Valerie C. Woods's Blog

December 29, 2016

There it is. The blank page. Or screen. It’s perfect, pristine, shimmering with possibilities. You want the words you impart on this perfect canvas to be worthy. To flow with lyrical, righteous, and passionate… stuff. No, scratch that, not ‘stuff’ - it must be classic Oscar, Emmy, Tony award winning scriptness. Wait. What? ‘Scriptness?’ Ok, perfect prose, poignantly profound… stop! Scratch that, too. And now it’s ruined. The blank page, which was once so full of hope, is now ruined. Crumple paper, or delete, delete, delete. Time for coffee.

Such pressure, the blank page. Why is it so hard to allow for imperfection? It’s not called a rough draft because it’s perfect. So go ahead and be a RoughWriter!

In his book,"Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" Syd Field put it very bluntly, “Let yourself write sh*tty pages, with stilted, direct, dumb, and obvious dialogue. Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing. Dialogue can always be cleaned up during the rewrite. ‘Writing is rewriting’ is the ancient adage.”

This advice applies to ALL writers, not just screenwriters. It is the only way to get through a novel, a play, short story, or novella. I know, because I’ve written at least one of each in that prior list, and Syd Field’s advice got me through each project.

Currently, I am a Mentor for a group of very talented MFA screenwriters. In the first semester, each student selected the topic of their screenplays, wrote beat sheets, and narrative outlines. At this point, two writers decided they no longer wanted to write the stories they’d chosen, and switched – went through the earlier process again and then began writing script pages. Then a third writer decided her pages were awful, her story was stupid and it was boring. One of the first two writers, worried that well, maybe the new idea wasn’t good either.

To clarify, none of the stories were boring. What I was hearing from these students was doubt, resistance… you know, fear of failure. They had each done great work. But the Inner Critic had moved to the foreground and was doing its best to get them to give up.

What to do? It was time for the talk, as follows:

First drafts are never perfect. This is where inspiration meets the craft of writing - putting in the work, no matter if it sucks at first. Do not listen to the Inner Critic in the rough draft, or you'll never get to the final draft.

As you begin, often the I.C. will tell you it's boring, it's not working, change the opening, drop this project, what the hell were you thinking, you have nothing to say...

Do. Not. Listen.

You were excited about your story for a reason. Self-doubt, masquerading as the Inner Critic, disguises itself with making you feel bored, or that you don't like it anymore. This is where the work of your Outline is absolutely vital.

Just follow the Outline. Even if you think it's terrible.

It's amazing how objective we can be once the rough draft - the ugly draft - is completed. You can then see where to improve, edit, bolster, etc. When you start writing, your creative mind is still muddling through and the worst thing to do is to stop. So keep going.

And yes, you'll make some adjustments as you write - but keep writing and don't throw out or disparage your Outline. It is your road map. Let it guide you.

Please do not let your Inner Critic slow you down!!!

So, the good news is, each student responded with flying colors. They wrote through the doubt and came through on the other side. Writing through the pain of not-quite-inspired work solved story problems. By completing what might be a lousy scene, it became clear what wasn’t working, because it was no longer a vague jumble in the brain. It was right there in all its ugly glory, ready for the writer to apply the craft of revising and polishing. It’s truly a relief. And some of what was thought to be bad looked pretty good!

Staying true to what inspired you in the beginning, even when it didn’t feel like it was working, is how wonderful screenplays get written, and how they get made.

In “Selling a Screenplay: The Screenwriter's Guide to Hollywood” Syd wrote: “What intrigues anyone in Hollywood, what propels someone into an active mode …is something that strikes them emotionally.”

And that starts with the screenwriter, television writer, playwright or author. Stick with what struck you emotionally when the storytelling process began. It will shine through in the end.

As this year draws to a close, and we are poised for new adventures in storytelling as a new year begins, remember: When the writing gets rough, the RoughWriter keeps going.

Happy writing!
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Published on December 29, 2016 22:43 • 14 views • Tags: novels, screenwriting, writing

November 5, 2016

In a previous post, I wrote about what indie authors could learn from indie filmmakers. As my writing often alternates between writing novels and screenplays, there are also screenwriting tools that can assist novelists.

