Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with Jewell Parker Rhodes on Maryland Morning

There is an interview with Jewell up on the Maryland Morning website, in which Jewell discusses her novel Douglass’ Women.

Listen to the interview here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Writing Lessons: Character, Part 3

Characterization is only half done until you’ve breathed spirit, soul into your character. Characters must have an interior life: desires, dreams, needs, fears.

What does your character desire? Love? Money? Friendship? Revenge? What does your character dream about? What dreams are repressed? What nightmares wake him? What does your character truly need? Freedom from self-doubt? Kindness?

Until you understand the emotional, inner life of the character, you aren’t quite ready to write a successful plot. That’s not to say, that as you write, you won’t learn more about your characters (indeed your characters may even change!) But knowing what a character needs/desires/wants is critical to that character making choices. Choices are what will fuel your plot.

Think of your character—their ID life—what they would do, if you stripped away their ego and superego. Think about their inner/uninhibited child. Write about the character’s desires using a strong, first person “I”:
I want______________________________

I need______________________________

I fear______________________________

I dream_____________________________
Desires/dreams/needs can and do overlap. But characters can also desire and dream about one thing only to discover they need something else. For example, a character dreams of being a musician but needs cocaine. Or an abused character may believe they have no desires, that they are “a speck of nothing,” only to discover they need to dream in order to survive.

Desires/dreams/needs give your characters depth and complexity. Your character’s interior life will shape her motivations and how she might respond to choices and crises within your story.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year!

Dear Book Lovers,

It is 2009—and I make the New Year’s pledge to live more. To be more open-hearted, more loving. I pledge to write more, read more, listen—soul-open—to the stories told by friends, family, and strangers that have become new found friends.

I pledge to volunteer more—to give grace as the world has given me grace.

Money never defines happiness. BEING defines happiness. Having said that, I wish you the grace and strength to succeed in your life’s journey. I wish you all what you need to care of yourself and your family.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shout Outs

This is a sincere shout-out to Yasmin Coleman, Founder of Apooo ( and to Cyrus Webb, President and CEO of Conversations Book Club and the host of Conversations LIVE! talk radio show( and Yasmin and Cyrus interviewed me this week about Yellow Moon-but this post is not about me, it's about them. They are the new generation of griots-using the power of the web and words to create loving communities. They are also creative, smart, and entrepreneurial. Blog talk radio, I never knew about it-okay, I'm slow.not at all technologically hip. But I am a new fan.

Forget me, you should hear their podcast archives of wondrous writers! Oh, my gosh-they have a who's who of famously old and famously new writers. (In my view, anyone who writes a book is FAMOUS as in esteemed and illustrious.)

Yasmin and Cyrus are a bridge between authors and readers. That's cool.
More importantly, they are both warm-hearted people who are spearheading literacy and engaging people's hearts and minds. Check out HipHop and Books ( Cyrus blends fine music with his interviews-he started our interview with Jermaine Hawthorne's song, "Midnight Storm." Just hearing the eloquence of the song moved me to tears-reminded me of the power of faith and the power of music to move souls. This is part of our African-based faith tradition and why the jazz men are so important in Yellow Moon. But the music was Cyrus's gift to his many listeners-a special gift to me. The music celebrated Jermaine's gifts. But it was the "sharing," that makes Cyrus so special. A true, new age griot.

On Yasmin's show, I felt as if I was in the living room with my sisters. Phyllis, JD, Dera all called in, and they were wonderful and supportive. Yasmin's spirit reached across the telephone line and touched me. I was laughing-no, giggling. Her griot power makes a community that is both intimate and familiar. All we needed was food to make our evening get-together complete!

How can anyone ever be lonely with APOOO (it stands for A Place of Our Own and grammatically should be APOO but Yasmin likes APOOO better) and the Best Book Club communities. Check them out. Yasmin and Cyrus are the artists in the house! They are also community servants, wise storytellers and people I hope to keep in my life as friends.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Writing Lessons: Creating Character, Part 2

Sometimes, it takes awhile to know and understand your character. Yet, understanding is critical to loving your character and making your character believable.

Today, I was working on HURRICANE LEVEE BLUES — and I had an “ah-hah” moment. This is the third book I’m writing about Marie Laveau’s descendent, Dr. Levant, yet, today, I discovered something new about her.

Characters are like people! You think you know them—then, all of a sudden, they do something, say something shocking or surprising!

Getting deep into the bones of your character can be fun, intriguing. I especially love it when characters don’t do what I’ve planned as an author—like Anna Douglass in DOUGLASS’ WOMEN. I didn’t know she was going to invite Frederick’s mistress to tea!!! I was shocked.

Before characters start living on their own—telling YOU what to write—you, as the author, must begin with the basics.

What is your character’s name? Tamara? Tamara is far different from a Barbara, a Lorraine or a Lanesha. Jerome is unlike a Terrence, a Bobby, or a James.

A name makes a character real. So does history. Write down details about your character’s past—when and where was she born? What are her parents’ names? Is she the only child, eldest child, or baby of the family?

Write down details about your character’s current life—is she married? Does she practice a faith? What’s her profession? Hobbies?

What is her typical day like? Chances are you’ll be writing about an untypical day—so you need to decide what your character normally does. On Thursday, does your character eat at Jones’ Deli? Does she take a bus ride with three transfers to work? Think of all the interesting things that could happen if the Deli was closed or she missed her bus!

What does your character look like? Don’t list details as if you’re writing a police report. What features, mannerisms make your character recognizable, unforgettable.

Visualizing your character—knowing their normal patterns, habits and history all set the stage for you, as a writer, to disrupt and turn their story-lives, upside down. That’s when your real tale begins! Your characters will change and evolve—don’t worry, let them. But, create your starting point. Breathe first life into your characters.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

After Hurricane Gustav

Hurricane Gustav did not blow the house down! I'm so relieved. I prefer my drama in literature, not in life. But that's not possible, is it? Literature is a mirror of life and I've found that writing has often helped me deal with so many issues and struggles in my life. When there has been a death in the family, when I've been lonely...when I've wondered about the meaning of life.

Writing--all kinds, not just fiction writing, opens a space for the soul to reflect. Whether published or not, I know I'm a better person, because I write. Putting words on paper or on a computer screen is so affirming. Just like life. Even after Hurricane Gustav, the sun still shone in the sky and I know, somewhere, a bird was singing.

Affirmations are everywhere.

I'm so glad to be alive. Another hurricane--natural, psychological, or emotional--may come tomorrow. But the power of language stays with me.

It's 5:30am and all is well in my small world. I've done some writing and I feel more peaceful. My teenage son surprised me by coming downstairs for a cup of tea. Immediately, I worried.

"Why are you up so early?"

"Howard's End. I need to finish reading it for class."

Ah, there's something sweet here--our three cats and dog are asleep. My husband is still asleep. It seems like the entire, still dark world, outside, is asleep. Yet, inside, the two of us--mother and son--are paying attention to words, literary drama.

I'm going to make blueberry pancakes. A growing boy needs food. What's more life-affirming than this--being a writer, being a mom--and, knowing that, for now, all hurricanes are at bay.