I’ll remember 2014 as the year several writer friends I know and respect published or republished great books. Mark Willen’s smart and poignant mystery, Hawke’s Point, Cindy Young-Turner’s republication of her engrossing fantasy, A Thief of Hope and the second book in Gale Deitch’s popular culinary cozy mystery series, Fine Dining.
Gale Deitch developed an impressive fan base after her first book, A Fine Fix, was published last year. Her readers have been asking for more in the series, and now they finally have it.
The star in Deitch’s kitchen-centric stories is Trudie Fine, a caterer who loves brightly colored clothes, is growing accustomed to a new boyfriend in her life in the form of a handsome detective, and whose loyalty for a close friend lands her in the middle of a murder investigation.
My writer friends and I have had multiple conversations about book festivals. The bottom line question is, are they worth it? We toss around questions like, can you sell enough books to cover the cost? Is it worth it to invest in banners, posters, cards and other give-aways? Does participation result in readers who look for you later to buy books online?
This is what I learned from participating in the 2014 Baltimore Book Festival.
What a weekend! The Baltimore Book Festival was a bit overwhelming and a lot exhausting. As crazy as it was to get past the massive crowds and find a place to park, it was amazing to see so many talented authors of every genre imaginable all in one place. I loved the opportunity to meet and talk to other writers about their experiences, but by far, the best part of the weekend was the opportunity to meet and talk to readers. What a joy it is to watch a stranger purchase your work–people who don’t know me as a person let alone as a writer. People who don’t know the books and yet, they still take a chance and buy the work. It’s an amazing feeling.
I’ll write more about the experience soon. Until then, here’s a little gallery of photos from the event.
Working with a designer to have the cover of your book created is like watching a tightrope walker without a net. It is thrilling, edge of your seat stuff, but you feel as if, at any moment, things could go very wrong, very quickly.
While doing my research, I looked at scores of designer websites, was blown away by so many covers and impressed with what could be done, that by the time I finally selected someone to work with, I had high expectations. There were so many different designers to choose from, that I finally had to make my selection largely based on price. I’ve got a lot of work that I’d like to publish this year which means I can’t afford to pay three hundred plus dollars for each cover.
I contacted Su at Earthly Charms, we settled on terms and I gave her a general description to get her started. I also sent her links to covers I liked.
A couple of weeks later, Su sent me my first set of proofs. Here is where the tightrope walker began to sway in the wind, the feeling of impending disaster set my heart racing and for days I found it difficult to sleep.
My first impression was that she’d gotten them all wrong. We were working on two covers for the first two books in my mystery series. Neither of them worked for me. I considered looking for someone else. Looking at those covers made me sad. I felt as if my project was a failure. Were the books I’d written as bad as those covers? Was I crazy? What made me think I could self publish anyway? UGH!
Trying not to panic, I decided to treat them a bit like critiquing someone’s writing. I began by listing the things I liked and realized I not only liked those things, I loved them. Along with what I loved, like the font and the basic colors, I had a bunch of ideas for what could be improved and how to improve them. I listed those and didn’t hold back on exactly how I felt.
The next set of proofs were so much improved it felt as if that tightrope walker had made it to the other side and the crowd was standing in a raucous round of applause. They weren’t perfect, but we were very close. A few minor tweaks here and there and suddenly, I had the cover I dreamed of, the look I could be proud, to keep on my shelf and call my own. I love, love, LOVE them.
It was frightening at first, but like Su said, we had to start somewhere. I’ve decided that a great cover artist is someone who is not only creative and artistic but more important, someone who listens. I found that creative listener in Su.
I’d recommend her but she will be far too busy working on the rest of my work coming out this year.
You write a book, you rewrite the book several times, you send it to a bunch of folks to read, you absorb their comments, you decide you’ve got your final product, you send it to your agent, your agent makes comments, you absorb those comments and finally it goes to your publisher.
Eventually, the manuscript lands in the hands of an editor who reads every word, analyses every phrase and comes back to you with more comments.
