Friday, September 28, 2007

Obama (Girls) WOMEN...

Obama (Girls) WOMEN...



Mondays are usually pretty low key—spent recovering from the weekend and easing back into the groove (not that we have actual weekends these days. Every day is a work day when we've got projects going and deadlines looming, but hey, it's OK—we chose this gig and we're not whining.) But this past Monday we got our groove on with Barack on Broadway, a fund raiser for presidential candidate Barack Obama.


The opportunity to attend came to us at the last minute and of course, we jumped on it. When we had a character in Far From the Tree say "You never know what a day will bring," we had no idea how many times we would have cause to echo that phrase in our own lives. And Monday was definitely one of those days.


Now, in a lot of ways presidential campaigns can seem like an endless reality show—American Idol meets The Last Comic Standing in The Amazing Race and the winner gets to be on Ultimate Survivor for at least the next 4 years. And there was certainly the show part of the evening—including the opening number, a rousing version of "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray, retro-fitted with Obama lyrics, and readings from great American playwrights by Phylicia Rashad (her sister, Debbie Allen was in the audience), Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Wright, and Tony Kushner. All of it built up to the final act, when Obama took the stage and talked to the crowd. And it really did feel more like talking than a speech—he has a down to earth, totally confident, but self-deprecating sincerity—a little like you can tell he was the smartest kid in the class, but he didn't rub your nose in it— he'd even help you with your homework. Smart is an excellent quality in a president and would be a refreshing change. And twenty minutes later, Barack left the crowd shouting "Fire it up! Ready to Go!" a chant he borrowed from a city council woman who roused a sleepy, less than enthused crowd on a rainy morning in Greenwood, South Carolina—a chant he has now made his slogan, battle cry, call and response, call to arms.


Now being the nosy—uh, we mean inquisitive—types we are, we were hoping for something that felt less stage-y—a moment behind the curtain, where you can see if the wizard is just smoke and mirrors. We got a little of that too, at the VIP reception (We hoped to have pictures of us with the Senator, but haven't been able to secure the digital images --yet.) Have you ever met somebody famous and found them to be the inflatable doll version of whatever they are supposed to be—all hot air and you want to stick a pin in and watch them fly around the room? That was absolutely not the case here. We were introduced and spoke briefly—he asked about our books and we told him a bit about Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, and he sounded genuinely interested, which is a pretty good trick when you've spoken to a ba-zillion people in the last year. We said we were honored to meet him, and that is absolutely true. The reality that a black man is one of the front-runners in a bid for the White House is mind boggling (And yes, we have friends who believe it's still only symbolic—that people say they'll vote for him, but when they go in that booth. . . Well, at least people are listening with the kind of enthusiasm we haven't seen in a very long time. Maybe it's naïve, but Obama said people call him that. He called himself a hope slinger, a hope monger. And what we hope for here is as close to a level playing field as we can get).


But what was even more informative, in terms of getting a grasp on who Obama is, may have been talking with his friend, Hill Harper (currently one of the stars of CSI:New York and a good friend of the friend who invited us) at the reception. Turns out Hill and Obama attended Harvard Law School together. And who knows you better than your friends?


So we asked what it was like when your school buddy and close friend tells you he's running for President of the United States? Hill said, "For me, I've always seen the people I've met in terms of their journey. The people I've know, particularly from Harvard Law were aiming to play on a larger stage. At Barack's core he is the same person he was then. Great basketball player, and someone who wanted to affect change." Hill sees the presidential run as an extension of the work Obama began as a community organizer.

Hill mentioned that they were particularly close back in the day because there was lots of talk about affirmative action, and questions about whether they actually had the chops to be there. Well, they are both Cum Laude graduates and Barack was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review—sounds like that was a resounding answer to any questions or doubts about whether they belonged.


When asked what he wanted people to know about his friend, Barack, Hill said, "How authentic he is—not a trait associated with politicians. You don't necessarily get that from reading the Newsweek article or listening to what others say about him. He's not running for president as an ego trip, he's doing it because he sees it as the next step in his efforts to affect real change, and I want to help him in whatever way I can." That is truly a friend. And it's reassuring to know that someone who is seeking such a powerful position still has trusted friends whom he listens to. The higher you get on the pyramid the easier it is to become arrogant and surround yourself with people who will 'yes' you all day. No matter how high and mighty we get, we still need the people who can tell us what we need to hear.


As for Hill Harper—look for Letters to a Young Sister (June '08), the follow-up to his bestselling and inspiring Letters to a Young Brother. "I got letters from young women who wanted to know where was the book for them." Hill has started an important conversation—we're glad he's keeping it going.


And as for who you will choose come Election Day—we leave that to you. But we urge, implore and BEG you to vote. Seems like some folks count on us not to (like the front-running Republicans—Giuliani, McCain, Thompson and Romney who decided to skip the debate at Morgan State, hosted by Tom Joyner and moderated by Tavis Smiley. The candidates cited prior fund raising commitments. Right. Seems shortsighted—not a good quality in a president) Make your voice heard. It's too important not to. As Obama says in his story of the woman in Greenwood, "It goes to show you how just one voice can change the mood of a room. If one voice can change a room, it can change a city. If it can change a city, it can change a state. If it can change a state, it can change a country. If it can change the country, then it can change the world. So here is my question, are you fired up? Are you ready to go? Let's go change the world."

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:37 AM 3 comments links to this post

Monday, September 24, 2007

EXPOSURES--THE BEGINNING

So here is our freshman effort, the “child” we’ve been keeping in the closet—sort of our red-headed step-child. You might also find a few funky codes—finding a way to transpose this story—which was not written on a computer (that’s how long ago this was!) —from it’s original and re-published states to make it “postable” on the blog hasn’t been easy!

We wrote Exposures with all the care, and attention to detail that we brought to our other books. A heads-up—some of the sexy is more, well—sexy. But reading back through the book after many years has made us smile. The folks who have read it have enjoyed it, and we hope you do too.


EXPOSURES
By
Virginia Donna
DeBerry Grant

Writing as
Marie Joyce
All rights reserved copyright 1990, 2005
by Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant writing as Marie Joyce

Prologue


You can’t die! Please don’t die!” Brett Larsen pleaded in an agonized, barely audible whisper. Lenox Hill Hospital seemed light-years away from her mother’s Manhattan apartment, instead of only a few short blocks.

As the ambulance barreled through the steamy August rain, two medics worked feverishly to maintain vital signs. Brett knelt near the stretcher, holding her mother’s feet, which were now cold and tinged a sickening blue.

It makes sense now, Brett thought. Every twisted bit of it. But it wasn’t her mother’s fault. Why hadn’t she told someone? Everything could have been so different. But none of that mattered now. She had to pull through. “Mother, I love you.”

The ambulance slammed to a halt and the doors flew open, as if by themselves. Before the stretcher could be lowered to the ground, the gloomy darkness came alive with a blaze of halogen lights and the whir of motor drives.

Brett jumped to the pavement and was assaulted by a barrage of questions from zealous reporters.

Did your mother try to kill herself?”

“There are reports that your grandfather died tonight too. Can you confirm this?”

“Were you aware of the reason for the rift between your mother and her father?”

“Will you leave fashion photography to head Larsen Enterprises?”
Brett, numb to the buzz of questions, let herself be swept through the double doors of the emergency room by the swarm of security guards that surrounded her. They whisked her to an empty lounge, told her a doctor would be in as soon as there was news. Then she was alone.

Brett slumped into a cracked leather armchair, her clothes disheveled, her long dark hair damp and tangled. She drew her knees to her chest and rocked slowly back and forth, her green eyes staring into space. She hoped her fiance’ and her dear Aunt Lillian would arrive soon. She could never have survived the hell of the last week without them, and she needed them now, she realized as she fought to control the panic that threatened to engulf her.

