Thursday, February 21, 2013

What If Carrie Bradshaw Wrote a Murder Mystery?


I’m not usually a fan of murder mystery novels. And I hope that doesn’t make me sound like a book snob. I’m certainly not one. You can find The Carrie Diaries series on my bookshelf right now.

But I like reading fluffy fiction about Carrie Bradshaw for the same reason I enjoy heavy classics like Toni Morison’s The Bluest Eye and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: I am a sucker for well-developed and relatable characters.  And these are hard to find in most mystery novels.

Nevertheless, over the Christmas holidays I read Billie Thomas’ Murder on the First Day of Christmas and I’m sure glad I did.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, the novel follows Chloe Carstairs and her mother Amanda, two decorators who find themselves in the middle of a homicide investigation after two of their clients are killed. Chloe and her mom soon become amateur sleuths determined to crack the case and complete hilarity ensues.

You may remember that I interviewed Thomas in December shortly after the book was made available on Kindle. I’m happy to announce that Murder on the First Day of Christmas is now available in paperback.

Whether you like murder mysteries or not, you should give this novel a try largely because of the charismatic main characters.  

You will immediately love Chloe Carstairs because she’ll remind you of your best friend, or yourself, or both. Like many of us, she’s a 30-something gal struggling to navigate her personal and professional lives and having many hilarious and humbling encounters along the way.

But it’s Chloe’s relationship with her mom that really got me hooked. Their mother-daughter banter will have you laughing out loud, while the obvious love they have for each other will have you picking up the phone to call your parents just to say “hi.”

Thomas does a great job of unraveling the mystery as well and soon you will have put on your detective hat too, trying to figure out who done it along with Chloe and Amanda.

Of course, I enjoyed all the references to Birmingham and I hope non-natives will read it and realize there’s more to Birmingham than they once believed.

Overall, I just love how cleverly this story is put together. Even the funny little anecdotes told throughout narrative come to serve a purpose in the end, showing you just how talented Thomas really is.

Cross-posted at The Writeous Babe Project

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Blogger's Guide to Birmingham Fashion Week 2013




Birmingham Fashion Week 2013 kicks off Saturday, Feb. 23, and if you’re a fashion blogger you know this is an event you shouldn’t miss.

Unfortunately, however, you did miss the Feb. 15 deadline to apply for a media pass and you simply can’t afford to buy tickets for every BFW event.

But all hope is not lost. You can still feature Birmingham Fashion Week on your blog without breaking the bank.

The Birmingham Fashion Week kick-off party is free so make plans to be at Gus Mayer on Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. BFW models will be live modeling in display windows while the community rocks out with DJ Coco.

If you only attend one other event it should be the Finale Runway show set for Saturday, March 2.

This event will feature a showing of the 2013 spring collection by Tibi, an internationally renowned brand designed by Amy Smilovic.

"This designer typically only shows on stages like the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week so it is an honor for Alabama to be able to host such a label," says Kimberlee Brooks, spokesperson for BFW.

Also, the winners from the Rising Design Star, Emerging Designers and Fresh Face of Fashion competitions will be announced on Saturday too. Thus this event could give you good material for a feature on the future of fashion.

For the Rising Design Star competition middle and high school students were challenged to create a garment using only non-traditional materials such as bubble wrap, trash bags, computer keyboard parts, coffee filters, bottle tops, etc. The top 30 are chosen to compete at BFW. For the Emerging Designers Competition college and post-grad students had to design and create four garments the top 16 will be chosen to showcase their items on stage. The Fresh Face of Fashion competition is a competition for the official BFW models, who are judged throughout the week by industry professionals. The winner receives a grand prize of $3500 worth of cash and prizes and the title of the Fresh Face of Fashion.

"If bloggers can go to more than one night, both Thursday and Friday's runway shows will also be thrilling to watch," Brooks says.

Jeff Garner’s sustainable, organic label Prophetik will headline Thursday’s show. This current collection "The Princess Grace Tribute Collection" was debuted in Monaco and was even on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, proving that fashion truly is an art form.

On Friday, Anthony Ryan Auld, who recently won Project Runway All-Star Season 2, will showcase his fashion-forward yet wearable women's clothing line.

Rising Design Stars and Emerging Designers will also showcase their talents both Thursday and Friday night. 

For next year’s Birmingham Fashion Week be sure to apply for your media pass in January. And don’t feel like you can’t apply for one just because you don’t work for a magazine or newspaper.

