Finding Sanctuary Cover Reveal

Reposted from Field Order Press.com

My debut novel, Finding Sanctuary, started out as a writing assignment for grad school. What later became my first chapter was a hastily written draft that I snatched off the printer minutes before I had to make the commute to DC for class. I didn’t give much thought to my characters or the setting I placed them in, let alone the tone or cadence of my writing. The following week, my professor handed back my writing assignment and asked to see me after class. I just knew she was going to tell me that my assignment was garbage, and that I would have to redo it.

I was wrong.

“Your characters and this scene are so vivid,” my professor said. “I was reading this wanting more.” (You could have bought me for a penny.) “This is your thesis,” she told me. I couldn’t fathom it. I was barely halfway through the master’s program at Johns Hopkins University, and my thesis was the furthest thing from my mind.

I left class that night imagining the possibilities for the characters and world I hastily created. Eventually, Finding Sanctuary sprang to life. It wasn’t instant. It took time to cultivate the essence of the story, but when I finally hit that writing sweet spot, I could see everything — from the beginning to the end of the story and all that was in between — so clearly.

Well, almost everything.

Envisioning what I wanted the cover of Finding Sanctuary to look like was much more difficult than I thought it would be. I bounced around some ideas with CP Patrick and the Field Order Press team, grateful that they gave me the latitude to come up with ideas. “It’s your book baby,” CP Patrick told me in one of our many phone conversations. “Take your time. Have fun with the process. You’ll know your cover when you see it.”

I tossed around a couple of ideas, but I was fixated on having some sort of artistic rendering of the distinctive row homes in South Baltimore, where much of Finding Sanctuary takes place. When we had our first concept call with Molaundo Jones of The Clever Agency, I mentioned a couple of ideas, one of them being a map of historic South Baltimore. I also considered the mid-Atlantic region as the story spans between Virginia and Maryland.

Molaundo was very thorough and patient during our concept call, listening to me as I vacillated between row homes and maps. It took CP nudging me before I even mentioned the third idea I had. Since Finding Sanctuary tells the story of three generations of women, I thought that could be a concept to consider for an alternate cover image, albeit far-fetched.

When Molaundo sent the renderings of the cover concepts we pitched, the concept I thought had the least potential was the one that took my breath away. As CP had told me – I’d know my cover when I saw it. And I did. Silhouettes of the three different generations of women, each a different shade of brown against an endless blue background — that was the cover I wanted for Finding Sanctuary. I couldn’t stop staring at it. These characters that I didn’t give much thought to in the beginning seemed to come to life in the drawing. Especially Ella, the woman holding the baby. The women that I birthed on the page and introduced to Molaundo only by way of synopsis, were exactly as I had envisioned them. Molaundo and his team even nailed it with the positioning of the women on the cover. Where and how the two women stand bears significance readers will understand when they read Finding Sanctuary.

Seeing the cover of Finding Sanctuary was a very surreal, emotional moment that marked an important milestone in this journey. It’s humbling to have a team of talented people who are so invested in my story. I’m ever so grateful to CP Patrick and Molaundo for shepherding me through the cover design process. I couldn’t be more proud of the finished product.

Finding Sanctuary will debut this fall. I hope readers will love the cover and novel as much as I do!

Writing Outside the Fence Seeks Qualified Volunteer Teachers

Writing Outside the Fence seeks qualified, committed volunteer teachers. The program offers creative writing workshops for ex-offenders and the extended community through the Reentry Center in Baltimore. We launched in May 2006 and were the cover story in the June 6, 2007 issue of City Paper. In addition, the winners of our Inmate/Ex-Offender Writing Contest were featured in the March 2009 issue of Urbanite. In June 2009 two of our writers were featured on WYPR in Tom Hall’s segment of Maryland Morning. We’ve held readings at Enoch Pratt the last several summers. A podcast of our 2012 reading is available on the library website.

The program is currently looking for volunteers to commit to a month of weekly meetings — four consecutive meetings total per teacher — for late summer into fall of 2014. The workshop meets Tuesdays, 5-7 PM at the Reentry Center at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. on the upper level of the Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore.Past instructors have been poets and journalists, playwrights and screenwriters, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. They have included instructors from BCCC, Coppin State, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, the University of Baltimore, and elsewhere. No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile effort, contact WritingOutside [at] aol [dot] com.

Join Me on Tuesdays for Writing Outside the Fence

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, but life happens.

