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imagesI’ve written 1200 words of The Deep today and yesterday I wrote 2000 so I thought I’d take a break tonight and work on my synopses. My publisher usually asks for three of varying lengths—200 characters, 2000 characters, and 200 words for the back cover text. I’ve finished the first two and thought I’d share them here on the blog in case you’ve been wondering what I’m writing about…

Sentence Description (200 characters, including spaces):            

This urban fantasy places a Brooklyn teen at the center of a battle between good and evil. Nyla must learn to wield the astonishing power she inherited from the mother who abandoned her as a child.

Short Description (2,000 characters, including spaces):

THE DEEP plunges readers into a dangerous underground world policed by members of The League, a secret group of women and men who use their intuitive abilities to detect energy surges far below the earth’s surface. In the deep, ancient sources of malevolent energy search for fissures in the bedrock (made larger by seismic activity); “pressers” attempt to locate these leaks and “heal” the fissure, thereby preventing evil from entering the world.

Abandoned by her mother at the age of three, Nyla has grown up with a loving father and stepmother on a military base in Germany. After a traumatic assault takes place at a school dance, Nyla and her family return to the United States and take up residence in her deceased grandmother’s Brooklyn brownstone. Nyla gradually changes her outer appearance to match her inner ambivalence around femininity; despite her father’s objections, Nyla shaves off most of her hair, dyes what little’s left, and gets multiple facial and ear piercings in order to establish a new Afropunk identity.

Determined to control as much of her environment as she can, Nyla is terrified when she begins to hallucinate while walking the city streets. A man named Osiris approaches her and offers to introduce Nyla to others who have similar “gifts.” When Nyla refuses, her young friend D is kidnapped and held in the deep until Nyla agrees to let Osiris guide her below ground. There she meets Lada, the mother who abandoned her ten years ago. Furious that her daughter is being recruited by The League, Lada tries to persuade her ex-husband to take Nyla out of the city. But Nyla has decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and her training begins at an accelerated pace when The League discovers an earthquake will soon hit Brooklyn, releasing unprecedented levels of malevolent energy into the city.

THE DEEP is the companion book to SHIP OF SOULS (2012), which was named a Top Ten Sci-Fi/Fantasy Title for Youth by Booklist.

I don’t have a contract for the book yet but I also filled out the author questionnaire they sent me for SoS. I’ve already lined up an illustrator for the book’s cover, but the movie poster that comes closest to what I have in mind is the one for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Audience? Teens (13+), all genders, African Americans, New Yorkers, Brooklynites, feminists, urban fantasy/speculative fiction fans…

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osiris god of the underworldI’m 1200 words away from reaching my 10K-word goal for this month. I was a little worried that this novel, unlike Wish and Ship of Souls, didn’t have any connection to African American history. The Deep feels much more contemporary—it picks up a few months after Ship of Souls ended (in March 2011) and so I’m writing about the tsunami that devastated Japan and the mass shooting in Norway. Yesterday I worked on a scene that takes place at the Central Library here in Brooklyn; Nyla has been chosen to join The League but she resists her guide’s efforts to lead her underground. I was somewhat obsessed with ancient Egypt as a child so I don’t know why it took me so long to make the connection between the deep and the underworld. I’ve decided to name the guide Cyrus/Siris/Osiris, Egyptian god of the afterlife. Far better than Alistair, which is the name of the annoying, yappy dog in my building. My theory of Afro-urban magic requires me to incorporate African spiritual practices into contemporary urban fantasy. There isn’t much room for that in The Deep but maybe I can tweak the plot. That’s the good thing about having a third of the novel still to write—there’s plenty of room for improvement…

