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VOL 3. NO. 27 Monday, July 16 - Sunday, July 22, 2001
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THE WORD
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THE WORD - NOVEL IDEAS
Man Sharing With a Twist of Mystery
By Avonie BROWN

SHADES OF JADE (Striver's Row/Villard)

Gloria Mallette, Courtesy Photo

I never imagined that I would ever have to reference Monica Lewinsky or Ann Marie Smith in an article. The first for her liaison with President Bill Clinton and the latter for her 10 month romp with Congressman Gary Condit (D-CA). This latest fiasco is now playing out in the media in connection with the search for missing intern Chandra Levy, who also shared some tender moments with the aging politician.

My intent here is not to add Metro Connection's voice to the media circus. But the reality is these three women got their 15 minutes of fame because they had "sexual relations" with married men. Just moments ago (Friday, July 13) I watched as Smith spent an hour on Larry King Live chiding the California Congressman for trying to manipulate her and two-timing her with other women with whom he was also having affairs. Smith cloaked herself in a victim persona. I feel no sympathy for Condit and agree that he, not Smith, had a responsibility to honor the marriage covenant he made with his wife. But Smith is no innocent; she knowingly had a 10 month relationship with another woman's husband.

I am hyper-sensitive to the issue of infidelity because just hours before Smith's Larry King performance I had an hour-long discussion with Gloria Mallette author of the novel Shades of Jade. Marissa, the principle character, is young, beautiful and well educated. She likes to be pampered by men with the best things money can buy. But single men need not apply; Marissa is only interested in married men. Despite the objections of family and friends Marissa is busy juggling four married men at once. However, it all falls apart when Marissa receives several threatening calls from one of the wives of the men she's dating. Fear for her life is the motivating factor that forces Marissa to pause and evaluate her life and the choices she has made.

After our protracted exposure to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and now the Condit fiasco, it appears that we are becoming a very jaded society where issues like infidelity don't yield moral outrage, its mere fodder for our entertainment. In our conversation with Mallette, it became clear that even in the age of HIV/AIDS, infidelity is a very real aspect of our culture and life can indeed be stranger than fiction.

AvonieWhen I began reading Shades of Jade, it reminded me of those articles that appeared in magazines like Essence and Ebony in the 1980s early 1990s discussing man-sharing as a choice. And many of the problematic rationale dealt with this notion of the "extinction of the black man," suggesting that they were either gay, in jail, on drugs or of course married. Consequently, some women were consciously deciding that man-sharing was an option. I was in University at the time and I so clearly remember the heated discussions we had about the issue. I didn't get it then and I still don't understand what wo uld truly motivate someone to say that is a choice for me.
GloriaI wrote this book because I've personally known 3 or 4 women in my lifetime who have done this.
AvonieExclusively?...That was their choice?
GloriaYes! Yes! One or two of them didn't start out exclusively but, men lie about the fact that they are married and the women I think closed their eyes to the fact that they couldn't call them at home or visit them. They just accepted it because he was what they wanted. Then after a while they got stuck in the mode. Since I've been doing book-signing and talking to book clubs, women actually come up to me and say, `This was my life before;' or `this is my life now;' or `I have a sister or a friend that's doing this.' Even men have told me that they are buying the book for women they know. It's bigger than I thought.
AvonieI guess I'm na‘ve or just require too much time and attention in my relationship, but I can't begin to accept that this would be a viable option. I don't get it. I was even trying to feel empathy for Marissa when she provides an explanation for why she does it. But I thought so what? She's been hurt, who hasn't? I guess I was searching for a reason to understand it but there really is none. Add to that the character is a woman who seems to have it going on. She's not economically dependent.
GloriaA lot of them aren't, most of them aren't. And the funny thing is when I came to the point of giving her a reason for doing what she did, the fact of the matter is, there are women who actually don't need a reason. What many of the women say is they like not having to have an obligation to a relationship; meaning they don't have to cook for these guys or clean up after them.
AvonieThere are wives who say that too.
GloriaOkay!
AvonieI'm still hung up on wanting a viable reason. And much of that comes from seeing people I love deal with the consequences of infidelity.
GloriaI gave her a reason because I thought that some readers would not accept me saying that this is a choice that she made for no reason at all. About month ago I was watching television and Queen Latifah came on. And the show was about single women who only go out with married men. And I flipped. I had to stop working to watch this. And I was upset because her show is technically off the air because I was trying to email her to tell her that this was my book.