Glancing down at her watch for what must have been the hundredth time since she had left her mother’s apartment, Brett was startled by the irony of the date. How could it be her birthday? So much had happened in twenty-six years. Somehow, her mother had always managed to upstage her on her birthday, she mused wearily as her thoughts drifted back to the party her mother had given her when she was ten.


Chapter 1

“I got the ball over the net more times than you,” giggled Brett as she scampered into the sun-drenched solarium, plunked herself on the blue-and-white-striped chaise, and twirled her thick brunette braid like a jump rope. Rush, the aptly named two-year-old Airedale, settled on the cool tile floor next to her.


“Yeah, but I beat you running up the hill from the beach, her best friend, Lizzie Powell, retorted as she scrambled onto a wicker settee and craned her neck to watch a crew of workers hoist a huge canvas tent on the south lawn of Cox Cove. The sprawling country estate in Sands Point, on Long Island’s gold coast, had been a gift to Brett’s great-aunt, Lillian, from her husband, the late Sir Nigel Cox.


“Who’s the guy in the pink shirt?” Lizzie asked. She nearly fell over as she shifted her weight to follow his progress along the fieldstone terrace.

Brett bounded to the window for a better look. “That’s Ian Wexford. Mother says he’s a party architect.

“He’s dreamy,” Lizzie cooed.

“Dreamy!” Brett exclaimed. “He’s a jerk! Why else would he wear a scarf around his neck in August?”

“It’s called an ascot,” Lizzie instructed, with a toss of her blond ringlets. “I saw it in a movie.”

“Whatever you call it, I still think he’s weird,” Brett mumbled.

“Look at all those trucks!” Lizzie said, now mesmerized by the caravan that lined the driveway from the access road to the service entrance. “This is going to be some party!” she gushed, dazzled by all the activity.

“Yeah, I guess so, but I always feel so lost at Mother’s parties,” Brett responded quietly.

“This isn’t your mother’s party. It’s your birthday party,” Lizzie protested.

Brett sighed. She didn’t want to dampen her friend’s enthusiasm for the day, but she knew her mother.

Suddenly, Rush leaped up and trotted through the door. In a moment he reappeared, wagging what tail he had, followed by his mistress, Lillian Larsen Cox. Lillian, an artist whose land- and seascapes had been acclaimed for decades, placed her easel, canvas, and a satchel containing her paints and brushes in a corner.

“Well, I think you rascals have earned some lunch. From the look of your clothes, I’d say you’ve had an active morning.” She winked at them and smiled.

At fifty-six, Lillian was a handsome woman whose clear, azure-blue eyes reflected her warmth and spirit. Her thick blanket of blond hair was now subtly streaked with gray, and when people described her as statuesque, she jokingly took it to mean that at five feet eight inches her broad shoulders now supported a fuller figure than they used to. Lillian saw life as an extraordinary banquet, and to her, growing older meant she was finally getting to desert.

“So, who won the tennis match?”

“I think we both lost,” Brett finally managed.

“I hope you two will always weather defeat so well,” Lillian chuckled and turned to supervise the cook, who had brought their afternoon meal.

“I love the way she talks,” Lizzie whispered, admiring Lillian’s charming melange of Swedish, British, and American inflections, which never failed to impress her.

Brett nodded in agreement, her intense green eyes sparkling with affection. It was not so much how her aunt spoke as what she said that Brett loved. Lillian made more sense than any adult she knew.

Brett, Lizzie and Lillian sat at a round table laid with starched white table linen and luncheon plates dappled with hand-painted strawberries. Lizzie swung her legs, causing her chair to squeak, until Brett shot her a look that made her stop midswing. Brett wasn’t sure if she was bothered by the noise or the fact that Lizzie’s feet did not reach the floor.

Lizzie was small and delicate, as fragile as a Dresden doll, which always made Brett acutely aware of her size. Brett stood more than a head taller than her best friend and, like a puppy, had hands and feet that indicated she would be very tall indeed. Lizzie, on the other hand, felt tiny and pale by comparison and secretly wished she had Brett’s shiny dark hair and long, lean limbs.

As Lillian passed the herb dressing for the crabmeat and avocado salad, Lizzie said, “Everything looks so wonderful, Mrs. Cox. This is so exciting.” She poked Brett, who was filling a glass with lemonade. “How can you be so calm? You’ll be ten. That means you have two numbers!”

“But you have three numbers,” Brett teased, referring to Lizzie’s constant protestations that she was nine and a half.

Lizzie groaned. “You know what I mean. Do you feel almost like a teenager?” She turned to Lillian to illuminate her point. “Teenagers are so cool. My brother, David is eighteen, and he goes to college all the way in California. He can even drive. He’s driving here tonight.”

“Are you sure he’s really coming?” Brett tried not to sound too eager. Earlier that summer, David had tutored both Brett and Lizzie in math—his forte and their only problem subject at Dalton, the private school they attended. Lizzie was there on scholarship. Brett had grown very fond of David in those weeks and dreamed about having a brother like him.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Lizzie answered for what she hoped was the last time. She couldn’t figure out why Brett liked her older brother. David was okay, but not even close to dreamy.

The slam of the massive front door, followed by a torrent of commands, issued in a throaty, insistent voice, interrupted the tranquility of the afternoon. The words, at first unintelligible, became clearer as the voice, making its way through the house, seemed to bring with it the frantic energy of an approaching hurricane. Brett stiffened in her chair, waiting for her mother to appear.

“I don’t care, just do it!” Barbara snapped at one of the workers just before she reached the sunroom.

Barbara Larsen North entered with all the melodrama of an MGM contract player. “Throwing a party always gives me the most dreadful headache,” she said, putting her hand to her forehead to shade her blue eyes.

Barbara’s face, dewy from her morning facial at Elizabeth Arden, was as mercurial and expressive as a child’s. In fact, people found it hard to believe she was thirty-two. “It’s a good thing I’m here. These people would never have had everything ready by the time the guests arrived. Hello, Aunt Lillian. Brett, you and Elizabeth are positively filthy! What possessed you to come to the table dressed like that!” She walked farther into the sunroom, smoothing the folds of her orange-and-fuchsia halter dress, which revealed a figure that fashion dictated passe’, men dreamed about, and women envied. “Where’s my hello?”

Brett rose from her chair and dutifully planted a kiss on the cheek her mother offered, careful not to muss her hair. Her blond bouffant, a style that had faded from popularity a decade earlier somehow suited her.

“Hello, Mother,” Brett said cautiously, trying to gauge Barbara’s mood.

To call Barbara beautiful was insufficient. To Gaze at her, and everyone always did, brought a deep feeling of satisfaction, as though the gazer had somehow been fulfilled.

“The girls were playing all morning and I think they look perfectly fine for a casual lunch. It’s not tea with the queen,” Lillian intervened.

“You played all morning? You’ll be exhausted before your party begins,” Barbara said, exasperation evident in her voice.

Brett’s face clouded. Her party. No one would even know she was there.

“We’ll be fine for the party, Mrs. North,” Lizzie said. “In fact, we’ll go upstairs right now and rest. Come on, Brett.”

Barbara settled herself in the chaise across the room from Lillian, crossed her legs at the ankles, and dropped her handbag beside her.

Lillian lit one of the brown-papered cigarettes she had smoked for years and began, “I’d like to talk to you about this party, Barbara. Your Ian Wexford has this household in an uproar, and I see little evidence of anything for children.”

“Why, Aunt Lillian,” Barbara began sweetly, “Ian Wexford does all of the most divine parties and balls. I was thrilled to death that he agreed to do this party for Brett.” She plucked a petal from a nearby daisy and rubbed it anxiously between her thumb and forefinger.

“I know all about Mr. Wexford’s parties, Barbara, but I only agreed to the use of Cox Cove for Brett’s tenth birthday celebration,” Lillian said.

