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Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven

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Overview

In 1975, Tempestt Saville and her family are chosen by lottery to "move on up" to Lakeland: one square mile of sparkling apartment towers and emerald lawns where the Black elite live sheltered from the ghetto by a ten-foot-tall, ivy-covered wrought-iron fence.  Eleven-year-old Temmy doesn't enjoy the privilege, however, and thinks Lakeland is the "kingdom of the drab."  Instead, she is drawn to the vivid world outside the fence: to 35th Street, where the saved and the sinners are both so "done...

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Overview

In 1975, Tempestt Saville and her family are chosen by lottery to "move on up" to Lakeland: one square mile of sparkling apartment towers and emerald lawns where the Black elite live sheltered from the ghetto by a ten-foot-tall, ivy-covered wrought-iron fence.  Eleven-year-old Temmy doesn't enjoy the privilege, however, and thinks Lakeland is the "kingdom of the drab."  Instead, she is drawn to the vivid world outside the fence: to 35th Street, where the saved and the sinners are both so "done up" you can't tell one from the other.  Tempestt's curiosity soon leads her down a dangerous path, however, and after witnessing the death of a friend, she sets into motion a chain of events that will send 35th Street up in flames.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dawn Turner Trice has written a magical, word-wise, utterly original novel of love and hate."
—Dallas Morning News

"A polished gem that shines from every angle, rich in rhythm, story, and characterization...A genuine delight."
—Washington Post Book World

"Touching and memorable."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Engrossing...Trice has woven an intricate, delicate web of a novel that disturbs, reveals, and satisfies."
—San Francisco Chronicle

"Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven is universal fiction, gratifying and frightening."
—Vibe Magazine

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Narrated from a distance of 20 years, this powerful debut novel re-creates the month that changed the life of a sheltered African American girl, 11-year-old Tempestt "Temmy" Saville, initiating her into the violence and rage her middle-class family thought they had escaped. In Chicago in 1975, Temmy witnesses the death of her best friend. Narrating the tale along with grown-up Temmy is 60-ish Miss Jonetta Goode, a big-hearted former prostitute who keeps watch over the fragile souls on Thirty-fifth Street from behind her counter in O'Cala Food and Drug. Temmy encounters Miss Jonetta and the hellishly fascinating Thirty-fifth Street by escaping Lakeland, the fenced-in enclave of black professionals where her family lives. Sensing that something is bothering her friend, Valerie, who lives part-time in Lakeland with her father and stays the rest of the week with her mother in the projects, Temmy inspires Jonetta to deputize two O'Cala regulars to observe Valerie and her mother. They discover that Ruth has been selling Valerie to men to finance her drug habit. The information comes too late to save Valerie. Temmy, the only witness to her friend's death, is frozen into silence, unable to speak up when a disreputable street preacher is accused and convicted of the girl's murder. Trice creates vibrant characters via the counterpointed voices of Temmie and Jonetta. As each interprets events within the range of her knowledge and expectations, Trice obliquely provides insight into the crucial social issues that help shape the lives of African Americans. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This poignant and melodic first novel describes an 11-year-old girl's exposure to two African American cultures that exist within yards of each other in the Chicago ghetto. Trice tells much of her story through young Tempest Saville, who moves with her family to Lakeland, a planned community in the Chicago ghetto, in search of a better life. While Tempest struggles to define herself within her new surroundings, she finds solace among some adults on 35th Street, a section of the Chicago ghetto outside Lakeland's fence. There, Tempest sees things that her father hoped to shield her from. Miss Joneta, the second narrator, is a woman whose life mirrors 35th Street's culture. Through her story, we see danger and tragedy and meet the people on the other side of the fence. This novel will stay with the reader long after the final chapter has been finished. Recommended for public libraries and also relevant to collections documenting 20th-century urban America.Amy A. Begg, Smithsonian Institution Libs., Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YALakeland community in 1975 Chicago puts a new twist on the idea of a "project." The apartments are large, spacious, furnished, and come equipped with a maid. Residents are invited to join from a lottery pool of "deserving" citizens. Rent is subsidized because the tenants' contributions to Lakeland are to add to its "aesthetic, academic and social achievements." A wall separates it from its direct opposite35th streethome to hookers, thieves, and all the accoutrements of poverty. The Lakelanders feel repugnance toward the less fortunate of 35th Street; they want the area razed and the occupants moved. This prejudice is not racial as the inhabitants of both places are African Americans. When 11-year-old Tempestt Saville and her family move to Lakeland, Tempestt is drawn to both 35th Street and the janitor's daughter, Valerie. During her frequent secret visits beyond the wall, shopkeeper and former prostitute Miss Jonetta Goode becomes her 35th Street guardian angel. The story of Valerie's death, Jonetta's life, and Tempestt's revelations are told in alternating chapters from both Tempestt's and Jonetta's memories. Absorbing, entertaining, and beautifully woven together, this first novel deals with important themes and societal issues: prejudice, child abuse, friendship, love, pride, poverty, drug abuse, and true humanity toward one's fellow humans. A good choice for a teen discussion group.Carol DeAngelo, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
School Library Journal
Living in an upscale, subsidized apartment complex, an 11 year old is drawn to the ghetto outside. She befriends a former prostitute and the janitor's daughter, whose tragic death links the two worlds. June
Kirkus Reviews
Chicago Tribune editor Trice brings a light touch of magical realism to this moving tale of violence, urban squalor, and upward mobility among the African-Americans who live in two distinct Chicago neighborhoods during the '70s.

