Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Book Tour: Sherryle Kiser Jackson

Figurative Fisticuffs 
By Sherryle Kiser Jackson

I had to come to terms with my main character, Pamela “Pill” Jones Taylor from my 2011 release, Taylor- Made. The book was already on the production calendar. At that point I should have been well on my way to scripting her life. My narrative was slow-going because of Pill. That’s her nickname-whether bitter or sweet, she’s good for ya, she’d say. I had to admit, I created her, but I did not know her.

In her husband’s words she’s a petite package of chocolate perfection. The diva type, headstrong hairdresser, she’s nonchalant to the point of rudeness. Stylish, secretive, cynical, snide, you’ve met the type.

I like to think I have characterization down. I get involved in my characters lives. Sometimes I am a parent that nurtures. Other times I am in the bushes stalking them. More than anything, I am a slave at their mercy. I like it that way, an O short of loony. They speak to me and I write it all down eventually. I do everything but assign them a social security number.

This time there was a hold out in my program- Pill. I mean I knew her, but I don’t know her. It’s like she lives on my street, but I haven’t had her over. We’re associates, but not friends. I know her husband (my other main character, Corey), but I haven’t met the misses. This chick was illusive.

I would write a chapter, or more like a fraction of the chapter, and hit a bump in the road. I’d re-read, which is usually as much a part of writing as adding to the word count. But, I was doing this incessantly. I was going to the beginning, page one, paragraph one. Instead of laying a trail, I was trying to find a trail, a pattern of behavior, waiting for this Queen Diva to speak. Why, why, why, why why? She was not dishing.

I have been a part of a biweekly writer’s group for over 10 years now that started at the former Sister Space and Books in DC. Every time I’d bring a chapter for critique they’d ask about Pill. Why does she do the things she does? Why is she a certain way toward her husband? Is she devious or delusional? Although I had a hard time answering all of their inquiries; that last one got me though. Is she a protagonist or antagonist? I’m thinking, c’mon now, that’s basic character motivation, or back story-the dibs. That’s the basic foundation of the house that is my story line, the framework, the pipes and wiring. This was my chance to play God, or more like the 3rd person omniscient narrator. I was supposed to know more than the characters. Pill was punking me, making me look dumb in front of my fellow writers. So, I did like any sell-respecting author would do. I asked her outside.

On one of my many writing hiatuses, I remembered a writing exercise from one of my craft books, Soul Between the Lines: Freeing Your Creative Spirit Through Writing by Dorothy Randall Gray and Luisah Teish (Paperback - Mar. 1998) I had not seen the book in eons and knew it must be in my garage somewhere, but I was desperate to get past this impasse. I remembered you invite your character to the proverbial hot seat or therapist chair, if you will, and ask them very nicely, “ Pill, what is it that you have to say?” and then you listen and take notes. Sounds loony, I know like I bought a vowel for that last O.

It was worth a try. I had my earrings out, but maybe I didn’t need to fight her after all. I had tried this exercise before some ten years ago when I was writing Soon and Very Soon. It worked then. Why not now?

So I got quiet. I visualized the diva. I asked the question and doggone it if she didn’t start to speak. She told me I didn’t need to know all her business. She didn’t think the other characters needed to know either. She was covering up her flaws and secrets with a flashy wardrobe and a nasty attitude. It was all smoke and mirrors for what was really going on inside.

I think the key to tapping into this character was returning to the pen and pad to record these responses rather than the keyboard. It was almost as if she (or the inner me) felt threatened to perform or felt the need to hide in the midst of the narrative. The fresh lined paper gave her permission to be less polished, This is far from a sketch, but a ramble of consciousness. She was free to repeat herself as much as she wanted to. She could tell her truth. You not only take down details, but you discover nuances. I heard the cadence and intonation of her voice. I could sense the touchy subjects that she’d rather avoid like those of her mother and growing up poor. I could re-direct her with another question before she began to clam up or at least until I could figure out her hang ups. She showed her true colors. It was a safe space for her and I honored that.

This was indeed therapy. Now, I can go back to my story, already in progress, and carry a little bit of her with me each time. I shade in the picture I began to draw because I have a full palette. Pill is more than someone I merely recognize. She is someone I know. We’re not BFFs but we’re not in figurative fisticuffs anymore either.

Taylor-Made by Sherryle Kiser Jackson
A young couple is forced to face their past through the mirror of marriage.

When materialistic Pill’s husband asks her to join him for Marriage Maintenance classes, he hopes they can get their marriage back on track. But will Pill get on board—even if it means “going without” again?
Purchase on AmazonBlack Expressions,  or  Barnes & Noble
ISBN-10: 1601627955
ISBN-13: 978-1601627957 

Meet The Author 
Multi-published author, wife, mother and teacher, Sherryle strives to be a fresh voice in Christian Fiction. Born in Prince Georges County, Maryland, Sherryle went on to get a degree in Elementary Education from from Salisbury State University. Her triumphant debut novel, Soon and Vey Soon (2007) was followed up by her sophomore release, The Manual (2009), Soon After (2010) and Taylor- Made (2011) for Urban Christian Books.  She lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. Visit Sherryle: 

TAYLOR MADE by Sherryle Kiser Jackson

Pamela "Pill" Jones has more than baggage; she has a whole storage unit. Partially raised by her older sister, she is accustomed to struggling to survive by any means necessary. Pill has vowed to always have the best. Priding herself on being a fashionista and living the life of a commercially successful hairstylist, Pill has just one problem: money runs through her hands like water through a sieve. When she taps out her bank account, Pill is forced to realize there are some things the makeup at the MAC counter can't cover, and some burdens her Dooney and Burke bag can't carry.

