Atlanta doesn’t have room for both an incomparable serial killer and the phenomenal homicide detective, Aisha Sawyer. The showdown is set with the killer’s first feat: murder by viral disease, contaminating a hip hop icon and a med student. The investigation sends Sawyer and her whole-snack partner after a logical mark, a surgeon with motive and the resume to fit the crime. Sawyer, however, defies logic and her sergeant.
Her investigative mojo is entrenched in the maternal instinct that makes woman the more advanced gender and Sawyer a more advanced detective. She probes the hip hop side of the double murder where shady outliers present unexpected twists. All the while, the death toll rises. The killer’s only clue is the common immoral trait the victims share; this killer is a vigilante – the victims’ karma returning to settle the books.
To preserve the rule of law, Detective Sawyer wields her black girl magic like the Jedi force, not only for Lady Justice, but against her provocative sister, Karma, who ultimately sets her sights upon Sawyer, for what she too must atone.
Rod Palmer was born in rural Charleston, SC, from a Gullah Geechee community where storytelling is the lifeblood of the culture. He advanced his innate storytelling ability at the University of South Carolina where he earned his creative writing degree. What defines Rod’s writing, is clever plotting, punchy phrasing, his light-handed delivery of black feminist themes, and how he translates the impact of Gullah Geechee storytelling into contemporary fiction. He accredits much of his literary success to Toni Morrison, his “literary mother,” and to his former professor in African American literature Dr. Kwame Dawes who is America’s most decorated Ghana-born poet. Rod resides in Columbia, SC where he supports many causes locally and nationally and helps other writers hone their craft.
1. What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest thing is cutting away unnecessary scenes/chapters, especially after spending so much time crafting them. I’m praised for my writing being beautiful and picturesque, but the scenes that I’ve had to cut out have been my most awe inspiring prose. If the scene doesn’t move the plot forward, though, it must be cut out, no matter how beautifully written.
2. Which book inspired you to begin writing?
The Pulitzer winning novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. This national treasure is about a runaway slave woman who tried to kill her own children when their capture seemed imminent. I’ve never seen a more perfect coalescing of structure, theme, and style. The psychological impact of slavery – the deep repression necessary to bear it – is, itself, expressed in the very style that Beloved is written in. Let that marinate for a minute. The movie failed the book terribly.
3. Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
I would call my writing style surgical. I don’t spend half a page describing one thing. With the right words and imagery, only a few words of description will suffice. As far as how it’s ‘different from other writers’, I’d say, most authors today take the old adage “show, don’t tell” too literary, which traps them into wordiness. For instance, I see authors describing their characters knocking on the door, hearing footsteps approaching, while my character would already be on the inside getting to the point of the visit. So, for me it’s not “show, don’t tell” it’s “show only what tells.”
4. Can you tell us about your current projects?
I have more adventures planned for Detective Aisha Sawyer, but currently, I am almost done with a not-so Christian novel, more like a murder mystery in the church, entitled, You Are Not Your Past. It unmasks the ugly pasts of a few worshipping Christians, when a murder investigation probes church members for possible motives. You could also call it a romance, since there is a powerful romantic relationship that is central to the story. This is a powerful novel. There was a couple points where tears were streaming down my face while I was writing.
5. How do you think concepts such as Kindle and e-books have changed the present or future of reading?
E-books have changed reading greatly. I come from a neighborhood that didn’t have a library nor book store. It gives access to all. The double edged sword, however, is that it opened up publishing to any and everyone, which is good for inclusion, but bad for quality. Everyone who publishes doesn’t invest in editing, or advanced readers to look for structural issues, plausibility, or plot holes. With this free-for-all self-publishing world today, there’s no vetting of talent. We have writer’s who write like they’ve never even read a book, but they’re just putting a book out there since publishing can be the most low-cost, low-risk business venture there is. It’s these writers who have no respect or awareness of the social responsibility of literature itself, so we wind up with books written for shock value and no true substance. I still believe, however, that it is better now, with ebooks than before ebooks. Some of the best stories now on the digital shelf would’ve never seen the light of day. I cringe when I think of all the great black writer’s we never got to see because they couldn’t survive the white gaze of publishing houses prior to the e-book era.
