Confessions of a Teaching Artist

My life as a teaching artist has been a mixed bag this summer.

This Saturday I taught a free 2-hour workshop at the Bronx Writers Center called Jumpstart Your Novel. We had a full house, I delivered more than I promised, and the feedback was wonderful. My students were incredibly diverse and included some friends. Even though I stayed an extra half-hour, I walked away from the workshop feeling exhilarated and fulfilled, knowing that I was of inspiration and service to folks.

Most of all, I felt I was able to do so being my full self. I wasn’t just the novelist who wrote published five books and was sharing her favorite tools and resources for getting shit done. I was also that gal who can use SAT words, hip-hop vernacular and new age speak all in one sentence. While having dinner and drinks afterwards, my homegirls – accomplished writers in their own right – affirmed for me that I had grown as a teacher, activist and healer, and that they, too, received something new at my workshop.

But the online course I’m designing so I can conscientiously be more of all these things to more people be like…


My Orbital advisors are pushing me to something live or the very last via video. I instinctively know they’re right but still I resist. Why? Because for various reasons, a fundamental thing about making teaching sustainable for me is to not overextend myself in the way live events demands. I love the idea of doing video, too, and eventually will add that to the course, but in this start-before-your-ready mode, my life conditions aren’t conducive to even the most simplest video production.

Y’all are just gonna have to trust me on that.

Talk about watch what you wish for. What I most want as a teacher the biggest draw to any course I teach to be me. I finally accept and own it. That entails a degree of visibility, transparency and accessibility. But the paradox is that as an artist, what I need most is space, solitude and privacy. I’ve been walking this tightrope as a teaching artist for a while, and I had hoped that this ecourse would be a way to give what I have to offer while still reserving whatever I need for myself.

I still feel that there’s something workable here, but right now it’s not working at all. I’m not giving up just yet, but I am opening myself up to the possibility that quitting is a viable option. That’s the only reason why I’m blogging about it – to make that possibility real and acceptable to no one but myself.

Vamos a ver.


3 Steps to Getting 50+ Retweets on Twitter – Part I

OrbitalNYC 2014 - Assignment 3 - SQuintero

    1. Identify the latest celebrity to engage in some fuckery.
    2. Snark away using an existing hashtag created with the distinct purpose to clown said celebrity.
    3. Search the hashtag for impressive snark by others and RT those.

If You Spot It, You Got It

As part of the Orbital Boot Camp, we have to complete seven assignments. There are some that I’ve already accomplished before embarking on this experience. For example, being a published author and content producer, I’ve had people write about my work. Experience has shown also that I’m quite capable of composing a tweet that garners double-digit retweets and favorites. If I want to raise the bar higher for myself, my objective before the end of boot camp is to proactively complete these same tasks with the strategic intention of pushing forward my projects. I think I can swing it.

But there’s are two similar assignments, however, that I’ve been dreading. These are leveraging my networks to get an introduction to someone I want to meet (and actually have a conversation with this person) and sending a cold email to someone I want to meet (and, again, actually speak to this person.) These tasks scare the shit out of me.

Please Eat My Homework!

It’ll take a post much longer than I want to write at 11:48PM on a Saturday night to explain this fully so I’ll cut to the conclusion. I hate opportunists, but there’s this saying: if you spot it, you got it. That means if opportunists work my nerves, it just may be because I myself am an opportunist. Or at the very least wish I was more like one.

You spot it

Of course, being a skilled and consistent networker does not an opportunist make. There are plenty of people who are leveraging their networks for introductions and sending out cold emails because they believe deeply that what they’re creating is valuable and are determined to realize their ideas. Having worked in politics and entertainment has left me with some baggage I have to unload, and I’m ready to start unpacking.

So this weekend, I made an attempt to knock out both of these assignments. Results – or lack thereof – are pending. But at least I’m in the game, and I feel already a little lighter.


Fiverr, Freelancers and Interns, Oh My!