The only thing dividing swanky Lakeland from the blight of 35th Street is a fence covered with bushes. On the inside: beautiful apartment houses with model schools, a country club, and all the amenities of upper-middle-class life—a haven for ambitious blacks carved out of the urban landscape. Tempestt Saville, a redheaded 11-year-old, is suddenly dropped down in the sanctuary of Lakeland, where her hardworking father has accepted a job as a teacher. Sharing her mother's misgivings about the snobby inhabitants of this bourgeois retreat, Tempestt is drawn to life outside the gates and discovers a secret door to 35th Street, a decaying sprawl of rib joints, pool halls, saloons, and sidewalk preachers. There is, for instance, Alfred Mayes's "New Saved" congregation, a holy-rolling group who proselytize among the pimps, whores, and drunks. Miss Jonetta, who runs a drug- and food-store and tries to rescue lost girls, including "Child" (as she calls Tempestt), has a past of her own, having been recruited by Mayes as one of his prostitutes long ago. Nowadays, all the good and honest folk of the neighborhood hang out in her store. Tempestt, meanwhile, befriends Valerie Nicholae, a child of 35th Street who lives in Lakeland with her janitor brother (claiming to be her father). Such surprises are common in the mythically charged world limned by Trice—a world in which the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people assume heroic proportions.

The magic is in the telling here, creating a fabulous novel that discovers transcendent possibilities on the mean streets of a city. Trice's greatest achievement may be how effortlessly (and modestly) she manages to mingle an original vision and real art.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385491235
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,439,109
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.83 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Dawn Turner Trice, an editor for the Chicago Tribune, lives outside Chicago with her husband and daughter.  She is at work on her second novel.

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Read an Excerpt

I was sixteen years old when I first set foot on Thirty-fifth Street and first saw Alfred Mayes. And when Child came that night, I knowed exactly what she saw while staring into his old devil eyes. I had saw it myself, lo them many years ago. Honey, them eyes could cast a spell. They invited you in. Told you to make yourself at home, and then before you got comfortable good, they done grabbed hold of the corners of your soul and shook till your whole being was shuffled in the darkness, till you hardly could speak your name. Child didn't have sense enough to be scared for herself, but I was scared for her. The Right Reverend Alfred Mayes and me went back a long way.

As I finished closing the store that night, all I could do was think about that little girl—her pretty red hair, her cute little crooked smile, the way she walked holding Hump's hand, looking over her shoulder, waving back at me. There was something about Child that was special. I saw that the moment I laid eyes on her, just like I could tell she was coming back no matter how I warned her to stay away. When she nodded, even after I asked her if she understood it wasn't safe over here, I knowed that nod was a lie.

Like I said, I was sixteen when I came to Thirty-fifth Street and first saw Alfred Mayes. It was the summer of 1932. And I don't mind saying I was fine, long black hair, with an even finer waist. Everybody say I looked just like my mother, a cross between Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Smith. But high yellow as honey dew, with big dimples and green eyes trimmed in amber. My mama died birthing me, so I never got a chance to see her. I had to take everybody's word. I still keeps a photograph in my pocketbook that shows me in my fine days, though. It's of me and my big sister, Essie, sporting Sunday flop hats with wax sunflowers and gingham dresses, looking cleaner than the board of health (even though there was a few holes here and there we tucked out of view).

The night we made it to Thirty-fifth Street we'd been in Chicago a couple of months. Essie and me waited for everyone crowded in that old tenement house we was staying in to fall asleep. We was two young girls sneaking out our bedroom window like two men tipping out on their wives. We had on the same Sunday dresses and hats we had on in that picture, and some fresh from-the-kitchen bacon grease that we spread across our legs and elbows to get rid of the ash.  We thought this was a occasion to be fancy.

