I am not a lucky person. I don’t win things often. So, imagine my surprise when I entered a prompt writing exercise on my Writer’s Review and Resource Group (WRSRG) on Facebook and actually won the opportunity to interview acclaimed romance author Brenda Jackson (author of What A Westmoreland Wants, Bachelor Unclaimed, One Winter’s Night, A Brother’s Honor, and so many more I can’t name them all)! I had participated in interviews with my group before, but never conducted one. Then to make this an even more daunting proposition, I was told by our fearless leader, Nia Forrester (author of Commitment, Unsuitable Men, Maybe Never, and Secret), that I would perform the group’s inaugural live audio FanChat. No pressure for a writer who’d never done an interview. Right?
In preparation, I studied everything I could find on the internet about Ms. Jackson. Then I had the awesome opportunity to contact her prior to the interview. I found Ms. Jackson to be approachable and utterly delightful. Not that I expected her to be otherwise, but it is always a pleasant surprise to be treated so kindly by such an iconic individual. I chatted with her like an old friend and discussed the hit TV show Scandal just before she had to dash off to a personal appointment. The the day of the interview came and the residual nervousness I brought with me fell away as I began to ask her the questions everyone was dying to have answered.
Due to the length of the interview, I have split it into two parts. At the end of each part of the interview, I am giving away a bundle of Ms. Jackson’s e-books, a couple of my own and a two bookmarks! So, without further ado, I give you part one of my interview with Brenda Jackson.
Transcript of FanChat with Brenda Jackson:
Hello, I’m Nia Forester, of The Writers Review and Resource Group (WRSRG), a virtual community of indie writers and readers who support each other. A fan club of the art of writing and for people who enjoy reading.
Conducting the interview this evening with Brenda Jackson is L. V. Lewis, author of indie hit, Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever, a parody of the very popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Brenda Jackson writes contemporary multi-cultural romance novels. She was the first African American author to have a novel book published as part of the Silhouette Desire line and has seen many of her books reach the New York Times and the USA Today’s best sellers lists.
Her first novel, Tonight and Forever, was published in 1995. Ms. Jackson is the recipient of the RWA Nora Roberts Award 2012, highest honor bestowed by RWA in recognition of significant contributions to the romance genre and an NAACP Image Award nominee 2012 for outstanding literary fiction for her novel, A Silken Thread.
We are honored you have given of your time and talent to be with us tonight.
L.V.: Briefly describe for us a day in the life of Brenda Jackson. What does your writing space look like? What are your most treasured writing resource books? How much time do you spend writing daily?
B.J.: When you sent the questions over I really had to think. I appreciate all of you taking the time to listen to what I have to say. So I commend you for your time, your talent, and for just wanting to be writers. I was at one time where you are now, when I was just a wannabe. Authors gave of their time, authors like Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz. No matter how many books you’ve written, you can all do better. So thank you for allowing me to spend this time with all of you.
I retired in 2008 and that was not an easy decision for me. I had worked as a file clerk at State Farm and worked my way up the ladder. I loved the corporate world—loved it all. Once State Farm found out I was publishing my first book, they embraced it. I told the CEO everything I would be doing. And he said you can say you work for State Farm because we are proud of what you are doing. They made a lot of what I needed to do for writing a part of my job at State Farm. They sponsored many black events as one of the main corporate sponsors around the country. They made sure they sent me to represent the black community for book signings. I really appreciated what they did. So leaving in 2008 wasn’t an easy a decision, but Harlequin made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—to write full-time from home.
I retired at fifty-five and my husband jumped at the chance to retire with me. When we retired, we vowed never to be dictated by a clock again, so we removed most from our home and used the ones on the microwave and stove and the radio in the bedroom and the time on my computer. So we walk around not sure what time it is because we don’t have to. I love it.
Usually I get up at seven mostly because of my two Yorkies, Mookie and Capone, who are early risers. I handle my social medial business by nine, and the rest of the day is spent writing. My goal is twenty pages a day. I don’t always reach my goal, but I split it up. At least ten pages in the morning and try to fit a few more in the afternoon. I try to take a two-hour nap break around three, spend time with Gerald my husband, and start writing again around nine in the evening. I’m in the bed usually by midnight. My day is spent writing. My family knows not to bother me because it’s beneficial to them for me to write. I stop the phone calls and allot time just to write.
I added 3,300 more square feet to my home that consists of an indoor swimming pool, my office, an entertainment room for parties, and a room that is what I consider my theater room or my room to chill. My most treasured resource books are a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the Romance Writer’s Phrase Book.