One of the most valuable “oh, I get it!” moments studying with screenwriting mentor, Syd Field (1935-2013), was the first time Syd spoke about his groundbreaking Paradigm. More specifically – Syd stated that the first thing needed to begin was to know the end. As a young writer, this was a bit of a surprise.

At the time, my writing process was something like “wow, this is a good idea! The character would be this, they would do this and there would be a love interest, and they work at something amazing, etc. etc.” Dialogue and scenes would sprout and I’d write them down and generally let the story tell me what it was. Which is not such a terrible thing… at first. Getting the first flush of inspiration out and onto the page as quickly as possible is important, because I am so easily distracted.

However, there always came the time when I’d have to stop and ask, “so where does it all end?” Where am I going with this story? What is the resolution? And that’s when I go back to the Syd Field Paradigm and the four things the writer needs to know to begin writing:

The End
The Beginning
Plot Point I
Plot Point II

As Syd also explained in the seminar I first attended, writing a screenplay is a lot like planning a vacation. Rarely does anyone just show up at the airport and take whatever flight is next. If they do, I bet there’s a really good story in there somewhere! However, in order to know what to pack, how much money you’ll need, where you’ll sleep, etc. you need to know your destination. You’ll want to pack sandals, perhaps when going to India rather than, say ski boots.

The Paradigm is a road map to get you started. And, like any great adventure, there’s no telling if everything will go according to plan. It’s like that old proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, go ahead and make plans.” Just as unexpected excursions and detours make for really good road trips, the writer is free to go on an interesting tangent and not lose sight of the main plot because the Paradigm is a fluid guide that allows for inspiration and imagination, with landmarks to get you back on track.

For instance, just because you said Plot Point One was when the character woke up from a coma, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. As you write toward the plot point, you might find that maybe the character stays in the coma and someone who was supposed to be a minor character has to step up and fulfill a great destiny. But I believe you wouldn’t have come to that point had there been no destination in which you were heading.

For me, having a story point to write toward gets the process going, even if it turns out I don’t end up there.

Using the Paradigm has saved me from writer’s block and out-of-control subplots. And, the bonus to this screenwriting Paradigm is that it has also worked when I write novels and television shows.

It’s ok to write down inspiration even if you don’t have a clear vision of where it’s going. But once the flash of inspiration has expended its fire, it’s time to invoke the craft of writing. It is the craft of story structure that provides the foundation through which inspiration is woven.

In Syd’s book The Screenwriter’s Workbook he states: “You must know what the resolution of your story line is. I don’t necessarily mean the specific scene or sequence at the end of the screenplay but what happens to resolve the dramatic conflict. If you don’t know the ending of your story, who does?”

You are the guide on this journey and in order to reach the destination, the first thing to know as you anchor those flashes of inspiration and begin the trek home is… where does it all end?
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Published on November 05, 2016 22:29 • 111 views • Tags: novels, screenwriting, writing

June 9, 2016

In 1988, author Robert Fulghum’s collection of essays, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was a New York Times bestseller. It remained a bestseller for nearly two years. The now-famous list of things learned is continually re-printed, updated and posted throughout the internet. Clearly, this was a book that resonated with readers in a way that supported them in maneuvering through the day-to-day experience of living.

More recently, in the New York Times Review of Books President Barack Obama was quoted as saying: “[T]he most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels…”.

This is something that definitely resonates for me. I was fortunate to have great parents from whom I learned about life. In fact, it was my mother who instilled me and my siblings a great love of reading novels. And it is always a wonder to me how much wisdom I’ve found in them. In his NYT interview, Pres. Obama went on to say about novels: “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.”

It is easy for me to quote from novels that help me be comfortable in a complicated world full of grays and truth.

For instance, from Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave: “The gods only go with you, when you put yourself in their path.” This, from a novel about young Merlin in 5th century Britain, was encouragement for me, a kid from the South Side of 20th century Chicago, to seek out new adventure and have the courage to go out into the world and explore.

And this from the Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door book two in her Time Quintet: “Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”

And, though technically not novels, just about anything Dr. Maya Angelou has written, including this gem from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

Books offer so much to each reader and when the reader joins in the exchange, wonderful experiences happen.

In May 2016, author Shirley Sacks and BooksEndependent hosted the first annual “Fabliss Week” holiday with a Facebook Event. The Fabliss Life of Bella Mellman by Shirley Sacks The inspiration sprang from Shirley’s novel. A theme was assigned to each letter of the word “Fabliss” and for seven days participants were invited to celebrate living their own fabliss life by incorporating the theme for the day: Fearless, Adventurous, Bold, Loving, Independent, Silly, Serene.

