Excerpted from Black Coffee by Tracy Price-Thompson. Copyright © 2002 by Tracy Price-Thompson. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation with Tracy Price-Thompson, Author of Black Coffee
Q: Sanderella has such a wonderful and strong family in Black Coffee. Can you tell us more about that?
A: During periods of great hardship it is often the intimacy of family and the coping skills we garner from our upbringing that sustain us through the rough seas of our lives. In Black Coffee, I decided to portray a capable black woman who was obviously raised in a stable, loving environment surrounded by people who edified and encouraged her, but who was in no way exempt from the tribulations of life and the sorrows of failed relationships. As writers, we often rush to attribute the faults of our characters to some sort of dysfunction in their childhoods, but in Sandie’s case I wanted the reader to become familiar with a flawed but dynamic character whose trying experiences were due not to being reared in an inferior environment but, like a lot of women, to her own inability to make wise, mature choices in love relationships. In order to properly portray Sandie’s strength and fortitude during her periods of crisis, I felt it necessary to show the relationship between her familial interactions and her ability to cope with life on its own terms.
Q: Were you ever in the military?
A: Yes, I began my military career as a Transportation Coordinator, MOS specialty 88N, and after ten years of traveling and deploying, I applied to and was accepted into Army Officer Candidate School. I was subsequently rebranched into the Engineer Corps, and served there until my retirement.
Q: How much does Sanderella reflect your own personality? Is there a Rom in your life?
A: I get asked this question so often that it amazes me! Sanderella is actually a prototype of several women I had the pleasure of serving with. She has the spunk and sister-girl grit of a female drill sergeant I once worked with. She has the bad luck with relationships of a close friend who was an expert on rappelling out of aircrafts, but kept landing flat on her face when it came to spotting Mr. Right. She got her self-confidence and determination from a young private I once trained, who, no matter how many times she got hit with a brick, jumped right back up and rolled with the punches. And, of course, she got her coping skills and military expertise from me! Quite often women want to know if I have a Romulus and where they can find one for themselves, but unfortunately I have to tell them, “Sorry, ladies! I made him up!”
Q: What made you write this book?
A: While most readers know of someone who is either serving or who has served in the military, seldom are the unique challenges and triumphs of African-American soldiers portrayed in commercial fiction. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines live and operate under constraints and within parameters that the average citizen may never fathom. After serving honorably and bearing witness to the boxes African-American service members must often force themselves to fit into, I decided to pay homage and tribute to my boot-wearing sisters and brothers. I wrote Black Coffee not only to give voice to the minority soldier, but also to examine, through literature, some of the realities and complexities of African-American military life, and in particular, the constraints and boundaries placed on military love.
Q: Describe your writing process.
A: I do my best writing late at night or in the predawn hours of the morning. With so many children going in several different directions in our home, the atmosphere is usually pretty chaotic. I find myself mentally outlining plot sequences and practicing dialogue when in the shower or while shopping for groceries, then I have to rush back home to jot down notes. But my actual writing is done after my household has settled down. I require a peaceful spirit and minimal distractions to think creatively, so I usually have to sacrifice my sleep if I want my muse to take over.
Q: Which authors have influenced you?
A: Oh, I have been influenced by several authors. I come from a family of readers and grew up in a home filled with books. My parents never restricted my reading materials; instead, they encouraged me to read as broadly as possible and to choose from a variety of genres. As a result, I am one of those strange readers who can read and find enjoyment in almost any type of book, but I must say I have been most influenced by awesome writers like Gloria Naylor, Pearl Cleage, Marita Golden, James Baldwin, Stephen King, Robert McCammeron, Maya Angelou, Jewell Parker Rhodes, J. California Cooper, Richard Wright, Sonya Sanchez, Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, Sandra Jackson Opoku, and newcomer Bernice McFadden.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: Oftentimes the issues of intraracial prejudice between people of color are understated and minimized in contemporary fiction. While minorities may share common experiences, neighborhoods, and resources, the lines of demarcation can be quite distinct when it comes to matters of the heart. My next novel, Chocolate Sangria, explores the hearts of two lovers caught between the great cultural divide and the tribulations they face when lies are told, secrets are revealed, and black and Hispanic love spills across racial boundaries.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
1. Many people seem captivated and enthralled by men and women in uniform. What intrigued you about a romance in a military setting? What do you think about the amount of control the military has over someone’s personal life? Could you operate comfortably in such an environment?
