Tuesday, July 02, 2013

One Blood Wins Again!

Whoo hoo!!!!

Was that too loud? Well, I'm not sorry. I LOVE winning. I dreamed of these moments every day as I poured my soul into my manuscript. And I'm celebrating!

This award is quite special to me - 1) because it is the last award contest I entered , 2) because it was judged by a select group of librarians and booksellers from around the country, and 3) because it was announced  at the American Librarians Association annual conference in conjunction with the Foreword Reviews 2012 Book of the Year contest. This contest received 1,300 entries from more than 600 publishers and out of 5 finalists in the Horror category, ONE blood took home the gold medal!

That makes One Blood a 10 time award winner. I would have been satisfied with one award. Ten is an embarrassment of riches and I am humbled and grateful to all the readers and reviewers who have decided to bestow such accolades on my debut novel.

So I scream again...WHOO HOO!!!!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Streets

There's a scene in Taken 2, where Liam Neeson's character is blindfolded in the back of a van as it winds and twists through the streets of Istanbul's old city. He uses his training to pinpoint his location by counting off the distance, marking distinctive sounds, and remembering the number and direction of the turns. Then he is able to relay this information to his daughter and she locates him.

Hollywood at it's finest, I know. But Hollywood has been fascinated with Istanbul of late - from Taken 2 to James Bond Skyfall, this has become THE place to film exciting car sequences, due to its unique topography and East meets West sensibilities. For me, it's simply the land where I started experiencing  car sickness.

I never had this issue before moving here. But these streets are a beast of a different variety. After years living, riding, and driving in New York, I guess my body has developed some sort of delicate equilibrium that has been disrupted by the curving, winding, cobbled streets of Istanbul.

The first time I felt it, I was in a van, not dissimilar to the one Liam is placed in during the kidnapping scene, driving into Cihangir with my friend who'd just moved there. Cihangir (pronounced Gee-hang-ear), located in the Beyoğlu district, is the home of happy hipsters, intellectuals, Turkish celebrities and artists – well-off artists that is, who can afford the not inconsiderable rents. The streets look like they were designed by Salvador Dali, in that there are impossible dimensions at work here. Parked cars desperately hug the curbs leaving only a whisper of space for moving vehicles to pass through. There are precipitous curves, tight loops, climbs, and drops.

As we made our way to his home, I began to feel a little light headed and closed my eyes tight to rid myself of the sensation. The van hit a hard right and felt like it might go over on its side, the curve was so tight. All of this was great for my burgeoning sickness. Finally, we arrived and I felt like kissing the ground when I descended from the van.

I decided to learn more about the city planners who designed a city fit for horse drawn carriages, but not motor vehicles. I gathered this from a report entitled The morphological history of Istanbul, published in 1999. From the period of Constantine the Great onwards, the main skeleton of the street network inside its fortifications has not changed greatly. At the beginning of the twentieth century, gridiron street patterns and an organized traffic system began to replace the organic configuration and the cul-de-sac of Islamic tradition. The streets of Ottoman Istanbul showed an organic pattern; their orientations and widths frequently changed and cul-de-sacs were common. This organic pattern reflected a hidden, yet ever-present political concern for internal security. During the nineteenth century, streets were widened, the street facades of buildings were increased in height, and culs-de-sac were transformed into thoroughfares. The traditional street pattern was replaced by a more rigid, geometrical grid pattern, without a clear fit between functions and the arrangement of buildings and spaces. Roads were widened again during the 1950's, however, many irregular streets still exist.

Although Hollywood might be crazy for these "irregular streets", your friendly neighborhood author would like to kindly request another street widening project SOON! My poor stomach thanks you in advance...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Language

There are few things more frustrating than walking into a foreign supermarket trying in vain to find soy milk. I'm staring at labels, looking at different cow and sheep graphics, and bottles and cartons desperately trying to find one of the foundations of my diet. Welcome to one of my daily struggles trying to learn Turkish.