“We grant many bloggers media passes, even if they are not associated with a mainstream media outlet,” Brooks says. “The most important thing is the kind of base and following the blogger has built. We enjoy working with writers from all backgrounds and reader demographics!”

The organizers of BFW do want to know how many Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and readers you have, so get those media kits ready.

Doing a good job covering this year’s event will also increase your chances of scoring a pass next year.

“Live social media coverage and follow-up posts are key for us,” Brooks says.

For a complete schedule of events and to order tickets visit the Birmingham Fashion Week website.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Life Is But a Dream



There's often chatter on some of my favorite blogs about whether superstar Beyonce is or isn't a feminist. Her girl power anthems, all-female band and determination to be independent lead some to say that Bey is absolutely a feminist. But some look to her sexy persona and performances and say she's a pawn to the male gaze. Some folks even complain about her decision to name her upcoming tour "The Mrs. Carter Show."

Despite the fact that I've been waving the flag of feminism for years, I actually don't care whether or not Beyonce has the label of "feminist." She continues to inspire me regardless. 

I had no intentions of writing about her HBO documentary, Life Is But a Dream, that debuted tonight. But when I found myself scribbling down notes throughout the program, I knew a blog post was about to be born. 

Believe it or not, sometimes I do have reservations about calling myself a feminist, but not because of the negative connotations and terrible misconceptions people have about what being a feminist means. Sometimes I feel as if feminism doesn't fully describe my politics, my life mission or my love for and devotion to women. Feminism is simply a belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. But my desire to improve the lives of women and help them express themselves is about so much more than equality. It's about sisterhood.

In the documentary Beyonce describes how much her love for women influences her work. She says, "I'm always thinking about women and what we need to hear." And with those words she describes exactly why I blog and why I started See Jane Write. 

Beyonce goes on to talk about how important it is for women to have conversations with other women and how much she grows from those heartfelt discussions. I feel the same way, which is why I want to build community here on this blog and offline through See Jane Write networking events. 

Life Is But a Dream is a compelling documentary because it reminds viewers that Beyonce is human. Yes, her life is acutely different from ours, but she still has insecurities and heartache, hopes and dreams. She's a woman of faith. And when she's talking about her husband you see she's still a girl in love with a boy, and suddenly the fact that she's calling her new tour the Mrs. Carter Show makes you smile.

But obviously it's when Beyonce talks about her concern for women that she makes my feminist heart flutter. In the documentary during a segment on her Billboard Music Awards performance of "Run the World (Girls)"  she says: 

It really pisses me off that women don't get the same opportunities as men do or money for that matter because let's face it: money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what's sexy and what's feminine. And that's bullshit. At the end of the day it's not about equal rights it's about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead and reach as high as humanly possible. That's what I'm going to do, that's my philosophy and that's what "Girls" is all about. 

Yes. This. 

I love that she puts the ball in our court. If you see an injustice or disparity around you, do something about it! It's time out for whining about men or "the Man" holding us down. It's time that we take control of our careers and our creativity. 

It's time to take control of your life so it can finally look just like the one you live in your dreams. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Letter to WBHM, Birmingham's NPR Station

Ghetto Blaster
Image by Stephen Barnett via Flickr/Creative Commons

"I think I'm in love with my radio
Cause it never lets me down
And I fall in love with my stereo
Whenever I hear that sound"
- "Radio" by Beyonce


Dear WBHM,

When I was a teenager I believed no one could love me like my radio.

It was always there for me. I listened to the radio while getting ready for and riding to school each morning. My radio made evening homework sessions go by faster and every night my radio sang me to sleep.

I still have fond memories of calling my favorite DJ to request my favorite song and then waiting by the radio with a blank cassette in the tape deck so I could record the highly anticipated track.

R&B ballads by the likes of Mariah Carey gave me fuel for all the sad, angst-filled love poems I wrote  back then. And the anthems sang by girl groups like TLC stirred within me a sense of self-pride that would eventually blossom into my feminism.

Then one day everything changed. Radio and I grew apart.

I could try to blame it all on mainstream music.  I could say rap music became too sexist and senseless and that pop and R&B became too trite. But, truthfully, I'm the one who changed. My favorite artists became folks like Ani DiFranco, musicians who don't get mainstream radio airplay.  And most club bangers started to give me a headache.

So I turned off my radio.

Then you came along.

I admit that in the past I was never a huge NPR fan because I felt the radio was supposed to be a source of escape and entertainment. As I grew older I started tuning in to NPR for updates on major news events, but was still far from a loyal listener.