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imagesI often share that piece of advice when signing books—“Feed your imagination: read every day.” Right now I’m reading A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards, and I got quite a few pages read while returning from Baltimore by train earlier today. I don’t have an iPod; I read on the subway and I *try* to turn the TV off so I can read at home, too. I’ve mentioned before that I now write with the TV on, but it was *so* nice these past two days to NOT watch 3 hours of news reports every evening. I didn’t miss my 4-hour diet of NPR morning programming either because I was too busy hanging out with my dear friend Shadra Strickland! At the last minute I decided NOT to pack my laptop, which meant I couldn’t work on The Deep for a couple of days. Instead of writing I filled up on art and movies and excellent conversation (we also admired the historic Peabody Library). Shadra picked me up from the train station late Tuesday night and we went to an all-nite diner for a bite to eat. It was great to have another artist/professor to swap stories with—how was your semester? who were your best/worst students? are you getting your REAL work done? On the train ride home today I made a plan for 2013. Shadra usually makes a one-year and a five-year plan; I find it really hard to think that far ahead, but it was imageshelpful to make a list of the trips I plan to take, the books I want to finish, and the articles I hope to have published this year. The last item on my list is: “consume more art!” On Wednesday Shadra got up early and made a lovely breakfast for me and Deborah Taylor, librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, who stopped by on her way to work. We talked about children’s books and US presidents and the legacy of Emancipation. As much as I love waking up to silence and solitude, that can’t really compare to freshly baked biscuits and *great* conversation with friends! Later that day (after a midday nap) we went to the Walters Art Museum and saw the exhibit “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.” We didn’t get to see the response of contemporary artists at Galerie Myrtis but I managed to find my favorite painting in the exhibit by Jules Arthur. It’s amazing how beauty feeds the soul…this morning Shadra insisted that I watch one scene from Hero and next thing you know, we were watching the entire film in our pajamas and I was practically sobbing as Broken Sword died…I ate way too much sugar in Baltimore (they have great cake!) and we didn’t wind up going for a run, but we laughed a lot and there’s always tomorrow…

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imagesI’m beginning to lose myself in this novel. This morning I woke up with an image of the cover in my mind—black with a picture of Nyla in profile: shaved head, purple tints in her faux hawk, her many facial piercings done with silver foil. I keep a notebook next to my laptop and every few hours I stop to calculate my word count so I know how much progress I’m making. My goal is to write 10K words this month. The Deep is a novella like Ship of Souls, so it won’t be much longer than 30K words. In London I wrote over 2000 words and since the new year began, I’ve written an additional 5000. This past week I’ve fallen asleep on the couch more times than I can count, waking at 4 or 5am not sure what day it is, but with a scrap of dialogue ready to be written down. I love writing and it feels good to pull a chapter together—for more than a year I’ve been taking notes and writing bits and pieces, and now I’m finally filling in the gaps. Unfortunately I’m eating WAY too much sugar—I went two days without cake and in its place ate a bag of caramels purchased for $1 at Target, and then yesterday I woke before dawn and baked cookies. I have a sugar problem. But when I’m in the middle of a writing tear, I’m disinclined to make any drastic changes to my lifestyle. I went to the doctor on Thursday and she gave me a list of foods I need to avoid; half the items on her list aren’t even in my diet but the rest certainly are—no more chocolate! No orange juice, cranberry juice, peppermint, or tomato sauce. Today I’ll go for a run since it’s supposed to be a bit warmer, and my agent has advised me to start each day with 12 men’s pushups. “Don’t worry about how long it takes you,” she said, “just keep going ’till you get to 12.” My friends and I have agreed to try to have healthier food for our weekly Downton Abbey tea—some cakes, some scones, but fruit and sugarless options as well. I can’t afford to add a pound for every thousand words I write this month!

