Thursday, November 15, 2012

The End of This Chapter

This isn’t easy to say which is why it has taken us so long to say it. But so many of you have asked and continue to ask when the next book is coming. Our answer has been somewhat oblique and indefinite “We’re taking a break…” or “We’re not working on anything now…” because it was less complicated than explaining what’s actually happening with us.

So here goes…

No, neither of us is ill.

Yes, we are still bestest friends.

However, our writing career is officially on “HOLD”.

We are stepping back, down, out—for now. We’ve been in the publishing business for more than twenty years and we’ve had a great ride, but the business has changed…in ways not necessarily to our liking. And we have changed. For more than half of those twenty years, we were lucky enough to write full time and support ourselves (TWO OF US) from our novels!! This is something we know not many authors get to say—and we are hugely grateful to all of you who have supported our work –and those who will continue to buy and read our books, because they aren’t going anywhere. But we now find that is no longer the case, nor is it likely to be that way again. Back when we started this journey we were 20 years younger and working full time and writing full time seemed doable—because it was. It isn’t any more. Period. As any of you who’ve ever written or attempted to write a novel know, it is so much more than a notion. It is an all consuming undertaking.

We are not the kinds of writers who can pump out a book every six months—we think and plot and outline and think and plan and think and write. Every single solitary word we put down is important. We have spent tens of thousands of hours working on our novels—probably somewhere around 5000 hours a book. We have missed holidays and family vacations because of deadlines. Despite all that, it used to be fantastic. It used to be fun. We were doing what we loved. We got to travel far and wide. We got to hang out together all the time. And we got paid!! How cool was that?! But these days the publishing industry requires authors to do WAY more work, for WAY less money. Write a book (or more) a year. Tweet, Facebook, Blog, Tour, Skype, Pinterest, YouTube without ceasing. The internet and the ease of self publishing have been both a curse and a blessing. For us the business of writing has become a grind. To be successful these days being a good writer is not enough. You must become a brand, a salesman, marketer, publicist, travel agent and a friend to all! Great books are written. Bestsellers are manufactured. It’s exhausting and at the moment, we don’t want to do it any more.

The authors at the top—you know the names, are doing just swell. Their books sell on their names alone, they get gobbled up by Hollywood and the beat goes on. Those at the bottom are eager and willing to do whatever is asked of them, including work very hard for very little. We fall somewhere in the middle and like the rest of the “middle” the squeeze is tight—especially for black authors. When we started, there was no African American category. We wrote contemporary women’s fiction.  Then they created a “Black Box” for “us” (one publisher actually did this—with a real black box) and in many ways decided what would go in that box. And as they put more and more of what they wanted in the box, the space for the kind of books we write became smaller and smaller.  We’ve been asked to do things we’re not interested in or willing to do. “Can you put in more sex?” “NO!” “How about making this more ‘urban’—a little more ‘street’?” “NO!” “You could write erotica under a pseudonym…” “NO!” “You guys are so good, you could write anonymously as a white author…” “NO!”

We have written seven novels. They aren’t going away and neither are we. You’ll always know how and where to find us. We have no idea what the future has in store for us. Donna has some writing ideas she’s exploring and she’s started a not for profit called Footsteps to Follow that helps NYC school kids learn about career opportunities they might not otherwise know about. Virginia is still trying to finish Cute Still Counts, her book of advice for women about getting older and she’s started a social media business and the New Brunswick Jazz Project –an organization that presents live jazz events in her area of New Jersey. One day there may be another novel or another seven…who knows? We’ve adapted What Doesn’t Kill You into a one woman stage play—one day it may get produced….who knows? One day one of these film options could finally come to fruition and one of our books will be coming to a movie or TV screen near you…who knows?

So we said all this to say—there are no more DeBerry and Grant novels in the pipeline. Whew…that was hard, but also a relief.