One assignment for the Orbital NYC Boot Camp for which I already have previous experience is hiring someone from a labor marketplace such as ODesk and Elance to do $50 worth of work on my project. My go-to source for finding affordable freelancers for simple tasks has been Fiverr. For the most part, my experience with Fiverr has been great.

Although sometimes guilt-inducing.

Unpaid Interns

My ecourse is based on a novel that is presently out-of-print. Now that my rights have reverted back to me, I have to republish it so that it’s readily available. There’s no just removing the binding (i.e. blow drying the spine until the glue melts so that the pages come apart easily and neatly), scanning the pages and compiling a PDF. It’s starting from scratch, including designing a new cover.

That means the novel has to be retyped, and if that has to wait until I can do it myself, it ain’t getting done. My time is better spent doing those things that only I can do and which can generate an income. This includes finishing that second YA novel in my two-book deal.

Instead I found a lovely young women named Madeleine on Fiverr who is retyping the manuscript for me. I send her PDFs of two to three chapters which is about 30-40 pages. I pay her $15-20 per batch, and she usually turns it around in a day or two. She’s been great and so long as she remains available, I plan on hiring her to retype all three of my out-of-print Black Artemis novels. We’ve calculated that would be almost 1,000 pages. At her rate, this means I’ll have three full-length novels retyped for less than $500.

If I had gone to a traditional transcription service, I’d probably pay that much for just one manuscript. I feel like I’m exploiting Madeleine even if she freely sought opportunities to do this work at this rate.

In comparison, when I’ve had the resources, I’ve also used a virtual assistance company where clients pay upfront for a certain number of hours per work like depositing savings in a bank account. The more you pay up front, the less you pay per hour.
(I use them mostly for audio transcriptions for another labor of love called The Feminist Love Project I initially used Fiverr for this, and that experience taught me the fundamental difference between paying a traditional service provider over using freelancers found in a labor marketplace. As you can imagine, the quality of the output could be an issue at times since freelancers often didn’t have the skills or equipment that businesses did, but for me it wasn’t the main issue since I wasn’t demanding complicated tasks.

Reliability was more of the challenge. A place like Fiverr is not the one to go to if you’re in a time crunch. One, you can’t assume the person who has his shingle up will actually respond to your query. I can’t even tell you why that is — there are surely 101 reasons. For the overwhelming majority of these folks, this is a way to make extra money. They have other things on their plate, and given how much work they’re offering for so little – it’s called Fiverr for a reason – they probably burn out often and need to take frequent breaks.

Two, because their prices are so low, freelancers often want to tweak templates and keep it moving. This is particularly true for design work from logos to landing pages. I once reached out to a freelancer on Fiverr asking how much he would charge to create a logo for me that was a parody of another logo. I knew precisely what I wanted, had the other visual elements he would need and requested a quote i.e. I was willing to pay more than his Fiverr rates. If he was as skilled as his copy boasted, he could’ve whipped out what I was asking for and made some easy money. Dude never replied.

Now it could’ve been some thing else entirely, but when I looked back through his samples, I saw how generic they were. I suspected that he had invested in some kind of software and wasn’t interested in (or capable of doing) work that required him to use any elements outside of his current toolbox. In fact, he wanted to design the logo based on a the minimal input from clients. Now maybe it was a matter of creative fulfillment or artistic pride, and I’m not mad at that, but he still could’ve just answered though if like this:

Bye Felicia

Three, when dealing with a freelancer from a labor marketplace, you do run the greater risk of unforeseen obstacles. Folks have computers that die, finals that call, and vacations that beckon. Again, ain’t mad at them ‘cause I’m not in a hurry. If I were, however, I’d take my task to CVA because the higher price I’m paying means that my job is going to be delegated to someone who has the time, equipment and focus to do it well and fast.

But I still use Fiverr for those tasks that can be fulfilled within its various constraints. It sparks an internal struggle though ‘cause, on the one hand, I sure as hell wouldn’t work for these rates (the ads on Odesk seeking writers pisses me off to no end. Go look. I don’t wanna here about it but look.) On the other hand, yo no soy hija de Rockefeller. Not by a long shot, and being a freelancer myself, paying someone pocket money for a simple administrative task isn’t like a major conglomerate seeking an unemployed intern.