Living in the shadow of his cousin, Pill's husband of six months, Corey, is trying to forge his own identity with a spiritual foundation. After falling head over heels with the very sexy and self-confident Pill, Corey finds that his treasure of a wife comes with a promissory note. During the course of the Marriage Maintenance class at their church, Corey finds there is no end to their relationship issues. He hopes through prayer and devotion that they can find the source of their own individual pain, so they can heal together.

With Pill and Corey, keeping up with the Joneses means chasing after their own desires on the raw fuel of their convictions.
Excerpt: Chapter 1Pamela Jones Taylor was looking at a pitiful sight nestled in her lap. When she realized she wasn't moving she turned her attention back to the road. She crept toward the exit of the Suburban Banking and Trust lot.

A drizzle was dampening the sign of a homeless man at the corner. It read, Hungary, please help. God Bless. The misspelling was compounding the effect of the man's hopelessness.

"C'mon," she groaned, out of exasperation a few moments later, as a new model Mercedes Benz switched over into the lane she was about to turn into, blocking her exit from the bank parking lot. Three more luxury cars whizzed by her before a soccer mom in a stereotypical minivan, distracted and obviously yelling at several kids, allowed her access to the main road where she sat with the rest of the speed demons at the red light.

The homeless guy could hardly be seen for the Korean man with a pail of roses working the same corner. The homeless man, a wiry dark-skinned man of fifty-something with few personal effects confined to a small duffel bag did have a rain poncho. It was the thin, clear plastic kind with a hood that anyone can buy from the dollar store that made them feel as if they were wearing a plastic bag.

Pam remembered being forced to go into a corner store by her older sister to buy one of those cheap shields herself years ago when she was crowned homecoming queen in her senior year of high school. She remembered how embarrassed she felt encased in plastic like a couch in her Aunt Agnes' living room. She played it off by telling people that she still wanted her outfit to be seen through the transparent shield. Other girls in her homecoming court in anticipation of the rainy forecast went out and bought matching umbrellas and the pink polka dot rain slickers that were high-priced and in style then.

In her Cosmopolitan dreams, she would have done one better and gotten the complimentary designer boots. In reality though, her sister informed her that her homecoming attire was already a luxury they could not afford. Once again she was painfully aware that there was a wide gap between the have and the have nots. The latter was the story of their life with their momma. She decided then that she would not only be among the ones who have, but that she would have it all.

The memory made her sneer at the homeless man as he inched his way toward her car holding his sign at her car window. He had nothing coming. She put her hand up for added emphasis. She had her own problems. She flipped open her pink metallic razor cell phone and adjusted the ear piece. The round knob would not fit comfortably in her ear. She needed a Bluetooth in her life, like the girls at work. She also had her eye on the new iPhones with a built in Mp3 player and touch screen for texting, like Carmen's, the salon owner she worked for. Switching phones meant switching payment plans and since she was now married it would be something else she would have to negotiate with her husband, Corey.

She decided to call Corey and engage him in a little game of bait and catch. He was a ground deliveryman for UPS which made his cell phone his mobile office and made his talk time limited. When they first got married six months ago, she had to get use to their brief check -in calls at least once a day. She figured today it would give her opportunity to gage his mood.

"Everything all right?" Corey asked, after greeting her.

"I have to run into the drugstore. I was wondering do you need anything?"

He did that kind of half-sigh, half-chuckle he sometimes does that she had not quite distinguished between amusement and disgust. "Is that your way of telling me you're going shopping? Knowing you, you'll get to CVS via Macy's, Ann Taylor and Abercrombie and Finch."

At least he had gotten her stores right, she thought. "Excuse me for being considerate of my husband. Isn't that what they tell us in Marriage Maintenance Class?"

"Yeah alright, Pill," Corey said, calling her by her nickname. She could admit that she could be moody at times, add that to her confidence that some would mistake for arrogance and refer to her as 'a trip.' Ms. Tyler, her third grade teacher, trying her best to censor her comments about Pamela's behavior simply wrote in the comment section of her report card, Pamela is quite a pill. Her outburst and overall off-task behavior is a little hard to swallow. The name stuck. She would put her own spin on it when having to explain the sometimes embarrassing nickname by saying, "Whether bitter or sweet, I'm good for ya." Most people elected to call her primarily by her given name, Pamela, or a shortened version, Pam, when they first meet her. Like Corey, they soon switched off and used her nickname once they had ingested a taste of the Pill.

