The History and Psychology of an Awesome Novel


Outstanding. Magnificent. Marvelous. Superb! All the adjectives I’d attach to The Loom by Shella Gillus. This book had me stopping mid read to tweet about a gripping passage or just about how a certain scene sparked emotion. I immediately went to the author’s webpage and signed up for updates. I want to know when her next book is coming out.

I’m getting ahead of myself (sorry the book is just like that). In the first few pages you see Lydia running and you can feel her panting in your chest, hear the leaves and grass yield to her feet, see all the things she was running from, even the good things she was leaving behind because she had to go! Had to be free. Free was better than a grandmother’s touch, better than a husband’s love. And even though it hurt, she had to use her special power, the color of her skin, as a means of escape. Blending in with Whites might bring her freedom but it wouldn’t remove the chains that shackled her.

Shella did so much teaching and expounding with a fictional work that I felt as if I had taken a history class and a psychology course simultaneously. She teaches us about the Loom, the room where slaves too old, worn, or pregnant were still utilized in a colorful yet dark room of beautiful yet tragic tapestry. She teaches us about bondage. “Everybody’s a slave to something.” I could go somewhere with that passage but I don’t want to give away too much about the novel. You have to read it for yourself. Please do yourself a favor and read it for yourself!

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LOL For Real!

family thangI could start this review about the importance of family, or its dynamics, or the history that creeps up and causes dissension. This book speaks to all of those things. But I chose to focus of the attribute I enjoyed most about James Henderson’s FAMILY THANG: it’s humor. Laughter doeth like a good medicine. That’s Bible and so true. When you laugh, your body releases feel good endorphins that aid healing and repair, remove toxins caused by stress. But aside from all the technical, scientific jargon, laughter just makes you feel good. And FAMILY THANG had me rolling from cover to cover (Or location to location as I read the eBook version of the novel).

Set in an Arkansas town so small it’s lone law enforcer is one Sheriff (I still laugh about that polygraph machine scene) the story starts with a funeral for a man and his dog. You heard me right…his dog. Henderson begins off with the hilarity of that little casket. From there, we find out there’s a murder to investigate–a real whodunit. Who stood the most to gain by a patriarch’s death? For which family member did the poisoning of the patriarch make the most sense?

The weaving this tale deals with serious family issues in such a light and hearty way that you can’t help but see your own people in the book. And situations once thought dire, you can just laugh at. Let them roll down the shoulder like rain water. So if you need a good laugh, or a lighter look at the drama of your own family, please read FAMILY THANG by James Henderson. But beware. This book will have you laughing in public and looking crazy. A lot of people end their social media conversation with LOL when I wonder if they’re really laughing. I titled this post LOL For real because this novel gives greater meaning to the phrase Laugh Out Loud.

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I am fascinated with works that hit the nail on the head the first time out: scientific investigators awarded on their first R01 or novelist who win the Pulitzer on their debut novels. Harper Lee comes to mind (not as a scientist) but as a novelist who poured so much of her experience into a topic she tackled with great mastery. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD touches on race relations in the Deep South. Being a southerner, it is a topic I can identify with though it seems that these things stretch even to Missouri and as far west as Cali. Folks are seen differently based on the tone of their skin. However, Harper Lee looks not only at the dynamic between black and white; she also looks at caste differences—people who Aunt Alexandria would tell Scout Finch were beneath their family and it didn’t matter that they were white. The Ewells and Cunninghams were not to be mingled with. The Negroes should stay in their place and be thankful for the scraps they receive. And if change was in the air, then it would come with great debate and challenge. But there was also an undertone in the novel that not all affluent people held those beliefs. Some believed that change would come, only at the hands of the very brave and dedicated and only at the risk of tarnishing their social standing.

I believe I read this novel in school. If I did, it was probably with the aid of Cliff Notes. To my shame, I was never a big reader in grade school. Loved taking short cuts. Yes, the Cliffs told you what the book was about. And they even touched on themes; however, the Cliffs did not—could not—tell me how to feel about the words that were painstakingly written over the course of years. The notes could not bring out inspiration. There was no voice in them. No reason sought through them. But as I actually read Harper Lee’s timeless classic, the emotions and direction abounded as I paired this work against our current position in the world, not just in the Southern United States. At this point in time as an avid reader and author, I delve into the heart of books to find out how I feel, what moves me to act, what fascinates me. I enjoy, now, looking into the history of the author, as is the case with Harper (the recluse who hasn’t released a work since MOCKINGBIRD, though GO SET A WATCHMAN is on the horizon). Delving into the meat of a work to go far beyond the words and into the very spirit of what inspired those words. It is indeed fascinating.

