Excerpt from Having It Both Ways, The Lust Diaries: Book Three

I think I share this excerpt every Christmas. I need to write more christmas-y things. Anyway, here’s a bit of Julian and Yves from having it both ways. It’s a Christmas scene. There’s a particularly blasphemous “blog” entry from Yves before this chapter but I decided to keep it cute.

I hope this tides you over while I take a bit of a blogging break until the New Year. If you haven’t read The Lust Diaries yet you can grab a copy of the omnibus for $1.99 from now until Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

The house smelled of memories when I arrived on Christmas Eve, but still my stomach twisted with nervousness as I opened the door. As much as I’d been looking forward to nochebuena I dreaded it, too. I knew that it meant that I would probably have to talk about everything that was going with me, and this time, I would have to tell them about Elijah. I’d somehow sidestepped that conversation at our last gathering, but I knew it couldn’t be avoided it now.

I came in to find Marcelo and my brother in law on the couch watching football. “Hey, Desmond!” I said, pulling him to his feet and into a hug. “It feels like forever since I’ve seen you.”

“Only because you’re too busy to visit us anymore,” he said tightening his squeeze.

“Yeah, well, you know I’m kind of a big deal now,” I said with a nonchalant shrug.

“Whatever,” he said bopping me on the back of my head. I gave my brother a quick kiss on the cheek and batted away my nieces when they tried to pick up and shake every gift I put under the tree.

The soft, sweet harmony of my mother and sister singing Christmas carols floated out to me from the kitchen. I followed the sound of their hesitant but beautiful voices into the cramped and deliciously fragrant room. My mother was at the stove swaying as she sang. My sister stood a little ways from her taking empanadas out of the fryer. Even Gia was helping out, wearing one of my mother’s old aprons and chopping onions and peppers for sofrito at the linoleum top kitchen table.

“Chiquita!” my mother chirped waving me in close for a hug. I pressed my lips to her cheek as she hugged me. Her skin was so soft and smelled faintly of roses.

“What can I do? I want to help.”

“Nothing,” Mercedes said. “We’d like to make it through this evening without burning down the kitchen.”

“Aye, Mercedes!” our mother scolded, swatting at her with her free hand. “You can help Gia,” she said, nodding toward my brother’s girlfriend. The message was clear: make nice. I grabbed the last apron on the hook and tied it on.

“Hey, girl! Feliz Navidad!” I said cheerily and sat next to Gia.

“Feliz Navidad,” she said back in perfect lisping Spanish with a big, beaming smile. It was then that I noticed how gorgeous her smile was.

Hmm. Big brother has good taste.

“What are we working on here?”

“Just peppers and onions.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I don’t think they trust me not to burn anything either.”

I smirked. “Hell, we’re lucky we’re even allowed in here. These two can get very possessive of this kitchen.”

“You misspoke. Protective is the word you were looking for. We are very protective of this kitchen,” Mercedes said.

“Cause one small grease fire and you’re banned for life,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.

“You’re damn right! Three coats of paint and that scorch mark is still bleeding through!” my mother said.

“I mean, why are we bringing up old shit, though?” I asked.

It felt good to be in my mother’s kitchen laughing with the women that loved and knew me, even if it was at my expense. Gia was hesitant at first but soon came to understand our sarcasm and fell into an easy rhythm with us.

When dinner was close to ready, Mercedes and I went into the dining room to set the table. Christmas was the only time we used my mother’s good china and real silverware—the only wedding gift she still had from her mother in Santo Domingo.

“So where’s Elijah? I was sure he would come with you tonight. Did he have plans with his family?” She said it in an off-hand way, but I could tell she had been burning to ask that question since I came in the door.

“Elijah is Jewish. They don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Oh. Right. So why didn’t he come with you?”

“We…we’re taking a break,” I said, hoping that my words were true. That this was really a break and not a break-up. “We may have rushed into things. It was really soon to get involved with someone after Cesar and—”

“He broke up with you?” Mercedes asked, her voice low and edged with anger.

