Face Your Fears

Hi, Everybody!

I am pleased to announce that I will now be a regular contributor to the RMFW Blogs. I am really excited and proud to be here. There are so many wonderful members of our organization. So many writers, authors, and publishers that I look up to. In fact, in many ways, I feel like I’m walking with giants – and it’s a little scary.

Fear.

It’s the worst four letter F word I know. At times it can be your friend. At times it can be the shackles that hold you back. Today I want to write about fear.

I am 46 years old. I’ve accomplished some things in my life. I’ve accomplished many of the goals I’ve set out for myself in my life. I’ve also failed a lot, too. But as I look back on the road markers of my life, I realize that every major event where I came out triumphant occurred because I stepped out of fear. Applying to my dream college, asking my wife to marry me, my work as an actor (ok, a set extra – but I acted!), and everything else was directly related my decision to act in spite of my fear.

I’ve got a little secret to tell you. See, evolutionary biologists tell us our brains have a negative bias. That means we are inherently conservative in our actions because it’s what kept our species safe over tens of thousands of years.

Our ancestors told crazy caveman Larry, “No, we are NOT attacking the pride of lions with clubs and sharpened sticks.”

Our ancestors chose to continue planting the grains they were used to instead of that new-fangled grain the foreigners brought.

Our ancestors chose to play it safe because that consistently paid off.

But guess what, we don’t have to do that anymore. Now, I’m not talking about paying in traffic people, but that skip of the heartbeat, that breathlessness we get that lets us know something isn’t right, we can choose to ignore that.

See, our primate brains still act react to social situations as if there’s a wolf pack around the corner. It doesn’t know how to react any other way. And that can be really helpful – when there’s an actual wolf pack in the area! But there isn’t. So why do we give into our fears?

The last three days of May I freaked out – hardcore. For the first time, I decided to enter The Colorado Gold Contest. The story had been written a year ago. I had taken it to critique group, even had a former judge peruse it. But I waited until the afternoon of the very last day to turn it in. I was scared. I started procrastinating by calling old friends, watching YouTube videos and re-reading books. I did everything I could not to submit my four thousand words.

At times like these, you have to remember that the thing that scares you is the thing you are supposed to do. That fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing status or prestige – are all illusions. The things that matter in your life are still going to be there whether you step on stage and sing or run away. More importantly, if do choose to stand in that state and make a fool out of yourself your friends are still going to be there.

Will it hurt? Probably. Will it be embarrassing? Possibly. But all suffering is redemptive and you’ll be a better person for the scars. You’ll learn and do it better next time.

You know what’s awesome about writing? If it doesn’t work out, you can always hit delete. You can always re-write that WIP, start a new story, query another agent, or submit to another contest. There are endless opportunities to write well.

Will it be hard? Yes. But hard is relative. Will it be “Shoveling horse manure in Missouri,” hard? Probably not. Will it grate at your ego? Well, only you can answer that.

The point is you have a unique opportunity to tell a story only you can tell. Don’t let a little fear get in the way of that. It takes courage to write – especially today. It took courage to look up RMFW. It took courage to start reading this blog. So we already know you’re a courageous person just for being here! Now let’s continue to be courageous.

Christ Batty, the founder of NaNoWrimo, is fond of saying “The World Needs Your Story.” I couldn’t agree more. All you have to do is make a habit of it. Write a little a day, even if it’s just a page. Then, join a critique group. Meet new friends who will support your writing. Go to conference in September.

You’re probably wondering if I submitted my first 4K to the contest. I did. I clicked submit at 3:19 PM on May 31st. I got in under the deadline – in spite of my fear.

 

 

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Four

Below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on, June 13th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Ready? Here we go:

What was the one book that inspired you to write?

