Oct
2013

Feminist Fiction Friday: “Negrita, Always Choose You.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to various studies, the female incarceration rate is increasing at alarming rates and one reason is that battered women are being imprisoned for defending themselves. In response to this, amnesty projects such as the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project are also on the rise to bring justice to these women.

In this scene in Picture Me Rollin’, 24 year old Esperanza Cepeda travels from NYC to Chowchilla, CA to visit her mother Brenda who is serving 25 years to life for killing her abusive boyfriend Roland. She asks her mother if she could do anything differently, what would that be. Brenda’s answer is not what she had expected. The excerpt starts below the book cover.

Book Cover - PMR

“Ay, Mami, you still doing that?”

The same shit got her transferred out of New York in the first place. Esperanza understood Brenda’s desire to help others who could have the second chance she might never have. But becoming a jailhouse lawyer meant becoming a target for the system and even the helpless inmates, who lived by the credo Do your own time.

But like Isoke, Brenda felt she had no choice. Advocacy became her purpose in life, and it gave her a reason to live while behind bars. “But let me tell you, Espe. These women came to see me ’cause they want to take up my case. They gonna argue that the system failed to protect me, so I had no choice but to protect myself. They got cases just like mine all around the country, and they’re gonna do it pro bono.”

“Pro bono is what got you here in the first place, Mami.” She hated being so negative with Brenda, but no more than she hated Brenda’s being naive.

“No, negrita, these are not your run-of-the-mill public defenders. They got a different idea about what’s justice in my situation.” Brenda placed her hand over her heart and patted her chest. “Every time they win, they get paid right here.”

Esperanza finally saw her chance to ask what she had long wanted to know. “Mami, do you ever regret what you did?” She wondered this many nights as she lay on her bunk during her yearlong bid. Would she have preferred to die that night than to have caused his death? Did she miss Roland? If she had to do it all over again, what might she have done differently? Esperanza leaned toward Brenda so she could whisper with honesty, because as even Jesus knew though he had never done time, there were no secrets in the penitentiary.

Brenda squeezed her hand and said, “When anybody makes it clear it’s you or him, negrita, you always choose you,” says Brenda. “If I had done that from the start—the first time he called me a bitch, the first time he said I was nothing without him, the first time he forbade me to do something that I knew was in the best interest of our family, the first time he hit me—I would’ve never had to kill him. He said and did many things warning me all along that eventually it would be him or me, but I didn’t pay attention until much too late. That’s my only regret.” Then she repeated her initial advice. “Anybody whose words or action tells you it’s you or him, negrita, always choose you.”

Want to read the rest of Picture Me Rollin’? You can order it here.

Resources:

Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project’s Position Statement: Self-Defense is Not a Crime

Purple Berets’ Fact Sheet on Battered Women in Prison

Amnesty International’s Fact Sheet on Violence Against Women

Alternet: Women’s Incarceration Rate Soars by Over 600 Per Cent as They Face Abuse Behind Bars


Sep
2013

Mister Cee? Chris & Rihanna? Jay-Z & Belafonte? The Next One’s On You

So much constantly going on in the world of hip-hop, what’s an intrepid cultural activist to do?

Well, at this time, I’m grinding on my next young adult novel SHOW AND PROVE. Once I have the manuscript in to my very patient and understanding editor, I’ll be working on my next interactive ebook while I await her feedback. I need you, however, to tell me now what it should be about.

FYI, my ebooks are reads that you play. I rip my ideas from the headlines (cue LAW AND ORDER rattle) and put you in the shoes of a character facing some kind of challenge. What s/he or does is up to you and influences the outcome of the story. For example, my first title THE RAP(P)ER has you in the mind of a recording artist desperate for a hit single.

Art work by John Jennings

Art work by John Jennings

So should my next interactive ebook be about a pop star who is in a violent relationship with another famous recording artist?

A mogul who gets slammed for disrespecting a historical figure?

A white star who gets accused of co-opting black culture?

Or something else?

Take my survey and let me know what you think. You’ll find out which story got the most votes when I publish it this December. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out THE RAP(P)ER here.

As for me, it’s back to SHOW AND PROVE.

