Interview with Bestselling Author Brenda Jackson and Giveaway, Part Deux

BJ Book Collage

A prompt writing exercise on Facebook landed me the unprecedented opportunity to interview bestselling romance author Brenda Jackson (What A Westmoreland Wants,  Bachelor Unclaimed, One Winter’s Night, A Brother’s Honor)!

Due to the length of the interview, I had to split this into two parts. This is the final installment.

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 two of my interview with Brenda Jackson.

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Part Two – Transcript of FanChat with Brenda Jackson (Click Here For Part One):

Hello, I’m Nia Forrester (author of Commitment, Unsuitable Men, Maybe Never, and Secret) 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. Have you ever written anything that hasn’t found a publishing home? Is there anything in this category that you would consider self-publishing?

B.J. I own my on publishing company—Madaris Publishing—and it was created to get out those stories the traditional publishers aren’t interested in—such as stories about full-figured women or couples over fifty. I try to put out one book a year under my company.

Brenda Jackson

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L.V. You originally described your writing as a hobby, but upon retirement from the insurance industry your writing career soared. Do you foresee ever retiring from writing?

B.J. No, I don’t plan to retire from writing any time soon. Writing is how I relaxed from State Farm because I was in management. I couldn’t get my employees to do what I wanted them to do, but I could come home and all my people would do what I wanted them to do. Some people watch television to relax, I write. In 2015 it will be twenty years of writing for me, and one thing I do see myself doing is slowing down. I’m sensational at sixty—that’s what I tell my husband. We’ve been together for so long, ever since we were teenagers. You work hard in your younger years so you can enjoy your later years. My husband and I want to do the things we want to do, so I can’t write six to eight books a year anymore.

So then I think about what I want to do—six to eight is pretty unheard of, except for Nora— is to just maybe write two series books and two single titles a year. Westmoreland was a thirty-one book series. But the Steele one, I’m not going to look up more cousins to keep writing that one, but the Madaris one . . . I can write that one for a long time. But six to eight books a year takes away from my time with my husband and family. We recently bought a second home at the beach (Amelia Island) and want to spend more time there having fun. Even if I don’t write again, my royalty checks are still coming in because my books are being reprinted.

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L.V. How does it feel to be the first African American published with the Desire line? Did it feel momentous or like just another book sale when it happened?

 

B.J. No, it was special. I felt honored because from the first. That’s the line I’d always wanted to write for, and at one time back in the 1980s, I wrote Harlequin and asked why a black couldn’t be their Desire’s “Man of the Month.” They told me there was not a market for African American books. I felt honored that when a black man was selected to be Man of the Month it was one of my heroes! It felt momentous when that happened. Although I’ve written over ninety books, none of my books are like “just another book sale” to me. I love all my books and am proud of them. It’s a high every time you see your book on the shelf.

Kensington signed my first black book after Harlequin rejected it. Later I found that book rejection and sent it to Harlequin. I’m one of their very best authors and they turned me down in the beginning, but they came looking for me later. So all those years I complained to them and now I’m one of their top authors.

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L.V. You’ve made an indelible mark on African American romance and literature in general and won some awards in multicultural romance, as well. What mark do you hope to leave on multicultural romance? Any more novels showcasing diversity in your future?

 

B.J. I believe in black romance. I’ve been married close to forty-one years (July 2013), and I married a good man and there are others out there. Yes, I will always embrace diversity.

People used to say the US was a melting pot, but when you think of a melting pot everything melts. I think of it as a beautiful salad, and everything adds its originality to the salad. We don’t melt into a white person; we show our individuality. The mark I’m going to leave is one that I hope shows that black romance is alive and well. When people say they don’t read that type of book, I wonder what’s wrong with reading about love and commitment. If nothing, I want to leave a legacy—this isn’t all fantasy. Till death do us part is real, especially for black women. There are still black men that believe in sweeping you off your feet and treating you like the queen you deserve to be. That is real.

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L.V. Your longevity in the publishing industry is a testament to your skill as a writer and your tenacity as a businesswoman. How has your foray into the movie industry differentiated from this? Are the experiences very similar?