“Don’t make a big deal out of this—”

My sister set down her handful of silverware and glared at me. “Thanksgiving. That’s when it happened, eh? I knew you were weird over Thanksgiving. That’s why you got so drunk! I’ve never seen you that drunk before. Is that when it happened? Why didn’t you talk to me?” Mercedes leaned in and lowered her voice. “Was it the spanking, D/s thing? Did things get out of hand?”

Did they get out of hand? Maybe. But if they did it was my fault. “It wasn’t that. He just…”

“He just what?”

I swallowed my tears back. “We just needed to take a step back and reassess—”

“So does that mean you’re going to get back together? No pressure or anything, but you guys were perfect together.”

Weren’t we, though? We were so fucking perfect.

“Is there anything you can do?” Mercedes went back to putting out the place settings.

“Not really. He said I should just work on me for awhile, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Good. You need a little work. Could you pass me those napkins behind you?”

Any other time, my sister’s dismissive end to this sharing session would have left me feeling angry and a little abandoned, but today I was just glad that I made it through that conversation without dissolving into tears. That’s progress. Maybe I was getting closer to okay.

Dinner was loud and merry, and I ate way more than I should’ve and drank even more than that. My mother was the happiest I’d ever seen her with all of her family around her and the coquito warming her cheeks. My brother must have been just as drunk because he kissed Gia at least half a dozen times. It struck me that this was the first time I’d ever seen him like this with anyone but family. Seeing him so in love made me happy and sad all at once.

I rode with Mercedes, Desmond and the girls to the church. The pews were already nearly full when we arrived—backsliders like myself squeezing into the empty spaces that were there every Sunday. But there was always room on what I’d come to call my mother’s pew, on the left side of the pulpit, second from the front.

I loved my mother’s church at Christmas time. The sanctuary glowed with soft yellow candlelight. On the stage in front of us, there were no less than six heavily decorated trees. The nativity sat on a raised dais just to the left. It was the same one that had been there since I was a kid and had grown even more beautiful with the patina of age. Real, shiny green holly, ripe with berries hung from the balustrade where the children’s choir sang my favorite Christmas carol, The Little Drummer Boy. My mother sat close, holding my hand in hers.

Something welled up in me as I watched the kids stumble through their play; tiny humans dressed as shepherds and wise men with a real squalling infant as baby Jesus. I felt content and whole for the first time in weeks. Maybe me and God can have a better relationship this year. I took communion with an open heart and a sincere desire to be better in the coming year.

On the way out, we passed the bank of red votive candles. Wishes and prayers burning bright. I slowed to a stop in front of them. My mother patted my hand.

“We’ll meet you outside,” she said softly.

“Okay.” I watched her leave then turned my attention to my prayer.

I hadn’t done this in so long that I nearly forgot what to say after I lit the stick of incense. But as the glowing tip lit the wick, I whispered out the silent prayer to a God I barely acknowledged. The memorized words fell from my lips in a rush, but when I got to the part where I actually had to make my request, I hesitated. I couldn’t say it out loud.

I bowed my head and closed my eyes. Please, bring him back to me.

The flame of the candle leaped and so did a little hope in my heart.

Mercedes and the girls, Gia and my mother were waiting just outside the chapel doors for the boys to pull the cars around. Gia was standing a little off on her own. I went to her side and looped my arm through hers.

“You know, I was so intimidated by you,” Gia said without looking at me.

“Intimidated? Why?”

“You’re important to Marc and if you didn’t like me…”

“Listen.” I turned to her, forced her to look me in the eye. “You make my brother happy. That’s all that matters to me. And it doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere so we might as well get to know each other.”

She smiled. “He makes me happy, too.”

“Good. I’m not gonna lie. I’m a hard person to like. Even harder to love. I wish I could say that I’m going to make it easy for you, but I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.”

“Understood. But we’re good for now, right?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “We’re good.”

The rest of the family said our goodbyes, promising to call or text when we got home. I wasn’t headed home, though. It was after midnight, but I had one more stop to make.

