maya angelou

Book Review: Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

I first heard about Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou from an interview at the back of Time Magazine called “10 Questions.” I’d just finished an autobiography by Valerie Harper, I read something similiar before that, and I wasn’t in the market for another memoir. However, after reading those ten simple questions in Time, I decided to buy the Kindle version of Mom & Me & Mom anyway.

The book begins with the earliest part of Angelou’s life and how she and her brother, Bailey, had been sent to live with their maternal grandmother. Their mother, Vivian Baxter, thought it would be a better environment for them. As a result, when it was time for them to leave the racially charged south as young adults a few years later and return to San Francisco to live with Vivian again, both Maya and Bailey held reservations…and a certain amount of resentment…toward Vivian for sending them away in the first place.

These strong emotions follow the move back to San Francisco. And in this book Maya Angelou discusses the difficulties Vivian Baxter had in trying to win the trust…and respect…of her two children. Bailey seemed to take it better, where Maya missed her grandmother and didn’t even want to call Vivian “Mother.” It’s all explained well, and it portrays Vivian as a strong, determined woman, with an intrinsic brand of wisdom her daughter, Maya, seems to have inherited from her. And while I was reading I kept wondering why I didn’t dislike this woman, Vivian, who had sent her two children away to live with their grandmother more than I did, and I think that’s because this story is told in a way that shows no one is perfect and we all do the best with what we have. Vivian Baxter did this with her head held high, diamonds in her ears, and a pistol in her purse.

At one point in the book, Angelou discusses being raped at a very young age. Of course I’d read about this before and it wasn’t a big surprise. But there are surprises in the book, and things I didn’t know about Angelou I won’t give away now as spoilers for those who have not read it yet. In a general sense, as the book moves forward and we see Maya learning more about Vivian Baxter, each experience Maya has is centered around Vivian’s grand style, her pragmatism, and her ability to love as deeply as a mother can love.

Toward the middle of the book, we see Maya growing into a woman, and dealing with a few of the realities we all face during those early years. Again, no spoilers, however, I found myself liking Vivian Baxter even more during several events that could have altered the course of Maya Angelou’s entire life if it had not been for Vivian’s Baxter’s support. And yet, at the same time, there was nothing simple about Vivian Baxter at all. And although Angelou never really gets into this in any details, Vivian had a full life of her own, and was loved by both men and women. But never once controlled by anyone.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Maya Angelou’s books is her ability to wave that proverbial magic wand and turn a pumpkin into a golden carriage, so to speak. She takes ordinary situations, and comments, and turns them into exercises in wisdom in a way that’s so poetic you wind up rereading them as they come up in the book. There’s one section in the book where Maya is dealing with a new career, being a single mother, and trying to be as independent as possible given her circumstances. She’s overwhelmed to the point of absolute panic, and it’s as frightening to read as it must have been to go through at the time. Yet in the end, she leaves us with one simple, basic word that seems to make everything okay again: gratitude.

Although the difficulties of growing up African American during a period when racial tensions were high, to put it mildly, did come up, I never once found this book focusing on race. It’s mentioned on occasion, and then it’s time to move forward. At one point Angelou did mention how difficult it was to be a single mother. She was working two jobs at that time, and balancing what little time she did have with her son. It all came to a climax after she’d read an article in a magazine while sitting in a doctor’s office one day. Angelou’s son had serious allergies and the article talked about how allergies subside when the children get more attention. This infuriated her for several reasons, mostly because she didn’t have the luxury of spending more time with her son. And once again, Vivian Baxter came to her side, gave her support, and turned things around with a few simple words and a very generous loan.

I would recommend this book to anyone without thinking twice. I’m giving it five stars because there’s no place to click where I can give it ten. It’s the kind of book that would be a great read if you have the time to do in one sitting. And if you don’t, I suggest reading it before you go to sleep at night because it’s the kind of book that makes you feel better about yourself when you wake up in the morning.

If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read the free excerpt on Amazon before you go to bed tonight, which is what I did before I made the purchase. You can get there from here.  

Rosebuds or Lips; We Need Good Copy Editors; Silicon Valley Sex Scandal

I’ve posted about why we need good copy editors…as authors and readers…a few times before, but something interesting came up earlier this week and I wanted to post about it before I forget.