Leaning forward conspiratorially, Barbara confided, “Ten is such an important year, and you must admit that Ian’s China theme is exciting. What with President Nixon’s trip there this year, it’s all the rage. Imagine, this party will have historical significance!” The daisy petal, now a ball of mush, dropped from her fingers.

“Since when does the society page have historical significance?” Lillian snapped.

“There will be entertainment for children,” Barbara said defensively.

“Just how many children are you expecting?”

Barbara hesitated. “Oh. . .around a dozen.”

“Twelve children out of two hundred guests!” Lillian stubbed out her cigarette for emphasis.

“So many of her little friends were out of town for the summer, and twelve children is like a hundred anyway,” Barbara countered.

“Why didn’t you wait a week or so? I’m sure Brett would have understood, and more of her friends would have been home by then,” said Lillian.

“But, then it would be too late for the Feast of the August Moon,” Barbara insisted.

“I don’t care about the August Moon. I’m interested in Brett’s birthday, which somehow seems to be the last thing on your mind!” She stood and moved toward the door. “It’s too late to change anything, but I want you to know that you haven’t fooled me, and I’m not so sure you’ve fooled Brett, either.

Relieved to finally be alone, Barbara crumpled the hem of her dress, trying to suppress the irritation she felt at Lillian’s uncomfortably accurate observations. To calm herself she closed her eyes and replayed the months of shrewd maneuvering that would culminate in her triumph that evening.

The invitations—red scrolls hand lettered in gold—read, “The eighth month, the twenty-sixth day, nineteen hundred and seventy-two, six o’clock in the evening, your presence is most humbly requested at a banquet to celebrate the Feast of the August Moon and the tenth year of Miss Brett Larsen.” Each was hand delivered to recipients as far away as Palm Beach and Newport. The guest list, calculated to shock and soothe, included Wall Street barons, movie stars, social register regulars, and a guru. Barbara had called strategically selected invitees and tantalized them with choice tidbits about the festivities and the guests who had already accepted, Soon the network buzzed with anticipation. How she enjoyed the discreet calls from the overlooked, trying to wangle an invitation. August had never been the high point of the social calendar, but Barbara had engineered an event, and she knew her name would be near the top of everybody’s “in” list that fall.

Opening her eyes she reached for her purse and unearthed a rose-colored enamel pillbox, from which she shook two Valium, downing them with a swig from a glass of lemonade. “This party will be unforgettable!” she vowed and sauntered defiantly from the room.

Chapter 2


“Come in.” Brett and Lizzie stared wide-eyed at all the paraphernalia Sergei carried into the bedroom. From the top of an enormous black leather tote they saw: a blow-dryer, curling irons, jars of gels and pomades, and cans of hair spray. He also carried what looked like a toolbox.

“It’s your turn, birthday girl,” Sergei said with an indistinguishable foreign accent. “I have just created a masterpiece for your mother, and now I shall work my magic on you.”

“Wow! You must have brought the entire first floor of Bloomingdale’s ,” Lizzie uttered in an awestruck whisper.

This might be fun, Brett thought, recalling how beautiful her mother always looked after having her hair done. She winked at Lizzie and asked, “Mr. Sergei, when you’re through with me, could you do Lizzie too?”

“Of course, my angel. Anything for you on your birthday.”

“He’s cute,” mouthed Lizzie to her friend, as Sergei worked vigorously to dry Brett’s hair. Next, he applied the gel he hoped would tame its natural waves.

“What will it look like?” Brett asked.

“It is too complicated to explain. I must concentrate,” Sergei said testily, as he looked over the array of ivory and jade combs and fresh flowers that were to be a part of his creation. “But you will look like a real China doll.”

Too complicated, she thought. She didn’t want people to stare at her hair all night.

“We studied China in school this year,” Brett said. “Did you know that traditionally, young Chinese girls wear their hair down until they’re ready to get married? I think it’s supposed to be bad luck or something if you put it up.”

“Bad luck?” Sergei asked nervously. Brett had no way of knowing, but he was extremely superstitious. “How did you say they wear their hair?”

Sergei placed a band of tiny pink-and-white flowers just behind the bangs that hid Brett’s widow’s peak. Her almost-black hair hung straight down her back and curled gently at the bottom. “You are going to be a beauty, a real beauty,” he stated with certainty as he opened his kit and selected a pot of rosy pink lip gloss. “I hope a bit of lipstick is not bad luck, too.”

Lizzie took Brett’s seat and Sergei began to fluff her blond curls into a halo.

Brett peeked at herself in her dressing table mirror. She didn’t see the girl who was too tall with gangly arms and legs, and hair that could only be controlled by braiding. Instead, she saw a pretty girl with skin that held the glow of summer sun, and whose thickly lashed emerald eyes revealed both wonder and knowing. She smiled warmly.

Sergei left quietly, muttering about bad luck.
Lizzie, pleased with her appearance, especially the lipstick, sat on the pink-and-white gingham spread that covered the hand-painted four-poster bed. She looked around the room and thought that she would never go anywhere if she had a room like this. She liked her room at home, but her parents’ modest apartment on West-Eighty-Second Street in no way compared to Cox Cove or the luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment where Brett lived with her mother and Zachary Yarrow, her mother’s current husband.

“What’s wrong?” Lizzie asked, noticing Brett’s serious expression.

“I just hope that everything goes all right tonight, and that my mother and Zachary don’t have one of their fights,” Brett replied.

“Don’t worry so much, Brett. We’re going to have a blast. Come on, let’s get dressed.”

Lizzie danced over to the closet and plucked her new yellow dotted Swiss party dress from its hanger.

Brett stepped into her emerald green silk Chinese tunic and fastened the silver frogs along the neck and shoulders. Embroidered flowers of yellow, pink, and lilac, dotted with seed pearl centers, were gathered in clusters all over the dress. “Do I look silly?” she asked, feeling insecure about the extravagant costume Barbara had bought for her.

Lizzie clamped her hands over her mouth to hold in the squeal. “You look like a Chinese princess!”

Maybe even my mother will be pleased with the way I look tonight, Brett thought.

“Before we go downstairs, I want to give you your present.” Lizzie went to her luggage and removed a gift-wrapped package.

Seconds later, Brett spritzed herself with Love’s Fresh Lemon Scent cologne.

“I’ve never had perfume before. I love it! Oh, thank you Lizzie.”

Enveloped in a citrus cloud, they descended the stairs like ladies, meeting Lillian at the bottom. As the three approached the library, they could hear Barbara’s voice.

“Why aren’t you wearing the blazer?” she admonished.

“You may feel compelled to buy me clothes, but that doesn’t mean I’m compelled to wear them,” Zachary replied.

“I ordered that jacket for tonight,” Barbara insisted.

“Dammit, Barbara, it’s navy blue wool. Do you know what the temperature is?” Zachary asked.

“You look ridiculous, and I will have nothing to do with you the rest of the night!” Barbara said just as Brett, Lizzie, and Lillian came through the library doors.

Barbara posed in the center of the room, her arms akimbo, dressed in a mandarin-collared tunic—a wash of white satin trimmed in gold piping that oozed over her lazy curves. The skirt, slit up one side from hem to mid-thigh, revealed a silky leg and delicate foot balanced on perilously high, golden sandals. Her hair was indeed a masterpiece, created by the addition of a perfectly matched, pale blond switch that Sergei had coiled and lacquered into an elaborate figure eight and adorned with a cascade of crystals, pearls, and lily of the valley that danced and twinkled like the northern lights. Barbara was a study in contrasts. She seemed bathed in an almost serene, milky light, yet her eyes flashed and her cheeks burned with high color, the result of the several Dexedrine she had washed down with a glass of Cristal.

“Wow, Mrs. North!” Lizzie said.

“Thank you, Elizabeth. I take it you approve,” Barbara said.