The streets were full of revelers and last minute shoppers as I made my way to Julian’s place. I’d had just enough coquito in me to keep me warm and giddy under my winter coat.

The building was quiet as I approached his loft, but as I neared his door, loud voices and festive music spilled out into the breezeway. Julian wasn’t alone. It was silly of me to think that he would be. He’d always spoken of close friends that he had in Philly, but I never had the opportunity to meet them. I did feel a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t have him to myself, but I knocked anyway and was greeted by smiling and drunk, Julian.

“Star!” he exclaimed, pulling me inside and then into his arms. “Ain’t it a surprise? Wasn’t expectin’ ya but so glad to see ya all the same.”

“It’s Christmas, and I knew you didn’t have any family in town, so I decided to stop by and bring you a present.” I reached into my big bag and pulled out a large, rectangular shaped box and handed it to him.

“Oh…oh shit. Nah buy ya nothing.”

I laughed. “Don’t worry. I have everything I ever need. I just wanted you to have a good Christmas.”

Julian tore away the wrapping paper to find a beautiful bamboo box.

“Oh no,” he said softly as he lifted the lid to find the beautiful set of paintbrushes I’d bought for him. They were sable with hand turned wood handles. The artisan said that the wood would warm in his hand and mold to his grip eventually. “These are so beautiful,” he said.

“I’m glad you like them. Merry Christmas.”

He smiled, dimples in each cheek deepening to make him even more drunkenly adorable. “Thank you, star. Ya gwon stay, then? There’s food and drink, and weed and ya can meet all my friends,” he said, gesturing around the room.

I nodded and smiled hello at his friends, but as I acknowledged them I saw that all the furniture was gone, and boxes were piled up against the wall. “Are you moving? Why is your place all boxed up?”

Julian turned to me, his expression sobering a bit. “My visa is up. Time for me to go home,” he said with a shrug.

“What?”

“It’s a shock. I know, but I can’t stay here forever. Time to go back home, ya know? Regroup. Start thinking of other things.”

Other things besides me…

Stunned and a little hurt, I covered it all with a smile. “That’s good, I guess.”

“It is. Lemme get ya a drink.”

The party went on until two in the morning. I helped Julian round up the stragglers, mostly young girls who were so enamored of him that they had tears in their eyes as they said their goodbyes. He embraced them all like some sweet-faced prophet and sent them on their way until it was just me and him and boxes and the shadows of missed opportunities. I helped him clean up, holding in all the words and feelings I had no business feeling. When we were done, he knelt at my feet to help me out of my boots and then lead me into his bed.

“Do ya…should I dig out a shirt or something for ya to sleep in?” he asked hesitantly.

“No.” I pulled my dress over my head, shimmied out of my tights and climbed into his bed. Julian followed suit, stripping down to his boxers and climbed in next to me. One rough hand trailed up my back, pulling my body in close to his.

“I’m so glad ya came tonight, star.”

“Really? I probably would’ve planned for it if I got some sort of invitation.”

He chuckled softly. “Twas a surprise. Had no idea they were going ta do it.”

“But you knew that you were leaving, right?” I felt him go tense under me. “You weren’t going to tell me or say goodbye?”

“To tell ya the truth, nah think ya would miss me,” he said softly.

I pushed up onto my elbows so that I could look at him. With the thick black out curtains packed away, plenty of light filtered in from the street so that I could see him clearly. “Considering everything that happened between us that was probably a fair assumption to make, but it’s still hurtful.”

“I’m sorry.”

Part of Julian’s face was cast in shadow, the light splitting his profile in two. I traced my finger over the dividing line, pausing when I got to his lips to give them a kiss. “I will miss you.”

“I know that now.”

“When are you coming back?”

“I’m going home indefinitely. Nah got a reason fa come back.”

“What if I said I could be that reason?”

“I’d say it’s too little, too late.”

“What if I said I disagree?”

“I’d tell ya that ya just lonely.”

“Aren’t you lonely, too?”