6. What is your favorite word, and why?
My favorite word is hack – but not hack as it relates to computer espionage, cutting or chopping off, or hack as a shortcut. I’m talking about vomit. Hack is an ugly word, but I respect its pure impact. Saying hack, aloud, is nearly doing what the word describes.
7. Are there any novels that you started and didn’t finish?
Yes. I finished it, actually, but didn’t feel like it was worthy of publication. It’s entitled How To Tame A Playa. It’s still on my computer. I peek at it sometimes, and the writing is good, but I when I wrote it, I was trying to mimic other popular books rather than being myself. I am a feminist. I have much more to offer to the causes of women than a directive on how to prey on the weaknesses of masculinity. Karma Wears Versace, however, uses some of those same themes because the vulnerability of men is central to the much bigger story.
Chosen turned to that familiar voice, surprised, like a toddler’s epiphany at a parent’s return from work, their return to existence. “Vick!” Chosen celebrated the man with a full breasted hug. “What a surprise,” Chosen exclaimed. “All the times I’ve been coming here, planning this thing, where you been?”
Vick stood pole straight, weathering the hug. “I don’t come around as much. I’d lost my taste, honestly, for this new club crowd a long time ago,” he said, although he’s just over fifty. He then held Chosen at arm’s length. “Look at you. Money sure looks good on you, ma. I couldn’t be happier about your success.”
Jackson slid out of the office. Chosen and Vick sat. Vick added, “I’m here because I knew you were here. I thought I’d come holla at you today since I can’t attend your celebration.”
Chosen pouted, “Vick… I’m hurt.”
“I got two options. You tell me which one gets me killed: missing your party or missing me and Gwen’s anniversary?”
Chosen’s hands dropped in her lap; she smiled fondly. “Where’re you taking her this year?”
“No place flashy. A lil spa resort we know about in Asheville, North Carolina.”
“The mountains. Nice.”
“Got mineral pools, hot stone massages, cucumber water.” Vick got up from his desk and offered a hand. “Come out to the bar with me, so we can drink to your success.”
Chosen took the gentleman’s hand and they went. “You still drinking that Belvedere and grapefruit juice,” her mouth, bitter at the thought of it.
“Chilled and strained,” Vick sung. “Cosmopolitan for you, right?”
They were out front where chairs were turned over on the tables, daylight glowing softly on all surfaces. Chosen would be Vick’s lone barstool customer in a milk white dress with a waterfall of a ponytail down her back. Vick rolled up his sleeves behind the bar and said, “Isabell is stopping by. You’ve met my daughter, right?”
“She was away, working on her masters when I worked here, but I saw her a few times. She and her brother Jackson couldn’t be more different.” Chosen crossed her legs and said, “But look at you and Miss Gwen, living out yall’s happily-ever-after, and here I am: thirty. Starting all over from scratch.” Chosen sighed. “Even Chyna’s fat ass got Kelvo to get his shit together. He got her a ring and everything.”
Vick’s mouth drooped at the corners as he mumbled, “Ole Kelvo ever did like ‘em big…” He strained the melon-red drink into a martini glass and garnished it with a coil of orange peel.
Chosen sipped her cosmopolitan, her mouth smacking to examine the flavor. “Ooh, this is so good, Vick.”
“Starting all over?” Vick’s face tightened as he shook the tin mixer. “So, you’re dating already?”
The question made Chosen giddy and enchanted. “Well, you could say there’s someone, a lil boo-thang, if you will. We’re taking it slow, though – too slow for my taste, but it’s for the best.”