Can I Get There by Candlelight by Jean Slaughter Doty ____

Hard to tell, like many in RMFW, I've written since I was a child. Greek Mythology, Fairy Tales, learned to read on The Cat and the Hat. Andre Norton, as a youngster. Hmm. I don't know. ____

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins ____

This is like picking a favorite—seriously too hard for me. But I can tell you the majority of books I loved the most growing up were fantasy, so it seems there might be an influence… ____

If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon ____

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix___

 

I have so any books to add to my TBR pile now. Thanks all.

Remember to check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

Gary Reilly Was The Greatest Writer I Ever Knew

Gary Reilly was the greatest writer I ever knew.

Variety, volume, and quality.

All three.

RMFW writer friends of mine – and anyone writing fiction out there – I ask this: how many writers do you know who put together 25 novels (most of them in near-perfect shape) without ever receiving a word of encouragement for an agent or publishing house? In fact, Gary was discouraged many times. He would query now and then, get rejected, and keep writing.

Twenty-five! And most only need a light dusting, editing wise, to get them shipshape today.

Quality? Three Colorado Book Award finalist nominations so far. Booklist has raved about Gary's series. National Public Radio has twice talked about Gary's works in a positive light. And Gary's Vietnam fiction has drawn praise from Ron Carlson, Stewart O'Nan, Gregory Hill, Tim Bazzett, John Mort and David Willson, who reviews books for The Vietnam Veterans of America.  The single story Gary had published during his lifetime was accepted by The Iowa Review and later included in the fourth volume of The Pushcart Prize anthology, the best fiction from small presses.

Yes, quality.

For many of his works, Gary Reilly did what writers are taught to do. He drew stories from his life. And livelihoods. For many other stories, he conjured from his quite active storytelling imagination.

So Gary wrote about going to war. He wrote about driving a taxi. And he weaved into his books many of the frustrations about being an unpublished novelist.

Gary, who died in 2011, left behind a mountain of fiction.

Here at the worldwide headquarters of Running Meter Press, we are closing in on the half-way mark of publishing Gary’s works.

Later this month, on Friday, June 23, we will launch The Discharge, the third book in Gary’s trilogy about his experiences during The Vietnam War.

The series started with The Enlisted Men’s Club, set in The Presidio and around San Francisco as Private Palmer (Gary’s alter ego) faced the grim prospect of going to war. Private Palmer drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and tries hard, during the occasional training run, to imagine what lies ahead.

Palmer touches his shirt pocket for a cigarette, then drops his hand. The smoking lamp isn’t lit. Do real grunts smoke on patrol? The point-man has an incomprehensible look of panic on his face. Lt. Norbert turns him around by the shoulders and shoves him back toward his position. Can patrols in Vietnam be as half-assed as this? Palmer knows he could very well end up in the Infantry and that he is not guaranteed to remain an MP once he arrives in a combat zone, though maybe that’s just Army Apocrypha. He will never be able to separate his illusions from his ignorance. When he was inducted he had expected everyone to end up with nicknames, like Bookworm, Lefty, or Ace. His nickname would be Colorado, as in, “Colorado bought the farm last night, Ace.” Everyone would look like Bart Maverick, Bret’s less-interesting brother. When they got into arguments, they would raise their chins and say things like, “Back off, buddy boy.”

In The Detachment, Private Palmer is “in country,” but he’s an MP and his combat is internal. The Detachment is 154,000 words. It’s a one-year arc and its three parts are beautifully distinct. The war is nearby and Palmer and witnesses its toll, but he’s not fighting out in the jungles of Vietnam.

The sounds of the choppers fade as they fly toward the PX, cross over it, then separate and begin spreading out in a combat formation, their fantails easing back and forth, the Hueys now like tiny fish idling against a river’s current. A circle of light suddenly appears on the mountainside, a white disk that must cover twenty square acres, and at first Palmer thinks it has come from a helicopter. The circle probes the hillsides, slithers along its rills and gullies in search of VC, moves as rapidly as if Palmer himself were twitching the beam of a hand-held flashlight across the far ranges, thousands of meters swept in less than a second….