Or is it?


To Sell What You Wish to Serve

survey says

Before the Orbital Boot Camp, my approach to creating and implementing this ecourse based on my novel Picture Me Rollin’ would most likely have been as follows:

1. Republish the novel as an ebook.
2. Create all the course content.
3. Recruit paying students.

Because of this boot camp, rather than creating then implementing, I’m creating and implementing at the same time. And here are some fascinating things about this radically different approach:

1. It’s still scary but more fulfilling.
2. It’s less overwhelming since we’re being encouraged and supported to move our projects forward with defined tasks than general phases.
3. Both potential issues and better strategies surface more quickly

A fellow boot camper blogged this week, “Where there’s pain, there’s opportunity. Where there’s opportunity, there’s innovation.”

Among other things, this sentiment reminded me of a few things. One, marketing experts often advise entrepreneurs to sell people what they want but give them what they need. So maybe your fitness program promises clients will “shed 10 pounds in 10 days,” but what you actually deliver is a healthier lifestyle that is actually sustainable. Two, on the underside of this marketing adage, entrepreneurs are encouraged to solve a problem. Specifically, we are told that people are most likely to pay to have a problem solved than to prevent it in the first place, and we should get clear on what point of pain we are attempting to resolve. Ideally, our solution should be one people are wiling to buy. Three, when we are marketing our solution, we are at once attempting to convince our prospects that we are selling what they want, but in delivering our product or service, we are resolving their true pain which just might be something far deeper than they even realize.

This made me wonder then if, when we are compelled to innovate in response to pain, we are actually being called to serve.

So where does this leave the creative entrepreneur whose product is something often deemed a luxury? A painting. An album. A novel. Is there a pain we’re attempting to or at least capable of resolving when we create these things?


I tested this assumption recently by following a whim and asking my followers on Twitter to share the titles of works of fiction they found reading to be healing experiences. What I was seeking was an affirmation that reading fiction has the potential to be more powerful than just providing a temporary escape as a form of self-care. I got it. A frequently cited example was Alice Walker’s THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR for the way it helped readers to better understand and navigate family dynamics even when they are abusive.

While I have professional and financial hopes for creating this ecourse, I also have activist and spiritual intentions for it. I would like the experience of reading the novel, working through the assignments and sharing challenges and discoveries amidst a community to be one that’s healing for all the participants. As a person who believes that books choose their readers rather than vice versa, this is what I want for anyone drawn to this novel and this online class. My instinct says that there exists a real opportunity to create something that can help a reader resolve a point of pain

But what if all they want is a writing workshop? Of course, the unfulfilled yearning to write is extremely painful. If someone is looking to learn how to outline a novel or pitch it to editors, however, I have no desire to teach that no matter how lucrative it might be. It may be the problem that many are willing to pay to have solved, but it doesn’t give me a strong urge to serve.

That’s the question I’m grappling with now. While I certainly want to midwife my students desires to write, I’m uninterested in teaching elements of craft for its own sake. This just ain’t that type of class. Take my priority action step for this week: design that first lesson. In it I use a technique for developing character to prompt my students to examine themselves. For the students who are willing, there’s a great potential to go quite deep out the gate.

I once took an online quiz to determine the limiting belief that was getting in the way of my success. After answering a short series of questions, the results were that I feared that others would not want what I had to give. It immediately rang true, then and now as I brace myself to review the surveys about expectations and experiences that my beta testers so honestly completed, that doubt has certainly been triggered.

This is where Orbital gets real because just like a boot camp, I gotta do it. I gotta read these surveys, offer my lesson, and speak to my participants, all to discover where, if any, the overlap exists between what they want, what they need, and how I want to serve.

With my old approach I may never have reached step three as the drive to create lessons and materials petered out in the vortex that is working without accountability and feedback. If I had finished, I would’ve learned what I needed to, but if history and personality are indicators, much too late and at high cost. That is, to the extent I would’ve ran out of motivation to revise and reboot.