Walking through the Migros supermarket I flashed back to a similar transition I made from Florida to Sao Paulo, Brazil when I was 23. It was my first time moving out of the country and I had no idea what to expect at the time. What I soon learned is that a city or country is only as big as your ability to interact with the people. And that's where the language comes in.

A foreign language is your key to the city. It's a key to the hearts and minds of the people you will be meeting. It's an access code that unlocks a world of possibilities. With the language in tow, everything is an option.

I vividly remember those early days in Sao Paulo before I learned Portuguese. Eating at McDonald's twice a day everyday for a month because the only thing I could correctly pronounce was "numero um" which got me a Big Mac combo. I couldn't even order an apple pie because I didn't know the word for pie. Or getting so lost one day when I rode the bus to the end of the line, that I was almost stranded. And there was the embarrassing first impression I made on my new boss when he thought his new intern would know Portuguese, and I didn't.  

Having learned this during my Brazilian experience, I swore that I would do my best to pick up Turkish as fast as possible, in order to enable these types of options as soon as possible. I purchased Turkish levels I-III from Rosetta Stone and decided I would allocate an hour a day to learning the language. 

With Rosetta Stone, you insert the CD-Rom and you are speaking the language in minutes. Via images, repeating words, spelling guides, you begin to believe you might just learn this strange new terrain. Still, it doesn't start in order. I learned the word for apple (elma) before I learned how to say good morning (günaydın). I learned how to say thank you (teşekkür ederim) before I learned how to count to ten (bir, iki, üç, dört, beş, altı, yedi, sekiz, dokuz, on). I learned how to pronounce the very different sounds before I learned the alphabet. I learned the names of animals and primary colors and articles of clothing, but could not string a coherent sentence together. Very frustrating!

 During the month of January, I actually did a pretty good job studying, but as work at my new job picked up, my studies soon went out the window. Before long I had completely lapsed and even though I had access to many Turkish speakers, I wasn't taking advantage of the opportunity.
I realized I needed to learn more about the basis of the language to better relate to why it was so different and what I would get out of investing the time to learn.

From Linguata: The Turkish language shows the influence of the many different cultures it has come into contact with over the course of its long history. After the adoption of Islam, Persian and Arabic became the major influences and the official language of the Ottoman Empire, referred to as Ottoman Turkish, reflected this. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic the language reform initiated by Kemel Atatürk not only Romanized the Turkish alphabet but also 'purified' the language by removing many Persian and Arabic loanwords from official discourse. New words were derived from Turkish roots to replace them and Old Turkish words which had fallen into disuse were brought back into circulation.

Turkish actually belongs to the same linguistic family as Finnish and Hungarian which explains why it sounds so foreign to me. I had to admit to myself that Turkish was going to be a lot more difficult than Portuguese. For one, I'm thirteen years older than that kid who went to Brazil with different responsibilities, and aptitude. Secondly, the language is just strange! Although phonetically based (a taxi is a taksi), the rules of the language are very different than anything else I've encountered. From trying to find the right way to explain to a taksi driver where I was going (google maps helped tremendously), to figuring out what the hell I was buying in the grocery store, everyday was a lesson in patience. I became timid when dining out, sticking to the easier to pronounce items or having Turkish friends order for me. Already a homebody, not speaking the language exacerbated this trait and I found myself spending weekends in the apartment rather than venturing out and exploring. 

 But this city, culture, and people will remain a mystery to me that will only be revealed with daily practice and use. I did eventually find my soy milk (soya sut), but I have to do better. I'll update you in six months to tell you how it's going!


The Hamam

This is a story about how I paid to get bathed by a large, hairy, shirtless Turkish man and the psychological ramifications I am still dealing with to this day.

Back in 2000-2001 when I lived in Brazil, it took me awhile to get networked in the city, find friends, and begin building a social life. Thirteen years later, now in Istanbul, I quickly remedied this situation by using a social network for traveling ex pats such as myself called Internations.org. There are several events a month that allow you to meet and network with like-minded people and there are also different groups you can join to ensure commonalities with the people you meet.

