Lamar Giles
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May, 2010

Is a perfect Ten good enough for Hollywood?

I just finished From Cape Town with Love by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, the third book in their incredible Tennyson Hardwick series, and my review at the end of this post can also be found on the book’s Amazon page where it’s currently enjoying a 5-star rating (fyi~ that means its really good, y’all, so buy it). But, there’s something else I want to discuss here. Particularly, another Amazon reviewer’s mysticism over Actor Blair Underwood’s involvement with the novel.

I’ve been a huge fan of all three principles involved in this book for years (incidentally, Underwood is a local celebrity where I grew up…he’s from Petersburg, VA, neighbor and sports rival to my own home town of Hopewell, VA), so I’ve made a point to follow the history and development of this series. I’ll give a brief recap of Tennyson’s evolution (this is strictly as I understand it, if I get any part of this wrong, someone please feel free to correct me), then discuss why such a team-up is important.

From what I’ve pieced together, Underwood, Due, and Barnes all played a hand in creating the current version of Tennyson Hardwick, meaning everyone had input, but when it came to actually putting pen to paper, Due and Barnes did the heavy lifting (though Underwood was never out of the loop). The first novel in the series, Casanegra, debuted in 2007, with the second, In the Night of the Heat, coming a year later.

Tennyson (or “Ten”…a couple of reasons for this nickname which I won’t get into here) is a former male “escort”, sometime actor, and all-time trouble magnet. He lives in L. A. navigating the Hollywood landscape that we all love to gossip about while caring for his elderly father, and avoiding a black belt in martial arts though he’s more than skilled enough to acquire one. The first novel has him investigating the murder of a female rapper/former lover, in the second it’s the death of an NFL player who’d been accused of killing his wife, and the third has him involved in a high-profile kidnapping case. Weighty stuff for an oft-unemployed black actor, right?

But, each book is amazingly well-written, with layering that makes the odd mix of skills and events described above not only plausible, but tragic. Tennyson goes on an almost yearly tour of Hell, not much different than a Jack Bauer, or a Buffy Summers, or a Bruce Wayne. I make these pop culture references for a specific reason. I’m sure that someone reading my brief description of Tennyson Hardwick above might’ve thought, “Wow, how far-fetched is that?”

More so than a super agent who’s pulled a gun on the president, a teenaged girl with super-strength and collection of wooden stakes, or a billionaire who dresses up like a bat and fights the Joker?

Okay, there’s a lot of wild characters in pop culture, what’s your point, Lamar?

My point is this: it’s been no secret from the beginning of the series that Underwood, Due, and Barnes have had visions of Tennyson on the big screen (maybe the small screen…some screen, somewhere). Underwood IS Tennyson, his public face and publicist. As an accomplished black actor he brings visibility to the series that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Unlike books that garner studio interest before even being released, the extremely strong concept of the Tennyson Hardwick series HAS to go on the campaign trail. There have to be correlations drawn, like those word problems on the SAT:

IF Blair Underwood has been successful in TV and Film, AND Blair Underwood is Tennyson Hardwick, THEN Tennyson Hardwick *MIGHT be successful in TV and Film.

*I use ‘might’ because I’d love to see Ten on the big screen. The problem is when it comes to media images–the characters you see in movies, TV, commercials, and in magazines–we still live in a world that is highly exclusionary of People of Color. This is nothing new. Steven Barnes, one of Tennyson’s creators, comments on this very issue often. And, if anyone takes the time to notice (and most people don’t want to), you don’t really have to dig that deep to see it for yourself. In recent films, at that.

So, Mr. Reviewer who was put off by Blair Underwood’s involvement, please understand that it’s necessary.  It’s an attempt to get whoever makes the decisions in movie land to see the absurdity of how things are done. In a place where government agents can save the world in a mere 24 hours on 8 separate occasions, a girl can kill vampires and still make it to class on time, and a rich guy can fly a custom made Bat-plane off his property with no one noticing, a handsome black man who solves crimes SHOULD NOT be the most unrealistic pitch of the day.

And now, my review of From Cape Town with Love:

Hardwick. Tennyson Hardwick…the under worked actor turned bodyguard turned P.I. steps into the world of international intrigue in this third installment of the fan favorite series. And he does not disappoint. When the adopted South African daughter of Oscar-winning actress Sofia Maitlin is kidnapped on Tennyson’s watch, he’ll raze the earth to bring the child home. But, there is more going on than meets the eye. To say much more would spoil some wonderful surprises, but I will posit that there is something here to suit all tastes. Wonderful martial arts and gun play, romance, sex, fast cars, beautiful women, and more fun twists and turns than a water slide. Do yourself a favor, accompany Tennyson on his latest mission…just be sure to keep you head down, and do as he says because no one does this better than him. (5 stars)

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Gaining traction in ePublishing

This week, I’m debuting two of my novels, LIVE AGAIN and THE DARKNESS KEPT, in Amazon’s Kindle Store and on Smashwords.com. Anyone following the recent trends in the business know that ePublishing to digital platforms like Kindle, Nook, iPad, and so on are making many authors small fortunes while potentially redefining (or destroying, if you let some tell it) the traditional publishing model. I can’t say seeing some of that ‘small fortune’ money wouldn’t be nice, but I have other motivations in taking this route.

