Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler

I was shocked and saddened this morning to read about the death of author Octavia Butler on Black What a great loss.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Ms. Edwards is a firmly established author and creator of the Mali mystery series, including If I Should Die (Anthony Award nomination for Best First Novel), A Toast Before Dying (won the 1999 Fiction Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association), and No Time to Die. Film and television rights to the series have been sold.
In the Shadow of the Peacock and The Viaduct are other books by Ms. Edwards. She is a longtime member of the Harlem Writers Guild and currently serves as secretary for the organization. She is busy at work on her next stand-alone novel, and notwithstanding her active schedule, finds time to teach creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College and the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center. Her dedication to the mystery field is well-known and she has graciously consented to this interview.

1. Welcome to the Crime Sistahs blog site. Visitors to the site are probably familar with the books you've written, especially the popular Mali Anderson series. Whose decision was it to include a form of the word "die" in the titles, yours or the publishers? Do you think that helped book sales? Is that an example of "branding" your books? Any comments or suggestions on titling a novel for future or would-be authors?

It was my idea for the first three titles. For the fourth, I wanted to call it "The Wednesday Woman" because it involved the murder of a girl who refused to be the designated woman in a pimp's stable. (I was overruled so "Do or Die" was chosen.) Re: name branding. May be good. It worked for Neeley and her "Blanche on the Lam" series.

I believe titling a novel is not nearly as important as having some control over the art work for the book cover.

2. Your latest novel, The Viaduct, is a departure from the series you established. Why the change of direction? Do you think you'll return to your series or did Mali play out for you?

Departure from the series to "The Viaduct." The pub was no longer interested in the Mali series. As a result I wrote a stand alone which also takes place in Harlem but in a different time frame. I still receive emails asking for another Mali mystery. I plan to write at least two more. I already have the plot outlines.

3. How difficult was it to publish your first novel? Are they more or fewer black female mystery writers today? Do you see any new trends in writing? What are the challenges for the African-American female mystery writer?

Re: a different pub for first novel. "In the Shadow of the Peacock" was published by McGraw-Hill in 1988. Terry McMillan who was in the guild at that time [Harlem Writers Guild], had an agent who heard me read and managed to sell the ms. within three months. I was lucky.
Also, there are definitely more black female mystery writers today including Penny Micklebury, Terry Grimes, Barbara Neeley, Paula Woods, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Valeries Wilson Wesley, and Prof. Bailey, to name a few.
The challenge as I see it is to broaden our base, to ensure that our books are placed in the mystery section of the major chain stores as well as in African American Literature sections.
The new trends in black writing appear to emphasize what is known as "street lit" with plots hastily drawn and poorly edited (if at all). And most with the same baby mama drama theme. But they seem to have a pretty wide readership.
I recently completed "The Blind Alley," book number seven set in Harlem in 1954.
The writing process is so individual. Some writers are at the computer every day. Others write in long hand on legal pads. Still others keep a day journal and when it's full, they transfer it to the compter. a lot of writers need solitude. I grab a seat on the IRT and write until the scene in my head is finished. Sometimes I miss my stop.

5. People always seem interested in the stories of how people got their first agent or sold their first book. What's your story?

Getting my first agent. Pure luck and circumstance. Terry was among the HWG members reading at the Writers Voice. Her agent happened to be in the audience and heard me read. She placed the mss. in a matter of months. I wasn't even looking for an agent.

6. Can you identify what trait or deficiency seems to universally plague beginning writers? What's your advice to them?

Re the trait or deficiency plaguing beginning writers. At times, it's failure to sufficiently develop the main characters. The reader (not to mentin the agent or editor) must be able to identify or connect with the character. Advice: Read the classics. Dickens, Faulkner, Baldwin, Hurston, Morrison, in order to get a sense of style and structure.

7. With your present knowledge and experience, do you regret anything? Any shoulda-woulda-couldas?

Re: shoulda-woulda-coulda
No regrets. Beginning writers should earn gold stars for perserverance. In other words, the day your book hits the shelves is the day your feet hits the bricks. Once the book is available, every writer should visit all the independents and chain stores to meet and greet the managers. Offer to do a reading, sign stock--a signed copy is a sold copy. They are not returned. Contact schools, libraries, fraternities, sororities, reading clubs, literary discussion groups. Smile and be gracious. Book stores are happy to see you.
And if Oprah calls, remain calm.

8. Tell us a little something about the Harlem Writers Guild of which you are a member.

The Harlem Writers Guild was founded in 1950 by Rosa Guy, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, John Oliver Killens, and Henry Moon, among others. It's the oldest continuous black writing group in the U.S. and probably in the world. And we're still going strong. I joined in 1974 in order to complete my masters thesis and was so awed by the big guns that I didn't say a word for years, but everyone seemed happy to read my work for me and that's how "Peacock" was born.
Members were very supportive and the critique constructive. As secretary of the Guild, that's the spirit I'd like to maintain in the group. My goal is to see that HWG members produce work of the highest quality and function in a manner that brings honor to the Guild.

Thanks, Grace, for your time with us today. We look forward to your next book. FYI Readers can contact Grace anytime at

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I don't think the conventional label will ever fit me, but I'm going to do the "convention" thing this year. I'm attending Malice Domestic for the first time this year, April 21-23. Many people have urged that I go--that it is not just for "cozy" writers, that you get to meet all sorts of writers and that many fans attend the convention. Well, I'm always up to meeting new people--I just didn't want to feel like a renegade--my writing definitely is not cozy. I'm looking to connect with some authors of color--(Sisters in Crime has a group that calls themselves Authors of Color but they don't seem to have any particular agenda or purpose). Any African-American writers out there attending? I'd really like to know how much of a presence we have at these conventions. We have many more writers now than we did, say, ten years ago--I wonder if we are being represented or are a growing part of the "conventional"--membership in MWA, Sisters in Crime, participate in conventions? I confess I don't see many at membership meetings.

