In my former Clark Kent life, I had a client that grew to be a friend.  Ella was about 27 years my senior, so she became something of a mother figure.  She would always slip in my office, even if she wasn’t there to see me professionally, and we would spend way too much time yacking and laughing.  Ella was irreverent, direct, wicked, and tremendously funny.  She was also wise and more loving than life and humanity deserved her to be.

Ella was the grandchild of slaves.  She lived through crippling poverty, wars, and the deaths of nearly all her immediate family.  She had a front seat to the civil rights struggle in all its forms.  She kept extraordinarily strong opinions about humanity, America, and being black in America.  She didn’t suffer fools, and she had not one politically correct bone in her body.  She told me once that it was a waste of time to “kiss ass” when it didn’t do anything but give you bad breath.

When I started writing romance novels, Ella was delighted.  She didn’t read a lot, but she watched every “love movie” that was ever produced.  Her biggest complaint was that Sidney Poitier wasn’t in all of them.  She took my first book home, read it, and then called me to say I was going to hell for my mouth, and that she loved every minute of it.

Then she told me that I should write a “brother” for a hero.

I think I probably said something non-committal.  I did not tell her that I would do it, because at the time I would never have considered the idea.  I would have died of mortification if I got it wrong and Ella was hurt or, worse, didn’t like him.  At the time, I was nervous writing in the male voice, much less a black male voice, and a black female voice?  Forget it.

Ella passed away on January 31, one day before the beginning of Black History Month.  I had to chuckle at her timing, because she detested anything that singled out black people, including Black History Month.  She felt that every month was her month because she and her people were here “way before most of these fools had crossed a creek”.  She knew exactly who built this country.

My next hero is a black man.  Am I nervous?  Oh, yeah.  Have I considered backing out?  Yep.  But the thing is, my characters don’t ask my permission.  They come fully formed (or mostly fully formed) right out of the chute.  Logan Pressley is black.  If I were to change the character, it would be another book, because this book is about Logan and his lady, Maggie.  Therefore, I am a white lady writing a black male character.

I have, and will continue to, lean on sensitivity readers and friends to make sure I do him justice and respect.  I owe not just my readers, but my angel in heaven, Ms. Ella Josephine Morrison.

“We’re all angels, honey.  Every one of us in every single shade.  We all cry and shit and live and die just the same.”

Yes, ma’am, Ms. Ella.  Some of us are just closer to our angel side.  I’ll miss you every day.