I’ve spent years trying to break into publishing with some minor to moderate success. Ultimately, I want to sell a novel (what writer doesn’t?) but have been met with the same heartaches and frustrations that most writers encounter. I’ve had numerous form rejections, as well as ‘rave rejections’ (meaning agents really liked what I was doing, thought I was fresh and original, but couldn’t commit due to a soft marketplace). I’ve spent years in front of my computer pecking out words only to amass a number of manuscripts that would never see the light of day…until now.

I’ll be the first to admit that everything I’ve written is not publishable. But, I’ve got some things I’m really proud of, and I’m kind of tired of waiting for a stranger in New York to shuffle through their slushpile and recognize that I’m more than a 1 page query letter. So, I’ll attempt this difficult task of self-publishing and promoting my older work while still producing new material to shop traditionally.

Does anyone out there feel the same way? Have you already taken the leap into ePublishing? If so, comment. Talk to me about what you’re doing. What works, and what doesn’t? I’ll be happy to keep you posted on my efforts as well.

Until next time…

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(99) Penny Dreadfuls

While in Florida, my wife and I tried several restaurants that just don’t exist in the state of Virginia. One favorite was Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, inspired by the 1994 Academy Award winning film Forrest Gump. It was neat how the restaurant worked in bits from the movie. Example, there were two signs attached to everyone’s table, one red, one blue. The blue was the default sign, and read “Run, Forrest, Run”. That sign meant your table was satisfied and required no assistance. However, if you needed more napkins, or some melted butter for your lobster claw, you’d flip to the red sign, “Stop, Forrest, Stop”. When THAT sign was visible, any server in the vicinity would stop whatever they were doing and come attend to your needs. Anyone familiar with the film understands the significance of either phrase, and it just makes for a good time.

Along with that clever reference, servers would quiz you on facts about the movie, and there were all sorts of relevant decor throughout the place. My point…Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is just a well executed play on themes that lend themselves to food and film. And it got me thinking…

What might be some misguided efforts in the Award-Winning Movie Themed Restaurant business?

Hannibal’s (Reminiscent of Emeril’s; Inspired by Silence of the Lambs): Hannibal Lecter, prior to his incarceration, was a lauded chef, often throwing special, special dinner parties for his psychiatric colleagues. So, it would only make sense that this restuarant represent the highest levels of fine dining. I’m talking jacket and tie, a nightly string quartet, white linen tablecloths, etc. Of course, booths would be set behind clear glass walls with airholes, waiters would wear copper muzzles, and the nightly special would be…well, you know. Hope you like the house special Chianti.

The Coliseum (Reminiscent of Medieval Times; Inspired by Gladiator): This could be most aptly described as dinner theater. All tables would be arranged around a miniaturized arena where the most famous battles from the film would be reenacted while your family enjoyed hearty helpings of roasted meat, thick soups, and ale (ginger ale for the youth). Occasionally, you waiter might rebel, and simply refuse to bring you what you ask for. And, when you complain, he’d take to the center of the arena and shout, “Are you not entertained?!? Are you not entertained?!?”

Blasting Cap (Inspired by The Hurt Locker): There’s no air conditioning and patrons gain new insight into the term “explosive diarrhea”. ‘Nuff said.

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The Darkness Kept

Celebrated 5 happy years of marriage last month. Due to school and work commitments, my wife and I just got a chance to take our much anticipated anniversary trip this week. We did 4 days in Orlando (Universal, not Disney), and it was a great time.  But, what wasn’t so great was the psychological warfare you engage in with employees trained in the Art of Up Sell.

My typical conversation while in Florida…

Me: I’d like to try your Pink Cadillac Smoothie.

Waitress: Would you like a regular or our 20-ounce large?

Me: Large sounds great.

The check comes…

Me: Ma’am…why was my smoothie $15?

Waitress: Oh, because of the collectible cup you asked for. We’re actually washing it and boxing it up for you right now.

Me: I didn’t ask for a collectible cup.

Waitress: Yes, you did. All large drinks come in our 20-ounce collectible cups.

Me: But, you didn’t say anything about a cup, you just asked if I wanted more to drink. The drink is a liquid, the cup is a solid, I wouldn’t presume the two to be synonymous.

