EXCLUSIVE! Wyattevans.com is proud to present the first in-depth interview with author and columnist Mr. W.D. Foster-Graham! Recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best Poets of 2003,” W.D. also is an original member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness. Just last week, W.D. released his highly-anticipated new novel, Never Give Up. Below is my conversation with this multi-faceted talent.
WYATT: W.D., this must be a busy and exciting time for you! Just last week, you released your new novel, Never Give Up. Thanks for giving Wyattevans.com an exclusive sit-down!
W.D.: Wyatt, it’s my pleasure.
WYATT: Let’s just dive in! Give us the 411 on Never Give Up.
W.D.: Never Give Up is the fifth installment in my Christopher Family novel series. As a series, the books are designed to be read in sequence. Like Gloria Naylor’s novel Women of Brewster Place, it is told in eight stories, the common thread being the family patriarch. Of the eight stories, two of them represent LGBT/SGL (same-gender-loving) family members. The following is the synopsis:
Never Give Up is a family saga about Earl James Berry, patriarch of the Berry family, and lifelong friend to Elijah Edwards. Like Eli, Earl is a man of character, honor, and integrity, highly respected, well-loved. Through his connections to the powerful Edwards family, doors of opportunity opened for Earl. Although he did not come from old money, he made a name for himself as well as becoming another role model and success story in the community.
As one of the first African-American district attorneys in Hennepin County, he racked up a success rate in convictions that took him to a seat on the bench for criminal court cases. He has had a long and distinguished career in the field of law and justice, and the reputation of being a tough but fair judge. All of his children have married well and are successful in their own right. Family and being rooted in faith have always seen them through, until a fateful day of what should have been a time of celebration comes…
As his life hangs by a thread, we see his life and legacy through the eyes of his wife, his six children and one of his grandchildren, and wonder if a “gift” passed down through the generations will help to solve a mystery.
The time is 2012; the place, Minneapolis.
WYATT: It appears that Never Give Up is a real page-turner, full of “soapy goodness”–yet rooted in realism! W. D., what inspired you to write this story?
W.D.: There have been highly successful African-American families in our history, but they weren’t receiving the attention or energy. Instead, the African-American men depicted in fiction were often 1) down and out 2) broke, busted, and disgusted 3) unemployed 4) on drugs 5) incarcerated or 6) dead. If they were successful, they were limited to 1) sports 2) entertainment or 3) illegal activities. If the men were also LGBT/SGL, they were doomed to live unhappily ever after.
In writing a book/series I wanted to read, that also included a large, wealthy, powerful African-American family, where being LGBT/SGL is simply another fact of life. Since so many novels about African-Americans were based in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, D.C., etc., it was time for my hometown to be represented (P.S.: Prince and I attended the same high school!). Finally, I listened to that voice within that said, “Yes, you can write a whodunit, using your own unique voice and style.”
WYATT: How did your characters come into being? Were you inspired by your own life experiences–by travels, someone in your neighborhood, etc.?
W.D.: When it comes to the elders in my stories, I’ve been inspired by the accomplishments of African-Americans in history; my main character, Earl James Berry, is a composite of Black men in history and Black men I grew up around in terms of their values. Then, using my psychology degree, I write psychological profiles of my characters that I can refer to while I write.
WYATT: What makes your story and/or characters unique and interesting?
W.D.: People tend not to associate African-Americans with Minnesota, other than when Prince came on the scene. Being a native of Minneapolis, I bring that flavor and history to Never Give Up, from 1946-2012. Also, my main character, Earl James Berry, is a judge, rather than a police officer, and most of the story is told through his life instead of his shooting.
WYATT: Who is your favorite character you’ve ever written?
W.D.: I’ve enjoyed writing each one for what they brought to my work. A special place of honor, though, goes to the linchpin character of my Christopher Family Novel series, billionaire mogul Allan Beckley Christopher. Hence, he appears in all the novels in my series.
WYATT: What type of research do you conduct for your work?
W.D.: When writing historical fiction, local historical societies, the state historical society, and my elders are priceless resources for my research, not to mention the local Black press.
WYATT: W.D., describe your writing process.