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DONT STOP - Cover Image 232KB

Chicki Brown is a phenomenal Romance Author and her new novel, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” is available now on Kindle and Nook. Check out the blurb and excerpt below and please comment for your chance to win a copy of the novel!

Greg Stafford has been hiding an explosive secret for years. When his secret is exposed, he is ashamed and humiliated.

Rhani Drake is an expert at helping people uncover the root of their problems. But when Greg Stafford enters her life, she doesn’t know how to handle the feelings he uncovers in her.

Will his scandal destroy her career and credibility?

The gentle chime on the front door sounded, and Rhani waited until her receptionist escorted him into the office. Before her stood one of the best looking men she had ever seen, which was quite an accomplishment in a city the size of New York.

“Mr. Stafford? Rhani Drake. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands, and she mentally chastised herself for the prickling sensation running across her skin when their flesh touched. She had seen him numerous times on TV, yet meeting him in person was a jolt to her senses. The first thing she noticed was his height. He towered over her five-feet-six inches. His scent registered with her senses next. The cologne he wore had a luxurious, spicy fragrance¾a mix of grass, cloves, jasmine and some other delicious scents. Dressed casually yet stylishly, his appearance came across as easy-going and self-confident.

Rhani glanced up just in time to catch his questioning expression.

“Is there something wrong?”

He removed his hat but kept the shades on. “No. It’s just…I expected you to be older.”

For some reason, hearing this pleased her. “Is my age a problem? I assure you I am well-qualified.” Rhani pointed to her framed diplomas on the office wall then waved a hand toward the sofa. “Please have a seat.”

He sat with his long legs open, his elbows on his knees and studied the room for a long moment. “Nice office.” The emotionless tone of his voice didn’t convey his appreciation.

“Thank you.” Once she settled into the chair at the end of the sofa, she crossed her legs and rested her notebook on one knee. “Tell me why you’re here.”

He flashed the dazzling smile she’d seen on the TV screen so many times. Her stomach flipped, and she wanted to slap herself. “You already know why. I’m sure Thad told you when he made the appointment.”

Annoyed by her sensual reaction to his presence, Rhani purposely didn’t return his smile. “He did, but I’d like to hear your take on the situation. And do you mind taking off the sunglasses? I like to make eye contact with my clients.”

He poked out his lips, moved them from side to side then pulled of the shades and put them in his shirt pocket. “I got arrested for…having sex in public, which constitutes breaking the morals clause in my contract. In order to keep my job, I have to attend counseling for a minimum of three months.”

“Is that the only reason you’re here?

“Excuse me?” He met her gaze for the first time since he’d arrived, and she had to look away. His light eyes were evident on television, but looking into them in person was a different story. They were hazel—an intriguing combination of several other colors including green and brown with less melanin than brown eyes, but more than blue. Why would she even be thinking about this at the moment? Rhani blinked, straightened and returned to her questioning. “Did you come to counseling to keep your job or to deal with the reason the therapy was ordered to begin with?”

A muscle ticked in his jaw, a square jaw covered by a smooth, neatly trimmed beard. “I need my job.” His voice deepened in timbre and intensity.

“I think you’ve answered my question. You’re saying you don’t want to be here.”

He gave an insolent shrug.


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The Sum of Our Experiences

Are our experiences designed to shape us and make us who we are? Or is it just time and chance that happen to everyone? I say both. If we’re wise, we use our experiences in a positive way as learning tools to make better decisions moving forward. I don’t know…just thinking out loud (or actually silently as I typed all of this and didn’t utter a word while I typed).

For me, as a writer, I soak up everything and try to jot it on paper. However, I don’t just regurgitate what I’ve seen and heard. I talk about how those things made me feel. How those things either inspired me or discouraged me. Thus, I novelize those experiences instead of merely reporting them (is “novelize” a word?).

So how do you use your experiences? Do you learn from them? Blog about them? Write bestsellers based on them? Make blockbusters? Write Billboard Number One hits? Or do you not use them at all?