Vick then dropped the stirrer in his Belvedere and grapefruit juice. “For the best? Oh, because of Trap’s passing… his killer’s trial pending and all?”
“Fuck a Trap! Trap was dead to me when he was living. Why think about him now?”
“You can’t go around Atlanta cursing Trap with a boo-thang on your arm, Chosen. People expect you to be the grieving widow, so you should be that – at least for appearances. In my humble opinion, you should’ve run off with that insurance check and relocated; quiet is kept – not purchase the man’s company.”
“The only reason I bought the company is because Miss Lottie had her inherited portion priced to sell. I would’ve been a fool to walk away from that sure of an investment, knowing how millionaire athletes walk away from the game and go broke in five years. If my money doesn’t make money; I’d go broke too.”
“But when you go and buy the man’s company, then throw a party at his favorite club? It’s like tapdancing on the grave of the man whose death made you rich.”
Chosen’s face dipped, as if peering, in judgement, over the top of imaginary glasses. “Was that a read, just now, Vick? Witchyo El Chapo mustache havin’, burnt chicken grease complexioned…” Her rant succumbed to knee-slapping laughter.
Vick also laughed, wobbling back a step. “Aw man. See, I wasn’t even gonna comment on your spotty knees today. Got russet potatoes for knee caps ‘n shit.” Absurdity is their brand of humor.
A chuckling Chosen stopped abruptly with an evil eye. “My knees is not no spotty, Vick – or should I say Viquavious. Got people thinking Vick is short for Victor. I should put you on blast. Viquavious: sounds like the name of a paleolithic fruit-bat or somethin’.”
They sighed as if laughter wore them out. Vick shook a pointed finger. “I don’t know what paleolithic means, but if it’s good, I’m that.”
“It’s a period of prehistory giving rise to the hominid, when we left the trees and began walking upright –” Chosen stopped at the sight of Vick’s surrendered palms.
“Look, hon. I could give a good-got-damn about all that. What I’m trying to say, Chosen, is that you’re really different. Not just anybody goes around talking about prehistoric bats and such.”
Chosen’s head-turn threw her ponytail from one shoulder to the other. “You’re the one who’s being different, Vick. Why are you defending Trap all of a sudden? I thought you hated him because of how he treated me.”
“Don’t mistake me for defending Trap; I’m trying to protect you.”
“Protect moi? From what?”
Vick looked down, solemnly. “The streets is talkin’ up a storm about you. You know Savoy is like the industry’s clubhouse, so I used to hear everything, but now it’s Jackson in my place, and he’s telling me how these same folks who loved you as a battered girlfriend now hate you as a business mogul. Plus, this freckled punk they call Soda –”
“– His name’s Sosa.”
“Anyway, that dude’s been coming around looking for you like he wants to do you harm. That worries me. On top of that, got people going around sayin’ you did it.”
Chosen drew back, lazy-eyed and heavy-lipped. “Fuck outta here.”
“You remember Yaz?”
“Stank mouth Yaz.”
Vick grimaced as he stared off into space. “Breath smell like wide open ass…” He shuddered back to his train of thought and continued. “Jackson said Yaz was here about a week ago, drunk as a skunk, talkin’ about how the evidence against you and the doctor is exactly the same: both jaded lovers of the victims, both issued threats, and both made contact with the victims within – what these forensic analysts on TV are calling – the vital timeframe.”
Chosen punched an open hand and said, “But what y’all not understanding is that, although I was never a named suspect, police investigated me. They were all up my ass about Trap’s death. The evidence just isn’t there.”
“Yaz is thinking that the only reason the police haven’t charged you, is that they underestimate you. She said, if they knew the real Chosen–”
“–The real Chosen?” Her nose wrinkled.
