Cast of Characters

Sometimes I use visual aids for inspiration. And lately, I need lots of inspiration to stay on task. As I’m building a character profile and creating her story, there’s nothing like zeroing in on a photo and connecting with the image.

While working on PERFECT SHOT, I turned to this photo when constructing London (bottom, right) and her bestie Pam (bottom, left).

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Now I’m sifting through images looking for my new character, Simone, for the book I’m working on now (AN ARRANGED PROM). Simone is an overprotected Haitian-American girl with a great sense of humor. I was looking for a girl who could pass for a somewhat sheltered, studious teen. I wear glasses, so I like that this image especially.

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Found this photo of a Haitian girl. It’s great because she has that “I have to go straight home afterschool” look in her eyes.

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And what about this for Simone’s prom look? Here’s a photo of a Dominican (same island!) actress that would work:

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And as Simone joins forces with other girls from overprotective households, she commiserates with her Indian-American classmate.

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How’s this for more visual aids? Since people tell me I resemble actress Tracee Ellis Ross (the big eyes, the bigger hair)—and because I adore her style—I pulled some personal inspiration photos. I’m searching for ways to update my style, so looking to Tracee (and to my fly cousin Gracie) always gives me great ideas.  Though I’m no where near as glam as Tracee, I do like the  red lips swag. (BTW, see any resemblance below?)

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And how perfect that I found a photo of Ms. Tracee with a book?image

Now that’s the best accessory I’ve seen her with yet.

Fashion Model for a Day

If London Abrams can do it, so can I!!

Like London, the main character in PERFECT SHOT, I also had an opportunity to play the amateur model. Yes, y’all. Your gurl was featured in Redbook magazine’s “real women” fashion spread (January 2010 issue).

I previously promised to share behind-the-scenes photos of the fashion shoot, but after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, I didn’t feel it appropriate to post it back in January…or February or March.

So without further delay, here’s a sneak behind the curtains where the magic happened. On a balmy autumn day, I arrived at the lower Manhattan studio, sampled the nice breakfast spread, slipped into a cozy white robe and then reported to the hairdresser’s seat.

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First up, the coif. After the introductions, I warned the hairdresser about my big head of hair, to which he replied in his down-home Southern accent, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” Well, y’all, I must have a direct line to the Lord.

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Above, the image makers. To the left/To the left: The hairdressers, who worked on rotation, using a skinny curling iron to sculpt those curls. The woman at right was the talented tailor who made the too-large “relaxed suit” I modeled fit like it was custom made for me. (If I turned around, you’d see all the pins running down my back and along the back of my legs.)

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Those heels were no joke. I’m usually all about the flats, so I felt like I was walking on stilts. Shout out to the wonderful stylist and fashion director Audrey Slater for turning me into a model for a day.

And it’s crazy how a scene I wrote for PERFECT SHOT a year ago played out in my own life. Just like London Abrams during her very first photo shoot, the right song also helped me relax and have fun with the shoot. Before that, I was super stiff and clueless about how to pose. For London, the song was “Click, Flash” by Ciara. For me, the song was M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.”

And voila:

Head to Redbook’s website for a closer look at the entire fashion spread. So exciting!

House Hunter

My close friends and family are aware of my obsession with homes. It’s the reason why HGTV is my favorite channel. Since living in Bermuda, I’ve become familiar with a unique form of home construction. Bermudian cottages and their rain-catching white rooftops come in all flavors. We live in a powder blue one. Share my obsession—check out how these cottages accent the lush island.

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Sunbeams showered down on this traditional “moongate” sitting at the entryway of one cozy cottage.

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The ubiquitous white rooftop by moonlight. (Love that the island also has tall pine-lookalikes.)

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Always a treat checking out the view when flying in.

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Bermuda-ful!

Chicago Hope

One thing that makes me a good match for young readers is that I still haven’t lost my childhood sense of wonder and awe. It may annoy eye-rolling skeptics, but I still say things like, “Wow” and “Yay.” And I’m from the ‘hood!

