough to actually go and look up what you have out on the interwebs, share it with their friends, increase your readership– you know, a Christmas gift a writer can actually appreciate, apart from a brand new journal, of course (which was my present to myself *pats back and smiles humbly).

There are some who do, and you make sure they get the tight bear hug, while everyone else gets that “I couldn’t be bothered” side hug.

One must always be prepared for these types of questions and have an answer ready. A quick answer, three sentences, five tops. Nothing too elaborate; don’t go on babbling about your current work in progress, because they really don’t care, just making small talk to fill in that “awkward silence” lull that occurs between every seven-minute conversation. (My cousin said he read that somewhere once; it has plagued us ever since.)

So I was ready for the book question (I’ve won NaNoWriMo so many times, remember?). I was ready for the new blog post question (Hello! Twitter party all Christmas Eve long, catching you up for the final chapters of Countdown coming this week!). I even had my death stare waiting in my back pocket for any questions related to my writer income.

None of these questions came, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But for some reason, I was not expecting the one question I did get, and it left me with my jaw dropped, my eyes looking everywhere but at the person asking, as I tried to figure it out…

What is my niche genre?

I don’t think I gave an answer. Eventually, I did mention something about dabbling a bit in thriller/suspense. I love to read these books. Last night I binge read¬†The Girl on the Train, which I’d put down some months ago after giving in and watching the movie (totally ruined the book for me, but both were still really good, and if I hadn’t watched the movie first, I know those plot twists would have hit me hard).

I also love paranormal/ghost stories. That’s the closest to fantasy you’ll every catch me reading. Raised in a Christian home, I was not allowed to read Harry Potter, or any books about witches, warlocks, demons, etc. I was never a big fan of “creatures from other realms” stories—I’d read them, but the feeling was always… meh. I had my vampire phase when I was about 12 or 13. That’s the main reason why I couldn’t get into the Twilight books, which came out much later.

My dystopian/Young Adult phase ended in high school, but there are a few series I’d like to finish. I put them down because they took an unexpected turn that had “publisher wants more books, author doesn’t know how to end the story” written all over it. Still, I’d like to ¬†know what happened to the characters I’d grown to love (or hate).

The ironic thing is the three genres I hate (that’s not a typo; I absolutely abhor) to read the most are the three genres I would categorize my writing in: Romance, Women’s, and Christian.

I’ve talked about my disdain for Romance before. My biggest complaint has always been that Romance Fiction has no plot. Apart from an unlikely couple getting together, nothing else happens, and I need something a little more interesting than a simple love story to make me want to read anything past the cover synopsis.

Call me cynical.

And while we’re on the topic of unlikely couples, the two lovers are so different, one has to wonder what exactly brings them together? It has to be more than just spilt coffee at the local bakery. Why does he want this train wreck? (Because the female protagonist is always a train wreck.) Is the author just forcing this? And once you read the sappy happy ending and close the book, you realize, the author did just force this.

I don’t like happy endings. Do I write them in my stories? Yes, but not always, which is why I would label my writing as Women’s Fiction so I’m not confined by the Romance restrictions (Romance Fiction must always have a “happily ever after”; there’s no getting around it. If the couple doesn’t get together, your readers will burn you at the stake in the Amazon reviews.)

Women’s Fiction and Christian Fiction have many similarities. There’s always a redemptive arc, and the plots tend to veer toward the melodramatic (just imagine any of Tyler Perry’s movies written as a novel). Everything bad that can happen to our main character does happen to our main character, and she (or in some cases, he) is left nearly broken.

And yet, somehow, they find hope in the end. How? I mean, yea, sure, that’s good… but how? Why haven’t they had a mental break yet; why aren’t they cursing their family, shooting up the work place, kicking the cat? Why doesn’t the book end with them walking out into the ocean (in a manner to hint suicide by drowning) like Kate Chopin’s Edna in The Awakening?

Not only is this “hopeful” ending unbelievable, it doesn’t make any damn sense! Real people don’t respond so (for lack of a better term) chipper to that kind of pain. There’s anger, there’s depression. Sure, the silver lining comes, but not so soon—they need time to grieve, to understand their emotions (reasons why I axed the original ending to Love Poetry, because I saw that same problem).¬†But there’s also the possibility that the silver lining doesn’t come. It happens, and I wouldn’t fault an author for showing that; for some books, I’d even expect that.

Another problem I have with Women’s and Christian Fiction is that feeling of familiarity one gets when reading. You swear you’ve read this before, and in fact, you have. They’re ALL. THE. SAME.

This isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed books written in these genres. I have. Unfortunately, not enough to willingly go to a Romance, Women’s, or Christian section of a bookstore to find my next read, or to read an author whose work I’m not already familiar with.