I’m going in…


Start Before You’re Ready

Life of a Project. jpg

The main lesson from boot camp this week was something I have been hearing a great deal for the past two or three years. Marie Forleo impressed it upon us at her last Rich Happy Hot Live event in 2012. Almost all the folks whose newsletter I subscribe to – from online business coaches to “conscious” entrepreneurs – have all written about this at one point or another.

“Start before you’re ready.”

I used to think that starting before I was ready was the precise reason I had difficulty seeing certain projects to fruition. I would have this grand vision in my mind of what I wanted the final product to be. No matter how much I tempered my ambition, what I envisioned always surpassed my resources. Still I’d be so enamored with the idea that I would start anyway. I’d take some pretty bold steps running on little more than passion.

And passion is a master at manipulation. Passion makes you believe, “Whatever I don’t know, I’ll learn. Whatever I don’t have, I’ll get. Whoever I don’t know, I’ll meet.”

How many times I’ve dove in because of passion having forgotten how damn fickle he is. I’ll invest scant time, energy even money into something based on his promises. In fairness to him, he’s pretty reliable in the beginning. I’ll face those first, unforeseen obstacles, and Passion and me, we’ll power through them like the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman.

Steve and Jamie

Hurdling past those first few challenges, I’ll gain momentum. Often the vision gets bigger even as the resources are dwindling. No matter. I feel unstoppable.

Then the first major challenge rears its head. It’s not always something insurmountable. It’s just big. And unexpected.

Sometimes the obstacle is not even related to the project. It’s just life happening. I remember being in the middle of producing my web series and online network HomeGirl.TV when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. I could say that was the reason I put the project on hiatus, and no one would blame me. The truth, however, is that my diagnosis became a handy excuse for putting HomeGirl.TV on pause because I was already blindsided and disappointed in a certain aspect of the project. (Another thing we learned at boot camp this week is the need to make assumptions and test them. I had made an assumption about HomeGirl.TV that did not pan out, and it was demoralizing. The lesson is one that I’ve taken into another one of my side projects the Feminist Love Project.)

And so often when that first huge challenge shows up – the one that reminds me just how I have even less time, energy and money to address it – where the hell’s Passion at? Over there flirting with the next idea. When he’s really callous, he’s stirring up old feelings with an ex i.e. that side project started and abandoned before the current one.

So what’s going to be different with the Picture Me Rollin’ ecourse? My guess is it’s going to be Orbital’s distinct mixture of accountability, community and actionability (I’m a writer. I make up words. You’ll live.) With any project, there’s a seemingly endless to-do list. The Orbital faculty has charged us to just identify one priority each week and get that task done. If we do more, excellent. If that one task is all that we complete, hey, our project is still moving forward. We share with each other what that priority task is and are holding each other accountable for getting it done. No one wants to keep coming back every week with a status update that starts with, “Well, I was gonna but, you know, because life….”

But it’s not like with past endeavors I didn’t have some form of community, accountability and actionability. I have several ideas as to why boot camp is a different experience, but I’m going to let some time past before I expound on that. I have this suspicion that over the next few weeks, a lot of assumptions I had about how to get things done are about to be blown out of the water.

For now the assumption I’m testing is that there are people who will want to take this ecourse. My task for the week was to reach out to people on my mailing list who said they wanted to be beta participants when I was ready to rock. Starting waaay before I’m ready, I not only sent out an email to this list, I also posted the call for testers on Twitter and Facebook. The call includes a survey/”application” (which you can find here if you’re interested.) I’m seeking a maximum of fifty people, but my goal is to recruit at minimum fifteen by the end of next week.

Progress: I’m halfway towards my goal, and the majority have come through tagging specific people on my Facebook post. Does this surprise me? No, I had many reasons to suspect that relying on my mailing list wasn’t the way to go. More on that once the deadline has passed.

And talk about accountability. I never would’ve thought never mind dared to attempt to recruit participants until I was much farther along in developing the content for the course. That would have put me at great risk of taking far too long to get it done if at all. Instead I now have this level of buy-in – one of my fellow boot campers described the first page of my survey as “intimidating” so completing it says something about a person’s willingness to commit to the process – that requires me to produce.

