Monday, January 28, 2008

Straight No Chaser...Karen Neches

There's been much debate about how effective blog touring is. For those who track our blog stats, some have said the blog tour entry gets the least amount of comments. But that doesn't equate failure at all. First of all, I get comments rarely. Yet, my blog stats bear out that people are reading my blog quite frequently.

I tend to look at it as people who are browsing rather than shopping. But that doesn't mean they may not decide a day or so later, they really need what I was selling.

And me, personally, I hate shopping with a sales person over my shoulder attempting to assess how interested I am. Go away! I'll buy when I'm ready.

So, starting our new year off right is my first Straight, No Chaser featuring GCC Czarina, Karin Gillespie (writing as Karen Neches) and her book Earthly Pleasures. Browse at your leisure.


Which cliché best describes you as an author?

Brooding Hemingway type

Eclectic Toni Morrison

KN: Candace Bushnell Zeitgeist

Make up your own author cliché


Complete this sentence: I’m a total….from my BLANK to my BLANK, I could write the book on being BLANK

KN: I’m a total pop culture freak. From my People magazine subscription to my trolling the Internet for juicy gossip, I could write the book on being a voyeur.

You and me both, sister.

Pop Culture References

Using either television, film or literary references, give us the one or two sentence pitch you’d give film agents about Earthly Pleasures:

KN: Lovely Bones meets Bridget Jones

If you did an informercial for your book, who would be the perfect celeb to serve as the pitch guy or gal?

KN: Kate Hudson because she has a sunny, angelic look like my main character Skye, who is a greeter in Heaven.


Complete this sentence: It’s a good thing I’m not a stalker or else XX would be in trouble...

KN: It's a good thing I'm not a stalker or else Adam Pascal (of Rent fame) would be in trouble because I can’t get enough of his brooding pretty-boy good looks.

History Lesson

A lot of times, authors start a book with one concept in mind (especially us pantsters) and end up with a totally different story. For your most current book tell us where you story started and ultimately ended.

KN: My book started out about as just a concept (sort of chick lit in heaven) and ended up with more plot twists than you can shake a stick at.

Those crazy desert Island Questions

You’re on a desert island with a cell phone. Miraculously it has two bars and enough battery life to make one three minute call. Who do you call?

KN: My husband

Aww, ain't that sweet?

If someone were deserted on an island and came across your book washed ashore, what’s the one thing they’d take from it and want to share with the world once they got back to civilization?

KN: That all of the secrets of the universe are contained in five Beatle songs

Friday, January 25, 2008

The DRB Clique Gets A Face Lift

The cover for That's What's Up! is live and ready for public consumption.

I love my graphic covers. I still believe that I was ahead of my time. I wanted people to embrace the book because the cover looked fun and interesting and because the story described appealed to them.

Alas, the cruel reality is that photo covers are hot and my graphic covers stuck out, but didn't necessarily reel readers in the way we'd hoped.

And I'm convinced, now that my covers are photo covers, everyone will now jump on the graphic cover. They'll be everywhere driving me into madness, making me an author officially.

But until that happens. While I still have some shred of my sanity, let's adore the new cover, shall we?

You guys likey?

I do.

The title, my name and the girls are embossed.

The models represent the multi-culti nature of my series characters.

And while I'm still a die-hard, don't show me any representation of a character's face because I'd much rather visualize them myself, the girls' expressions definitely evoke the proper amount of drama that my books portray.

Here's to a new cover with the same, fun contents within.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Karibu Books Closes Doors

The economy is suffering and that's bad news for us all. But it's especially bad for independent bookstores.

Karibu Books was a Maryland-based chain with five locations. I'm guessing that among indies that's considered a large chain. Today, I was surprised to hear about their demise.

You can read the owner's letter here.

I've met some really cool indie bookstore owners and employees, hanging out on the Blueboard. I'm fascinated by their book buying processes and their willingness to sell books the old fashioned way i.e. by recommending them because they've read them.