Cover of my latest novel

Cover of my latest novel


Aug
2013

“The Customer Ain’t Always Right” – In Solidarity with the Fast Food Workers Strike

Today throughout the United States, fast food workers are striking for a $15 per hour minimum wage. As someone who worked only one summer at a McDonald’s in Orange Park, FL as at teen, I can tell you that they deserve it. Not only is working in a fast food restaurant arduous labor, it exposes you to tremendous abuse and, yes, even violence.

And I’m not talking just about sexual harassment and corporate exploitation. I’m talking about nasty customers who forget that the people behind the counter taking their order and packaging their meals are, you know, people. And when you consider how many fast food workers are women and/or of color – check out page 5 of this table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics one has to question the role that sexism and racism play into the entitlement that too many customers feel to disrespect and violate fast food workers. (Side note: in some parts of the country and in these economic times, more and more elderly people are taking jobs in the fast food industry because, as little as the work pays, retirement, pension and Social Security still isn’t enough to survive.)

While the following scene from my novel PICTURE ME ROLLIN’ is a work of fiction, it was inspired by a real incident. The scene takes place at the McDonald’s at the Hub in the South Bronx (although the inspiring incident did not take place there.) And if I documented all the times I witnessed the abuse of women of color by customers of all genders, race and class, I could fill a book.

“A complete meal has four components,” Esperanza said, imitating Luciano’s Agent Smith drawl during a slow period. “The sandwich, the beverage, the French fries and the dessert. If I order a Big Mac and a Coke, what are you supposed to say, Tenille?”
Happy to finally have another shot at the register, Tenille took her teasing in stride. “Would you like fries with that?”
“And?”
“What about an apple pie or sundae?”
“Customers frequently adding the missing component to their order when you suggest it. You’re not the cashier, Tenille, you’re a salesperson. Stop bring so timid and sell the product. Upsell, upsell, upsell!” Esperanza jabbed her finger in the air to punctuate the unusual word, and Tenille giggled.
“Frequently my behind,” Tenille said. “For the most part people know what they want and freakin’ order it. I worked at Mickey Ds one summer in Atlanta, and I didn’t mind upselling there. But people around here get, like, offended when you suggest what they should eat. Do you know how many times some smart-ass has told me, ‘If I wanted fries, I would’ve asked for them’?”
Esperanza did know. “And the attitude’s not even necessary. A simple, ‘No, thank you’ will do.”
Tenille laughed and turned to her customer, a tall boy of about seventeen with a sneer on his face. “Yes, how may I help you?”
“Yo, this shake you sold me is spoiled.”
She seemed flustered at the accusation. “Are you sure?”
“What you mean, am I sure?” He slammed the cup onto the counter.
Esperanza said, “That’s the first batch of the day. I put it in myself.” Tenille still looked panicked, so she added, “But I’ll go check, ‘cause maybe…”
As Esperanza walked to the shake machine, Tenille told her customer, “We’re going to check it for you right now, sir.” The guy sucked his teeth and mumbled under his breath. Tenille joined Esperanza just as she ahd porued some milk shake into a cup and tasted it.
“There’s nothing wrong with this, T. Taste it yourself.”
Tenille refused Esperanza’s cup. “Well, he says there’s something wrong with it. “
“He’s just trying to get over. Go check his cup. I bet he drank most of that shit.”
They both went back to their respective registers. Although she had a customer to serve, Esperanza kept her eyes on Tenille. The guy yelled, “That shit you sold me is spoiled, and I want my money back.” Tenille took his cup, removed the straw and lid, and took a sniff. “What the fuck you smelling it for?”
From where Esperanza stood she could see that the milk shake cup was two-thirds empty, as she suspected. “For something that was so rotten, muthafucka sure had to drink a whole lot of it to notice. Esperanza greeted her customer, keeping on ear on the order and the other Tenille’s situation. Good for you, she thought when Tenille finally found the courage to taste the milkshake herself.
Tenille place it back on the counter and said “I’m sorry, sir, but there’s nothing wrong with that shake.”
“Bitch, what?”
“Esperanza waited for Tenille to rip him a second asshole. Instead she said, “Even so, if you had brought it back somewhat full, I would’ve been happy to replace it for you.” Esperanza rushed to finish her current customer, who herself seemed eager to get out of the restaurant.
The guy leaned across the counter and stuck his finger in Tenille’s face. “I’m telling you, y’all sold me a spoiled milk shake, and I want my fuckin’ money back now.”
Tenille placed the cup on the counter. She took a deep breath and said, “This shake is just fine, sir.”
“You think so?” He picked up the cup and tossed the remainder of the milk shake into Tenille’s face. “Try that shit again.” And then, as if nothing had happened, he turned around and bopped toward the exit.
Esperanza gasped as Tenille stood frozen, vanilla milk shake streaming down her ebony face and dribbling onto her collar. Several coworkers rushed to her with napkins, and the girl on fries ran to the back to get Luciano. Tenille whimpered with humiliation as customers shook their heads and pointed their fingers.
Esperanza bolted over the counter and raced through the dining area. When within an arm’ reach of Tenille’s attacker, she reached out and shoved him, tackling him to the floor. He hit the tile so hard his head banged the floor, and his baseball cap sailed under a table. Esperanza pummeled him in the head until she felt a pair of masculine arms hook her into the air.
As Luciano dragged her away, she screamed, “The customer ain’t always right so who you callin’ a bitch?”

