Truth is Stranger than Fiction

When I started this blog and chose “truth is stranger than fiction,” as the tagline, it was puzzling to people. Someone even reached out to correct, me, saying, “don’t you mean the truth is stronger than fiction?”

No. Stranger is the word I meant.

What it seeks to communicate is that nothing we can create can be as unusual as what we find in actual life, and speaks metaphorically of the unsettling realness of truth—the “strangeness” of reality. You think something is weird until you find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. You think my blog name and the tagline is strange until you understand what it means.

Everything that is happening right now, I could quickly put in a novel. Except, there is no story I can conjure up that would be equivalent to the real-life terror that blacks face and have faced every day in this country.

As someone who writes Black Historical Fiction, there is a strangeness about what’s going on because what happened in the 60s is still happening. And as I place my fictional characters amid events that actually happened, I realize that I am a character in the present world, a world that mirrors the one passed. Our children and their children will read about what happened this year, and they will ask the question, “what was it like living in a world with civil unrest because of the mistreatment of blacks during a pandemic?”

The first five months of 2020 have been brutal on every level, and we are living in what will one day be part of America’s history, and it must not be lost to us that we are part of that history.

If America were a house, racism would be the foundation on which this house sits. People don’t want to hear that many of the founding fathers were slave-owners. They don’t want to hear about the Slave Patrols turned southern police departments. People don’t want to hear that dismantling systemic racism means to dismantle that system. And people certainly do not want to hear about the spiritual connections between the afflictions blacks have endured, their real identity and heritage, and their place in America.

But there is no one way of looking at everything that’s going on, but this is also what makes writing a powerful tool for shedding light on these truths, exposing prejudices, and breaking down barriers, and eventually whole systems.

Everyone can’t be on the ground. I won’t say “on the front lines,” because I don’t believe there is one way to be on the front lines. The term comes from the military line or part of an army that is closest to the enemy. To be on the “front line” means to be closeted to the enemy, which is usually depicted as physically facing him. But there are other ways to face the enemy, and one way is to write with accuracy.

Write the truth. Write it as raw and as bloody as it is in real life. Pass down stories to the next generation that will teach them the truth about who they are. Take Toni Morrison, for example, who in the 60s and 70s chose to publish the books of black writers telling the truth and exposing lies. Books play a significant role in educating a people, and miseducation has a lot to do with what is and is not, written in books.

Writers are, therefore, also on the front lines and in a powerful way. In the words of Nina Simone, “you can’t help it. As far as I’m concerned, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” 

As devastating as things are right now, what black writers write today, be it a poem or blog post or scholarly article, can make a difference in the next world.

In this 99th year of the destruction of Black Wall Street, I am thinking about ways to improve my fiction, poetry, and other writings to provide a better historical context and learning experience for the next generation.

I hope I can adequately contextualize it in a way that clearly communicates what today’s world was like for those who lived it.


Be Sure to Pick Up Your Copy of my Black Historical Fiction Series, The Stella Trilogy and to leave a review on Amazon. Click Here.

There is a Movement in Stillness

I saw a sunflower bow to a bee without moving. It arched its stem, its petals already stretched wide and willing. There it waited for the wind to whistle the way it does when it pushes the flower forward, and here, the flower bowed. Beautiful and with grace, this sunflower let itself go in the wind’s direction, its sweet liquid substance sending the scent of fresh Nectar floating into the air. I couldn’t smell it but it wasn’t for me to smell so I looked down in my notebook and wrote a reminder: “what’s for you is for you.”

I looked up and noticed a bumblebee was already singing its way to our area and the whole time the flower did not move; it waited. The flower was only moved by the wind, the invisible force that guides it, and so this I wrote in my notebook: “do not chase, attract. What is yours will come to you. Put out the right scent and let the invisible force guide you.”

I looked up, and the bee seemed much more anxious and excited, but I knew better than to kill it. This creature was on a mission, so I didn’t swap him away because this wasn’t my business. I was here only as a witness to the meditative buzz of togetherness. I saw a sunflower bow to a bee without moving, so I bowed my head too and wrote: “there is a movement even in stillness.”