No disrespect to B&N or Borders, but there's nothing like going into a bookstore and having someone recommend a book because they've read it vs. going off marketing material or publisher hype.

Karibu worked hard to establish itself as a literay community center. I thought they were thriving, though the last time I was in there the shelves were a bit bare.

My relationship with Karibu was bittersweet.

On the positive side, I held a signing at the Bowie Town center location, purchased books from them before and was a speaker at two Black Writer's Guild meetings - who held their meetings there, monthly.

But, Karibu also didn't stock my books, even after I purchased a case for my inaugural signing and held my signing there. So, full disclosure, I had mixed feelings about their ability to meet my "needs" as a local author.

While they did typically carry the books of my fellow Dafina YA authors, their YA section was relatively small. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it always bothered me that they didn't have at least one or two copies of my book, while the B&N across from them not only stocked my books well, but sold out of them at a consistent pace.

That aside, I'm disappointed that the communities where Karibu had a location, will be losing out on a store that sought to specialize in books by and about African Americans. It seems especially disheartening that they couldn't hold on, at a time when the market for such books is so strong.

I don't know if Amazon is helping to hinder the success of indies or simply that it's the perfect storm combination of Amazon, mega chains and a struggling economy.

But I implore readers to support indies if there are any nearby. I honestly thought, that because Karibu had five locations, it would beat the odds since half the battle with indies is the fact they stand alone. While a B&N and Borders are typically within a few minutes of one another and the consumer, a "close" indie is anything within an hour's drive.

There are no indie bookstores in my area that carry YA. With Karibu gone, the closest indies to me are stores located in Baltimore - a 30-45 minute drive. Not bad, but also not typically one I'll make lightly unless I happen to have free time and want to burn the gas.

You've guessed it - I rarely have that kind of time just lying around and burning gas at these prices is silly, when there's several chain stores within 10-15 minutes of my house.

And while Amazon is great, I choose to buy books from a bricks and mortar location because I know the author makes more off the book that way. I'm funny that way, wanting to help out my fellow scribes.

In the grand scheme of things, fifteen years is a good run when you're talking about battling corporate retail. But it's too bad Karibu couldn't hold on. Their absence will definitely leave a void in the literary community.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Living the "Dream"

In a way, I understand those who don't want 9-11 to become a national holiday.

National holidays are great. Awesome in fact. But the day off tends to overshadow the reason we're given the day off. It simply becomes another day the stores have a sale and schools are out.

It's a lot easier to feel the pain and anger of 9-11 if we're all at our regular "stations" reading the reflections and watching news clips about the impact, how lives were changed and catching up with families of victims. Give us the day off and that becomes white noise.

Before Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday became a national holiday, my parents would keep me out of school on his birthday. We'd spend the entire day talking about Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

Since his birthday became a holiday, I've done less and less on MLK Day.

Yup, totally my negligence.

But today, I did spend a part of the day reflecting. Thanks, in part, to Oprah my reflections were deepened by watching the various stories emphasizing that Dr. King's dream lives on.

There's plenty evidence that racism is alive and kicking. But, things like racism are never fully eradicated. The issue is too complex. The roots too deep. The individuals tasked with eradicating it too prone to human nature's impulses.

But, Dr. King's birthday is a time to highlight how far we've come. To educate those who have not yet realized just how similiar people are, outside of race, ethnicity and religious affiliation.

I look at Princess A and her peers and know that they're one of the most "race-less" generations. And can remain so, if we let them.

If we teach them that incidents like Jena 6 are about the ignorance of those individuals and not a sign that "things haven't changed."

If we remain open minded and not force our own traditional biases on them about interracial dating and multi-cultural friendships.

If we won't let them forget that they're able to befriend across races because of Dr. King and those who sacrificed during the civil rights movement.

If we re-vamp what's taught in school's so that history reflects the contributions of all those who built this country vs. a one-sided, white wash.