Have you witnessed a fast food worker suffer from abuse or violence? Have you yourself been a fast food worker who has experienced something like this at the hands of customer? I’d love for you to share your story in the comments.

And if you like to know more about PICTURE ME ROLLIN’ you can check out my Pinterest board, watch the book trailer, or even download a free sample chapter from the Kindle ebook.

Aug
2013

THE RAP(P)ER is Coming

And whether he raps or rapes is up to you.

Inspired by the Rick Ross controversy of April 2013, THE RAPPER is my first work of interactive fiction. For twenty-four hours on 9/5 – my birthday! – you’ll be able to download it for free.  Mark your calendar so you don’t miss it. 

Art work by John Jennings

Art work by John Jennings

 

 


Jul
2013

The Treasure Chest

Aren’t Mondays murder?

Take the edge off by reading some great short stories by the inimitable Akashic Books. Today the publisher of the award-winning Noir Series posted my latest crime fiction The Treasure Chest on its website. Hope you enjoy it and check out some of the other amazing tales there.

 

The Treasure Chest
by Sofia Quintero
Hunts Point, Bronx, New York, United States

Giselle slid in her green contact lenses before slipping out the back door and tottering in her stilettos across the parking lot to Chief’s car. When she opened the passenger door, she was greeted with the smoke of his nasty cigarette and a bouquet of blue hydrangeas. “For me?” She picked them up off the seat, eased into their place, and leaned over to plant a kiss on Chief’s cheek.

“You were especially good tonight,” he said as he put out his cigarette. “Who was that song by?”

“Santana.” Of course, he was too young to know it. “Carlos Santana.”

“I liked it a lot.” He hummed the melody. “Black magic woman . . .

Shut up. Giselle forced a grin. Just shut the fuck up…

To find out what happens and to read other great stories as part of Akashic’s Mondays are Murder series, just click here. 

Jun
2013

10 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Committing Suicide

Vice Magazine thought it’d be cute to print a fashion spread reenacting the suicides of notable women writers. Nah, I’m not linking that shit. If you must see it for yourself, Google it.

What I will link is Aya De Leon’s pointed and poetic response for Bitch Magazine called 99 Reasons Why I As a Women Writer Will Not Be Killing Myself. And if you’re asking why death imagery in advertising is extremely problematic, you can get a 101 from Jennifer Pozner’s takedown of America’s Next Top Model “beautiful corpses” challenge and a more thorough analysis can be found in her book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure Television.

If you’re a women writer, I hope you’ll follow Aya’s lead and write and share your list of reasons why you’re not killing yourself no matter how cute Vice thinks it is. And if you love a woman writer, consider writing an open letter to her telling why you hope she never commits suicide. As for me, I have thousands of reasons why I’m not committing suicide

Here’s a random ten:

1. I’m not finished writing the books I want to read that don’t yet exist. You know, the unapologetically commercial novels where sisterhood prevails, the feminists stay winning and all of that.

2. There’s a young woman out there who won’t believe she has a right to be visible just as she is right now until she sees herself lovingly and honestly rendered in something I wrote.

3. That same young woman has to then realize that she really doesn’t need me because she has the right, ability and obligation to tell her own story.