As a big fan of brunch, I joined the Internations Istanbul Brunch Meet and Greet group and attended the first brunch of 2013 at the Midpoint restaurant in Taksim, a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels; considered the heart of modern Istanbul. You can read this on Wikipedia, but Taksim Square was originally the point where the main water lines from the north of Istanbul were collected and branched off to other parts of the city (hence the name.) This use for the area was established by Sultan Mahmud I. The square takes its name from the Ottoman era stone reservoir which is located in this area. Additionally, the word "Taksim" can refer to a special improvisational musical form in Turkish classical music that is guided by the Makam system.

To me, Taksim is defined by the long avenue, Istiklal (Turkish for Independence), that runs its length. There is a trolly line that tourists can use to ride up and down the street, and there are endless shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs along the way. Istiklal street is much like a river with numerous tributaries jutting off here and there where one can discover even more delights of the Turkish nightlife. It's a bit like a labyrinth, and definitely a place I looked forward to exploring in more depth.

It was a cold January afternoon when the taxi dropped me off at the entrance to Istiklal Avenue right by historic Taksim Square. Having just moved to Istanbul, I didn't necessarily have the right jacket for the weather, but I made the best of it as I waded into the crowd, iPhone in hand open to Google Maps directing me to the restaurant. Despite the weather, the street was fairly packed, mostly with young Turkish folks who gazed at me curiously as I made my way toward the restaurant (upon learning I was moving to Istanbul, a friend remarked that I was increasing the black population by 25% lol).

I entered Midpoint restaurant to see two tables of Internations folks eagerly digging in. I joined the second, less crowded table and soon found myself the only man surrounded by 6 women.5 of the 6 were Turkish and 1 older woman was English. Their English was good and we had a nice afternoon getting to know each other, eating delicious Turkish brunch, and exchanging business cards and contact information.

I wasn't ready to go home after brunch and one of the younger ladies had mentioned she was going to a famous Hamam, or Turkish bath. I'd heard that if you were in Turkey, you just HAD to go to a Hamam, so I asked if she minded if I tagged along, and she said it was fine. We trecked back out into the cold and made our way from Taksim to Sultanhamet, or the old city, where the famed Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia rest. We took an above ground train to get there, and along the way, the young woman explained to me how Hamam's worked. Basically, you could get bathed or massaged or both. The Hamam was completely segregated by sex with the women's area on one side and the men's area on the other.

After a short trip, we arrived at the door of the Sultanahmet Hamami, built in the 17th century. For some reason, I felt an Asian influence to the room we walked into and checked in with the woman at the counter. My new friend ordered a bath and massage, so I did the same (for around TL 150 or roughly US$75), and we went our separate ways. I was guided upstairs to a private changing room where I completely disrobed, wrapped a towel around my waist, put on some flip flops and descended back downstairs. There was a group of Turkish guys standing around wearing t-shirts and towels and I wondered if I wasn't following the proper protocol but having taken off my shirt. I began to wonder what the hell had I gotten myself into.

A moment later, I was introduced to a large hot marble room with a domed ceiling with skylights poked into it. I was expecting something more akin to a steam room, but there was no steam in sight. Just unadulterated heat, a large marble centerpiece where several guys were laying and soaking up the temperature, and a series of marble sinks built right into the walls of the pentagonal room. So this was a Turkish bath, I thought.  

All around the world they're known as Turkish baths, but that's really a misnomer. The Cultured Traveler says that, "Either they are copied from early Greek and Roman examples, or else they are renovated Byzantine hamams. But we should give the Ottomans credit for transforming them from places simply for washing into an indispensable part of daily social life. Hamams functioned as places of entertainment in a closed society where Islamic rules governed social life. We could even say that they eventually evolved into the equivalent of the bars and cafes of modern times. Hamams are an intriguing subject, as their history reflects the history of the synthesis between the East and West. Through the history of the hamam, an institution that formed an important part of the daily lives of millions, not only can you trace the developments and changes in the arts, architecture, traditions and inclinations over the centuries, it is also possible to track the rise and fall of nations and empires."

