Two things about me: I’m a nerd and I love research.
It should surprise no one that I organized a surprise party for my third-grade teacher when I was eight-years old and that for the last fifteen years, I’ve been trying to find her to say thank you for the impact she had on me.
Mrs. James was the first black woman teacher I ever had—from pre-K through a doctoral degree, she was one of two. For much of a my childhood, I was a wallflower wishing to be invisible, but in her classroom, I felt seen. More than that, I saw someone who looked like me standing at the front of the room, and I was awe struck. After having her as a teacher, I never abandoned the idea of being an educator or a writer—thirty years later, I’m both.
I dug out old yearbooks, only to find none of the teacher’s first names were included. I used every tool I knew of, including calling the school district and Facebook messaging my old principal. Not knowing someone’s first name makes finding them in a large city somewhat impossible. My elementary school was attached to a military base, so everyone was transient, which makes the Alumni Facebook Group I found less odd. For a few years, I’d ask periodically if anyone knew her first name or where she was—some people shared with me how much they’d enjoyed her class, too, but no one knew, until last night when someone replied with her first name. My search clicked into to place. I’ve found her now—or, I’m pretty sure, anyway—but unfortunately, I think she died last year.
I haven’t spoken to her since I was nine years old—I know next to nothing about her, but this has me thinking a lot about representation, impact, and the people who touch our lives in pivotal ways without ever knowing. I’m thinking, too, about what it means to womxn of color to see people who look like them, how rare it can be, and why that matters for those of us writing love stories about people who look like us.
Mostly, I’m thinking, I still plan to say thank you, I just don’t know how yet.
Yesterday, I spent about 5 hours sitting on the runway between three flights and four cities. I had every intention of spending the entire time writing (I didn’t) but being the extrovert I am, I found myself getting to know those around me in the way you to on planes (i.e. I don’t know your name, but I know what you do, where you’re from, what your kids do, sometimes your politics, and your in-flight snack preferences). If you’re curious, I would take a middle seat if it meant I got more Biscoff cookies.
On this flight, my neighbor with whom I’d previously been chatting politics, TV, and children, motioned to my laptop and asked, “Are you writing a book?”
I nodded, worrying for a minute it was the steamy sex scene I’d left on the screen and not the funny scene between aunt and teenager.
“Is it your first?”
My heart raced, I shouted in my head to be cool, and I answered with a practiced, polished voice. “No, my first will come out next fall and my second sometime the following year. This one might be my third.” We continued to talk and she asked about the books and the process. It was a lovely conversation and she made that flight a highlight of an otherwise very long day of travel.
If you’re curious, here are the things that were cycling through my brain before I gave that practiced, polished answer.
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Bookwise, this last week left me spinning.
I sent revisions on How to Fail at Flirting back to my editor. It’s so close to being done. It’s polished, it’s clean, it’s lovely, and I smile to myself when reading it.
I sent my second book to a third round of reviews with critique partners. This book is well-crafted and my talented friends are catching things I’ll look at in editing, but also giving me feedback on what they love. And—whew!—they’re pointing out the same things I love.
With Nanowrimo kicking off yesterday, I started book three…and it’s new and flawed and choppy and…a first draft. So, in honor of book three and in hopes it is one day polished, clean, and lovely. Here are the things I’ve learned about starting over.
I was interviewed on The Writer's Haven and had a wonderful time talking about about my writing journey, why I love romance, and HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING! Preview: "We need stories from all vantage points" and "Sex is cool."
Five Amazing Things I Brought Home From My First Writing Conference - Blog Post for Amelia Indie Authors
I was invited to share my experience as a first-time writing conference attendee after the 2019 Romance Writers of America Conference. I brought home a lot of things from that conference which I outline in the post.
I was invited to contribute to the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog along with the other Golden Heart (TM) sisters and I decided to write about the broader life lessons I've gained from writing. See the post here.
If my personal and professional like in 2019 could be described in an emoji, it would be 😲 [shocked face]. I am kind of overwhelmed at everything that has happened in three short months.
After four months of querying and getting rejected, I ended up weighing offers from four amazing agents within one week. I felt so much love for my book and was floored with each new contact how much I enjoyed all four of those women who were kind and smart and funny and made me even more excited to keep moving on this publishing journey. I ended up signing with Sharon Pelletier at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
Also in January, I was honored by my university as one of 12 women impacting the campus and honored on the 2019 calendar. Okay--I know being featured on a calendar sounds a bit like something from a Saved by the Bell episode, but it was a complete honor to be recognized alongside 11 women I truly admire and respect. Added bonus: My parents, brother, husband, and my son were able to see me get the award.
Another important milestone: my kid is using the potty 🚽 (and I share this here because I am equally if not more excited about this than anything else on this list). We used the "Oh, Crap! Method" and I will swear by it until my dying day. He had it mostly down pat in 2 days.
Back to writing and most recently, I was floored (FLOORED!) to get a call that I was a Romance Writers of America® 2019 Golden Heart Finalist for The To-Do List. This is a huge honor and I have been overwhelmed since getting the call on Thursday morning.
Add to that getting to present a research paper at a national conference, making great new friends in the writing community and making strides on editing my second novel, 10,000 Steps, 2019 has personally been a banner year. Let's see what happens next.
A critique partner told me once I had too many social issues in the draft of my romance novel. At the time, my protagonist was a multiracial woman of color in academia who encountered sexism and racism in the book as well as having experiencing with dating violence. Throughout the book, she made mention of her racial identity when the love interests were getting to know each other. The love interest had his own experiences exploring consent. At the time, I took it as 'too many subplots' and skimmed it back, but in retrospect, I think about that phrase: too many social issues.
My protagonist's views of the world have been shape by the way she's experienced it--racism, sexism, violence and identity all together. At the same time, it's a romance novel, the book isn't about any of those. They've shaped the person falling in love. What is the balance for other #ownvoices authors?
As we strive to write real and complex characters, especially characters of color or who hold marginalized identities, what's the line in fiction about the intersectionality of our characters identities and the nexus of their experiences? I've always written mt characters as close to how they might actually live as possible, but aside from my wonderful beta readers and friends, I haven't yet had to sell my book to anyone. I guess time will tell!
Despite using it for work on and off for years, I've recently discovered that I love Twitter.
Yes, I realize I am late to the party and all the cool kids left for Insta, SnapChat and whatever other social media platform blossomed in the last 30 seconds, but I'll admit it: I'm addicted to hashtag games.
My favorite lately is #sixwordstory, a wonderful throwback to Six Word Memoirs and the accompanying book.
So, what better way to introduce myself in post #1, then with a few six word stories.
Denise reads romance novels, writes research papers, can be found humming "Baby Shark" long after her toddler has gone to bed, and loves ruining her character's lives but then giving them happily ever afters. She is a member of Romance Writers of America® and a 2019 Golden Heart® Finalist, and her debut novel HOW TO FAIL AT FLIRTING will be out fall 2020 from Berkley.