By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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.
Promiscuity, for instance, didn't work. As he later told an Essence writer, "I've felt compelled to do a lot of things Iwasn't enjoying sexually. I could be sitting, watching TV, cooling out, and the phone would ring, and just because Ihad an opportunity to get sex, I'd get up and go get it."
He realized he had a problem, he said, when he once fell asleep during sex.
From those and other miserable experiences, he distilled life lessons. He wrote "Five Things Women Do That Men Can't Stand" for Today's Black Woman, "I Want Your Soul" for Papyrus, "Why I Didn't Call" for Black Elegance and "How to Love a Black Man" for Upscale. In '92 he got his big break: his first article, "Hello, How Are You?" in Essence.
Those essays became the foundation of Brothers, Lust and Love. While he was writing the last bits, he says, he was celibate for six months -- "a long time for a guy."
"We all get lost in the physical jungle," he explains. "It gives you time to clear your head."
It also gave him time to finish his book. Which, at the publishing conference, he gave to Lacy.
The two started off just as friends. Lacy had sworn off men. She wanted to focus on her career as a personal trainer and on getting her daughter, Laney, through high school.
Lacy talked to July on the phone. They were both writers, so they started with that, but the more they talked, Lacy says, the more alike they seemed. The first two months they logged 200 hours on the phone.
It's easier to say what they don't have in common than to list what they do. For instance, she says, she likes to go out and do things, but he likes to hole up in the house. "She likes to stay at home too," he says, a bit defensively.
The more they talked, the more electricity there was between them. They both think Mike Judd is a genius and make up Beavis and Butthead episodes for fun. They're both hugging people, and they're picture-taking people. They love dogs.
Revising his book for a big-league publisher, July took out the never-crossed-the-color-line bit that had bothered Lacy. In fact, he rewrote the chapter to say that you shouldn't date a woman based on her skin tone, it's the woman inside that matters. And he changed the chapter's title from "Does Love Have a Color?" to "Multicolored Love."
When they crossed another line -- the line between just-friends and more-than-friends -- Lacy decided they needed to slow down. They dated a few months. Then, she says, "he started talking about good genes," explaining how her creative and athletic traits would come out in their children.
He got down on one knee in her kitchen, took her hand and asked her to marry him. She thought it was sweet and cute and fresh and corny, all at the same time.
But she hesitated to say yes because she's not 100 percent healthy. Because breast cancer runs in her family and she discovered cysts in her breasts when she was 19, doctors had scooped out her breast tissue to prevent cancer and put in silicone gel implants. The implants burst three years later when she was breast-feeding her daughter.
Those implants, she thinks, are why she has symptoms of lupus; the connective tissue throughout her body is hardening. Some days she gets really tired and the pain gets really bad. She told July that she didn't know if she was going to get worse or if she was going to get better.
He didn't care. He told her he could marry someone who was in the same shape she was in five years ago and they could get killed in a car accident tomorrow.
They jotted notes for their vows, but when they met with the Reverend Karen Tudor, she had already included everything they wanted to say. She talked about the two candles representing them as two independent, separate, complete people, and a third candle as their union. It's a wedding commonplace, but July saw it as symbolic support for the idea in his book that complete people attract complete people and don't meld into one -- they both have their own souls and keep them after the wedding. Going over their vows he and Lacy both started to cry.
They were married October 23 at Unity Church of Christianity. It was a small ceremony. July wore the $2,000 suit that he wears on his book cover. Lacy's best friend sat with her mouth open the whole time. She couldn't believe Lacy was getting married.
Now they live in Spring, in a four-bedroom Tudor-style house on a corner lot. July has the cream-colored computer by the windows; hers is the black computer in the corner by the red accent wall. There's a copy of his book cover by her screen. He'll put hers up when it's out this summer.
A self-typed sign, "DISCIPLINE, PATIENCE, PRACTICE," is beside his computer, and there's a little note tacked to the screen: "What do YOU think? What would you say? How do you feel? Just be conversational." A yin and yang hovers to his right beside a framed Hallmark message exhorting, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." (Lacy gave him that.) To his left is his favorite picture of Lacy, before the bright blond grew out of her hair. She's wearing a black jog bra and leggings, either about to work out or just finishing a workout, he can't remember which.