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For me, being alone is a luxury. Being in London for Xmas was wonderful, but the real indulgence was the days I spent indoors, seated next to the window with my laptop warming my legs. If the curtains were open there was a draft, so I sometimes shut the drapes, turned on the lights to fight the winter gloom, and delved into The Deep. I watched a lot of TV while I was over there, though I managed not to get sucked into watching Lord of the Rings again. Instead I watched back to back episodes of (US) Law & Order, and three or four episodes of Time Team. A writer is a kind of digger and so it’s no surprise that I should be fascinated by archaeology. I’ve got a London novel u_48284861_-29 - Copybrewing in my mind. Ever since I found out about Sarah Forbes Bonetta and Walter Dean Myers’ nonfiction book about her, I’ve been interested in fictionalizing her story. My original idea was to focus on the mulatta sugar heiresses who came to London from the Caribbean hoping some desperate second son would overlook race in favor of wealth. Then I learned there was a large black population in Wales and that intrigued me. Now I feel like anything’s possible since black people have lived in England for hundreds if not thousands of years. For now I’m focusing on Nyla and her initiation into the league of “pressers.” I wrote for hours on Xmas, reaching 10K words, and then did some structural work on Boxing Day. The next day I cleared out of the flat and met my friend Mary for a full English breakfast. I’m so grateful to have friends who love literature as much as I do, and Mary’s a scholar of African American women’s fiction so we talked for hours about black authors and their books. On the flight home I thought about our conversation and the way motherhood impacts a woman’s ability to make art. I’ve blogged before about the film Who Does She Think She Is; mothers are unbelievable multi-taskers and parenting doesn’t preclude making art. But it changes things. I watched Miss Potter while I was away imagesand couldn’t help but frown at the way wealth enabled Beatrix Potter to develop her charming characters and highly profitable book series. She was encouraged to sketch and paint as the child of wealthy parents, she was taken on annual holidays that nourished her imagination, and then she had the choice of accepting an aristocratic suitor or remaining unmarried in her parents’ home. She had the time and means to produce art—something a working class woman wouldn’t have had. I love Peter Rabbit and I know it wasn’t easy for even a wealthy white woman to become a published author at the turn of the 20th century. But most women in the world can’t afford the luxury of a room of one’s own—never mind a home full of servants who silently cook your food and wash your clothes. Mary and I discussed my future as an author and she encouraged me to stay in the academy. I became debt-free this year and plan to work hard at staying debt-free for as long as possible. But as someone who doesn’t write commercial fiction and struggles to place each manuscript, the academy is a decent home. What other job would give me five weeks to write over the holidays? This past semester nearly broke me but I’m developing a new course for the spring and hope that finishing The Deep will lift my spirits. I’m working on my end of year slideshow and was surprised to see how productive 2012 was—I fell short of some goals but achieved others and have a long To Do list ready for 2013. Jayne Cortez passed away yesterday and the death of a great woman artist always reminds me to press on. Tomorrow isn’t promised so produce TODAY…

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imagesI think my list of black-authored MG/YA novels published in the US is pretty complete—thanks to Edi and everyone on Facebook for helping me develop the 2012 list. We came up with 53 titles altogether, but 3 were reprints so that leaves us with 50 new middle grade and young adult titles. Of those 50 books, 11 were published by Saddleback Educational Publishing; the Juicy Central and Lockwood Lions series feature “hi-lo” content for teens reading below grade level. The two major romance publishers—Harlequin and Kensington—are next in line: Kensington’s K-Teen Dafina imprint published 10 black-authored titles in 2012 and Harlequin’s Kimani-Tru imprint published 3. That means THREE publishers are responsible for almost HALF (24) of the black-authored novels published for young readers this year. Scholastic and Aladdin both published 3 titles and Amistad published 2. The rest of the titles are “loners”—they represent the only black-authored MG/YA novel published by Wendy A. Lamb Books, Chronicle, Carolrhoda, Nancy Paulsen Books, HarperTeen, HarperCollins, Little, Brown, St. Martin’s Griffin, Darby Creek Publishing, Margaret K. McElderry Books, Henry Holt, Knopf, Simon & Schuster, Urban Books, Turner, Harper & Wells, and my own publisher AmazonEncore. I’ll leave it to someone else to figure out which imprints belong to the “big 5.” It would also be interesting to figure out how many first-time authors are published each year—are publishers even looking for new talent or are they happy to just wait for their “regulars” to produce a new novel? Any way you slice it, it’s not good. There are 13 million African Americans in the US and our kids have fewer than 50 novels to choose from each year…and how many do you think have LGBT content? (3, I think)

We need greater transparency in the publishing industry, which is why I compile these lists. We’re working on a new initiative so stay tuned…

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It’s that time of year again. Academic librarian and fellow blogger Edi Campbell predicts we’ll see a sharp drop in the number of PoC-authored books this year; Edi keeps a list of all titles by PoC authors here. This list only includes middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) novels written by black authors and published in the US. I found only ONE black-authored YA title published in Canada in 2012, but I may have to reconsider both of my lists since Harlequin is apparently Canadian-owned and that means the Kimani-Tru titles are technically Canadian; you can find my Canadian list, such as it is, here.