But when I moved back to my hometown of Birmingham I decided to give you a chance. You impressed with your programming and with events like I quickly got hooked on station's programming and was impressed by events like Issues & Ales.

Radio and I began to rekindle the flame, and I owe it all to you.

I am a fan of good music for the same reason that I am a writer -- I love stories. And you are always there telling me an intriguing tale whether it's about life for children in Palestine or the story of a gay man being reunited with his siblings after being cast out the family by his ultra conservative father. Just last week I learned about the evolution of hand dryers. You're so awesome that you can make hand dryers interesting! And two weeks ago, thanks to you, I began my day with an inspiring interview with Sonia Sotomayor.

Because of you I am more informed, more empathetic, and more motivated.

What I'm trying to say is you make me a better person.

And I can't get enough of you.

I've become one of those people who are almost late for work because they're sitting in the parking lot in their cars enraptured by an NPR feature report. Every weekend I look forward to listening to the word game Says You.

And you don't forgot that I love music too. If it weren't for you I would have never learned about the artist Kendra Morris, whose album Banshee was one of my favorite releases of 2012.

I am so happy we're taking our relationship to a new level and making things official now that  I've signed on to be the Race & Diversity blogger for your website.

And today is Valentine's Day, so let's celebrate and dance to our song.



A version of this post originally appeared on The Writeous Babe Project.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

22 Reasons Women Writers Should Love Birmingham

Birmingham's skyline from it's highest point
Image by Andre Natta via Flickr/Creative Commons

Monday morning I received an email that made my day. Actually, it made my week.

The message was from a young woman who is a senior at Harvard University interested in journalism. She contacted me because after she graduates she wants to move to... wait for it... Birmingham!

She came across my name and contact information via the See Jane Write blog and said that she's eager to get involved in See Jane Write once she moves to the Magic City.

The fact that a student at Harvard (who's originally from the D.C. area) wants to move to Birmingham may come to a shock to some, but not to me. This young woman has figured out something that, unfortunately, took me three decades to learn -- Birmingham is a good place for writers.

This month's issue of Birmingham Magazine features a list of 22 reasons to love the city. This list, along with the aforementioned email, inspired me to create a list of my own -- 22 reasons women writers should love Birmingham.

Read on to see if your favorite things about Birmingham made this list.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Alabama Media Professionals & See Jane Write Birmingham -- The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship




Guest Post by Jeanie McLean, vice president of Alabama Media Professionals

It’s good to have friends. That’s what I thought when I found See Jane Write while scouting like-minded writing groups in my role as program VP for Alabama Media Professionals. Although some of Birmingham’s writers’ groups seem to have withered with the journalism job market, See Jane Write – like AMP – continues to thrive.

That intrigued me. So I contacted Javacia to see how our groups might connect. She promised to speak to AMP during her summer sabbatical. She also kindly offered me this guest post. Although our groups are different, we have some commonalities. See Jane Write offers a platform for writers, especially those striving to master the blogging arts. AMP takes a somewhat broader approach, as our professionals work in both traditional and new media.

Our leadership thinks there may be ways we could explore mutual interests and share strengths. We’d like to hear your partnering ideas – maybe a project, program or party.

To start you thinking, here’s some information about Alabama Media Professionals – who we are and what we do to help members develop their careers.

  • Our typical monthly meetings are the second Thursday of each month at 11:30 a.m. at the Homewood  Public Library. Occasionally we have special events at other times. Our members attend for free. Guests must pay $5.00 per meeting, but may apply the fee toward membership dues, should they decide to join.
  • Our focus is professional development. AMP is the local chapter of the National Federation of Press Women (our membership includes men, too). We enlist highly-qualified speakers for meetings and workshops.
  • We enjoy networking. AMP includes a diverse network of colleagues (PR representatives, broadcasters, freelance journalists, corporate writers, bloggers, etc.) throughout Alabama.
  • We maintain an AMP Website providing meeting information/activities. It includes a public listing of members’ professional profiles, which has resulted in job leads and assignments.


Want to learn more, or connect with us? Visit our website at alabamamediaprofessionals.com, email me at jeanmclean2000@yahoo.com, or visit a meeting. Our next meeting is this Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the Homewood Public Library and will feature Greg Powell, president and CEO of Birmingham-based  fi-Plan Partners. Just in time for tax season, he'll be sharing some financial insights for the self-employed.  

Let us know if you have ideas on how AMP and See Jane Write can complement each other.

After all, it’s good to have friends.