Clarence Nero is the new urban literary hotness. Maya Angelou has described Nero as "one of our most promising young authors." Beyonce Knowles wished Nero good luck on his book from the set of Dreamgirls. Nero's second novel, Three Sides to Every Story, was a scorching love story with an unapologetic black, gay aesthetic set in fabulous, pre-Katrina New Orleans. Johnny, the college football star whose father is a prominent anti-gay mega-church pastor (sound familiar?), prefers to be discrete. James is unashamedly gay and flamboyant. The unlikely love story of Johnny and James returns for the sequel Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad, which just dropped from Broadway Books. Read a sample chapter here and continue reading the review for your chance to win a free copy of the book.
Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad picks up immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans. Johnny and his family relocate to Washington D.C. and Johnny attends Wheatley College, "one of the top black schools in the country" and rival to Howard University. James moves into Johnny's apartment, which immediately causes friction because Johnny is pledging his father's fraternity. "I accepted James for who he was and loved everything about him, but sometimes he was just over the top with his fashions and exotic hairstyles. That shit was embarrassing to me. Can you imagine walking down the street with a six foot man sporting pink and blue hair and wearing high platform shoes?"
Add Sheila Doggett to the tension, the "pretty dark skinned sistah with the tight ass body: and Harvard MBA. Sheila was introduced to Johnny by family members who are intent on "turning him on the straight and narrow." Oh and coincidentally she is James' boss at the school where he works as a teacher's aide, and, intent on getting him fired.
Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad is great summer reading. The characters are captivating. The dialogue, and situations, written from three points of view, is at times laugh out loud funny, other times deep and introspective. It's always fresh and always entertaining. Most of all the subject matter should be intimately familiar to Rod 2.0 readers—bourgeois vs. "hood" culture, homophobia, the anti-gay black church, feminine vs. masculine stereotypes, and HIV/AIDS in the black and black gay communities. Oh and there is a special shout-out to Rod 2.0 and its readers in the book, too.
Clarence Nero is about to begin touring Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad and took a few minutes to speak with us.
Johnny and James are total opposites. In a black gay culture that stresses "homothugs", its refreshing to see characters that don't fit stereotypes. What is the audience reaction to a feminine, flamboyant character?
It varies. Some people say they wanted two homothugs and don't like a more masculine man coupled with a more flamboyant more. "That’s not realistic", i have been told. Then, I get just the opposite reaction. There are some readers who email me, or even come up to me, and say "thank you" or "I can appreciate that, this is us." But I wanted to show the diversity of experience and our community.
The class dynamic between these two is off the chain. Johnny's family are the Huxtables, James is from the street, but his people are more accepting.
Isn't it though? I like the fact that Johnny is from a more traditional and middle class background and James is on the opposite end. And then I wanted to turn the homophobic stereotypes on their heads, too. You know, the more educated and wealthy are supposed to be more "accepting"? Well not in Johnny's case.
Absolutely. I've met many upper middle class Jack & Jill types whose families hate the fact they're gay.
Okay! (laughs) I know someone who is very middle class and grew up with a very good family. That family does not accept his sexuality. Just like Johnny's family doesn't want him to be with James. They want him to settle down and marry a nice woman. I thought this would be different and create more conflict.
Johnny likes the fact that James is confident and "real", as he says. But once he moves in, he starts to change him. What happened there?
You noticed that? The time they were apart after Katrina ... Johnny went in an different direction. Katrina tore New Orleans apart, but it also brought families together. It brought Johnny closer to his family. He was always black sheep of family and now he could make amends. By the time, James came to town , Johnny is with his family, hanging out with his brother and trying to pledge his father's fraternity. But we could do an entire novel around homophobia and black fraternities .
Let's talk about Sheila Doggett. Why did you choose this character and why begin Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad with her?
Sheila is a very successful black women who has it together. She has been hurt by black men and let it down by black men. She is divorced and trying ti find happiness. We all are, you know? But we started with her ... we wanted the book to have a fresh feeling. We needed it to stand alone as a novel. Sometimes, when you write a sequel, you want it to stand alone. We also wanted to build an audience. And we all know that black women are buying books records numbers.
Yes and some black "gay" novels are written more for black straight women than black gay men.
I know what you're talking about. I didn’t force it though and I think all the characters are very compelling. It's an important part of the experience because many men are closeted or coming to terms with their sexuality.
This week and next week, Broadway Books and Rod 2.0 are giving away limited copies of Too Much of a Good Thing Ain't Bad. Leave your comments on Clarence Nero and the issues raised in his new novel. What do you think of the sample chapter? Do you think black gay men are too infatuated with "thug" culture and ignore feminine men? Would you ever date a closeted man from a religious family?
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A Conversation with Clarence Nero [R20]
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