In my opinion, the pages and comments that come back from your editor are the pages that require the hardest work.
For every other set of comments, you as the writer can choose to accept or reject any of those comments. Some comments you will know immediately are spot on. You incorporate them with gratitude. Other comments aren’t so easy to hear. Some you accept, others you reject because they don’t fit your vision, perhaps you don’t trust the reviewer or perhaps you’ve decided as the writer, the comments are just wrong.
But comments from an editor are different. This is the voice of your publisher. These are changes direct from the person who will turn your chick into the bird ready to leave the nest for good. You’re not as free to ignore these comments and suggestions as you would any other. These comments, at the very least, should be strongly considered.
So you work with them, you wrestle with them perhaps. Rewrites should be fun. But to me, the rewrites that happen as the result of an editors comments have an extra added pressure to them, and aren’t quite as much fun as others.
The good news is, these rewrites could be the final rewrites before your book finally makes it to the shelves. So we wrestle with them, we dedicate ourselves to them and we try to answer every question the editor has. Hopefully, the comments, no matter how difficult they may be, will lead to a better book.
This is how I get into trouble. I start to write, run into a rough spot, then decide I need a break to think about it. Taking that break, I pick up my Kindle. I start to read, and damn it if I don’t find some freakin’ book that sucks me in, whips me around, makes me want to live there, find out what is going to happen, have all my questions answered.
The latest book to suck me in is WOOL, by Hugh Howey. Howey creates a post apocalyptic world confined to the limits of a silo, where life is closely regimented and where questions are capital offenses. I couldn’t put it down. Turns out, he’s just recently sold the movie rights to Ridley Scott. Can’t wait to see the story turned into film.
I downloaded the WOOL Omnibus yesterday and have been reading it ever since. Before I knew it, hours passed and this morning, I’m still faced with the same damn writing rough spot I left hours before.
That’s how I get into trouble.
I’ve been fascinated with the discussions about the movie version of the bestselling book The Hunger Games and the racist tweets that flew around the internet. The tweets expressed disappointment and downright anger of some fans when they discovered that a black actress was cast in the role of one of the more sympathetic characters in the story. Amandla Stengerg, in my opinion, was perfect for the role of Rue, but evidently some readers not only didn’t like that she was black, they claimed that her race changed their positive opinion about the character.
“Now I don’t care that she died,” one young tweeter wrote.
Clearly, their reading comprehension skills weren’t up to the task of visualizing a character in a story they enjoyed as being anything other than white.
As shocking and disturbing as the tweets were, they served to prove a point I’ve been trying to make for some time.
In 2008, I blogged about my frustration with brick and mortar bookstores and their practice of sticking every book written by a black author in the African-American section of the store.
“To make it easier for shoppers to find what they want,” I was told when I asked about it.
But, the only people who browse the African-American section of the book store are African-American. I’ve never seen a white person shopping in that section. Why would they? When I wrote my blog post on the subject, I argued that the bookshelf segregation only serves to ensure that black authors aren’t exposed to an audience made up of people other than their own race.
Sure, lots of white readers are fans of Walter Mosely, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, the black mega authors whose work crosses the racial boundary and authors the brick and mortar stores feel comfortable placing on tables alongside books written by white authors. But for the most part, African-American authors are segregated into the African-American section, where only African-Americans shop.
Frankly, even I don’t shop in those sections. I’ve found that a majority of the books offer views into Tyler Perry-type worlds where black people only live and work with other black people. Their lives are all about being black, about the black experience, basically books centered around race.
That is not how I live. That is not my life. That is not the life my characters live.
A recent critique I received from an editor about my novel went something like, “Okay, your character is a female soldier and she’s black. So what? I kept expecting to see more of her blackness in the story.”
Because I’m a black author, all I get to write about is being black? Do female authors only get to write about being a woman? And when has a white author written about what it means to be white?