"Keep in mind your booth fee is due today. Don't go spending any money," Corey said.

Apparently she already had spent lots of money and just didn't remember. Shopping gave Pill a high. Sometimes it was as if Pill blacked out after a shopping binge much like an alcoholic that had too much to drink. She couldn't remember what she had bought, especially when trying to hide her purchases from Corey. He had asked her time and time again to write stuff down particularly when the money for those purchases came out of their joint account. In her mind that kind of documentation provided evidence to her husband about her spending that could easily go under the radar. Accounting for every belt, hat, purse, jacket and pocketbook to a man is what she refused to do.

"Well, I put in three hundred fifty for us on that mink coat my mom wanted. Although, I don't know what a 65 year old needs with a fur coat. I didn't look at the ATM receipt for a balance, but I know there should be enough left in the account," Corey said.

Pill almost expelled a sigh of relief into the phone. She was so glad she hadn't tampered with the money for her mother-in-law's gift. Corey told her over a month ago that the two of them would go in with his dad and his only sibling, Danielle, to buy a mink jacket for their mother to show off in when she wore it to church. There was never any denying that Pam was not her mother-in-laws's choice for Corey. Pill didn't know what she had done to the woman, but the air of distrust was immediately apparent upon meeting her. She assumed it was just game recognizing game. Mrs. Jones was spoiled by Corey's father and everyone else in the family. Obviously she didn't want Pill to be the recipient of any generosity Corey may have inherited. Pill would have never been able to live it down if Corey's mother couldn't get her precious mink because they didn't have their share of the money.

In this case, Pill happened to agree with her mother-in-law's fashion sense. A mink coat meant she truly had it going on. Jet Black, she thought, Corey and Danny better had gotten her a black mink that would absolutely sizzle with her salt and pepper hair. Pill dreamed about flossin' in her own mink coat one day, but for now she would settle for a short chinchilla coat with the matching headband.

Recollection of where some of the money went hit her like a thunderbolt. She could see eighty dollars change hands between her and Ahmad, the resident hustle man at Carmen's Epic Beauty salon. He came in the shop twice a month with two large storage tubs and a rickety clothing rack filled with trendy apparel still tagged and on hangers that, "just came in." From where was never questioned.

While her fellow stylists were devouring Baby Phat knock-offs, Pam spotted a camel colored sheerling poncho with the matching alpine boots. It wasn't out for public display, but she had to have it. She remembered the supermodel, Gasselle wearing a similar poncho while riding a white stallion in an ad in the latest issue of Cosmo. Although she knew Ahmad's version wasn't designer, her knock off was definitely better than her co-worker's knockoffs. She went into acquisition mode.

She waited until Ahmad went to the back to question him about his hidden stash. He explained that he had promised the ensemble to his lady friend, but assured her that he could get her one when his cousin went back to New York's garment district. It was a lay-a-way of sorts, which was not their normal way of doing business. His policy when selling was cash-and-carry, and hers when purchasing was cash-on-delivery. She had made an exception that day as she dashed to the ATM, ordering the shampoo girl to put a heat activated conditioner in her next client's hair and set her under a blow dryer to stall for time. She gave him the $80 plus another $ 100 from her smock. She figured since he was going to New York, he might find a pair of Seven jeans she had been wanting.

If Carmen wanted her money on time, she had to stop the vendors from soliciting in her shop, Pill reasoned.

"When I get paid tomorrow the cycle starts all over again." Corey said, interrupting her thoughts.

The cycle he was referring to was their bare bones budget that delineates his first check of the month for the mortgage on their three bedroom townhouse and her earnings going to the other bills. They used his second check to pay the lease on her new Honda Accord and pay insurance, which included a policy on his Corolla that had been paid off long ago. They locked into this schedule during the last month of their marriage prep class and agreed to revisit it. Once a month they attended the Marriage Maintenance class for newlywed couples at church that focused on the emotional, physical and financial side of their relationship now that they have taken the plunge into matrimony.

"You're saying that to say?" Pill said defensively, still trying to account for the extra money she had obviously spent.

"Don't go spending any money. I gotta go. See you later," Corey said. Good-byes were not necessary.

Money from Rosetta's weave that she did on Saturday would give her a quarter of her monthly booth fee, but subtract from her bill money. She did at least call in the digits from her debit card to pay the gas and electric on Monday. Corey had warned her against debiting the account as opposed to taking the money directly to source or mailing it out on time. 'You never knew when they would take their money out your account'. Gosh, she should write this stuff down.

Pill laid her hand on the horn to join in with those cars in front of her showing their displeasure at an eighteen wheeler who was unsuccessful at making a u-turn and was blocking their lanes when the light turned green. Now she would be late for the staff meeting at the salon on top of being late with her booth rental.

The rain hadn't let up and there she sat. The rose man had long since taken cover, leaving the homeless guy with a now drenched cardboard sign in position at the base of the intersection. Pill looked down in her lap. She was indeed witnessing a pitiful sight. Her bank receipt read - $152.00.


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