I was the one that wanted to go to Thirty-fifth Street. Poor Essie, I just drug her with me. She was three years older, but I always led the way to the fun stuff.  I probably wouldn't a gave a hoot about the place if Aunt Ethel hadn't warned us to stay away, hadn't slapped our faces with her old gnarled hands with that warning. My face carried her whole handprint; Essie was much darker, so her print went away faster. But the hurt was something neither of us could easily rub off.

"It ain't nothing but Satan's Row, a hole that shoulda burned down when the rest of Chicago was on fire," Aunt Ethel told us, making a ugly face, worser than the one God left her with. "The only good thing about it is the New Saved preachers. And all the good work we're doing to try to lift it out of darkness. Now, I want you girls to stay away, you hear? Your papa works too hard for you to not mind."

Then the old heifer fell to her knees, with her lace handkerchief pressed against her flat chest, and baptized us in her spit. She yanked us to our knees and mumbled all kinds of prayers, trying to protect us, she said. All the while, she pinched and tugged our ears, making sure we heard what she said, what God said. Oh, she was full of horse hockey and evil as hell, which is now her final resting place. We found out later that the money Papa was giving her to feed us, she used to boost her tithes at that New Saved church, instead of putting food in our bellies.

Anyway, I came to Thirty-fifth Street that night the way the three wise men came following that star. The bright city lights called me. (They was lamps, but any light is bright when you from the country.) And when I got there, Lord, the street, all that mud, was soft as sweet cream and seemed to mold to my feet—my old, tight, run-over shoes. And the people?  Ladies, beautiful ladies, in feathers, around their sleeves, around their necks, and dangly wanna-be pearls and diamonds. White satin gloves and expensive slippery dresses that knowed when and where to hug, and when and where to flow. Fine, fine men, coffee black, coffee creamed, coffee in-between, in suits with fat wallets and shined shoes and processed dos so slick, they glowed in the dark.

I looks back now and have to chuckle to myself because I remember Essie and me walking so close to each other and holding on so tight, you woulda thought we was in a wind tunnel. I don't know which was opened wider, our eyes or our mouths. You see, Thirty-fifth Street was like something you see in a picture show or only hear about when some crazy uncle gets too drunk to keep his business to himself.

Folks was everywhere. Yelling from the windows, high over the street. I remember one woman standing in nothing—I mean nothin but her corset and garters and holding a glass of "feel-good," toasting to the full moon. Young boys our age was swinging from the fire escapes; some was sliding along the sidewalk, in all kinds of fits; another group was roasting a pig, or what we hoped was a pig, over a bonfire in the alley while basting themselves with the contents of three slop jugs.

Each old brownstone we passed offered up something different, so we had to stop and take a gander into the large windows. There was a jazz joint—Club Giovanni, they called it back then— smoke-filled and dark. It headlined a woman in a tight, velvety, berry red dress who was singing some hootchie-cootchie number, running her hands up and down her thighs and in between her legs, across the dollar bills in her cleavage. She rubbed as she wiggled in front of this dude on the sax. When she passed, shaking those ripe tomatoey hips, his old horn wailed out kisses and spoke in tongue, honey, hoping she'd tarry for a while. (Essie and me almost fell out, because the closest we ever came to something like that was Sister Pearl at the AME church down by the river in Annington County. Some Sundays, she would sing "Amazing Grace," then get the Holy Ghost and rub herself with the tambourine in ungodly places. Even Papa said she was nasty. And in God's house.)

The club was so dark, Essie and me could hardly see, but we saw one other thing before moving on. We saw Alfred Mayes. At the time, I didn't know what I was looking at, or I surely woulda ran as fast as I could back to Aunt Ethel's. They say the devil you know is better than the one you don't. But, at the time, all I could see was this tall, fine black man.  Built like a African warrior. He had shoulders from sea to sea.  Regal. Cheekbones carved out like mountains. He was dressed in a bright yellow suit trimmed in black, shined from head to toe. He rose slowly from a round table in the front of the club. If there was a spotlight, it woulda crowned him king. The way he strutted up to that woman on that stage made my thighs shake and my ankles sweat. When he touched her, it was like she was a ruby ring he had took off for a while to let sparkle and now was about to wrap right back around his little finger. She stopped singing, stood jellylike. I stopped breathing. He grabbed her waist with one hand, pushed up on her breasts with the other, loosening the dollar bills in her cleavage. Then that sister climbed Alfred Mayes like he was a mighty oak, planted by the river. Green leaves falling all over. She grinded her body into his. And he grabbed her fanny and they squeezed and hugged and touched each other as they did a slow, nasty dance. I started to wiggle with them, hips moving from side to side (a little number I'd put together in a barn back home). Essie slapped me on my fanny. Soon every man in there who had blowed her a kiss or offered her a ride home got the message—a beep, beep, beep from Western Union, honey—that she was off-limits. She belonged to this big dude Alfred Mayes.