“Yes. But we are both stricken with a very specific loneliness. I’m lonely for you. Don’t think ya lonely for me.”

I couldn’t disagree with that. Not entirely. Julian was sweet and familiar, but I wanted Elijah, and he knew that. “When do you leave?”

He reached for his phone to look at the time. “Wow. In a few hours actually.”

“What about all of your things?”

“One of my friends is gonna make sure everything gets boxed up proper the day after Christmas. Just wanted to be home to spend the holidays with my family.”

“Of course.” My chest tightened with sadness or regret or something in between. “So this is your last night?”

“Yes.”

“And we probably won’t ever see each other again?”

“Nah likely.”

“Julian?”

He sighed heavily. “Don’t ask me to fuck ya cause ya know I can’t say no.”

I didn’t know if he meant it to be a joke, but I laughed, all the same. Eventually he joined in. Of course, I was going to ask for sex. How else does someone say a proper goodbye to a lover?

“Well,” I said with a smirk. “Since I know the answer is going to be yes—”

Julian flipped me onto my back and wedged his hips between my thighs, his hard cock pressed right up against the seam of me. My heart thundered in my chest, and the lacy bra and panty I had on suddenly seemed too constricting.

“Can’t give ya what he gives ya. All of that spanking and nonsense, but I still fuck ya good, yeah?”

“You know you do.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I know.”

“Can you fuck me now?” I asked undulating under him.

“Okay, but promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Be here when I wake up.”

There was something behind this request; I could see it in his eyes, but I still found myself nodding. “I’ll be here.”

He kissed me in that way that always made me feel like he was giving me a piece of himself. “I wish this didn’t have to be goodbye.”

I sighed, not bothering to hide my disappointment. “Me either,” I agreed. “So make it a nice long goodbye, okay?”

“I can do that.”

Julian peeled away the pretty lingerie that I’d wore for him then made himself naked. He braced himself over me and just looked at me for a long moment, drinking me in. “I don’t even think ya know how beautiful ya are,” he whispered.

I reached for him, wanting him close. “You’re beautiful,” I whispered. “Come here.”

He lowered himself over me until we were chest to chest. “I’m sorry I tried to leave without sayin’ goodbye to ya.” He pushed my hair away from my face and kissed me. “I’m just weak, ya know? I didn’t want to feel this.”

Whatever that thing was that he didn’t want to feel, he gave it to me. The slow, steady, deep thrust of his tongue was hypnotic. With just his kiss he brought me to the brink. We rolled and arched against each other. He was still outside of my body, but I felt him so deeply that I knew I would come if he kept this up. Was this what he felt for me this whole time? This deep, consuming desire-lust-want? If so, I knew why he was so angry that night. How could he imagine sharing me with someone else when he felt this so deeply?

Tears were pooling in the shell of my ears by the time he finally entered me. We fucked like two people who knew each other’s bodies. A lazy, drunken, fluid knowing. After all the random fucking I’d been doing recently, this was more than I needed. Familiarity was sweet.

Skin on skin like we’d made a promise to each other, I rode his cock until he pulled out and emptied on my belly. That was a mistake, but regrets were for the morning. It was still night, and I put those thoughts aside while he kissed and kissed me and said his goodbyes.

We never really went to sleep. Every time I started to drift off Julian would wake me with more kisses. More of his skin on my skin.

“Come home with me,” he had said while clutching me close to his chest.

“Oh. I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to fuck me into delirium so that I agree to whatever you suggest.”

He chuckled. “Maybe…but I do want ya to come home with me. I’ll take care of you.”

“I can’t. My life is here. I won’t run away from it. I’m no quitter.”

“Who’s running away? It’s a vacation in Jamaica. I have a little place that’s steps away from the beach. Bright blue water, soft sand…and a big bed.”

“I like the sound of that…especially the part about the big bed.” I grinned and wiggled against him. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Come home with me, Yves. I’ll change my ticket, and we can fly back together.”

