Here’s Shawnda Patterson telling us how she wrote her first book, The Dating Game: How To Find Yourself While Looking for Mr. Right. Love how she explains her process for independent publication.
Associated Press Sportswriter Cliff Brunt
Originally published in The Atlantic, May 9, 2016.
In the summer of 2001, my family and I moved into the Prospect-Lefferts Garden neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. I was 25. My partner was 24. Our son was 11 months. Prospect-Lefferts Garden is a lovely neighborhood marked by quiet streets and some of the most beautiful architecture in the city. There are several blocks lined with perfectly preserved limestones and brownstones. There is a strong sense of community. Block parties are a tradition. And for those of us who fear the suburbs, Flatbush Avenue hums at the neighborhood’s border. When we moved into the neighborhood, it was predominantly black. A haircut was a two-minute walk away. Great jerk chicken was everywhere. My best friend from college lived on the same block. On Friday evenings you could find us out on his stoop with Jack and Coke in hand (which we drank that back then), watching the world go by.
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On June 23rd, I received an email from Max Rodriguez, founder of the Harlem Book Fair, which, in 2015, celebrated its 17th year of operation. He advised that my debut novel, Adinkrahene: Fear of a Black Planet, had been selected as one of three finalists for a Phillis Wheatley Book Award.
To say I was elated would be an understatement. I was overjoyed, unashamedly floating above, and well beyond, the stratosphere. But now that this news had been shared with me, I found myself sitting on pins and needles in anticipation of being named the First Fiction Book Award winner at the July 17th awards ceremony, which was held on the campus of Columbia University.
I didn’t win that day. Neither did the other finalist, Amaka Lily, for Shifting Allegiances: A Nigerian’s Story of Nigeria, America and Culture Shock. The award went to Nigeria Lockley for her debut novel Born at Dawn.
I think my 11-year-old son took this news the hardest. When New York Times bestselling author Omar Tyree announced the winner, my son exclaimed, “Aw, man! I wanted you to win!”
All I could do was peer over and down at him, a smirk masking my disappointment. “It’s okay, buddy,” I told him. “I’m honored from just being named a finalist.” Then, without skipping a beat, I added, “Maybe next year, we can both enter something.”
He smiled at that.
What my son didn’t know was our NYC weekend would be special not because I was being considered for a prestigious award – even though it would have been nice to have won it. It would be special because I was spending it with him. Even before we boarded the Metro train on 72nd Street for the short ride Uptown to Columbia University, we had spent the early afternoon sightseeing in Times Square and eating lunch at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.
While walking the streets in and around Times Square, I received a peace blessing from a Chinese monk.
My son marveled at the sight of a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty (standing completely still for several, long minutes), and the Naked Cowboy playing his guitar, curbside, for his adoring female fans.
And I fought, to no avail, to avert his eyes as we walked past two women clad in body paint, high heel shoes and shiny shorts that left little to the imagination.
The next day, Saturday, we walked from the Hotel Beacon to the Starbucks across the street for breakfast. After we received our breakfast orders, I explained the game plan to him. We would catch the Metro on 72nd Street for the short ride Uptown to 135th. Once there, we would locate our vendor booth along a street next to the Countee Cullen Library for the daylong Harlem Book Fair. From there, we would proceed to sell our books to the hordes of readers that would be swarming around our booth.
He nodded, letting me know he was game. But then it happened. It started raining, cats and dogs really. All I could do was nod my head as my heart sank. We had flown from Dallas to New York City to sell our books, and now we were going to be forced to contend with the rain.
The two previous times I had attended the fair, rain had never been in the forecast, only sunny skies and the accompanying heat. Lucky for us, the rain went from a torrential downpour to a sprinkle. And by the time we emerged from the 135th Street subway station, it had stopped completely.
Selling books at the Harlem Book Fair was a transformative experience for my son and me. As people stepped to our table to inquire about our titles, we had to dig deep to give them good reasons to purchase them. I told them that the first book in the Adinkrahene series is all about introducing readers to a new reality, one in which a select group of Black men and women (100 total) are lower-case gods, and they mainly use their supernatural abilities to establish peace and prosperity for all, not exact vengeance upon their enemies, the Anglo-controlled (but Satarian-possessed) Corporate Cabal.