Essie grabbed my arm and shook her head. "Johnie," she said, her voice a near mumble, "we ain't suppose to be seeing all this." Well, I knowed that; still, I didn't want to uncement my feet. I was sixteen years old and stupid, caught up in that tingling feeling women know from experience and little girls only giggle about. I didn't see Alfred Mayes leave Club Giovanni right then that night, but it wasn't because my fool eyes wasn't looking hard enough.

Next door to the nightclub was the policy house. The men was sashaying out with pocket change spilling over the sides. I ain't never seen so many colored people with so much money in my life. I wanted to hang out there for a while, too. But Essie pulled me away when this young boy came flying through the door and landed near our feet. Pockets turned inside out.  Somebody had mashed his head good. Razor marks slit across both his cheeks. He crawled into a vestibule, licking his wounds like a old dog that'd met up with a coyote in the middle of a field.

Two doors from that was this long line of men and boys, some pressed, others dirty and dusty from a day's work at the stockyards and steel foundries. The line whipped nearly around the block. White police officers walked past twirling their sticks; some stopped to get in line. Essie and me was so green, we thought this was an example of what Papa meant about the long lines of men and boys that form during wartime—men and boys in line, signing up for tours of duty to serve their country. Ha, wouldn't be no war for another ten years! These men was all waiting for some service, uh-huh. Rationed if need be. This was the whorehouse, biggest, finest brownstone within miles. Even had a wraparound porch that the women wrapped themselves around like tinsel and holly. But that was at night. During the day, they was nowhere to be found because the first floor doubled as an insurance agency.

Rumor had it that Robert "Mr. Ribs" Price, the first colored to own a chain of restaurants in Chicago, opened a ribs joint next door so that when the dudes finished their business, they could walk a few paces and grab a rib, with a smile on their face. Business got so good, I hear told, that—with the help of some mob money—Mr. Ribs bought the whorehouse and opened the tunnel underneath the two buildings. Police had closed it down during Prohibition, when people was trying to haul bootleg from place to place. So, with the tunnels open, some men's wives never saw them again. Wasn't no need to go home for dinner, or anything else.

Papa used to say for every left there's a right and for every up there's a down. Well, Thirty-fifth Street was no exception. Because that night, for every sin we saw committed on that street, for every house of ill repute, there was at least one street preacher running interference, trying to wash everybody white as snow. At the corner of Thirty-fifth and Bernard Street stood the neighborhood's one storefront church. Every breath that came in and out my aunt Ethel's body had something to do with that church. She loved it so much. Its members called themselves the New Saved people and they just kept churning out New Saveds all night, left and right. Left and right.

You think the so-called sinners cared? They knowed getting in most places meant getting past them preachers, their bug-eyed stares, their questions. But everybody came ready for the fight. And them New Saved preachers was pretty uppity, mind you. What made a bunch of men with gold teeth, dressed in Crooks Brothers suits and wide-brimmed hats think they had something to say about getting into heaven, nobody knows. Seems to me most people on Thirty-fifth Street had already found heaven, one way or another. Or at least thought they had.

But them church girls surely stood their ground behind their men. They was on firm footing—with gold teeth, tall white wigs, bleached and starched white dresses that swung below their knees, and shoe boots with ties—belting some tune, maybe good for my soul but hell, fire, and damnation on my ears. Lord, them New Saved women couldn't sing. I don't care how new and saved they was supposed to be. Essie and me couldn't believe it. When they was done, everybody hummed, and not long after, Bibles and wigs soared toward the heavens. And them white pigeons overhead cried out, too. Flapping here to there. All that bad singing got on their nerves, as well. Didn't help much, being a bird.

Essie and me didn't stand long around them preachers. There was more of this place to see. We did feel a tad guilty, mind you, so we dropped a penny in one of their gold-plated canisters. Then we scooted past them to the cute little drugstore on the corner, O'Cala's Food and Drug.

    

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Table of Contents

Before the live bn.com chat, Dawn Turner Trice agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q:  Can you remember a particular newspaper headline that made a lasting impression on you?

A:  "The Tragic World of Girl X" was the headline on a story that ran in a recent Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. The story took an in-depth look at the life of the little Chicago girl from the infamous Cabrini Green housing project who was raped and forced to drink poison last January before her assailant scribbled gang symbols in her flesh. The story also chronicled the life of the 24-year-old man who has been charged in connection with the heinous crime.