2. In the novel, Sandie came from a close-knit, loving family with strong ties. How did this help shape her character and bolster her ability to cope when times got rough? What do you think about the way the military forces its members to travel to far corners of the world, out of the immediate reach of their loved ones? How do you think she felt about leaving her children behind for extended periods of time while deploying to remote areas?
3. Based on your own experiences, how much could you identify with Sandie’s choices in men? How does Sandie compare to you and the women you know in regard to how she handled her responsibilities to her children, her job, her family, and her love life? Do most women, much like Sandie, look for love, but often in the wrong places?
4. What do you think of a woman who has it all together professionally, but seems to have less success in her personal life? Does our society force women to choose between having a great career and being a good mother and a good mate?
5. Sandie was devastated when she learned of her sister’s HIV status. Have you ever encountered a situation where someone you loved was diagnosed with an illness with a heavy social stigma attached, such as HIV? How do you think experiences like this change a person? How did it affect Sandie? What was Ladelle’s reaction to her illness?
6. In the beginning of their relationship, Rom seemed to be the answer to Sandie’s dreams. There was little doubt in her mind that he truly loved her. How did you feel about the fact that Sandie entered into a relationship with Rom while he was still married? Did she fall for him too readily? Or did she fight a good fight?
7. Despite the fact that Sandie did not want to have any more children, she stopped taking her birth control pills at Rom’s suggestion. What do you think of her decision to follow his advice? What do you think of her decision to carry her pregnancy to term and to keep her babies?
8. Rom fancied himself a king. How much of Rom’s inner conflict do you feel was a result of his father’s leaving the family during his childhood? Did this have a direct bearing on the way Rom felt about leaving his own sons? How do you feel about the fact that Romulus pursued a relationship with Sandie while he was still married to Lou? Was his personal misery and desire for true love enough justification for leaving his wife and children?
9. Since it was Rom’s idea for Sandie to stop taking the Pill, what do you think of his negative reaction when he discovered she was pregnant with his child? How did you feel when he blamed Sandie for his not being with his sons?
10. Is Rom a dog? Or is he simply a nice guy with conflict and issues? What about him appeals to you? Is there anything about him that makes you uncomfortable? What was your gut reaction when he called Sandie a bitch?
11. How do you think Sandie’s accident reinforced Rom’s feelings toward her and their children? Do you think he’d already realized the error of his ways before she was hit? Or was seeing her body crushed beneath the Jeep the true catalyst for his change?
12. How did you feel about Sandie’s relationship with her mother and two sisters? What about her friendships with Sparkle and Charmel? Do you think women tend to nurture and support one another through rough times as fully as these women supported Sandie? Are there women in your life who will stick by you through thick and thin?
13. Sandie enjoyed a very close relationship with her father. Do most women use their fathers as measuring sticks for the men in their lives? Did Sandie expect Rom to love her children as fully and unreservedly as her own father loved her half siblings? If you were a single mother, how would you have reacted if a man shouted to you, “Those are NOT my kids!”
14. Why do you think Sandie agreed to marry Rom at the end of the story? Was Ladelle right in her assessment of the growing single-parent crisis for black families in America? Do you think Sandie should have hoisted a “strong black woman” flag and raised her five children alone? Do we all have issues and enter into relationships with baggage from previous loves? What is the role of forgiveness in building and maintaining a strong, realistic black family? Does this story prove that true love conquers all?