 

B.J. I think that they are similar in that I didn’t want to write a movie script—I had the opportunity to do it and I passed on it. My son wrote the movie script for me and it turned out good. And now these investors are looking to turn A Silken Thread into a script. I worked with Dave Larson. I wondered how he would take a four hundred page book and make it into a one hundred and twenty-eight page script.

 Truly Everlasting

Truly Everlasting—the book was only one hundred and fifty pages—it was hard to put into a one hundred and twenty-eight page script and keep everything. It’s a discipline that either way you have to discipline yourself to do it. Sometimes their interpretation of it may not be ours. You have to have a good relationship with the director because he is making the movie. I owe my readers a good quality movie that portrays the book in a positive light.

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L.V. I found out when we spoke to set up the interview that you love Scandal, the Shonda Rhimes television series on ABC starring Kerry Washington. Can you tell us why you like that story from a writer’s perspective?

 

B.J. Scandal is plot driven. Every week is a different plot. I admire how the drama keeps you on the edge of your seat. My books are character driven, so it’s nice to see a TV show that’s so plot driven. But not only just for entertainment purposes, but it gives me ideas how to combine both in longer books.

I got into Grey’s Anatomy when I needed medical information to write a book. So I asked my readers for recommendations. I’m not a TV person—you can’t be a writer and be a TV person. And they recommended shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy—shows I’d never seen. And I watched these to do research.

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L.V. Do you have a circle of writing friends with whom you still exchange manuscripts, and a pre-reader group to vet your stories through?

 

B.J. When I first started I was part of a critique group and they were very very helpful, but they have moved away. You have to be comfortable in order to use them. I use other authors. We have a retreat once a year, and we call is Diva Days. It’s not just authors, but other people in the industry—TV and other. There’s a group of twenty of us. Twenty don’t come every year—they just can’t make it. Now last year we went to the Barrier Islands because there were several of us who wanted to write books set there. We went on excursions, bounced off things each other. It’s a sisterhood. Next year we’re planning Hawaii. We don’t do it every year, but it’s a time to get together and spend time with each other. We discuss books, promote each other. You want to share your ideas. They got me into the J. D. Robb Naked Series. We embrace authors, answer questions. It’s a good group.

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L.V. Readers are, of course, essential to any author’s success. How did you initially build your readership? How do you continue to stay connected and continue building that relationship?

 

B.J. From the first, I wanted them to feel essential to me because they are. I’ve collected a database of over 80,000 email addresses from readers I’ve met over the years. I send them a monthly newsletter to stay connected.

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L.V. It’s probably safe to say we’ll get more of the same great writing from you, but what’s next for Brenda Jackson? Any new frontiers you’d like to conquer?

 

B.J. A new family being introduced in June—the Grangers. I’ll be bringing an end to some of my older families such as the Steeles and Westmorelands, although I will be introducing the cousins of the Westmorelands soon. But their last name won’t be Westmoreland.

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L.V. What pearls of wisdom would you offer an author new to writing? Do you ascribe to writers being classically trained, or are you in the camp of writers absorbing craft however they can?

 

B.J. Write what you love. I love romance. I write mainstream novels on occasion, but my first love will always be romance. Some authors write what they think will make them the most money. All books can make you money if written and marketed the right way.

I don’t have a writer’s degree. I’ve never ever taken a writer’s class. I’m the first one to say I don’t subscript to that. I know a lot who are journalists, but I believe it comes from inside. I didn’t know I loved writing, but I knew what I loved to read. I became craft trained by going to workshops, seminars, and listening to authors like Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Julie Garwood. And I took what they said to heart. I read and studied what made this book interesting, what made me turn the page.

I still go to RWA and I’m teaching classes this year about heroes. I’m one of the few African American authors teaching.

You can’t just go home and write. You need to know what’s selling, what’s being written. You need to go to workshops to learn. Go to those workshops, not just to be seen but to network and take what’s being offered. You need to know what’s being written—what’s out there.

I went to Romantic Times and learned new things. Street teams are so popular. You connect with some of your readers nationally, and they go out there and market for you. It works wonderfully, but would not have known about that if I hadn’t gone to a workshop and learned that.

Don’t give up!

 

L. V.: Thank you for being with us and or being such a trooper and answering my twenty-odd questions.

 

Brenda: No problem. It was an honor. I appreciate the time you took just to be here tonight.

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More Ways To Win

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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