I didn't know all this at the time, but I was enjoying the ornate architecture of the room, even as I sweated profusely. Seated on extremely warm marble, I looked around to get a sense of how this was going to work. Soon, one of the Turkish guys I'd seen outside, entered sans t-shirt, and commenced to give the man next to me his bath. I had learned from my friend that the point of the heat was to make it easier to exfoliate the skin, which the washer proceeded to do via a large black mit that covered much of his forearm. First, he scrubbed the man from head to toe and then he washed him until he wore a layer of soap suds. He told the man to sit up and he carried a small bucket over to one of the marble sinks and filled it with water which he used to douse the man and clear away the suds.

I was filled with growing trepidation because the last time a man gave me a bath, I was a baby and that man was my father. But I was already there and therefore would have to endure. Just then, my washer, twice the size of the other one, and quite hairy, sauntered toward me. He epitomized what I thought a stereotypical Turkish man looks like, huge pot-belly, bearded, and complete with a handlebar mustache. He spoke very broken rudimentary English, consisting of the phrases, "What is your name?" "Where you from?" and "I wash you good, you give good tip."

I was told to lay on my stomach and the man rearranged my towel so that even the sides of my buttocks were exposed. I was quite uncomfortable as he began the vigorous scrubbing. He would stop every now and a gain to show me the ropes of my skin coming off like skinny leaches. The scrubbing didn't hurt, just produced a warm buzzing sensation in my skin. I felt like a pot after Thanksgiving. He then washed me and doused me with the water. That was the best part. The water was warm and nicely fragrant.

While all this was happening, more and more men filled in the space, chatting happily as they absorbed the heat. It reminded me of an American barbershop, a private place where men could speak openly about any subject. In a culture as restrictive as the Islamic culture is known to be, I could understand the appeal. But it wasn't for me.

Having survived the bathing experience, I was given a dry towel and then directed to the massage room where three other men were getting massaged. My masseuse proceeded to tenderize me like a tenderloin for the better part of 45 minutes until my muscled ached. After the massage, I went back to my dressing room, got dressed and came back downstairs to deliver  my tip to the Turkish bather. He actually looked disappointed when I handed him the 15% tip!

There was a stand selling fresh juice and although I was parched, I couldn't wait to get out of there. I felt more tense leaving than I had before arriving, which I attribute to a lack of experience in this type of situation. My friend finished at the same time and we left the Hamam - her, skin glowing, and clearly relaxed; me, needing to put as much distance between myself and the establishment as possible. I vowed that this would be my first and last Hamam experience. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The End of An Era

Well maybe not an era, but definitely a solid block of time...

I've been living near NYC since October 2008. I moved there after a two-year stint in Sao Paulo Brazil and I can recall the joy that came with returning home to the US. I was ready to settle down and stop moving for a while. Slow everything down and enjoy life a little bit more.

Over the next four years, I changed careers, launched a publishing company and consulting company, published my first novel, and fell in and out of love a few times. I enjoyed the company of relatives who stayed with me for extended periods of time while going through their own trials and tribulations. I experimented and failed. Lost and won. I learned.

Now, a few weeks after the birth of 2013, I write this from unfamiliar ground. Toward the back half of 2012, I received a unique opportunity to relocate to Istanbul, Turkey for a few years. To uproot myself from my relatively cozy surroundings, pull out my ever-growing roots and take my show back on the road.

It's an exciting, frustrating, maddening time. I don't speak the language, don't know the customs, and have to adjust all my habits. Still, a wise person told me many years ago that if you are not uncomfortable, you are not growing. So here I am. A seed. Waiting for water. Ready to sprout leaves once again and maybe even a few roots!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rejection # 16...You're a Good Writer

Allow me to re-introduce myself.