We’re writers without a deadline, and for once we’re working without a plot so we won’t know the twists and turns until we get there, but, we’re living life and exploring new possibilities. And whatever we’ve got going on, separately or together, you’ll be the first to know. We are grateful for the support, enthusiasm and encouragement we have received from readers along the way. That has been an extraordinary gift--one that keeps on giving, and we THANK YOU!!
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:21 AM 12 comments

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Life & Death & Birthdays

Yesterday was my birthday and a couple of days before, I sent this to a long list of friends-but because I got such a huge and wonderful response--and saw many unexpected faces at my impromptu birthday parties (yes I had two), I've decided to share it here as well... This has been a tough year emotionally for me---way way too much death. So this was/is what was on my mind as my birthday approached. 

This is long and I apologize already...and you already know my birthday is around the corner. But I wanted to send this to my friends because...I lost (...not like in "can't find" like "dead") a lot of people this past year—and I am marking a twelve month cycle beginning and ending with my birthday, because I see a birthday as a New Year’s of sorts. Since my birthday falls just a bit past midyear, for me it’s like having a New Year holiday twice--two major occasions each year for reflecting on beginnings and endings.
As I sat down to write this,  and looked at photos of those no longer here, I felt like the “In Memoriam” retrospective they do at the big awards shows--albeit without the poignant orchestration. On these occasions, I am always surprised by the number of names and faces of the dead stars I “knew”/recognize and how many of them died since the last big awards show. You know, they die one at a time, but when they’re all assembled in one group you see how many there were in a year. Needless to say, as I get older, that group grows more familiar. Many of them I remember when they were young and I think of my parents (a couple of decades or so ago) saying the same thing about the stars they “knew.”
But this year, it was the numbers of loss in my own life that startled me. I remember posting a lot of  “Funeral today” as my Facebook or Twitter status. I knew it was a lot, but I didn’t want to count, but count I did. Eleven. In the span, from July 2011, to July 2012, eleven people I knew are gone. That’s almost one a month. I like that it’s an odd number. I like that I didn’t get to a full dozen.
Of this group of friends and family who died this year, only three were sufficient in years that in another time it might be said that they died of “old age”…their passing, while sudden (no long drawn out illnesses), was not unexpected—they were in their 80’s and 90’s. They had lived full lives. The others were, as far as I’m concerned,  far too young. As I approach my mid 60’s, dying in your early 40’s to late 60’s feels like “too young,” to leave the planet. But we know that age, like goodness, is often irrelevant when it comes to death. We all pass on to whatever is next. So being left with nothing to rail against or complain about the un/fairness of, I looked for a way to deal with my sense of  loss…and I found it.
The only way for me to get past the loss, the sadness, the anger, the disappointment, the feeling of being cheated of more time with loved ones—was to LIVE. TOP SPEED. FLAT OUT. FULL TILT.  Do not wait. Life is on the move. You must be on the move too. Your time is NOW. Suck up each and every second of each and every day. Take nothing for granted. Not the sunshine or the rain. Not the great review or the scathing critique. Not your family. Not your friends. Not your “used to be” friends. Not your breath. Not your health. Do not take one single solitary thing for granted, because in less than the blink of an eye, it could/can/WILL be over.

Breathe deep. Look at the stars and the snowflakes. Smell the roses or the dahlias or the daisies. Celebrate moments big and small. Laugh with your whole body. Love with all your heart. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.  Be happy in silence. Let songs and stories fill your empty places. Commune with yourself. Commune with God or who/whatever your spirit guide may be. Commune with your friends and family. Give everything you have every day—you’ll have more to give tomorrow if you’re lucky enough to have a tomorrow.   Enjoy everything you can and complain less. It could always be worse. If you wake up. It’s a good day. Period.
Which brings me to the point of this--while this is not a major birthday—no round numbers with big fat zeros at the end or fives to mark halfway to some year that we think is important—I’ve decided that they are all major. And I am grateful for every year I have. Every year I CAN celebrate.
So if you’re around…join me if you can—Thursday July 5 for jazz and fun at Makeda or on my actual birthday, Friday July 6, for the same at Sophie’s …or both…no presents or speeches, just great music, excellent food and a good time. If you can’t be there, then PLEASE instead of a gift for me or guilt for not doing/being what others need or require, take a moment to do something joyful for YOURSELF –as long as you celebrate…life is too short not to!
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:06 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