If we sing louder than those who refuse to let go of ignorant views.

Dr. King had a dream and we're all living it. Honoring that takes many forms, but the best way to honor his memory is to live the dream daily until the ignorant and small-minded are drowned out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting My Teeny-bopper On

Twenty-four years ago, my best friend Nicki and I talked my parents into taking us to the Budweiser Fresh Fest. It was the first - yeah, I said it, - FIRST multi-act hip hop concert. Or rap as we used to say in the dark ages.

LL Cool J was on the ticket, Whodini, probably a few others and Run DMC headlined.

The Fresh Fest was a huge deal. So my parents reluctantly obliged.

Brave troopers that they were, they sat in the nose bleed seats getting contact from all the Mary Jane being smoked, while Nicki and I got our groove on, on the floor. There were no floor seats, just a big open floor where they let people come down and break dance. ::snicker::

It was a long night of very loud music, raucous teens, and quite a few suspect thugs who were openly inebriated swaying unsteadily to the thumping bass.

My parents vowed never again and kept to that vow.

Fast forward to last Friday. I'm pretty certain that when they purchased tickets for Princess A and her two cousins to attend the Chris Brown concert - payback was on their minds. The concert was in Virginia on a Friday right around peak rush hour.

The beltway on a Friday?! I'm thinking, pack a bag and prepare for the worst.

Seriously, Chris Brown had already been in Baltimore and DC , over the holidays, much closer venues. But they purchased tickets for Virginia!

I smelled a conspiracy.

My mother "claimed" she'd gladly take the girls herself but lo and behold she had to work that night. Literally, it's the only Friday she's ever had to work. Hmm...

I was dreading it. Not the concert (I love Chris Breezy) but the whole beltway on a Friday thing was really getting me down. I had visions of my parents giggling gleefully congratulating themselves for finally making me pay.

But the thing was, we had an absolute ball!

There was no traffic - guess everyone took off for the MLK weekend. It only took us an hour to get there and the Patriot Center only holds 10,000 people so it was the perfect venue, not too big, not too small.

It was the hubster's first time taking Princess A to a concert, my third. He'd been mentally preparing for the scream fest but still seemed slightly jolted when the girls in the audience screamed at pretty much anything.

Every now and then, you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel your age. Makes you fully aware that you're no spring chicken. But surprisingly this wasn't one of those times.

There were lots of dads there with their daughters, which tickled me to death. As my two previous concerts with Princess A had been pretty much exclusively female - moms and daughters.

Chris Brown, being a teen himself, drew both the older teen girls and the elementary set. I saw a large population of 7-8 year olds. So it was a very tame, family-type atmosphere.

Although I couldn't understand a word The Shop Boys said and only vaguely recognized Soulja Boy's other singles, the energy of the crowd was fun and comfortable. By the time Bow Wow came out, you could tell everyone was ready to get into it.

Although, it's official, Bow Wow needs to move on to a more mature ticket. He was the only one of the night who cursed and the lyrics to his current singles are suggestive, walking the line of R-rated. It was no raunch fest, but in comparison to everyone else...well, let's just say I wondered about the eight year olds in the crowd.

Still, I'm not sure who was more excited when he brought out Omarion, me or the girls. Not that I'm a huge O fan, but I'm obsessed with the duo's single, Hey Baby. I was disappointed that O had his rows in, instead of sporting the shaggy 'fro he has in the video.

I'm not against shaking my thing to pop music. And Princess A isn't really the type to get embarrassed about me singing aloud or dancing in public. But I stayed seated, observing the 'adults shouldn't have more fun than the kids' rule as I danced in my chair.

It was more fun watching the girls dance and bop as they whipped out their phones to capture fuzzy photos, anyway. When we compared photos later, mine looked like professional grade compared to their shots.