Which makes me wonder why I write in these genres. Or why I follow bloggers who also write in these genres. There must be something I like about them, right?

Because deep down, I really am a hopeless romantic?

Or maybe it’s because I think I (we) can do better.

Cocky, Nortina, very cocky. Especially since you haven’t published that book yet…

Whatever the reason, these are my niche genres, I suppose. I wet my pen in suspense, paranormal, even dystopian and young adult/coming-of-age, but I am primarily a Romance, Women’s, and Christian fiction writer. I love it and I hate it at the same time.

Nortina

I’ve Won NaNoWriMo So Many Times

I have a confession to make. I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Not officially, at least.

You see, I was going to, I even spent an entire month planning for it– drafting outlines, creating character sketches, brainstorming backstory and plot points—but when November came around, I got very busy.

Story of my life, right?

If I could sum 2017 in one word, it would be “overcommitted.” I was doing too many things, and it all culminated in one month which, though not the shortest month of the year, definitely feels like it when you have to write 1,667 words a day amid 10,000 other things on your to-do list!

Although the last thing I wanted to do was procrastinate on writing yet another novel, I had to think realistically. How much stress would this add on me—to find time to write, do everything else, and still get to bed at a decent hour? Was it worth it, knowing that I likely wouldn’t finish, or even make it past¬†the 10,000 word mark?

So I said no to NaNoWriMo, at least for this year. But one of my main goals for¬†2018 is to be less busy and¬†not take on more than I can bear so that I can dedicate more time to my writing. So there’s always the possibility that I¬†may try again . . . if I can take the pressure.

But I won’t wallow in self-pity over another NaNoWriMo project left unfinished (or in this case unstarted), because there have been so many times when I’ve won NaNoWriMo. No I haven’t quite made it to the 50,000 words written in one month feat, but I’ve come pretty darn close!

First,¬†I deserve a pat on the back for completing the A to Z Challenge three years in a row! A lot of bloggers can’t say the same. My first¬†A to Z Challenge in 2015 introduced you to my novella, Love Poetry, which I hope to finally complete in 2018. I have 23,914 words of planning material for Lost Boy, the novel I had hoped to write in November, and that doesn’t even include the flashbacks I wrote as part of¬†Short Story a Day May, a challenge which in total came to 451 words shy of 25,000. And my longest project yet¬†is¬†26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths, my 2016 A to Z Challenge novella, clocking in at over 30,000 words! How’s that for Camp NaNoWriMo!

And while I’m basking in my NaNoWriMo successes, let’s talk about what I did¬†write in November. Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans! Yes, I know I said I had completed the story earlier this year . . . I lied. The truth is I spent a few slow days in May writing three more chapters. But the rest came this November, as I wrote one chapter a day, adding to what I had left unfinished back in 2016.

So you see, I didn’t totally abandon NaNoWriMo after all! And don’t you worry; I still plan on finishing Countdown.¬†A recent bout with procrastination, along with Thanksgiving travel (and, you know, being with family), kept me from finishing the story in November as I had originally planned, but that’s all going to work out in the end, because I stopped at Day 24. You know what that means. The story originally meant for Christmas (last year) will finally be concluded this Christmas! Next week, I’m giving you the final seven chapters of Countdown (Monday through Sunday), so if you want to catch up on the story, read it from the beginning here!

By the way, Countdown currently sits at around 27,800 words, which means when I close this year with the final chapter on December 31, it will be my longest completed project to date! Just the boost of confidence I need going into 2018 with the hope of finishing (and possibly publishing) even more projects. Whether they are products of NaNoWriMo, or my own writing victories.

I’m just so happy to say I did it!

—Nortina

#WeekendRewind: 7 Things I Want to Do Before 2018

I can’t take full credit for this post.¬†It was definitely inspired by Marquessa’s list, 30 Things You Can Still Do Before 2018.¬†Read Part 1 on Planet Simon and Part 2 on Marquessa’s blog, Simply Marquessa.

Oh, 2017, I’d like to say it’s been real, but like 2016, I’m ready to be rid of you! While this year probably wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be, these last few months have definitely been difficult. I’ve said it before— I’m not satisfied with¬†where I’m at in life¬†right now.¬†The fire that should have been lit at the end of 2016 (but fizzled out before February) is now¬†blazing!

If I want next year to be different, I’ve got to be committed to making a change, and as someone who still struggles with procrastination, I’m not waiting until January 1 to do it. You can’t limp into the New Year expecting to miraculously leap once the clock strikes 12. You’ve¬†got to start taking those steps toward recovery now. So, with that¬†being said, here are¬†seven things that I want to do before¬†2018.