But, c’mon—a place like Chicago deserves every bit of my fascination. Architectural wonders, DuSable, Frank Lloyd Wright, Johnson Publishing (Ebony/Jet), Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Michelle Robinson Obama, Massachusetts’s first Black governor Deval Patrick, “House” music and Steppin’ dance style, Second City comedy troupe, throwback TV gem “Good Times,” ro-com fave “While You Were Sleeping,” and more cool randomness. It always had me wondering, What is it about this city of firsts with the “Second City” moniker?

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Well, I finally visited Chicago last year and it didn’t disappoint. And while I held it down so as not to embarrass my low-key husband or turn us into tourist targets, I was excited to be there.

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(Me under “The Bean” AKA the Millennium Dome)

Lately though, I’ve been hurting for Chicago—namely for the communities besieged by the out-of-control violence gripping the city’s South Side. The maddening violence going on there has captured the nation’s attention recently. Now, if only something can be done to stop it. Too many lives of children and teens are at stake. 

In his creative way, filmmaker Marquis Daisy is doing his part to help. Marquis (who graduated from the same high school as the hubs) is working on a documentary about the gun violence and poverty crippling our Chicago fam. The film is called SMILE and Marquis is reaching out for donations to complete this project. People like Marquis and my husband know how it is to grow up in cities that can sometimes be cruel and punishing. But they also represent the diamonds in the rough there. More than ever, we cannot turn a blind eye to this situation. To use the phrase of another famous Chicagoan, we must keep hope alive for Chicago’s South Side.

HAITI (Part Deux)

Thanks for all the positive feedback, guys. I’m glad you’re enjoying the ride so far. Let’s move on to the second half of this list!

6. LINGO – Haitians are no linguistic slouches—especially the more educated folks. From the moment I stepped on the plane to Port-au-Prince, I could hear people switching back and forth from English, Creole, French and even Spanish! So what better way to blend in than to learn a few words the cool kids are saying? Here’s a quick lesson. If someone asks how you’re doing, it’s best to answer, “En forme.” When expressing why you like a place/person, say it/he gives you a “bon feeling.” And you see that tourist? To get his attention, try yelling out “blanc” as in “white”—and if you find out he’s of Haitian descent, go with “jaspora” as in “dyaspora” (P.S., don’t quote me on the last two—not sure they’re P.C. or polite. lol!) The school boys in the photo below, left, shouted to us, “Blanc! Blanc! Prends photo mwe!” (Blanc! Blanc! Take a picture of me!) The same request came from the teen below, right, but since he realized we could understand the language, we were jaspora to him.

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7. MANGO MANIA –What’s that sound that went bump in the night? Oh, nothing. Just another ripe mango falling from the tree onto the roof. Yes, in some areas in Haiti, it rains juicy mangoes. Anyone who has stalked the local grocer for mango shipments from Haiti (Sorry for outing you, Hubby.) knows that Haitian mangoes taste amaaazing. Every time I see the high supermarket price of those mangoes now, I just shake my head at the memory of what I saw in Haiti. And then I buy as much as I can!  [Below, that’s me, fresh off the plane–acting  and looking like a “just-come .” Spot the mangoes in the tree overhead, but just don’t touch the one in my hand..or in my bag.]

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And speaking of treats in trees, check out one of our guides at the Jacmel waterfalls (Basin Bleu) climbing for cocoa nuts!

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8. HEROIC HISTORY – For every “poorest in the west” label stitched into the minds of the general public, there was an “independence in 1804” banner wrapped around the hearts of a lot of Haitian-American kids.  It kept our heads high. And in Haiti, boy, that banner is out and proud in its full glory. Our group road tripped from the capitol, through to the north and then back to southern towns. Each town square in which we stopped to stretch our legs, we were welcomed by impressive murals, statues, paintings and flag posts touting Haiti’s heroic history.

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These photos don’t do it justice, but…introducing the largest fortress in all the Americas, La Citadelle (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Nothing underscores the Haitian passion for freedom better. Well worth the blazing one-hour trek up the mountain to visit it!