In those early morning hours, while he dozed, I wondered if leaving was exactly what I needed. My first instinct was to say no. I couldn’t keep running. Elijah wasn’t wrong when he pointed that out. But maybe a change of scenery would be exactly what I needed to jolt me out of this funk.

Somewhere close to dawn I drifted off, snuggled in close to him. Dreaming of soft island sand and crystal clear waters.

3 Ways to Make Your Unlikable Character More Likable

The dreaded unlikable character.

When Yves Santiago, my main character from The Lust Diaries, first came to me, I knew she would be what folks like to call “an unlikable character.” I crafted her that way intentionally. Why would I want my main character to come across as unlikable in a book written completely from her point of view? Well, after reading god knows how many books and equally as many reviews, I noticed that readers were willing to accept pretty much anything from the hero as long as he was able to redeemed in the end. He can be promiscuous, gruff, mean, and sometimes, a downright asshole and readers would still titter about how they wanted him to be their book boyfriend on Twitter. I 100% admit to enjoying romance novels with a gruff, brooding, borderline asshole hero, but I also wondered what would happen if I gave those same characteristics to a heroine?

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What exactly is an unlikeable character?

An unlikable character is a character that has little or no pleasant or appealing qualities. Yves Santiago was promiscuous, emotionally unavailable, bad with money, impulsive, caustic and rude when challenged, and on top of that, she’s a shit friend and isn’t the greatest sister, daughter, or Auntie.

Yves just messy AF. If she were a real person, I would only deal with her in small doses because while her drama is entertaining, I would not want to be pulled into that vortex on a daily basis.

Now you’re probably wondering how I wrote this completely undesirable character and managed to escape a shitstorm of 1 star reviews.

That’s easy.

I realized pretty early on that a character doesn’t necessarily need to be likable in order to be relatable. Now when it comes to crafting characters, relatable doesn’t always mean the same thing that it does in real life. Relatable just means that her life experiences, her feelings, moods, and actions all make sense, which is where good character development comes in.

This is how you make sure your unlikable character is still relatable:

1. Make sure your character’s motivations inform their thoughts and actions.

Yves Santiago is the queen of bad decisions and most of those decisions were about the men she chose to lie down with. But people make bad decisions in real life and we don’t completely write them off, right? Right. And one of the reasons we don’t write them off is because, more often than not, we realize that they have some sort of underlying issue—a reason for their assholish behavior. The why at the center of their bullshit bullseye. This thing never seems like it’s too big of a deal unless it affects you. It should be the same for your character.

During your character development, you should discover your character’s central problem that will explain and inform their terrible, awful decisions and seemingly random actions. Once you’ve found that central problem, share it with the reader—I suggest that you make part or all of it known to the reader in the first act.

Why the first act?

The first act is where you introduce your character and foreshadow/hint at the conflict. It’s also the place where you want to get your reader invested in what happens to your character. That doesn’t mean you have to show your whole hand, you just want to foreshadow the central problem and put them through trials that will reveal how the central problem keeps them from living their best life.

2. Make them worth saving.

It’s very rare that someone is all good or all bad. We all live in the gray which makes a character who falls under either extreme unrelatable. And let’s face it, some of the best villains and anti-heroes have a tragic central problem that makes their dastardly acts understandable. The same goes for cookie-cutter, Mary Sues. They are more memorable if they have some huge flaw that knocks them down a peg. A hot mess like Yves is redeemable because even though she constantly makes bad and selfish choices, she’s always striving to be a better person. The same goes for your unlikable character. The first and easiest way to do this is to have them acknowledge that they are a horrible person because of some significant event that happened in their past. Your backstory can go a long way toward helping you find your character’s central problem and knowing it will help you foreshadow the conflict and the resolution. 

3. Give your unlikable character likable friends and/or family.

This can pretty much be summed up with “who is in your character’s crew?” Who do they roll with every day? Who seems to be able to not only endure their bullshit but actually seek them out and enjoy their company? Everyone has that someone and your character should too even if they don’t acknowledge them. 