“May I present the guest of honor,” Lillian said, intentionally shifting the group’s attention to Brett.

“Brett! You look just like you’ve stepped from Flower Drum Song. Rogers and Hammerstein have done better, but the staging was inspired!.” Zachary said enthusiastically , rising from his seat on the sienna leather sofa.

“Thanks, honorable Zach.” Brett bowed ceremoniously, then grinning added, “you look nice, too.”

Zachary wore white cotton gabardine trousers and a khaki safari jacket—his version of dressing for a summer party. He had never been handsome, and at fifty-three he was balding, with a fringe of gray hair and a slight paunch.

Zachary and Barbara had been married two years, and Brett liked him. He always managed to make her feel important by referring to plays and other adult things, just as if she were one of his cronies from the theater. He was witty, charming, and had been the wunderkind producer of the New York stage, but lately his projects had flopped. It seemed to Brett that her mother enjoyed his failures—she almost gloated with each defeat, despite the fact that it was her
money he kept losing.

Brett felt Zachary was more like a grandfather than a father, but she had little knowledge of either. She had thought Brian North, the television star, was her father until she and Barbara had abruptly moved from California to New York four years ago. She was never allowed to see him again. When Brett asked Barbara why they left Brian or who her father really was, her inquiries were met with the same stony, “I don’t wish to discuss it, ever!” as were her questions about her grandparents.

“That dress is almost too short. Will you ever stop growing?” Barbara asked, turning her attention to her daughter. “What on earth is that awful perfume you’re wearing? I’d send you upstairs to wash it off, but there’s no time. And I hoped Sergei would do more with your hair.”

Inside, Brett stung from the harshness of her mother’s critique, but her face revealed nothing. How could she have thought she looked pretty?

Appalled at Barbara’s insensitivity, Lillian shot her a disdainful look, then remarked gently to Brett, “I have something I’d like to give you.”

“Can’t this wait?” Barbara snapped impatiently.
“No, it cannot,” Lillian said. She reached into a drawer of her enormous mahogany desk and removed a small 35-mm camera. “Happy birthday, my dear!” She placed the strap around Brett’s neck and kissed her forehead.

“Oh, Aunt Lillian! I love it! How did you know I wanted a camera?” Brett exclaimed, looking through the viewfinder to line up her first shot.

“Well, photography helped make me a better artist. I’ve spied you sketching down by the beach, and I thought it might be helpful to you.”

“Can we go now?” Barbara asked bitingly.

“In a minute.” Lillian handed Brett a tiny blue velvet jeweler’s box. “This is from your grandfather.”

“Why does he persist in this?” Barbara screeched. “He will never see her, no matter how many trinkets he sends!”

Brett placed the box back in the desk drawer. She would retrieve it later. She knew it contained a charm. It would be added to the other jeweled animals she had received annually from her grandfather since her sixth birthday. Barbara did not permit her to wear the bracelet, so she kept it hidden in her bureau.

“Barbara, his gifts do the child no harm,” Lillian said.

“Harm? What do you know about harm?” Barbara fumed.

“I don’t know what’s been going on between you and your father for the last ten years, but I do know that it is his money that supports your extravagant lifestyle.” After a tense moment, Lillian continued, “Shall we go and greet the guests?”

“Fine,” Barbara said. “You go on. Brett and I will be right in.”

Outside, a glorious amber sunset had bathed the evening in a golden light that made everything seem enchanted. Waves of luxurious stretch limousines and sleek sedans had deposited their shiny passengers at the stately Georgian mansion that was the heart of Cox Cove.

The pop of champagne corks and the ring of laughter was accompanied by the gentle rhythms of the Victor Parish Orchestra, whose dashing leader conducted the group from his perch at a gleaming white baby grand piano.

Anticipation had kissed the crown as they hovered near the huge swimming pool, which twinkled with hundreds of floating candles shaped like lily pads. And they were fully aroused and ready as the torchbearers led them past the force-bloomed cherry trees that ringed the great lawn, where a muster of peacocks strutted, occasionally flaring their iridescent plumes. They proceeded down the jasmine-bordered red-velvet aisle and into the evening’s banquet site, an enormous open-sided tent that resembled a pagoda. Gold silk streamers dangled from its sides, flickering in the gentle breeze, and a brilliant gilt finish made the roof gleam like a crown in the evening sun. An octet sporting traditional Chinese braids, and wearing red smocks gracefully trimmed in black, played lilting melodies while everyone awaited the guests of honor.

Finally, Lillian, Zachary, and Lizzie entered the tent and made their way through the maze of red-damask-covered tables. Each was centered with plump, double-finned goldfish, swimming languidly in wide glass orbs topped with pale pink lotus blossoms that delicately scented the air.

The tension of the past half-hour had taken its toll on Lizzie, who was so relieved to see David that she broke into a run and threw her arms around her brother in a bear hug. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said breathlessly.

“Whoa, Inchworm! What did I do to deserve a hug like that?” David asked, his brown eyes twinkling playfully.

“Oh, David, it was awful. You should have heard what Mrs. North said to Brett. And don’t call me Inchworm,” Lizzie said, quickly reverting to her customary sibling behavior.

“What was awful?” David asked.

Before she could respond, a gong sounded and the octet, which had been serenading the guests, launched into a fanfare fit for a coronation march. Brett and Barbara, seated on the hand-embroidered cushion of a jinrickshaw, appeared. Oohs and aahs erupted into applause, which pleased Barbara and embarrassed Brett. Barbara waved as her bright blue eyes darted around to gauge the amount of attention she received. Her radar was infallible; she always knew when it was necessary to burn a little brighter.

Brett, mortified at being so conspicuous, took refuge behind her camera and began to snap pictures.

“Put that down!” Barbara hissed. “No one can see you!”

I know, Brett thought as she reluctantly placed the camera in her lap.

The sight of Barbara caused Zachary’s earlier hostility to melt away. It was replaced by that feeling of apprehension and jealousy that was so often his companion when in her presence. Barbara was a drug, self-prescribed to ward off advancing middle age and failure. Zachary was hopelessly addicted. He ached for this breathtaking young women, but he knew that to show it invited her scorn.

“Thou art most fair indeed.” Zachary doffed an imaginary hat as he helped Barbara alight from the rickshaw. “But isn’t that dress a little tight!”

“Oh, Zachary, don’t be such an old fuddy-duddy,” Barbara responded, knowing that the reference to his age would keep Zachary at bay for the rest of the night.

David saw Brett, standing in the rickshaw, awkward and forgotten, and rushed to her aid. At 6’2” he easily lifted her down and kissed her cheek. “Happy birthday, Brett! I’m sorry I don’t have a present.”

“That’s okay.” Brett blushed as she tried to refrain from stroking the cheek he had kissed.

“Thanks for helping me down.”

“It was nice of you to invite me.” David had been touched when he had received his invitation, but had not planned to attend until he had heard how lavish an affair it would be. Through the years, David had heard about the cavernous apartment, the maids and limousines, that were a routine part of Brett’s life, but he had never witnessed them firsthand. His curiosity about the rich had changed his mind.

“Everything is so beautiful! What’s it like to ride in a rickshaw?” Lizzie asked.

Brett took her place next to Lizzie. “Okay, I guess.” She wanted to forget it had happened.

“It looked really neat. And look at my brother, Mr. Wizmo with the mustache. The last time I saw him in a suit, Mom and Dad made him wear it to graduation,” Lizzie teased.

David had grown a mustache because it made him feel as old as his classmates, who were often two or three years his senior. Although only eighteen, he was about to start his junior year at Stanford, where he was the prodigy of the computer science department.

David was handsome in this tan summer suit, blue shirt, and Stanford tie, with its cardinal insignia. His hair grazed his shoulders and was curly like Lizzie’s but a rich, shiny brown.

“That’s a pretty fancy camera,” David said, ignoring his sister’s remarks.

