Carleen's debut novel Orange Mint and Honey (2008, Random House) — an Essence “Recommended Read” and a Target “Bookmarked Breakout Book” — was optioned for a movie by Lifetime Television. For this novel, she received the Breakout Author of the Year Award from the African American Literary Awards Show and the First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
Shay Dixon, evicted and about to flunk out of grad school, has no choice but to go back to Denver. There, she’s shocked to find her mother, Nona, is now sober, raising a pre-schooler, and growing an amazing garden. What else will take root and blossom in Nona’s garden? Orange Mint and Honey is a haunting, exquisitely written story about mothers and daughters—and the power of healing and forgiveness.
http://www.pajamagardener.blogspot.com/ (Where Carleen blogs about writing & gardening & stuff)
http://www.welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.com/ (Where Carleen promotes black authors to a diverse readership)
Excerpt from ORANGE MINT and HONEY
I should have known things were getting bad when Nina Simone showed up. Don't get me wrong. I love Nina. I've been listening to her since History of Jazz sophomore year. The professor taught us to worship the great men of jazz, but it was the women who drew me in: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey. They were queens, priestesses, goddesses—encouraging me, pointing me away from danger, schooling me in the ways of life. Especially Nina Simone.
I listened to Nina Simone a thousand times, and I always got something from her music. But the night she came to me for the first time she must have known I needed more than a song could offer. I knew a famous singer, and a dead one at that, shouldn't have been in my bedroom, but somehow I wasn't surprised to see her because I had been wishing she were there. Wishing she would tell me what to do.
Usually when I was down I could keep going. But this time I bumped up against something that I couldn't get over, a wall as hard and cold and impossible to see through as frosted glass. I had lost my job writing grant proposals for an indigent-care clinic, stopped going to class, and received an eviction notice from my landlord. But still all I could do was listen to music, hanging on to the life preserver of Nina Simone's eerie, regal voice.
That night, I was listening to the fast version of “House of the Rising Sun.” It’s a live recording, seven minutes long. Nina gets so into it, you can’t make out what she’s singing. Behind her, the band chants “rising sun,” “rising sun” over and over, and the audience claps to the fast beat. The piano, the clapping hands, and tambourine sound like church and juke joints, like sweat and heat, free and alive. I started dancing. I hadn’t had the energy to get out of my pajamas for a week, but “House of the Rising Sun” had me shaking my head back and forth, twirling in circles, and pumping my arms and legs up and down like I was performing a tribal ritual, like I was one of Alvin Ailey’s dancers. I danced through the song three times until all thoughts of jobs and grad school and unpaid bills were erased from my mind and I could sleep.
At 3:33 a.m. I opened my eyes and Nina Simone was there, as if I had conjured her, standing in front of my bedroom window, blue moonlight spotlighting her features — thick lips, proud nose, slanted eyes rimmed in kohl like Cleopatra’s. I had been asking myself for days WWNSD (What would Nina Simone do?) and now she had come to tell me. I didn’t know if she was a ghost or a hallucination, and I didn’t care. Eyes wide, heart thumping like the speakers in the car of a teenaged boy, I sat up and waited for Nina Simone to say something wise, to tell me how to fix the mess I’d made of my life, to comfort me, and convince me that I had inside me everything I needed to move forward.
“You’ve really screwed up now,” she said.
Please answer the following question for a chance to win a free copy of ORANGE MINT and HONEY. And be sure to drop by and wave hello!!
If Carleen could conjure up a famous actor to stand beside her bedroom window, who would it be?