Lady T, at fourteen, the oldest of our little teen trio, sat next to me. I think my arm and leg may require medical attention from her grabbing me excitedly. But that added to the fun. There's nothing like pure enjoyment on a kid's face.

When Breezy hit the stage, the house was packed and the girls (mine and all the others) were screaming at even the slightest provocation. He didn't disappoint. He danced his buns off and kept the girls in a lather. So it was a huge treat when he performed two numbers right in front of our seats (we were in the back of the arena facing the stage) on this round platform that revolved and went up and down.

I thought my girls were going to lose their minds.

He wasn't close enough to touch, but if eyeballs were stomachs and Chris Brown was a meal, they got their fill. And I got the camera phone pics of a shirtless Breezy to prove it.

By the way, I'm not sure I've seen that much testerone spewing, adolescent sexuality since...well, since Scream Tour Five when Pretty Ricky gyrated and humped their way through a performance. For the next three hours, all Princess A could talk about were the "pelvic thrusts" or "PT" as they became affectionately referred to as the night wore on.

I reminded her that the PTs were probably not the concert highlight her grandmother wanted to hear about.

But that's how close we were to the action, at that point.

Three hours, three hoarse and thirsty girls later, the night was done. And the hubster and I agreed it was one of the better concerts we'd attended in a while. Pretty sad!

Our last concert was the R. Kelly/Jay-Z tour at the same exact arena of the original Fresh Fest. And if you can believe this, they still smoke Mary Jane in the nosebleed seats. The concert was rote, our seats bad and all I could think about was, where in the heck were the emergency exits when you're that friggin' high up.

Yes, that is a sign that I'm getting old(er). But on Friday, there was no sign of that worry wart, I was getting my teen thing on.

As Lady T would say, "Chris Brown I love youuuuuuuu....woaw!!!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who Needs Sleep?

I don't. And it's a darn good thing, too, because things have been jumping in my world.

I just turned in the final manuscript for That's What's Up! - book three in the Del Rio Bay Clique series. I'm putting the final touches on the draft of book 4, Who You Wit'? and have been preparing for today, Brown Bookshelf announcement day.

We've selected our 28 authors and four illustrators for the 28 Days Later campaign. And I'm tickled to death.

We started reaching out to the finalists last week and the response has been touching. Some of these authors have no real "need" for a spotlight, having run into some recent good promo fortune (a John Steptoe winner, a National Book Award finalist, an author who's been on CNN and Tavis Smiley) or simply having been in this game for a number of years. And yet, words like "honored" "excited" and "thrilled" have been used when they've responded to our emails informing them.

So, between research, outreach and writing, I haven't gotten much sound sleep lately. Please tell me it's not in vain.

Visit The Brown Bookshelf and check out our spotlight authors. And come back every day next month to find out a bit more about these authors and their passion for children's literature.

I've listed them below. But you'll miss out on Don's wonderful poster, if you don't visit the page.

Authors in bold are vanguard authors
Illustrator spotlights are in italics

Feb 1 Christopher Paul Curtis - Elijah of Buxton

Feb 2 Michelle Meadows – The Way The Storm Stops

Feb 3 Dana Davidson - Played

Feb 4 Rita Williams-Garcia – No Laughter Here

Feb 5 G. Neri – Chess Rumble & Sean Qualls - Phillis’s Big Test

Feb 6 Janice N. Harrington – The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Feb 7 Eleanora E. Tate – Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance

Feb 8 Patricia McKissack – The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

Feb 9 M. Sindy Felin – Touching Snow

Feb 10 Jabari Asim – Daddy Goes To Work

Feb 11 Mildred D. Taylor – The Road To Memphis

Feb 12 Nina Crews - The Neighborhood Mother Goose & Leonard Jenkins – Sweet Land of Liberty

