authors,  Books,  interviews,  writers,  writing,  writing life

Going Uptown & a giveaway!

Happy me, I have an author interview today on ye old blog and it’s one that’s close to my heart since it speaks to my Harlem roots.

I’m proud to welcome The New York Times Bestselling collaborative writing team of Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant here at Kwana Writes today to speak about their newest release UPTOWN. Whee!!! Insert bells, horns, whistles and marching band here.

First off a little blurb about UPTOWN:

A story as big as New York City itself. Enter the world of Uptown where you’ll find a prominent New York family strained to the breaking point by the high stakes Manhattan Real Estate Industry…….

After twenty years of Foreign Service abroad, Avery Lyons returns to New York when her mother and uncle suffer a serious car accident. The tragedy brings the family together, but Avery is not happy about reuniting with her cousin, Dwight, from whom she has been estranged since the fallout over a college scandal. Avery no longer recognizes the tony, prestigious neighborhood of her childhood but the same old family dynamics and secrets are all too familiar. ….

Heir to a real estate empire, Dwight is willing to do anything to realize his aging and demanding father’s dream: Dixon Plaza, a luxury high-rise development on Central Park North, the last undeveloped border of the city’s famed emerald park. There’s only one thing in his way: Avery has inherited a share of the property Dwight needs. She’s more than willing to sell until she starts dating a reporter on a mission to uncover the truth behind the rumored shady dealings surrounding the complex. ….

Are you intrigued? Are you in? Trust me the read is even better…

Now to Virginia and Donna… Thanks so much for being here.

What drew you to Harlem for the setting of UPTOWN?

Situated at the top of Manhattan, Harlem has been an iconic community and a cultural Mecca since the turn of the 20th century. We both also have connections to Harlem. Donna’s Mom was raised on 143rd Street. Even though the family had moved to Brooklyn by the time she was born, Donna remembers trips to Miss Helen’s beauty shop on 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Blvd) and her own forays to the Apollo, Sylvia’s and other spots during her college years.

In the early 80’s Virginia’s first NYC apartment was on 110th Street (now Central Park North) in one of the buildings “owned” by Uptown’s, The Dixon Group. We first get to know apartment 5D, and it’s glorious views of Central Park, in our book Better Than I Know Myself (where we gave Regina, Jewell and Carmen’s Virginia’s old apartment). So, when we decided to explore real estate development and gentrification, we realized we had already set the stage.

What is it about now that makes this the right time for this book? (As a New Yorker I think I know the answer to this one)

Real estate was the gold rush of the 2000’s. In so many parts of the country people were buying and flipping houses and apartments like they were pancakes, and luxury developments sprung up in neighborhoods that had never been in play. Harlem was one of those places where new development bumped up against a community with an established history and culture. The conflict allows us to pose questions about the rights of people who have enough money to pay for whatever they want, vs the rights of those who have a history in a particular area.

You have written such strong characters in UPTOWN. Can you talk a little about your character inspirations specifically for Avery, Dwight and the Larger than life, King?

Avery Lyons, like so many of us, carries a burden of hurt, anger and resentment for actions that have taken place in her past. And like many of us, she doesn’t realize how those feelings continue to impact her life. We wanted to force her into a corner, where she’d have no choice but to deal with them and see what happens.

Dwight Dixon, and his father, the overbearing and ornery King Dixon were characters from Better Than I Know Myself who caused “strong” reader reaction. They had one of the classic, co-dependent, love-hate, father-son relationships and we really get to explore that dynamic in Uptown. King started buying properties that no one else wanted in Harlem decades ago and has amassed a sizeable fortune as a result. King’s out-sized personality casts a giant shadow—one Dwight is tired of living in and he’s determined to create his own spotlight. 

How about some fun? If you could give UPTOWN a theme song what would it be? I’ll start, for some reason A Family Affair kept running though my mind. What about you both?

Let’s hear it for Sly Stone! We love that choice–Donna’s first concert adventure, when she was 14 was Sly & the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden, and Virginia first saw them at a “joint” in Buffalo called the Pine Grill for a cover charge that was about $3.00!! But that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

 First things that come to mind are Stevie Wonder’s Livin’ For the City, and Bill Withers Harlem–both very old school, but there’s a lot about the vibe that’s old school. And then we’ve got a remix–Take Grandmaster Flash’s The Message–“A huh huh, It makes me wonder sometimes, how I keep from going under.” Add a sample from The Jeffersons, Moving on Up, “Finally got a piece of the pie,” and add a new spin that looks at the world in 2010. Clearly, we have moved into some kind of hallucination here, but it’s interesting that people have associated Uptown with music. We have a friend, Valarie Adams, who is a singer/song writer. She has written an Uptown theme song–we hope to get it posted online shortly. Maybe that means there’s supposed to be a soundtrack. We like that idea since we now have a production company and are working to produce Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made–The Movie, so soundtracks are definitely part of the equation (Regina King is already attached. We’d love to keep your readers posted. They can join our mailing list on the website,, or keep up with us and for news. . .) 