“I just got it for my birthday,” Brett said proudly. “Can I take your picture!” She focused carefully, already comfortable behind the lens.

Across the room, Barbara assumed her coveted spot next to Avery Thornton, society editor of NOW, the bible of the social set. Avery, a pudgy little man of indeterminate years, was one of the most powerful men in New York. With a stroke of his pen, hostesses rose or fell from favor. He was either a valuable ally or a formidable opponent, and the ranks of those he had exiled to social Siberia was legion.

“Avery, darling, how are you?” Barbara asked sweetly, delivering the obligatory double-miss kiss. “And they said it couldn’t be done,” she added triumphantly.

A year ago, Avery had declared in NOW that there was no summer social season in New York, and insisted that no one could throw a major party during July or August. Barbara saw Avery’s statement as a gauntlet laid down and accepted the challenge. She hired Ian Wexford to champion her cause and spent seven months planning the party of the summer season. Avery bet her a case of vintage Chateau Lafite Rothschild and prime coverage in NOW for a year that she could never pull it off.

Every moment of the banquet had been meticulously planned to include food, games, and entertainment. In authentic Chinese tradition, each of the nine courses presented a new and different taste sensation, ranging from mild and sweet to hot and spicy, the order carefully arranged to surprise the palate by Woo, the owner of the posh Manhattan restaurant that bore his name.

No detail had been overlooked and Barbara reveled in her soon-to-be-proclaimed victory. By the fourth course, eager to bask in kudos and compliments from her guests, she began circulating. Her white-sheathed figure drew either admiring glances or jealous snipes, but never went unnoticed.

As a troupe of acrobats in brightly colored costumes tumbled and cartwheeled down the aisle, Zachary anxiously watched his wife’s every move.

Barbara reached a table engaged in a heated debate about the arrests at the Watergate. Sidling up to a young man ably defending his point, she interjected, “Frankly, I believe Martha Mitchell.”

He pushed back his chair, gazing up at her with smoky blue eyes. “Mrs. North, you look very beautiful tonight.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” Barbara replied, and curtsied as much as her dress would allow. “How are, or should I say, where are your parents?”

“They’re still skiing in the Andes. Mother will be distressed when she hears what she’s missed. I hope you don’t mind my coming tonight,” he said.

One of the guests left the table and Barbara slipped into the temporarily vacant seat next to his. She crossed her legs, exhibiting a generous glimpse of thigh. “Of course I don’t mind, but I’m sure a handsome young man like you has much more exciting things to do on a Saturday night,” she said coyly as the Watergate discussion buzzed around them.

“I can’t think of a thing I’d rather be doing. Well, maybe just one.” His full-lipped smile invited mischief as he pushed back the lock of blond hair that dangled across his forehead.

“Only one?” asked Barbara seductively, realizing the game was on.

Barbara and Carson Gallagher had been having an affair since June.

Carson’s lean, well-muscled body was the result of four years of crew and soccer at Harvard. He had graduated in May, and his position in his family’s banking empire was waiting to be claimed, but Carson wasn’t ready. This was going to be a year devoted to extracurricular activities, and Barbara was the first.

“Carson, you’ve barely touched a thing on your plate,” Barbara teased.

“I’m afraid I can’t get the hang of these chopsticks,” he replied.

Barbara picked up a morsel of eight jeweled stuffed duck with her fingers and held it up to Carson’s lips. “Sometimes the simplest way is best.”

He looked directly into her eyes and accepted the offered tidbit, deliberately licking her fingertips as he took it into his mouth.

Having witnessed every moment of this performance, Zachary appeared and placed his hands possessively on Barbara’s shoulders.

Without missing a beat, Barbara said, “Darling, have you met Carson Gallagher? Carson, this is my husband, Zachary Yarrow.”

“Swell party, sir,” said Carson, offering his hand.

Completely ignoring him, Zachary said stiffly “Barbara, the Stuarts have been asking for you.

“Claudia does require so much attention,” she said as she rose to follow Zachary. “You will be staying for the fireworks, won’t you Carson?” she asked with a gleam in her eye.

“I wouldn’t miss them,” Carson replied.

“Good.” Barbara sashayed across the room.

Platters of Moon cakes, sweet black beans, and salted duck egg yolks—the good luck foods for the Feast of the August Moon—were placed on each table. Then the lights dimmed, the band played “Happy Birthday,” and four waiters carried in an enormous cake in the shape of a butterfly, ablaze with sparklers. Cymbals crashed and in danced a gigantic, multicolored dragon, the benevolent beast of Chinese folklore, who led the guests down to the waterfront for fireworks.

For thirty minutes the night sky was exalted with comets, pin-wheels, and starbursts that could be seen for miles, then disappeared silently into the sea.

Lillian stepped up behind Brett, who was watching the spectacle with David and Lizzie.” Are you enjoying yourself, child?”

“This is the best part,” Brett said enthusiastically.

“Why don’t we go inside for some cake?” Lillian suggested.

“I think I’ll stay out here a while longer,” David said. Intrigued by all the people and activity, he headed over to the pool, where it seemed the party was just beginning.

In the living room, over cake and milk, the girls excitedly relived the evening’s events.

* * *

Barbara had no trouble convincing Carson to slip away with her for a moonlit walk on the beach. He was six feet of young, handsome, virile, pleasure-seeking temptation, and Barbara could no more resist temptation than she could a challenge.

At the bottom of the stairs that led to the beach, Barbara sat down. “I have to take these sandals off.”

Carson knelt in the sand and removed her delicate golden shoes. He let his strong, hot hand glide up her calf, and when he reached her milky thigh, he placed a long, slow kiss where the slit of her dress strained to open. Barbara made a low, throaty moan.

“I’ve wanted to do that all night,” he said huskily.

Before Barbara could say a word, he lifted her to her feet, surrounding her in a powerful embrace. He pressed her round, gentle curves against his rippling muscles until there was no air between them. They kissed hungrily, his tongue exploring the deepest recesses of her mouth, his hands in constant motion kneading her shoulders, her arms, her back. The insistence of his growing hardness ignited her, but before she succumbed completely to the burning between her legs, she pulled away. “Let’s walk farther down the beach. I know a place.”

When they passed the dunes, where a great outcropping of rock eclipsed the light of the moon and cast a shadow on the sand, she stopped. Carson came up behind her and nibbled her neck as he unfastened the clasps of her gown. Barbara closed her eyes, leaned against him, and let the pleasure envelop her. She pressed her palms against his thighs and moved them in leisurely circles, edging closer to his pulsing penis. Carson cupped her now bare breasts, massaging her stiff nipples with his thumbs. He slid a hand down her hip and through the slit that had tormented him so all night. Easing his fingers under the filmy silk fabric of her panties, he stroked the hard, swollen nub of her pleasure.

* * *

Lillian tapped Brett lightly, interrupting her conversation, and pointed to the corner of the blue velvet sofa, where Lizzie had fallen asleep. Brett giggled, whispering. “She’s always like that. One minute she’s talking and then she’s asleep.”

“I think I’ll take little Miss Powell up to bed. Why don’t you come up, too, and I’ll tuck you both in,” Lillian said lovingly.

“Can I go out for a little while longer? I have a few pictures left and I’d like to take them.”

“All right, but not too much longer,” Lillian replied.

Brett grabbed her camera and trotted outside, where she ran into Zachary on the terrace.

“Can I take your . . . “

He brushed past as though he hadn’t seen her and went inside.

Brett hiked up her dress the best she could and made her way across the lawn toward the beach. She knew the perfect place for her last few shots. Turtleback Rock was her favorite spot for watching the tide, sorting shells, and trying to make sense of the world. As she neared the outcropping of rock, she heard what sounded like a muffled gasp and stopped. For a moment there was only the lapping of water and traces of the music still being played by the orchestra. Then she heard rustling and a groan. She crept closer, and when the shadowed area underneath the rock was in full view, she saw her mother’s back. At first, because Barbara was on her knees, Brett thought she may have been injured. But before she moved to help, she saw a man’s legs, and she knew they weren’t Zachary’s.