I thought I was being cute by putting four men with Marissa, because here's the thing, a lot of women end up sitting by the phone waiting for these married men to call because their wife and children get them first. I decided that I didn't want her sitting by the phone so I had to give her a few guys to play with. But this woman sat up there on Queen Latifah and said she had five men at one time. And she wasn't sitting by the phone. I said my God, there is Marissa. And I've had other women also say they had 2 or 3 at the same time.

AvonieThat's a lot of work too.
GloriaNot really. For their bodies it's a lot of work, but they say (because now I'm really questioning these women), that one - they don't have to sit by the phone; and two - only one means you're in a relationship with that man and that can be a trap. For instance I have an aunt who went with a married man for all of her adult life and even had a second family for him. And when he left his wife, 30 years down the line, he didn't come to her.
AvonieThat's frightening.
GloriaThat's real.
AvonieAre men reading the novel and what have been their responses?
GloriaOne of the first men that approached me said he read it because he didn't think women were making choices like that. But after reading it he said that he realized that his own sister was involved with a married man but he just couldn't accept that she had made that choice. So he gave the book to his sister after he read it. More men are reading and emailing me with their comments or are coming to various book-signings. They say they enjoy because of what they learn in the book but also because of the suspense element.
AvonieThat was the appeal for me, the element of mystery. But the extremeness of the stalking, was that required to even get Marissa to evaluate her choices? Is that what it will take to get mistresses to back off?
GloriaYes, I have met women who have been in this particular situation and the interesting thing is it's the wife who's typically stalked by the mistress. That's what I've heard more of.

But with someone like Marissa, who absolutely saw nothing wrong with what she was doing, there's no stopping. Her friends were tells her, her family was telling her but she was having it good. The guys were giving her what she wanted, she had the money and she had whatever the relationship was.

AvonieDid you expect the book to hit a nerve like it has?
GloriaI wasn't trying to write the great American novel. I was just trying to tell this little story but the response has been phenomenal. It touched a lot of nerve which is why it probably sold so well when I first self-published it. The issue is real and while it is a work of fiction in many respects its non-fiction.
AvonieWhy did you choose to use the mystery approach? It worked for me because I wouldn't have been as interested in the novel without that "who-done-it" component.
GloriaInitially, I hadn't even thought about anything like this. But this one woman came to me and she was boasting about what these men were doing for her. It used to irritate me so much. And I asked her `Do you ever think about the wives and children?' And she said `No, what goes on between me and these men have nothing to do with their children or their wives. I don't even let them talk to me about their wives or their children.' My response was `Are you saying out of sight out of mind? If he is giving you all this money (women get cars and homes), if he's making love to you, you're taking it from his wife and children. Maybe he's the one that took the vow of fidelity and yes he is absolutely wrong but so are you. You own it to womanhood, to sisterhood. But if your ass gets stalked by one of these wives who decided not to play with you you'd have to open your eyes.' As soon as I said this to her my brain went that's it "wife stalking."
AvonieIt sounds like the whole process was based on "case studies" so to speak.
GloriaIn some respects yes, the story took on a life of its own and often I wouldn't know what was going to happen until I wrote it.
AvonieNow, you self-published the book a year ago before Random House's imprint Striver's Row/Villard picked it up. What motivated taking the solo route?
GloriaIt's very hard out here as a black writer to get published. And I had been shopping the book around and would get responses like `great story...,' `great idea...,' `great dialogue...,' `great pace... but there's no market.' And I though `no market?' what are they talking about? My husband finally said, `what are you gonna do? either you get a real job or self-publish it.'

I was afraid but I went for it. And shock of shock I did a 2000 copy print run last April and it sold out in three weeks. The cover was so plain that distributors said no one would buy it, but they did. We did a 3000 print run and four weeks later they were gone.