Q:  How do you indulge your appetite? Can you share a recipe?

A:  I love, love, love Doritos. I buy the low-fat ones and fool myself into believing I can eat the entire bag without them going straight to my thighs.

Q:  Are you a righty or lefty?

A:  I am right handed but I like the attention left-handed people get. I also admire left-handed people because I remember when parents used to try to force left-handed kids to use their right hands, as though being left handed were a sin.

Q:  Have you given a book as a gift lately? Which one?

A:  I've always given lots of books as gifts, but now that I'm an author and one of the wonderful perks is that I don't have to pay for books published by Random House, I give lots and lots and lots of Random House books. The most recent book I gave as a gift was Moments of Grace, By Patrice Gaines.

Q:  What do you consider our most important national holiday?

A:  That's easy, Christmas Day, which is also my daughter's birthday.

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, June 3, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Dawn Turner Trice, author of ONLY TWICE I WISHED FOR HEAVEN.


Moderator: Thanks for joining us tonight as barnesandnoble.com hosts Dawn Turner Trice, author of ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN. Ms. Trice is here to answer your questions about this wonderful first book and her life as a writer. Welcome, Dawn Turner Trice! Thank you for joining us this evening.

Dawn Turner Trice: It's my pleasure to be here.



Michelle Taco from Hartford: Was there a particular incident that inspired this story? Are you Tempestt?

Dawn Turner Trice: The story is not autobiographical -- so I'm not Tempestt. But two things inspired the story. First, my own sister's death. Second, the Chicago Tribune did a 'Killing our Kinds' series in which we gave page one prominence to children under thirteen who were murdered in 1993, and that got me thinking about the importance of saving children -- the theme of my novel.



Mike from New York City: Did something like 'Lakeland' actually exist during the 70's?

Dawn Turner Trice: No. Not in it's extreme. There was a prototype community that I worked off, but it wasn't extremely rich and extremely poor like Lakeland and 35th Street.



Sarah Jane from Easton, PA: The voice of ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN changes back and forth from Tempestt to Miss Jonetta from chapter to chapter. Was it hard to switch the narrative between two characters who are so different?

Dawn Turner Trice: Miss Jonetta came very easily for me because her voice was very familiar -- the voice of my mothers and my grandmothers, though they don't have the shady past of Miss Jonetta, I consider them to be as wise. Tempestt was more difficult because it's harder for me to evoke the voice of a child.



Jessa from NY: Can you explain the title of your book?

Dawn Turner Trice: It's the notion of trying to create heaven right where we are, until we can get to a better place.



Katie from Philadelphia, PA: There seemed to be an almost spiritual connection between Tempestt and Miss Jonetta -- do you think these two characters will ever meet again?

Dawn Turner Trice: They may, but not any time soon. They were very difficult to let go.



Julie from Minneapolis: Why do you think Tempestt is so infatuated with 35th Street? What draws her there?

Dawn Turner Trice: She's interested in 35th Street in the beginning because it's the opposite of Lakeland, which she hates from the start. She goes beyond the fence in search of real people. And then of course, it's the people in O'Cala's, Miss Jonetta and her cadre of men who keep Temmy coming to 35th Street -- they make a connection.



Chip from Brooklyn: Hi Dawn! I loved ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN! You touch on something very delicately throughout the story -- not racism so much as the idea of prejudice within a race. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Dawn Turner Trice: We call it classism -- the idea of a group of people within a race, who 'move on up' but forget where they've come from. And they also look at 35th Street and see what amounts to a social cesspool with no redemptive qualities. I see Lakeland and 35th Street as a bit of a microcosm of the larger society and the people who separate themselves, and pretend that what's going on beyond the fence doesn't affect them when it does.



Asterisk from Burlington, VT: Where did you get the name Tempestt Saville? Tempestt foreshadows something stormy -- was that intentional?

Dawn Turner Trice: First, Seville is my great great grandmother's last name. And Tempestt I saw as a hippie name of the seventies -- so the foreshadowing was incidental.



Carol from Columbus: Have you ever lived anywhere else besides Chicago? What kind of affect do you think your environment has on your consciousness? Do you think you will ever write a story placed in another setting?

Dawn Turner Trice: I've lived in Florida and New York, and my next book is set in a small mid-western, rural town and I think that setting and place has every effect on consciousness. I think if you live in squalor and filth, it is very difficult to pull yourself out of it, weather it's the physical squalor of 35th Street, or the spiritual squalor of Lakeland.



