Zero O’Clock: The New Novel by CJ Farley Is Coming Soon

ZeroOclockCoverMy new book “Zero O’Clock (Akashic) is coming out September 7, 2021! It’s YA novel about Geth Montego, a Jamaican-American teen living in New Rochelle, N.Y., whose world is turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

There’s also a lot in the book about the K-pop group BTS–Geth is one of the band’s biggest fans, and that’s saying a lot.

Here’s some of the pre-publication praise that “Zero O’Clock” has gotten so far:

“An insightful, eye-opening, and inventive story. C.J. Farley has penned a novel that sheds an important light on real issues facing young people today.”
Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give

Zero O’Clock is a beautiful and timely YA novel that is both heartbreaking and whip smart, a glimpse into the world of virtual friendship, classrooms, and pop stardom.”
Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg, author of The Nine

“Thoughtful, provocative, and pounding with the fast-paced beat of a sharp-witted adolescent mind, Zero O’Clock is the story of a Jamaican-American teen girl at the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Rochelle, New York. C.J. Farley has created an irresistible heroine in Geth Montego. Simmering with justifiable anger at everything from the cancellation of her senior prom to racial injustices and police brutality, Geth manages to overcome grief, anxiety, and confusion to discover a new sense of herself and her ability to create change.”
Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party

Zero O’Clock seems to have a direct line into the mindset of a modern teenager. I enjoyed it immensely!”
Alex Wheatle, author of Cane Warriors

RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman Forever

RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman
RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman

When Black Panther dies in “Avengers: Infinity War,” I didn’t believe it. He was too great a character to write out of the franchise.

When I heard the news today that actor Chadwick Boseman had died of colon cancer at the age of 43, I felt the same thing, only magnified by real life and real tragedy. Boseman was too great for him to leave this life so soon.

I served as consulting producer on the HBO documentary “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown”; Boseman starred as Brown in “Get On Up,” the big-screen movie version that was made from the same source material. 

Boseman specialized in bringing the lives of bigger-than-life Black icons like Brown to the big screen. If he had only played Black Panther, he would have deservedly been a legend–but he did much more than that. He also played Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as a younger man in “Marshall” and baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42.”

When I was growing up, Black heroes, let alone superheroes like Black Panther, were much more of a rarity in Hollywood movies. Black characters were more likely to be criminals or clowns; if they were positive roles, they were likely to be small parts, or in small movies. Boseman followed in the tradition of Denzel Washington—he focused on roles that uplifted Black viewers, and he managed to win parts in movies that were significant releases.

Boseman didn’t play cardboard heroes. His James Brown is a deeply-flawed man, fueled by ambition, driven by demons, wracked by addictions. But Brown was also indisputably a genius musician. That’s what we all want and expect of our storytellers–to go beyond stereotypes and tropes and portray our stories in their complexity and glory.

In a statement, Boseman’s family said that since 2016, he had been in treatment for stage-III colon cancer, which progressed to stage IV. That meant he filmed some of his greatest roles, like “Black Panther,” while he was fighting a deadly illness. Former President Barack Obama said in a statement about the actor’s passing, “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”

It’s hard to get authentic movies about Black life made in Hollywood. The efforts and accomplishments of people like Boseman, like Washington and Sidney Poitier in years past, have helped blaze a trail for other actors to follow. Because Boseman fought to play heroes in the movies, he succeeded in becoming one in real life.

[This post has been updated.]

‘Unspooled’ and the Racist Legacy of ‘Gone With the Wind’

GWTWI sometimes get obsessed with certain podcasts, and one of my recent favorites is “Unspooled,” a podcast that, on each episode, examines a movie from the American Film Institute’s top 100 list and discusses whether or not it deserves to be there. I was shocked and saddened when the show got to “Gone with the Wind.” While the podcast hosts differed on how racist the film was, both of them had plenty of praise for it and agreed it belonged on the AFI list.

I wrote a short note responding to the episode for the “Unspooled” Facebook group but my post was declined and I got this message back from the Admin of the page: “I’m sorry but the group has proved recently that they are not in a place to have mature conversation about this. It’s already been discussed a lot, and any new posts are going to cause more drama and more fighting.”

Film discussions shouldn’t shy away from drama. So I decided to post what I was going to write for the “Unspooled” page here.

“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell is a racist movie based on a racist book by a racist author. The movie, the book and the author helped popularized dangerous lies about the South–that blacks enjoyed their enslavement (untrue), that slavesholders were benevolent (they weren’t), and that the Civil War was about maintaining a romantic way of life (the so-called “Lost Cause”) when it was actually about maintaining slavery.