Tracer bullets streak toward the side of the mountain, the Hueys now like angry spiders spinning endless red threads, raking the gullies, the rills, the folds as the circle of white light stops, creating a bull’s-eye target for the bullets tearing up the earth…

The battle sounds cease, the faint pulse of the earth no longer throbbing at irregular intervals through Palmer’s soles. The massive spotlight begins to drift slowly north along the hillsides, its shape changing as it traces every mound and crevice like a flattened liquid cat in a cartoon sliding off a chair.

And in The Discharge, Private Palmer returns home to Denver and, quite frankly, here’s where I get chills.

I think about all the soldiers who have returned home, alive. I think about how returning soldiers from Vietnam were treated.

I think about how anyone would find meaning in life after seeing so much killing or being the cause of your enemy’s death. The suicide rates among veterans is a harrowing issue to this day and it's no accident that suicides play a major role in both The Enlisted Men’s Club and The Detachment.

Gary’s fiction captured the reality of the mental state of his fellow soldiers—and, of course, his own.

Coming home in The Discharge, Palmer (no longer Private Palmer) faces heavy bouts of ennui and a lack of purpose. The first section is bleak. Hopelessness is right around the corner. What to do? How hard to work? And what will hold meaning?

In the first section of this third novel, Palmer is looking for an anchor and ponders going to California so he drives up Berthoud Pass in a raging snowstorm and gets stuck, dreaming of San Francisco.

The whitened top of Geary, electric trolley cars every five minutes, the sweet odor of saltwater and green leaves and sandy Sunset Beach. At the beginning of this journey he thought he would somehow find himself at that place in the morning. He put a wine bottle to his lips, but there was no wine left. He set the bottle on the floor and it tipped and rolled and stopped.

He held his beer can until it was empty and he tried to think about the things other than the things which can never be escaped, and all the time he kept promising himself that the one thing he would not do alone in the dark mountains was cry about it. It seemed to him finally the only thing he had any control over, and when it began, he found he could not stop it.

He wept until the morning light turned the road and the forest to red and then to gold as the sun lifted above the far plains and shrank, and the road and the snow between the trees grew white as burning phosphorous.

In the second section of The Discharge, Gary switches to first-person as Palmer goes to Hollywood. In real life, Gary came very close to being hired to write for stand-up comedian Louie Anderson and this middle section gives an idea of how high Gary’s hopes were—and how he managed to deal with the disappointment. Or did he?

And in the third section, back in third-person again and back in Denver, Palmer decides to start driving a cab, just as Gary did. Still, Palmer is looking for routine and a sense of place in the world of work (without doing too much). And we see fictional Palmer "meet" the future fictional Murph, The Asphalt Warrior.

Murph is Gary’s greatest creation, the asphalt philosopher Brendan Murphy, star of eight novels to date. (Booklist has called Murph "a truly original fictional creation and National Public Radio has raved about the series as "huge fun.")

Murph, as fans of the series know, is an unpublished novelist as well as being a cab driver. As a cab driver, Murph wants to earn as little money as possible—just enough to keep his bohemian life afloat. And Murph is bound and determined to never get involved in the lives of his fares, a personal mantra that he violates on a regular basis (for our comic benefit).

But in The Discharge, as Palmer finds stability and comfort in the cab driving business (despite some harrowing moments), Palmer saves himself.

He’s still looking for escape, a way out of the now and the ordinary and a way to deal with what he experienced in Vietnam, an experience to which he “refuses to attach any nostalgia.”

How does Palmer escape? How does he heal himself?

By becoming an artist.

Against the darkness, he turns on the kitchen light. He sits at the table.

He’s got a mountain of fiction to produce and it offers him hope, a way forward. We can feel it.

We've published 11 novels so far. Ahead, a couple of 'noir' mysteries in the vein of Patricia Highsmith, at least one more Murph, some science fiction, some fantasy, and some big, old-fashioned multi-generational literary fiction.