One reader shared about remembering to be Loving in the care of her elderly father. Another was Adventurous with adding a new puppy to the household and going for a hike surrounded by bigger dogs – and having great fun, too! Even the author got in on the Adventurous action – bicycling for the first time in 30 years!

A book has done its job when it engages the reader to take action! Or to think differently, try something new, explore far horizons or simply understand themselves, life and the world just a little more clearly.

And who knows, if we read enough novels, perhaps we, too, could learn enough important things to make it to The White House, just like our President.
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Published on June 09, 2016 12:34 • 45 views

March 20, 2016

A strong woman, Mrs. Mary E. Jones Parrish, wrote the book on the following event. This is my summary of those events.

Once upon a time, a group of black protesters who were against mob rule, set out to support their local sheriff in protecting a young prisoner from being lynched. It was a time when open carry of firearms was legal. Many of the black protesters were veterans of The Great War. They were proud citizens who felt it was their right to step forward and maintain the peace and the rule of law.

They were rightfully concerned, because just nine months earlier, a white mob had taken a white prisoner from custody and lynched him. The crowd of white citizens was so large the police directed traffic to allow the extra-legal execution to take place without interference. However, once mob “justice” had been served, the crowd surged forward to rip souvenirs from the corpse.

This was the mentality facing the protesters of this time and place – 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma. If the authorities chose not to protect one of its white citizens from a lynch mob, what hope was there for a black citizen without support from his community?

However, the white mob surrounding the courthouse was incensed that these black citizens would question their actions. Who were they to stand and voice an opinion? By noon the following day, this white mob organized and executed the largest riot against a black community in the history of our nation. With guns, fire and bombs, the once prosperous community known as Greenwood, the Black Wall Street, was pillaged and burned until it resembled a bombed-out village from the recent war in Europe.

Those black citizens who survived, including Mrs. Jones Parrish and her daughter, were rounded up and placed into detention camps. Martial law was declared. These black citizens could only be released through the authority of a white citizen. Men, women, children.

No one from that white mob ever served time for these crimes. In fact, the official grand jury blamed the destruction on the black protesters for daring to come forward, stating that propaganda had been: "accumulative in the minds of the negro which led them as a people to believe in equal rights, social equality and their ability to demand the same” – Tulsa World, June 26, 1921, p. 8. A message had been sent and the grand jury condoned it.

I was drawn to tell this story now in light of current events.

When a (white) front runner in the 2016 presidential campaign says to his supporters, in response to (primarily black) protesters, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks.” we need to talk about the "old days" to which he refers. Further, this same front runner now predicts that if he does not get the GOP nomination, there will be riots.

There is a well-known cautionary statement: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Charles Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905).

Here we are in the 21st century, and it seems there is an existing segment of our country who do remember the past and are really eager to repeat it.

This year, Memorial Day weekend 2016, marks the 95th anniversary of “the old days.” A survivor and strong woman of that period, Mrs. Mary E. Jones Parrish, wrote the first book to detail the tragedy, based on her experience and the testimony of other survivors. Race riot 1921 Events of the Tulsa disaster by Mary E. Jones Parrish #WorldStory16
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Published on March 20, 2016 15:00 • 96 views

March 14, 2016

The spring equinox (March 20, 2016) in the northern hemisphere (autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere) marks World Storytelling Day! (

The history of this global celebration of storytelling began in Sweden circa 1991-2 as a national event and has evolved through the years to encompass the globe. Since 2004, each World Storytelling Day has carried a theme, the first being Birds, and for 2016: Strong Women

Though this day is designed for the art of oral storytelling, I offer the written word story of a favorite, fictional, strong (little) woman named, Frauke.

The day was sunny, the sky was blue,
But poor little Frauke had nothing to do.
Her tasks were complete. Her room was very neat.
Her cat lay contently asleep at her feet.

A poor little sigh escaped from her mouth,
Her poor little lips were pursed up in a pout.
And poor little Frauke, her chin in her hand
Stared through the window, surveying the land.

The snow had blossomed to life overnight.
Every bush, every road was now hidden from sight.
So poor little Frauke sat in her room
And tried to withstand the oncoming gloom.