Brett slowly backed away, but before she could leave, Zachary ran past her. “How dare you!” he raved.

Barbara sprang to her feet, clutching her dress to hide her nakedness.

“Zachary, let me explain . . . “

“Explain what? That you sleep with men behind my back! I know that already!”
Zachary’s voice came in gasps. “I love you! I need you, and you know it! You make me suffer for it!”

“You have to calm down,” Carson intervened.

“Why? So you two can pat me on the head and laugh at the spineless old eunuch when I leave!”

“Zachary, listen,” Barbara pleaded.

“No! No, you’ll never laugh at me again!” Zachary drew the .32 automatic he had taken from the gun case in the house. Five crisp, hollow snaps slowly and deliberately punctuated the air, followed by a thick quiet that seemed to stop time.

“No!” Brett’s wail echoed through the night air.

Barbara collapsed in a dead faint and Carson’s lifeless body, legs splayed, lay on the cold sand.

Zachary let the empty gun fall from his hand. “I’m not going to hurt anyone else,” he muttered.

Brett raced across the sand, stumbling, falling, tearing her gown. Sobbing, she mounted the stairs and ran into the throng gathered there. Hands grabbed at her, voices called her name, but Brett, seeing only Carson’s body through her tears, plowed wildly into the crowd.

“Brett! What’s the matter?” David grabbed her. She flailed, kicked, and screamed, until she realized it was David. Then her body went limp and she cried hysterically. “It’s all right. It’s all right,” he repeated as he carried her into the house.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:43 AM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, September 21, 2007

A NOVEL GIFT

So here’s the deal—we are about to go into “the cave.” Which means we have a book to finish by the end of the year (so it’s out in January ’09, for all of you who fuss at us for taking too long between books). That means we won’t have much time for coming up with subjects (timely, clever or otherwise) to blog about twice a week—but we do enjoy the interaction. So we’ll save our new comments for Thursdays (because we’d burst if we had to keep them all in), and we’ve come up with a way to post regularly on Mondays with something that will be new to most of you— that way we can save some of that writer juice for the book we’re writing, What Doesn’t Kill You—which will make our editor happy and we hope that come 2009, it’ll make you happy too.

Now, there were a variety of responses to the Writing White blog we did two weeks ago—a number of them from other writers, who have bumped into the same issues regarding readers of their work. Clearly there is more to the conversation about where in the bookstores we shop and who reads what and why.

In that blog we mentioned that the first book we wrote was Exposures, originally published in 1990. This first joint effort was written before Waiting to Exhale paved the way for contemporary African American fiction-- the characters in Exposures are not Black. But we think you'll find that while our style has matured, they are drawn with the same care and attention to detail we became known for in Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Far From the Tree & Better Than I Know Myself.

We also had another name back then—not because we were hiding. At the time publisher didn’t think readers would ‘get’ a novel written by two people, so our pen name was Marie Joyce—for Donna Marie and Virginia Joyce (pretty good use for middle names). After reacquiring our rights we re-published the book in 2005 through the Back-in-Print program of the Authors Guild.

Exposures was a Popular Library Lovestruck paperback original and had moderate success—but we didn’t really get a name for ourselves until Tryin’ came out in 1997. Now we have decided to give Exposures a third life—right here on our blog. Even though it was written as a romance, it’s not a traditional one. And what’s even more interesting to us are the themes that were present in our work even then (before we had any work)—the most evident among them being the importance of true friendship. So, even as the romance ebbs and flows, the friendship of Brett Larsen and Lizzie Powell remains.

We will serialize the novel-- like books used to be way, way, way back in the dime novel days—like soap operas. Every Monday—starting with this coming Monday—and running until January when Gotta Keep on Tryin’ is released, we will post a couple of chapters of Exposures on the blog. The catch is that except for the first post, the subsequent ones won’t remain on the blog—they will be removed as the next two chapters are posted. Example: Monday we’ll post the prologue, Chapters 1 & 2 and they will remain on the blog. When we post Chapters 3 and 4 the following week, the prologue and Chapters 1-2 will still be there. BUT when we post Chapters 5 & 6, chapters 3 & 4 will be removed. So that means you have to tune in regularly, or you might miss something!

Now if you get impatient, and you really have to know what happens next (or you missed an important plot twist), the whole book can be ordered through your favorite book seller, or online bookseller (we know B&N.com, Amazon.com & iUniverse.com have it listed)

Brett Larsen is a fashion photographer and Exposures, set in the fashion capitals of New York & Paris, is a tale of friendship, family secrets, betrayal, love, loss and Brett's search for self and the truth.

Tune in Monday for the first installment—and spread the word!

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:30 AM 2 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who you callin' B***h?!

We try not to get caught up in the "he said, she said", spectacular allegations, blatant publicity stunts and counter claims of celebrity trials. Quotes from testimony, taken out of context, can be completely misleading—heck taken in context they can still be confusing and nearly indecipherable. But something came up in the Isaiah Thomas—Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment suit and got stuck in our craw.

In case you're not following the trial (and there are lots of other things to be paying attention to—like what are the presidential candidates really saying? What is your child really learning in school? What is your house really worth . . .?) former NY Knick's V.P. Anucha Browne Sanders accuses coach and general manager Isaiah Thomas of sexual harassment, and Madison Square Garden of wrongfully firing her after she made that accusation. During pre-trial video taped depositions, Thomas stated, for the record, that he would find it, "highly offensive if he heard a white man call a black woman bitch (Yes we wrote it. We've all heard it, said it, or been called it, before.), but that if a black man called a black woman bitch he would be less offended. HUH?!?!?

Is there some rule we missed that says it's OK to call women of your own race, ethnicity or country of national origin outside of their names, but not to use those terms across racial lines? That's right up there was, "I can hit my woman, but you can't." And we're not buying the notion that bitch can be a term of endearment. Last time we checked, "You're my sweetheart," and "You're my bitch," still have two completely different and totally opposite meanings.

Yeah, we all grew up reciting "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." A mantra whose main purpose was to keep us out of schoolyard and neighborhood fights. But we know words have power. They can heal or they can cause pain. And words like 'bitch,' 'nigger,' 'faggot,' were meant to hurt. They even sound angry when you say them. Their presence lingers in the air long after they've left the sayers lips and bounced back off the hearers eardrums. They used to be fighting words. The person who uses them wants to dehumanize you, make you feel small, unworthy of even enough respect to be called by your own name. And while we realize language is fluid, a living thing that changes, we're not buying the idea that if you use epithets enough, they lose their meaning—or their power. It just means you're so used to getting beat down you don't even notice the sting any more.

So for the record, it is not hip, cool or manly to call women bitches. We like to joke, kid, and have a good time as much as the next woman, but we don't accept being call that, or some of the other names out there (we all know what they are) to prove we're one of the guys. Each of us has to make our own decisions in our personal lives, but that kind of undermining language is certainly not acceptable in the workplace. And what color you are doesn't make a damn bit of difference.

Didn't we just go through this with the Rutgers' women's basketball team?

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 8:41 AM 2 comments links to this post

Monday, September 17, 2007

IT'S IN THE BAG

So what is it about bags? Not paper or plastic—at least not the supermarket kind. We mean handbags, purses, clutches, totes—the sacks you drag around all day so your stuff is contained in one place and you can have what you need wherever you go. What in the world do men do with their stuff? And don't tell us they don't have any.

