Thursday, March 27, 2014


Congratulations to Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy for winning their career fifth gold medal at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships taking place right now in Japan.

A profile on the pair in 2010 stated:

Robin Szolkowy, born in the town of Greifswald to his mother (an East German nurse) and his father (a Tanzanian medical student), who returned to Africa before the birth of his son.

Although black athletes are extremely rare in the former East Germany, Szolkowy told the New York Times before the Games that he never experienced racism or discomfort.

Skating is hardly America's most colorful sport, either. (Well, at least not racially speaking.)

In my 5th Figure Skating Mystery novel, "Skate Crime: Enhanced Multimedia Edition," I told the story of African-American Toni Wright, and her white pairs partner, Lucian Pryce. I based Toni on the legendary Mabel Fairbanks.

Read about Mabel, here, and enjoy an exclusive excerpt from "Skate Crime," below:

"You got a lot of money?"
He was about twelve, maybe thirteen years old, with hair so blond he might have been a ghost and eyes so blue they looked like mirrors reflecting the summer sky. His chin had a point at the end, and with every word he spoke, it looked as though he was jabbing it right in Toni's direction.
"What's it to you?" Toni asked, knowing that she sounded common, and happy that Mama wasn't around to hear her.
"I heard you going around asking everybody for lessons. You got money to pay for them?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but yes. Yes, I do."
"Where'd you get it?"
"From my daddy, of course."
"Ha! Never heard of a rich colored man."
"That is likely because you are ignorant" Toni heard Mama's voice coming out of her mouth and decided that made up for sounding so cheap earlier.
"Where'd he get all his money? He a thief?"
"Of course not! For your information, my father runs the Wright Funeral Homes of New York City. Two in Harlem, one in Queens, two in the Bronx, and we're opening another in Brooklyn next month!"
"So he's a vampire!"
Toni knew she should be offended. But the image of her daddy with bat wings and sharp teeth just made her giggle.
"So you're really rich, then?"
Toni shrugged. Well-brought-up young ladies didn't discuss money in public. It was even more common than bad grammar.
"I have an idea," the boy said. "About how you can take skating lessons."
She knew she shouldn't be listening to him, but Toni couldn't help it. She said, "How?”
"Okay, well, see, here's the thing: I could teach you."
"You're just a boy!"
"I'm almost thirteen! And I've been skating, well, since I was a baby almost. See, my ma and dad, they run the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on West fifty-ninth — that's practically right down the street, in Hell's Kitchen. So I've been dancing since I was a baby, too. I'm good. Ma says I could be a ballroom champion, maybe. But dancing, that's nothing like skating. Skating is everything you do in dance, but harder and faster and... and... better. It's just better, you know?"
"I know," Toni said softly.
"Now, my folks, they can afford a lesson for me here and there, but if you want to be a champion, you need lessons every day. My folks don't have the money for that. So I thought, it's like this... I thought I could give you lessons on what I know and you don't, but since I can't take money or I wouldn't be an amateur skater anymore, your daddy can pay the money for my lessons to my coach for her to teach me. Then I take what I learn and teach it to you, you understand?"
Toni thought she did. But... "Your coach doesn't want to teach me."
"No, she doesn't. But I bet she wouldn't mind taking money from you for me, especially if she knows it's the only way I could afford it."
When Toni later told her daddy what the boy had proposed, he chuckled, but he didn't look particularly happy when he agreed, "No, I suspect she wouldn't mind, at that."
"So can we do it, Daddy? Can we do it this way?"
"Well, I would like to speak to this boy first. What did you say his name was?”
Toni had to sheepishly admit she had no idea.
The next day. Daddy came to the rink in person. Toni pointed out the boy with the pale hair and mirror eyes. He was on the ice, running backwards at top speed, then leaping into the air and splitting his legs so high, his toes were nearly up to his shoulders when he touched them with his fingers.
Daddy beckoned him over and the boy came instantly. He said his name was Lucian Pryce.
"Lucian, huh?" Daddy noted. "That's quite the mouthful."
"My ma is French, sir. Well, first Russian, then French. She's from a long line of ballerinas that ran away from Russia between the wars and ended up first in France, then America. Dad's just a regular mick, though. Nothing fancy there."
Toni wasn't sure if Daddy actually heard the gist of Lucian's explanation. He still seemed a bit dumbstruck that a white boy had called him "sir."
Daddy told Lucian he would speak to his coach, but if she agreed with Lucian's idea to pay for his lessons, then Daddy was for it. Lucian grinned and winked at Toni. She knew that winking was very common. But she couldn't help winking back.
Lucian's coach did Daddy the great favor of taking his money. She hesitated a bit before actually, physically accepting it but in the end, like Daddy always said, "The color green wins out over any other."
