As I write my novels, I tend to make a playlist that helps me get in the mood, set the scene, and channel my characters. This playlist is inspired by the flow and scenes of my first novel, Lazarus. [Read more…] about The Lazarus Playlist
In Dardenland, there are two running truths:
- Lenny Kravitz is my husband.
- David Bowie is my father.
“You’re in a really good mood.”
JJ carefully put my camera on the table near the big comfy chair. He stood up, walked over to the lamp, and turned it off. In the dark, I saw him slide out of his suit pants and carelessly leave them in a clump on the floor.
“Good mood is an understatement,” he announced. In an instant, he climbed onto the bed and crawled next to me. He laid on his stomach, looking up at me while he rested his chin on his folded arms.
“This just might be the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said.
JJ sniffed the air, his nose scrunching into a little wrinkled brown dot.
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In this excerpt from Lazarus, I write about one of the occasions the Beta pledges were on line and had to navigate the campus while on strict social probation. Enjoy.
After having purchased extra white shirts and black slacks for our line brothers, Ed and I stepped off of the bus and paused at the front gates. We were both dressed identically, from shoes to shirts, and even our thick winter coats happened to be black.
“How are you feeling?” Ed whispered.
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
Our book bags on our backs, and shopping bags in our hands, we walked side by side through the campus. Our goal was to meet our line brothers in the smaller of our two cafeterias and have lunch together before we split up for class.
As we walked through the diagonal red brick path toward the heart of campus, my heartbeat sped up. Dozens of white kids passed us by, without so much as a second look. It could have been that our stoic faces disturbed them, but it was also highly likely that they did not notice us. We willed ourselves to be invisible so that we would not be forced to ignore our friends.
I noticed that our pace was quicker than it would have been had we not been pledges. Only about a minute had passed, and we were already walking through The Square, the symbolic center of campus as well as the busiest place at midday. We were nearly through The Square when someone called out for Ed.
“Ayo, Ed!” the male voice called. I resisted the urge to turn to Ed, and we walked on.
“Ed!” the man called again. We continued to walk, not daring to break social probation. The sharp voice cut through the winter air like a blade, for as busy as it was, The Square was still relatively quiet. I could sense Ed tensing up, but we walked on.
“Hey Ed, I know you hear me!”
I prayed that whoever was calling Ed would not try to confront him right there in front of everyone. It just would not do to have an argument in the middle of campus on our first real day of pledging.
We stepped up our pace and finally were clear from the center of campus. We only had two more buildings to pass before we reached the cafeteria. There were more people of color walking on this side of campus, but fortunately, we did not know most of them. Several smiled or nodded, which we could handle with a small smirk or nod back.
Every now and then, I touched my collar to make sure my pledge pin was still there. The golden disc with the burgundy letter P was smaller than a dime, and we all were paranoid about losing them since we had to wear them at all times.
We reached the cafeteria and got in the longish line to have our identification cards swiped through the card reader so that we could eat. Ed and I surveyed the dining area and saw Calen and Micah already seated at a square table near the rear of the room. We made eye contact with each other, and they rose to begin getting their food.
Kathy, the middle-aged lady who swiped the cards took one look at me and Ed and knew our story.
“Oh my God!” She quietly exclaimed as she held my card in her hand. “Y’all are pledging, too?”
She smiled as we looked at each other, unsure of what to do.
“Well, babies,” she began. “I know y’all can’t talk to me, but don’t worry about it. You just do your thing. It’ll all be over soon enough.”
We couldn’t help but to smile at Kathy, as she was the first person to really wish us good luck in the process.
“Yeah, babies,” she said as she swiped Ed’s card through the reader. “I seen a lot of young men – and ladies – be on line throughout the years. Y’all will be just fine.”
If you liked what you read and want to know what happens next, please purchase Lazarus today!
1) Where did you get the idea for the series of Lazarus, Covenant, & Epiphany?