Waitress (teary eyed): Sir, there’s no need to curse.

Me: Wait, I didn’t–

Waitress (whispering): Look, I’m sorry. I really messed up. But, I already ran your card and if I have to get my manager to refund the cups, I might get fired. Please, just keep my tip. That’ll make up for it, right?

Me: I suppose that’s fair.

Waitress: I’ll just find some other way to feed my children tonight.

Me (defeated): Just bring me my cup, miss.

Next time, I’m going to discuss movie themed restaurants (the real and the inappropriate fictional…Hannibal’s Hot Shoppe, anyone?)

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Order your paperback today!!

I’m having a bout of insomnia for reasons unknown this morning. So, with no one to talk to at 5:26 AM EST, I turned to that 24-hour depot of wonders known as the internet. One of the top stories over at CNN.Com involves the banning of ethnic studies courses in Arizona schools, highlighted by a lively debate between Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, and famed sociologist Michael Eric Dyson. And let me tell you, the expressions on their faces let me know right away that this was going to be a fun time…

In a nutshell, Arizona’s governor has just signed a bill banning courses that “promote resentment” of other racial groups. Per CNN’s report, “The new law forbids elementary or secondary schools to teach classes that are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and advocate “the overthrow of the United States government” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.”

Obviously, any course that advocates “the overthrow of the United States government” should be banned, since we, you know, live in the United States. However, I gotta tell you, I’m skeptical that such a course ever really existed. I don’t live in Arizona, and I never attended an Arizona school, but I do find it hard to believe that any class promoting a government coup would have required 2 years of advocacy on the part of Mr. Horne to get it stopped. This sounds more like a tagline…that single sentence on movie posters that makes the feature sound super exciting (even if it’s Furry Vengeance).  In other words it’s the line that makes something sound better (or in this case, worse) than it really is.

Then there’s that part about “resentment towards a race or class of people”. Sure, if you’re taking a surface view, there shouldn’t be resentment towards a whole race or class of people. Harboring such feelings–using generalizations to judge individuals–is, essentially, profiling. And it’s wrong. But, I don’t think that’s the real issue here since Arizona just passed legislation that will likely fuel resentment towards a very specific race/class within its own state borders.

I think Mr. Horne’s comments to Anderson Cooper and Professor Dyson are a bit more telling. In several instances he mentioned that the Mexican-American studies program taught (Mexican-American) students that they were oppressed, which is wrong. Since America is the land of opportunity, they shouldn’t be taught that they are an oppressed people because, gosh-darnit, it’s just not true. This from the prominent politician who happens to be running for Attorney General.

Here’s the question I have to pose: Why is it people who most often claim that there’s no oppression/racism/discrimination are the ones least likely to have been affected by such social ills?

I don’t know a thing about Tom Horne other than what I’ve seen in the news and read on his campaign website, but what I can say with certainty is this: he’s not Mexican-American. Nor is he a school-age child/teenager. Which tells me that, despite being Arizona’s superintendent of instruction, he’s far-removed from what it’s like to be a minority youth in modern day America.

When I attended High School, there were no “Ethnic Studies” options. We took classes called Social Studies and History, and in both I remember thinking, “Wow, with the exception of the obligatory chapters on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, doesn’t seem like people who look like me had much to do with American History or Society.” It would’ve been cool to see a curriculum that tried to shine a little light on the accomplishments of those less touted, since the majority of public education traditionally skews a certain way. And, if such an option had been available, then systematically banned for fear of anarchy, any resentment I had wouldn’t be squashed, but amplified.

Is America one of the greatest countries in the world? Absolutely. Are there opportunities here that don’t exist in anywhere else? Certainly are. Is there an ugly history of discrimination and racism here? Sure, it was only 2 generations ago when my grandfather wasn’t allowed in certain restaurants. Does tailoring school curriculum to focus on ‘safe’ topics make things better for everyone? That’s what Mr. Horne would have you to believe. But, does he really not understand that taking the option away only makes people seek it more? When you’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain, the curtain becomes your whole world.

Congratulations, Mr. Horne. You’ve successfully abated resentment towards a particular class or race of people, at least in the short term. For now, those who have been incorrectly labeled as oppressed can focus their resentment on you and your state government colleagues. And, if that feared government coup begins to spark, the rest of us will have fair warning because the opening battle will likely be at your doorstep.

And I’m sure you’ll be on CNN saying, “Told ya so…”

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Live Again

Hey gang, just running a little test with my new WordPress softward (love this stuff, btw). Stay  tuned…

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The Shadows Gallery is open for business

Under ConstructionHey Gang…it’s a bit of a new look for www.lrgiles.com.  Give me some time to get things together, and I’ll let you know when you can take your hardhat off.

It’s going to be a fun summer, folks…stay tuned!!

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