L.V.: Since 1994, you’ve written an astounding ninety plus books. I can only dream I’ll ever be as prolific. What’s your secret, or do you employ a formula as some writers such as Nora Roberts have admitted to?
B.J.: My secret is the belief that writing relaxes me because it takes me to a world that I’ve created. I love writing and most times, I have to pull myself from the computer. My books are character driven versus plot driven, so I know my characters. Once I get to know them I can come up with situations just for them. I don’t do book outlines or chapter breakdowns. I don’t have a formula. I just write. I try writing in chapters and try to never end the writing day without ending the chapter. Then while I’m sleeping, I think about what I want the next chapter to be about.
I had an author who had a dossier of everything. I admire that, but I am not that disciplined. I just write. I know my characters and write. I write family sagas. My latest book is my one hundredth book. I have to get to know all my characters of all the previous books so I can write this latest book.
It’s not a science, parking my behind in the chair and writing the characters I’ve known since they were young. I admire Nora that she’s got a formula. I’d like to know it so I can write faster. We have lunch or share a drink whenever we get together at an RWA convention. I’m going to have to ask her about her formula.
L.V.: Are you agented, or do you submit your own work? Any advice on how to proceed in obtaining an agent for those of us who might aspire to have one?
B.J.: Yes. Giving up 15% of your book is a lot; at least I thought it was a lot. Kensington wasn’t paying a lot for the African American market. They didn’t offer the same amount to the African American author as opposed to the white writer. They didn’t know how the market would work. You either took the contract or you walked away. They didn’t negotiate. It wasn’t the best contract, but it was one I could live with. I only decided to get agent when Kensington sold my books to BET. BET didn’t have any publishing knowledge; they were entertainers. The first contract they sent me was an entertainment contract not a publisher contract. I recognized that. I refused to sign it.
My agent is Pattie Steele-Perkins out of New York. I wrote over eight books before getting an agent. I just want to write and enjoy having an agent take care of the other stuff. And because they work for you and you don’t work for them, my agent tries to get me the best deal because when I get paid, she gets paid. I would suggest talking to other authors who have worked with particular agents before settling on one. Do they try to get you the best deal? Are they prompt in sending you your checks? Do they support you in other areas?
L.V.: Your Westmoreland Series is probably one of the most beloved and long-standing of all with more than twenty books credited to this family saga. As a Florida native, what drew you to Texas as a setting? What process did you use, and how did you go about creating this series?
B.J.: I was big Dallas fan and I grew up on westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rifleman etc). It was time with my dad. Men in Texas were giants in my eyes. So when I went to write a series, I wanted them to be giants. I love my westerns and wanted to write about men in the West. I smile when people say my Westmoreland Series is my most beloved series. But the one that started me was the Madaris Series, but those bad boys of Westmoreland have really taken over. The books are smaller and so there are more of them. The Madaris books are bigger. Westmoreland is what you call a series book. You can’t deviate from what the others are doing in the series. You have guidelines and you follow them. To me, writing those books is pretty easy. I’ve been known to write one of them in two weeks. I can write two hundred and ten pages in two weeks.
L.V.: Are you firmly in the “write what you know” camp, do you advocate “the sky is the limit, just research well,” or somewhere in between?
B.J.: I am comfortable with writing what I know, but to keep things interesting, I go outside the box at times.
L.V.: You have many interviews and updates on the Westmoreland characters on your blog. Are they your favorite characters?
B.J.: All my characters tend to be my favorite, but my foremost favorites will be from my first book—Justin Madaris and Lorren.
L.V.: You have enjoyed a prolific and very illustrious career as a traditionally published author. What do you make of the burgeoning independent publishing scene via Amazon and other platforms?
B.J.: I think it’s wonderful that others are getting their work out there. I wished it was available when I was writing. I got enough rejection letters to plaster my wall—over twenty-plus times before I finally sold my first book. Now you don’t have to wait to be chosen by a publisher. They can now create their own company and get published like I did. I started my own publishing company in 2008 because I wanted to know how it worked. I put out one book a year under the Madaris Publishing Company.
One thing that can be improved when using the independent platform would be more standards in the pricing—the $.99 pricing. You price your book low and hope people will read it. One of my books that hit the New York Times Best Sellers List was free. I know that’s a good way to get new readers. But you don’t want to underprice your book because that’s your hard work and you shouldn’t undervalue it, and I think some authors are doing that.
But I think the independent arena is wonderful. And now that so many authors are out there, it’s hard to pick a diamond out of the stack. And it’s even more important to connect with your readers. You have to do something to set yourself apart, market yourself, get your name out there. I had to promote myself before my publishing house did.
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