AvonieWhat was your marketing strategy?
GloriaThere was none. I had a book with a plain white cover with green letters and a ring dangling off of the `J.' And people are still coming into book signings with them asking me if I would sign it and I love seeing it.
AvonieTalk about the power of word of mouth.
GloriaIt was all word of mouth because I had no marketing money. No ads, no bookmarks or posters nothing. I had no money.
AvonieWas there media support?
GloriaAbsolutely none! The word of mouth and New York City is the best place to be. In New York City we have street vendors and those guys sold more than half the stock that I had. They were selling it to women who were working 9-5 on Wall Street, in Brooklyn, up in Harlem and they spread the word. I was getting email from Hawaii, Texas, California and they were saying `My friend told me to buy this book.' Then they were going into stores in their local communities and asking them to order the book. That's what did it.

Its not just me, Karen Miller's Satin Doll did the same thing so did Mary Morrison's Soul Mates Dissipate.

AvonieAbsolutely, others have done it with some success that then had publishing houses knocking down their door.
GloriaKaren sold 24,000 copies, Mary Morrison sold 13, 000.
AvonieThat's how E. Lynn Harris started out too.
GloriaYes, and the list goes on and on. Last year was a banner year because now that I'm on the road I have met at least 12-15 people who have self-published and have done so very successfully, to the point of being picked up.
AvonieIs that a path that you'd recommend because there are a lot of people out here who believe they have a creative idea that would have mass appeal and want to do this but are being similarly discouraged.
GloriaWe were all being discouraged. I would get rejection letters that would just make me want to cry, especially since they were so beautiful -- `great story,' `great idea.' What came out of last year was the establishment of eight new imprints by these large publishing houses to publish our books. However, I've been talking to booksellers now and a lot of them are saying that what's happened to the others and me is wonderful but some people have no business doing it. But I don't tell anyone not to do. I tell them to go for it and follow their dream. If it's there its there if its not it's not. At least when they're sitting there at 90 they won't have to look back and say `If I coulda, woulda, shoulda.'
AvonieI understand discouragement. When you step outside of the box and dare to set your own path, people around you, some of them unknowingly, will try to bring you back into alignment with what they are comfortable with -- the status quo. So I've found that you have to be grounded and clear about your vision and keep that in front of you all the time so no one can derail you.
GloriaVery true. Karen, Mary and I, we are out here sharing the information with people. I'm gonna tell you how I did it, I not gonna keep it to myself. You see the pie is big enough for all of us to get a bite. And I point out some of my mistakes like not having someone edit the book for me, I thought I could do it myself but you can't. You need another pair of eyes. I tell anyone who will ask because there is power in numbers.
AvonieThere seems to be some inconsistent in the logic of the publishing industry. On the one hand the market is being saturated with more and more books by black authors yet the number of people who have to take things into their own hands seems to be growing because the industry isn't taking notice.
GloriaWe've had this discussion. Its really not a saturation because if you go into any of the major bookstores only roughly 10% of their books are by African Americans and if you go into an African-American bookstore it's the other way around. So if it looks like saturation, the reality is they are just starting to give us an opportunity to get our works out there in greater numbers. We know the bottom line is money and because they saw that with our meager budgets we were making some money they wanted to capitalize on that. But we're wondering about the opening of these new Imprints for us, which is segregation in a way, will they then pull out in a few years and say it didn't work and leave us all nowhere or will we be integrated in the whole? Who will be left standing when it's all over?
AvonieReally, is it a good thing -- these African-American focused Imprint labels? On the one hand it acknowledges the marketability of the product but is it also ghettoizing the works into this other category where like you just said, you are not integrated into the whole. Are you being acknowledged because you are a black author or because you produce good work? Would Toni Morrison's works, for instance, be produced through one of these black Imprint labels or would it somehow be categorized differently?
GloriaA lot of us are going to have to be very careful about what we're writing right now because the opportunity is there and if we don't use it right, it will be messed up. Meaning we cannot get caught up into writing novels that fall into the trend category because trends come and go. We have to try to write something that can stand the test of time so we don't fall by the wayside.
Gloria Mallette will be in the metropolitan area July 18-19 for book-signings.
  1. July 18, 12:30-1:30PM
    Reprint Books
    455 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC
    Call 202-554-5070
  2. July 18, 5-7PM
    Everyone's Place
    1356 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD
    Call 410-728-0877
  3. July 19, 6:30-8PM
    Karibu Books
    Prince George's Plaza
    3500 E West Hwy., Hyattsville, MD
    Call 301-559-1140
To comment on this or any other story by Avonie Brown email avonie@metroconnection.info.

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