The likable friend can also be a mirror for your character. A good, likable friend can help you explain or illuminate your character’s issues in a way that doesn’t feel they are making excuses for being an insufferable asshat. 

For Yves, that character is Ava Marie. She calls Yves on her bullshit constantly and loves on her when she needs it. Yves serves that same purpose for Ava in The Truth of Things. These two are alternate between being at each other’s throats and weeping because they haven’t spent enough time together, but their friendship feels genuine. Giving Yves that sort of relationship makes her flaws seem less intolerable.

Note how I said less. Yves still had to do the work on her own to overcome her central problem and find her happily ever after.

But that’s it friends! Keep these three tips in mind while you’re crafting your unlikable character and they will be well-rounded, relatable and most importantly, memorable.

Happy Writing!

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Do you need a little help crafting your unlikable hero or heroine? Grab a copy of The Basic Character Creation workbook!

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#WineWithWriters is coming to ATL!

Hello, dear readers and Happy Saturday!

Just popping in to tell you about an event that I will be participating in this March called #WinewithWriters!

Hosted by Jacinta Howard and Nia Forrester, this event will be a lively discussion around Identity & Individuality: The Movement Toward Issue-Based Black Women’s Fiction. I really excited for this event and can’t wait to be in the room with these intelligent and well-read authors!

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From now until March 10th, we’re going to be sharing interviews and excerpts from the attending authors. Today it’s Nia Forrester!

Here’s a little bit about Nia:

What’s in your purse?There’s one constant when it comes to my purses (although I prefer to say ‘pocketbook’ even though it’s old-fashioned because purse sounds so … girly) … they’re messy. But right now, here’s what I’ve got; and I’m going to be as author-ly in my descriptions as I can. I have: the smallest and lightest of my four (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous) e-readers which is in a somewhat flowery, colorful case; a little pencil case thingie with my fountain pens and spare cartridges; a small pocket-sized notebook with a blue-and-white paisley print cover for the unexpected stroke of creative genius; a much larger 2018 brown leather daybook/calendar; Trident Purely spearmint chewing gum, a small brush, several travel-size lotion tubes ranging from fragrance-free to coconut & lime; black leather gloves; my fancy sunglasses that I have had for a record TWO years (that’s why I got the fancy ones, because then I would know I had to take care of them); napkins from Starbucks (where I no longer buy coffee but over-pay for tea), receipts, Excedrin migraine; clear mascara; Palmer’s cocoa butter lip balm; black ponytail holders; and about a half-dozen pens.

Favorite book you’ve written? That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child. I especially love ‘The Fall’ because it’s women’s fiction and romance and issue-oriented, and features a strong woman. All of the things I most like to read, and enjoyed writing as well. And then there’s ‘Lifted’ which featured unlikely lovers, with unconventional lives — they are wonderfully imperfect, which I think makes for good characters and good fiction. It certainly made for a good time writing it. Those books are closest to what I want to be writing. I also love the short ‘Still’, because it was moody and quiet and I was able to make myself say a lot, with relatively few words. It was a challenge, but I liked the product. And of course, my first-born, ‘Commitment’ because it is evidence of how … optimistic I was when I first started self-publishing. I was unselfconscious and didn’t think at all about the eventual reader of the book. I still can’t believe I wrote 500+ pages without considering whether people might actually want to read it. It’s even more incredible that people did read it, and that some liked it a lot.

Are you spring, summer, fall, or winter? Please share why. Definitely fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I like the colors, the smells, the wind that can whip up unexpectedly, the bursts of hot and cold, which is kind of like my personality. I think it illustrates my changeable nature, my moodiness.

If you were a city, which city would you choose to be and why? I would be New York. It is a maddening, confounding, contradictory mess of a place. Sometimes amazing and surprising, sometimes harsh and forbidding. Always complicated, with an arrogant sense of its own importance, coupled with constant self-criticism.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?After law school, before I began earnestly adulting, I decided I would temp for a while, and rest my weary brain cells. All through law school I hadn’t written a word of fiction, which was AWFUL. I just didn’t have the time! So, before I went off to earn some real money as a lawyer, I decided to temp. One of my assignments was working for the U.S. Marshals Service. They apprehend fugitives from the federal criminal justice system among other things. I was responsible for admitting the marshals to the facility in Washington DC when they returned with fugitives in custody. It was upsetting to me to see people in chains. I was glad that assignment was a short one.

