Wednesday, January 11, 2017

OUR AMERICAN PRESIDENT



President Barack Obama said farewell to the nation tonight. First Lady Michelle wore black. I felt like we were at a beloved family member’s memorial service. From start to finish, saying goodbye, was gut-wrenching. Like many, I wept like a baby.

I remember when he announced his candidacy, my beloved grandmother shifting forward in her seat to get a better view of him as she watched CNN. There was a hint of doubt in her eyes, that a black man could even imagine himself being the leader of the free world. I remember her joy, as she shook with excitement, tears streaming down her face, when he was elected President.

From the very beginning he carried himself with a quiet dignity that few others have been able to mimic. He personified the best this world had to offer and for many, to see that embodied in a male with brown skin, kinky hair, and a non-traditional name went against everything they deemed American.

For the past eight years he has demonstrated immeasurable grace under fire. He was challenged, stalled and disrespected at every turn and even now, as he prepares to exit the White House, too many are ready to dismantle the hard work he fought tooth and nail for, too quick to discredit the legacy he leaves behind.

We fell in love with him. We loved how he was so in love with his beautiful wife. How he adored his precious daughters. We were privileged that they were so open, welcoming us into their lives without hesitation. How they embraced us and allowed their family to be our family.

He leaves with more hope for this country than we may deserve. He has faith in our success that few others can fathom. Even as the masses are bemoaning what’s to come he believes in the greater good. He believes in we the people. He still trusts the ideology of democracy and the red, white and blue that waves in welcome to all. He is the best of the best. He was a true American President. And he was ours.

We miss him already.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

HOW TO GET THERE



I didn’t bother with my Santa letter this year. There was nothing I wanted to ask the jolly guy that I haven’t already asked for before. Nothing that he hasn’t already heard from most of us. And I knew he had his hands full. This year has been a bear. 2016 came in hard, body-slammed most of us and seems determined to kick us while we’re down as it heads out. But 2016 be damned. I’ll be happy to see it slide right on out of here and I don’t need to wave goodbye or wish it well.
Disappointment has been the benchmark for most of my goals this past year. I accept full responsibility for that because I've not been good about doing everything I know I needed to do to be successful. The writing took a turn that felt like I’d been sucker punched. Family issues had me reeling over and over again. I’ve been struggling both professionally and personally and I was past ready to be done and finished with it all.
Just when I was ready to toss in a multitude of towels, there was a shift in the atmosphere. The sun and the moon aligned just so and everything suddenly changed. Blessings were abundant, coming when I least expected them. Prayer worked more than one miracle and there was much I had to be grateful for.
So why am I still so unhappy? Why am I constantly angry? Because discontent is rearing an ugly head and I can’t begin to explain or even understand why I can’t get past whatever is consuming me. But I’m frustrated and tense and constantly uneasy about the simplest things. It’s wearing me down and somehow, some way, I need to figure out how to throw it onto the sinking ship that has been this year. Because I need 2017 to be better.
Big things are happening in the new year. Career goals are shifting and relationships are evolving. I need to enjoy and revel in each moment, to enjoy the victories I know are coming. I need me to be better so that I can do better. I need what’s in my head to mesh with what is in my heart. I need my spirit to be fully engaged if I’m going to make it through.  I need it all to work and balance and be well and I want to be happy about it all. Happy. I refuse to accept anything less. I just need to figure out how to get there.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