The editor’s reaction leads me to believe the only reason black authors are writing about being black is because white publishers expect that from us. Black = the black experience, whatever the hell that is. The character can’t just be black, they have to talk black, act black, suffer some sort of discrimination, be a drug dealer or gang banger or fill some kind of stereotypical role to remind us all that they are black. After all, all characters in books, unless told otherwise, are white, so we’re forced to make the distinction.
The tweets from the disappointed movie goers proved to me that I was right about the African-American sections of book stores. These sections do nothing but segregate authors from people who would simply not browse there. If you don’t want to read a book that features a black character, you can easily avoid the exposure to them.
I hoped that ebooks would change the practice as they’ve changed so many things about the publishing world. I am happy to see that there aren’t African-American sections in ebook stores.
Instead ebooks written by black authors are simply stuck in the mass ebook pile. They’re not also listed in Romance, or Mystery, or Fantasy. They’re just in the giant list of ebooks which means they rarely, not even Walter Mosley, make it into the top 100 lists.
One of the racist Hunger Games tweeters said, “Why does Rue have to be black? Not gonna lie. Kinda ruined the movie for me.”
The tweeter doesn’t have to worry. When it comes to black characters, it’s unlikely they will ever stumble across that unwanted black central character just by browsing the ebook lists.
Not gonna lie. Kinda pisses me off.
Ever since I bought my Kindle and I’ve had hours of reading enjoyment for less than five bucks a pop , forking over $12 for what someone is telling me is a best seller, is hard to justify. I have to wonder how some of those authors, the ones tied to the old elite publishers with contracts that require a particular price point, are doing these days.
Lately, Amazon has been marketing NYT best sellers like Kellerman for $12.99, next to an unknown author with a thriller priced at a buck ninety nine. It makes me wonder, which one of them is selling more copies.
My guess would be the new author is selling more. The hard core Kellerman (or insert your favorite best selling author’s name) fans are still forking over the dough to get the latest. For example, I’d pay the usual fifteen bucks plus to get the latest in the Dresden Files series.
But I doubt any new readers are jumping in at those prices.
Soldier’s Magazine asked me to write a guest blog for their Black History month recognition. I love sharing my family’s history. I made one minor change, since I felt bad about leaving my brother’s service out of the story. Here is what I sent them.
A family’s legacy of service
- Growing up, I would sometimes hear stories of my family’s military history. One of the earliest tales I heard was about my grandfather, John Doyle. My father’s family made their home in Mississippi, remaining in the same area in which several generations of my ancestors had labored as slaves.
The story goes, that one day John made the three-mile walk into town to pick up the mail. He was a tall, gangly kid who probably looked older than his 17 years. Barefoot and wearing his raggedy work clothes, he traveled alone down the dirt country road into town. It was the summer of 1917.
John picked up the mail and was headed home when he was confronted by the white sheriff, who was surprised to see a healthy young man walking the streets. There was a war on after all. Most of the white boys in town had already joined up and shipped off to serve overseas.
So then and there, the sheriff arrested John, charged him with draft dodging, stuck him on a truck headed north and shortly thereafter, John was shipped off to France, where he wrangled mules throughout the rest of the war.
John made it back home after the war and raised a family in the same Mississippi town.
By the time World War II started, my father was 19. He didn’t hesitate to answer the nation’s call, understanding the adventure and the freedom release from his
oppressive Mississippi town would mean. He was assigned to one of Patton’s all-black tank battalions, landed on Utah beach the day after D-day, was cheered as a liberator by Belgians, fought in the Ardenne Forest during the Battle of the Bulge and eventually came home a man who could no longer tolerate the harsh segregation of the south. He moved north.
My parents met after the war, in Minnesota, where my mother, after having served during the war in the Women’s Army Corps, had found her own kind of freedom. She and my father largely ignored the social stigma that accompanied their interracial union.
I grew up hearing stories about my father’s war, my grandfather’s war, my mother’s service and even about my mother’s father who had been a cavalry Soldier on the plains of the Dakotas. Military service was part of our history. The Army had played a major role in changing my father’s opportunities. And had largely been the reason my parents met.
