A New Mirror.

“Are your characters white?”

I looked up at my good friend who had just posed the question and who had just read one of my stories. “Why do you ask?” I replied.

“Well, they seem white. How they speak, how they seem. I was just curious.”

I explained that I rarely thought about race in my fiction; it was why characters in my stories had brown hair or brown eyes, which anyone can have. As far as their speech, my characters were me, and spoke like me. So…

Backstory #1: I was born in West Africa, where I primarily spoke English (with a mix of Twi; I like to call it Twinglish), which obviously didn’t change when I moved to the States at the age of 8. I never had an accent. Growing up, I heard more than once that I spoke “like a white girl”, which saddened me. It was sad that perceived articulation in speech was tied to race and not simply cadence. But that’s entirely another post, which we shall discuss. Anyway, fast forward to my fiction: apparently, my characters’ diction and dialogue also shared my history with speech.

Backstory #2: in the beginning, not describing race in my fiction was actually never a concrete choice I made. I just never thought about it. When I was young and hiding in library stacks and far away from recess, the books I read certainly weren’t about girls that looked like me. Sure, many of the stories I loved provided an emotional mirror; I devoured stories about girls who weren’t popular, were lonely, sarcastic and smart, so on. But physically? No, there were very, very few tales about brown girls. Nevertheless, for me, a story was a story. When I began writing, I barely considered the physical attributes of the characters I wrote about. I was more interested in their stories. As I grew as a writer, and as a person, however, I consciously avoided describing physical attributes. The reason was the same: focus on the story, not what they look like. Me as a reader, me as a writer. I wanted my reader to share my interest in the story.

But time goes by. We grow, we evolve. And I had a writer’s epiphany one day, y’all: why wasn’t I remembering that race and ethnicity were part of these people’s worlds that I was creating? Because those things were certainly a part of mine. Which led to my next thought: why wasn’t I writing more about “what I knew”? Yes, my previous characters and creations were borne from me, but I was now nursing a new hunger to see a lot of my personal worldview in my own written fiction. Because before that, story was it and solely it. Plot, structure, etc. But now, I wanted more from myself as both a writer and subsequently, as a reader. A new mirror.

Following the epiphany, I wrote a short story about a Ghanaian woman raised in Accra, now living abroad, and her struggle with the knowledge that a potential friend she met was bleaching her skin. It was the most personal story I’d ever written. I mined my own worldview; my background, my native language, my own feelings about skin color and race. I was so proud of that story because, for the first time, the very first time, something I wrote felt authentically mine. Before, I was writing like that 9 year-old reader. Plot-driven, only narrative-focused. With that short story, I felt like I was writing like myself.

Back to the conversation with my friend: at that time, my response was what you read above and we moved on. I was slightly perplexed by the “how they speak” bit, but I’d long learned that the interpretation of my work belongs to the reader, whatever it may be. These days, I write what I feel, about people I’ve been, am, and know, and they speak however I want them to speak. One of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie, said it best at a reading: as a writer, write for yourself first. Happy to say that I fully am.

Second to that, my highest hope is that a fellow brown woman finds her mirror in me.

Adjoa on a Monday.

This post was originally  published on February  16, 2018 and updated today, February 3, 2021. The months are entirely coincidental. Or are they? Read on to learn what my dream job would be and why it remains my dream job, three years later. 

Ever since my early twenties, coffee shops have been my true love. Many a coffee shop had me inside of it; ordering a cup, listening to the beans whir in the grinder; hearing the quiet hum of conversation as patrons did everything from chat with each other to type away at their laptops for whatever projects they were working on. (I almost always think the laptop-bearers are burgeoning novelists.) When I worked at my dearly departed Borders Books (see memories here and here), one of the areas I was assigned to, other than at the register or the info desk or shelving books, was the cafe. There, I learned to make a variety of espresso-based drinks, recipes that I still remember all these years later. It was, in a way, my first foray in working in a coffee shop. And I loved it something awful.

Naturally, I’ve always wanted my own shop. So in my mind, my shop would be called Adjoa on a Monday. Adjoa is my Ghanaian day name for ladies born on a Monday. The decor would unsurprisingly be rustic-y with a French touch; the French part is me, as you know, but I’ve also grown to love the rustic idea for a while now. Funny, huh? This Square Peg, who favored not-busy, not-busy, super modern spaces now longing for burnished wood finishes and Mason jar centerpieces? Girl, people be changing…

*All images derived from my boo Pinterest.

Anyway, further details about AOAM:

  • Free WiFi. I love the idea of people inhabiting that space and working on whatever their working on.
  • Open mic nights. At Borders, I freely took advantage of sharing my poetry with audiences. That college student had plenty of spurned-love poems to share, thank you very much.
  • Themed evenings every now and again. Paris jazz spot Tuesday. Speakeasy Fridays. Etc.
  • An assortment of staffers of different ages and backgrounds. This one is important to me. When I worked at Borders, a true pleasure was working with everyone from fellow college kids to part-time History professors and everyone in between. It was amazing.
  • A mini-bookshelf/donate-a-book area. Because you know books have to be involved.