BP AND THE PORTA-JOHN



Big Daddy and I like to road trip. It’s our thing to do. We’ve been to some amazing places, met some pretty incredible people and usually have a great time. Recently, we were headed to Bunn, North Carolina. To visit family. It was reason enough to go explore and so we did.
Like with most road trips we frequently stop. Sometimes out of necessity. Others times just to explore. On this day, we stopped because the gauge on the gas tank was low and I had to use the restroom. When traveling through rural areas of the south we are particular about where we do and do not stop. Only once in many, many years do I recall ever stopping anywhere that we didn’t feel comfortable. Most places, people are very welcoming.
I have always trusted the BP brand. More times than not the restrooms at a BP gas station are clean and the staff are friendly. When we saw the BP logo, we stopped, confident that this time would be like all our other times. Sadly, it was not.
BP outlets are neither owned nor operated by BP. BP provides petroleum and petroleum products to branded marketers, in this case Cary Oil Co., Inc. and under a marketer franchise agreement, the BP marketer supplies their customers with petroleum. Privettes Grocery, where we stopped, is the BP marketer.
Privettes Grocery sits on a corner lot at 4650 Old US Highway 64 E in Zebulon, NC. The expansive building is indicative of its Southern surroundings. It was typical of many convenience stores, cluttered with sundry items from bubble gum to motor oil. Two women stood at the counter and when I entered, neither spoke, barely lifting their gazes to acknowledge that I’d entered. It was a glaring customer service flaw.
I was in one of my cheerier moods. I greeted them both and then asked where I might find the rest room. There was just a moment when the two exchanged a look and then one of the women pointed out the window and said, “You have to go out there.”
I followed where her finger pointed and for the first time noticed the green and white porta-potty sitting in the parking lot. There was a moment of stunned silence before I responded. “Excuse me?”
She repeated herself. “You have to go out there.” And then just like that she returned to what she was doing and I had been dismissed.
It was a cold-water moment, my cheery mood squashed in the blink of an eye. The whole thing reeked, and not of Southern hospitality. Knowing that I had no intentions of using anyone’s porta-potty I thanked her and turned to leave. As I did, a young white woman appeared from one of the aisles and asked the other woman if she could use the rest room. That woman pointed her toward the back of the store and told her to help herself. My cheery mood suddenly shifted again and it took every ounce of fortitude I possessed not to do something I knew I would later regret. Instead, I gave them both a look and left. From that door back to the car, my blood boiled and before I could get my seat belt buckled I was raging as I told Big Daddy what had happened.
I agonized over it for days. I tried to justify their reasoning for doing such a thing. I made excuses for the bad behavior. I genuinely wanted to believe that the moment had been a fluke of sorts. I tried to dismiss how they had made me feel. I prayed that maybe I had been mistaken about their intent. And then, when it weighed so heavily on my spirit that I knew I couldn’t just let it slide, I tweeted BP and expressed my outrage. I posted on Facebook about my experience. I refused to just let it go. In this day and age, that anyone would be treated in this manner is appalling. I could not, in good conscious, not say something.
BP’s brand is as important to them as my brand is to me. They needed to know that their brand was being represented in such a negative light. I don’t know that I was prepared for the responses I received. People have flooded my time line and inbox to express their outrage. Others have castigated me for making this a “race thing”. Residents in Zebulon have shared that this store is notorious for treating customers so abhorantly. Some have stressed that they don’t discriminate against any one race. Everyone is treated rudely and being told to use the porta-john is dependent on the clerk of the moment and not the color of one’s skin. That may well be their truth, but it still doesn’t make it right.
BP Consumer Relations reached out within three minutes of my tweet, asking me to direct message them with details of what had happened. They responded promptly, promising an investigation and advising that I would be hearing from the station’s branding jobber. The branding jobber reached out less than an hour later. She has also responded to others who reached out to share my story, demanding answers for what had been done. They have been apologetic, expressing over, and over again how sorry they are. They have promised an investigation and I trust that one will happen. What I don’t trust is that anything will change.