First, a good copy editor to a writer is one of the most essential elements in the process of creating a book. Those authors who work with publishers, either large or small, probably already know this, so this post is more geared toward self-published authors right now. It’s not always a magical experience, working with a copy editor. I always know immediately if I’m going to get along with him/her the minute I start reading copy edits. You can tell by the little things. Like when the copy editor questions something in erotic romance such as the “lips” of an anus and he/she suggests you change it to something like “ring” or “rosebud.” Neither of those two words work for me, so I reply in the comments. Sometimes I do it with a smile face and reply with humor: “Rings are for fingers and rosebuds are for vases. I’ll stick with lips on this one, thanks.”

But even in cases where I’m not always on the same page, so to speak, with the copy editor, I’ve still found that it’s better than not having one at all. And that’s because the copy editor picks up the little issues in a book that authors often overlook. Issues like spelling, grammar, and whether or not certain things in the book are consistent. And this past week something interesting happened that I would have overlooked completely had it not been for my wonderful copy editor, Jen Safrey, at Ravenous Romance. The issue she caught in my recent Bad Boy Billionaire book, The Silicon Valley Sex Scandal, could have been embarrassing for me. And I honestly would NOT have known this until a reader or reviewer pointed it out after publication.

Toward the end of The Silicon Valley Sex Scandal, there’s a scene where the main character, bad boy Shannon, is all alone at work and he’s reflecting on his life. The original scene read like this:

It always reminded Shannon of something his grandmother had once told him. “No one’s going to remember your name, your clothes, or the kind of car you drive. Most don’t care about how much money you have or what kind of luggage you carry. They won’t remember your phone number or where you live. They might not even remember what you look like half the time. But they’ll always remember the way you made them feel.

 That looks fine on the surface, and it actually is something my own grandmother used to say. However, the copy editor pointed out that author Maya Angelou had once made a quote just like this. So I checked that out and this is the quote Maya Angelou once made:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now that’s just too close for comfort for me. And if my wonderful copy editor had not caught this, I’m sure someone else would have and it could have been extremely embarrassing. Although I had no intention of using a quote from Maya Angelou without giving her full credit, there are people out there who don’t know that and don’t care about that and I would have been slammed for it, and probably with an epic shitstorm.

So I immediately revised that scene to read this way:

It always reminded him of something his grandmother had once told him. “No one’s going to remember your name, your clothes, or the kind of car you drive. Most don’t care about how much money you have or what kind of luggage you carry. They won’t remember your phone number or where you live. They might not even remember what you look like half the time. But they’ll always remember the way you treated them.

It really was something my grandmother used to say, and she’d never even heard of Maya Angelou, trust me on that. But, just to play it safe, I even added this next paragraph in case someone decided to question it:

His grandmother wasn’t the most prolific woman, nor was she the wisest he’d ever met. She was no Maya Angelou, with tons of prolific quotes about life. But on occasion she came up with words of wisdom. Unfortunately, he hadn’t always listened.

So you see what I’m talking about with copy editors. Even though my quote in the book wasn’t exactly like Maya Angelou’s quote, I figured that if the copy editor felt it resembled Angelou’s quote that much so would someone else. And I changed it immediately.

If you are a self-published author and you have a small budget, I think the one thing I would suggest more than anything would be to hire a copy editor. You could get lucky and nothing huge could be wrong. I’ve had books come back from copy edits with nothing but spelling and grammatical errors. But you could also be taking a huge chance with something embarrassing.

Here’s the blurb for The Silicon Valley Sex Scandal It’s not on sale yet anywhere, but I’ll post more when it is. This one was fun to write because I get into some interesting current issues, like catfishing and sockpuppetry with a made up web site called Lovemetender.com.

Shannon Winn is known as the world’s most capricious gay billionaire and the owner of the world’s safest, coolest social media web site, lovemetender.com. When Shannon meets a guy named Terry on his own web site, he considers it fun and games, not looking for a relationship.

And that’s because Shannon already has an open relationship with his personal assistant, Justin. Although they aren’t committed to each other, Shannon’s not looking to meet anyone else for love. This bad boy just wants to fool around with Terry and forget all about him the next day.

It’s unfortunate for Shannon that Terry doesn’t realize this, because after their first and only time together Terry not only falls in love with Shannon, he begins to stalk him and imagine them as a couple. In the course of one week, Terry follows Shannon’s every move, showing up unexpectedly and seducing Shannon with great success.

