Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tuesday Special Author Interview: Monica Jackson

Author Name: Monica Jackson
Genre: Romance, paranormal romance and erotica, women's fiction
Latest book in shops now:
Mr. Right Now

Before we begin this interview, I need to check that you’re still grounded and that your head isn’t swollen from all of your success, so with that in mind, what was the last thing you bought at Target, and do you know how much a loaf of bread costs? (grin)

The last thing I bought at Target was about three of those little girl's make-up kits to give to my daughter for the holidays! They were cheap, about five dollars each. I usually buy my bread at Aldi's, a store that maybe you're not familiar with, but a lot of people on a tight food budget are! A loaf of wheat bread is seventy-nine cents; white bread is forty-nine cents.

{Oh, we have Aldi's here too, I didn't realise they were an international chain...}

They have a more upscale multi-grain loaf for a dollar twenty-nine too. The selection is far more limited than a regular grocery store, but the food is decent and I can cut my food costs by a third by shopping there.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I loved fantasy and science fiction. I was also a comic book buff! Those old fashion kind—this was before anime became popular in the states. I loved Ursula Le Guin, Madeleine L'Engle, Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was pinnacle. I reread them every year. I knew the Chronicles of Narnia were racist, but I loved them anyway.

What does a typical day as a writer consist of?

I try to write first thing in the day. Once my daughter gets home, I can forget about it. She's an only child and takes time and attention. How many times I wished there was somebody I could tell her to go play with! I get more writing time on weekend days when she has playmates over. I think I'm very blessed, the way my life has turned out and the way my days run.

Name your top five favourite books of all time.

Alice Walker's The Color Purple, powerful, emotional, unbelievably strong characters.

Madeline D'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, I just loved this book. I must have read it fifty times.

Pearl Bailey's The Good Earth made a huge impression on me.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is a classic romance.

Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Women of Substance, Why aren't more historical romances like this book? I was hugely disappointed when I read the others in comparison.

Which authors are you glomming at the moment? (reading a lot of?)

I adored Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. I went out and read them all at once. I bought him in hard cover! (That's huge for me).

I'm trying to get into the e-books, to become familiar with the authors, and to see what those publishers want. It costs to print out entire books, so I read them on my Dana. I love Lilith Saintcrow and I'm looking forward to reading Shiloh Walker and Cheyenne McCray. I also tend to pick up the books of bloggers I like. It feels a little as if you know them and it's neat to read their work.

Do you have other close romance writer friends, and if so who are they?

Donna Hill, I’d say. I'm not really the social type.

You? I don’t believe it! (grin)

When did you realise that you wanted to write books, and who or what inspired you?

I've wanted to write since I was a child. The books I read inspired me. Yep, I was the reader type, happiest up in my room with my nose in a book.

If you could have a one-to-one conversation with a famous historical figure, who would it be with and what would you talk about?

I would talk to Jesus and find out all about heaven and the death and suffering thing in a straight forward fashion. I'd find what He really thinks about all these religions.

I could tell you what I really think, but we’d be here all day, so I’ll just move on.(g)

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your writing?

I would love to be able to write what I love and support myself comfortably doing so.

How has the romance industry changed from when you first started writing, and which of these changes were you happiest/unhappiest with?

In my little corner of it, the publishers were few at first. Black genre authors have only been published in any significant numbers since 1994. Over time, more major publishers such as Harper Collins and St. Martin's Press were acquiring genre romance and women's fiction by black authors.

Harlequin buying BET will rock the landscape for black romance and women's fiction writers. We have to see what it brings, but most are pretty positive about the change. I am too.

The huge popularity of urban and street lit among black readers is interesting. I'm hearing some authors say there are feeling a push to blacken up their prose (I'm going to crack up if folks start writing dems and doses). The readership and market is just being tapped and explored. Who knows what will happen next? It's exciting, really.

Which of your books is the dearest to your heart, and why?

I was really proud of
A Magical Moment (I wanted to title it Black Magic, but that was a no go). It was my first book with a paranormal slant and also a small murder mystery. I wrote it right after my divorce and fictionally killed man after man rather bloodily. It was very freeing. It'll be reissued in 2006 from Harlequin along with The Look of Love and . . . Heart’s Desire, I think?

Somebody near and dear told me that all romance was formulaic, that I couldn't write what I wanted. They bet I couldn't blow up a boat, for instance. So I blew up boats in my first three books! Yep, in every blessed one of my first three titles, a boat explodes.

Better than therapy huh?

