Writer and book club are equally impressed


THE MEMBERS OF the Pumphrey-based Ebony Eyes Book Club are always searching for a good book. But The School on 103rd Street - and its California-based author - found them.

Writer Roland S. Jefferson e-mailed the club's spokeswoman this year and asked for a copy of the club newsletter.

"He said that he was an aspiring author who likes to read book club newsletters," said Lisa Hammack, the spokeswoman. "So I sent him a newsletter and he sent me the book."

And now that book has been named the club's Book of the Year.

"It's an amazing story," Hammack said. "It's about a group of kids who find out about a long-kept secret. It paralleled some of the stories that were told to me by my family."

Once she began reading The School on 103rd Street, Hammack knew it would be perfect for Ebony Eyes, a club that focuses on African-American authors.

"We were all blown away, and [Jefferson] came all the way from California to meet with us," she said. He met with the club at one of its recent meetings at the county library's Brooklyn Park branch.

Jefferson was equally impressed with Ebony Eyes.

"I can't say enough good things about Ebony Eyes," he said in a telephone interview last week. "Not because they gave me an award, of which I am justly proud, but because they were so well-prepared.

"They turned the novel into an exam in which the members of the club had to have read it in order to answer the questions. Even I had to stop and think for a minute before answering. I had never had that kind of penetrating intellectual experience from any other book club. It was exciting."

Jefferson also explained how he begins a book.

"My method of writing a novel differs from most authors," he said. "I don't outline the story chapter by chapter. Instead I just start writing and see where the story goes. I may have an overall concept of the story, its atmosphere and its spine or central theme. Everything else - character development, back-story, subplots, betrayals, romance - is just window dressing.

"I tend to write compulsively," he added. "I'll write in long, uninterrupted spurts, sometimes eight to 12 hours at a time without eating or talking on the phone, then stop writing for several weeks or even months. No real explanation - maybe writer's block. When I started The School on 103rd Street, I had no idea how it would end."

According to Jefferson, who is black, African-American book clubs such as Ebony Eyes are behind the success of many black writers.

"Someday a major publisher will come to understand the way to 'break' a new book will be through reading clubs," he said.

Meanwhile, Jefferson has more novels in the works, including Damaged Goods, a crime story with an unusual story line. He's also rewriting and polishing a novel titled The Honeytown Girls Club. And he's in the early stages of writing a romance novel, White Coat Fever, about a romantic triangle involving doctors and nurses.

Looks like Ebony Eyes will be looking forward to reading more Jefferson novels.

Strawberry Festival

The annual Strawberry Festival will be held at St. John Lutheran Church, 226 Washburn Ave.

This year's festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the church Social Hall.

All are welcome to feast on a variety of strawberry desserts, hot dogs, barbecue, potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw. The event is sponsored by the St. John's Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Information: 410-355-7295.

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