We girls get our first one somewhere in our toddler years—a little, shiny, patent purse, with a mirror, two dollars, some Lifesavers, and a pack of tissues in it, and we think we're as grown as mom. (It's probably not intended as a lesson in self-reliance, but realizing you need to carry your own tissues is worthwhile.) For most of us this purse is not to be confused with the mother/daughter twin bags sported recently by Angelina Jolie and her daughter, Zahara (http://justjared.buzznet.com/2007/09/07/angelina-zahara-matching-bags/). Theirs are Valentino. Ours were vinyl, but it doesn't matter. As soon as you hook it in the crook of your arm and walk like the grown ladies, you are in the club.

Now, if Mama Jolie's bag was $1600 and change, that probably means the Baby Z version can be had for a mere what—$1200? But if we look at the handbag mania that seems pandemic in today's society, the Angelina/Zahara image is not so far fetched. We don't remember sightings from past hot Hollywood Mommie and Me pairings of tiny daughters clutching a mini Mark Cross in their chubby, sticky little hands. Did Mommy Diana Ross, take Tracee Ellis shopping at Vuitton to pick out her first purse? Did Janet Leigh drop a cool grand or more so Jamie Lee could carry her crayons to kindergarten in a teenie little Judith Leiber fantasy? And somehow we can't imagine Blythe Danner buying little Gwyneth her own Birkin. Or is it that we just didn't see the pictures?

But when did we all go crazy? When did we decide it was OK to spend the amount of a mortgage payment on a pocketbook? Then, at the end of the season, it is decreed that our golden bag is now totally last year. We remember when Coach bags were a splurge. Now girls carry them to high school. When did nylon totes with leather handles start costing $1200? Oh yeah, the 80's. But come on, it's not even quality we're paying for here. With the possible exception of constructing it with gold thread, what can you do to nylon that makes it worth $1200? Oh yeah, make sure everybody else knows we can afford to pay $1200 for it.

Don't get us wrong. We like fashion as much as the next girl—maybe even more. We have the 800lb September Vogue sitting right on the desk—because even if you're not a regular reader, you can't say you like fashion if you don't get September's Vogue—every fashionista (and wannabe) knows that for goodness sakes (and we may as well admit it here—we totally enjoy watching Full Frontal Fashion during the collections, because. . . hell, there's no good reason. Just because beautiful clothes make us go, "Ahhh," ridiculous ones make us laugh, and it reminds us of our crazy days in the fashion business.)

BUT, and it's a big BUT, we don't like the tyranny of the fashion oligarchy. They rule with an iron hand, covered of course in this years must-have glove (along with belts, a big comeback accessory for Fall) or adorned with the all important bangle, or charm bracelet, set off by nails manicured in THE color of the season—Chanel black— (which we do know was really two seasons ago but it sounds so dramatic) and of course clutching a tube of the season's perfect nude/red/bronze/plum lipstick.

Who sets these trends we are all supposed to follow? Do they live in the real world? Have real jobs? Real lives? Have to pay real bills every month with checkbooks they take out of their two thousand dollar purses? Oh yeah, they do have jobs—we think they're called trend forecasters (bet you high school guidance counselor didn't tell you about that career). But why do we let them make us crazy and keep us in debt?

Do you know there's even a place where you can rent the right purse—by the month or the week—(http:/bagborroworsteal.com). They have discount pricing for members of course, and even though Mark Cross and Hermes are not available for lease (at least from this site) apparently business is booming.

But somehow it seems to us that the bag mania is out of control and we really gotta get a grip—not on the bag, but on what might be actually important.

P.S. We're giving a shout out to our good friend Chrisena Coleman, reporter at the NY Daily News and founder of Just Between Girlfriends, who's been nominated for a Hoodie Award for best Community Leader. The award competition is being sponsored by The Steve Harvey Radio Show. So please check out the show/contest site and give her your vote.

Chrisena ColemanCEO -Just Between GirlfriendsHackensack, NJ 07601WBLS 107.5 FM New York, NY
Chrisena Coleman is an award-winning journalist at the New York Daily News and the founder of "Just Between Girlfriends". As a veteran reporter and head of a national nonprofit organization that assists women and children in need, Chrisena is a selfless human being who is known for her generosity and willingness to help others in her community. Chrisena has catapulted "Just Between Girlfriends" from a best selling book into a national women's organization with more than 5,000 members across the country.

http://www.steveharvey.com/hoodie_vote/
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 10:34 AM 3 comments links to this post

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 BEFORE AND AFTER

Six years ago---we all remember exactly where we were-THAT DAY.

Just as previous generations remember where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor (Probably on the radio. We weren’t born yet). Or where they were when JFK (Virginia—in the library of Fillmore Junior H.S. in Buffalo checking out books for the weekend. Donna--in Sister Helen's second grade class. The nuns were crying so we knew something was wrong.), Dr.King ( Virginia—on the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, listening to sirens and shots that were far too close. Donna had just come home from junior high and was alone, in front of the TV.), and Bobby Kennedy (Virginia—at home in Buffalo, NY, in my living room with my family watching as it unfolded on television. Donna--the same, but in Brooklyn, NY) were assassinated. The minutest details of what transpired in our lives on those ordinary days—the moment before and the moment after we heard the news—are branded in our memory because those events changed us—both singularly and as a culture—forever. We can mark time as before and after.

About ten years ago there was a movie called Before and After. Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson played the parents of a teen accused of murdering his girlfriend. Their reactions to the crisis are completely opposite. Though the subject matter and the inciting incident are not at all the same as the events of 9/11, the film pointed out how irrevocably, and differently lives can be altered by a single shattering event. And especially how the incident divides time into “pre” and “post.”


Six years ago we all became those parents. Our memories of THAT DAY are unique, specific, indelible and for better and worse, life altering.
A simple example—

Before—We were in our separate homes that morning, full of excitement and anticipation, and yakking on the phone about what we were going to wear, as we prepared for lunch in the City with our editor and publicist. We were going to talk about PR and marketing plans for the paperback release of Far From the Tree. We loved those lunches (at swank restaurants with hard to get reservations. You can order whatever your heart desires, with no concern for the bill.) Those afternoons, can feel giddy—like we’ve stepped into the power-lunch scene from a movie, which is very different from our day-to-day writerly existence. But there was no lunch THAT DAY. What clothes we put on didn’t matter because we never left our homes. We each tried to account for those we thought could have been in lower Manhattan, and got calls from friends and family who were concerned for our safety. And we tried to make space in our reality for this incomprehensible event.

After—We were both blessed that none of our immediate loved ones were killed or injured on 9-11, although there were some eerily close calls. But there hasn’t been another of those lunches since, where the memory of THAT DAY hasn’t crossed, however transiently, one or both of our minds. We both try not to schedule meetings or travel on the 11th of September. It still doesn’t feel right. Will that ever go away? Probably. Our worlds don’t stop moving any more on November 22, April 4 or June 5 so eventually the specific date may lose it’s power, but life will still never be the same.

Today, like it was on that 9-11, we are not together—Virginia is at home in New Jersey, Donna in Brooklyn, but we each woke slowly—fully aware of what day it was. We had an ear to the radio (Donna) and an eye on the TV (Virginia) as commentators, reporters, family members, first responders, poised to commemorate, spoke about THAT DAY. But we remember. How can we not? We can all see those towers collapse—and rise only to collapse again and again and again—thanks to the media. Will that ever go away? Will the phantoms of terror—WMD, Osama, Saddam, Iraq ever go away? Or is fear and Homeland Insecurity here to stay? We remember what it was like before Richard Reid totally f__ked up travel for pretty much every human being on the planet. But will taking off your shoes and carrying your toiletries in a baggie become as natural for the next generation as having a telephone in your pocket?

Yes, things change—or look like they have (history is proof that little is different). Time and distance affect perspective. But should we remember for the sake of remembering? Or remember so we do better the next time, instead of the same or worse.

Maybe that’s the question we should ask someone who’s been there—a parent, grandparent, a neighbor or someone who survived Hiroshima, Darfur, Kristallnacht or Trail of Tears...Did we ever get it right—after?