After the release of her novel “Gone with the Wind,” Mitchell responded to a fan letter from Thomas Dixon, author of “The Clansman,” the hateful book that inspired the racist film “Birth of a Nation.” “Dear Mr. Dixon…I was practically raised on your books, and love them very much,” she replied to him. “For many years I have had you on my conscience, and I suppose I might as well confess it now.” In “Gone with the Wind,” the Klan kills “a negro who had boasted of rape” so his white victim doesn’t have to testify in court–and the lynching is portrayed sympathetically. (Note: I first learned a lot of the historical material in this post from reading “The Wind Goes On: Gone with the Wind and the Imagined Geographies of the American South,” a dissertation by  Virginia Tech instructor Taulby H. Edmondson.) 

Blacks in “Gone with the Wind” are described in racist, insulting ways. Mitchell calls blacks “scarcely one generation out of the African jungles.” Mammy’s face is described as having “the uncomprehending sadness of a money’s face.” When Scarlett and the once-enslaved Big Sam are reunited after the Civil War, Mitchell writes that “his watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled, and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings of a mastiff.” Blacks in the movie, like Butterfly McQueen’s character Prissy, are just as crudely drawn. “I hated that role,” McQueen once said. “I thought the movie was going to show the progress black people had made, but Prissy was lazy and stupid and backward. She needed to be slapped.”

The movie’s entertainment value, if there is any, can’t possibly outweigh the actual harm the movie has done in helping to spread stereotypes and justify racial terror and segregation.

Malcolm X hated “Gone With the Wind” and said its stereotypes made him feel like “crawling under the rug.” James Baldwin called the movie obscene and argued that it promoted “the myth of the happy darky.”

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., once wrote “I distinctly remember when I first saw the film. I was 17 years old, and I was astonished as I sat in a movie theater in Keyser, West Virginia, to see the white patrons weep loudly at the death of ‘The Old South.’ If you are a black person, as I am, the death of ‘The Old South’ meant the liberation of one’s ancestors! It is an occasion for celebration. And the embarrassing depictions of characters such as Mammy and the character played by Butterfly McQueen…have taken decades for black authors to overcome.”

The black press recognized “Gone with the Wind” as racist propaganda from its release in 1939. In the Washington Tribune, Black poet Melvin B. Tolson wrote that “‘Gone with the Wind’ is more dangerous than ‘Birth of a Nation.’” He blasted it as nothing more than “anti-Negro, anti-Yankee, KKK propaganda…a falsification of history…‘The Birth of a Nation’ was such a barefaced lie that a moron could see through it. ‘Gone with the Wind’ is such a subtle lie that it will be swallowed as truth by millions of whites and blacks alike.”

In 1805, abolitionist Samuel Wood published a broadsheet cataloging first-person accounts of some of the atrocities of slavery. Enslaved men and women were routinely and systematically raped, their families broken apart and their children sold. Enslaved people were branded with red hot irons and tortured with the drippings of molten lead. Pregnant enslaved women were whipped so severely that they died of their wounds. Enslaved people were “put into the stocks, a cattle chain of sixty or seventy pounds weight put on them, and a large collar round their necks, and a weight of fifty-six pounds fastened to the chain, when they were driven afield: the collars are formed with two, three, or four projections, which hinder them from lying down to sleep.” 

I can see why some people embrace “Gone with the Wind” despite its flaws–it’s a film with a feisty female protagonist at its center and that’s a powerful lure. The movie also pushes racial buttons we might not even realize are being pushed–we may think we’re responding to the film’s sweeping “romance” when really we’re giving into something deeper and uglier and possibly unacknowledged within us. Pulitzer-prize winning critic Margo Jefferson once offered this advice for watching “Gone with the Wind”: “Watch it well armed with political, social and race history, and approach it as real critics of how film manipulates, how it can turn even your own impulses and instincts against you.”

I’m hoping that “Unspooled” does a follow-up episode and talks to an expert in African-American history and the Reconstruction era to put “Gone with the Wind” in the proper social and historical context.

Wood wrote at the end of his antislavery pamphlet: “Let now every honest man lay his hand on his breast, and seriously reflect, whether he is justifiable in countenancing such barbarities; or whether he ought not to reject, with horror, the smallest participation in such infernal transactions.”

“Gone with the Wind,” by promoting slavery, is a participant in these “infernal transactions.” 

You can check out my new book “Around Harvard Square” on Amazon.

‘Game of Thrones’ Is Ending But It’s Not the End of George R.R. Martin’s World

I interviewed Sophie Turner in London in 2016.
I interviewed Sophie Turner in London in 2016.

“Game of Thrones” is ending on Sunday, but the world that George R.R. Martin created is far from finished.

I wrote a piece about this on Quartz.

