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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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—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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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