Tug from aol.com: Congratulations on the publication of your book! Are you working on anything else right now, fiction-wise? Do you ever right editorials/articles for periodicals?

Dawn Turner Trice: Thanks! I am working on my second novel, and I've written a few editorials for the Chicago Tribune.



Llamadog from Seattle: How did Alfred Mayes have so much power? It seems that despite themselves, everyone was somehow attracted to him. Why?

Dawn Turner Trice: He was a very charismatic figure handsome, a charismatic speaker, in a place that's pretty ugly. To some he represented hope and light and truth, until you realize he's a pretty dark person.



Lola from Hotlanta!: Why didn't anyone else notice what was going on with Valerie? Teachers? Her father?

Dawn Turner Trice: The father is the brother, John, and he is working so hard to keep up -- so he can stay in Lakeland. And the teachers dismissed her because she's not one of them. She's got violent mood swings, she's almost invisible -- except to Temmy.



Don from Milwaukee: How did your story change from the time you started writing it, until it was complete? Did anything about the final copy surprise you?

Dawn Turner Trice: Oh my God! I started writing it in 1989, I finished in 1995. During that time I had to throw out 360 pages. I started over, completely rewrote it. Because I wasn't listening to the characters, I was imposing my journalistic style in the characters, finally I just let them tell the story. The original story was a who-done-it, as opposed to the final -- why-done-it. I'm not a good mystery writer, I'll leave that to others.



LisaBillow from Littleton: I am a beginning writer. Can you give me any advice on how to get published? I loved ONLY TWICE I WISHED FOR HEAVEN.

Dawn Turner Trice: Thank you. Find a great agent -- start there. Contact several agents, not just one, by sending query letters. And then don't be afraid to rewrite and revise. You can find an agent by looking in the Literary Marketplace magazine, and try to go on recommendations. Best wishes!



RedDog from Cleveland: Who were your inspirations when you were young? Do you remember what the first book you read and remembered was?

Dawn Turner Trice: My inspirations are my parents. And in terms of writers, James Baldwin, Earnest Gaines, and the first book I read and read for pleasure -- not just for school -- was GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN.



Ann McD from San Francisco: What do you think can be done to alleviate the problem of child abuse?

Dawn Turner Trice: Well, I think a sense of community is very important. Children need safe-havens, and if they do not have it at home, which is where it is supposed to be, then I think we have to find a way to have it in the community -- the neighbors who really care about the kids. Kids need people whom they can trust, and we have to imbue them with the ability of whom to trust.



Holly from St. Paul: Your writing has many different levels and textures -- I particularly loved the vibrancy of your secondary characters such as Li'l Beaver and Miss Lily. Were these characters inspired by people you knew or stories you heard?

Dawn Turner Trice: Absolutely. I've never known anyone who has done heroine like Little Beaver, but I've known people who have needed help, someone to cling to, and they find that in Miss Jonetta, or Miss Jonetta type. As far as Miss Beaver, I love saucy characters, in real life too.



Jainee from NYC: What do you think is the bigger problem facing America today; racism or classism?

Dawn Turner Trice: I think it's our blindness, or our inability to see how classism can tear us apart as much as racism. As in the O.J. Simpson case, there is such a focus on race conflict, we forget about class conflict. While we focus on one thing there's something else looming.



Allison from NYC: Do you think African Americans sacrifice their cultural heritage when they ascend the social and economic ladders of America?

Dawn Turner Trice: I don't think we have to. I think that black folks, like any other group, make some sacrifices in order to assimilate. But I don't think it's always necessary.



Jose L. from Doylestown, PA: How do you think being a journalist influences the way you write fiction?

Dawn Turner Trice: Well, I've learned to try to not let it influence the way I write fiction, because they are two very different ways of writing. Though there are good things I take from Journalism, the reporting skills for instance.



Jolene from Bryn Mawr, PA: I loved the jacket art of ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN. Where did it come from? Also, your title sounds like a song title -- is it?

Dawn Turner Trice: We went through several jackets, initially we tried to use work that had already been rendered, but when nothing worked, the publisher commissioned an illustrator who read the book and did something specifically for the book. The title is not part of a song -- put some lyrics together, we'll see what happens.



Sarah Vong from Boston: I noticed that you also read Washington Post journalist Patrice Gaines's most recent book (loved it!). Do you often find yourself reading books by your contemporaries?

Dawn Turner Trice: No. In fact I rarely do. I love the old stuff, and I'm still trying to get through it. But Patrice is a good friend of mine.



Miles Sam from Boston: What and when is your first memory of wanting to write? Also, how often and when do you set aside time to work on your fiction? Thanks!