Today, I started another volunteer teaching stint at the Writing Outside the Fence workshop at the Re-Entry Center in Mondawmin Mall. I’ll be there for the next three Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m., leading workshops on writing dialogue, free writing, among other things. The workshop is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the program and its community of fabulous and amazing writers, check out this feature article that ran on Examiner.com or this podcast from the Enoch Pratt Free Library:

Writing Outside the Fence Reading at the Pratt

If you are a writer in the Baltimore area, and are interested in sharing your love of writing, we’d love to have you join our dynamic team of volunteer instructors. Hit me up in the Comments section below.

“Great Rules of Writing”

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~ William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

October Writing Challenge: #30WriteNow

You’ve probably heard about the various 30-day writing challenges floating around the ‘net. These aren’t NaNoWriMo challenges, but like NaNoWriMo they get the creative juices flowing, help foster discipline and get you closer to your goal of a finished project.

I was delighted to read on Twitter this morning that @BasseyWorldLive is kicking off a #30WriteNow challenge for the month of October. I know what you’re going to say; but October has 31 days. ‘Tis true. Bassey says that 31st day is for eating candy and relaxing. But the point is to write something every day.

I haven’t done one of these yet, but following the writing adventures of my friend Yawatta Hosby on her blog, I’ve been inspired to take the plunge and do a 30-day writing challenge myself. Yawatta actually did a 90-day novel writing challenge…and that’s a major feat!

If you’re up for the challenge, why don’t you join me? Let’s spend the next 30 days writing every day, whether it’s for a new or current project, or if it’s just to get words on the page for the sake of release. Think about it. Spread the word. Write!

Somebody hold me accountable, will you?

Of Movies & Memoirs

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted to my blog. I apologize to my five — no, four — faithful subscribers for being out of the loop. But you know how life gets in the way of our best intentions.

I have a couple of writing projects in the works right now. so I am rather excited about them. I’m slowly easing myself back into the novel I started working on for my thesis at Hopkins. Truth be told, in order to get it done in earnest, I’m going to have to clear my slate and fully immerse myself in the writing process. More on that later.

I also have had the honor and privilege of helping out a couple of my talented friends on their creative projects recently. Matt Bowden, my friend and classmate from the Writing Program at JHU, is working on a documentary on The Crown Seekers, a New Orleans gospel quartet group. Back in March, Matt and the producers held a screening for the project, By and By: New Orleans Gospel at the Crossroads at Maisy’s in downtown Baltimore. (Remind me to tell you about Maisy’s pizza later.) Matt solicited feedback from those of us in attendance. Of course I was so fascinated by the whole thing — the music, the filmmaking process and all — that I churned out a four-page dissertation. I grew up listening to gospel music, and have such an affinity for and appreciation of the genre. Matt’s work on this project is phenomenal. I cannot wait for the movie to come out. Click the link below to check out the trailer for the film and as well as a special message from the film’s creators Matt Bowden and Joe Compton:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/byandby/by-and-by-new-orleans-gospel-at-the-crossroads/widget/video.html

Then there is the new memoir written by my friend and Twitter brother, Clay Rivers, I was humbled when Clay asked me to be a part of the editing process. Clay is a gifted writer and has an amazing story to share. I am so proud of him for taking the plunge into the waters of self-publishing. Clay is releasing his book Walking Tall: A Memoir on the Upside of Small and Other Stuff, and I must say it is a fantastic, page-turning must-read.

And in other news, I recently started writing for MadameNoire.com, and my first piece, “What’s Better for Your Hair? Hot Comb vs. Flat Iron” went up last week. This week I’m working on three more pieces for MadameNoire.com, including a couple of celebrity interviews. Stay tuned…

Richard Wright: Hurling Words

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. 

~ Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

Freewriting: A #LoveLetter

Every Tuesday during the month of February, I’ve been leading a community writing workshop at the Mondawmin Mall’s Re-Entry Center in Northwest Baltimore. It’s something I’ve been doing for the past five years simply because I love sharing and inspiring others to find and develop their voice through writing.

