Something happened a few years ago when it became very cool to celebrate dysfunctional relationships among women. While Nielsen ratings continued to climb as women clawed their way to the heights of celebrity, feminists cringed but viewers binged at a figurative table appropriately set for women to serve each other up! Suddenly it was cool to flip a table and raise a toast to telling a sister-friend about herself. As this evolved before our eyes, most of us became complicit in weave-pulling showdowns and the heavily-bleeped beat downs. In the book publishing world, numerous page-turners were fueled by the same level of conflict. The drama was high and the sales proved that just like sex, sisterhood conflict sells! Supporting sisterhood was out of style because women bashing women seemed to become the 'new black.'
I will be honest. Just like an ancient Roman citizen going to the Coliseum to watch gladiators fight to the death, I clapped my hands as a spectator entertained by the character-assassinating carnage. On the flip side, I read the articles criticizing the glorification of malevolent behavior by women towards other women regardless of race or class, and I nodded in agreement.
My biggest turning point came while I was writing my first book, To Whom Much Is Given - A Novel. The idea came to me in a flash four months after quitting what I initially thought was a dream job as an associate at a prestigious New York law firm. It had been 10 years since I wrote anything creative.
The lead character's name came to me without much thought: Avery Marcia Benjamin. I could feel her, see her, and hear her voice. (Yes, that kinda creeped me out too... but I got over it.) Avery presented herself as having similar aspirations to me but definitely not me. She came to me with an enviable curriculum vitae, sexual confidence, and social clout that any real or fictional gal would want. In the words of PicasSo Sight, a Long Island poet and hip hop artist I know, "She has swag!"
To Whom Much Is Given - A Novel's cinematic book trailer starring Lawrence Saint Victor of CBS Daytime's The Bold and The Beautiful, Toni Robison-May, and John J. Thomassen.
I went into the creative process promising myself to listen directly to the voices of my characters rather than shaping my characters to fit what is hot on television or the bestseller lists. I felt compelled listen to the voices telling me that Avery and her multicultural mosaic of friends would not succumb to cat fights and back-stabbing to move the story forward. So, I made a promise to Avery and her gal pals to not sell out their sisterhood! Characters do not downplay their humble roots in Brooklyn projects or Jamaica, West Indies so others who grew up in the suburbs attending private schools can feel comfortable. Degrees on a wall do not divide these lady friends. No weave was harmed in the making of the book and female characters wear sunglasses because they are fashionable, not to hide scratched-out eyes!
Some folks asked me how I could build a story around a dynamic woman of Jamaican and African American descent who loves and values her close relationships with three career-driven African American women, a savvy Latina, and a sharp-witted Jewish woman. The characters have their faults, make mistakes, and have drama in their lives to fill almost 300 pages. But I admire them for living to the fullest and uplifting one another when it could be so easy to throw each other down a staircase. Heck, I wish they were real because I would love to hang out with them.
At one point, one of my readers expressed that she wondered if six successful women could actually be friends in the real world. (I'll reserve my answer for another blog post.)
I do not know if books I write in the future will include the flavor of Steel Magnolias with a few dashes of Waiting to Exhale's gal pal love fest. In a world where it is too easy to witness fussing and cussing at the table of sisterhood, a serving of sisterly love is comfort food for the soul.
It's time for me to get my plate.
About the novel: To Whom Much Is Given - A Novel weaves protagonist Avery Benjamin, Esq.'s internal and external conflicts into the lives of diverse supporting characters to depict a segment of American society driven by success. To Whom Much Is Given - A Novel, published by Red Ibis, is contemporary women's fiction addressing issues of class and race among matters of generational wealth, immigrant ambition, and family conflicts. At its core, To Whom Much Is Given presents the question: What are the social, spiritual, and emotional responsibilities people owe themselves and the loved ones who are part of their journey? As the story progresses, readers quickly learn: Success has a price and sometimes loved ones become collateral damage.
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