The Truth About Urban Fiction

Published: 11th May 2008
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The Truth about Urban Fiction

Dr. Maxine Thompson

When I first edited urban fiction, like most new endeavors, I stumbled into it. But as a former social worker, I've always found it interesting how women of color cope in desperate situations. As I read different manuscripts, I recognized the voices that I'd met over the years in my own life, in different foster homes or in my inner city case work.

Although I'd recently completed my nonfiction book, Heal thy Soul, 365 Days of Healing for Women of Color, to be published by Urban Books in November 2008, I want to address urban fiction.

As a story editor of some of the best selling urban fiction writers out there today, I've learned a lot along the way about urban fiction.

I can speak from both sides of the fence-both as a writer and as an editor.

As urban writers, sometimes we get bad press. I'd like to clarify something.

All urban writers are not street fiction writers. This genre is sometimes referred to as ghetto lit or street lit, or hip hop fiction.

Some people say there's too much drama, even in the women's line of Urban fiction, and not enough literary literature.

Well, as an editor, that depends on how you look at it.

What is drama?

I once read that drama is danger mixed with opportunity.

To write about people of color who live in urban settings is going to be replete with danger.

Just to think of some of the dangers these urban characters face, it starts the minute the characters get out of bed. Any day your could wind up homeless, a victim of violence, or foreclosed upon.

So how do we create these elements in our stories?

By showing the (limited or missed) opportunities we have to obtain the American Dream and the danger that is involved in trying to pursue it.

For some people, they take the nine-to-five route. For others they go the route of crime. But all characters, in the pursuit of the American Dream of happiness, will go on a journey.

This journey involves subtext.

My definition of subtext is what is going on beneath the story.

The dictionary's definition is this:

1. The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text.

2. The underlying personality of a dramatic character as implied or indicated by a script or text and interpreted by an actor in performance.

My story "Katrina Blues," a novella, in anthology, Never Knew Love Like This Before, (published by Urban Books-Urban Soul in June 2007) deals with a cross section of society.

The protagonist, Deni Richards, is a thirty-something Los Angeles attorney who winds up facing discrimination at a restaurant, racial profiling by the police department, and disparity of treatment on her job.

Although she thinks she has achieved the American dream because she drives a Mercedes, is the most successful child in her family and owns her own condo in Santa Monica, California, by the end of the story, she learns some harsh truths about being an African American citizen in this country.

She winds up getting an up-close and personal taste of reality when she opens her home to a displaced saxophonist, Coleman Blue and his family, after Hurricane Katrina.

I find a lot of meaning about the American Dream when I read urban literature and it's not always found on the surface of the story.

Dr. Maxine Thompson is a literary agent, author, Internet radio show host, and editor. She is the author of The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a Shroud, A Place Called Home, Never Knew Love Like This Before, Anthology, (Novella Katrina Blues), Secret Lovers, Anthology,(Novella, Second Chances), All in the Family, Anthology, (Novella, Summer of Salvation.) Non-fiction, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells. Sign up for a free newsletter at

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