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View from the the top of the fort.

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9. UPLIFTING MESSAGES – As you can imagine, there’s been enough heartache to sink the Haitian spirit into the darkest depths. But somehow, these folks were some of the most hopeful, faithful people I’ve ever met. From outdoor praise services to inspirational tap tap messages, their faith permeated every corner of society. Walking down a random street one mid-day, my bro-in-law and I came upon this lively church service. Even though the building structure was pulverized by the earthquake, they strung tarp overhead, brought in plastic chairs and got their praise on.

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10. COMMERCE –Another encouraging sign of recovery was all the commerce I witnessed. The buzzing streets were teeming with street venders, commuters on their way to work, and—further away from the city—industrious farmers and market merchants elegantly balancing their wares atop their heads. Below, left, is a shoemaker in his makeshift workspace. (Side note: This shoemaker told me that it pleases him to see tourists visiting the county.) Below, right, buying plantain chips from a street vendor.

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**I’ve gotta leave you with one final thought. Earlier this year, I visited New Orleans, where I was fed lots of historical info about the influence that Haitian immigrants had on the city. (A wave of Haitians—and their culture!–settled there in the early 1800’s when NOLA was still a French territory.)  Check out each pair of photos, and guess which one is in NOLA or Haiti.

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Answer: Haiti on the left, NOLA on the right.

Thanks for journeying with me, y’all! Glad you had fun. Smile

HAITI (Part Un)

For me, 2012 will stand  out as the year I finally –FINALLY—visited Haiti. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine,  made possible by my brother-in-law’s family. Two of his cousins (who were born and raised in Haiti and now live in NYC) planned a cross-country trip for American and Canadian-born relatives who had never set foot in Haiti or have little recollection of their childhood visits there.  Of course, I wanted to tag along. And I’m happy I did!

It was a group of 11 of us, ranging from age 18 thru 40-something and who flew in from Texas, Georgia, Florida, NYC, Philly, Montreal and Bermuda. I was treated like part of the family. I even looked like a geeky version of one of their hip cousins! And when I got crazy sick for two days (yup—l was that chick), the trip organizers—especially Melissa, who is a doctor (lucky me!)—took awesome care of me. (Thank you, Melissa!! A big merci also to your amazing mom for her care!) And yes, while I admit that I went to Haiti with some trepidation—having been spooked by decades of negative media portrayal of the island nation—what I encountered was sweetly surprising.

As with my trip to Ghana, I’ve compiled a top ten list of highlights—but this time, split into two posts. For Haiti, it’s more of my List of Sweet Surprises.

1. MOUNTAINS– I grew up knowing that Haiti or “mountainous land” (pronounced Ayiti) is the indigenous Arawak Indians’ name for the island. Even still, the view of the mountains from the airplane, and the experience of traveling up and down those peaks (and their hairpin curves—see photo below), brought Ayiti to life for me. Together, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have some of the highest points in all the Caribbean.

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2. BEAUTY—yes, Haiti has lots of it. Gorgeous beaches, clear waters, picturesque landscapes, handsome bustling cities, charming town squares, beautiful music and, of course, majestic mountains.

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3. RIBBONS—Speaking of beauty, there’s something that perked up even the most broken down or heavily littered street, and that was the sight of school children. The girls’ uniform attire was almost always capped off with a colorful crown of ribbons that fluttered like butterfly wings as they walked. And in Haiti, tweens aren’t considered too old to wear ribbons. I saw girls as old as maybe 13 rocking them. Pretty!  

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4. ARTISAN TREASURES—There’s no mystery behind why designers like Donna Karen are collaborating with Haiti’s local artists. The place is a treasure trove of artwork and handcrafted creations—many of which are made with found materials. For example, the piece below, left, was an oil drum in a former life.

