The Soundtrack for Life

What songs are in your life's soundtrack?

What songs are in your life’s soundtrack?.

“There’s a soundtrack for Life in Spades?” People have asked when I mention certain songs that relate to the characters.  Yes, there is music mentioned throughout the book as the women work through their challenges of love and family.  And yes, there is particular music I think of in my own head when I consider Gina, Laura, Sherry, and Cookie’s stories.

While I’m working on a writing project, whether my next book or blog post, I listen to the Life in Spades “soundtrack”, as well as other music I’ve pulled up on my iPod or Slacker.  Depending on whether I’m writing, editing, re-reading, or trying to get over a stumbling block, yes, the genre changes.  Although I can write to Bruno Mars, I have to edit with instrumental in the background.

Music plays such a key piece in our lives, so it’s not surprising really that it would play a part in our creativity and productivity.  Every major life event has a song.  Birthdays, weddings, holidays.  Even births invoke certain songs – Isn’t She Lovely? – as do deaths – Precious Lord, Take My Hand.  Getting on the school bus, whistling on our way to work, going to bed after a long day.  And just as we celebrate life’s milestones with song, our memories are triggered by music, too.  What song did your mother hum to you as a kid?  Where were you when the Thriller video premiered? (And if you are not old enough to have that as a living, specific memory, well, just keep that to yourself.)  What was your first music concert?  What grade, who were your friends?

It was a source of entertainment to consider what music Gina, Laura, Sherry, and Cookie would be listening to as they got together for a game of spades, went out for happy hour, and swept across the dance floor.  It also gave my brain another creative puzzle to figure out.

Sam Cooke crooning “You’re nobody unless somebody loves you,” spoke to Laura’s feelings as she struggles with her feelings about being a professional escort and what that meant for her personal life.  Later, Porgy & Bess illustrated the universal choice of choosing the man who loves you versus the one who can provide things that you think you want.  Cookie’s heart recognizes that love may be lost, but there are second chances and that’s okay, as David sings to her from the music festival stage.  As Sherry gulps a drink, sure that all she wants is to dance with somebody, we wonder, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”  And what is playing on Gina’s iPod as she runs behind Alex. Is life really, so simply “Black & White”?

Music in our own lives is fun, it’s memories, it’s a time marker.  In Life In Spades, it serves as mood and texture for who the women are.  As the author, it kept me humming along as they bopped and shimmied along onto the page.  I hope my readers feel like tapping their feet along to their story, too.


Share in the Comments – What songs mark important moments in your life?

By |January 31st, 2014|Spades, Spades Characters, Writing|Comments Off on The Soundtrack for Life

An Afternoon of Books & Lunch at Busboys & Poets

I don’t know what took me so long, but I finally made my way to Busboys & Poets.  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Andy Shalal, the owner, at the Hurston Wright Awards, and my daughter had studied the Harlem Renaissance in school recently; I took these as signs to visit the namesake restaurant for one of the premiere writers of the era, Langston Hughes.

Busboys & Poets, Washington DC

Busboys & Poets, Washington DC

The restaurant is cozy, reminding one of a friend’s chic dining room, that is, if you had a friend who had 20 or so tables and modern art hanging in their dining room.  There were proper tables, as well as pillow-laden couches surrounding low coffee tables as dining options.  We enjoyed a delicious meal – including a great crabcake. And being from Maryland, Baltimore specifically with a good amount of time on the Eastern Shore, I am a bit of a crabcake snob.  This one was truly meaty and tasty.  For dessert, my daughter ordered the vegan cookie and ice cream. She’s not a vegan, but for some reason, likes vegan cookies.  And for a vegan cookie, it was really pretty good; so much so that I’m looking for a recipe to try at home.  (Feel free to share if you have one.)


Pesto Lasagna @ Busboys & Poets

Shrimp & Crab Fritters

Shrimp & Crab Fritters @Busboys & Poets

Crabcake sandwich

Crabcake sandwich @Busboys & Poets

Vegan cookie & vanilla ice cream

Vegan cookie & vanilla ice cream @Busboys & Poets

After lunch, we hung around in the bookstore part.  I get e-books, and of course, Life in Spades is available on Kindle and nook, but there’s something about physical, touchable, flippable pages.  I am one of those dinosaurs who still wander to the bookstore to kill time and walk out with a stack of books.  As we did this time.  I was excited to be in a book space filled with writing by people of various races and nationalities.