So my father wasn’t a bit surprised when I told him I wanted to join the Army. My brother, who had already joined ROTC and was well on his way to being an Infantry officer, had dared me to do it, saying I could never make it through basic training. Of course, I had to prove him wrong, but aside from his juvenile taunt, everyone in the family was supportive.
Joining the Army Reserve was the best decision I ever made.
There’s nothing more exciting for a new author than to see her first novel in print. That dream recently came true for a member of my writing group, Cindy Young Turner. Her novel, THEIF OF HOPE, is an engrossing, entertaining and complicated fantasy page
turner. She paints a dark world where there is no black and white or good or evil. One minute, you think you understand about the evil Guild, the next minute, you question the rebels as unwitting tools for the nobles who only want their power back.
The book has already received multiple five star reviews on Amazon.com and several rave reviews in writing and fantasy magazines. I spoke to Cindy about writing and, more importantly, the business of marketing her writing so that people can learn about the great work she has produced.
Q: Where did the character and story that become THEIF OF HOPE come from? What was your inspiration?
A: My parents had a record of the “Oliver” soundtrack that I used to love listening to as a kid, and then I adored the movie. A musical with pickpockets–how cool is that? Plus they fared much better in the movie than in the book Oliver Twist. I’m also going
to out myself as a geek and admit that I used to play Dungeons and Dragons in college, which really got me interested in fantasy, and yes, I had a character named Sydney. I loved the character and started thinking about backstory and writing about her and creating a world, and thus a novel was born. I also liked the idea of a story about fighting oppression and the commoners vs. nobility makes for an interesting dilemma, which is complicated by the Guild. I hope the story speaks to a number of levels, in addition to being a good fantasy adventure tale.
Q: How long did it take you to get to the final version that made it into print? Did you ever think that you would not finish the book?
A: Ha, I’m not sure I want to admit how long it took me from start to finish. A LONG time. More than 10 years (off and on) and numerous rewrites. And yes, there were quite a few times I despaired of ever finishing it and thought about just chucking the whole thing. My critique groups have been incredibly helpful and encouraging and kept me on track. The actual editing process after it was accepted for publication took about two months, and that was pretty intense.
Q: How many people did you get to read early drafts and how much of their input do you accept or reject?
A: I’ve been in two really amazing critique groups since 1999, so they’ve been reading drafts of the book since then, multiple times. (I guess that indicates how long I’ve been working on it!) I do take a lot of their input. They have provided a lot of good advice on how to write a novel, things like plot arcs and story narrative, which I didn’t fully understand when I started writing. In fact, the major rewrite of the book came out of a suggestion from someone that at one point the plot just didn’t make any sense.
I thought about it for a while and realized maybe that was why I kept getting stuck. So I took a completely different approach and threw out much of the book. It was a bit scary, but I think in the end it worked. Not that I take all of their advice, though, but I’d say it’s probably about eighty percent.
Q: How long did your agent shop the book around before you found a publisher? How many rejections
did you get before you found a home for the book?
A: It took a little more than two years to find a publisher. There were lots of publishers that just didn’t respond. A couple of the more established but not major ones asked for the whole manuscript, so I had hope that I was on the right track. It didn’t take long for Crescent Moon Press to respond to a query, request the whole manuscript, and then express interest in publishing the book.
Q: What advice would you give an unpublished writer about rejection?
A: Don’t give up. You will get rejected, probably many many times. It will be frustrating. It’s completely subjective and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t be afraid to try the smaller independent presses. Honestly, you’re not likely to make much money (but there’s hope), and you may have a much better shot with a small press that will actually value you as an author.
Q: Describe the feeling of holding your first book in your hands? How did you celebrate the accomplishment?