Vick countered. “Well, yeah, the real Chosen… The Chosen that throws around scientific terms, the Chosen that peddled homemade organic uppers and hangover tonics to my bar customers, the Chosen that has the skill to put a young lady under anesthesia and give her a new, stout bottom. According to Yaz, you did her surgery.” Vick pinned Chosen with a glare, adding, “I remember the night o’boy got shot outside, laying in a puddle of his own blood and you put an ear to that boy’s mouth and determined, just by the sound of his breathing, which organ was hit and which ones wasn’t, and you saved that boy’s life with a got-damn ball-point pen and a bar towel.”
“Drain the internal bleeding, and put pressure on the wound – that’s basic shit, Vick. Plus, saving a life is very different than taking one.”
“I’m not saying you did it. I’m saying that when Yaz catches up to you, she’ll be standing before you with the ass you gave her, forcing you to pay her a large sum of money to keep her from telling the police about what you’re capable of. Best you can do is keep about a hundred bands, cash, stashed in a safe waiting for her.”
“Do you think I did it?”
Vick’s fingers tapped the glazed counter. “I think that, even if you did, Trap’s life is a small price to pay to have a black female owner in hip hop, at a company of that magnitude.” Vick plucked the straw out of his drink and downed it. “I’ma tell ya a story. How a young lady went to Trap with a proposal to be, what’s called, a brand manager for his company. She’d oversee advertising, copywriting, some P.R. – things of that nature. So, there she is, this… beautiful, black, educated, female entrepreneur, pitching her expertise, and guess what Trap’s response was to this woman of integrity and excellence: Trap told her that before he’d even consider her proposal, he’d have to, first, see what that mouth do.”
Chosen’s hand clapped her mouth to smother laughter. “Dayumn that’s messed up though.”
Vick raised one righteous brow. “That young lady… That was my daughter.”
“Oh.” Chosen stiffened and glanced around.
“She’s done business with franchises, publicly traded companies, even Fortune Five Hundred companies, and no one, outside of hip hop, has ever addressed her in that manner. That type of behavior in the rest of the business world, gets your head chopped off, ask Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein. Yet R. Kelly – because his victims are all black women – is permitted to be a public pedophile – a defiant one, at that. Chris Brown became an even bigger star after he had Rihanna’s face looking like Emmett Till. Hip hop is to black women what Jim Crow was to all blacks.”
Chosen held a look of disappointment. “Trap disrespected your daughter like that, and you still did business with him? Promoting his parties and letting him rent the club?”
Vick’s brows raised along with an erect finger. “Had Izzy told me this when it happened, when Trap was alive? He’d still be dead today, but instead of that doctor, it’d be me facing trial. I’ll tell you something… Despite that incident, Isabell still wants that role – even more so now since the top executive is a woman – a woman of color, at that.”
“Vick…” Chosen stiffened straight, aghast. “How can you warn me about Yaz blackmailing me, while you, from the side of your mouth, trying to use something Trap did to your daughter to guilt me into doing business with her?”
“I’m not trying to guilt you. Even if you don’t bring Isabell on board, you’re still like family to me. All I want for her is the interview she was unjustly denied.” Vick looked up, finding Isabell peeking through the front door’s glass square. He hurried from behind the bar en route to the door.”
Chosen said, “So, Isabell’s showing up today is just a coincidence, huh…?”
As the door opened, Isabell walked through the cone of daylight cutting into the dim club, her smile revealing teeth too pearly and perfect in the frame of her violet lipstick. Her dress was exquisite yet simple; her only flare being Cinderella puffs at the shoulders. Isabell strides with an air of privilege, where desires and expectations are one in the same. “Chosen,” Isabella called. “How have you been?”
There was such familiarity in Isabella’s hug that Chosen felt guilty for being unable to recall the great friendship they must’ve had. After Chosen’s, “I’m good, girl. How are you?” Chosen had nothing else to say; her smile was frozen. No memories to prompt a line of discussion.
When they finally got down to business, Isabella and Vick were a team, the male and female version of the same face, urging Chosen to make Isabella Hustle Hard Entertainment’s brand manager. They were like missionaries trying to convert a wandering heathen.