What technology from science fiction do you wish existed? Teleportation. I’m generally pretty mellow but traffic, airline delays (or even a completely trouble-free trip that involves flying, because of all the doggone hoops you jump through before getting on the plane) turn me into a joyless shrew. I would love to be able to just ‘will’ myself from one place to another. Also, there are all these cool places where I want to visit, where I have friends, and only the thought of “getting there” holds me back. 12-hour travel time? No thank you very much. I’m sure I’ll eventually get to those places, but not without a lot of complaining.

What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship?I don’t think it’s one thing, but if I had to pick, I would say healthy communication. With emphasis on the ‘healthy’. Which for me doesn’t mean talking for talking’s sake, or spilling your every thought. Rather, it would mean, for me, considering when, how and what to communicate. And doing it consistently, and with compassion for your partner.

Why is it so hard for people to make real connections when almost everyone wants to make real connections? I think fear. Fear of disappointment; fear of rejection; and ultimately fear of being hurt. I think that’s universal.

What are the most common road blocks that stop people from achieving their dreams? 1) fear 2) complacency; and 3) what they call in the recovery community “negative self-talk”.
If you suddenly found out that your internal monologue for the last week was actually audible, how screwed would you be? Pretty screwed. I set high expectations for myself which I guess is fine. But I also have a horrible tendency of setting high, unvoiced, unwarranted and oftentimes unfair expectations of other people. I expect things of them they are completely unaware of, and then I blame them for not living up to those expectations. That blame seldom results in outright cruel behavior, but it definitely results in me having very scathing thoughts.


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Excerpt:

From ‘The Takedown’:

Watching Kayla get up from her place on the floor and say something to the kids as she left, Jamal’s eyes followed her. As was always the case for occasions like this, she had done something special to her hair. It fell in wavy coils to the center of her back and was pulled up and away from her face on the sides and top, peaking in the middle. Until her, he never knew—nor had reason to think about—the beauty of locs. He loved hers—the rough texture, the sturdiness, and the symbolism of them; and the way she held her back and neck regal and erect when they were piled high atop her head. And he loved the attention she got; and that he got just from being with her.

In his business, locs were still almost subversive unless you were part of the neo-soul, or world music scene. Or if not subversive exactly, they were very much the exception rather than the norm. Except for niche music, almost everyone went for the long, sleek mane of lighter-side-of-brown hair, and the almost airbrush-perfect makeup.

Jamal dug it that his woman stood out from all that, because he wasn’t opposed to standing out himself. Kayla was into darker makeup shades when she wore any at all—wine-colored lips, smoky eyes, and her naturally clay-brown complexion only enhanced, never lightened or altered with heavy foundation.

And the way she dressed was different too. Now that she had the resources to indulge her taste in fashion, she went for the yin-and-yang look. Boyishly baggy palazzo pants or billowy skirts in silk, linen and other natural fabrics, coupled with brief, lightweight but close-fitting tops with spaghetti straps; halter or tube tops, her neck and shoulders, and sometimes her back on display … sexy as fuck.

Without pausing to think how it might look, Jamal followed her, tired of the persistent distance between them—physical and otherwise.

He found her in the powder room, as expected. She was just leaving, but he crowded her back inside and leaned against the door, looking her over. Her nostrils flared a little, as though she could smell how much he wanted her.

“What was that, a job interview or something?”

Makayla’s eyes narrowed. “What’re you …?”

“You, and Robyn’s brother.”

She smirked, her eyes becoming lazy and exasperated. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously.”

That’s why you backed me up in here? To ask what I was talking about with Robyn’s brother?”

“This is where I’m supposed to get all jealous and shit, and take you home early, right?”