Feb 13 Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – The Shadow Speaker

Feb 14 Allison Whittenberg – Sweet Thang

Feb 15 Walter Dean Myers - Game

Feb 16 Tonya Bolden – George Washington Carver

Feb 17 Troy Cle – The Marvelous Effect

Feb 18 Eloise Greenfield – The Friendly Four

Feb 19 Sundee T. Frazier – Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It & John Holyfield - Bessie Smith & the Night Riders

Feb 20 Carole Boston Weatherford – I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer

Feb 21 Karen English - Nikki & Deja

Feb 22 Coe Booth - Tyrell

Feb 23 Irene Smalls – My Pop Pop and Me

Feb 24 Stephanie Perry Moore – Prayed Up: Perry Skky Jr. #4

Feb 25 Kyra E. Hicks, Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria

Feb 26 Celise Downs – Dance Jam Productions & Shane Evans- When Harriet Met Sojourner

Feb 27 Valerie Wilson Wesley – Willimena Rules!: 23 Ways to mess up Valentine’s Day

Feb 28 Sherri L. Smith - Sparrow

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

GCC Tour: Melissa Senate

It's a new year and that means change, change, change.

Ten Questions That Rock will be retired. In it's place as our starting Q&A, Straight...No Chaser. Coming later this month or early next month, check out these fun interviews with YA authors about themselves and their new books.

Meanwhile, until Straight...No Chaser is ready for prime time, today's featured author is Melissa Senate for her book Theodora Twist

The Scoop
“Senate sets up a tantalizing premise and the plot is equally entertaining.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“Theodora Twist has sugar and spice and everything nice. I loved it!”
–Sarah Mlynowski, bestselling author of Spells and Sleeping Bags

“A fun read!”
–Teen People magazine

The Premise
You’re sixteen. A high school junior. A major teen celebrity like Blake Lively or Amanda Duff or Vanessa Hudgens moves into your house for a month and shares your bedroom, your friends, your clothes, your school. Your entire life. And it’s all caught on camera, for all of America to see. This is what happens to Emily Fine in Melissa Senate’s debut young adult novel, THEODORA TWIST (Delacorte Press). One day she’s ordinary nobody Emily Fine, practically invisible to everyone (including her own mother) and the next, she’s roommates with teen idol Theodora Twist and co-star of a TV reality show.

Theodora Twist is Hollywood’s hottest young actress—the girl everyone wants to be. Producers court her, tabloids love her, fans mob her, and US Weekly has covered every catfight with her co-stars, her ongoing feud with her mother, her yo-yo dieting, and her threesome with two Hollywood it-boys. Needless to say, Theodora doesn’t have the best reputation around.

So when Theodora’s publicity team decides to clean up her act with a reality show called Theodora Twist—Just a Regular Teen!, they send Theodora back to her hometown to live with Emily’s family for a month. Theodora has to do everything Emily does: attend high school, care about grades, friends, boys, the prom, zits (as though Theodora has ever had one). And a very unlikely friendship is formed.

Read an excerpt at Random House Teens ( and visit Melissa’s website at

About Melissa
Melissa Senate is the author of several novels for adults, including the bestseller See Jane Date, which was made into a TV movie. Before becoming a writer, Melissa was a New York City book editor and worked on many teen novels. She now lives on the southern coast of Maine, where outside her door is foot of fresh snow.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The DRB's Top Shelf

Both of my Del Rio Bay Clique novels have receieved Top Shelf honors at Urban Reviews.

Urban Reviews primarily reviews African American adult fiction. Quite obvious when you click through. One of my friends said she thought she'd stumbled across the wrong site when she saw my book among the other very ::ahem:: shall we say, mature covers.

But nope, there sits So Not The Drama and Don't Get It Twisted among books that are clearly not targeting my young readers. Ahh or are they?

I'm stoked that Urban Reviews not only reviewed my books but gave them five out of five:

1) Because there are plenty of teen readers who are reading the books Urban Reviews normally recommends.

This past Saturday, I was a guest speaker at the monthly meeting of Delta Gems, Delta Sigma Theta's youth mentoring group. When I asked how many read street lit and adult fiction, one of the three Gems raised their hand.