Doing this has also reacquainted me with one of the pleasurable byproducts that often emerges when one takes actionable steps towards completing a project. Sometimes you show up, knock out that bite-sized task and realize you’ve got the bandwidth to do a little somethin’, somethin’ more. Before you know it, you’re creating far more than you thought you could.

Working on the survey got me thinking about how I’m going to deliver the novel to my participants since I need to republish it. Next thing I know, I’m messing around with Canva and have the mockup of a new book cover for not only PICTURE ME ROLLIN’ but my two other Black Artemis novels. I only discovered Canva a week ago, and I saw myself being very methodical about learning how to use it – tutorial by tutorial – before attempting to make anything.

Yeah, I’m pretty stoked I didn’t do that.

BAM Book Cover Collage


Hustle and Pivot


It’s hard out here for a novelist.

One of the hardest things is finding the audience for your book. While it’s becoming easier for writers to both publish and promote their works themselves, the majority of strategies touted by experts – especially those exploiting social media and other online technology – are geared toward non-fiction writers. Whether how-to, self-help or even memoir, there are countless ways to use the issues, themes and events your work raises and explores to draw attention to it.

In fact, if you look at the many experts and coaches that rely heavily on their online presence to build their businesses, a book of some kind is often the entry point for prospects. It’s an inexpensive (if not free) resource that enables them to share some of their expertise and cultivate relationships with potential clients.

But what if you’re making the whole shit up? What if your life isn’t the kind that Sony would adapt into a film for Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock? What if you don’t have an existing platform in a field that lends itself to the online business-to-business or lifestyle coaching model? What if, to paraphrase Albert Camus, you’re writing lies through which to tell truths?

The default for many creative people is to become teaching artists. If it lights you up to share your favorite techniques, inspire others to pursue their creative dreams and godparent the talent of others (and I do), this can be a wonderful thing. Until it isn’t.

Even if you’re a wonderful teacher who finds the work fulfilling, it’s only sustainable for so long. You hustle for the few available gigs with nonprofit organizations or academic institutions. Few of these gigs pay well enough for you not to have to create a patchwork of them to pay your rent. Juggling multiple freelance assignments means less time for your own work. This is especially true if you take nurturing the creative spirits of others as the sacred act that it is (and a Miss Celie curse on you if you don’t.) When you do, you’re investing your creativity into developing lessons and exercises for your students which can leave your well parched when the time comes to focus on your own projects.


There’s got to be other ways for creative to become entrepreneurs who can leverage their existing creations into multiple revenue streams. There’s got to be ways to do this using all the technology available to us from social media platforms to content management systems. There’s got to be ways to do this that enable us to combine our multiple passions and be of service.

I have an idea for one way to pivot some of the online tools and strategies that entrepreneurs use so that they work for fiction authors. I’m creating an 8-week ecourse based on one of my novels. Picture Me Rollin’ to be exact.

And if you’re reading this, you probably already know enough about me to get why this is going to be quite an enterprise (And if on the off-chance this blog post is your first encounter with me, this recent feature in Bitch will suffice as an introduction into what I write and why I write it.)

This is not an academic course in creative writing where we’re using my novel to illustrate points of craft. Yes, to some extent it is a creative writing workshop. But in my vision for this e-course, teaching the elements of writing fiction is the smallest objective. Nor is it just a book club where the participants have weekly access to the author although it’s that, too.

This is “self-study” course.

This is a group coaching program.

This is a consciousness-raising collective.

This is an incubator for social justice projects.

This is, I hope if nothing else, a healing experience.

Over the next 12 weeks, I’m going to develop this e-course through the Orbital Boot Camp and documenting my experiences here. I’ll share what I’ve done and what I’ve learned from it. Please join me on this journey.


#mywritingprocess – Rewriting SHOW AND PROVE

Cover of my latest novel

Cover of my latest novel

I couldn’t think of a better way to reboot this blog than participating in the #mywritingprocess tour. Shout out to Daniel Jose Older for inviting me to participate (and you can see what he has to share about his own writing process here.

