When I dove into the shelves of a Goodreader who commented on one of my reviews, I noticed she’d read a lot but hardly had a five star read, even on her Favorites Shelf. Wahida Clark was a strong feature and Payback Ain’t Enough was one in a series that rated highest. I wanted to see what made it a stand out.
Wahida Clark is a one-woman storm best known for her Thug series which she began to write while serving a ten year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Her stories are romance on steroids, sometimes called Urban Lit, where the women are well-packaged and smart and the men are ripped and dangerous. Clark herself is a natural-born storyteller who can distinguish for us the many voices she packs into her neighborhoods, and she manages to get many twists and turns into a relationship before payday.
These are mean, double-crossing streets and so far as I know could be a fair representation of Detroit, where this series is set. No one ever seems to get tired of trying to get one over on the other guy, though there was a female character, Janay of Georgia, that was looking to leave the set:
"Even though I was thrilled at the possibility of getting out of prison, I wasn't saying to myself, 'Hooray! I am so looking forward to getting back into the dope game.' I was tired of the shit."Janay got dragged back in when her father put her in charge of his stable while he served a sentence. Family is complicated in this book, and life-threatening.
There was one so-called nice guy, called Six-Nine, who attended a funeral and was described:
"Yo, there go Six-Nine. Niggas behind the wall got mad respect for him. I saw his flicks several times. That nigga gettin’ lots of clean money; see, he was smart. Once he got his big score, he invested it. Dude got stocks, bonds and shit. He’s just too nice and trusting. Like Robin Hood on his side of town. He makes sure everybody eats. At least that’s what they say."Later we learn that Six-Nine runs an international counterfeiting organization duplicating credit cards and cash. “He once made a million dollars disappear from a dirty politician’s bank account with no paper trail.” Must be where he gets his Robin Hood cred.
The sex is explicit, hot, and frequent, but it sounded real to me. At least two of her female characters said they hadn't slept with anyone for months. Altogether it was pretty exhausting. I got to page 50 before I started skimming.
Wahida Clark has her own publishing company now and two years ago had some twelve titles in publication. She is most famous for the Thug series and the Payback series, individual titles of which have spent time of the New York Times bestseller list. Her work has been optioned for TV and film and her franchise is doing brilliantly.
An interview with Jet Magazine in 2012 tells us Clark was working on a play at that time. That would be a fundamentally different experience for writer and audience, changing her work for the better, I think. Her audience will be sitting there in front of her for a couple hours. That brings qualitatively different demands than a novel. She certainly has the storytelling skill and the understanding.
In 2015 Clark was interviewed by Vice Magazine’s Seth Ferranti. The final question and answer seemed refreshingly direct and is reprinted here:
Do you ever think that street lit romanticizes or even glamorizes crime?Clark is impressive, a recent authorial incarnation of Iceberg Slim. She is now Vice President of Prodigal Sons & Daughters Redirection Services to help young ex-offenders to find their way in a changed society when they get out, and provides aid and direction to those with substance abuse problems.
"We try our best to follow personal principles and literary principles that demand that good triumphs over evil all of the time. However, the demand today is for junk food—both physically and mentally.
My husband taught me that it was easier to write books for money than to write books to educate. So of course we took the road for money, in hopes that it would put us in the position to educate. It's a constant grind and hustle. If you are not constantly pushing your business it will remain stagnate. And of course, content is King. Or, in my case, Queen."
Below please find a short vimeo interview with Clark from 2014. To my eye, she looks a little exhausted herself, and maybe could slow down and write for posterity now. The thing about money is that it can't buy time. The audience can wait...and will wait, with pleasure.
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