A: It was very surreal. I kept looking at the book and thinking, wow, this is my book. These words on the page are the ones I’ve
slaved over on my laptop, and here they are in an actual book. I guess I haven’t really celebrated yet. I’m still on pins and needles about reviews. I have two good ones so far. Once I get a few more, then I think I’ll allow myself to celebrate.
Q: Marketing your book and earning money from the sales are far different than the work of actually writing. How do you feel about the marketing side of book publishing? Are you disappointed by that aspect of the business?
A: I have to admit, I really dislike marketing. I always wanted to be like JD Salinger, a recluse writer and hide out in my cabin and
write. Sadly, that doesn’t sell books, and just publishing the book is the first step. My publisher has offered quite a few marketing opportunities, but still, a lot of it falls on me if I want the book to succeed.
Q: Are you considering making a book trailer? How much do you think a book trailer might contribute to book sales?
A: I think book trailers are cool and it’s definitely on my to do list. Will it help sales? I’m not sure. There are so many marketing
avenues out there and it seems dubious how much they will actually lead to more sales. I think every little bit helps, though.
Q: Aside from fantasy, what else do you read? What are you reading now?
A: I have eclectic tastes in books. Recently I’ve read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Gunslinger by Stephen King, and The Eyre Affaire by Jasper Fforde. I’m currently reading We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, a harrowing look at the genocide in Rwanda, and Eternal Investigations, by Nancy M. Griffis, a fun paranormal read, which is an odd combination.
Q: If your book was made into a movie, who would play Sydney? Who would play Willem?
A: Of course I’ve thought about this. What author hasn’t fantasized about the movie version of his or her book? The only problem is that I rarely see movies these days so I don’t know any actors who are the right age. I always thought Heath Ledger might be good for Willem, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen. I have no idea about Sydney. Someone unknown would
be best, I think. Can I request that Peter Jackson direct the movie version? Surely he’ll need a new project after he finishes The Hobbit. (LOL)
Q: If you could be any character in one of your favorite books, who would it be?
A: Eowyn from Lord of the Rings. Woman warrior who gets tokick some Nazgul butt!
Several weeks ago, I sent two projects to the printer for pick up later. One project, my first novel, had taken almost two months to rewrite from start to finish. The second project was the memoir I’d been ghost writing for almost eighteen months. After work, I went to the printer to pick them up and was handed a large box of more than six hundred pages — six hundred pages that equaled countless hours of interviews, research, writing group critiquing and plain hard work at the keyboard.
I put the pages in manuscript boxes, took the boxes to the post office and mailed them to my agent. Then I went back to work.
It felt a bit anticlimactic.
I did make a post to my Facebook page, and I emailed a couple friends. “I’m Finished!” the emails said. Aside from that, I didn’t much talk about it, didn’t celebrate it, didn’t even feel much like I’d accomplished something significant. I’d put the finishing touches on two books. I’d sent two books to my agent. Now, all I had to do was wait to see if she could sell them.
Still, weeks later, I’m feeling a bit alarmed at my lack of reaction.
How do you feel when you’ve finished a project? What do you do to mark that completion?
Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, with her then-husband Jim Trupin founded JET Literary Associates in 1975. Together, they have a substantial client list and recent publications, as well as films and current options on film rights. She has been in the industry for thirty-seven years, beginning in the contracts department of the New American Library. From there, she moved to Fawcett Books’ school division, Premier Books. From there, she worked with an established agent who needed expertise in the paperback market. Today, she is co-owner of JET Literary.
I met Liz over email with a query letter and sample chapters. Since then, she has patiently and enthusiastically shopped my novel around to big and little publishing houses. So far, I’ve received several rejection letters that continue to offer hope. The letters never say no. They usually offer encouragement, suggestions for minor tweaks and offers of regret that it’s not the right fit. While we haven’t found a home for the mystery series, the rejection letters prove that her submissions are respected and read by editors with influence – exactly why having an agent is so important.