Makayla said nothing, just sighed, her expression impassive.

“Because if that’s what you’re thinking …” he continued.

“I would never think that,” she interrupted. “I mean, you’re Jamal Turner. You don’t do jealousy.”

“That’s right,” he said moving closer. Kayla took two corresponding steps back, until she was pressed against the edge of the sink. “I don’t do jealousy.”

She stifled a smile and her head fell back a little so she could maintain eye contact. “Why would you? Because you have everything you want.”

“Everything I want,” he echoed, lowering his head and kissing her at the shell of her ear. “Is already mine, dammit. So, I don’t have to be jealous.”

“Exactly.” She sounded a little breathless. “You don’t.”

When they played little games like this, Jamal was never sure how much was true and how much was part of the dance they liked to do, teasing each other, driving each other crazy. She still drove him crazy that was for sure. And that feeling didn’t get better with time, it got worse.

Inhaling her skin, he allowed just the tip of his tongue to score across its surface, smiling when he felt Kayla’s shiver. Grabbing her chin, he kissed her hard, messing up that dark lipstick she was wearing, and had probably just reapplied.

Feeling himself grow harder, he pressed against her, so she could feel it too. Dropping his hand from her face to her shoulder, and then to her waist, he lifted the hem of her blouse—a wispy yellow thing—knowing that there was nothing underneath. Her nipples were already hard when his fingertips brushed lightly across them. Immediately, he wanted them in his mouth, on his tongue. With his free hand, he reached for the knot at her neck, unfastening it so the halter fell, exposing her to the waist.

Makayla stepped back in surprise and gathered the fabric in her hands, beginning to lift it to cover herself once again.

“Are you out of your mind?” she asked, laughter in her voice. “We’re in Chris Scaife’s bathroom.”

“When you gon’ stop calling him ‘Chris Scaife’, like he’s someone you never met before?” Jamal murmured, lowering his head further, trying to capture the tip of a breast between his lips.

“He’s larger than life, so it’s just weird that …”

“I don’t want to talk about Chris right now,” Jamal said, cutting her off.

He sucked in a nipple and felt Makayla lift onto the tips of her toes at the sensation. She tasted good, and it had been much too long since he’d had any. The longest they had ever gone since they’d lived together was three weeks, and that was when he was across the Atlantic. This time it had been almost two weeks, and when he came back it was to exhaustion, a post-midnight call from that pain-in-the-ass Devin Parks, a trip to a florist, and one of his biggest name artists having a freak-out in an exclusive hotel.

He needed her right now. It had been too long. If it wasn’t for this little party to celebrate the christening of Brendan and Tracy’s second baby girl, he would be home, buried inside Kayla, but only after tasting every part of her. Not just the parts easily exposed in someone else’s powder room on short notice.

“Jamal. Baby …”

Her hands were atop his head. He liked how they felt there. He liked when she called him ‘baby’. And he liked that even though she was about to ask him to stop she didn’t really want him to.

“… stop. We have to …” She was talking between short bursts of breath, and by now, she was soaking wet for him.

But maybe he ought to check. Just to make sure he hadn’t lost his mojo. He slid a hand down the front of her pants and that was it—she shut him down.

Pressing both her palms against his chest, Makayla shoved him away and used to the space to twist free. Grabbing the strings of her halter, she knotted it at her neck once again, eyes wide, as if to say, ‘look what you got me into!

Taking a deep breath, he collected himself, willing his erection to disappear. Watching Makayla reapply her lipstick didn’t really help with that so he shut his eyes and concentrated for a minute, making himself think about work. There was always at least one little problem brewing on the horizon that was guaranteed to take his mind off sex so he focused on that, and within moments felt the tightness in his groin dissipate.

When she restored her appearance to her satisfaction, Jamal took her hand and led Kayla out of the bathroom, pausing before they rejoined their friends. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear.

“Make whatever excuses you have to. Meet me at the car in five minutes.”

Book/Website Link:

Buy the book, and meet the author at Wine with Writers ATL, March 10, 2018.