Isabella promised, “This party is your first big opportunity to appeal to the influencers and tastemakers. I could have you gracing the covers of magazines in a month if this opportunity is handled right.”
Vick, checking with his daughter, asked, “Shouldn’t she be looking to start some sort of charitable foundation? Or has philanthropy become cliché nowadays?”
Isabell: “As cliché as it may seem, it’s still vital, as a tax haven, and to uphold the proper image. Speaking of image,” Isabell said as her hands gathered. “What do you plan on wearing to this party, Chosen? Something a little less revealing than what you’re wearing now, I hope.”
Chosen kept looking at them both, bird-twitching between the two, her grin flattening. “Y’all have got to be kidding me,” Chosen said. “First of all, Isabell, even if I could hire you, I’m not fixin to let you or nobody tell me what to wear, but truth is, I don’t even have the authority to hire you. I have Trap’s share of the company, but not his operational role; it’s written in their contracts.”
Father and daughter looked at each other and then at Chosen. Isabell led, “Show them you can be an asset and you will see that the obstacle is not a paper contract. It’s your relationship with your business partners.”
“Partners? I go to the office and they act like I’m not even there, so I stopped going altogether.”
“Chosen, that spirit of retaliation will be your undoing.”
Isabell’s nugget of wisdom gave Vick a mini Holy Ghost. “Preach, Izzy!”
Isabell did as told. “If you want to become a true partner in the company, Chosen, you must find a way disarm their ill feelings towards you. You do that by bonding over something you all have in common.” Isabell folded her arms. “Your party’s coming up. Take fifteen minutes out of your program to commemorate Trap. Do a short documentary on the big screen up there, but not without including J Money and Flikka on putting the presentation together.” Isabell tapped the back of Chosen’s hand, adding, “And that joint project would be the soil from which yall’s relationship could sprout from.”
Chosen’s head shook miserably. “Do you even know what you’re asking me to do? You’re asking me to honor the man that beat me, the man that cheated on me while I was in that hospital by myself in labor for hours, pushing out a baby that I knew was already dead inside of me!” Chosen was filled with fury, her eyes glassy with tears. “You’re asking me to honor the man who, after eighteen months and two miscarriages still wouldn’t marry me, but got on one knee for that white bitch after just one month?! The same man who told you to suck his dick?”
Vick pounded the bar top. “Now, you wait a got damn minute, Chosen!”
Isabell’s palm signaled her father to stop – to let Chosen continue. “Pain needs a witness, pop.”
Chosen added, “I’ll tell you what that mouth can do… It can kiss my black ass!”
Vick spun away, steaming. Isabell remained unfazed. “Trap took you through a lot, Chosen. I couldn’t even imagine… He may have insulted me, but I know that the responsibility that lay before us is bigger than me. Bigger than you. And, quite frankly, bigger than your pain. You may not have realized it, but when you acquired that company, you acquired the dreams, the hopes, and the attention of all black women. You may not be able hire me on with the company, but you can hire me, personally, for public relations, at a reduced rate.” Isabell offered her hand. “Accept this hand and with it, my guidance, and you will become a catalyst; refuse my hand, and you’ll become a cautionary tale.”
Chosen appeared to be considering the offer, but she was only thinking of how to let Isabella down easy.
Isabella added, “Walking in the right image, Chosen, not only gets you results in business, my dear, but also in your personal life.” Isabella offered a limp-handed display of her sparkling engagement ring, an awe-inspiring rock. “You can’t project the image of an Instagram chick, and expect Atlanta’s most eligible bachelor who will be entering the 2020 state senate race, to take you out in public.”
Chosen was astonished like a fan in the presence of a celebrity. “You’re married?” Chosen wanted desperately to be a member in that coveted ring of honor. “And a politician, at that?” “Not married yet, but engaged, and he’s not a politician yet; he’s a lawyer. I’ll be managing his campaign next election season.”