She blinked at the shimmering sunlit snow.
She felt a strong need to get up and go.
If only the snow had not climbed so high
Poor little Frauke would…
But WAIT! Perhaps she could…
The snowdrift…the window…
Yes, she would FLY!

She ran to the closet and took out her boots
Put on her jacket and laughed with a whoop!
This little woman stepped onto the ledge
And spread out her arms and then…
Cool air.
Soaring through light.

The cloth of her coat suspended her flight.

Oh, a joyous glow!

Then PLOOF! On the pillow of billowy snow.
She giggled. She shouted.
She wriggled. She waddled.
She sang and made angels
She danced a fandangle.
And then came a voice
It wasn't amused.
And poor little Frauke
Knew her fun had been used.

Her Mom had seen the flight through the air
She fretted that Frauke would give her gray hair.
A good little lady does not play that way
Return to your room for the rest of the day.

So, poor little Frauke went into the house.
She looked meek and mild, just like a mouse.
But inside her heart was a broad, happy grin.
She could fly! And she knew she would do it again.
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Published on March 14, 2016 23:06 • 77 views

December 8, 2015

Have you heard? Apparently there’s a “War On Christmas” – who knew? Don’t say Happy Holidays! This is Christmas time, we celebrate Christ, see his name is right there in the name of the holiday, so stop trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Stop being oppressive about our Christian holy day!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas. Of course, especially when I was a child. No school, pretty lights, presents under the tree, midnight candlelight services… I can even sing ‘O come all ye faithful’ in Latin (thanks to Nat King Cole’s essential Christmas album and 2 years of Latin in high school).

The story of Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, the star visible by day and by night – all of it sparked a delicious wonder, mystery and beauty into urban life on the south side of Chicago. And don’t get me started on the movies! The list is long.

But even as a child back in the 20th century there was talk of the commercialization of the holiday, just watch Miracle on 34th Street, released in 1947. And then when retailers started abbreviating Christmas with ‘Xmas’, the rumbling began.

Nowadays, as many people around the world, and most especially in the United States, acknowledge that there are other religious and cultural celebrations at this same time, all of a sudden it's being interpreted by some Christians as a “war.” By simply daring to recognize that there are also non-Christian celebrations happening in December, (you know being inclusive) it's a war against Christmas - as if others are infringing on an imagined Christian trademark on this particular time of year.

But let’s take a step back for a minute. The general opinion is that the United States was founded as a Christian country. You know Pilgrims, right? We celebrate in November; the first Thanksgiving and all. But have you ever noticed we never see anything about the first Pilgrim Christmas?

Well, there’s a funny thing about those grateful Pilgrims who settled in America. They BANNED CHRISTMAS!!!

Yes, the Pilgrims actually outlawed the holiday! Celebrating Christmas was illegal and those caught making merry were fined or jailed! Now that was a real war on Christmas. A simple check of Wikipedia can start your research: “The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry.“

They're not the only ones. Early Christians, and I’m speaking of the first few hundred years of Christianity, did not celebrate birthdays. Catholic theologian Origen of Alexandria wrote:

“...of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world.”

(Go ahead, thank Wikipedia with a small donation. It's the holidays! And it's tax-deductible.)

In fact, it is ironic in the extreme that any contemporary Christian complains about a so-called war on Christmas, considering that Christmas itself is theorized to have been a “war” against paganism. A fascinating book to read is The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum.

In my novella, I Believe: A Ghost Story for the Holidays, Ramsay, a cynical and bitter widower, rants at his co-workers in the faculty lounge:

“Don’t talk to me about Christmas. If you’re interested in winter solstice debauchery, let me know. Otherwise don’t involve me in this fantasy world created by the church.”

His fellow teachers admonished him as a Scrooge, which only set him off.

“See, see, there you go. Dickens is the main culprit, him and Washington Irving practically invented Christmas as you know it today. Irving invented “ancient traditions” and Dickens wrote a quick story to pay some bills.”

“Come on, Ram. 2,000 years of tradition can’t be all wrong.”