Has anything a reviewer or reader said or written about you changed the way you write?

I do pay attention to reviews, negative ones too. They are something like critiques, usually by experienced readers. Any writer that has been critiqued by a tough and savvy reader appreciates that her critiques are generally private! But public feedback goes along with having your words out for public consumption.

Not everybody has the same taste, but if someone says this or that didn’t work for her, and they are thoughtful comments, it's always good to take note. Writers should always be endeavoring to improve. But I don't think writers can change their styles on someone's say-so or should try to do so.

When was the last time you went overseas and where did you go?

I haven't been overseas in ages. I've been to Asia and South America. I've never been to Europe. If I had money to travel anywhere, I'd go to India, East and West Africa and Brazil.

Who are your favourite romance hero and heroine of all time?

Romance? That's hard. It really doesn't stick with me. I'd have to go upstairs to see if I can find a book in my bookcase to jibe my memory, but since I have to do that to even recall a fav couple—I guess I don't have any.

JR Ward's (I hope to heaven I'm writing her name right) bad boy vampires were quite appealing. I remember them well. Great writing too. But the heroine and the romance? Meh. I can't remember.

Is it a cop out to say Cleopatra and Marc Anthony? They were a hot couple.

I’ll let you have Cleo and Mark, they were pretty hot.

What kind of characters would you say you typically wrote?

Real ones. I don't think I can do romance cut-outs. In
Love’s Potion I wrote a character that was in a 1999 release, a best friend of the heroine. She was embarking on an affair with a married man in that book. I picked her up six years later, in the bitter aftermath of that long affair.

I've read reviews where people have said they've never read a romance heroine who had an affair with a married man. I can't fathom why. (I did manage to keep the heroine sympathetic, which is important). Men have affairs and women fall in love with married men. It’s a reality of life, not a pretty one, but a true one. Why would an author have to avoid truth in their book just because it's a romance? I dunno.

It’s all about the fantasy me thinks. We like our characters perfect when it comes to fidelity.

If only one person could read your book, who would that be? (as in the person who you would want most to read your book)

Oprah, girl! Who wouldn't say Oprah? Whoop! Give romance a chance, Oprah! I'd give her
Never Too Late For Love. It has my most angst and characterization, though my beginning is smarmy (I wanted to see if I could start out hot).

Hey, it’s my dream for Oprah to Google search her name and find me, so I mention her as often as possible, and say nice things about her. She may decide to adopt me when she finds me. What? You never know…

If you had to pick, who would you say has been most influential within the romance genre?

Nora Roberts. She's monstrously successful, prolific, consistently readable and a hard act to follow. I think she sets the standard for romance and women's fiction writers.

How long has it been since you first got published?

My first book came out in October 1997. I sold it at the end of 1995. That makes ten years.

How did you get your first book published? Did you have a mentor?

No, I've always bopped to my own beat. I was off work recovering from surgery and I just sat down and wrote it after reading around twenty romances, mostly stuff like Harlequin Intimate Moments and Superromances, all by different authors.

Which of your books do you feel that you are best known for?

The Look of Love has gotten the most props and awards. I have no idea if I'm known for any of my books. I certainly don't feel very known.

What was the last movie you saw?

The Chronicles of Narnia and before that Harry Potter. We generally wait for the movies that aren't kid's movies to come out on DVD.

Name your top five favourite romantic films.

I'm terrible at remembering names and titles! I liked the one with the Hispanic woman and Will Smith. He was yummy in that. I liked the one with Kate Hudson where she worked in magazine publishing and she had a bet to turn off a guy when he had a bet to turn her on. That was cute. I want to rent the Wedding Date, but I haven't seen it yet.

I obviously don't have five. Sorry!

OK, me thinks you meant Hitch, and How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, right?

What was the last book you read?

Um, I'm reading Threads of Malice now by Tamara Siler Jones. I love it so far! It's rich and different, a forensic mystery set in a fantasy sort of world—sort of a medieval European historical setting. It's definitely not romance though. I read Talyn by Holly Lisle, another fantasy, before that.

In this day and age, do you think it’s possible for new romance writers to make it without having some kind of presence on the internet?

I think so. I have the old fashioned belief that the writing is the most important. People would read Linda Howard and Nora Roberts regardless if they have an Internet presence or not.

Sometimes knowing the author too well might even be a deterrent to some sorts of readers. My philosophy was/is that I'm so unknown that my web presence doesn't matter much. Most romance readers haven't read me and may not ever read me. It made me feel free for a while.