W.D.: I first create psychological profiles of my characters to stay on track, followed by a general outline. In the Agatha Christie mode, I write the beginning and the ending first. From there, my writing process is similar to the way a movie is made: out of sequence. And it all comes together in the end.
WYATT: Do you have any writing rituals? Favorite sweater or snacks you have to have?
W.D.: OK, I’ll bite. When I’m writing smokin’ hot, passionate love scenes for my romance novels, I must have Barry White playing in the background to set the mood!
WYATT: I “luv” it! Hmmm…for me, it’s Stephanie (Mills), Marvin (Gaye), and Donna (Summer). Now, tell us: what’s your most cherished writing accomplishment/accolade/memory?
W.D.: For me, there were two: 1) my first book launch, which took place at my church, surrounded by my family and the people I grew up with, and 2) seeing my work on the shelves of public libraries here in Minnesota and at my alma mater.
WYATT: Which authors/genres do you enjoy reading?
W.D.: My favorite recreational reading? Romance, romance, and more romance, especially male/male romance. I admit, I do diligent searches for stories that feature Black SGL main characters, where the author refrains from writing the stereotypical “dominant Black alpha male top.” Vulnerability in such a character gets me every time. Of course, I am all for such brothas receiving their HEA (happily-ever-after).
WYATT: Sooooo…what’s next on tap? I mean, inquirin’ minds wanna know. (LOL)
W.D.: Well, I have two full-on M/M romance novels in progress for my series: The Right to Be, featuring the gay son of music royalty in his quest for true love, followed by To Thine Own Self, which features a 40-year-old associate pastor, a widower with three children who realizes he’s not as straight as he thinks he is. And yes, it’s all about Black Love.
WYATT: W.D., what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
W.D.: I disagree with the term “aspiring writer”: once you write, you are a writer. My brothas and sistahs, if you have a story inside you that’s aching to be written, don’t wait. Allow nothing to stop you. Do it. Publish it yourself. You’d be amazed at the support that’s out there waiting for you. And you can pay it forward by your support of other Black authors/authors of color. In the words of Toni Morrison, “If there is a story you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.”
WYATT: My friend, thanks so much for taking the time to talk “at” Wyattevans.com!
W.D.: Sure thing, Wyatt!
NEVER GIVE UP: Excerpt
Prologue: November 6, 2012
Prentice Delaney-Ross was on a high, cheering in campaign headquarters as news of President Obama’s re-election “rocked the house.” People were hugging, cheering, and shedding tears of joy all over the office. Several times he and his husband Trevell embraced and kissed and shouted. There were many good reasons to do so that night. Not only had the president been re-elected, but Maine, Maryland, and Washington voted in favor of marriage equality, and Minnesotans had voted down a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Having celebrated their third wedding anniversary barely two weeks ago, the victories were mind-blowing.
He had no doubt his stepbrother, Jerome Franklin-Edwards, and his husband Ariel were at home with their daughters soaking up all the amazing news, even as they listened intently to the president’s acceptance speech. The same held true for the rest of his family, especially his grandfather, Earl James Berry. Grandpa had always been a huge supporter of President Obama, as well as a staunch ally for equality and a believer in justice. He had retired from the bench in 1996, but his reputation as Judge Berry and that of his lifelong friend, Elijah Edwards, Sr., continued to be influential in the circles they traveled.
“You know, when Barack grows up, he’ll look back on this time and wonder what all the fuss was about,” Prentice said sometime later, after they stepped out into the hallway to be able to hear themselves upon the conclusion of the speech.
“I imagine he will,” Trevell concurred. “Right now, he’s probably sound asleep while his grandma and grandpa are keeping up with all the commentary.” Indeed, Prentice’s mother, Linda Berry Delaney Edwards, and his stepfather, Melvin Edwards II, had doted on their newest grandson, Barack Joseph Berry Delaney-Ross, from the very beginning.
Trevell’s parents were no better. Although they lived in Green Bay, Tremayne and Darcelle Ross were regular visitors to Minneapolis, showering affection on their first grandchild. A former Green Bay Packer, Tremayne Ross often had an audience and he never failed to talk about his grandson. Trevell strongly suspected his father desired to see Barack make it into the NFL when he grew up. Even at the age of two, the brainwashing had already begun.