More ideas abound. Will it happen one day? Will I venture out and start my own business and finally see this coffee shop of mine with my own two eyes? *Kanye shrug* I’ve never been ashamed or shy to dream out loud. Perhaps that’s the first step?

What thing/idea/venture/adventure have you nursed for ages? I’d love to peek…share it in the comments below.

And now…

friday

Blogtober #12: Bookworming It.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission for purchases made through these links.)

Welcome to Monday. Since this time of year–for me, anyway–breeds even more reading than usual, I wanted to share my top four favorite books of all time with y’all. (Fun fact: I declared that I would never combine you + all once moving to Texas. So, yeah. Y’all it is. Never say never.)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. What can I even say about this inspiring book? You know it. You either read it and/or watched the film adaptation in your classroom growing up. You fell in love with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. You were moved by this engrossing tale of lessons and race relations in the Deep South. You loved reading about Scout and Jem and Boo Radley and Dill. You were enraptured by the trial and case of Tom Robinson. This book was everything for me. As a budding writer and just as a person, I’ll never forget how this novel made me feel.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. Loooooookkkkk. Let me tell you. My 12th grade English teacher was the meanest lady this side of Planet Earth. I wish I were exaggerating. Nevertheless, I will forever thank her for inciting my enduring love for Jane Austen and her writing. Never have I loved fictional characters more (Elizabeth Bennet: personal hero; Mr. Darcy: husband), for one thing, and never have I adored the witty writing style and voice that an author created even more. It felt as if Jane was talking to me privately about these people she knew.

A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories), Flannery O’Connor. If Austen significantly influenced my writing style, then Ms. O’Connor majorly informed my desire to end a story with a bang. She knocked my literary socks off when I discovered her in college. Not only were her observations about human nature absolutely unrelenting, but so were the finales of her fascinating stories. (Seriously.) My love of writing short stories was also influenced by her; there’s nothing more enticing than fitting what could be a novel inside a short piece of work, which Flannery did over and over again.

Everything written by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry. You’ve likely heard it before, but most writers begin as voracious, devoted readers. Well, these three authors began the ball rolling for me. Memories of ensconcing myself in library stacks surrounded by their stories of intelligent, verbose heroines, annoying siblings, and the pain and discovery of girlhood are never far from mind. They began the blueprint for me. And yes, I’d read all those books over again now and still relate to them.

I have tons of booky favorites, needless to say, so another post with a new batch of favorites will come. Here’s where I’ll tell you that gone are the days when I had stacks and stacks of actual books that my mother threatened to get rid of if I didn’t arrange them with some semblance of order. These days, I enjoy maintaining a digital bookshelf and read everything on my Kindle app. (I’d love an actual library, but the living arrangements don’t presently have room for that. Maybe in the next place I find with more room.) I also have a Kindle Unlimited membership through Amazon and yes, it is awesome. A friend of mine knew how much I loved the whole library book borrowing system and recommended Kindle Unlimited–and I’m glad she did. With this membership, I can borrow books and discover an array of authors whenver I like. At present, I’m reading Mindy Kaling’s latest six series essay collection, Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes), and the convenience of borrowing the titles and simply returning them when I’m done is the best. Gift the membership to yourself and/or to other bookworms in your life here.

Happy Reading and bon Monday.

Blogtober #3: Fall in the Time of COVID.

So, real talk: pandemic life is going to be a bit harder for me this fall. When I think of this time of year, an indelible image is spending cool evenings out with my friends and traipsing around town. (Yep, it gets cool here in the Lone Star state, although comparatively, it’s still Texas.) And lest you say I can still do all those things with a mask on: no, thanks. Staying in. Here are some things I plan on doing to still capture that electric feeling I love around this time of year.

I. Love. Walking. As I mentioned in a past post, my morning walks have been invigorating and fabu. I plan on adding some early evening, twilight walks in there, too, just to capture the changing of the atmosphere and taking it all in.

A few days ago, I headed out to grab something from the store and took the long way home. The sun was close to setting and I drove at my leisure. It was glorious. It’s been a long pastime for me: just getting in the car and driving. I plan on enjoying this fall by doing that more than often; a bit of sightseeing in the car. No need to get out, just taking my sweet time down a few long and winding roads.

Can I tell you how much I miss bookstores?!?! Strolling along the stacks and inhaling the lovely scent of book spines and pages? Settling down in the store café and casually flipping through my finds over tea and a croissant? Le sigh. Since a bookstore isn’t currently essential in the list of places I choose to go (read: grocery store and that’s about it), the cure: more reading than usual. Bookworm life is year-round for me, yes, but this time of year has an intriguing hold on me: I crave reading. So, I plan on adding more books to the bookshelf and just hunkering down. 🙌🏾

We’ve all had to adjust to this weird year. I long for familiar, unmasked faces and being in the company of folks I love and adore. The time will come for that. Until that: here’s to adjusting and finding some contentedness amid this crazy.

here…

Here are some of the albums/songs/ I currently have on repeat:

snoh

Snoh Aalegra, Ugh those feels again. I’m sure the name of the album provides a clue about why it speaks to me so powerfully. But, yes, Snoh’s masterful second album is constantly playing in my car and in my ear. Her smooth, evocative voice, the effortless melodies and arrangements, and already loving her song Time from her first album have resulted in a complete stanning and fandom. Favorite songs on the album are: Whoa, Find Someone Like You, Be Careful, and Charleville 9200, Pt. II.