Visions of a Historical Writer

I always get excited when I return to Historical Fiction writing. A little history and a spill of black ink, and I am gone. I am floating between centuries and languages and culture clashes. My heart races to the images still all muddled and exciting and pacing footsteps in my head. Historical figures are brushing passed me on the street and staring me down back alleyways. Don’t know if I’ll have time to whisper to A.D. King* that his brother’s not forgotten, but also, neither is he. I am speeding passed him and drifting further. I caught a glimpse of “Satchmo’s” face and a hanging tree in the same wind. Covered my mouth, though, that couldn’t stop the taste of death on my tongue. Almost choked on Billy’s voice. These fluctuations of pitch are giving me chills, that and the horn screaming at me from across the tracks where the Jazz club is housing The New Negro Movement, soon to be known widely as The Harlem Renaissance. I better catch the next train back to 2020. Jean Toomer is headed this way, and I am dangerous with this pen.

*A.D. King (Alfred Daniel Williams King) was the brother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He drowned in the family’s swimming pool 15 months after MLK, but his death is largely forgotten. As his body was being taken to the morgue on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the moon. 

What Are You Sacrificing?

Last week, I planned on introducing a new Black History Fun Fact Friday. I also planned on revealing the cover to the poetry contest magazine to my social media (which I will do tomorrow, time permitting). This was a busy week for me (more than usual). This isn’t to say that “busy” is a measure of importance, but last week was a hectic one for both my personal and professional life. But also, it was a good busy (more like a focused busy). I got a lot done and gained some clarity. And although I still have emails, I haven’t responded to and travel to prepare for I am sitting down in the few hours I have here before running errands to talk to you guys and send an important message to my email list.

I find that how we direct our focus determines what will show up based on how we have prioritized. Those things we put first or last will naturally manifest in our life and align based on what we give more or less attention. If I know I have coursework due on Wednesday, for example, but I scroll social media until the final hour of when the work is due, chances are I won’t do well, and it won’t be because I am ignorant or incompetent. It will be because I did not set my coursework as a priority this week and give myself time to think through the assignment. Instead, I scrolled social media, which means I have set it as a priority over my coursework and are thus reaping the consequences of that choice. It doesn’t make it social media’s fault, and it doesn’t make social media an evil entity, but it was not the proper decision on this day.

I use social media because it’s an easy example, but I believe this can apply to anything from business practices to relationships and friendships.

What are you sacrificing?

I realized that whatever we pay attention to means sacrificing something else in its place. If we focus too much time on gossip and negativity, we are sacrificing something else in its place. If we spend too much time on social media, we are sacrificing something else in its place. Sometimes the sacrifice is not all bad; it makes sense depending on what is a priority at the moment. Sacrificing an hour of work to sleep and refresh is not a bad thing because, with rest, we can have better clarity to do the job. Surrendering a TV show to post something of value and substance to social media that will help someone else is not a bad thing. You see, I also learned this week that our priorities might change from day to day. What was most crucial yesterday may not be most important today.

From this point forward, I will be more conscious of what I am sacrificing when I am spending my time doing something because I know that whatever I focus my attention will manifest based on those things of which I have set as a priority.

Instead of saying, “I don’t have time,” I will say, “what am I willing to sacrifice to get this done? What am I willing to give up to do this?”

Those are the real questions.

Behind The Original “Friends”

Note: Due to the content of this post I am filing it under Black History Fun Fact Friday. 

Erika Alexander (Max/Maxine Shaw/Pam, Living Single) did an interview with The Breakfast Club (I want to say it aired yesterday?? 1/29) that brought out some interesting facts. (Funny because she was not supposed to be a regular on Living Single but…). Like I tell people, Black History INCLUDES music, television, film, art, and much more.

Yvette Lee Bowser created Living Single for Warner Bros and it debuted in 1993. One of the original suggested titles was Friends. Asked if he could have any show on TV, NBC’s President said Living Single. Queen Latifah’s show’s suggested title was called My Girls when they first did their pilot according to Erika Alexander, but it didn’t do well. The networks then chose Living Single, and then the next year they named a separate show Friends. But you got that much from The Breakfast Club. Let’s go a little deeper.

To go further, I wonder why it was decided to call the black show Living Single? Did it have anything to do with black families being largely headed by single women at the time? I am still researching the specifics for 1993 ( the year Living Single debuted) but so far the numbers continue to increase for single-family households in the Black community at the time. In 1991, 68% of Black children were born outside of marriage. In 2011, 72% of Black babies were born to unmarried mothers. In 2015, 77% of Black babies were born to unmarried mothers.

What was really behind the networks naming this show “Living Single?”