I'm also going to attend Bouchercon , September 28- October 1, the mother of all conventions, and see what all the hoo-hoo is about. Last year, I confess to being intimidated by the sheer size of it, and elected rather to attend a smaller conference, Sleuthfest. I was pleasantly surprised, did the networking thing, and met quite a few fans and writers. For my virgin journey, it wasn't too bad.

The best for me was the Friends of Chester Himes Black Mystery Writers Conference, to be held May 20th this year in Oakland, (FOCH). I've heard criticisms re: the attendance at this conference, not publicized enough, not organized as well as it could be, but it seems to be the singular conference experience for Black Mystery Writers. I met other writers that I probably would never have known existed, because walking into a bookstore, it is not always an easy thing to identify African-American mystery writers in their genre. (We're not always shelved as mystery writers, but looped together with all other African-American writers.)
I ask these questions and feel I'm sometimes talking to air, but if any writers out there have a comment concerning this topic, please post. Also let me know if you'll be attending any of these or similar writing conferences. Hey! Anyone done the writers cruise ship thang?
Happy writing,

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Call Me

I think I may have finally found my comfort zone when it comes to author events. Conference calls. Yes, I found that I'm not nervous at all and my voice doesn't sound strangled when I don't actually have to look at the people I'm speaking to. I had a fun conference call last Saturday with the wonderful ladies of the Open Book Closed Chapter Book Club in Columbus, OH. I wasn't able to attend their meeting in person. So, I set up a conference call during the meeting, which turned out better since the area got hit with a snow storm that evening. Anyway, I spent about twenty-five minutes discussing my book with them and answering questions. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

BMW has teamed up with Random House and is jumping on the audio books bandwagon. They are offering free downloads of short stories by best-selling authors from their website. There will be a new story every two weeks.

Hey, have you guys picked up your copy of my fellow Crime Sistah Pamela Samuels-Young's debut EVERY REASONABLE DOUBT? I'm featuring Pamela's book on my mystery website MystNoir. So, check it out.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


For some reason the beginning of my last blogging attempt got cut off at the beginning, so I'm repeating. And I asked... Do you know what a podcast is? I didn't, but I found out it's another marketing tool for writers. Tess Gerritsen uses it on her website.

(okay, continue to next post.)

Saturday, February 04, 2006


So do you know what that is? I didn't. A marketing tool for writers. Tess Gerritsen uses it on her website. Check it out at

Are you acquainted with Gerritsen's novels? Lot of gore--she writes medical thrillers. The scalpel is used a lot! Imagine this. Me, reading her books with one hand over my eyes, the slasher cut-'em-up stuff too much to bear. (It's happened, believe me.)

The point of my post? Pamela brought up the subject about having music to accompany one's book. I investigated having a trailer (film style) made for my novels to put on my website. (Haven't gotten to it yet. Indeed, my website needs updating, and I haven't got to THAT yet! Well, come on, guys, I have to finish this third book of mine and I'm behind.)

Anyhow, seems the effort of all the above is to get a television/film/music audience to "come on down, "test the waters," and pick up a book. Of course, after the potential reader is enticed to pick up the book or even buy it, he or she has to take the final plunge--read the dang thing!

One thing I've noticed--that even among people I've absolutely counted as good friends--I've found out that you can bring a horse to water, but you can't always make them drink. Which is another way of saying, some good buddies of mine bought my book--to support my endeavors--but have never gotten around to reading my book. I haven't taken it personally--I've just had to accept--they don't read! Well, maybe they'll read a newspaper.

So ipods, peapods, weepods, podcast, trailers, music, music videos--is that what it's going to take to get some people to READ?

But seriously, that's why I like New York. There are readers here. The trains and buses are full of them. Young, old--quite a few teenagers too. I make a game out of matching people to reading material. I'm never right, of course. No, I take that back. Most times I can spot the women who read romance novels. No, no, amend that. Sometimes I can. All right, once or twice I've guessed correctly.

Re: the above? Just asking.

Gammy L. Singer

Friday, February 03, 2006

Suspicous Mind
Angela Henry

I've been noticing something disturbing about myself lately. I'm becoming a very suspicious person. I think part of it may be age creeping up on me but I think it's mainly coming from all the negative crap I surround myself with. I guess it's no wonder that this is happening. I mean, I write murder mysteries, I read murder mysteries, and I watch crime related shows on TV, not to mention all the bad news in the papers everyday.

Here is what my weekly line-up looks like.

Monday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch BBC Mystery Monday and CSI Miami.

Tuesday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch Supernatural and Law & Order SVU

Wednesday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch Veronica Mars and CSI New York

Thursday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch CSI and Without A Trace.

Friday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch Ghost Whisperer, Monk, and Master's Of Horror

Saturday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch 48 Hours Mystery

Sunday: Write 1000-2000 words on new mystery novel. Watch Cold Case, Law & Order Criminal Intent, Crossing Jordan

So, is it any wonder I'm becoming so suspicious? I need some laughter in my life don'tcha think? Anybody have any suggestions for some comedies or sitcoms? Just as long as they don't interfere with the above schedule ; ).

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