Dua Lipa, Don’t Start Now. I deeply love this single. It reminds me of the past without making me want to punch the past. I think it encapsulates all the silliness that comes from folks who realize you meant something to them way after you let them go, way after you needed to them to have this realization. Yes, Dua, yessssssssssss.

Here is the book I currently have on repeat, as in I’ve been reading it for the past two months, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, savoring it, unwilling to let it end:

bookta

This book takes my breath away on every single page. I won’t even summarize it for you. I actually cannot summarize it, because whatever words I find will fall short.

A few here’s to share with you. Bon weekend and here’s to upwarding and onwarding…

Five Top Fives.

Faves, like to hear it, here it go (in no particular order): lizlemon

Top Five Singers/Musicians/Artists I’ve Loved For All Time

  1. Michael Jackson
  2. Whitney Houston
  3. Stevie Wonder
  4. Diana Ross
  5. James Taylor

Top Five Actresses I Love and Adore and Just Love and Adore

  1. Cate Blanchett
  2. Viola Davis
  3. Diane Lane
  4. Tracee Ellis Ross (purely coincidental that my mom her mom is #4 above)
  5. Natalie Portman

Top Five Actors I Stan For Always and Forever 

  1. Brad Pitt
  2. Idris Elba (far too many posts to link him; search away, my love)
  3. Denzel Washington
  4. Tom Cruise
  5. Paul Newman/Robert Redford (they are one entity; don’t come for me)

Top Five of My Favorite Films Of All Time

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  3. The Philadelphia Story
  4. The Sting
  5. Inception (yeah, it’s that good)

Top Five of My Favorite Authors

  1. Alice Walker
  2. Flannery O’ Connor
  3. Harper Lee
  4. Lois Lowry
  5. This Square Peg (look: you gotta love yourself)

 

This was by no means an exhaustive list, so we shall do it again with a brand new list. Happy Wednesday, dear reader.

it chose me.

It was inevitable that fiction would choose me, that my world would become consumed by it. From the fairy tales my mother brought before me, to the fascinating living stories around me, to the nursery rhymes that incited such vivid images in my mind, to the billowing curtain in my childhood bedroom that, to me, offered pretty terrifying possibilities on the other side, my imagination was its own character from the very beginning. When I would hide in the library during recess (we’ll talk about that in another post; praise kind librarians), I would read. And read. And read. All fiction, all topics, all possibilities. A fiction writer was being born. By the age of eight, that writer came alive.

After messing with my dear father a bit about majoring in psychology while filling out my college application (“I want to be a shrink, Daddy.” “No; choose something else.”), I chose English as my major. It was always going to be English; I knew that when I was sixteen years old. Soon thereafter, I chose the concentration for my major: Fiction. For four years, I was ensconced in literature, stories, novels. It was like being in the stacks all over again.

I write poetry, these lovely blog posts, articles, the occasional play, a few songs…

But first and foremost, utterly and completely: I will always be a fiction writer.

fictionquote

What do you love to do that chose you? I’m curious to know…

Blogvember #22: Choices.(Mission Possible)

This was the photo I used for the back of my recent work of fiction, The Loftiest Thing. I love this photo. For one thing, the trees in the background absolutely fit the title’s theme, which was also one of the stories in the book. Secondly, I think my photographer (who also happens to be a good, longtime friend) captured the joy I felt at having accomplished this latest creative project. The natural lighting, the setting: parfait. 

My third book is on the horizon. Can we pause to celebrate this?


A part of me wants to keep that photo for the back cover. The other part of me wants to change it up. Just because change is always refreshing, and I think this third book represents some of the changes I’ve made with how I want to present my art. Below are the three photos I’m considering. 


Your mission, if you choose to accept it (and why wouldn’t you? You love me, right?): what say you? Pick the photo you like the most and tell me your option in the comments. I’m partial to all three of them, so I’m no help. The most-picked will win and I’ll make it my back photo. 

Happy choosing on my behalf…

breathe deeply.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Why I walk through the stacks and inhale. 

Why I meander through libraries and bookstores, often with no intention of reading or buying, just trailing my fingers down endless rows of spines and consuming the sweet aroma of books. 

Why books can be desserts, too.

(I dedicate this post to my beloved Ms. Lindquist, who let me escape the battleground of recess (when you’re shy and slow and new to the area, recess becomes a battleground) by letting me make a home in the library while the other kids played. In there, I discovered stories about girls like me, about faraway places, about adventures and pesky little sisters, and everything in between. Ms. L., You opened up my world.)