“No, no…not 2,000 years. The first 300 years after his death nobody, nobody celebrated his birth. The early church focused on Passover and Easter. No, it wasn’t until Pope Julius had the bright idea to claim the winter solstice festival from the pagans to distract them from celebrating Saturnalia and the birth of Mithra… I mean, even the Puritans knew better than to get sucked into celebrating Christmas. It was outlawed in Boston! But then the marketers got hold of the idea and boom – Christmas shopping season ads were born, Christmas cards, designed so people would use the new postal service, by the way – and get this – Jesus wasn’t even born in December!”

A small, timid woman puffed up the nerve to respond. “Are you saying Christ was never born?”

“No, of course not. But he was probably born in the spring or maybe the fall, otherwise, shepherds, the first to witness this birth, wouldn’t be out with their sheep in mid-winter! That’s when they killed them for fresh meat. The 25th was celebrated long before Christ was born. With drinking, feasting, sex and rock and roll. Now that’s what I call a party! You have something like that, count me in.”

And on that note, he stalked out with his coffee. As an afterthought, he poked his head back in…

“And don’t get me started on Kwanzaa. Just do your research. You’re teachers, do the research… Ron Everett – re-named himself Karenga. Go on. Look it up. Invented. Made up. Just like Christmas. All this stuff invented to make you obediently spend money and feel guilty.”

Of course, like any holiday (including Christmas) story worth its salt, Ramsay has a change of heart, thanks to a spiritual intervention from his deceased wife. But that’s not my point.

There is no current war on Christmas! No one is trying to ban it, outlaw it, or eradicate it. What’s happening is a shift of awareness that recognizes this period of celebration as a universal human expression. And to be blunt, no one religion or culture “owns” this time of year. And anyone ranting about a “war on Christmas” might want to extend that most Christmassy of tenets and share the joy of human kindness and goodwill toward all.
I Believe...A Ghost Story for the Holidays
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Published on December 08, 2015 12:26 • 131 views • Tags: christmas, dickens, ghosts, los-angeles

August 10, 2015

This story was first published in the July 2010 issue of Ebony Magazine.

There was only one day during summer vacations in the mid-1960’s, that I was happy to wake up early. That was the day in August when Mom got us out of bed in the pre-dawn light for The Family Road Trip. My father loved the open road and exploring sights unseen. We all got to share in his adventures.

In the weeks before the journey Mom would sew summer outfits for us girls. The night before, we laid out our clothes and went to bed early, excitement making it hard to get to sleep. But we were up before the sun because Daddy wanted to hit the road before morning traffic. A quick breakfast, leave the dishes – we didn’t even have to make our beds. And then the car or camper or whatever we had that year, was loaded up, the windows open to the August dawn and we were off, leaving the south side of Chicago behind.

Mom was the navigator. Dad the driver. I was the youngest with two older sisters and our brother, the eldest. The Dan Ryan Expressway would be nearly empty, as if the road belonged only to us.

During my childhood we traveled east to Niagara Falls and the New York Expo and north to Montreal, Canada. But it is the trips out west that I remember most.

Such wide-open spaces and majestic peaks! Mt. Rushmore. The Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon. And finally California – Fisherman’s Wharf, my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean and tasting fresh shrimp cocktail. Then south to Disneyland, where us kids were left to ourselves, with bunches of tickets in hand, while our parents stayed at the camper for some peace and quiet to celebrate their anniversary.

Mom was always a great cook, but the meals when camping were beyond compare. Bacon and eggs just taste better when cooked outdoors. And at night, we’d eat by the light of kerosene lamps and play endless card games. Away from the city it was family time under western skies, desert breezes, crickets and coyotes, and the time my older sister tried to let the bear cub in the backseat of the car at Yellowstone National Park, which we always called Jellystone in honor of Yogi Bear.

But it was the open road, the seemingly never-ending ribbon of highway that stretched before us in the dawn, or the western setting sun, or driving toward a rain cloud on the horizon, cruising through the storm and leaving it behind into a burst of sunshine, or brilliant rainbows across a mountain waterfall.
We found adventure and peace in the national parks and the happiest place on earth, during a period when the country was going through upheaval and turmoil.

Thanks to my father’s sense of exploration he gave us the experience of the freedom offered by a full tank of gas, a map and the joy of the open road stretching out into the long horizon of a summer day.
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Published on August 10, 2015 22:10 • 27 views • Tags: chicago, mt-rushmore, road-trips, travel

July 12, 2015

BE author Artt Frank is busy polishing the second volume of his memoir about his friendship and collaboration with jazz great Chet Baker. Here is a SNEAK PEEK from the upcoming memoir: "Chet Baker: The Later Years." Artt describes playing a gig with Chet (Trumpet), Drew Salperto (Piano), Mike Formanek (Bass) Artt Frank (Drums) at the Backstreet Club (New Haven, CT) in February 1980.

