I had a roommate in college who used to say we should all be “savage listeners.” It seemed pretty profound to my then 18-year-old brain and obviously, since I’m writing about it 31-years later, it had a lasting impact on me. I think it is remarkably important to actively listen to those that have more experience than we do. I also think, for us older folks, it’s important to pay attention to the thoughts of those younger than us, they have a new perspective we can learn from. That’s what savage listening is for me; fiercely pay attention, ask good questions and really hear what the other person is saying, so you can soak it up and learn. I recently had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation between Beverly Jenkins and Andie J. Christopher, and I am all the better for it!
Beverly Jenkins is the recipient of the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the 2016 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for historical romance. She has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature, was featured both in the documentary “Love Between the Covers” and on CBS Sunday Morning. Since the publication of Night Song in 1994, she has been leading the charge for multicultural romance, and has been a constant darling of reviewers, fans, and her peers alike, garnering accolades for her work from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and NPR.
USA Today Bestselling author Andie J. Christopher writes edgy, funny, sexy contemporary romance featuring heat, humor, and dirty talking heroes that make readers sweat. She grew up in a family of voracious readers, and picked up her first Harlequin Romance novel at age twelve when she’d finished reading everything else in her grandmother’s house. It was love at first read. It wasn’t too long before she started writing her own stories — her first heroine drank Campari and drove an Alfa Romeo up a winding road to a minor royal’s estate in Spain. Andie lives in the Nation’s Capital with her French Bulldog, Gus, a stockpile of Campari, and way too many books.
Ms. Bev is a Lay’s BBQ potato chip lover to AJC’s Salty Caramel artisan ice cream fiend. Ms. Bev may not have a celebrity crush to speak of but that’s okay, Andie’s love of America’s Ass, Chris Evans is the stuff of internet legend. (I have my fingers crossed for you and support this coupling with all of my romance loving, definitely has a kink filled lair, lover of stern brunch daddies heart.) Ms. Bev’s love of old(er) school music like TLC and Led Zeppelin really speaks to my youth but honestly, Andie’s love of Lizzo is mirrored on my current heavy rotation playlist, too. It’s the best of both worlds I think! Both women are successful authors in different but equally amazing spots on their professional paths who took time out of their busy schedules to chat with me, and more importantly, with each other. They were given a series of simple prompts to get the conversation started and then encouraged to ask each other questions to dig a little deeper. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, giddily sitting in the corner “listening” to it all play out!
Getting Started. Why/how did you start writing?
BJ: No idea why I began writing. Was the editor of my elementary school newspaper in the 4th grade. But as I grew older, it was as if I HAD to write and tell stories. I had no intention or dreams of being a published or professional writer. It was just something I did.
AJC: I started writing because my therapist told me to. I was bored and depressed by my day job and needed an outlet. I’d always told stories and enjoyed writing. A few teachers and friends had even predicted that I would become a writer. But it wasn’t until I finished the draft of my first book that I knew that I had found a purpose in writing romance.
Success. What does success feel like to you?
BJ: Never had this question before. Hmm. What does success feel like. I guess it depends on how you measure it. Does it mean being able to do what I love and pay the mortgage as a result? Does it mean standing on the path and looking back at all the AOC coming up behind me and being glad to see them. I think I measure it in those terms. I don’t measure it in awards for sure, though some people might. I think I’d say, I measure it in the impact a person makes on the lives of others. Have I made the path wider -as the old people say. I’d like to think that I have. Personal success can be measured differently. Am I a better person than I was yesterday? A year ago? Ten years ago?
AJC: Well, I personally think that Ms. Bev has been incredibly successful in leaving the path wider. Seeing her writing major books for a traditional publisher has given so much courage and hope to AOC–myself included. Her telling her stories has given so many marginalized voices permission to tell their stories. For me, success is constantly changing. I always write for myself. I tell the story I need to tell in order to resolve something inside myself. I think doing the work–the actual writing–makes me feel successful. If that story resonates with other people, I feel a different kind of successful. I feel connected. But it’s doing the work, every day, that I try to focus on–not always successfully. I’ve always been a driven person, so sometimes I see some shiny thing in the distance and want to chase it.
AJC: You seem to be really great at keeping your eye on your own paper and taking satisfaction in doing the work. Have you always been that way? And how do you deal with professional jealously if/when it comes up for you? I find that it drives me to work harder and I try to remind myself that the pie is actually infinite, but can spur anxiety, so I would love any tips 😊
Ms. Bev: I think it has to do with age, maybe? I’ve learned over time that the only thing I can control is what I write, and that I can’t have anyone else’s blessings. Wanting to be as successful as someone else is probably a natural thing, but I’m not them – I’m me. They walk their path, I walk mine. It makes no sense to be jealous because in the end there’s nothing you can do about it but make yourself nuts. Concentrate on your own path and journey.
Change is a’coming. What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry? What would you like to see on the horizon?