When bad boy Shannon finally realizes the fatal mistakes he’s made with Terry, and he knows for certain he’s really in love with Justin, it just might be too late for them. Will Terry’s crazed infatuation with Shannon ruin Shannon’s chances of true love with Justin? And will delusional Terry finally snap and kill them all? 

Dr. Maya Angelou Ten Questions; CNN Dumped Roland Martin

This week in the “Ten Questions” section of Time Magazine, the focus is on author Dr. Maya Angelou. She discusses her new autobiography, Mom & Me & Mom. You can check the book out here on Amazon.

Here’s a book description from Amazon:

The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.


I will definitely be reading it and I’ll post a review about it soon. Maya Angelou is one of those authors…and there aren’t many for me…who’ve influenced me both as a writer and as a person. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings many years ago, and over the years I’ve re-read it at different times in my life. Each time, I take something different away in the end. Sometimes it’s something personal; sometimes it’s something about the way Angelou writes…her technique. And most of the time it’s just because Angelou does something to me that I can’t even explain. It’s one of a kind.

If you haven’t read the interview in Time Magazine, you should try to check it out. This question is about as blunt as it gets:

You’ve endured some very horrible things, mostly at the hands of men. Have gender relations progressed?

No, I think men are as crazy as they were and women are as crazy as they were. I think it’s wise when women say what they like and don’t like and will and won’t take. I’ve never had a dislike for men. I’ve been badly treated by some. But I’ve been loved greatly by some. I married a lot of them.

And this question surprised me:

Did you inherit your mother’s fondness of guns?

I like to have guns around. I don’t like to carry them.

And, once again, if you haven’t read I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings, take a break from whatever you’re doing and make the time to read it.  I’ll also be posting something that happened during recent edits for one of my books that mentions Angelou very soon.

CNN Dumped Roland Martin

Evidently, CNN is not asking Roland Martin to return and he will be leaving the network this month. Roland Martin believes this is because CNN wanted to hold him back on purpose because of his race. From the way it sounds, Roland Martin truly believes CNN failed to recognize his great and abundant talents by not giving him a show of his own. And oh, how the mighty have fallen.

You have largely white male executives who are not necessarily enamored with the idea of having strong, confident minorities who say, ‘I can do this,'” he said. “We deliver, but we never get the big piece, the larger salary, to be able to get from here to there.”

Normally, I would tend to agree with Roland Martin on this. As an openly gay man I’ve faced the same brand of discrimination in publishing, and often…lately…within my own “gay” genre. However, I don’t personally think this is the case with Roland Martin. You see, Roland Martin failed to mention in his recent comments about getting fired by CNN that he made several slurs against gay men during last year’s Super Bowl game.

This is what he tweeted:

His tweet read: “Ain’t no real bruhs going to H&M to buy some damn David Beckham underwear!” and “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!”

This is what CNN did when they received complaints from GLAAD:

Roland Martin has been suspended by CNN after controversial tweets he made about an H&M underwear ad during the Super Bowl.

And this is what’s been happening at CNN for the last six years:
 
There just weren’t enough cruise crises to save CNN this month. CNN’s ratings slid in February, falling 5 percent in the daytime and 1 percent at night in the first full month since the high-profile arrival of new network chief Jeff Zucker at the beginning of the month. Fox News Network won the month with more than 1 million daily viewers, more than MSNBC and CNN combined. In February 2012, CNN came in second and MSNBC third—and, in even worse news for CNN, the network has seen a 10 percent decline in total daytime viewers and a whopping 18 percent drop in nighttime viewers from one year ago.

I’m no expert on TV ratings. But Roland Martin is NOT the first person to be let go from CNN and I don’t think he’s going to be the last. Joy Behar’s show was canceled, and so was Campbell Brown’s. There seems to be a long lasting pattern with the downhill slide of CNN since the 2008 coverage of the Democratic Primaries, and it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint any of it to race.
 
So Roland Martin might want to believe his great and abundant talents were overlooked and he was let go due to race issues. But it could also be that nothing at CNN other than Anderson Cooper has been worth watching for the past six years, most of all Roland Martin’s shows, Joy Behar’s debacle, and Piers Morgan’s lame attempt to fill Larry King’s shoes. And that’s not opinion. That’s based on ratings.