1. Lose five pounds.


I’ve been on this weight loss journey since June of 2016, and while I’ve lost around 40 pounds, I still can’t¬†fit in that size 4 dress collecting dust in my closet (well, I can, but it doesn’t look cute ūüėČ ). This October, I finally passed another milestone: I’m no longer plateaued! Yes, I’m back on my downward trend.¬†It only took me a year to do! Originally my goal was to maintain that weight through the fattening foods of the holidays, but now I’m taking a more aggressive approach. I want to continue that downward trend. I might not make it to five pounds, but any weight loss before the end of the year is a step in the right direction!

2. Create a sleeping habit.

For someone who can barely¬†keep her eyes open past 10PM most nights (and some nights even earlier), I never go to bed on time. I’ve been up after midnight, one o’clock, two, and when I pulled my all-nighter, FIVE IN THE MORNING! Funny thing is, I’m not a night person at all. The only good thing I’ve ever done at night was be¬†born, but when it comes to productivity, I function so much better in the morning.¬†The problem is getting out of bed, washing my face, brushing my teeth, and eating a balance breakfast in order to start my day, and I can’t do that if I’m only getting 4 to 5¬†hours¬†of sleep.

I read somewhere that in order to get your body in the habit of going to bed at a certain time (I’m aiming¬†for 9:30 or 10PM), set your alarm to 45-50 minutes before¬†to alert you to start preparing for bed (like do hair, wash/brush, pack lunch for the next day, do nighttime exercises, write down everything you have to do in the morning so you’re not laying in bed worrying over it, etc.) so that when it’s bedtime, all you have to do is get in the bed and close¬†your eyes.¬†I’m going to give it a try, and hopefully, by January, cranky, irritable, baggy-eyed, needing a nap in her car¬†after lunch, Nortina will be a thing of the past!

3. Wean myself off of phone dependence.

Every morning, the first thing I reach for (after¬†I slam my hand down on my alarm’s snooze button for the eighth time) is my phone. And that backlight is¬†sooo bright in the morning!¬†I’ve dimmed it, and it’s still blinding! And what am I really checking? I’m not that big on social media—you won’t know my life by looking at my Facebook page, my last Instagram post was in August, Snapchat is stupid to me, and while I do want to tweet more to build my online author platform, I’m not there yet. Most of my emails are spam or notifications I could care less about, and while I do check WordPress comments, it still takes me a couple days to reply to them. So really, what am I checking my phone for?

Earlier this year, I went two months without a phone. I actually thought my phone¬†had died and I needed a new one– I just didn’t have the money to buy a new one at the time (I still don’t).¬†Surprisingly, it turned back on one morning, but those two months disconnected from the digital world were liberating! Yes, I still had my computer, and I was able to connect with people that way, but a bulky,¬†seven-pound laptop is not the same as a phone, and I’m not going to carry that around with me everywhere I go. Not having a phone gave me the freedom to look at the world and enjoy it. I wasn’t distracted, plugged in, or feeling hypersensitive because of that damn backlight!

When my phone came back to life, I slowly started to become dependent on it again, until it reestablished itself as my permanent crutch. The moment I realized my phone had to go was when I was hanging out with¬†a guy from work¬†(not on¬†a date, but I know he’s interested in me), and¬†all he could do was look at his phone, scroll through his friends’ Facebook posts, show me shit I couldn’t care less about,¬†tell me crazy crap our government is doing (and try to convince me¬†he’s not reading¬†“fake news”). I was just really bored with him. You mean to tell me all the conversation we can¬†have has to be initiated by your phone? No thanks! So I’m officially killing my phone again, and whatever relationship that could have been. Quite frankly, I was never looking to be anything more than just friends with him– now I’m even reconsidering that!

4. Organize. Organize. Organize.

I’m sick of talking about getting organized and never doing anything about it. To finish this year, I want to be proactive in my organization. This week I cleaned my room . . . again . . . but there are still some things I want to declutter, like my closet and dresser. I guarantee about¬†70% of the clothes I have I never wear. Time to fill up those donation bins (and get a tax credit too!). There are too many people in need in this world for me to be hoarding all this stuff!

There are actually three facets to my organization goal. The first is my room; the second is my blog. At the beginning of 2016, my blog got a total overall. I changed the layout, the background, the title. 2016 was the year I really wanted to establish my writer platform, and I think I did that successfully. But I let some older posts that don’t fit in the direction I want to take¬†my blog stick around. Even today they still get views, and I am sick of seeing them in my site stats.

So, come January, all of those posts will be deleted! There really aren’t that many—maybe about 50 out of over 800. And I’m pretty sure the people reading them aren’t staying to read my newer stuff, so I don’t think the posts will be missed (and Google can stop directing random searchers to my blog!). I may see my site stats go down, but I think over time, this will be a good move, because then Lovely Curses will only have one focus: my writing.