Dawn Turner Trice: When I was little, at about five, I remember sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor reading and writing, creating my own stories. I try to do something regarding writing every day -- that doesn't mean sitting in front of the computer banging out lines. I spend a lot of time formulating the story.



Philip Berg from NYC, NY: Was it difficult to write fiction as a newspaper editor? Did you ever have trouble switching between styles?

Dawn Turner Trice: In the very first version of the book, it was very difficult and I had major trouble. But when I let my hair down, it became much easier.



Melissa from Cambridge: Have you read Saphire's book PUSH? What are your impressions? Do you feel she gives an accurate portrayal of life in the ghetto for a young African-American woman?

Dawn Turner Trice: I have not read it, but I'm sure if she wrote it it's accurate to her, even if I had read it, I don't know how much I could comment on it's accuracy, because ghetto life is not a monolith, it's different, like any other type of life is different.



Derrick from Manhattan: What's your policy with reviews? Do you ever read reviews of your own work? How much attention do you pay to them?

Dawn Turner Trice: I read every single word, and I pay very little attention to the good ones and the bad ones, I mean to say that I do not let them affect me in extremes. I don't ever fall apart or die in a case of a bad review.



Louise from Manhattan: You said that Tempestt and Miss Jonetta were hard to let go. Have you worked out in your mind what happens to Miss Jonetta?

Dawn Turner Trice: She's sitting in Annington County Mississippi, rocking to some blues on the front porch.



Jeff from Denver: I was wondering which women authors may have been a source of inspiration for you?

Dawn Turner Trice: Maya Angelou, Tina McElroy Ansa, E. Annie Proulx have been inspirations.



Josie from Philadelphia: Can you give us more of an idea of what your second book will be about? Thanks!!

Dawn Turner Trice: I'm still formulating it. I'm in labor. Thanks.



Fred from Colgate: Does anybody read your work before it's published aside from your editor?

Dawn Turner Trice: Yes. I've got about ten friends who go over it, looking for different things.



Pete from Madera, CA: As a journalist do you think that you will ever write a non-fiction book? Possibly an autobiography?

Dawn Turner Trice: Definitely not an autobiography, but I'd love to write a piece of non-fiction. My life is too boring!



Nicki from Westport: Do you think you will ever devote yourself entirely to writing? What are your plans for future novels?

Dawn Turner Trice: I'm thinking about going to medical school, or possibly architectural school, so I don't think I'll ever devote myself entirely to writing.



Jeff from Albuquerque: What happened to the other 360 pages of ONLY TWICE that you threw away? Do you think that these pages could be worked into a different story?

Dawn Turner Trice: Absolutely, unequivocally not. Only because you have to go through something to get to something else. That was just me going through the muck. Throwing out 360 pages was like opening a vein, but it was necessary. It's in the bottom of a box where it will stay.



Joanne Lee from Medford, MA: Will there be a movie version of ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN? I LOVED the book and feel like its characters, setting and dialogue lend itself to the screen.

Dawn Turner Trice: Thank you. There have been no offers from Hollywood yet. We got close with a CBS television offer, but we're not there yet. We're waiting.



Sue Burton from East Windsor, NJ: How has the response been to ONLY TWICE I'VE WISHED FOR HEAVEN from bookstores & reviewers alike? Are you categorized only as an African American writer?

Dawn Turner Trice: I hope I'm not categorized as an African American writer -- I don't think of myself that way. From a marketing perspective we've done things like that. The themes are universal, and the response from reviewers was great, we were reviewed in 25 publications -- they were not all so glowing, but some were -- they ran the gamut. Barnes & Noble has been wonderful.



Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us this evening and graciously taking all our questions, Ms. Trice.I think I speak for all of us when I say I look forward to your next book.

Dawn Turner Trice: Thank you very much for having me and thank you to all participants. Peace and blessings.


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Reading Group Guide

1. For discussion of Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven
: How do Tempestt's first impressions of Lakeland [pp. 18-19] establish the themes of the novel? What details in her descriptions of the landscaping and buildings bring to life her uneasiness about the community? Enchanted with the surroundings, her father calls Lakeland "a place straight out of a fairy tale." In what ways does Lakeland also embody the darker elements of traditional fairy tales?

2. How do Tempestt's parent's aspirations for themselves and their daughter differ? Discuss how their own backgrounds influence their reactions to Lakeland. Why does her mother, the daughter of a successful doctor, say "I don't want her growing up the way I did —" [p. 28]? What regrets does she have about her own upbringing?