Burnin’ at Backstreet

“Drew announced Chet’s name and when we hit the stand, the entire room fell completely and totally silent. Without a word, Chet lifted the trumpet to his lips and began to play a Miles Davis composition called “Tune up.” The tempo he called was exquisitely perfect. I used brushes throughout the tune. As soon as we started playing together, the old magic we had on the stand at the Melody Room back in 1969 miraculously returned.. As far as Chet’s playing was concerned, it was definitely not of this earth. He played in the now, in the moment. For him, it was “the now” that was truly important. Nothing else seemed to matter. He wasn’t the kind to look ahead. For him, there was no future beyond the moment he was living and playing in. No permanency. Yet, the way he was playing this night filled my heart with both fear and exhilaration over the way he was attacking the tunes … “Milestones,” “Blue ‘N’ Boogie,” “Stella by Starlight,” “Four.” It was as though he wanted to prove to the critics that though they had often times given his sometimes frail body up for dead, he still had a lot of fire left in his heart and horn. Was this the reason he was ripping off both long and short strings of sixteenth and thirty-second notes, creating necklaces of sheer melodic beauty, taking three, four and five choruses on each tune? Or was it because, as Chet had confessed to me on several occasions, that he had an uneasy feeling that each time he played, it could very well be his last night of playing, and he wanted to express it all? Whatever the reason, he was burnin!! I was burnin’! Drew and Mike Formanek were burnin’ and every other person in that club was burnin’ right along with us. Thank God Drew and I had the sense to record the first set, which has since been made into a CD, entitled, The Chet Baker Quartet “Burnin’ at Backstreet.”
©2015 Artt Frank

Listen to "Tune Up":

Read Artt's current book! Chet Baker The Missing Years, a Memoir by Artt Frank by Artt Frank
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Published on July 12, 2015 12:59 • 54 views • Tags: backstreet-club, chet-baker, jazz

June 17, 2015

By DeeAnn Veeder

So this happened. Just a couple of weeks ago. At Book Expo America 2015 (BEA) in New York City, at the Javits Center. I was attending the conference with the newest member of our BooksEndependent (BE) team, Samuel E. Woods-Corr, our Digital Marketing Administrator. This was the first opportunity we’d had to connect as a team, and I became more and more impressed with this young man over those two days. He is enthusiastic, smart, and charismatic. He is knowledgeable and confident in areas that complement my ability to work a typewriter. He’s a super people person, asks questions easily and sees the big picture fast.

This particular incident happened when we were each attending separate seminars. Before the session started, Sam was standing off to the side talking to David Parker, author of The More You Do, The Better You Feel, when a woman approached Sam and asked if he could turn the air conditioning down. Now why did she ask Sam to do that? Was it the strong feeling of capability that Sam exudes? Was it his friendly demeanor, his killer smile, his light blue polo shirt? Was he standing next to the thermostat? Or was he the only black guy in the room? Mr. Parker apologized to Sam on behalf of all white people. Sam related this story to me in good humor, but, really...ouch.

Ironically, the seminar I attended was WNDB: Be the Change You Want to See. WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) was a campaign conceived last year in response to an oversight of BookCon’s organizers; diverse authors were absent from their Blockbuster Reads panel, which was all white authors and one cat. The people in charge stretched right on past and over people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ people to a cat. Grumpy Cat. I love cats but, come on, is it even a calico cat?

It’s tremendously gratifying and exciting to see how fast WNDB has grown in a year. Their website is now a fantastic resource, and there are some seriously talented, prolific, award-winning authors involved in every facet of the organization.

Ellen Oh, one of WNDB’s founders, was the moderator of this conference and on the panel were Lamar Giles, Linda Sue Park, Matt de la Pena, and Tim Federle. This was by far the most entertaining, exciting, and important panel at the show. The discussion was animated, brilliantly insightful and relevant. They talked about the groundbreaking WNDB Publishing Internship Program headed by Linda Sue Park. They presented WNDB in the Classroom, and appealed to the gatekeepers, the teachers and librarians, to understand how vital it is to bring diverse books to every school and library in this country.