Prentice had witnessed this phenomenon, and he understood it well. Grandpa Berry was not above a little brainwashing himself, setting Little Barack’s sights on an appointment to the Supreme Court. It was a challenge to the couple, diplomatically holding those respective ambitions at bay so they could let their little boy be what he was: a two-year-old who was just beginning to really explore his world.
Hand in hand, Prentice and Trevell strolled down Hennepin Avenue to the parking ramp, basking in the afterglow of victory, sharing smiles and waves with drivers and pedestrians on this brisk fall night. At one point their eyes met and Prentice felt his heart break out into a melody.
27-year-old Trevell had the total package—the matinee idol looks of a young Idris Elba, the solid build of a quarterback, and a well-spoken demeanor. Prentice himself had inherited his father’s smooth Duke Ellington looks with a strong dose of Berry genes, which would make anyone stop in their tracks to see if he was real or fantasy. At the age of 28, at this moment he felt like he was on top of the world.
They reached the parking ramp near the Target Center, for the moment lost in their own thoughts. Prentice’s mind kept going back to his Grandpa Berry. He and Grandpa Edwards had said President Obama really needed two terms to accomplish what was necessary back in 2008, and they had gotten what they asked for. He had to hand it to them; they never lost faith that this day would come. Jerome, in fact, said so, not only about the presidential election but all the other issues as well, at a time when none of it seemed possible. Grandpa Berry had known the history behind Jerome’s “gift,” all the way back to the time he and Grandpa Edwards were young men.
Though he grew up on Milwaukee’s North Shore, a six-hour drive from his grandfather in Minneapolis, Prentice always felt a connection with the man. Like Prentice’s late father, Prentice Delaney Sr., Grandpa Berry had both a passion for the law and the importance of family. Unlike the portrayals of so many police shows these days, he had never been so driven to the point where he totally sacrificed his family for the sake of his career. On visits to Minneapolis with his parents, Prentice was blessed to see that special side of him, the family man. As a grown man, when he and Trevell made the decision to move to the Twin Cities, he made it a point to spend lots of quality time with his grandparents. Witnessing the love, commitment, and devotion they shared after 64 years of marriage, Prentice hoped that he, too, would have that kind of a legacy to pass on.
They stepped into their Chrysler 300 sports sedan, listening to an Alicia Keys CD as they left the parking ramp and headed out into the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Cars were honking their horns and people were out celebrating, something unusual for a Tuesday night.
“You think Sierra and Rashid are still up?” Trevell asked Prentice.
“Sure. They wouldn’t miss this for the world. The only reasons they weren’t at campaign headquarters was because Destiny was sick and it’s a school night for Little Earl,” Prentice replied, picturing his sister and her husband watching the set and simultaneously calling everyone they knew.
“You know we’re going to be going through this with Barack in a few years, just like they are.”
“True. Anyway, since Barack is spending the night with Mom and Mel, let’s stop by and see Grandpa and Grandma.”
“Aren’t they in Chicago visiting the Christophers?”
“They were, but they wanted to make sure they were home for Election Day, so they could vote. I’m sure they’re up for the occasion.”
“OK, but just remember that we have grocery shopping to do tomorrow and I have an early meeting.”
They passed Loring Park and the Walker Art Center before they turned off on Douglas Avenue, driving through the historic and posh Lowry Hill neighborhood. Just before they reached the Berry estate on Kenwood Parkway, they spotted a car driving away from it at high speed. “What’s up with that?” Trevell wondered.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Prentice replied to Trevell and the warning bells in his head. “Wait a minute. That looks like Grandpa’s limo over there.”
Prentice braked quickly and they bolted from their car. The road was normally quiet, but tonight it felt a little too quiet for comfort. His concern escalated to worry as strange shivers permeated his body. Ears alert for unnatural sounds in the cool night air, Prentice and Trevell slowed down as they approached the still Cadillac limousine. Would their worst nightmare become reality? Their eyes grew wide with fear as they stepped closer, their night vision revealing the bullet holes in the windows. Prentice’s heart sank.
“Nooooooooooooooo!!” he yelled as Trevell frantically grabbed his cell phone to call 911…
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