If my math is correct, we’ve got just over 40 new titles (the Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon Draper appear to be reprints). In 2011 we hit 45; you can find that list here. It’s my understanding that 3000 MG/YA titles are published in the US each year. If you spot any errors or omissions on this list, please leave a comment.

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January (8):

Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker (HarperTeen)

Mesmerize by Artist Arthur (Harlequin/Kimani Tru)

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy A. Lamb Books)

The Book of Wonders  by Jasmine Richards (HarperCollins)

Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Loveby Patricia C. McKissack, Frederick L. McKissack, and Randy Duburke (Chronicle Books)

Marnyke: Keepin’ Her Man (Juicy Central) by Shay Jackson (Saddleback)

Nishell: Holding Back (Juicy Central) by Jada Jones (Saddleback)

Stars in the Shadows: The Negro League All-Star Game of 1934 by Charles R. Smith, Jr. (Atheneum)

February (7):

No Crystal Stairby Vaunda Michaux Nelson (Carolrhoda Lab)

The Clone Codes #3: the Visitor by Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick McKissack, and Pat McKissack (Scholastic)

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books)

DJ Rising by Love Maia (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

On the Flip Side: A Fab Life Novel #4 by Nikki Carter (K-Teen Dafina)

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott (AmazonEncore)

Bad Boy by Dream Jordan (St. Martin’s Griffin)

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March (2):

Cali Boys: a Boyfriend Season Novelby Kelli London (K-Teen/Dafina)

The Space Mission Adventure (A Clubhouse Mystery)* by Sharon Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Aladdin) *REPRINT

April (4):

The Wiley Boys by Hill Harper (Harper & Wells Books for Young Readers)

All the Right Stuff  by Walter Dean Myers (Amistad)

 The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Creeping with the Enemy: A Langdon Prep Novel #2 by Kimberly Reid (Dafina)

May (4):

37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon (Henry Holt)

Burning Emerald: The Cambion Chronicles #2 by Jaime Reed (K-Teen/Dafina)

Happy Families by Tanita Davis (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Download Drama by Celeste O. Norfleet (Kimani Tru)

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June (3):

Always Upbeat: Cheer Drama/All That: Baller Swag by Stephanie Perry Moore (Saddleback)

Lone Bean by Chudney Ross (Amistad)

Dork Diaries 4: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess by Rachel Renee Russell (Aladdin)

July (4):

Keep Jumping: Cheer Drama/No Hating: Baller Swag by Stephanie Perry Moore (Saddleback)

The Backyard Animal Show (Clubhouse Mysteries)* by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Aladdin) *REPRINT

Back to Me  by Earl Sewell (Kimani Tru)

No Boyz Allowed by Ni-Ni Simone (Dafina Books)

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August (7):

End Zone by Tiki & Ronde Barber (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

A Certain October by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster)

Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon (Aladdin)

Yell Out: Cheer Drama/Do You: Baller Swag by Stephanie Perry Moore (Saddleback)

The Cruisers 3: a Star Is Born by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic)

Charly’s Epic Fiascos by Kelli London (Dafina)

Denim Diaries #6: Lying to Live by Darrian Lee (Urban Books)

September (9):

Stars and Sparks on Stage (Clubhouse Mysteries)* by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Aladdin) *REPRINT

Settle Down: Cheer Drama/Be Real: Baller Swag by Stephanie Perry Moore (Saddleback)

Kiki Doin’ It (Juicy Central) by Ayshia Monroe (Saddleback)

Marnyke: the Fake Date (Juicy Central) by Ayshia Monroe (Saddleback)

Tia: Diva (Juicy Central)  by Ayshia Monroe (Saddleback)

Sherise: Stalked (Juicy Central)  by Ayshia Monroe (Saddleback)

Nishell: Tempted (Juicy Central) by Ayshia Monroe (Saddleback)

The Diary of B.B. Bright by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams (Turner)

Hollywood High by Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams (Kensington)

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October (3):

Dork Diaries 5: Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All by Rachel Renee Russell (Aladdin)

Pinned by Sharon Flake (Scholastic)

Time to Shine by Nikki Carter (Dafina)

November (1):

Crazy Love by Amir Abrams (Dafina)

December (1):

Fading Amber: The Cambion Chronicles #3 by Jaime Reed (K-Teen/Dafina)

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Summer Edward shared this announcement with me:

imagesCaravan for Literacy offers a special and unique opportunity for children in your school, church, or youth program to meet and interact with nationally acclaimed children’s book illustrators and authors.

