Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guest author Carleen Brice: When to Heed the Devil

Carleen Brice’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, was an Essence “Recommended Read” and a Target “Bookmarked Breakout Book.” For this book, she won the 2009 First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the 2008 Break Out Author Award at the African American Literary Awards Show. Orange Mint and Honey was optioned by Lifetime Movie Network. Her second novel, Children of the Waters (One World/Ballantine), a book about race, love and family, just came out at the end of June. Booklist Online called it “a compelling read, difficult to put down.” Essence says, “Brice has a new hit.”

All writers hear voices.

The voice that tells you you’re no good as a writer and you’ll never be any good is not the devil. It’s your mother, your father or your ex. You know it’s not the devil because you can easily vanquish this voice. If you write every day, your mother, your father or your ex will one day say, “hmm,” and start in on how you need a haircut or point out how many calories are in the muffin you just ate. No, the devil is slicker than that. And he’s not out to hurt your feelings. He wants to confuse you because confusion will keep you from achieving your goal. So the devil says things like “hey, that’s good, but you know what would be better?” After you’re halfway through your story, the devil tells you to try third person instead of first, and to rename all your characters after Greek gods and goddesses because the symbolism will heighten the drama.

This is going to shock you, but I’m here to say: listen to the devil. Remember, he’s a fallen angel. He’s been to heaven and he’s seen things. People in workshops and writing teachers are tools of the devil. Through them, the devil might tell you that your story doesn’t really start cooking until page 189 and that it’s really dumb to name your hero and heroine Charles and Diana, or, that while your characters are all very interesting and the settings are all very vivid, nobody ever does anything and nothing ever happens.

Now, God’s voice will surprise you. All She will say is “baby, knock your bad self out. Can’t wait to read it, but right now I gotta go.” (God wrote the rules of grammar so She can break them). God has important things to deal with: trouble in the Middle East, famine and war in Africa, sickness and fear all over the world, and on any given day at least 5 million American women are having a bad hair day.

Also, God has complete and total faith in your abilities. God doesn’t sweat the particulars. Doesn’t need to see draft after draft after draft. Lord knows: you can figure it out. You’ll be just fine. You won’t hear the voice of God again for a while.

So, listen to the devil with an open mind, but then kick the devil to the curb. Sprinkle holy water, burn sage, light a candle, say a prayer. Do whatever you have to do to get on the good foot and say I rebuke thee Satan. And listen to yourself. Throw out half of what you learn in classes and on blogs such as this. Ignore this advice even, if it doesn’t work for you. (Or if the devil told you not to let anyone read your stuff, get a reader fast. Then throw out half of what he or she tells you). Make choices and stick with them. Finish.

Once you’ve sent the poem, essay, short story, play or novel for publication (whether it’s published or not), that’s when God will speak again. God, who taught Shakespeare the beauty of a plain line, will simply say “Told ya.”—Carleen Brice

Carleen's website: You can read an excerpt of Children of the Waters on the site.
Her blogs: and


Shelia said...

Carleen, how timely. This is what I got from reading your post today. Take a negative and turn it into a positive--use what you can to improve your story (regardless of who the messenger is) and disregard the rest.

Chick Lit Gurrl said...

LOVE this post!

Lafreya said...

This is so True.

Genella deGrey said...

Carleen - I LOVE this and totally needed to hear it right now!!
Thank you so much!

Carleen Brice said...

Glad my voices and I could help! :)

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you for being out guest, Carleen.

Those voices can create havoc if you let them. Still learning which to heed and which to ignore.

Farrah Rochon said...

Boy, am I happy I came back and read this! This is great, Carleen. So very, very true.