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5. TAP TAPS–Haitian Creole and its expression is all about onomatopoeia—at least in my family. I grew up hearing things like, “Shut the door, BO!” “Drink it fast, GAUTE-GAUTE.” And then there’s the TAP TAP. So named for the tap-tapping blare of their horns, Tap Tap shuttles are reknown for their vibrantly painted coats emblazoned with different sayings. Most sighted Tap Tap phrase: “Merci Jesus”

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Half-way there. Look out for Part Deux in my next post! Smile

Happy New Year!

My husband likes to shake his head and chuckle when he overhears my phone conversations with my sister (and bestie) Golda. He says it’s like we try to “out positive and out support each other without an ounce of realistic, nah-maybe-that-ain’t-gonna-work responses.” Well, Hubs would crack the heck up if he saw our New Year’s Eve text message exchange:

Debbie: Last day of 2012. Let’s go!!
Debbie: Or should I say, LET go.
Golda: Deeeeeeeeep. And true.
Golda: The answer is both. Things will move forward until we let go.
Debbie: Preach! Too true! I feel a blog post coming on.
Golda: Do it!

Er….okay, so maybe he has a point. A tiny one. But, whatever. It’s what Golda and I do for each other—and, for that matter, everyone. Life has handed us some below-the-belt jabs over the years, so it’s nice to have a personal Bundini Brown in your corner who gets you pumped to get back in the ring.

So in the spirit of the rooting Rigaud sisters, here’s wishing 2013 keeps you all in a good groove. Speaking of which, check us out groovin’ on the dance floor at my wedding reception in ‘07. (That was also my day of my first book release!) Golda is to my left, and my fabulously encouraging auntie is on my right. We were jammin’ to the “Electric Slide,” in memory of our mom who passed away earlier that year.

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(Photo credit: Wendy Johnson)

From that first publishing deal to now, thanks for hanging around with me all these years. This year, I can’t wait to share news about my upcoming book releases. (Yay!) Look out for updates in the coming weeks.

Smile

Holiday Styles

Back when I worked at Seventeen magazine, I came across hand-written reader mail from a Black teen (from my hometown!!) asking for natural hair care advice. The letter was addressed to no staff member in particular, but I was glad to be the one to open it. This girl wrote of her longing for straight hair and asked for advice on how to get her mom to agree to a perm. I tell ya, reading this touched me in a deep way. Once I finally stopped swaying in my office chair with the letter pressed against my heart, I wrote her back. I told her that I could so relate. But instead of helping her scheme on ways to change her mom’s mind, I reminded her how fabulous and versatile kinky & curly hair is when worn naturally or temporarily straightened. She seemed to appreciate the advice I offered. In future correspondence, she also seemed to be gaining confidence in her natural hair.

Now, I’m no natural hair guru. Never have been. But to my surprise, over the years, lots of girls & women have been curious about my hair regimen and have asked for tips. So, whenever I can, I both seek and offer encouragement to curly and kinky-haired girls. Because the response to my last post about hair was so positive (I know it’s been a long time—sorry guys!), I wanted to feature some more photo highlights of my holiday hairstyles.

First up: The French braid. I started braiding closer to the forehead, leaving enough there for a patch of bumped up hair. I folded then tucked the end of the braid (using a hair pin).

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For Thanksgiving, I went for an unstyled, twist-out look. Maybe I was drawing inspiration from PERFECT SHOT cover girl, London Abrams. Smile

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Here is a more coifed version of the above twist-out look, which I wore to our Christmas Eve gathering. I simply pulled back & pinned the sides. It’s a great style if you want to reduce the bigness of your ’do.  (To see how exactly I achieve the “twist-out” head back to the older hair post I mentioned.)

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This next look is the reverse rolls, inspired by 1940s gals. I created a side part, and then hand-rolled each section of my hair, away from my face and tucked them neatly using large and smaller-sized pins. There isn’t an exact science to this look. Keep rolling and pinning until you’ve achieved the look you like. Note: You need lots of hair pins. To avoid that annoying discomfort, be sure not to dig the pins too close to your scalp.

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For more hairspiration, stalk the tumblr site le coil. I certainly do!

