Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Audience of Two

So how are all of you dealing with this crazy winter? For those of you living somewhere warm, I am jealous. Here in New York, it has been snowy, slushy, rainy, windy, icy, and just plain yuck!

I got a spot in this outdoor lot when I first moved into my building during the summer.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
OK, this guy was pretty cool. Wish I could take credit for him.
Anyway, it has been COLD! (And that's coming from a girl who spent three years in Erie, PA, during college. I'm talking lake-effect snow, people!) So it wasn't much of a surprise to me that no one showed up to my reading this past Saturday at the Columbia University Bookstore in Manhattan. (Awww...)

But wait, before you go feeling too sorry for me, I hear this is something that happens even to A-list authors, so at least I'm in good company. Besides, I did have some dear fans show up--two to be exact: my mom (naturally) and my friend Camille, who'd come down from Inwood just to support me. The store manager felt bad that there was no audience for me, but I was actually relieved. Even though I've done a few of these now, it's still nerve wracking every time. So I was kind of okay with having my audience of two. :)

However, we wanted my trip there to be worthwhile (we had braved the snow and cold, after all), so Camille brought me every copy of my books they had and I signed each one. While I was doing that, a customer in the store let me know that his daughter, Samaya, wanted to meet me. She lives in California and wants to be a writer when she grows up. (I love that she is in 3rd grade,  the same grade I was in when I decided that I wanted to be a writer.) She asked me how I went from being her age to becoming a published author. I actually get that question a lot. Camille, who is a copy writer by day and a fiction writer by night, and I gave her the following advice:

1. READ! Really, I think there's no better way to learn how to write well then to read everything you can get your hands on and get a feel for how its done. (Samaya is reading the Harry Potter series right now. Excellent choice.)

2. Keep a diary. It's great writing practice. Plus, it helps you remember experiences that you might use later on in your writing. I've kept one since I was 13 years old.

3. Take as many writing classes as you can. It sometimes bothers me that people seem to think writing is easy and anyone can do it. Not true! When I started taking writing classes in high school and college, I realized how much I had to learn: character development, pacing, plot, themes, structure... Natural talent is great, but learning a little technique really makes it shine. I still have a lot to learn and hope to take more classes in the future.

Also, I think it's important to share what you write and get feedback. Don't just hide it away under your mattress. Seeing how somebody reacts to what you've written, and sometimes even hearing criticism, can help you grow as a writer. I may have mentioned this before, but my favorite writing professor in college gave me a C- - - (yes, three minuses) on my first paper, and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Until that moment, I thought my writing was perfect. Being told that it wasn't did sting, but in the long run it helped me improve.

And once you feel you have gotten the hang of it, why not try to put your writing out there in any way you can? These days it's a little easier with the Internet. But back in the day (yikes, I was a teenager before the Internet took off), I just entered every writing contest I could, and I sent poems and short stories to literary magazines. I wrote letters to the editor in hopes of being published in the school newspaper. I participated in open mic poetry nights at local cafes and made friends with other people who like to write. (You can learn a lot from other writers and you can share opportunities and information with one another.) The point is, keep writing and sharing your work!

Anyway, after we talked with Samaya  (who is adorable, by the way), we took this picture together and I gave her one of the key chains I'd made.

Me and Samaya at the Columbia U. Bookstore.
January 15, 2011
Samaya, if you're reading this, don't forget to stay in touch and let me know how the writing is going!

So after the signing, my audience of two and I headed to Havana Central and got some lunch. (Yum, yum, and might I add, yum!) If you ever go there, have the corn on the cob. No, seriously. Best thing ever.

Camille and me at Havana Central. 

My mom is the best. Love you, Mom!

So what's next? I've been asked to participate in the Montclair Library's Black History Month celebration on February 26. Should be fun! And of course, I'm still working on my next book, getting the first couple of chapters under way.

At the risk of making this blog post the longest one in history, I have to add one more thing: I was watching BET recently and they had an event called Black Girls Rock, where they honored trailblazers in the community. (It was an amazing show featuring Keisha Coles, Jill Scott, Nia Long, Missy Elliott, and many others.) Anyway, one of the honorees was Adele Taylor, who founded Adele's Literacy Library when she was only 13 years old. Her goal is to get everyone in the world reading. She spends her time traveling around the country, reading to children, donating books, and advocating for literacy in children and adults. She is amazing! I was so impressed with her that I emailed her to tell her so, and decided to donate ten copies of Your Life, but Sweeter, as well as a pile of Random House books that my editor helped me assemble. Adele is such a class act that she responded personally to my email. We now hope to meet the next time she's in New York. (Not that that will be for a while. You see, Adele is also busy attending conferences to promote peace. Love this girl!) If you want to help Adele in her efforts, check out her website: You can help by donating money, books, or time. Keep up the great work, Adele!

And now, I have to finish packing. My parents and I are off to see my grandparents in Florida today. I'm hoping it will be at least a little bit warmer than it is here in New York! See you when I get back.

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