Despite the occasional ray of hope from an agent here or a publisher there, Gary Reilly never stopped writing (right up to the end). He was a writer, through and through.

Gary Reilly knew his place in the world, as a storyteller. And an artist, the greatest writer I ever knew.

++

Join us at The Tattered Cover for the launch of The Discharge:
Friday, June 23 | 7 PM
2526 E. Colfax Ave.

More: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

Gary Reilly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Three

Below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on, June 7th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

What was your childhood nickname?

Stink (which is actually the nickname of the ghost my sister made up, but if I gave you my real nickname, you'd know who I am) ____

Beanie. It was not my favorite thing. ____

Rob. My family still calls me Rob. ____

Berni (boring). ____

Never really had one. Maybe someone reading this post can think up something fun for me. 🙂 ____

Steph  (Kind of gives it away) ___

 

Hope this one was easy for you. Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Remember to check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

A Score and More and Still Learning

I’ve been writing fiction for over twenty years, and this week I just figured out how I do it.

For years, I’ve bemoaned my inability to plot. Back when I was required to provide my editor with a short synopsis in order to sell another book, I was always able to come up with something. But the plotting I did seldom helped with the writing. Once I started the story, all bets were off. In fact, I learned it was much more productive to ignore what I’d plotted and simply write “into the mist”.

I am a linear writer. I rarely write scenes out of order. I start at the beginning and follow wherever the story leads—the trail of breadcrumbs along the dark, winding pathway through the forest. If I start to feel I’m getting off track, I may go back and rewrite a scene or two. But I usually find it’s better to keep going and fix plot problems at the end.

Although I’ve developed a sense of what seems to work best, I’ve never really understood the actual process. It’s almost like there’s something supernatural happening. A kind of magic. That may sound exciting, but in fact, that unknown magical element has always worried me. If you don’t understand how something works, how can you make certain it keeps happening? The fear the magic will leave me has always been there.

My faith in my writing process has been especially challenged the last few years. I seem to be much less productive than I used to be. Writing a book takes longer and I get stuck more. The magic seems to have grown fickle and elusive. Maybe I’ve worn it out. Maybe I don’t really have what it takes to create stories anymore.

I started a new book two months ago. Initially, I thought I was well on my way. I already had three chapters written from years ago. I tweaked and edited, but overall I was pretty satisfied. Then it came time to write new pages, and I found myself hideously stuck. Over three weeks I wrote three scenes, but none of them led anywhere. My characters stopped talking and froze on the page.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I liked my hero and heroine and was interested in their story. Why did they refuse to come to life? They didn’t seem to know what to do and how to move the plot forward. They were static and cardboard and miserably one-dimensional.

This went on day after day and I started to panic. Maybe I was too old. Maybe the magic is finite and I’ve used up my allotment. For the first time that I can remember, instead of providing me with an escape from the stresses of my life, writing itself became stressful. Like my characters on the page, I froze. When I tried to brainstorm where the story should go next, nothing happened.

I briefly considered abandoning the book and working on another project. I have a closet full of partial manuscripts. Maybe one of them would reignite my creativity. But if I tried writing something else and the same thing happened, I knew I would really be in trouble. I contribute a fair share of my success as a writer to my innate stubbornness and tenacity. No, by golly, I wasn’t going to give up on this book. I was going to will it into life somehow, some way.

One good thing about getting older is that I’m better at problem-solving. I also have more perspective. I told myself to crank down the panic and try to figure out what I was doing differently this time. What had changed?

And then a simple thought struck me. The way I write is to climb into my characters’ skin and become them. I see the world through their eyes. Based on what I see and feel as them, they come to life and start doing things.

I hadn’t done that this time. On paper, I had two fairly well fleshed-out characters, but instead of getting inside them and letting them live the story, I was trying to push them to the next plot point. I was outside of them, manipulating them. They became shadow puppets. Hollow empty ideas, rather than human characters.