Now back to Sam’s seminar, Public Libraries, the Publishers’ Friend in the Digital Age; the white lady who thought Sam was a janitor could very well be one of those gatekeepers, a librarian. I can only hope that she attends WNDB’s conference next year. Or better yet, maybe she heard about them this year and is reading up on their mission, their worthy efforts; maybe she’s perusing their Summer Reading Series right now; maybe she’s checking out their Booktalking Kit. Maybe she’s ordering all kinds of diverse books so she can avoid hurting someone else’s feelings in the future.
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Published on June 17, 2015 14:54 • 36 views • Tags: bookexpo, diversity, libraries

May 14, 2015

The Armchair Activist
By DeeAnn Veeder

When I was a kid, I had a dream of having a child of every race, a noble dream for a young blonde child; I thought if families were made up of every race, there wouldn't be hatred or prejudice, and I would start with my own. Realistically, though, how many children would that be? And, well, so many men, so little time. I only made it as far afield as Italians, then I married a Jew and had two white children. Fifteen years later, I notice I’m living in a predominantly white small town. But I am not a racist. Right?

My daughter’s first friends here in first grade were a ginger-haired boy, a white girl and a black boy. I became the most friendly with the white girl’s mother and the ginger-haired boy’s parents. My son’s first friends here were an East Indian girl and a Chinese girl. But it’s not like he chose these friends; he was only six months old. The girls’ parents were my friends, and they were all white. Still, I am not a racist. Right?

My kids’ pediatrician is a black woman. My daughter’s basketball coach was a black man. Her track coach was a black woman. Her favorite teacher and mentor was an Asian man.

Also once I walked into the room where my son was engrossed in a television show, which I watched with him for a few minutes; it was a kid detective show with three young sleuths, a white boy, a white girl and a black girl. I asked him which one found the clue, and he said the one in the skirt, which was the black girl. Yes! I happily patted myself on the back; my son doesn't see color!

Wow, when did I get a clue anyway?

It might have started that day I took the review copy of an old friend's new book to our village bookstore to ask if they would carry it. It was with speechless surprise a week later that I carried that book back home with me after being told by the clerk it was too 'ethnic' for them to sell in their store. (See? I have a black friend.)

Too ethnic? What? This clerk was a retired teacher from our middle school! Too ethnic? We are all ‘ethnic’ or none of us is. Wait a minute, how ignorant, how white, how closed-minded is this town, anyway? I didn’t say those things, I barely thought them; I was embarrassed, shocked, abashed that I dared to ask such a favor at a bookstore I had been frequenting for fifteen years. There followed dismay, sorrow, and eventual anger.

The book? Katrin's Chronicles: The Canon of Jacqueléne Dyanne, Vol. 1 by Valerie C. Woods.

One of the things I absolutely love about Katrin’s Chronicles is that, for me, it transcends race. It’s about deductive reasoning, trusting your hidden powers, writing your story, 1968, South Side Chicago, sibling love, supportive family, independent and resourceful and good kids. It is a delightful book with wonderfully original characters that made me happy reading it. It’s the Nancy Drew mysteries I loved so well as a young girl, but with new, interesting, and intriguing characters. J. Dyanne is intense and Katrin is precocious, and they have adventures and solve mysteries and learn about their psychic gifts, and Katrin uses wonderfully big words telling us about it all. These young girls are defined through their intelligence, their adventures and their candor, and through their color.

Katrin’s Chronicles isn't a book about being black, but it is important that these girls are black because there aren’t enough books like this. In fact, this is the first African American girl detective novel. It’s important that young black girls see themselves as the stars of the story. It’s important that young white girls see young black girls as the stars of the story.

It is necessary for books like Katrin's Chronicles to be present in a town like this, in every town like this, in the bookstore, in the school library, in the public library and in classrooms, so that a book with a drawing of black kids on the cover, a book about two black sisters in an innocent tween mystery novel is not something out of the ordinary, something ‘ too ethnic’ to sell in 2014 in a small upstate New York town of predominantly white people.

It makes black people relatable to those white people who don’t have a black friend.
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Published on May 14, 2015 13:33 • 113 views • Tags: 1968, african-american, chicago, girl-detectives