Liz continues her search. Somewhere in the process she happened upon a ghost writing opportunity for me that eventually led to the publication of, I’m Still Standing, From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen – My Journey Home. That project published by Touchstone, and her continued support as I work on another memoir, are why I feel privileged that I have an agent who has faith in my talent and is looking out for my interests.
I asked Liz a few questions about the current publishing market for new writers.
Q: As a literary agent, what types of authors do you represent and why?
A: I represent all fiction except sci-fi and fantasy. I also will take on narrative non-fiction, memoir/biography, parenting, some reference, some business. Basically, I represent books that I would like to read and therefore can evaluate properly from the perspective of reader appeal. I then couple that with my understanding of the market.
Q: As an agent in today’s publishing market place, have you changed the way you
approach editors with a new author?
A: I don’t honestly think I have changed the way I approach editors with new authors. When I agree to take on a new author it is because I have fallen in love with the project and I am therefore approaching each submission with a high level of enthusiasm. So just like in the good old days, I prepare a pitch that will also convey my enthusiasm. I generally tell new clients that as an agent, I am a matchmaker: I must find the right lover for his/her work in order for it to get published.
Q: How much more difficult is it to sell a new writer to a major publishing house?
A: It’s very difficult to sell new writers right now to the major commercial houses because of the heavy emphasis on platform and crunching the numbers to show a favorable sell-through, even though the projected sell-through numbers are pie-in-the-sky until the book hits the shelves! The pressure on each and every editor is to find the next big bestseller. That’s a daunting burden and explains why some very good books slip through the cracks, while other copy-cat stuff gets published, and then bombs.
Q: What is your opinion of publish on demand (POD) and ebook publishing and how have those types of publishing options changed the industry?
A: The new platforms have really shaken up the industry. But ultimately, I think they will be what save the industry, particularly ebooks.
Q: Considering the major changes going on, is this a good time or a bad time to be
a new, unpublished author?
A: I don’t think we should assign good or bad to this time. It has never been easy to be a writer trying to get published for the first time. But if you want to consider the “bad” side of this time, then I would point to what I said about some very good books slipping through the cracks. On the other “good” side is the emergence of electronic publishing and the opportunities it is now providing for writers who have run through the gauntlet of commercial houses and come up with near misses but no contracts. Those writers now have more options to consider and are sometimes able to establish a reader base that the publishing houses take note of and then viola! – the tables are turned.
Q: What advice would you give to the new author?
A: When I attend conferences, I generally ask how many of you can imagine a day without writing? Yes, getting published is what everyone is aiming for, but the bottomline is that you will keep writing, no matter what happens. It’s who you are. Pay attention to what the market is all about and how your work fits in. Attend conferences and try to meet the professionals in the industry – workshops and critique groups are also helpful for a lot of writers. Establish a presence, if possible, online.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: Yes, I must tell you that I have definitely changed the way I prepare new authors for the reality of the current submission process. The average turn-around time in the good old days used to be 4 to 6 weeks – agents could pretty much depend on that. Things are more complicated now and that timeframe has gone out the window. I don’t want to get too tangled up in this explanation, but here is what typically happens: I send a pitch letter and an attachment of the manuscript or proposal out to a carefully selected list of editors. Within a few days/weeks I may receive a rejection or two based on the fact that the project doesn’t “grab” the editor, i.e. s/he has read the first chunk of the manuscript or perhaps the whole proposal (for a non-fiction book) and did not feel compelled to proceed (to either read the full manuscript or pursue the proposal). Editors who have read the opening chunk of a full manuscript sometimes email to say they look forward to reading the submission and then it can take a while to hear back from them because of the avalanche of submissions they are facing, even as they go forward with the manuscripts they have already bought! So extra time must be factored into the waiting period. Writers need to know that the length of time does not indicate indifference toward either the writer or the agent – it’s just a fact of life. Let’s say the editor reads the manuscript and now contacts me to say s/he wants to pursue it. Now the editor has to get a back-up positive reading from another editor and probably will also give a chunk to a marketing person in the hopes of support – all of this takes more time, but is moving the process closer to the final point: presenting the book to the pub board for the definitive yes or no.