3. What initially draws Tempestt to 35th Street? Why does she find Alfred Mayes's street-corner preaching so spellbinding and intriguing? What do Miss Jonetta and the men at O'Cala's provide for Tempestt that her own family can't?

4. Why are Valerie's unexplained absences from school and other signs of trouble ignored by her teachers and fellow classmates? Why does Valerie tell Tempestt that she spends her afternoons with her mother "saving souls" in the projects [pp.199]? Is it only shame that prevents her from telling the truth?

5. How does Valerie's fascination with birds offer insights into her feelings about herself and her place in Lakeland? What clues are there that despite her studied indifference Valerie longs to fit in? For example, what does Valerie's excitement about the school dance and her overnight stay with Tempestt reveal?

6. How does John present himself before his true relationship with Valerie is revealed? Could he have done more to protect Valerie?

7. Only Twice tells two coming-of-age stories—Tempestt's and Miss Jonetta's. Which one did you find more compelling? More realistic? How does Jonetta's rural Southern upbringing effect her expectations of and reactions to life in a northern city? Is her readiness to trust Alfred Mayes even after he has betrayed her understandable? How do her experiences as a young woman shape her eventual role in the community?

8. What impact do Judd, Fat Daddy, Mr. Chittey, and Hump have on Tempestt's view of the world? Do Trice's portraits of them reinforce or counteract common stereotypes of black men in today's society? What passages or events are particularly effective in capturing each man's nature?

9. Why does Tempestt's father secretly visit their old neighborhood [p. 135]? What indications are there that he has doubts about the environment he has chosen for his family? Why doesn't Tempestt's mother discuss her own negative feelings about Lakeland with him? Why does it take a serious crisis to spur their departure from Lakeland?

10. Why does Alfred Mayes confess to a crime he didn't commit? What responsibility, if any, does he bear for what happens to Valerie?

11. At the beginning of the book, Trice writes "Despite what lay outside the fence of Thirty-fifth Street, whatever the world had told people they couldn't do or be or wish for, it didn't apply to the residents of Lakeland—Once here, Lakelanders didn't look back" [p.20]. What are the costs, both for individuals and for society as a whole, of this sharp division between classes? What have the residents of Lakeland sacrificed in their pursuit of economic and social rewards? What obligations, if any, do successful African-Americans have to those still trapped by poverty and racism?

For discussion of the two novels

1. Trice describes three different African-American communities—the posh Lakeland and sordid 35th Street in Only Twice, and the rural midwestern town of Halley's Landing in An Eighth of August. In what ways do each of these communities reflect the history of African-Americans in this country and the social and economic realities of America today? What attitudes or beliefs do the characters who inhabit these very different worlds share?

2. Only Twice deals graphically with the problems of urban living—drug addiction, prostitution, casual violence, governmental indifference and neglect, not to mention that the fateful events in An Eighth of August are set in motion by Mr. Paul's act of perversion. What keeps the negative events at the heart of the novels from overshadowing the stories Trice tells?

3. Why does Trice use more than one narrator? How do the changes in voice shape the stories she tells? Did you identify more closely with specific narrators, and if so, why?

4. Tempestt tells her story from the vantage point of twenty years, and the recollections in An Eighth of August switch back and forth from 1973 to 1986. How do the changing time frames and perspectives strengthen the power of the novels?

5. In Only Twice, all the characters are African-American. In her second novel, Trice included a white woman, May Ruth, as part of the community she creates. What do you think she was trying to accomplish by doing this? Does May Ruth's background and race influence the way the other characters relate to her?

6. Both Tempestt and Pepper witness the death of their best friends, and both feel a sense of responsibility for the tragedy. How do their reactions differ? How do the reactions of the adults around them affect their abilities to cope with their guilt? We know that Tempestt ended up living a rich, fulfilling life. What do you think will happen to Pepper in the future?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2014



    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    AWESOME!!! WELL WRITTEN

    I loved this book by dawn. The story was great it told about alot of ups and downs in the black community in those days. I would definitely recommend this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2002

    Job Well Done

    This was an excellent piece of work. It was deep and real. The suspense was palpable. Highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2002

    heart touching

    i would not only like to see this book on stage, but would love to star as the gracefully jonetta, all of the charaters were great, this was truly an outstanding book in my book (smile) being from chicago myself i know all to well how ture this story can be, things like that go on more than we like to believe, the sad thing is when help steps in to fix the problem their really no help

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2001

    A very interesting novel.

    I really did enjoy this book. I couldn't put this book down at all. The author really should be commended with this wonderful novel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2000

    Caramel's Review

    I really liked this book. It caught my attention at the end when Chile's friend killed herself and they blmaed the preacher for it. I can't to read her second novel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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