I’ve been following the show since before it began, interviewing Martin himself several times as well as cast members like Kit Harington and Sophie Turner. I have some thoughts about the turn that Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen character took in the penultimate episode, but I’m going to wait until the whole show ends before I weigh in.

You can check out my new book “Around Harvard Square” on Amazon.


I once interviewed Emilia Clarke at a "Game of Thrones" premiere.
I once interviewed Emilia Clarke at a “Game of Thrones” premiere.

Music and ‘Around Harvard Square’

LaurynCover1The Largehearted Boy blog does this cool series called “book notes” where they ask authors–like Jesmyn Ward and Hari Kunzru–to submit playlists of music that could go along with their books.

This feature fit perfectly with my new novel “Around Harvard Square” so I was psyched when they asked me to submit a playlist. See, my book is set in the 1990s and back then I was the music critic for Time magazine. I used to spend my days and nights interviewing folks like Lauryn Hill, Beyonce, the Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Jay-Z, and other stars of pop, rock, rap and alternative music.

Each of the chapters in “Around Harvard Square” was named after a song from the 1990s, so there’s kind of a built-in playlist. Anyway, I tell more of the story about the connection between my book and the music of the 1990s on the Largehearted Boy blog.

You can read my “book notes” on the Largehearted Boy blog.

Mad About Missandei on ‘Game of Thrones’

Missandei1I love “Game of Thrones” but I’m worried about the fate of some of the people of color on the show.

There’s basically as many dragons going into the final two episodes as there are people of color. I’m going to keep watching, and I’m rooting for Sansa, Arya, Jon, Tyrion, Grey Worm and the rest, but there is a lack of darkness on the series that adjusting the brightness won’t correct. I wrote an essay about all of this for the Grio.

Dracarys, y’all.  If you watch the show, you know what I mean.

You can read my essay about Missandei and “Game of Thrones” here.

You can order my new novel “Around Harvard Square” on Amazon.

My Chat with Blogger Deborah Kalb About ‘Around Harvard Square’

The stained glass windows of the Harvard Lampoon depicting Jester, Ibis and Blot--I wrote about the racial history of these Lampy symbols in my novel 'Around Harvard Square.'
Jester, Ibis and Blot on the Harvard Lampoon’s stained glass widows–I write about the racial history of these symbols in ‘Around Harvard Square.’

I did a q. and a. about my new novel “Around Harvard Square” with Deborah Kalb, who writes a literary blog. I love the fact that there are people out there like Deborah fighting to bring some arts and culture to the internet.

She asked me a lot of great questions about the book, including how I came up with the ending, and how important the setting is to a novel.

You can read my q. and a. with Deborah here.

‘Around Harvard Square’ Does the Quaz with Jeff Pearlman

On the road promoting my novel "Around Harvard Square."
On the road promoting my novel “Around Harvard Square.”

Jeff Pearlman is a former neighbor of mine whom I’ve worked with on various stories and projects over the years. He’s also a critically-acclaimed sportswriter who has launched a half-dozen books up the bestseller lists. He has this interview series called The Quaz that’s kind of like a cooler, less formulaic version of Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire and he recently interviewed me for it. We talked about “Coneheads,” that time I interviewed Amy Winehouse, my five favorite films…actually you should read the interview yourself, it’s worth your time. You can check out the installment of the Quaz featuring me talking about my new novel “Around Harvard Square” here.

My novel “Around Harvard Square” is available for purchase on Amazon.

‘Around Harvard Square’ Arrives at Harvard Book Store

HarvardBookStore1I stopped by Harvard Book Store in Cambridge MA on April 30th to read from my new novel “Around Harvard Square.” The turnout was great and there were lots of questions about how I came to write the book, how I managed to anticipate the college cheating scandal, and the lack of diversity in YA fiction.

WCVB-TV came by to do an interview with me and I’ll update you when that piece airs later this month.

You can buy “Around Harvard Square” on Amazon now.

‘Around Harvard Square’ Reading and Discussion at Harvard Book Store

HarvardReadingPhoto1I’ll be reading and discussing my new novel “Around Harvard Square” at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass Ave, Cambridge MA tonight, April 30th at 7pm! Please share this post and let your friends know!

I’ll be holding a q. and a. at the event and discussing all kinds of related topics, from the lack of representation in YA novels to the recent college admissions cheating scandal to my career as a pop music critic for Time, a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal and an executive editor at Amazon Inc.’s Audible. I’ll also talk about co-producing a Peabody-award-winning documentary for HBO, and having Lifetime turn one of my books into a top-rated TV movie.

I hope you can attend the reading!

You can buy “Around Harvard Square” on Amazon now.