What are you working on?
I’m working on my sixth novel called Show and Prove. It’s my second YA novel, and it’s set in the summer of 1983 in New York City. Show and Prove will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015. I’m also going to republish my Black Artemis novels as ebooks before year’s end. Sometimes when I’m inspired, I heed the call to churn out some feminist hip-hop noir in the form of flash fiction like these pieces I wrote for Akashic Books and MySpace.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
I write commercial fiction with a social justice agenda. There’s this notion that the “big ideas” are solely the purview of literary fiction while commercial fiction is purely for entertainment and therefore should not concern itself with sociopolitical issues. Obviously, I think that’s bullshit. My views on this are beyond the scope of this blog post, but if you’re really intrigued, you can read my conversation with Aya de Leon in the latest issue of Bitch about our feminist takeover of chick lit for a start.

Why do you write what you do?
With whatever I create, my mission as a cultural activist is to meet people where they are yet take them someplace better. My ideal reader is a woman who loves hip-hop even when hip-hop fails to love her in return. When she reads my novel, in addition to being entertained, I hope that she sees herself in a way that is truthful, affirming, healing. I don’t want to preach to the converted or pander to elites, but I do want to entertain, inform, validate and inspire people who care about social justice issues. That could be an English major or her cousin the cashier. Really I’m writing what I would like to read, and I like stories that are as intelligent and political as they are entertaining and edgy.

How does your writing process work?
They say all writing is rewriting, and that’s the damn truth so let me share some of the steps I’m taking as I rewrite Show and Prove. Composing the first draft is hardest part for me. I write what I call zero drafts that are overwritten even as necessary scenes are missing.

 A page from the current draft of SHOW AND PROVE with my revision notes.

A page from the current draft of SHOW AND PROVE with my revision notes.

I love rewriting far more than composing, getting far more fulfillment from adding what’s missing, cutting what’s superfluous and weaving whatever remains into a cohesive narrative.

First, I’ve reread the latest version of the manuscript. I printed it out in part because I want to be able to work on it anywhere particularly the subway. My goal is to get through this process as quickly as possible by writing notes on the manuscript. I only stop to implement a note if I sense an inspired change might get lost if I don’t act quickly on it.

My next step was to reoutline the story. I don’t like outlining before starting to write yet revising the outline of an existing manuscript is exciting to me. I made an index card for every chapter where I summarized it in one or two sentences. Doing it after the review makes it far easier to (1) regain any momentum I may have lost while taking a break from the manuscript and (2) slash anything that doesn’t move the story forward. It becomes evident how radically the manuscript can be improved by simple acts of cutting entire chapters or reordering scenes.

I’m at the point now where I’m creating a revision plan. Actually, I should say a new one. Before rereading the manuscript, I had created a weekly plan with particular tasks I wanted to accomplish e.g. Week #2 – 4 May 11th – 31st: Research and write missing scenes. Now that I’ve reread my current draft, I realize the approached I mapped out won’t work. On the contrary, I can see how it’ll stifle my creativity by not allowing me to dive into the areas that are juicy for me right now and puts me at risk of overlooking how a change in one part of the novel necessitates a change somewhere else.

The bulk of my revision plan will be the notes I made on my scene cards and the manuscript itself. The electronic comments and handwritten notes will now comprise a task list. When I cross off everything on that list, I’d say my novel will be at least 85 per cent complete. Then it’ll be time to reread it once more, make obvious changes, then turn it over to my editor so her fresh eyes can see what I’m too close to notice.

Enough writing about writing and actually, you know, write. Soon I’ll post again about my progress and maybe even post some pictures of the marked up manuscript. When Show and Prove is published, I may even blog about a specific rewriting task, posting the old draft, notes and the final version. But for now you should check out Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History for more good stuff from Daniel Jose Older. Long Hidden also includes a fantastic story from Sofia Samatar whose blog is the next stop on the #mywritingprocess tour.


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.


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


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