2) Did it all come to you in one big idea? Or a little bit at a time, and that’s how it became 3 books. — Rico W.
The story of the Lazarus Trilogy began with a question: What would happen if the star basketball player got into a relationship with the most popular young man on campus?
That idea became a play that I wrote in 2000 called Behind Closed Doors, and later named Discretion. It was the story of a slightly different (yet familiar) Adrian Collins who was living with a basketball player named Isaiah, while dealing with mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from having been hazed and literally beaten off line from Beta Chi Phi. (Although he was still initiated into the fraternity, he was viewed as an outcast for being gay.)
In the midst of this story, he falls in love with Isaiah and deals with his ex-boyfriend Carlos, who he lost while pledging.
When the play was finished, I tried to stage a reading, but only my friends Maya (RIP) and Amerie showed up to help out. On top of that, my mentor at the time, Dennis Williams, said the play was good, but he wanted to know more about Carlos the ex-boyfriend and about the pledging process.
So I made the decision in 2000 to rework this story as a novel, beginning with the fraternity story and saving the love story for a subsequent novel if I still felt like it. I also decided to postpone writing it until after I finished undergrad. Incidentally, it was also during this time that my “black vampire” idea was born.
In fall 2001, I began writing the novel called Lazarus. President’s Day Weekend 2002, it was complete. I published it in 2005.
Of course, Carlos became Savion and Isaiah only made cameo appearances in Lazarus, so Covenant still had to be written. It was completed in 2007 and published in 2011. That novel was quick and easy to write because I already knew how it would turn out.
While writing Covenant, I had ideas for two more novels. In the end, there were to be four novels, more or less mirroring the four years of college. If you have read Epiphany, imagine the first two-thirds being novel #3, and the last third being novel #4, plus a story line about Adrian becoming the Dean of the line during his senior year. But I decided that I was done writing about the fraternity experience. While interesting to me, I don’t think most people would care about Sigma Chapter anymore after one novel about Adrian’s experience on Uprising and another about his experiences bringing in the Phantoms.
Oh hell, while we’re here, I might as well tell you about what was going to happen on the next line. So Calen was going to get elected Dean of Pledges, then he was going to have a terrible car accident and have to take a semester off school to recover. The chapter was going to recruit six guys:
Morris Jordan from Potomac was going to be the Ace. As you know, he had a previous history with Adrian. As the Dean, Adrian felt it might not be appropriate for Morris to make the line, given their past, but the chapter liked him so Adrian was outvoted. After he gets a little….shall we say “sassy” with Adrian, he is given the line name “Cruel Intentions.”
Kyle Sykes, a business student from Rock Creek, was the deuce. All I know about him is that his personal motto was “greed is good” which landed him the line name “Monopoly.”
Justin Wilson and Jason Wilson were twins attending Potomac. My notes on them indicate that they were always nervous so the chapter named them “Paralysis” and “Aphasia.”
The number five was Leon Rogers, a theology student from Rock Creek who is named “Holy Terror” because he turns out to be a homophobe that can’t seem to respect his Dean.
Finally, the number six is Shane O’Neil from Potomac. Everyone seems to think he a guitar-playing, stoner white boy, but he is actually biracial and struggling to find himself through the fraternity. Because he is so unique, and some would say strange, he is given the line name “Xenogenesis,” which is not only the prior name of Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series, but it literally means “the supposed generation of offspring completely and permanently different from the parent.”
Needless to say, a lot was going on with this line, which Adrian named “Crucial Conflicts.” But in the end, I decided to make Mohammed their Dean to allow Adrian the chance to focus on his national position that he gained at the end of Epiphany and to provide a way for Mohammed to gain the respect of the chapter. And I didn’t think those things needed to happen “on-page” for them to be believable.
So that’s how Epiphany was written the way it was, with that “extra third” at the end which seemed like a separate story altogether. At the end, three college novels was enough, and if I was going to continue to write about these beloved characters, they’d have to be young adults removed from the college campus.