Book of Love

William July wrote about achieving great relationships. Then he had one.

William July gave Jamey Lacy a copy of his book, Brothers, Lust and Love: Thoughts on Manhood, Sex and Romance, when they met at a how-to-find-a-publisher workshop. It was the summer of '96, and he had just self-published the 126-page self-help book geared toward black women; Lacy was thinking of doing a self-publishing run herself. Giving Lacy the book, says July, was purely professional, one writer networking with another. He wasn't flirting with the attractive blonde, wasn't trying to be a mack daddy. He wasn't looking for love or sex, he says. He was looking for a publisher.

Lacy read July's book straight through in one sitting. It's going to be a bestseller, she told him.

She was right. Last summer, after the book was an underground hit at black bookstores, Doubleday released a 302-page revised and expanded version. Since then, the book has stayed near the top of Essence's bestseller list.

The only part of the book Lacy didn't like was the chapter named "Does Love Have a Color?" where July wrote, "I've never had a serious relationship across the color line. It's not really something I've ever wanted to do either."

He was being "arrogant" and "uppity," says Lacy, 40. Part Cherokee, part Creek, part Irish, she crossed color lines by just breathing. This man, she thought, had some growing left to do.

"Nobody can be a relationship expert," July says. It's not on his business card (though"best-selling author," "speaker" and "workshops" are).

There are two types of self-help writers, he explains. Therapists and people who have actually been through it. He's the latter.

At 34, he says, he's a real guy, a regular guy, not just another divorced Ph.D. blabbering about things he hasn't done. That's what sets him apart from all the men-are-from-Mars-women-should-love-them-anyway writers.

And his book is geared toward black women. (One chapter is titled "Your Baby's Father or Me?" Another is "Black Women: Living Legacies.") It's not written to the brothers; it's about them. It's July's pissed-off reaction to The Rules and other books on how to "trick and trap" a man. He admits that some of The Rules makes sense, stuff like don't try to make a man love you if he doesn't, and make sure he respects you. But he says you don't need to set a timer by the phone to enforce 15-minute conversations. And accepting a date after Wednesday won't kill you.

Publisher's Weekly called July's book "derivative, but useful." And it is. The ideas aren't original, but he's taking them to an audience who hasn't heard them before -- or at least, not as often as the mostly white girls who read Glamour.

And it's decent advice, the kind that can help people. July has always liked helping people. Growing up, he participated in litter drives, picked up trash on the street and worked on political campaigns to get the free T-shirt. "I was community-service Joe," he says.

He was also the type to do something, rather than bitch and moan. He photographed weddings for the cut-rate price of $400. He was president of the NAACP youth council his senior year in high school. And he read the news on TSU's radio station. The summer before he started college he opened his own insurance agency in the back of his father's real estate office. He worked on Rodney Ellis's bid to become a state representative then became an intern in Ellis's office. A few months later he was on Ellis's payroll.

"In the '80s I was all about money and power," July says. "I went and majored in business thinking I'd be Donald Trump." At TSU he was in the banking and finance club, in the society for advancement of management, on the debate team, and was vice president of the student government.

After graduation he worked as a realtor in his dad's office and as a reserve deputy sheriff on the weekends. He made good money in real estate, but he wanted something different. In 1991, he ran for state representative and lost, he says, because he was naive and underfunded and shouldn't have been in the race to start with. It was a 30-day emergency election (and became the subject of his first, still unpublished novel). He wrote a letter to the editor of the Chronicle at 11:30 one night, full of fury because candidates weren't getting equal billing. During his endorsement interview with the newspaper, the fire and light in the letter was all anyone talked about.

Maybe writing was what he was meant to do, he thought. He started writing for real estate trade magazines. Then he thought he might help the community more by enforcing the law than by selling homes. So he became a cop full-time and wrote on the side.

Doing radar checks, he'd take out his purple three-section spiral notebook and scribble down articles. He wanted to write uplifting, spiritual articles. And since his love life wasn't very uplifting -- he'd only had two real relationships and countless disasters -- he knew what didn't work, and he thought he could prevent someone else's pain.

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