Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Me At The Crossroads For A Book And Music Giveaway

I'm hosting a giveaway of a copy of my novel and some great Blues music, but first the story behind it all.

This year is the centennial celebration of the legendary Blues musician Robert Johnson birth. Robert Leroy Johnson was born in Hazelhurst Mississippi on May 8, 1911 and for Blues scholars and fans alike, his life and death are a fascinating blend of folklore, myth and legend. Perhaps the most pervasive story about Robert Johnson is that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for extraordinary prowess with the guitar. According to legend, Johnson had a burning desire to become a great Blues musician and was "instructed" to take his guitar to a crossroads at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (supposedly the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The black man played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. According to some, this was in effect, a Faustian bargain, where in exchange for his soul; Robert Johnson was given the ability by Satan to create the Blues for which he became famous.

Now, when I was a kid, I always wondered about this legend. Why did it have to be Satan that he met? Better yet, why was the Devil a black man? It was only later as I began to do more research on the subject of African cultural retention in the United States for my Masters degree did I begin to understand that it wasn't the Devil that made Robert Johnson do anything.

Aside from the fact that it was another singer named Tommy Johnson and not Robert Johnson, who actually made the claim that he sold his soul, references to the Devil do fill Robert Johnson’s lyrics as well as those of many other Blues songs. However, the Devil in these songs may not only refer to the Christian story of Satan. More than ample evidence of African religious retentions surrounding the African Orisha Legba exists in the United States. Legba is considered the god of the crossroads and of the paths of man. A trickster, his role is to teach humility and thankfulness by testing humans.

So, when African-Americans born in the 19th or early-20th century said that they or anyone else had "sold their soul to the devil," they may have had very a different understanding of who the large black man standing at the crossroads was. Legba, as a guardian of the crossroads could also bestow powers and extraordinary gifts of talent on those who came to petition him on moonless midnights at the intersection of two roads.

It is this more African take on the Robert Johnson crossroads legend that I weave through out my novel Act of Grace. Oba, the tall big black man , Grace Johnson encounters at a Jazz and Blues festival, bestows on her a powerful and frightening message about her future. Grace suspects that Oba may be imaginary, or worse, evil. It is only later in a conversation with her great grandmother, Nana Grace that she finds out who he really is:

“He is a teacher, a guide, an opener of the way. In ancient Greece, he was the
god Hermes; in ancient Rome, he was the god Mercury. In Africa, he could be
called Legbe, Ellegue, Elegbara or Eshu. You would know him best as the entity
bluesman Robert Johnson met at the cross road to bless his guitar. Now, in this
time and place he calls himself Oba."


A copy of my novel: Act of Grace

A copy of the CD
: 100 Years of Robert Johnson by Big Head Blues Club and Big Head Todd & the Monsters

This record is a tribute to the late Robert Johnson to celebrate his centennial and is produced by Grammy winning producer Chris Goldsmith. The guest musicians include such great guest musicians as BB King, Hubert Sumlin, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster, Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm.

How to Enter:

Leave a comment, question or the name of your favorite blues singer in the comment section of this post or like my facebook page Karen's Jazz Kitchen and leave a comment by midnight October 8th EDT to be entered into a drawing for either the book or the music. Please state in your post whether you want the CD or the book. One person for each item will be chosen randomly using

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Book Grows in Michigan

I went to my favorite independent bookstore the other night and found my novel Act of Grace nestled next to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The 14 year old girl that still lives inside me was in giggly open mouth awe as I took this picture. Betty Smith's novel was one of my absolute favorites when I was a teenager. I still have my food stained, yellow paged, dogeared copy. I remember dreaming of being an author as I read it over and over again. Never thought I would get to sit on the shelf next to my hero but book dreams can come true.

Next week I'll be hosting a give away of my novel and a CD of the blues music that helped inspire my character, Grace Johnson . Stay tuned for details !

Monday, September 5, 2011


One of my favorite writing quote is by the poet Sharon Doubiago. Sharon was was once my mentor for a writing program called Split Rock. Sharon was a gentel but sometimes hard taskmaster. She could spread praise like jam on warm bread, but man, she would lean into my writing like no one else. Chastising me when she knew I was pulling my punches, telling me off when my love of metaphors threatened to strangle my work. I always knew the worse was coming when she would start an edit line with "Ms. Simpson, really you know better. "

I love how she describes a successful work of literature:

A successful work of literature is one that fuses spirit and craft equally, has
linguistic, emotional, psychological, intellectual, philosophical, aesthetic
integrity, involves the full self of the writer, is more honest than clever, is
not primarily an artifice, is not primarily from a program or formula, is not
primarily for selfish gain in the world, brings pleasure which usually has to do
with recognition, is more from generosity than hate (the exploration and
highlighting of hate being part of the task, but as Wallace Stevens says “Love
tips the scales”), is somehow a contribution to human survival (the writer’s as
well as for all); is the best that it can be. Is soul work.

Some writers are born gifted in language. Their hurdle is glibness. Some writers stutter and stammer to the end; their hurdle is in saying it. A successful work of literature fuses the poles of muteness and the gods speaking."

I know I lean toward glibness. How does your writing roll?