Wherever you’ll be ringing in the New Year, hope you’re happy with your hair…or I’ll have to personally write you a long, tear-stained letter. Happy New You/Year!

GCC Presents…Diana Rodriguez Wallach!

Step into a world where mythical roles are alive and carried out with modern twist.  YA author Diana Rodriguez Wallach crafts such a world in REFLECTING EMMY, her new short story based on the legend of Narcissus. Mindful not to just whet our appetites with a single installment, Diane invites us revisit this world again and again. Look out for her next two installments in this MYTHOLOGY HIGH series in the months to come!

About REFLECTING EMMY:
Eighteen-year-old Emmy is in the family business—trapping vapid narcissistic souls into her silver compact mirror for all eternity. It’s what the Rhamnusia family has been doing for thousands of years, all under the direction of Great Grandmother. Only Emmy’s latest assignment, Nara, is about to prove more challenging than she ever expected. Gorgeous and self-absorbed, Nara is unflinchingly cruel to her classmates. Even her boyfriend, Luke, can no longer tolerate her actions–much to Emmy’s relief since she finds Luke a little more than intriguing. But when Emmy tricks Nara into gazing into her mystical mirror, what she finds there is not what she’s expecting.

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With her fabulously-fabled series, a clean new website design, plus a multitasking life of as a working mother, we can imagine how busy Diana’s summer has been. I’m just glad she made time to answer my interview questions. Read on to be inspired by this author’s creative process and focused work ethic.

DR: What was your first piece of creative writing ever (that you remember)?
DW:
I wrote, illustrated, and bound (with yarn) a picture book called Tovel The Kushkin, which was about a magical creature I “invented” that looked strikingly like an Ewok only it could fly.

DR: On average, how long do you let a story idea marinate before you dive in and start building it?
DW:
Depends. Ideas for stories come to me all the time, and I usually write them down. It’s not until that idea keeps nagging, and nagging, and nagging, that I’ll actually attempt to write it. It could be years. But once I’m writing the story, if I have an idea for a character or for the plot, I implement it immediately.
        
DR: When you need that extra push to stay on task, what motivates you the most?
DW:
I’m the working mom of a toddler, so I when I have time to write, I write. I swear, the ability to juggle time and compartmentalize is a skill passed onto every mother in the delivery room. So most weeks, I have a nanny who comes three days and I immediately leave the house and write in my community’s makeshift library/game room. While I’m there, I write nonstop, completely focused, knowing that episodes of The Little Einsteins and endless sticker books await me when I get home.

DR: In a parallel universe, what secret side of your personality is fully
emerged in the “other” you?
DW:
Growing up, my mom thought I’d be an artist. I loved to draw, and I wasn’t half bad. So I’d like to think in a parallel dimension I’m bohemian artist living in a flat in Paris. Ahhh, that sounds nice…

DR: We’ll most likely see a female president in our lifetime. Which of your
characters would make a great future president?
DW:
GiGi, she’s the “great grandmother” in my MIRROR, MIRROR trilogy. You don’t get to meet her in REFLECTING EMMY, but you learn of her, and by SHATTERING GIGI,
the final short story in the collection, she steals the show. The character is a reimagining of the Goddess Nyx, a shadowy figure said to have been there at the moment of creation and to have been the mother of everything from Death, to Friendship, to Sleep, to Retribution. The woman could multitask and get things done behind the scenes. She’d make the perfect president.

No Parking!

My car got clamped this week. The fee for removing the obnoxious yellow tire trap was $100. That’s what I get for parking in one place for too long. The lesson I learned? Keep it moving!

(Of course I took a photo of the incident. Unexpectedly, the parking enforcement guy was only too happy to comply.)

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The same can be said for writing: you gotta keep it moving. Once I let too many days slip by without writing, it’s tougher to get back into the flow of things. So, even if I’m working on side projects for a few days, or whether I’m traveling or hosting guests, it’s key that I don’t stall my manuscript for too long. Gotta keep those creative wheels rolling or else they might get clamped!