A selection of books at Busboys & Poets

A selection of books at Busboys & Poets

And something I haven’t done in years? I bought a book of poetry.  I love poetry, but admittedly, sadly, rarely buy poetry books.  I picked up Jamaal May‘s debut collection, Hum, and look forward to folding myself into a chair with a cup of tea and gliding through his words.  I also bought Hannah Weyer‘s On the Come Up and James McBride‘s The Good Lord Bird to add to my to-read pile.

As far as hanging out with your kid moments? I enjoyed having my daughter along.  Like me, she’s a reader and has commented before on the lack of diversity in teen books.  There was a bookcase of young adult/teen reads, from which she selected a couple of books.  I was excited to see that she was learning about the Harlem Renaissance in school – the cultural history and the literature.  She knows of the Cotton Club, Hughes, and learned to do the Charleston.  I wonder if I had been exposed, if I had known about Black authors when I was in middle school or high school, what would I have done with that knowledge?

Selection of books, including teen/young adult, at Busboys & Poets

Our reading stack from Busboys & Poets

For one, I would’ve been introduced to Janie and Teacake much sooner in my life.  But at least, I’ve also finally made it to Eatonville, named in honor of Zora Neale Hurston and located across the street from Busboys & Poets.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner there (I had the pecan pie for dessert) last month.

I’m happy to check both of these local “must do’s” off the list – and to return to both soon.

By |January 17th, 2014|Books, Bookstores|Comments Off on An Afternoon of Books & Lunch at Busboys & Poets

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Latte Frosting

One of the most common questions I get while promoting Life in Spades – whether at bookclubs or book festivals or (wo)manning my booth at a community event – is “are any of the characters based on you?”  The lovelorn baker, the don’t-wanna-be marathon runner, the divorcee, or the escort?  Nah.  All these friends climbed out of my imagination.  But that’s not to say that we don’t share some of the same characteristics, likes and dislikes.

Cookie, for instance, does have a dream job.  Baking all day in her self-owned bakery?  Would love it!  Absolutely.  During the holidays, I step into the full-time baker role. I don my apron, stack up my recipes (I often make the same cakes and pies, but have a terrible memory for recipes), pour myself a drink, and start baking.  My regulars are red velvet cake, pound cake, sweet potato, pecan and apple pies.  I supplement those according to my mood at the time – carrot cake, peanut butter cake, Hummingbird cake, upside down cake.  I really like the ten-layer Smith Island Cake, but haven’t made that in a while.


Chocolate cake is my ultimate favorite cake – chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, with chocolate ganache, with chocolate shavings… Get it?  But as much as I love it, well, I don’t need to eat too much of it or my next most popular activity will be buying new clothes.  I did however make a chocolate cake to bring in the new year.

I used a chocolate cake recipe from Southern Living, which has great, full-butter, all-sugar recipes from before the trend of healthy, low-fat, reduced sugar baking. And, as always, had to experiment with some aspect of it, so I went with the frosting.  Sitting on the kitchen counter was a new package of Caramel Crème Latte Drink Mix I had just unpacked from a Tastefully Simple order, so I decided to make Caramel Latte Frosting.

Use flavored coffee drink mix for a delicious cake frosting.

Use flavored coffee drink mix for a delicious cake frosting.

Caramel Latte Frosting

Mix the following together – in your mixer or by hand, your preference.  Makes enough to frost a 2-layer cake.

  • 2 sticks – butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 pound – confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup – Tastefully Simple Caramel Crème Latte drink mix.  Adjust to taste.  You could also try another powdered coffee mix you have on hand, for instance, International Cafe or something similar.
  • 1 tsp – vanilla
  • a few tablespoons of milk – for desired consistency

This tastes delicious with chocolate cake. Especially for people who may not like or want chocolate on chocolate.

Enjoy a slice with a hot cup of coffee.  And a good book.

By |January 3rd, 2014|Baking, Spades Characters|Comments Off on Chocolate Cake with Caramel Latte Frosting