Guest Post and Interview of “Stupid By Choice” author Leighton Summers

SBC-Cover(NearFinal3), final one, Jan. 23One of the themes of Stupid By Choice is judgment, the kind many people do to others every day based on how they look, dress, or where they are from.  Judging anyone, for any reason, is unfair and wrong, and it’s a shame people are often so judgmental of another’s differences.  We should embrace another’s differences, for knowing people who are different from us is what keeps life interesting and helps us to learn about other people’s views and lifestyles better.

The best example of this in the book is the character of Beau, who goes from being one of the most popular, handsome, and sought-after wealthy bachelors in all of Texas (if not the world) to being shunned and basically an outcast once he becomes a quadriplegic due to an accident.  People can be so harsh when they don’t understand a situation, and so they end up judging a person who looks different from them (and often doesn’t want them to be around) instead of giving the person a chance to show they are really the same on the inside even if they now look vastly different on the outside.

Another example of this is the character of Eva who is judged as being an “exotic beauty” (and not always in a ‘good’ way) instead of being the typical, all-American “blond bombshell” most Texan girls are.  A man would be happy to have his ‘fun’ with her, but not want to take her home to meet his parents (or even ever have his parents accept her as “good enough” as her doctor husband later learns), and unfortunately many people can relate to this kind of feeling of seeming “different” in different circumstances by others.  But what is the point of making others feel bad for how they look or where they’re from?  From my viewpoint there isn’t one.

Being different through looks, social status, economic means, or whatever the circumstance shouldn’t ever determine how someone should be treated.  People should all be treated the same.  But everyone knows they are not.  Even people with great wealth judge others in their own social circles on how “wealthy” they all actually are and create levels of status based on that sole circle of wealth, but it’s still not right, for money is just money no matter how much you have of it.  It doesn’t make someone better or worse to have less or more of it.  And neither does judging anyone for any reason.

I hope readers come away from Stupid By Choice with an open mind to give everyone, regardless of looks, appearances, or status, a chance.  For everyone deserves that.

Q & A with Stupid By Choice author Leighton Summers:

1. How long have you been writing, and when did you know that you wanted to become a writer?

I started writing this book about four years ago, but to be honest when I first started writing down ideas for the main character of Melanie St. John, I never really knew at the time they would turn into a novel.  I was never trained or studied to be a writer, but for some reason writing novels always intrigued me.  So one day I just started writing down notes and ideas from things I saw or imagined and then worked on them until they turned into a whole bunch of little, separate stories centered on Melanie.  Over time the stories kept coming, and I kept writing them down off and on for about four years.  I showed them to friends who liked them and they encouraged me to keep writing.  I never thought it would become anything really, but then people kept encouraging me to turn my stories into a novel.  I found an editor to help me and we turned all my notes and individual stories into one complete, more structured story, and then this, my first novel, was finally finished.

2. Who’s your favorite author, and why?

I actually have several so it’s hard to choose one, but F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemmingway are both top favorites because of their fantastic writing styles.  I even went to the Florida Keys once and saw where Hemmingway wrote and got his inspiration from.  It was very inspiring just to be there!

3. Tell us about your current book.

Stupid By Choice centers around a hopeful debutante Texas Oil Princess’s struggles from her high school years to her late-thirties as she attempts to find true, lasting love amongst the wealthy, jet-set, spoiled, sought-after playboy bachelors in the elite worldwide social circles of Texas, Monte Carlo, Manhattan, Newport, and Palm Beach.

4. If you could have a conversation with one of the characters in your current novel, which one would it be and why?

The first love of Melanie’s life, Hunter, because I would want to know why in the world a man like him—or any man actually—would lead a woman on for seven years, promising he was going to marry her and build a life, but then never do it and end up running off with a Las Vegas blackjack dealer who dresses up in a bunny costume every night instead.  What would make a man string a woman along for so many years and keep breaking her heart over and over when he knew deep down the woman truly loved him?  I know this happens a lot in all walks of life and I feel many women would like to know the answer to this, but sadly, you sometimes never know why, as Melanie finds out the hard way.

5. Where do you get the ideas and inspiration for your stories?

I was born and raised in Texas in this same kind of upscale, privileged world, and I’ve continued to stay living in it throughout my adult life, so it’s mostly all I know what to write about… I really don’t know anything different.  And like most writers who start out writing mainly about what they know, I decided it was as good a setting as any to place a story in (at least for my first book).  I was also inspired and encouraged by many good friends and my husband to write about this particular world, for we all knew there were lots of situations we had all seen too many times that could easily be recreated in a fictional story set in this world.

6. What is the best thing for you about being a writer?

Even though this is pure fiction, I learned a lot through the process of writing down my thoughts that all writing is really like therapy.  And with fiction you can write just what you want to have happen.  You can even let out demons if you need to.  It was a very satisfying experience just to write in general actually.

7. If we asked your closest friends to describe who you were, what do you think they would say?

What I hear a lot, that I’m very vulnerable, shy, and private.  But also that I enjoy traveling, I never give up on my goals (like finishing this book after four years!), and I always like to get to know interesting people who have something worthwhile to say and don’t want to just indulge in idle gossip (that drives me crazy).  I’m also always misperceived by the way I look, for people are surprised when they get to know me that I’m actually smart even though I’m blond and always dressed to the nines.

8. Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?

I thought a lot about this, but ultimately decided on self-publishing Stupid By Choice because the publishing industry is changing so much with book stores closing constantly and big publishers merging together just to stay in business themselves.  And after taking four years to write the novel, I also didn’t want to spend another couple of years waiting around for a publisher to have to “discover” it.  I just wanted to get it out and into the hands of people who hopefully would want to read it, and self-publishing was the quickest way towards that goal.  And since technology is also changing the way people are reading now-a-days, I decided to release it first as an ebook too to keep up with the current times.  (But just so you know, a printed version is in the works as well, hopefully by early fall.)

9. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given or given to someone else?

My current editor has given me lots of great advice and help with finishing Stupid By Choice, so my advice for any writer—especially a first time one like myself—would be to find a great editor to help you if you need it.  I went through other editors before finding my current one and know the great ones are hard to find, but keep searching until you find the right fit, both personally and creatively.

10. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?

Spending way too much money and time on people I thought I could trust to help me with this project in the beginning stages of turning it into a novel.  They ended up stabbing me in the back big time instead of helping me to finish it.

11. What’s next on the agenda for you?

A lot actually—I’m excited to be promoting Stupid By Choice all summer long (hopefully making it “the” summer beach read for 2013!), and I’m also working on two more book ideas.  Once you start writing you really can’t stop.  And since I learned a lot about the “do’s and don’ts” of writing from my first novel, I’m hoping the next one won’t take as long!

My Interview and Giveaway for Acclaimed Author Brenda Jackson! (Part One)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Brenda Jackson

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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