BJ: My biggest change is seeing the industry open up to everyone with a story to tell. It wasn’t that way when I began in 1994.
AJC: I think that Ms. Bev and Brenda Jackson and so many others expanded what was possible before I even began writing in 2014. Because they were there, I think it gave me permission to doubt myself less. I never doubted that I could see my books in front of large audiences by telling stories about people that could be plucked out of my own life.
AJC: Ms. Bev, because you were a pioneer in so many ways, you didn’t have a road map. How did you deal with that?
Ms. Bev: I took it one book at a time – one day at a time. I concentrated on writing the best book I could – again, and again, and again. It was all I knew to do.
Social Media. How do you handle being so readily available to fans and to critics? Negative reviews?
BJ: I enjoy social media – maybe a bit too much. 🙂 I enjoy reaching out and touching the readers and other authors – maybe because I’ve never met a stranger. As for negative reviews, I attest to the Jill Scott theory: “Everything ain’t for everybody.” Readers and critics are entitled to their opinions.
AJC: I love social media. I spend way too much time on Twitter, but that’s my water cooler in this solitary business. And I love talking to readers and sharing both my deep and shallow thoughts. If someone isn’t respectful, I don’t hesitate to ignore, block, or mute. As for reviews, I try to avoid them. I don’t log on to Goodreads. In the event that I can’t avoid a negative review and it hurts my feelings, I call my mom or my agent and talk it out until I can take the Jill Scott view. It’s usually only a few moments. Or I do a really hard workout, which tends to clear my head.
AJC: Ms. Bev, as your following grew online, you probably had to deal with people who didn’t respect your boundaries—how did/do you deal with that?
Ms. Bev: I don’t get a lot of that for some reason, not sure why. Not going to complain though. The most memorable incident was the silly child who accused me of resting on my White Privilege – she was dispatched real quick.
Advice. What is the best advice anyone has ever given you? What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
BJ: I had an elderly Black woman tell me right after Night Song was published: “When your head’s in the clouds where are your feet?” In other words – stay grounded. I’ve never forgotten that. Best advice ever. I’d tell my 13-year-old self: Keep reading, dreaming, learning and having fun.
AJC: It’s not advice, per se, but honesty and kindness were guiding principles in how I was raised. The whole “Never judge someone before you walk a mile in their shoes,” thing, and I think I’ve become a relatively empathetic adult because of it. I’d tell my 13-year-old self to stop being so hard on herself, to treat herself with same grace and compassion as she would a friend.
BJ: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t. Sorry.
AJC: I don’t believe in writer’s block either, but I try to give myself the best conditions to write–enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise, adequate breaks. I can always write, but I think my writing is better when I take care of myself.
Thank you, Next!
BJ: Blessings 10 hits the stores in March so, I’m starting a new historical that will hopefully be out next fall.
AJC: Not the Girl You Marry, a gender bent take on How to Lose a Girl in 10 Days featuring a biracial heroine comes out November 12. Right now, I’m working on the follow-up, Not that Kind of Guy, which features one of the characters from NTGYM in a workplace romance.
On the Corner of Hope and Main (Release Date: March 3, 2020)
Citizens of Henry Adams, Kansas, know there’s never a dull moment in their small town…
Trent July has been the mayor of this historic town for the past four years, but now he’s ready to let someone else take up the mantle. Barrett Payne, a former Marine, decides he wants the job. So does his wife Sheila who thinks it’s high time Henry Adams has a woman for mayor. Their teenage son, Preston, finds himself caught in the middle as the rest of the town has opinions on who would be the better candidate.
And of course that’s not the only drama, as recovering alcoholic Malachi “Mal” July continues to make reparations to the people he’s betrayed, especially his lady love Bernadine. Is she finally ready to forgive him and let the past go?
As the residents of Henry Adams have learned, life will throw obstacles their way, but it’s how they come together and rise above these challenges that keep the bonds of their close-knit community strong.
Not the Girl You Marry (Release Date: November 12, 2019)
Jack Nolan is a gentleman, a journalist, and unlucky in love. His viral success has pigeon-holed him as the how-to guy for a buzzy, internet media company instead of covering hard-hitting politics. Fed up with his fluffy articles and the app-based dating scene as well, he strikes a deal with his boss to write a final piece de resistance: How to Lose a Girl. Easier said than done when the girl he meets is Hannah Mayfield, and he’s not sure he wants her to dump him.
Hannah is an extremely successful event planner who’s focused on climbing the career ladder. Her firm is one of the most prestigious in the city, and she’s determined to secure her next promotion. But Hannah has a bit of an image problem. She needs to show her boss that she has range, including planning dreaded, romantic weddings. Enter Jack. He’s the perfect man to date for a couple weeks to prove to her boss that she’s not scared of feelings.
Before Jack and Hannah know it, their fake relationship starts to feel all too real—and neither of them can stand to lose each other.