My life has completely transformed since I last blogged. In August of last year I was living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have since moved back to the US after receiving the biggest promotion of my young career. Any time you move, it puts your life into upheaval, and I had to put One Blood down for a while to reaclimate myself to the US after 2 years living overseas. It's amazing how far this book has traveled with me.

I began writing One Blood in January 2000. At the time I was living in Tallahassee, Fl. Since then I have moved overseas twice and all over the eastern seaboard from Philly to NJ. My professional career has blossomed. I've married and divorced.

Now it's nine and a half years later. I'm a far cry from the 23 year old idealist who decided to write a book out of thin air. I'm more educated about the writing process, the editing process, and the publication process. I've poured countless hours into this project, honing my voice, ramping up the suspense, rounding out my characters. I can honestly say this book is as good as I can make it.

Now my fate lies in the hands of the agents, editors, publishers, sales and marketing folks, and booksellers. The best decision I made was not to self-publish. Self-publishing is an attractive option to many people, but I know I wouldn't have put nearly as much into the story as I have if I could just pay someone to put my words in print.

So here we go again. I recently attended the Book Expo America conference in New York at then end of May. I pitched 6 agents and for the first time felt genuine excitment about my book. I attach for your reading pleasure, rejection # 16. I'm getting closer!!!

Dear Mr. Amaru:

Thank you for following up on our conversation at the Writer's Digest Books Writers Conference. I recall that you categorized your manuscript as a supernatural thriller, and I wonder whether it could also be termed urban fiction. Without a brief bio, I can't assume this is your first effort to find a publisher for your work. However, if that does happen to be the case, you might be well served by a reputable small publisher whom you can approach directly with a query or submission. Most independent publishers accept direct (unagented) queries, and while some might not have the cachet of a major adult trade publisher, they're a good place to launch a writing career. With a book contract from a publisher, you can join the Authors Guild and obtain free legal advice, and of course you'd have no trouble getting an agent to negotiate your contract at that point.

Although your work is not quite what I'm seeking, I'd be happy to send you a list of a few small publishers that you might research further for exact submission guidelines and then contact directly. I can do that if you let me know which handful of categories might fit your novel, such as paranormal, thriller (you've mentioned), urban fiction, etc. I won't be able to give you an exhaustive list of publishers to consider, but perhaps it would be a start. I should point out that if you're determined to sell this book through an agent, you should not contact publishers on your own.

If I don't hear back from you, I'll assume you have an offer from another agent. I sincerely hope that will be the case. You're a good writer.

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."

~Herm Albright

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rejections 13, 14, and 15

The last two months since the Book Expo have really gone by in a blur. The writing publishing process continues to amaze and educate me. I have commented in previous blogs that seeking out and being rejected by agents forces a writer to truly evaluate the readiness of their project. I have believed my book to be "finished" at least five times over the past two years only to learn that this could not be farther from the truth.

A few people have read my book during it's various phases of completion. The last two were Anita Diggs, a manuscript editor, and my good friend - fellow scribe Stephanie Casher. Anita reviewed the book in May and Stephanie reviewed it in June. I have already commented on Anita's review in a prior blog. In this blog I wanted to comment on Stephanie's review and how much each review in their own ways have opened my eyes to the issues in my story and the possibilities that have opened.

Stephanie, in addition to reading the book, also took it upon herself to edit as well (she's the best!). She really went above and beyond the call of duty and I am forever in her debt. What Stephanie's and Anita's reviews have in common is regarding the antagonist of my story. Both of them mention the fact that his actions throughout the story were difficult to believe.

As the writer, I really had a hard time hearing this critique because I felt my villain was perfectly crafted, 3 dimensional, and despicable. Then I realized that they agreed with me. The problem was motivational. The reader didn't buy his motivations.