BP cannot control the attitudes that would allow anyone to think it’s okay for some patrons to be treated one way, while others are treated differently. We hope that the attitudes in that small town is not indicative of BP's business policies. I have always trusted that when I stopped at a BP station that I would be treated fairly and respectfully. And, regrettably, this experience has fractured that trust.  But I don’t fault BP for what happened. As someone else noted, they are in an untenable position, having no control over the actions of one employee, on one shift, in one store, that they do not even own. 
I fault the management at Privettes Grocery and a community that stands by and says nothing when they should know right from wrong. I fault those who allow injustice to happen and refuse to say anything out of fear or ignorance. Racism is alive and well and pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t serve any of us well. Discrimination is real and turning one’s back instead of facing it head on doesn’t work no matter how hard one might try. I fault a culture that sees diversity as a liability and a handicap instead of understanding and embracing our differences. So, I cannot trust that anything will change.
To quote my dear friend, Mary Parrish, “I don't think we will ever truly wipe out discrimination. There will always be some underclass (black, queer, Hispanic, Jew, Muslim) that bears the weight of someone else's misplaced anger, their perceived powerlessness. As if there can't be an "us" unless there is a "them." But, the promise of America is not in what we are, but in the very fact that we constantly strive to be!”
I just wish more of us strived to do and be better.

Friday, October 07, 2016

NOW AVAILABLE!


I am so excited to share that my first four books, published some 12-plus years ago, are now available in ebook, AND once again, in paperback. Many of you didn't discover me until the Stallions, but these four stories laid the foundation for what has since come. Books are available at Amazon.com and B&N and are sold individually and also as a box set at Amazon. I can't wait to hear what you all think!


Kick off your weekend with a Deborah Fletcher Mello read.
Enjoy my first four romance novels on Kindle, Nook, and in one perfect box set!




Tuesday, September 20, 2016

HAPPY RELEASE DAY TO ME!


It's RELEASE DAY! And I am so excited about the latest installation in my Stallion family series. This is Nicholas Stallion's story and he finds love with the indomitable Tarah Boudreaux from the Boudreaux family series.

I am so nervous because I love this story and I want everyone else to love it as much as I do. It's not my usual romance novel, but it is by far one of the most beautiful, most incredible love stories that I have ever written. I am so proud of this book. From start to finish it just makes my heart sing!

The PAPERBACK releases today. Ebooks will download on October 1st. Don't miss out. Order your copy. Order one for a friend. Tell a family member. Please!

And then, ENJOY!




Friday, August 12, 2016

BEING BLACK



I received an email from someone who wanted to know who I thought I was. There were some expletives and the N-word was used a time or two. Seems something I wrote struck a sensitive nerve and she doesn't plan to ever read any of my books. Ever. But since she asked, I thought I'd tell her about myself. Rather than send her back to an original post I wrote once a long time ago I thought I'd just rehash it again for those who might be finding me for the first time.

I wrote once before about a friend who thinks it is the funniest thing that I never drank Kool-Aid until I was well into my teens. Every time the subject comes up he is rolling on the floor with laughter. I can’t help but laugh myself because what family back in the day didn’t raise their children on Kool-Aid? Well, mine didn’t.

My first experience with Kool-Aid was at a cousin’s house during a summer break. I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to make a full pitcher of drink from that little packet of colored powder and a bucket load of granulated sugar! When I returned home and shared the experience with my mother she looked at me like I’d told her we’d built an atomic bomb out of shoe leather and toothpaste. She was not amused and it was many years later, after her first grandson was born, that she finally broke down and allowed Kool-Aid into her home. It was also that presweetened variety as well, not the little flavor packets that you could sweeten yourself.

My dear friend laughed himself silly when I told him I’d also never eaten canned vegetables, potted meat, Vienna sausages, or government cheese either. Not that he could talk because he never ate grits. I mean really, how many Southern Baptist black children do you know that didn’t grow up eating grits? I know I ate me some grits and I wasn’t Southern or Baptist!

I was raised in an extremely white, middle class neighborhood in very wealthy Fairfield County, Connecticut. My friends were kids who got BMW’s for their first communion and Mercedes Benz’s for their bar mitzvah’s. My mother shopped at Lord and Taylors and Bloomingdales, and I’d be the first to say that I grew up privileged, prissy and just a tad pretentious.

Ours was the first of four black families to integrate the neighborhood and until fifth grade there were only two black students in the elementary school I attended. We attended the AME church on the other side of town and I spent my summers on my grandparent’s South Carolina farm where I learned to pick cotton and eat watermelon right off the vine.