My son told his readers that the Leaf Knight (from his The Leaf Knight Chronicles: The Knightly Origins) is an 11-year-old boy destined to fulfill a prophecy. And when he added that the story and illustrations were all penned and drawn by him, these same readers didn’t hesitate to reach for their wallets (and purses) and pay him for autographed copies of his book. All this proud poppa could do was smile, because it became crystal clear to me that, on this day at least, he would be the most popular author working under the Culturally Coded Content banner.
We celebrated that night by going Downtown to see the Broadway play Wicked. Seeing this play had been on my to-do list since my days as Director of the Bruce Wells Scholars TRIO Upward Bound Program (2001-2005). That was more than 10 years ago. But as I sat there, with my son, watching actors bring novelist Gregory Maguire’s words to life, I daydreamed about what life would be like to have stage and screen actors do the same for my novels, short stories and screenplays.
Only time will tell. My son and I just have to keep doing what is necessary to grow as writers.
When I first started this journey, my goal was not to become a hack, kicking out book projects that didn’t add value to readers’ lives. My goal has always been to produce creative works that speak to the relationships that we humans share, both individually and collectively. Having my debut novel selected as a finalist for the 2015 Phillis Wheatley First Fiction Book Award lets me know I’m a good writer. I must now be about the business of becoming a great one.
“That’s my seat,” the Black, teenage thug loudly exclaims as he, and three of his boys, all Black, step off the platform and into the subway car. “Get up.” I watch as his large hands become fists and he steps closer, invading the suited, White man’s personal space. “Now.”
The stern expression on the suited, White man’s face lets me know he’s not accustomed to backing down from a fight. But this fight is one he knows he can’t win. The tightening of his grip around the briefcase in his lap lets me know he’s protecting something of value, a laptop computer perhaps. He has probably ridden the Metro numerous times, from Downtown Los Angeles to the M.L.K. Transit Center/Compton Station, but this is the first time he has been accosted by the local thugs.
I almost feel sorry for the man. Like me, all he wants to do is get home without incident after spending eight hours or more at the office. I have him pegged as a show runner with one of the local studios, but the pocket-protected pens and markers in the front, left pocket of his button-down shirt gives me second thoughts.
He undoubtedly is an accountant at one of the local banks.
But how can I feel sorry for him? My skin is as dark as the pesky thug’s. By virtue of being born Black, I’m supposed to side with him, right?
Stick it to the White man, take what they are unwilling to relinquish on their own, right?
The Black, teenage thug grabs the man by his collar, effortlessly lifts him from the seat. Members of his entourage snicker in the background, patiently waiting on the punch line to some sick joke. Hanging from the Black, teenage thug’s bent arm now, the suited, White man nervously looks up at him, seeking permission with his eyes to be excused.
The Black, teenage thug releases him. The suited, White man immediately turns on his heels to seek refuge in the adjoining car. The Black, teenage thug claims the now-empty seat, high-fiving a lighter-skinned member of his entourage.
An angry scowl on the face of the old, White man seated just to the right of me doesn’t go unnoticed. He is dressed in all black, with a preacher’s collar, and the little hair that remains on his head is combed over to cover a bald spot.
“You need to stop eyeballing me, old man,” the Black, teenage thug says, his unbelted, denim jeans now six inches below his waistline. He stands briefly to pull his pants up over his boxers, then sits. His gaze falls on me.
Pointing, he says, “Hey, y’all, look at Wheels over there.” Eyes above smiling faces now shift to me.
“Bet not get him mad, Ty,” a member of his entourage interjects. “He’ll run you over.”
“Why do you people act the way you do?” Preacher Man gruffly says, his arms crossed.
The Black, teenage thug now known as Ty doesn’t hear him, but a member of his entourage does. “What’s that you say, old man?” the member asks. Everyone’s attention shifts to Preacher Man as the thug who heard him stands, readying himself for a fistfight.
Preacher Man continues, “We give you space, yet you still feel the need to mock and terrorize us. Why? For laughs? I think not. You don’t care. About yourselves, the legacy of your people.”
Ty leaps from his seat while reaching for the revolver in his right jacket pocket. He stands in front of Preacher Man, his revolver pressed firmly against Preacher Man’s temple. Preacher Man’s arms are at his sides now, and his eyes are shut. Must be making amends with God, for he probably fears the end is near.
“He’s right, you know?”
Ty turns to me, revolver still pressed firmly against Preacher Man’s temple.
“You don’t care. About yourselves, the legacy of our people.”
Copyright 2015. Jeffery A. Faulkerson. All rights reserved.
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