Every Father’s Day I work really hard to not feel crappy. Usually I’m good at it. I focus on the wonderful men I have met who are great Dads. The kind of men whose  kids adore and respect them, and who go way above the rim when it comes to the important things, like love, understanding, discipline, fun. None are Dad to me, but I tell myself that witnessing outstanding Daddy-ness is enough. Except this year it wasn’t.  I have spent more than half a century as a fatherless daughter—that missing limb is not supposed to pain me anymore, but a week after the big F Day, I am still on the verge of tears, and I don’t cry. I think I decided crying made people feel bad so I wouldn’t do it. Or maybe I decided my tears made me seem like a chump and that wasn’t acceptable. In any case, I had mastered that skill by the age of four, which is three years and ten months after my father last saw me. I don’t remember the occasion.

At this point, I’m not mad at him.  When I was 25 I found out he had been dead for two years.  Mad is irrelevant, but something is eating me. And I have spent much of my life eating whatever was handy to soothe myself into numbness and/or control. But I am forty pounds down after giving that up—again— which leaves me without a go-to coping strategy.

I suppose my heightened agitation resulted from the recent public release of the 1940 U.S. Census records. I have been anticipating them for… let’s see, the last thirty years or so, ever since I first actively pursued information about my absentee parent.  Mostly, I have waited patiently, except as the release date neared I got edgy. I went on jags and yet again searched every scrap of information I had, hoping the next click would turn up some tidbit that was new to me, like his mother’s actual birth name. I have three different surnames for this theoretically biological grandparent, and I have lost count of the number of spelling variations. Ditto for his father, who also seems to have exited, stage left.  When nothing turns up I want to hurl my laptop into the wall, so I step away from the desk.  I have already gone through his military records. The 1940 Census seems my last hope for new info—then what, DNA testing? Searching for primogenitors from whatever continent won’t help my curiosity for more immediate information, like an address I can stand in front of.

As of today, nothing has turned up and I have made myself stop looking for a while.  I’m not sure how I will feel when I come across his name on the Census grid—or when I don’t, and have to face the fact that I may never know any more than I do now. There is not a cookie or a cocktail that will take the hurt away. What I will have left, are my Mom, the memories of Granddaddy and Nana, my husband, who while he is not blood, is most certainly my family and the friends I have enjoyed  through the years, who are, as Virginia and I have written in many books,  the family you get to choose. So I keep striving to be fully me, to have faith that I have been graced with all that I need, and to accept that faith involves believing what we cannot ever fully know. 
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 3:40 PM 0 comments

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I (Donna) saw Whitney Houston when her first album was just out. I don't think I had even bought it yet. She was opening for Jeffrey Osborne. That's who my friend and I had really gone to see. The concert was at Westbury Music Fair, a small theater in the round in Long Island, NY. I can still feel the way her voice washed over me and took my breath away from the first notes, the tingle of her elegant, powerful music. Although they were a big part of her show, you didn't go to watch her dance, or gawk at the costume changes. You came for that sound. Her sound.

Yesterday, she took my breath away again. I had reached to turn off the radio in my car, when I heard the bulletin that Whitney had died. I had to sit there and collect myself. Whitney's life seems to have had some devastating lows. I hope they were not because of the soaring highs that her singing brought to her millions of fans. Why does great talent so often seem coupled with great pain? Is it the gift that is hard to bear, or the grind of having so many people to please...or disappoint? I have no answer. I can only hope that somehow, somewhere, she found some peace.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 4:22 PM 0 comments

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Golden Rule of Partying With Friends—Take Care of Each Other!

At least once a year there is the case of some young woman who was out partying with her friends. She gets very drunk and leaves alone, or her friends put her in a cab alone, or she goes off with some man alone. The result—she ends up raped and/or beaten and/or dead. Our first question—WHAT KIND OF FRIENDS LET YOU FEND FOR YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE, FALL DOWN, THROW UP, BLIND DRUNK!!!!