During the writer's conference, I had the opportunity to attend three workshops that have helped me understand this issue much better - Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can't Put Down, and Revising a Novel They Can't Put Down.

In Fire in Fiction, superagent Donald Maas discussed overcoming reader barriers in science-based or supernatural thrillers. He mentioned the need for the writer to overcome reader resistance in a slow, sure, patient manner. He also described strategies to make settings "live" through the characters who inhabit them. Then he discussed "voice". Writer's hear this all the time, how an author has a unique voice. Voice is nothing more than how you speak through your characters. Do you use short punchy sentences, long compound sentences, or a combination of the two. Does this voice work with the type of story you are telling?

Donald Maas was one of my early rejections and he rejected the novel at that time because he didn't get into my characters and he thought my sentences were too long. My voice didn't match the tone of a page-turning thriller.

In PNTCPD, writer James Scott Bell described the LOCK system for plotting a novel.

O - Objective
C - Confrontation
K - Knock-Out

He had a lot of useful advice such as, "A plot is two dogs and one bone." I love that! He described the three types of lead characters: The positive lead (hero), the negative lead (attractive through power), and the anti-hero (has his own moral code). His number 1 rule for lead characters is NO WIMPS!

In terms of OBJECTIVE, the lead must want something badly, something that is essential to his/her well being. There are 2 kinds of objectives - to get something or to get away from something.

Confrontation drives the plot and here is where we get into what I needed to learn. The opposition character has to be stronger than the lead and three dimensional, meaning, justified in their actions and sympathetic (at least to themselves). He also speaks of confrontation as the adhesive of the story which explains why these two opponents must fight until the end.

The knock-out is the big finish and there are 5 types: The lead wins, the lead loses, the lead wins but loses, the lead loses but wins, or an ambiguous ending.

My takeaway from James linked to Anita and Stephanie's critiques. I needed to amp up my confrontation!

In RNTCPD, James described the types of problems writers encounter as they revise their stories. You've got the slow opening, flat lead, or weak opposition. Here I encountered that my novel suffered from slow opening.

With each rejection, my novel gets stronger and better. I will leave you with my very first query letter for my novel written back in 2006 and my current query letter. You tell me which book you want to read!

Query 2006:

“You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” Malcolm X once said this about America and this insight forms the backbone of my novel One Blood. This novel was written in the tradition of such seminal polarizing works as Native Son, Invisible Man, and Beloved. Although we have progressed as a society since Malcolm X spoke and Wright, Ellison, and Morrison wrote their master works; racism, lies, greed, and murder still persist in this country. America is a broken home, disrupted by division and paralyzed by ignorance. America needs to wake up and move from denial to acceptance to solutions. Publishing my novel One Blood is a definite part of that solution. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. One Blood (163,000 words) tastes like a well paced supernatural suspense novel that will appeal to fans of contemporary bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Tananarive Due because it contains the best elements of suspense, mystery, horror, and drama.

With its rich tapestry, complex history, and natural vulnerability (as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the tragically beautiful state of Louisiana forms the perfect backdrop for this suspenseful tale of Revenge, Revelation and Revolution. It has been said that life often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods. One Blood presents the reader with two men who are products of two very different environments. The first man is an impoverished African-American orphan turned gang banger (Lincoln Baker) sent to prison for life without parole at the age of seventeen after a brutal gang war dubbed The Simmons Park Massacre in which his best friend Kristopher, son of a racist Louisiana Senator, is killed in the crossfire. Over the course of the next ten years locked up inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Lincoln discovers a family he never knew existed and learns that one man is responsible for his father’s death, his mother’s exile, and all of his life’s suffering—the ex-Senator and now current Governor of Louisiana (Randy Richard). Randy Richard has yet to overcome two significant tragedies. In addition to his only son’s murder at the hands of gangs, his father, a Grand Wizard of Louisiana’s most violent chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, was brutally murdered by a group of black militants. Ten years after his son’s violent demise, his teenage daughter is kidnapped and the ransom calls for the immediate release of Lincoln Baker. On the morning of Lincoln’s release, an explosive cocktail of racism, vengeance, serendipity, fate, and truth detonates throughout Louisiana. The tremors are devastating for a diverse cast of characters all linked by the Simmons Park Massacre. When the dust settles, the ending is as unexpected as it is illuminating.