Now for a little writerly/publishing talk. As a writing team I’m curious as to how you both make it work. I know I for one can reconcile things with myself (I know, issues) let alone another person. Does being best friends help? Ever put a strain on things?

Our friendship, which started while we were competition–during our time as plus size models at the same agency–has never been in question. If we never worked together, we would be friends who are more like sisters. Our working partnership has only enhanced our friendship. It means that whatever situation we are in, there is always one person in the room you trust without question. It also means that we can say whatever needs to be said to each other, knowing it comes from a place of love. As writing partners, we leave our egos at the door. What we strive to create is a single voice that combines our separate voices. That voice is The Author of our work and it’s vital that no one can tell what either of us has written–we can’t tell either. For as much as we are alike, we are very different, and we allow each of us to be ourselves. In fact, the differences keep our writing fresh. And did we say, we still have fun doing what we do? It’s the best scam–getting to work and travel with your best friend and still be able to call it work. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody.

Ok  I won’t. LOL. Now where do you see multi-cultural fiction heading in the future? Forward, backwards, stuck in neutral?

What we need, and currently find a struggle to realize, is the freedom to be individuals. We seem to be considered as a monolith–as though we speak with one voice and therefore there is only the need to tell one story. There is no single story of African Americans, as there is no single story for any group of people. But whether we write mystery, romance, thrillers, urban, historicals, erotica or contemporary fiction, we all fall in the same category, “African American Lit,” which describes our ethnicity, not the content of our writing.  Our work is labeled, categorized and handicapped, before it’s out of the gate, before it reaches the bookstore shelf or online link. What the two of us write is women’s fiction with Af-Am characters–stories of struggle and triumph, loss, coping, love, life, and learning, but many readers who might enjoy our work because the theme might be relevant to their lives (like What Doesn’t Kill You, our last book about a woman who loses her job after 25 yrs), don’t ever see it because it’s in “that” section. We wrote a blog about this subject a few years ago and repost it every year–because, sadly, it’s still relevant. (Nov 20 entry-Writing White. . There’s been a lot of conversation in online lit communities about diversity and multiculturalism—and we’ll have to see where it goes—if there are actual changes that take place. But as long as books like The Help and Little Bee, written about black folks, by non-black folks and time capsule novels about African Americans from slavery to pre-civil rights, stories that focus on our strife, struggle and resulting pathology are allowed the spotlight,  while wonderful works of fiction about our contemporary lives—black folks, dealing with the challenges and issues inherent in today’s American experience, languish, unnoticed; when writers like Celeste Ng, find themselves forever compared to Amy Tan,, a resolution to the multi-cultural lit issue will remain elusive. Chimamande Adichie said it wonderfully in her speech, The Danger of a Single Story, , at a recent TED conference.

 Finally, what can we look for next from you two?

We have worked out the plot for our next book, which again seeks to pair a currently hot topic with a personal story, and look forward to getting back to the writing cave to work with it. We also continue to work on our production of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, and support the producer who seeks to bring Far From the Tree to the screen.

Virginia & Donna

I have to say once again how honored I am to have had Virginia and Donna on the blog today. I’m so happy to have met them through the online community.

And YAY, Virginia and Donna have agreed to host a giveaway today. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of uptown. So comment away we’d love to know your thoughts on today’s post. Winner will be picked by midnight on Wednesday.

You can find Virginia and Donna at all these cool places. Go and say hi:




  • Sheryl

    Yea!!! I finally got your new site to show up under my favorites on my blog. Since you moved I’ve had some technical difficulties – the brain, the fingers….they were not playing well with each other. Maddie knew along how to do it and was getting anxious because I won’t listen to here and she was missing Jack.

    How is Jack and the rest of the family doing?

  • pve

    Wonderful interview. I am always inspired by the women around me collectively. What intrigue lies in the bonds of friendship. I want to read their books.
    Thanks for the give-away.

  • Maria Ferrer

    Ladies — you are absolutely correct. There is not just ONE African American experience just like there is not just ONE Latina experience. And yet publishers and marketeers continue to lump us by ethnicity. It’s enough to make you pull out your hair. But I like mine where it is so we’ll move on. I love the theme song selections. Any Sly & Family Stone is a great choice. And I love that your friendship has made you sisters and writing partners. Congratulations on your new book and the upcoming movie.

  • Marilyn Brant

    I think I’m chiming in too late for the drawing (it’s before midnight in Chicago, but not out in NY!), but I did want to say how much I enjoyed the interview and really appreciated reading Virginia and Donna’s thoughtful responses. Esp. interesting to hear about your collaboration on the project… Great Q&A, Kwana!!!

  • kwana

    Thanks to you Marilyn for your comment and trying to get in. It was tough for me to stay up. May have to change to the am for next contest and to consider time diff. LOL.

    Thanks to everyone to commented and congrats to the winner Lecia!

  • Hope Tarr

    Sounds like a fascinating read, ladies. Now that I’m a New Yorker (albeit by transplantation, not birth), I’m hungry to read fiction and non-fiction with New York settings.