Growing up, I was an anomaly. I wasn’t blonde or blue-eyed, my mother wasn’t a stay-at-home Mom, and my father worked three jobs and none of them were on Wall Street. During my fifth grade year bussing became en vogue and suddenly there were other black kids filling up the classrooms. That’s when I discovered just how different I truly was. I didn’t feel different or look different but to everyone else I was suddenly too white to be black and too black to be white. I was called Oreo, half-n-half, high yeller, wannabe, jigaboo, and a host of other expletives more than I was called by my name. It wasn’t pretty, left me traumatized and would have made for great afternoon fodder on Oprah's sofa.

I’ve had to deal with issues of race most of my life. The environment I was raised in called it into question on a daily basis. I was either treated differently because the color of my skin was different, or I was treated differently because I spoke and behaved differently. Out of sheer necessity I learned early how to walk in two very different worlds but I was never made to feel welcome or comfortable in either.

Fast forward a few years and I married and divorced a biracial man of white and Portuguese parentage straddling his own fence. He still doesn’t have a clue where he falls on the color wheel. Our children are an amalgamation of many ethnicities and they could care less. Depending on the mood of the moment they’ve been known to check either the "black" box, the "white" box or the "other" box proudly, not having a clue what color their Kool-Aid should be. They listen to rap, classical and hard rock, eat chitlin’s, pizza, and Puerco guisado, and genuinely can’t understand what all the hoopla is about race and why people fear it so.

When I was first called about my very first manuscript, the editor at the time spoke to me on the telephone for a good fifteen minutes about my book. The conversation was curious at best and then she asked if I would please email her a picture of myself. I thought it a pretty strange request but hey, a real publisher was interested in my writing so I was ready to send as many photos as she wanted. Ten minutes after she received the email I received my second CALL and an offer to purchase my book. I later understood that they wanted to be sure I was what I claimed to be, a black woman who'd written a black romance. Apparently that didn’t come across over the telephone line.

I have no doubts that the majority of my readers are black women. Interestingly though, I had a book signing once where I sold a lot of books. Only one of the fans who came to see me was a black woman. Most of the books sold were purchased by non-black readers, male and female. I thought for just a brief second that there was actually some progress being made and then one elderly “fan” felt compelled to expound on what she thought about me and my writing. The praises were plentiful and complementary and then she leaned in, her hand pressed against my shoulder and said, “I really do like your writing. And it’s not like you’re really black, dear.”

As a black author published in the romance genre I find myself once again straddling a fence where I understand that I’m not necessarily welcome nor is there any concern that I’m comfortable. I’m discovering that to write what I want to write I will clearly have to walk in two very different worlds or make the conscious decision not to be published at all.

I wish I could be as dismissive about race as my children but I can’t. My race has a major impact on where my books are shelved in the stores, if they’re carried in certain bookstores at all, and whether or not I can even get a book deal. My race impacts how I see myself in others, when the media, movies, and books depict black women as being less than we are; somehow flawed and undeserving. My race is why random strangers think they can call me a nigger and get away with it simply because I called out the publishing industry to just do better when it comes to diversity in books.

I’m not blonde this week and since my last blonde disaster I doubt highly that me and Miss Clairol will be trying that ever again. I’ll never be blue-eyed and there is no longer anything prissy, privileged or pretentious about me. I am, however, one hell of a force to be reckoned with.

And more importantly, I’m a damn good writer no matter what I happen to be writing about. I’ve got a lot of storytelling in me and just like my Kool-Aid, the flavor I tell them in will be however I choose. I am a thing of beauty. A joy. A strength. And like my Kool-Aid, a secret cup of gladness. That's who I am. And since I don’t plan to go anywhere any time soon, you really should pull up a seat, grab yourself a glass, and join me. Otherwise, you're going to miss out on something amazing!  

And just to be sure we understand each other, if you call me a black bitch again, I may very well show you one, and my being black won't have anything to do with what I unleash.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DAMMIT, DO BETTER!