Growing up in Lake Charles, LA, I had the opportunity to witness former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power and observe how he almost became Governor. I always wondered what would have happened had he won the office, and Bad Blood is in large part a result of my curiosity. It allowed me to examine and combine American/Louisiana history, politics, prison, and psychology into a blender and produce a novel that is sure to provoke controversy, discussion, and even a bit of fear. I certainly appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.

Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

Query 2008:

The tale of the Curse of the Weeping Cypress has been preserved for over two hundred years – passed down through the generations. It all began in 1802. Luc Lafitte, the founder of Lake City, LA, lynched a slave – Isaac, who impregnated his daughter Melinda. But, Isaac was Luc`s illegitimate son. Before hanging to his death, Isaac cursed his father and all future generations of Lafitte`s who live on their forbearers land. Seven days after Issac’s death, Luc Lafitte kills himself at the base of the same tree where Isaac was hung – The Weeping Cypress.

Four generations later, Randy Lafitte goes to a fortune teller on his eighteenth birthday. The psychic tells him he has seven days to live unless he sacrifices a member of his own family. Seven days later, Randy`s father Joseph, an oil tycoon and covert grand wizard of the KKK, is lynched in New Orleans. Believing the curse to be broken, Randy takes over his father’s empire, starts a family of his own and begins his ascension into Louisiana politics.

But the curse lives on to perturb Randy`s son, Kristopher. Kristopher sacrifices his own life seven days after turning eighteen. He dies in the middle of gang crossfire, killed at the hands of his only black friend – Lincoln Baker.

Ten years after Kristopher’s death, Lincoln, now a lifer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, decides to take his final crack at freedom by orchestrating the kidnapping of Randy Lafitte`s teenage daughter in order to force a pardon. When Randy, (in his second term as Louisiana`s Governor), learns his daughter, Karen, has been kidnapped (and on her eighteenth birthday no less), he understands the only way to save Karen from the curse is to take his own life in seven days. Then Randy discovers that Lincoln is more than his son`s killer – he is actually Randy`s illegitimate son – his blood. If Lincoln dies on the seventh day, both he and Karen will live.

Seven days after Karen’s kidnapping an explosive cocktail of hatred, vengeance, serendipity, fate, truth, and redemption detonates throughout Louisiana. Randy will stop at nothing to end Lincoln’s life before day’s end, not realizing that Lincoln is the only person who can end the curse for good.

"Oh, great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I'd rather just refuse, thanks."

-Chazz Palminteri

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back in the Game - Part 3 of 3

After the Writer`s conference it was time for me to relax. So I went to the Lakers game six playoff game versus the Spurs (they won). I took a trip to Malibu and ate a bucket of seafood on the beach. I partied with my best friend Steve. Good times were had by all.

On Sunday morning I boarded a plane to Charlotte, NC. My parents live in South Carolina and I had planned a surprise visit. Needless to say my folks were thrilled. My Mom made my favorite foods - cabbage and sausage, cornbread, and potato salad. We went to the movies to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (great movie!). The best part of my visit happened on Tuesday night, June 3rd, 2008.

As my parents and I watched, Barack Obama effectively clinched the democratic presidential nomination. It was an emotional moment. My parents had lived through the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the beginnings of affirmative action, and the ascension of Barack Obama. As I watched Obama's acceptance speech, I was filled with pride and a bit of fear as well. Any body who has seen the zeitgeist (http://zeitgestmovie.com) knows why I might be scared for Barack. But we focused on the positive. The amazing. The inprobable. The inevitable. Change.