So I went back, climbed into my hero’s skin and started writing. All at once, the blood flowed in his veins and he took a breath and then another. And just like that, I knew what he was feeling and what he was going to do next.

I will undoubtedly get stuck again. For me, it’s part of the process. But now I know a little bit of the secret of how it works. It’s still magic. Unreliable. Tricky. Unfathomable. But I’ve finally learned a few words of the spell, the sorcery that makes it all happen.

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Two

Want to learn more about the finalists for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year? If so, you are in the right place. Then again, what fun would it be, for us, if we just gave you the answers in one post to five deep, thought-provoking questions?

It wouldn’t be.

So in that vein, below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on Monday, June 5th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

 

What was your oddest job?

Folding boxes for bulk packed tomatoes. (Dad owns a food warehouse) ____

Either a busgirl at the Original Pancake House or a nanny at a house in NYC that was most definitely haunted. ___

Driving a fork lift. ____

Must we? Trapeze artist. No, not kidding. ____

Training and certifying people to drive buses. Especially because I hated driving those buses. ____

Guessing people's age and weight at an amusement park. ____

 

So many weird and wonderful jobs. Thank you all.

 

Think You Know the WOTY and IWOTY Finalists? Think Again

Want to learn more about the finalists for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year? If so, you are in the right place. Then again, what fun would it be, for us, if we just gave you the answers in one post to five deep, thought-provoking questions?

It wouldn’t be.

So in that vein, below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing). Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Then in the next post tomorrow, May 31st, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

What's your favorite comfort food?

Doritos and Dr. Pepper ____

A perfectly made grilled cheese. I have spent a lot of time perfecting this creation and I can share it here: sourdough bread from the most expensive bakery in town, a combo of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Colby Jack, & Land o' Lakes Unsalted Butter. Perfection, I tell you. ____

Mac and cheese (but the bad kind, with Velveeta) ____

I can’t pick favorites. The comfort-food-of-the-moment depends on what part of me needs comforting, time of year, how hungry I am, how much I feel like making something versus just opening something, how accessible certain foods are…you get the gist. ____

Favorite comfort food, depends, right now it is creme brulee. Chocolate is always good. I suppose I shouldn't say bon bons because that smacks of [REDACTED] writer cliche, but, well, truffles. ____

Chocolate! ___

 

All those answers made me hungry. Did you guess right? Check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

Rocky Mountain Writer #86

Shannon Lawrence & Deconstructing Horror

What makes a story qualify as horror?

If you ask Shannon Lawrence that basic question, be prepared for some thoughtful analysis.

The genre, she will tell you, extends beyond jump scares and slashers.

Shannon recaps the recent free workshop she gave for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver and explores one her favorite topics, the world and definition of writing horror. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t always involve gore or extreme violence.

On the podcast, Shannon also offers some tips about finding short story markets and how to keep track of where your stories you have submitted.

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy.

Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Once Upon a Scream, Dark Moon Digest, and The Deep Dark Woods.

When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster.

Find Shannon Lawrence at her website, The Warrior Muse.

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Writing Black Characters Dealing with the Culture of Poverty

Last year at the Colorado Gold Conference I taught a class entitled Writing Authentic African-American Characters. A lot of that discussion had to deal with the culture of poverty within the Black community. Today, I want to talk to you about specific things your African-American characters can struggle with because of the culture of poverty.

What about Black characters who aren’t poor?

Poverty is a part of the lives of many African-Americans. Even if your Black character is not poor, the chances are they are affected by neighbors, friends, or relatives who are. This is a conflict that awesome writers, like yourselves, can exploit for great story telling.

There is a lot of tension within the African-American community about what is the proper role of African-Americans who have made it. Do they owe anybody anything? Are they obligated to support their extended families? And how do we define Support? (Incidentally, Showtime has a funny show based on this premise called “Survivors guilt.” Its executive producer is NBA player LeBron James.)