Considering it was Valentine’s Day, I thought it quite apropos that we wrote about love yesterday. Not that sappy kind of love we wrote about in grade school, or that Hallmark kind of love, but love. Pure, deep, all-encompassing love. I asked everyone to write about who, what or why they love, and let them take the theme wherever their hearts, minds and pens desired. What came out were eloquent, insightful and brilliantly unique pieces that explored the breadth and the depth of love. Here’s what I wrote:

Oh writing? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love writing. I love words. I love how they ebb and flow, swirl and swing on the page. I love how words strung together can form beautiful poetry, unbreakable narrative chains, passionate arguments. I love how words have the power to make us act, feel, think, dream, relate.

I love No. 2 pencils for they make me feel smart and determined. I love how pencil sound against paper. I love notebooks and journals and college-ruled paper. I love how felt-tipped pens give my words flair and finesse. I love handwriting. I love my handwriting, and all the loops and curls. I love typing words on a fresh screen. I love Helvetica and Arial and all the other fonts that make my words look gorgeous and perfect. I love how I can share my deepest dreams and craziest ideas with my pens, pencils, papers, (or my Macbook) and how they, like no other, can keep a secret.

I love giving birth to ideas on the page and the screen. I love creating characters, giving them breath, movement and purpose. I love taking my characters where they lead me, and leaving them better or different than when I first met them. I love creating landscapes for my characters to explore. I love painting pictures with words so readers can see. I love the musicality of words that can make even the most mundane moments of our lives sound beautiful and extraordinary.

I love sharing my writing. I love reading my writing — silently or aloud — giving my words power and depth, giving my life purpose. I even love it when someone gets what I’m trying to say, especially when they have to swim through a sea of jumbled words to get to the meaning. I love that I have the chance to create, revise, improve and flourish every day.

That’s what I love.

Who, what or why do you love?

At the Intersection of Music & Words

“I am beautiful no matter what they say/Words can’t bring me down…” ~ Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”

I join the chorus of million around the globe who are expressing their shock and sadness at the tragic loss of the iconic Whitney Houston. Her music – from the big, soulful ballads to the buoyant dance cuts – moved me at different points in my life. My favorite songs of Whitney’s are the gospel tunes from The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack. It was a testament of her faith; her love of God and love for song evident in every note. It is no doubt she did what she was called to do on this earth. Whitney Houston shared her gift of song.

When I heard the news Saturday night, it rendered me speechless. I didn’t want to talk or tweet about it. I didn’t want to read the hundreds of tweets and Facebook comments, or countless news reports that condemned Whitney or laid blame or analyzed her demons. I didn’t find it comforting to wade through the stream of “what if” chatter, the negativity. None of that can bring her back to life. None of that can change or lessen the depth of the tragedy. She’s gone.

We will miss Whitney Houston mostly for selfish reasons. Her voice – its incomparable range and grace and power – could fill a space and touch something deep within our souls. We sang with her, ebullient and lovestruck. We slow danced as her voice serenaded us. We nodded our heads as she reminded us to exhale. We lifted our hands in praise to God as her voice twirled and swirled and leapt to the heavens.

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Rather than I chose to reflect on the good: the light and love that radiated from Whitney’s soul. I wanted to read how the writers and music critics memorialized Whitney’s gorgeous, angelic mezzo soprano voice and the legacy of music by which she will be remembered. I wanted to stand at the intersection of music and words and marvel as the traffic went by.

In a NY Times article on Whitney’s death Jon Pearles and Adam Nagourney wrote: “Ms. Houston’s range spanned three octaves, and her voice was plush, vibrant and often spectacular. She could pour on the exuberant flourishes of gospel or peal a simple pop chorus; she could sing sweetly or unleash a sultry rasp.”

LA Times ‘ Pop & Hiss – LA Times Music Blog writes about Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You”: “It’s two words — the “I” at the beginning of the line, and the “you” at the end — held for a few beats longer than most others could sustain but with ironclad control, that seals the deal, a single pair of syllables so convincing that it should have won her both an Oscar and a Grammy. She sings the words differently throughout; at first, it’s with love, then with conviction, then with desperation, a drama that unfolds across four minutes. She shaped notes so that they sounded like floating hearts one minute, only to explode as the emotion turned from love to loneliness.”

“Houston’s flawless voice was untouchable, and her versions of “I Will Always Love You” and “The Star Spangled Banner” are considered two of the highest peaks pop music has ever reached.”

Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press: “She was bigger than music. She was a lyrical narrator, expressing in that glorious voice what we were living.”

All the beautiful words written to capture the timbre and the essence of Whitney’s iconic voice will outlast any of the negative press surrounding the details of her death. In the end, what matters is that she gave us love.