4. I have never forgotten the young man in a juvenile facility in Durham, North Carolina who told me when he got out he was going to buy my books to support me.

5. Being a women writer in community with other women writers is a slumber party that never ends.

6. I’m Black woman in a country where once upon a not really all that long ago time Black people who were discovered to have learned how to read and write got their hands chopped off and so now I’m on some I wish a MFer would…

7. I have yet made the rounds to all the schools in the Bronx so kids here can see that you can come from the ‘hood and do good without becoming a rapper or vixen or thug or a corrupt politician even though I often write about rappers, vixens, thugs, corrupt politicians…

8. While it’s been some time since I finally realized that my stories are worth telling, it’s only recently that I’ve been getting the hang of telling them well.

9. I didn’t go through a mastectomy, sixteen rounds of chemotherapy and eight months of Herceptin to go out like that.

10. My mother didn’t watch me go through a mastectomy, sixteen rounds of chemotherapy and eight months of Herceptin to watch me go out like that.

Jun
2013

Ask a Novelist – June 17 – 21, 2013

Do you have a question about how to write that story burning inside you?

You’ve heard the cliche. Everyone has a story to tell. As someone who has published five novels and twice as many short stories and novellas, I can tell you that’s bullshit.

Each of us has multiple stories to tell.

Yup, that includes you, too.

Some of your stories come from your imagination. Other have been inspired by your life experiences. You may have an idea that blends the two

And you suspect that the best way to get these stories out of your head and into the world is to write them down.

But you’ve got questions. Questions about craft, questions about genre, questions about publishing. Just one question after the other. And they keep you from moving forward with your writing.

Here’s your chance to ask someone who has answers.

I’ve published five novels and twice as many short stories and novellas. The major houses — Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, St. Martin’s Press, Simon & Schuster — have all pubilshed me. And I’ve published across genre, too. Young adult, “chick lit,” crime fiction and even erotica.

This is not to say that I know everything about writing and publishing.

But I know a little somethin’, and I want to share it with you.

That’s why from the week of June 17th through June 21st, I’m holding “office hours.”

You get to ask me anything and everything about writing and publishing, and I’ll give you a no holds-barred answer. Or at least tell you where you could get an answer if your question stumps me.

What does this cost?

Nothing, nada, zip. Except for those long distance charges and your time on the line, this is free. If I were where you are now – filled with dreams of getting my story out into the world but full of questions of how to go about it – I’d jump all over this investment of time. Fi doesn’t turn her nose up at free if what’s offered is in alignment with her dreams. Neither should you.

Eventbrite - Ask a Novelist - June 17-21, 2013

Apr
2013

The Harassment That Wasn’t and What It Taught Me about the Interdependence of Misogyny and Racism

I have been experiencing street harassment since I was about 11 years old. As I walked down the street, grown men would make comments about my appearance, ranging from the mild to the crass. Sometimes it was annoying, often times it was frightening. While I was taught such things as to never accept a drink I had not seen poured and to stand up for myself if someone insulted me, no one ever showed me how to deal with unwanted “compliments” that left me feeling violated rather than appreciated.

As I experimented with ways to respond to such unwanted interactions, it was painful to learn that there was no such thing as the correct response. Whether I ignored the comments, challenged them or even attempted to educate with loving intent to the harasser on why his behavior was unwelcomed, I took a big risk in escalating this situation instigated by the simple act of being a woman who dared deigned to enter public space. Nothing I did or failed to do was going to prevent it from happening or ensuring that the encounter remained verbal.  Neither my peace of mind nor safety was in my hands. For all the excuses that people make for street harassment, the simple fact a person can be forced into an undesired interaction with no other option than to bear it is evidence of a power imbalance. The person who is targeted by the harasser has no true recourse.  She’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

The only thing that seems to work is collective intervention. That is, when others – men and women alike – rally around the person who is being targeted and communicates to the perpetrator that they won’t abide by that behavior. Unfortunately, we are so fearful of becoming targets ourselves, such an intervention is not as common as it should be.

I remain haunted by past experiences of street harassment. As much as I understand intellectually that nothing I could’ve done would’ve sufficed, internalized sexism has a tight grip on the spirit. And so oes internalized racism for one of the most haunting experiences of negotiating the politics of the pavement involved the time I wasn’t harassed.

Here is that story and what I learned from it.