If your black character is middle class or wealthy—and they do not come from this socio-economic group—having them financially support or guide their poorer relatives and friends would be a great way to bring in a dose of authenticity into your characters. Your character could do everything from taking in a cousin or nephew to host the family picnic to co-sign on a car loan. Or, they could absolutely refuse to participate in any of these activities, gaining the respect or condemnation of their family. Or, maybe they only support others in grand, showy events, like at a birthday party, or a graduation. As if they are flaunting their disposable income.

Writing Black characters who are poor

How do you write about poor Black characters? Here’s the trick I’ve learned as I struggled with the culture of poverty myself.

Rich people want money for its own sake, while many poor people want money to buy things.

I have been fortunate enough to get to know five millionaires. But none of them are what you call the silver spoon type. They do all have two things in common: They horde cash and assets and they are extremely cheap.

My experience with most poor people (and remember, that includes me) is that they principally want money to buy things. It took me years to figure this out. But even as a child, I can remember wanting things desperately and knowing I would probably never get them. That feeling that you’re not going to get something you want permeates you as you grow up. That hunger to be just as good as everyone else, by buying those expensive jeans, or that expensive phone.

I can remember when I got into UC Santa Barbara in 1994. I did all of the paperwork myself. I double checked my financial aid package, what dorm I was going to stay in, everything. When I left, I had everything I needed - except a personal computer to type papers on. (This was pre-internet)

One day my mom comes home to tell me that she got a $2000 signature loan. She was going to buy me a top of the line computer. Now, this confused me because I had resigned myself to using the computer labs on campus, like everyone else. My mother had other ideas. She was not going to let her son be perceived as disenfranchised, or somehow not good enough because I didn’t have a computer.

I hope you see what’s going on here. Having possession of that computer meant I was just as good as those rich, white boys I was going to school with in the fall. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t afford it; it didn’t matter that the interest rate on the loan was ridiculous. It was about being just as good as everyone else.

This is why you see some poor Black people driving expensive cars, carrying Gucci purses, or wearing expensive shoes; they are keeping up with the Joneses.

The culture of poverty effects your ability to plan for emergencies.

I was well into my mid-twenties before I heard the term emergency fund/account. The people I knew and grew up with were all busy trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table. Extra money was seen as an opportunity to get ahead of another bill. The idea that you could just leave it in the bank, just in case, was weird. In fact, when I taught in Denver Public Schools, I would talk to high school kids about personal finances. Just like me, many of my students found the concept bizarre.

How could this affect your African-American characters? What stress could you pile on to your characters because of their upbringing?

Poverty Lends Itself to Immediate Gratification.

Many people living in poverty see no way out. They don’t believe they’ll ever get ahead or beat the system. When in a situation where you believe your situation is hopeless, why deny yourself anything?

I am one of the few homeowners in my family. I am also one of the few family members with a master’s degree. Both achievements took discipline and the ability to delay personal gratification. I was able to get both because I desperately wanted them. I wanted those things more than I wanted to hang out, go on vacation, or buy a big TV.

For many people of color in poverty, buying a house, having nice things, getting an education seems pointless and out of reach. Also, there is a desperation of circumstance that supersedes everything else. This idea that this moment will not come again, and that I should live to the fullest, now. That this opportunity might never come again, so I have to take advantage of it now.

Being Poor Sucks

Poverty spans the gambit from simply annoying to plain old horrible on any given day. There is a stress associated with poverty. A stress that can be temporarily relieved by spending money—thus perpetuating the cycle.

Writing exercise.

#1.) Is your character poor? Why or why not? Would changing their socio-economic status give you new insights into their motivations, values, and beliefs? If your Black character is in a supporting role, would changing their economic status create more tension in the story? Why or why not?

#2.) How does the poverty of the Black community effect your Black character? Are they guilty for being successful? Do they feel obligated to give back? Are they uncomfortable in the Black community?

#3.) Write a scene where your Black character—who may or may not be the Point of View character—comments on the difference between how his family does something mundane and how his new friends do something. Show/describe the different values associated with each event.