I think if writers become aware of the reality of the submission process they can avoid a lot of negativity that might seep into their heads…and hearts!
Yet another story about how the ebook and self-publishing are allowing so many authors to make their own decisions about what to do with their books. Read how Canadian authors are jumping into the fray:
The ebook is undoubtedly a game changer. Seems most, including the large publishing houses that would like everything to stay the same, are still trying to figure out exactly what the new game is.
After seeing my latest royalty statement from Touchstone, a statement that is nine pages long, reports numbers ending last September (why is it always six months old?) and filled with column after column of numbers, illustrates only one thing. The number — fifteen percent, drives me a bit crazy. In what universe does that percentage equal the hours and hours I spent at my keyboard?
Last I heard my agent has my latest manuscript with yet another publisher. If I get another rejection letter, I’m fairly certain it will be my last.
I was thrilled to learn that the book I co-authored with Shoshana Johnson, “I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home,” was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. The book was one of five in a literary category for best bio/autobiography.
While I had little faith we would actually win since the competition in our category seemed insurmountable (Condoleezza Rice, Nelson Mandela, Jay-Z, Ray Charles Robinson Jr. … I mean, really?), I knew I couldn’t miss going to the star-studded, classic-Hollywood, red-carpet event.
It was an easy decision to take my brother, retired Col. Larry Doyle, as my escort, largely because the book is about Shoshana’s experience as a POW in Iraq. I credit the vividness of the Iraq sections to the convoy that Larry and I took from Kuwait to Baghdad together in 2003. Because of that trip and my own years in uniform, I was able to paint a clear picture of the sights, smells and feel of the place. Plus, Larry looks darn good in his dress blues.
We were headed for a place filled with celebrities. My brother and I were unknown nobodies from nowhere. Hollywood people would be snooty and rude. We would stand in a corner, ignored and feeling stupid.
Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong.
A woman from the NAACP Image Award committee came up to us early during the gala reception and encouraged us to just walk up to folks and say “hello.”
“Chances are, they’re nominees too,” she said, “and probably just as nervous as you are.”
We took her advice. Every person who I recognized, I approached and said I loved whatever show or movie featuring them I had seen. They were always gracious, friendly, and wanted a photo with us just as much as we wanted photos with them.
“Here, over here! Look here!”
One photographer actually shouted at me, “Own it girlfriend!”
The things I will remember the most: hearing actor Joe Morton tell my brother, “Thank you for your service”; seeing my homeboy, Prince, serve as a presenter; and when Lou Gossett Jr. saw my brother, he snapped to attention and saluted.
An unforgettable moment was when retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell walked down the aisle near our seats. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to shake his hand.
“General!” I shouted.
He stopped, took one look at Larry, then came back and shook our hands, smiling, obviously pleased to see a man in uniform.
Halle Berry (so skinny I thought she would break), Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Clarke Peters (from HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme”), Samuel L. Jackson, Benjamin Bratt, Ruben Studdard … there seemed no end to the stars.
If there was anything disappointing about the experience, aside from not hearing my name called (Ray Charles’s son took the honor), was realizing the complete lack of understanding most people have for the Army uniform. After almost 30 years in the Army Reserve, Larry wears a respectable rack of awards including a Bronze Star. The silver eagles on his shoulders, one would think, are easily recognizable.
But no. One woman asked if he was in the Navy. Another asked if he was a private. Even worse, a man walked up to Larry and attempted to give my brother his parking-valet claim ticket.
But even the ignorance of the guests couldn’t dampen our fun. The show was great, we had fantastic seats, the food and drinks at both the gals the night before and the after-party were unbelievably good — and best of all — free.
My brother and I left the events exhausted, happy and filled with memories that will linger — long after that trophy would be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
Despite coming up a little short as an NAACP Image Award recipient, in my mind Larry and I walked away as big winners.
That’s winner with a capital “W.”