One out of three isn't astounding or even significant, statisically. But it is a truth that African American writers of YA must face. For some Black teens our books will simply not hold the glamour and allure of an adult book.

Which is fine, except I happen to also believe that when some teens open a book that features characters their age, experiencing what they're going through or have gone through - they'll come back to the YA fold. Even if it means reading both YA and adult, which I did as a young reader.

And that brings me to 2)Because my lovely graphic colors are not like most other teen books with photo covers (until That's What's Up! anyway) there are lots of readers - adult and teen - who aren't aware that my book revolves around an African American protagonist.

But having it reviewed by Urban Reviews is a sure enough sign that it is. So, for many, seeing my books reviewed at Urban Reviews will be an introduction to them, despite So Not The Drama coming up on a year since its release.

I'm pleased to be among Urban Reviews best reviewed books. It certainly ain't a bad way to start the year.

Let The Monday Night Quarterbacking, Begin

The Coretta Scott King Awards will be announced during the ALA Mid-Winter sometime between January 11th and 16th.

That means we have exactly five days to wildly predict who will take home the prestigious award.

Over at The Brown Bookshelf we've decided to add our voices to the mix of prognosticators.

Check it out. We'll be guessing all week.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


I'm Type A.

I know it. Everyone around me knows it. I embrace it because that's half the battle.

So, you know I'm simply loving what Santa brought me for the holidays. A custom closet!


You would think Type A's would master organization without the help of some fancy schmancy closet company. But

I have way too much on my plate and abhor domestic duties. So after I've taken precious time out of my day to organize my shoes, no way I'm going to re-do them after Princess Bea decides to play dress up and scatters them everywhere.

So my closet remains in a constant state of disarray. Until now!

The best thing about the custom job is:

1) It forced me to think about what sort of space I needed.

I've come to discover that I dislike drawer space. I tend to hide my clutter within them. And instead of putting summer things away they end up side-by-side with winter stuff making it difficult to find what I need.

So I opted for open shelving, hanging space and cubbies for my shoes (26 pair and counting).

I have so many pair of heel boots, my mom said if anyone came in they'd think I was a hooker. Hmmph, a well-dressed hooker, mind you!

2) It forced me to get rid of anything I don't currently wear.

I have no idea why, but I still had suits that I hadn't worn since I had Princess A. That's 13 years and 25 pounds ago!

Since the entire fam got custom closets, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty bags of clothes to giveaway. Crazy!

3) Now, I can actually look in the closet and know what pieces of clothing I need to round it out.

No more going into the store and buying a purple shirt wondering what I have to go with it!

A) I don't need any more shirts B) What I actually need more of are jeans. Go figure. I suspected I had very few casual pants, but now I know for certain, as my two pair of jeans and one pair of cords sit lonely on the shelf among a bunch of shirts.

4) It has single handedly made my mornings more efficient.

At first, I'd get up and angst over what to wear. I'd have to scramble around the closet and my bedroom looking for items. Not anymore!

Everything is in plain view. I'm picking up a shirt, pants, socks and shoes in a matter of seconds. Not to mention, there's finally been a detante on WW III or as we call it around here, morning!

Princess Bea can now also choose whatever she wants to wear, because instead of me still having out-of-season clothes in her drawers (yes, some days to avoid argument she went to school in November in a cotton skort) only clothes fit for the weather remain on her shelves. And I only gave her two drawers opting for more shelf space so she can actually see all of her clothes.

It is friggin' awesome!!!!

I'm telling you, life can't get any better than this. It has changed our lives. No, I'm serious.

And we've coined a new phrase "closet-worthy."

The hubster spent a few hours putting his clothes away when we first got it because he realized he didn't feel every item was worthy of being in the closet.

Bingo - more giveaways!

Our closet is the least cluttered it's ever been.

Great way to start the new year.