The third facet is organizing my email. I have so many unread emails, and as I mentioned in my previous point, about 90% of them are notifications and subscriptions that I don’t read. And the important emails, that require a response, get lost in the sea of unread emails. While my email has automatically organized my inbox to help weed out some of the spam I get, I think I want to take it a step further. I could waste my time unsubscribing to everything, but¬†Marquessa suggested something that sounds even better. Trash it all!

5. Look for available apartments.

While 2017 was unfortunately¬†a year of complacency, 2018 will absolutely¬†be a year of big change! There were three big changes I considered making last year that I never did: Quit my job, go back to school and get my masters, move out of my mom’s house. I’m so close¬†to paying off my student loans, so I’m hesitant to go back to school. I think eventually I will go back to get my MFA, but until I decide on what I really want to do career-wise, I’m going to hold off on that.

However, one thing I can change now is my living arrangement. I’m almost 26, and according to the healthcare law (has it been repealed yet?), 26 is the age to finally sever your dependence on your parents. I think it’s time. I love my mom and my brother, but I’m sick of living with them. And if I ever want to truly feel like an adult, I’ve got to start doing adult things, that includes venturing out¬†on my own. It’s one of the main reasons I want to clear out my room: make it easier to move. So for the next two weeks I’ll be making my list of apartment candidates,¬†I’ll¬†start looking at and applying for the ones I like¬†in January, and hopefully by my¬†birthday in March, I’ll be moving out!

6. Aggressively look for a new job.

I need a change. Period. While my current jobs does put food on the table, it’s not permanent, I don’t get benefits, I don’t get paid vacation or holiday, which SUCKS during Christmas, and there’s no path for career development.

Call me crazy, but I’m the type of person who actually wants to work in her passion—you know, the field of study I got a degree for. Time to stop settling for complacency and hit that pavement to find the job that’s gonna make me eager for Monday mornings again!

7. Chill the f*** out!

One last thing I have to do going into the New Year… CHILL THE F*** OUT! Yes, I’m hypersensitive. I’ve come to accept that. And when I start to think about life and the future and goals, etc., I feel a variety of emotions: anxiety, depression, excitement, sadness, anger. I really do need a playlist for all these feelings. Marquessa mentioned it in her post; I think I’ll do it. I’m actually a step ahead—my playlists are already created. I have an “Acoustic” playlist for when I’m “in my feelings”; I just need to update it. I have a “Gospel” playlist for when I need inspiration and when I need to be reminded¬†that God is still¬†in control. And I recently created a¬†“Vibe” playlist for¬†when I’m in a good mood and I just want to dance. And guess what. I’m feeling good today, so I think I’ll blast my “Vibe” playlist on the speakers!

And that’s my list. So sorry¬†for the length of this post, guys! I didn’t intend for it to clock in at just under 2,000 words, but if you read it all the way to the end, I really hope this list inspired you like Marquessa’s list inspired me. Is there anything you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments!¬†Oh, and by the way, good luck on finishing out this year strong! I wish you a happy, productive, and fulfilled 2018!

—Nortina

#WeekendRewind: 22 Things All Writers Have to Deal With At Some Point Because Writing Is Hard

Have you had to deal with any of these things while on your writing journey?

I’ve experienced EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. at least twice. (Number 1 being indefinitely!)

Well, apart from Number 10. Number 10 is the dream. Keep hope alive!

And Number 5 has happened more times than I care to admit. You know you have a problem when your story goes from, “He kissed me, and everything inside me…” to “opk dpwdkkkkkkkkkkkkkpkishdugzsuig;ght5rrrrrrrrrrrrrr”

….Yeeeea. But if you follow my #TribeTuesday posts, you know I’m working on that!

Anyway head on over to Meg’s blog at Novelty Revisions to see what other crazy things writers have to deal with. Maybe you have a few more things to add to the list!

Novelty Revisions

1. Writing for free.

2. Being approached to write for free. (Too often.)

3. Writing in a very uncomfortable position while on a train/bus/plane/in a car.

4. Trying to write while your fur children/tiny humans are battling for your attention.

5. Falling asleep on your keyboard because you procrastinated again why do you always do this.

6. Wanting to agree to do another writing thing but oops you can’t create more hours in the day. Sad…

7. Accepting a writing gig because you want to buy a thing but can’t justify doing so otherwise.

8. Accepting a writing gig because you need to adult, even though you don’t want another writing gig.

9. Pitching something you don’t really want to write because you know it’ll circulate well.

10. Being able to quit a job you don‚Äôt like because you found a writing thing you do like ‚ÄĒ that pays.

11…

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