But my reckless feeling is changing and I may scale back soon, keep more of my opinions to myself and so on. I shall reinvent myself to be proper! Do you think I can? Ha!

£50 says you wont be able to keep your opinion to yourself for any length of time. (evil grin)

In your experience, what would you say was the most effective method of marketing a romance novel?

Marketing a novel is a gigantic crapshoot. What works, what doesn't ... who the hell knows? Authors try to brainstorm and do the best they can. The more resources an author has—money, publisher backing, (did I say money?), the more an author can do.

Publishers usually have access to more money and means than authors and they can make a book a bestseller as long as it's decent.

Well, to be honest, they can create a bestseller if it sucks too.

{Oh too true…}

Sometimes I think rather than dropping all these thousands of dollars on promotional schemes and gimmicks, some authors would be better off going out and spending that money buying their books retail when they first come out and giving them away. That would be simple, at least.

I’ve always wondered about this, but as an author, once your books are published, do you actually go back and read them yourself, and if so, are you able to enjoy them, or do you perhaps see things that make you want to chew your own arm off in frustration? (grin).

Especially typos and grammatical errors! It would never hurt to simply write the suckers over! I always want to do that.

Have you ever written a book that you didn’t particularly care for, and do you cringe if you see people picking it up to read it?

I'm quite good at denial. What book? People reading my book? When? Where? Are you sure?

Earlier this year, RWA attempted to try to define romance, and it caused a bit of a furore round the romance blogosphere, due to the limitations of the definitions. What were your thoughts on this at the time, and do you think it’s possible/necessary to define romance in a way that doesn’t exclude other sub-genres?

Genre writers organizations should be an advocate for their writers—all their writers. The RWA is showing clearly that its agenda is different at this time. It's interested in narrowing the definition of romance and excluding certain writers rather than being inclusive.

The RWA is very active in promoting successful, popular and rising traditionally published majority romance authors with their awards, recognition, sensitivity to their needs and some programs such as Bookscan, where best-selling romance authors can pay a small amount to see real sales numbers. I think the RWA can be beneficial for those sorts of authors.

Their chapters and programs can be very helpful for the aspiring romance novelist too. Since I don't fit into either demographic, the RWA interests me little at this time.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

The fact that a few people do read my books and enjoy them. It blows me away.

What do you least enjoy about being a writer?

The promotion part of it is hard to get a grip on, but I'm not alone in struggling with that.

Defining yourself is more difficult when you're a black romance or women's fiction author. You are stuck in a certain category and have to try to wiggle around to get comfortable within it. I love the edgy, humorous paranormal romance style and white writers are doing well with it--but that isn't what I'm supposed to write.

I'm supposed to write a certain sort of thing and fit in this sub-genre box solely because of my race. New York is about money, not race. It's a money thing. A white author of similar quality, style and subject matter is going to have different readership than I do.

I crashed up against that fact at the beginning of my writing career and it's chafed at me ever since. It's a facet of this very difficult business that white authors don't have to deal with and it's hard—at least for me.

It might not bother other black romance and women's fiction writers who feel more comfortable within their pre-defined niches. And things always change. Before the mid-nineties, there was little chance that I would be able to publish at all and now see how many books I've put out into the world!

As you’ve been there, done it, and have the badge to prove it, what is the number one advice that would you give to aspiring writers out there?

Don't give up and be persistent. My opinion is to always try to write the better book, the fresher and more original book. Be true to yourself, rather than the market. I think it's all about the writing, not the market and not what they tell you you're supposed to be.

Write the best book you can and find joy in your stories. Bottom-line, it can't be about the money. The money is a crapshoot, a lottery, and about luck as much as anything else. Concentrating primarily on the money and the market will make a writer crazy—it has to be about the words.

Finally, when’s your next book due out, and what’s it about?

Mr Right Now is available and on the shelves this month. It’s funny, short, fast-paced, hot, hot atypical paranormal with a white hero and a black heroine. Some areas won't carry it because of my race and their marketing demographics—but it can be ordered through any bookstore. The first three chapters are online, linked from my site.

Hey, I read it, and guess what? It didn’t suck! In fact, dare I say, I rather loved it!

Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer these very nosy questions!

They were great questions and they made me think. Thanks for asking me to participate!

Well that’s all guys, there will be no more interviews for the rest of the year, I’m too damned busy, but rest assured, once I’ve gained about 50 pounds from stuffing my face with Christmas food, I shall be back!