I had someone very well respected in publishing take a look at my self-published novel: My Name is Butterfly.
The person gave her honest review of the story and some of what she said I've heard from other people in the industry who have read my previous books as well as every day people who just like to read. What I've found is this: While white people enjoy my stories, they often complain about the language my characters use to express themselves, the sex scenes and the violence.
And while I cannot be accused of utilizing foul language, sex or violence gratuitously - I rarely hear this complaint from readers who share the same cultural background as I do.
So it got me to wondering if in some instances when we do not understand one another, could it be because it's a black thing? Have black people been predisposed to so much violence (both physical and verbal) that when we read it (or in my case when I write it) we barely flinch?
Does it have to do with how we were raised? I came from a home that did not censor my reading material or what I watched on television. I raised my daughter that way and my sister is raising her children in the same way.
I won't say that we weren't chased out of the room when grown folks were talking - but maybe we weren't chased out of the room as often and most kids. My parents had a volatile relationship. They fought and argued right in front of us.
The only thing that happened behind closed doors was their sex. And we knew what sex was - our grandmother talked about sex with the same enthusiasm that your grandmother discussed needlepoint or cookie recipes.
Nothing was hidden. And death...well death was and still is a significant part of life. My sister tells a story of heading off to school one morning and coming across a dead body on the sidewalk. She was about twelve or thirteen years old. She stepped around it and continued on to school. Her thought at that moment: "The man is dead. There is nothing I can do about it and I can't be late to school."
We are a matter of fact type of family and I think in many respects that black people are a matter of fact type of people. This is not to say that we are not passionate - we are, history demonstrates that.
But we do have an It is what it is attitude -- until well, it isn't. Now where my writing is concerned - I've been known to pilot my reader through heartbreak and despair, stripping them down to their emotional hide. I think you "feel" the most when you're exposed and vulnerable.
I don't pull punches and I don't whitewash - it's not my style and I'm not sorry for it. An author friend of mine tells me that I have a: Gayle Jones streak in me...and I guess I do. Maybe the impatience I feel in my own life leaks into my writing.
I can't stand books that are filled with fluff and muck in order to reach some publisher contracted page count. Fillers that not only weigh down the story, but takes away from it. It's hard for me to stick with those types of books - and I feel bad about that because they're probably really excellent stories that I will never know because it was just too difficult for me to see the forest for the trees... I think in most of my novels I take the reader directly to the forest and offer up the trees as back-story.
There is an immediacy that has followed me like a specter my entire life and I wonder if it has to do with my ancestors or because of the near fatal car accident I was involved in or because of the Mayan Calendar...(<<<--LOL)
But seriously, tell me readers how much of what you read has to do with how you were raised and how you live now and writer's how much of what you write relates to your upbringing and present lifestyle? I don't know if I've made any sense here. I've got a lot of stuff swirling in my head and I don't even know if the title of this post is accurate - but it is what it is.
All of what I've said ends with this: I've made my novel: My Name is Butterfly available for .99 cents until the end of May. You can download from Amazon, B&N and on your other reading devices from Smashwords. The best way to describe the story is: Chris Cleave's "Little Bee" meets Sapphire's "Push."
The story centers on the practice of ritual servitude in Ghana and how this practice destroys and then reshapes the Tsikata family. The person I mentioned earlier in the post said this about the subject matter:
"You've also chosen a subject that is nearly impossible for most American readers to fully understand--writing about the long-term results of Trokosi is a little like writing about a five-year old who undergoes a cliterectomy, with most other Africans accepting this unspeakably awful cultural practice."
In light of this and because I'm really curious to hear the thoughts from readers - American and otherwise - I’ve dropped the price of the e-book from $6.99 to .99cents. It's an experiment of sorts that I think in the end will either propel me to make some changes to the story or keep it as it is. I appreciate your participation in the experiment and please do spread the word!
Causes Bernice McFadden Supports
Hurston Wright Foundation
Girls Write Now
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)