He does most of his writing in the morning; she writes in the afternoon and evening. They're each other's first editor.
When he writes, he slips on round, dark glasses that make him look like Stevie Wonder. They block the screen's radiation.
"You sound like your old grandfather," she says. She calls him "follow-the-rules Fred"; extracautious, he reminds her of Fire Marshal Bill from In Living Color. She doesn't let him wear the geeky glasses out of the house.
"They're not supposed to go outside," he protests. "They're not sunglasses. They're for the computer."
"I think it comes from him being on the police force," she says, massaging his neck.
Off the living room is their exercise and meditation room. July listens to Buddhist monk chants and meditates every day. He sees a light open up in the sky and the beam focuses on him. He lets the energy pour straight through his skin.
"I picture myself getting a direct circuit to God," he says.
The creamy opal in his wedding band pulls the light. "It's an energy stone," he says. "There's fire in it. Spiritual energy."
Interracial relationships are the one always-talked-about topic when July speaks. He doesn't like the word "interracial" because all human beings are of the same race, he says. Men aren't from Mars. Women aren't from Venus. We're born in the same hospital out of the same mothers, he says. If a Klingon married a Vulcan, that would be interracial. Their head and ears are different. With humans, there ain't nothing different but skin tone. He prefers the word "inter-ethnic."
If someone in the audience asks, July tells them his wife isn't black. But he doesn't bring up the subject. "Why should I?" he asks.
He says he started out being a "race man," inserting "black man" when really he could've been talking about any man. In his next works, he's trying to cover everyone instead.
He doesn't want to be the black-writer-in-the-box. That's why he split with his literary agent: He says she wanted him to nestle down into his niche of black writer speaking as the voice of black men. He wants to broaden and expand that role: "You look on the bookshelf and there's Waiting to Exhale volumes one through 50. I have no interest in writing number 51."
Last week, he and his stylist went shopping for a suit for him to wear on the cover of his second Doubleday book, From Tin Man to Real Man. The $2,000 Armani on Brothers, Lust and Love appeals to women, he says, but since he wants to target men too this time, he lost the tie. And to get a more casual look, he spent only $700 on the suit.
The book should be out in January. Once again, the metaphor of the woodsman without a heart isn't brand-spanking-new, nor are the main ideas. The book's gist is that girls are raised to be emotionally expressive and men are taught to be emotionally void. "Men are raised to see manhood as conquering and controlling, and women learn interdependence," he says.
For instance, there's the story about his cough. He sat in his living room feeling the cough get thicker as it sank deeper into his chest. It got so bad he could barely breathe; he slept sitting up, if he slept at all.
Lacy told him to go to the doctor. No, he said, he was a man, he could tough it out. But it kept getting worse.
Thumbing through Time magazine in a pulmonary specialist's waiting room, he figured the guy would tell him he was wasting his time. Instead, the doctor told him his bronchitis had grown into an infection. The fluid-filled sac around his heart was the size of a soccer ball.
He could have died. If he hadn't decided to be a man and take the pain, he says, he could have cured the cough and skipped the surgery.
That's July's advice in a nutshell: Avoid the bigger problems. Don't stay in relationships you don't want to be in because you don't know what else to do. Don't just wait and tough things out, because they won't get better on their own. You have to make things better. "Happy isn't a place," he says. "It's a process."
July believes the book is going to be a success and that he's going to be the next big motivational speaker sensation. In part, this is an affirmation thing: Every time he says "if," he corrects himself and changes the word to "will" or "when." He will be financially successful. He will be the next motivational speaking sensation.
And already there's evidence to show that he's right. He's booked to speak at the Black History Month Book Fair on February 20 in Chicago; he's been nominated for the fair's nonfiction book of the year. He's got another article coming out in Essence. Someday he wants to take a trip back to the Windy City and be on Oprah. It's gonna happen, he says. He's already gotten a call back.
Best of all, Lacy believes in him. This next book, she says, "it's going to be an international bestseller."
He agrees: "It's gonna be huge.