For a limited time only, the Caravan for Literacy authors/illustrators (Colin Bootman, E.B. Lewis, and Eric Velasquez) are now available to come to your school, church, or civic organization for FREE (with minimum book order)! This program is limited to the following East Coast states: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina. Please visit their new website for more information: http://caravanforliteracy.org/
 
If you’re interested in having the Caravan for Literacy come to your school, church, or civic organization, you can email Colin directly at colinbootman at yahoo dot com.

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img495We’re nearing the end of the semester, which means I have a ton of grading to do and my students are thinking about their final art project. I made a demo this morning, drawing on a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which was repeated in Percival Everett’s satirical novel Erasure: “How does it feel to be free of your illusions?” I wanted to created a kaleidoscopic effect and largely failed but at least they’ll see how symbols can be teased from the texts. My nieces in Nova Scotia made some beautiful self-portraits for our Mickalene Project. You remember I bought a giraffe-print fedora, photographed myself, and then added glitter and patterned IMG_1619paper to mimic the jeweled portraits by Mickalene Thomas. I’m taking my students to see her work next week, and hope they’ll also appreciate the majestic portraits of black men painted by Kehinde Wiley. It doesn’t help to ask, but I often wonder what impact this art would have had on me when I was a child. I’m not sure hold old I was when I realized that black people also made art…how would I have known that without seeing black artists’ (at) work? I hope my nieces know that they have gifts to share with the world. I hope they never have to unlearn all the lessons I learned as a child that made me think/fear that beauty and genius belonged to one race and no others…

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If you didn’t attend the 2012 A Is for Anansi conference at NYU last weekend, you missed a chanced to meet the future president of the United States. Sirah Sow (left) was one of three outstanding teens that wowed the audience on Saturday morning’s “If I Ruled the World” panel. She and her aunt also attended the post-conference brunch where a smaller group of participants shared our impressions and suggestions with the two organizers, Jaira Placide and Rashidah Ismaili. Most of us agreed that our main challenge this year was attendance. The panels were tighter, the speakers were diverse and engaging, but ultimately we were preaching to the choir—and a small choir at that. It’s possible that the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy prevented some local people from attending, though I met one determined attendee who knew she was coming whether or not her power was restored. The US publishing industry is based in NYC, and white editors claim they’re desperate to find more black writers, yet how many of those editors took advantage of this FREE event? Did the storm prevent ALL of the major kidlit journals from covering the conference? This year four legends in the field were honored: Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings (right, photographed by Sandra Payne), Eloise Greenfield, and William Loren Katz. Will the readers of Horn Book, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly get to read about the honoring of these literary luminaries? They deserve to know about this one-of-a-kind conference yet I didn’t see any press in attendance. When my panel was over, Dr. Meena Khorana approached me and asked for a copy of my paper; Dr. Khorana is the editor of Sankofa: a Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature and they plan to cover the conference—but again, that’s preaching to the choir. How do we engage those who most need to hear our message? The presidential election is over, thank goodness, and the conversation has since turned to the shifting demographics in the US and the obvious anxiety of many members of the dominant group. In class I try to explain to my students that dominance isn’t tied to numbers—under slavery, small groups of whites controlled much larger groups of blacks. So when racial minorities combine to become the statistical majority in this country, it doesn’t automatically follow that whites will lose their dominance. White supremacy is so entrenched in our institutions that it will take decades to root it out. I think what we’re going to see over the next few years is a circling of the wagons—anxious whites fearing the loss of power and privilege will retreat further into their all-white world and do whatever they can to “keep the horde at bay.” Meanwhile, people of color and their allies will have to keep moving forward, holding fast to the belief that “we shall overcome someday.” On this rainy morning I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. But it was definitely energizing to spend the weekend with so many talented writers and scholars and activists (above: Tony Medina, Nnedi Okorafor, Michelle Martin, & me). Ibi Zoboi took this great shot of our fantasy panel, and I’m hoping she will do a write-up of the entire conference on her blog (below: me, Vicky Smith, Nnedi, Stacy Whitman, and Ivan Velez, Jr.).

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