And Toni began taking lessons from Lucian.
Their first day, he taught her the backwards crossovers.
Their first year, she had mastered every single revolution jump, up through the Axel (which was actually one and a half turns in the air). By the second year, she could spin so ferociously, Daddy said it was like seeing a spool of movie film slip out of its projector. By the third, Lucian told Toni he thought she was ready for real U.S. Figure Skating Association competition. There was only one problem. In order to compete, she had to join the USFSA. And the USFSA did not — Lucian had actually called their headquarters and asked; he would apply for her father to cover the long-distance bill later — have any colored members.
Toni asked Lucian for a copy of the form to join the USFSA. She read it closely. She said, "It doesn't ask anywhere if you're colored or not. It just says what the dues are to join."
Lucian read the form, too. "You're right," he said.
At eleven years old, Toni was a dues-paying, official member of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Now she could take the necessary figure and freestyle tests to qualify for competition at the Regional, Sectional, maybe even the National Championships. When she filled out her paperwork to take the test, it didn't ask whether or not she was colored, either. But when the three judges assigned to mark her test arrived at Wollman Rink, they could see for themselves. One refused to look at her figures at all. The other two simply marked her "Failed" before she was even through demonstrating.
"This is a problem," Lucian said.
"Is it a problem that can be solved with money?" Daddy asked him.
"Then I expect you to let me know how to solve it."
Lucian called the USFSA headquarters — this time, he simply used the Wrights' phone, to make the reimbursement easier — and asked for a list of every qualified judge in the country, plus their contact information. He then proceeded to call over two hundred of them, until he found three willing to judge a little colored girl's tests.
On a warm April morning a few weeks before Toni turned twelve, as the outdoor rink's ice was beginning to melt in the spring thaw, three USFSA judges — one from Maine, one from Vermont, one all the way from the aptly named Great Falls, Montana –
arrived in New York City — plane fare courtesy of Wright Funeral Homes — to judge one Antonia Wright's figure and freestyle tests.
Daddy told her, "I don't plan to do this regularly, so you best make sure you get this right the first time, you hear me, Antonia?"
"Yes, sir," she said.
"That goes for you, too, Lucian."
"Yes, sir," he said. And Lucian made sure that when Toni took her tests, they were loop and bracket and Choctaw perfect, so that, in the space of that one morning, she passed all of her tests up to the Junior level.
"That means you're qualified to compete at Nationals!" he told her excitedly.
"Don't I have to place at Regionals and Sectionals first?"
“Technicality," Lucian said. "I'm going to go to Nationals in Senior Men, and you're going to go in Junior Ladies. It's all over but the medal ceremony, really."
Toni was the fifth girl in her group of twelve at the Regionals. She skated in a purple velvet dress and white tights to music from Broadway's Showboat. Lucian had picked and edited the tunes himself on a special record. The first, fast part was to "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," the slow middle section was to "Ol' Man River," and then for the big, dramatic finish she skated to a Charleston. Toni landed all of her double jumps and wrapped up with a change-leg camel/sit/scratch spin. She placed twelfth out of twelve in the free skating, just as she had in the figures.
"This is a problem," Lucian said, looking at her scores.
"Is it a problem that can be solved with money?” Daddy asked.
"I don't know, sir," Lucian admitted.
"Then you'd best figure it out and tell me. Soon."
"Yes, sir."
To Toni, Daddy said, "Now, the only solution I personally can see to this problem is for you to get yourself twice as good, three times as good, whatever it takes, so that those judges can't keep on ignoring you like this. You think you can do that, Antonia?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Then you'd best figure it out and tell me. Soon."
After a few days of thinking about it, Lucian said, "I think I may have a solution."
"What is it?"
"You're going to skate Pairs." It wasn't a question. It was a pronouncement
"With who?"
"With me." Another pronouncement
"You know, Lucian, even in a Pair, I'll still be colored."
"Yes. But it will matter less. Trust me. Plus, the judges have already shown they like me. I won my group on all seven cards, and by a wide margin, too. If they like me by myself, they'll like me with you."
"Why would you want to give up skating Singles to skate Pairs with me?"
"Because I'm good by myself, but I can be great with you." Lucian smiled. "What do you say? Have I ever steered you wrong before?"

"Skate Crime: Enhanced Multimedia Edition" features all the text of the original, Berkley Prime Crime paperback release, as well as videos by the Ice Theatre of NY to compliment the story (I even managed to find video of an African-American woman skating with a white man to represent Toni and Lucian - no easy feat, let me tell you - read all about it, here). Get a free preview of "Skate Crime" by clicking the link below:


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