Monday, February 25, 2008
The voice of beautiful Zora Nella Hampton Johnson-her name echoing the author of her favorite novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God-will take you up and carry you along until she utters her very last syllable. Anger, laughter and delight come from Zora's sharp, sassy tongue as if she is talking out loud. Burney's gift for voice is not limited to her heroine, though it takes her longer to get the other main character, Nicky Parker, the handsome but poor son of a racist pastor, to shine as distinctly as Zora. At this novel's heart are love and race-what happens when a self-described BAP (black American princess), the daughter of a famous megachurch leader, falls in love with a young white man. Zora and Nicky's dialogue about race is unflinching, with attitude, honesty and occasional humor. Burney pushes her prose to the edge of the edgiest in the "Christian fiction" genre, and then barrels right over. She doesn't sugar-coat, especially when it comes to sex, yet she manages to create a love story that's both erotic and chaste. Faith in Jesus comes to life on the page through Zora and Nicky's intense, if imperfect, soul searching. Though parts are a bit melodramatic, Burney gives readers a page-turner for all audiences, Christian and beyond. (Apr.)
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I don't make a big secret of the fact that I don't love book signings. I have a pathological fear of being rejected. That's a very old wound, and I often wonder when it will ever heal. It crops up at the darndest times, like when I am preparing for a signing.
I think I'll sit there alone with a stack of books nobody wants because nobody wants to see me. I know. It's a little silly. Maybe a lot silly, but I ache with anxiety every single time.
But I can't say my signings haven't been a blessing. A sold books, and connected with readers. I think the best thing about book signings however, is the grace that God gives you just because He loves you so much.
I prayed that somebody--anybody!--would come. God answered my prayer. When I arrived at the Big Noble, to find a big poster of me on the window--horrifying--they'd set up chairs for me to do a reading. It was a little early and no one was sitting there, so I hung my coat over the chair and hoped that somebody would come in to sit in that chair.
A woman I met, of all places, on Shelfari was the first to arrive. Then came my spiritual director and her mom. My friend's mothers oddly love me. And I love them RIGHT BACK! Next was my bff and partner on the spiritual journey, my fabulous artist/mystic friend Gina. She had flowers. That's the kind of God chick she is. My neighbors came, and my babies. A lot of people I loved. That gave me plenty of confidence to read in a freakin' major book store!
So, I told a few stories, and read. I LOVE to read aloud. I do it to my friends and my real life sister Carly all the time. This would be a first at a signing for me, but honestly, it made all the difference. The audience laughed in all the right places, and when I was done said I should do the audio version. In my dreams, lovies. Truthfully, if you've ever met me face to face, I'm a big ham when you get me telling stories. My friend Terry is notorious for getting me started in a crowd. And speaking of crowd, lots of people in the store had gathered round. Apparently I make quite a spectacle of myself. I got to be Bell for real. We had a blast!
Anyway, after I read two chapters I told a few more stories and mid-sentence I stopped. I looked up and my bestest friend, Evette was in standing in back of the crowd. Evette lives in South Bend, Indiana. She never let on that she was coming. In fact, that goof made me think the opposite. It was one of the best surprises I've ever had. So this was one grace-filled evening, full of love, laughter, new connections, and dare I say friendships. God was good to me.
The publicist called the store the following day and they said they loved having me. A few employees bought books, too!
And here's my big cheap thrill. MY BOOK WAS ON THE SHELF AT THE BIG NOBLE!!!!!!!!
Lovies, it's been a long time since I've seen Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man on the shelves. it was a journey, full of twists and dark alleys, but I emerged on the other side and am happy to say Bell Brown lives!
When my book was canceled in 2006, what I grieved most is that I thought I left my great-grandmother down, who I'd named Amanda Bell Brown the character after. But like Maya Angelou said, "Like dust we rise."
Look at this, lovies! Right there above the Ted Dekker BLOCKBUSTERS! God is so kind.
And look at this. It's even better! So many people I love are in this piccha. Can you see how happy I am? Can you see that fine man, standing behind me. That's my "Jazz". He makes so much of what I do easy on me.
Thanks for thinking of this ragamuffin, lovies. You all are the best.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
All too often, the trouble with Christian fiction is the saccharine nature of the situations and characters, who seem to operate on The Good Folks Planet where a careful screen shields the delicate reader from the harsher aspects of life. Not so in Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man by Claudia Mair Burney, which is witty and earthy, vibrant and fast-paced, peopled with multidimensional characters. On her 35th birthday, Amanda Bell Brown is having dinner with her sister, the local medical examiner, when her sister is called to the scene of a suspicious death. Amanda, a forensic psychologist, tags along, unwittingly slamming into the intersection of the scattered pieces of her life—Christian, psychologist, woman, survivor of a dark past. On the scene of a double homicide, she meets Jazz, the tall, dark and delicious detective, and although immediate sparks fly between them, both have a commitment to God, and plenty of baggage. Their resolve to stay celibate is continually tested as the two work together to unravel a twisted plot centered on the murky world of cults. Original, richly textured and grounded in the real world, this is nonetheless a genuinely spiritual novel that tackles the gritty questions of faith and honor, hope and despair that any person on any spiritual path must eventually face. Excellent.