I love reading. I get excited when I discover a new author or find an outstanding story. I’m eager to leave reviews and share with others my new finds. When a book or story is lackluster, leaving me less than thrilled, I usually remain silent. I know the effort that an author has put into a story. I know how hurtful a bad review can be. It is not for me to dash anyone else’s dream because what I might not have liked, someone else may have loved.
Recently I read books that left me disappointed, and angry. One was an award-winning title, the author gleefully claiming a coveted statue for her efforts. Clearly what I hated, others found award-worthy. And that actually scares me. The story was as well-written as any other in the genre. Its formulaic plot hit all the buttons that her publisher required. But as a woman of color, I found it as insulting and as distasteful as any story I have ever read.
The story featured a Native American heroine. She had self-esteem issues, continually questioning her worth. Her mother had ten kids by four different men and had sex in the backseat of cars while her eldest child raised her bastard children. Authors words, not mine. She wasn’t sure who her daddy was. In comes the white hero to give her life “value and purpose” and to tell her it’s okay if she has sex with him. That won’t make her like her mother. The entire tone of the story was condescending and gut-wrenching.
The next book had me fuming before page ten and I had to stop myself from railing that emotion in a review. Heroine is “passing” for white. Her mother was a black, drug-addicted prostitute whose children had been sent to foster care. Her father is unknown, assumed to be white, because she can “pass” but she’s not sure. As a black woman’s child “she had no value.” Becoming white “made her valuable.” An African-American baby is found in the trash, the discovery pulling at her heartstrings because he reminds her of her baby brother who died in foster care. There’s a reference to crack babies here which was unnecessary to the nth degree. The hero’s reaction to finding a newborn black baby in the trash? “This is disgusting.” To which she responds by ignoring his comment because she’s too busy getting all goose pimply at seeing his bare chest.
I can't even begin to express my sheer disgust with the interracial historical that paired a black woman with a Klu Klux Klan member. From his offering to pay her for sex to her wanting him to join the Klan spoke volumes about a writer who clearly has had no experience with or knowledge of the Klan and the painful history that surrounds them. Perhaps she should find the racist pamphlets threatening to beat and castrate black men and rape black women before gutting them, on her front porch as so many in North Carolina were greeted with just this week. I was appalled on many levels, starting with the blatant stereotypes and ending with the latent racism. That anyone would find any of this acceptable in the year 2016 defies all logic.
With the call for more diversity in books and publishing, twitter hashtags extolling #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices, publishers have been calling on their white authors to add characters of color to their storylines. There have been conference meetings on the topics, closed door discussions in publishing houses, even secret calls to authors not of color that no one is supposed to know about. If writing like this is their answer to more diversity, they seriously need to do better.
Maybe what needs to be stressed is that we need diverse books that don’t perpetuate ignorance, reinforce negative stereotypes and demean any people. Most especially not in romance. Maybe what needs to be addressed is why diverse authors writing their stories are often overlooked or shuffled to the back of the bus…I mean bookstore. Why aren’t authors of color pandered to or promoted as significantly as their white counterparts? How come they count for less than 3% of a publisher’s roster? Why does this still need to even be a discussion when publisher after publisher has promised time and time again to do better, be different, make a change? How hard is it to publish diverse authors and their stories? Why not put your marketing monies behind books written by diverse authors writing their own stories? Why does it take rocket science to just do what's right?
As a black woman, I say this to any author wanting to just throw in a black character into their stories, most especially a black woman. Know us before you write about us. If your only experience with anyone of color is what you see on television or your infrequent encounter with a person of color in passing, tread cautiously. Because we don’t question our value. We know our value. We don’t need any man, black or white, to give our lives purpose. There is no one, black, white or yellow who needs to validate our worth. We’ve known our value since the days of slavery. Just because we were told we were worthless, certainly didn’t make it true, nor did we fall for that flagrant lie. Not then. Not now.
We know our value which is why we are fighting tooth and nail for the respect that we are continually being denied.
Why we fight to see our faces on the screen and in the media being the amazing females and people that we are.
Why we fight to get our stories read.
Why we write.
Now, dammit, do better.