On Thursday there was a verdict in a trial that resulted from one of those cases. NY Police Officers Kenneth Morano and Franklin Mata were accused of raping a very drunk woman after they were called to help her out of a cab and into her apartment. They were found not guilty of all but official misconduct charges. We have no way to question their guilt or innocence—the jury has spoken. (Despite the acquittal, the officers were fired from the NYPD.) But if one of her friends had gone home with her in the cab, the whole situation would have been avoided.

The golden rule of partying with friends—Take Care of Each Other! Most of us (that includes BOTH of us) have had nights where we were a little to indulgent with the margaritas, martinis, cosmos, beer, wine, Jell-o shots—fill in your beverage of choice. Presumably we are all adults, which should mean we can take care of ourselves, but when alcohol is introduced, all bets are off. And mostly you can tell whether your friends are over the line, whether she is attempting to pole dance with a stop sign, is talking out of her mind, is slumped and glassy eyed at the bar or pukes on the dinner table (which happened to someone we know well. She is eternally grateful that her friends covered it up with the tablecloth, left a very big tip, and took her home).

Sometimes friends thank you for your troubles. Sometimes drunken friends are belligerent and insist they can handle it. Do whatever is in your power to keep them safe. Take car keys, hail a cab and get in it with them. You might decide you are never going out with them again, but take care of them this one last time. Your friendship may be over but this one last time you may keep them safe, or even save their lives.

Please share this with your friends, daughters, sisters, nieces—all the women you care about.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:59 AM 0 comments

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Once and Future Oprah

Viewing early episodes of the Oprah Show is startling--they bear a striking resemblance to the shows of Jerry Springer or Maury Povitch, those epics of pathology and confrontation that brought us Baby Mama Drama, Who's the Daddy and every sensation short of (and possibly including) two headed babies (Oprah actually did air a show about separating conjoined twins). The more outlandish and dysfunctional, the better. Oprah could have continued along that same path and probably had a reasonably successful career, but it is obvious that somewhere along the line, she made an effort to do more. Wallowing in the muck and allowing us to gawk at the spectacle was not the point. Finding a way to let people understand their behavior and realize they had the power to change it for the better became her calling.

There are those who don't sing Oprah's praises. As novelists, we have certainly been part of the outcry about her absence in the conversation about the state of African American books and literature. Unleashing Dr. Phil upon us is at best a mixed blessing. Oprah could be over the top, giving cars and houses to audience members, wearing diamond earrings the size of pecans on daytime TV, loading 65 pounds of fat on a little red wagon to represent her weight (temporary) loss. But it is undeniable that Oprah, "A colored girl from Kosciusko, Mississippi," as she calls herself, with a made up name, and as we say of a character in one of our books, "A face she would grow into," showed us a new brand of television. People made changes for themselves--lost weight, built schools and dug wells, called out their abusers. They made changes for family members, for their community and for the world, because Oprah showed them that letting their light shine could allow others to see. People who had not read since they left school read books because Oprah said to. Advertisers from Dove and Target to United Airlines and Proctor & Gamble scrambled to support her causes, and reap the benefits of being associated with her and her audience. "Living Your Best Life," sounds as simplistic as a bumper sticker, but it does allow you to aim high.

Over the course of 25 years Oprah has shown generosity, good business sense and some questionable hair and wardrobe decisions. She let us see her insecurities, her foibles, and the way she has grown through the years. Now she has taken her, "Oprah Money" and founded OWN, following in the footsteps of women like Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore who sought to be more than just "talent." It is a bold step, and whether or not the network soars she has earned a place in the history of a medium and in the lives of millions of people. It is quite an accomplishment.

Now the Oprah set as we have come to know it will be dark, but surely she has taken her light with her. So long for now...

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:31 PM 0 comments

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Nothingness That Is a Size Zero

posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:46 AM 0 comments
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