One more thing. I'd like to hit the virtual road for a blog tour. If you're interested in hosting me on your blog please let me know. Email at email@example.com, or leave your email and blog site on these comments.
Pat et Bonum!
I never made it there with him.
At one point, as we flew over D.C. I looked out of the window at the landscape below. Somewhere down there was Gabriel. And he was most likely alone. Sick. Lonely, a shell of a man who never quite realized his dream to liberate Africa. And I was on my way to the place that he never thought I'd make it to on my own. And he was right. I didn't make it on my own.
I am grateful for grace, and friends who are saturated with it.
I did not gloat as I passed him somewhere below. I did not whisper, "Hi Gabriel! I'm off to Africa even though you never thought I'd make it, and take that!" I simply noted he was down there somewhere, and I was on my way home. Simply that.
* * *
It was a long ride from D.C. to JoBurg. I had lots of time to think, pray, bond, and share secrets with people who are now so important to me that I ache from missing them and can scarcely wait for our reunion. I prayed the rosary many times, often with tears streaming down my face. I know. Some of you have a real issue with asking Jesus' mom for prayers. But not me. Not anymore. I find great comfort in the communion of saints, and she's His mom, for goodness' sake. In that garland of roses in which I ask her to pray for me now and in the hour of my death, I walk through the entire life of Christ. From annunciation, to his agonizing death, and ultimately to His glorious resurrection. If the devil is in that, he's one dumb devil because it makes me fall in love with Jesus so much more.
When we finally flew over Africa Elysa alerted me, though I'd followed the plane's course on a navigation screen in front of me. And I had all kinds of feelings. Wonder and amazement. Peace. Even nervousness. Gabriel told me once that every time he went to Africa, all the African Americans on the plane meeting the Motherland for the first time wept. I thought I'd weep. I'm a weeper. But dear Lord, I had no idea.
I got started weeping days before my journey, but I'd stifle those tears as quickly as they came. It's good to live in the moment. I wanted my experience to be authentic and firmly rooted in the now. I wondered what my own feelings would be, free from what I was supposed to feel and I didn't want to cry just because I thought I was supposed to. But I did cry, lovies, when it was time. I was going to the place my ancestors long , it is said, many of them, on their own black and shining wings, flew away to. There are testimonies of it:
Some people said that when a Negro died he went back to Africa, but this is a lie. How could a dead man go to Africa? It was living men who flew there, from a tribe the Spanish stopped importing as slaves because so many of them flew away that it was bad for business.
--Esteban Montejo, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave
--Ishmael Webster, qtd. in Alas, Alas, Kongo
Yes, I cried on that plane descending down to Africa soil. I cried for a thousand, thousand ancestors crowded in my heart. And for millions of brothers and sisters in the States right now who have yet to make it home. I took them with me. Their dreams, their hopes, their longing. And I took with my ancestors stolen names and virtues. Talk about a communion! I wept for every one of my African grandmothers and fathers, now asleep in graves with no markers, who's blood is mingled with American soil. And I wept for those who's bones have rested in the Atlantic Ocean since the Middle Passage. My entire body was wracked with sobs as I experienced the sweet relief that says, "At long last, home."
We made it. Finally.
Dany and I chuckle together as we land. We look outside, and it looks like every other airport in the whole freakin' world. I want to touch African soil so badly I want to run off the plane and out of the airport, but there's only concrete as far as I can see. I'm finally in Africa, and I can't even see the soil, much less touch it, or kiss it!
Ah, well. Hazy gray African skies with a fine mist of rain will have to suffice. It is the first indication that every romantic dream I have of Africa will be shattered. But at the moment, I took great consolation in the fact that I'd arrived.
I gave thanks.
After several delays, we step outside the of the airport and finally there is soil. I thought I would cry. Kneel reverently and kiss the ground. The ground was muddy and wet. Even I was not that romantic. I kissed my fingertips and touched them to my Africa. One for me, and one for my friend Jen Lemen, who feel in love with South Africa on her mondo beyondo trip last year. I didn't cry. I laughed, the kind of joyful outburst you feel in every part of your being.
I was in Africa!
I think God laughed with me.
Barbed wire is everywhere. It affirms the facts that I'd read. Johannesburg is one of the most violent places in the world. It can eat Detroit's murder capital stats over the years like a mid-day snack. The barb wire strikes a fear in me that I'd revisit again on my trip.
I didn't want to think about my Africa as a violent place. I know about Rwanda and Burundi. I know about the Sudan, and now Kenya. I know about the sins of abject poverty. But I need this trip to be joyful. Beautiful. I don't mind if meeting Jesus in His distressing disguises will break my heart. I expect and even embrace that kind of suffering, but dear God, don't let the people of Africa break my heart because I'm so disappointed in them. How would I endure it?
Africa is astoundingly beautiful. Some say that life began in Africa. I could see their point. It is a garden of lush life. We arrived in the middle of summer, and the land was as excruciatingly alive as any Eden I'd ever seen. Life began in Africa. I know in many ways life began for me in that exquisite place of beauty and terror. And it began in ways I could not have dreamed.