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In the Soul and Shoes of a Man with Dementia (my review of Walter Mosely’s THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY)

ptolemy grey

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THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GRAY IS THE THIRD Walter Mosley novel I’ve read and it didn’t disappoint. Mosley weaved the story of Ptolemy, a 91 year old man that suffers from dementia. The way he writes the prose put me right inside Ptolemy’s dank, ratty, roach infested apartment with papers cluttered, the toilet that “wouldn’t work,” where Ptolemy slept on the floor because he couldn’t get to the bed. I’ll be honest. Walter’s descriptions of this place were so repulsing it was hard to read at times. Seriously, I found myself holding my nose because I could almost smell the stench. Poor Poppa Gray, as they called him. He was an old man with fair physical ability for his age. But his mind was bad. He couldn’t remember things that he needed to remember. He couldn’t form cohesive thoughts. And right when he needed him the most, his nephew Reggie was gunned down in a driveby leaving Ptolemy to fend for himself in a world where people stole from him, and hounded him for money. In a world where he was a victim of advanced years and time that stood still.

The novel starts out with Ptolemy’s letter to Robin, his great grandniece, even though she was no relation. This is important since Ptolemy speaks of marrying her. Their relationship is sweet and layered as Walter paints how an old man would react to a sweet young thing living in his place. He doesn’t react as most would think and her showing up spawns a set of events that drive the novel. Like Ptolemy being able to access his mind so he can take care of that…that…thing he can’t seem to remember. And maybe even find out what really happened to Reggie.

From Devil in a Blue Dress, to the Fearless Jones novels to every mystery that Walter writes, you get those gritty, down and dirty LA streets where the divide between the haves and have nots, and racial, economic and social gaps are fused. The prose, as always, is authentic and colorful. He weaves a story well and eases the reader into the thick of things before they even realize it. There’s that slick sense of jive. The rhythm that sets your foot to tap as you read no matter whether the period is the fifties or later. For Ptolemy, it was later and Mosley does an awesome job of displaying the out of touch feeling Ptolemy has. Like he can’t get through to the boisterous Hilly; the chasm of time and charm is just too great. Or his appreciation for Robin’s true beauty. He appreciates and respects her on a level that men (proper men anyway) respected young women back in the day. Long before the saggy pants, female dog days where women are seldom treasured—and seem to thrive on being taken for granted.

Perhaps the greatest theme for me was putting the reader in the soul and shoes of an elderly man, who through slips in the cords of consciousness, is living in several time periods simultaneously. He talks to Coy Dog McCann like he’s back in that time. Cinsy too. And they feel like current characters in the novel. Perhaps they are. It begs the question of what time is anyway. Aren’t people always a part of you no matter when they happened upon your life? It’s up to you to either ignore their voices or put your ear close to the cool window of eternity and take a listen. Reading about Ptolemy made me think about my great grandfather, Odell (the man was old as Methuselah when I met him and didn’t change much over our time together). We called him Pa Pa, and me, he called me Jim (the only person I allowed to call me that because, hey, the dude was old).

I stayed with Pa Pa one summer. One hot summer because he didn’t believe in air conditioning. We’d sit on the porch and he would chew snuff and tell me stories about when he was young. His memory was remarkable. Astoundingly remarkable. He aged gracefully and we were grateful for that. My wife’s grandfather, William Cooley, is getting on up there in age himself. When visiting her hometown, I sat and listened to him talk about the old days and the unconventional way he got his middle name. The imagination of folks back then. Perhaps they wanted to remember a certain period so they etched that memory on a new born baby boy. Call his name; remember when the city was under Marshall Law. But my wife’s grandfather remembered things. Times. People. Conversations. Neither William nor Odell suffered from dementia, a devastating disease that cripples even a perfectly good working body and leaves them prey to whatever elements arise. I worked with a woman whose mother suffers from it. She can’t be left alone. She’s likely to walk into the middle of the street or lose herself in a world that is becoming less loving and less aware. I once worked with another woman who (when she retired) hugged me and kissed my cheek. Now, dementia has stolen the memory of me. She wouldn’t hug me now because I’m a stranger to her. A strange fellow in a confusing environment. It’s heartbreaking.

Now here’s the rub. Reading THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GRAY, a work of fiction, stirred up those emotions in me. Made me want to research the start of it. Find ways to help the study of it. And isn’t that what a book (whether fiction or non-fiction) should do? Tug at your heart while entertaining you? Cause you to think and reflect? Walter Mosley poured some reality in this novel. It did much more than entertain me. It made me think. It made me remember.

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