I shared a poem I had written on the subject of Barack with my folks:


The restless are resting less
Because there is less assurance
Yet increased uncertainty
These are dark days
But sun rays travel light years to illuminate the way
So who are we to lie idling by
Letting time pass us by
What will it take to make us try
Harder tomorrow than we did today
Will it take more calamities
More Darfur's
More slain Iraqui's and Afghani's
Higher death counts of our troops
Higher amounts of toxins in our food
In our air
Why don't we care about any of these things?
Why do we put so much value on diamond rings
While everyday we divorce from nature
Is it our basic nature to destroy
Or can we employ our strengths to create
What are we waiting for
We don't have to be restless anymore
Just like we don't need wings to soar
We just need to sweat
We need to get behind a common cause
If we can applaud our sports teams
Can we also collectively dream
Of a world community
Where only necessary resources are divided
Can we decide it's time to stop laying blame
Shouldn't we be so ashamed of the state of our home
That we hone in on each problem
And then take the necessary actions to solve them
This moment is not about the them's and they's
Nor is it about the concerns that mask our way
It's about making history
And to make history we have to create a new majority
A new society built on the solid bricks of change
A new golden age where people are no longer afraid
A world where games are not played with people's lives
A place where survival does not rival education
A nation of people chasing self actualization
Now is not the time for patience
Now is the time of freedom
Now is the time to get the job done
Now is the time for one nation
Now is the moment we've waited for a lifetime
But we can't allow anymore time to slip away
We must embrace positive change for our children's sake
Let us take on this new challenge
Let us all join hands
We must change the world
And together, yes we can

The next morning I boarded a plane from Charlotte to Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee holds a very special place in my heart. I spent five wonderful years there during college and grad school. There I became a man. There I developed into an accomplished spoken word artist. There I grew up.

I was back in town after a four year hiatus to attend the 16th Annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam being hosted by my very own Black on Black Rhyme family. Black on black rhyme is a poetry collective that has been going strong since 1998.

Black On Black Rhyme consists of over 35 dynamic poets, lyricists, songwriters, DJs and artists. Much like a large family, members maintain an ever open line of communication with one another which is essential to the maintenance of their creative essence and constant exchange of energies. Being in a room full of these poet artists has been described as "electric", as each one is as diverse as the many origins they hail from. From as far away as Nigeria, West Africa, to exotic Trinidad on the Caribbean Islands, to the busy streets of Washinton DC, New York City, Minneapolis, Minnesota and of course, “the Dirty South”, Florida. Each and every one of these poet artists bring their own unique style and flavor, and while some members hold down Federal Government positions, others are full-time college students, one is even a college professor, but all are Family.

The Southern Fried Poetry Slam is the premier showcase for poets from all over looking for their entry pass to the National Poetry slam. More than 200 poets and 40teams embarked to Tallahassee looking for fellowship and a shot at glory.
In both the early rounds and the final competition, individual poets and teams squared off to compete. The audience acted as judge. I was participating in the slam as a volunteer although I did get to spit one poem.

A slam is part spoken-word performance, part storytelling session, part improvisational theater and part motivational speech. Poets competing in the Southern Fried Poetry Slam brought their best. There were other exciting events going on as well: a youth slam, a haiku slam, a beauty vs. brawn competition, an erotica open mic, among many.

I was very proud of my poetry troupe for the organization of the event. Everything went off without a hitch and the poetry was off the chain. In the end the team competition was won by The Minoriteam from Tampa. The indie champ was Big Mike (he was original and hilarious!)

On Saturday afternoon, I boarded yet another plane and headed back to Sao Paulo. I was juiced like I had been pumped full of Growth Hormone. And in a way I had been. My mind had grown in different directions on this trip. I had been surrounded by passionate artists, some of whom live off of spoken word. I had been reinfected by their spirit!

As I closed my eyes for some well-deserved shut-eye, I knew that this trip had changed me for the better! I had traveled from coast to coast and had seen some of the best people that America has to offer. God, I miss home...