Was it the stereotype or assumption that Black men weren’t present that led them to the decision that the black show should be called Living Single? (“We are living Single…”) instead of Friends? (Because I mean, the sistas on Living Single were Besties, you hear me? They were really Friends. Sooo I got questions…)

I know ya’ll probably think I’m reaching so …if you think this is too far-fetched, consider Good Times.

Good Times only had a father figure because Esther Rolle fought for one. 

Originally, the show would be based on a single woman raising her kids in the projects in Chicago (I am from Chicago AND I grew up in the projects, trust… we know these things). Rolle said no, she wanted a father for her children and she became a pioneer in fighting for a black father on TV: George Jefferson (played by Sherman Hemsley) on The Jeffersons, Cliff Huxtable (played by Bill Cosby) on The Cosby Show, Phillip Banks (played by James Avery) on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The list goes on and on but one woman opened the door for a complete black family to be shown on television and her name is Esther Rolle. 

Good Times was revolutionary because it broke ground not only by showing a low-income family on television but also, a COMPLETE black family. The list of shows Good Times inspired is too numerous to mention, including NBC’s 227 in 1985, Regina King’s first breakout role. Then, in 1989, ABC launched Family Matters as their answer to 227. UPN sought to create the magic of the Cosby Show with Moesha in 1996. It goes on and on and down hill from here…

“I just thought it was a poor representation of what Black women were being able to do. And frankly, if you didn’t fit in that mold, there was nothing you could do. It was like watching a train wreck. I actually didn’t think it was real at first. Took me a long time to sort of  get that, no this is real, and yet, it’s not real.” 

– Erika Alexander on the Reality TV Shows, The Breakfast Club

The black father was the hardest legacy Rolle fought for. She grew up with one and an intact family; she wanted that to be shown on television. “I had a wonderful father,” said Esther Rolle, “and I couldn’t bear that television virtually ignored black fathers. I could not compound the lie that black fathers don’t care about their children,” she said previously in media reports. “I ruffle a lot of feathers. And I’m also selective–that makes you a troublemaker, but so be it. I laid a cornerstone for black actors, and that makes me happy.”

Although Rolle worked hard for a black father, they still eventually killed James off. So, I ask, what was the real reason behind naming the “Black” show, Living Single Hmm? That is the question.

How Permanent is this Grief?

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Something about sorrow sounds spiritual. It sounds like awakenings and revelations. Sounds like pacts and promises. Sounds contradicting too, like hope and despair are twins. We want to shackle ourselves to change. Something about sorrow got us questioning our own mortality. But how permanent is this grief? Where are we two years from now? Is this feeling fleeting? Will we forget our own deaths could be just as close as Kobe’s? Right now is good. It’s all reflection-like. Our throats are full of emotion and saltwater. Only time will tell if this is real or just another ode to the people we worship as Gods. Today, forgiveness is an anthem we sing each morning. Kisses adorn the faces of our loved ones, and the heavens ain’t heard these many prayers since the last celebrity died. And yet I ask myself how permanent is this grief? What have we learned?

There are people we know and love that are close. We can reach out and touch them. Now. Today. Will we? Some of us will Tupac this young man’s legacy while forgetting the promises we made to ourselves to be better people outside of the internet. We will forget those feel-good words we concocted when the world was in mourning. The “every day ain’t promised,” and “hug the ones you love,” we spit into the air as if life has promised our names won’t be the next one carved into the next hashtag. Like our pictures won’t be the ones swarming the internet like the locust currently congregating in East Africa.

Yea, something about sorrow sounds spiritual. Got us thinking about life and truth and family and love. But will this last? How permanent is this grief? That is the question. 

When I’m Gone

novel-writing

You don’t have to mention my name
Waste, not your resources
Carving my initials into the ground
Or on street signs and buildings
Not near corners
where future Martin Kings
Will sell dope and brawl
Until their quarrels leak
With the accidental stench of death
Over dice games
I’m sure King didn’t expect his memory
To be synonymous with the street
At which the next ghetto is named
Remember me not this way
Not on the front of your t-shirts
And flyers
And flowers as if my nose can still
Smell them
In your thoughts
You don’t even have to say my name
Build no fancy statues for me
Sing no sad songs
Instead
Remember me in ink
No need to write me down
In history
Just write me down in ink
Admit that every time
I opened my mouth
the earth moved
that I did not sugar coat
the splitting of the sky
when it birthed the rain and that yes,
I drowned a time or two
be sure to mention my mistakes.
But at least you can say that with every base in my voice
I played the truth
and that with the thrashing
of every keyboard my fingers
exposed the secret
behind
why every heart
beats.