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 6:02 PM 1 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 06, 2007

WRITING WHITE?

Crossing Over—Mirror vs Window

When an African American writer or entertainer achieves success with a wider (read White) audience, a la Will Smith or Terry McMillan, they are said to have cross-over appeal. Why isn’t the reverse true? When Blacks watch CSI, Spiderman 3 or pick up the latest John Grisham, no one attributes that to cross-over. Is it assumed that everyone will find these diversions entertaining? That race doesn’t matter as long as it’s White? That Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, Lakhota Sioux, Lebanese and whomever else the census separates out will “get” the storyline and generate the dollars requisite for success?

Even in the racially diverse “Grey’s Anatomy”, the central character, intern Meredith Grey, is a White woman, despite the fact series writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, is African American. Happenstance or economics? Quiet as it’s kept, in our first novel, Exposures, we “wrote White”, deciding it was the surest way to test our joint writing chops--and get published. It worked; the novel sold in two weeks. It took a lot longer to find a home for our first book with Black characters. At the time we didn’t fit the established categories (we weren’t Toni or Terry), so many editors didn’t believe we would find an audience. They were wrong.

Are these situations silent testimony to the more refined racism that lives with us everyday—the kind of de facto pecking order largely unrecognized by those who perpetuate it, and unchallenged by those of us who are aware, but just grateful to be in the game? Maybe it’s not so silent. The movie “Crash” asks questions about who we are, and what we think about all those other people. There was awkward, knowing laughter in the theater when our not so secret little prejudices were laid bare.

A few months ago, a White reader (one of many who identify themselves that way) emailed to say how much she enjoyed one of our books, but wondered if she was welcome to read our work since she wasn’t Black. We were stunned by the question, but it spoke to the segregated reading habits which are more the norm than we would like to admit. Are we so tired of dealing with each other at work, in the supermarket, on the bus, that it’s a relief to open a book and find people with strange accents and hairdos banished from our fictional world? Or is it more insidious? Are books our mirrors, and we only look for reflections of ourselves?

Shouldn’t reading provide a window to the greater world? We read Anna Karenina without being Russian, The 100 Secret Senses without being Chinese, Catcher in the Rye without being teenaged prep school boys, Shelters of Stone without being Cro-Magnon—Anne Rice without being a vampire. We delight in Carl Hiassen without being Floridians, Sandra Cisneros with no experience of being Latinas from Chicago, understand the plight of a Nigerian girl as told by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, never having set foot in Lagos. Since childhood we have read thousands of books about people who didn’t look like us and found them enlightening, hilarious, heartbreaking, and know, without doubt, we are better people because of it.

Why then is it so surprising when works of fiction, save for “literary” efforts like those of Alice Walker and Edward P. Jones, which mostly recount our collective, tragic, post middle passage history, cross over? Are we to believe that as fully franchised, contemporary Americans living a variety of social, educational, and economic circumstances that our stories are so foreign as to be incomprehensible? That we share no universal human truths?

After the surprise success of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, which featured drawings of two brown-skinned women on the cover, our publisher made a conscious effort to cross over our next book. That cover was dominated by a house flanked by a lush tree. Our three main characters were rendered the size of carpenter ants, their color indistinguishable. So, to appeal to a wider audience we had to lose face? What must we sacrifice to be palatable to the culture at large?

Some bookstores even have separate African American areas. Is this to make us more comfortable in unfamiliar territory? Does this highlight our work, or let other people know they can skip this aisle? Granted, some argue that having a unique section celebrates the Black experience. But are they really separate but unequal niches, a publishing ghetto with very different real estate values?

Until Waiting to Exhale made publishers understand that Black people buy books, we were mostly left outside the gates. Clearly they did not learn in American history that we risked and often lost our lives to learn to read. The Exhale phenomenon is the reason many of us were given a chance. Walter Mosley reached a wider readership thanks to the endorsement of President Clinton. But is it really so hard to throw open our windows and get some fresh air? Browse a bookstore section you usually pass without Oprah to lead the way? If you like Janet Evanovich, try Valerie Wilson-Wesley. Ask a librarian or a co-worker for a recommendation; that’s how many non-Black readers found our work. You might discover a good read on an unexpected shelf—maybe gain insight into someone else, or surprisingly, yourself.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 10:20 AM 13 comments links to this post

Monday, September 03, 2007

MOTHER MONDAYS: THE FINAL INSTALLMENT: LABOR DAY

It is once again, Monday and time for our last installment of Mother Mondays, but it’s also a holiday and we’ve been pondering whether or not that mattered. Should we skip this Monday because it’s a “day off” and if we did, would we do Mother Monday on Tuesday or wait until next Monday? Choices.

Then we thought—the holiday is Labor Day—what better day to write about Moms—Whether or not you are like yours, the final step in becoming a mom starts with labor – although we hope something a little more fun transpired nine months prior to the big L (Not to forget adoptive moms, for whom the first step is opening their hearts). But the tales of labor are, and have always been the stuff of legend-whether the hours spent were magically brief or tortuously long, or the epithets and curses hurled at dads and nurses later brought profuse apologies, the stories of coming into the world become part of family history.

And since neither of us has children, we are at a distinct disadvantage here. So we asked Virginia’s sister, Valerie (who’s visiting from Buffalo for the holiday weekend) what she remembered most about her labor. “I literally saw double,” came tumbling out without a thought. It was followed closely by the story of how Matty, her cat, sensing that something was wrong with his “mom”, escorted her, one step at a time, stopping and going as she slowly progressed down the stairs—(Come to think of it, Matty was never too fond of Valerie’s son, Jordan.) When we explained we were trying to get a handle on our Labor Day Mother Monday she went on to say, “Mother’s don’t have Labor Day, they have a Labor Life.” She says she went into labor at 9AM and Jordan was born around 5PM “It was the most productive workday I’ve ever had.” So the labor that starts it all is just the beginning, a primer on what it’s going to take to raise a child—especially today—an unsubtle reminder that if you think this is tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

And despite all the challenges and hard work that comes with the job of being a mom (especially one who also holds down a “9 to 5”), Valerie says that Labor Day still is a bittersweet time. In New York the school year starts right after the holiday, so from the moment your child first goes off to kindergarten and their world expands beyond the one you’ve ordered for them, Labor Day is a marker of that separation. Virginia’s nephew, Valerie’s son, is now 19, and starting his junior year in college. Of course all the labor that went into getting him to almost adulthood wasn’t easy, but was so worth it.

We’ve only dealt with ways girls become like their mothers—so whether sons become like their mothers or look for a girl like (or unlike) dear old mom is a subject for another blog—someday. Maybe.

These are the last dozen of our signs that you are becoming your mother. Who knows—maybe we’ll come up with more one day. It’s been fun. We’ve enjoyed your comments—but don’t worry—we’re cooking up something new for Mondays!

70) Your kids birthdays make you feel older than your own.

71) The cute little smile lines at the corners of your mouth get longer. And they don't go away when you're not smiling.

72) You see a photo of your mother as a young woman, look past the funny clothes and hairdos, see the same sassy expression, the gleam in her eyes, you had at that age and wonder what she was thinking.

73) You see a photo of your mother as a young woman and realize she had more style than you do.

74) You realize that 4am bathroom trips are not optional.

75) You go into a room and scout out the high, straight-back chair so you don't have to scuffle to get out of the low-slung, cushy sofa.

76) You realize your toddler isn't the only one in your house who needs training pants.

77) Lycra and spandex are now used to suck in what you used to show off.

78) The thought of acting your age makes you shiver.

79) When the gadgets your kids take for granted still amaze you.

80) You have grown from a tiny acorn into a money tree for your own little saplings.

81) What other people think is less important than what you know.
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 12:58 PM 0 comments links to this post

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