Give Novellas a Chance: A Conversation with Author Naima Simone

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In my opinion, Naima Simone is nothing short of a rock star. When I first discovered The Wicked Wallflowers Club podcast in my search for podcasts for romance readers, I came across episode 59, where she was interviewed and immediately knew I wanted to read everything with her name on it. She was interviewed by the hosts again recently and her latest episode is just as laugh out loud hilarious as the first. 

My most recent read by Ms. Simone was a novella called Grading Curves. For those who are insistent upon not giving novellas a chance, I recommend you give Grading Curves a try. It has this ‘oops, can’t take back what we’ve already done,’ yet, forbidden love storyline that is sexy as hell. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a tattoo chair the same again. Once I finished reading, my mind was racing with so many questions that I needed answers to. Naimia Simone, being the rock star she is, agreed to answer them for me so I can share them with you. Without further ado, here they are!

Bree: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to answer my questions. It means so much. I love the interviews you’ve done with the Wicked Wallflowers Club Podcast, especially when you talk about how you became a romance reader.

Naima: Thank YOU for wanting to talk to me! And Sarah and Jenny with Wicked Wallflowers are the coolest women ever! And even an introvert like me doesn’t stand a chance when talking to them. I mean, how can you not laugh and have fun with those two? They’re awesome!

Bree: My first question is, how you transition from being a romance reader to wanting to author a romance of your own?

Naima: Honestly, it was such a seamless transition for me. Does that make me sound obnoxious? LOL! I remember sneaking my mother’s romances and snatching up my grandmother’s Harlequins. But I figured out very early on that no one was going to write a book featuring me and Ralph Tresvant from New Edition. So if I wanted to see that happen, then I had to write my own book with us as the hero and heroine. So I did just that in the seventh grade. My best friend hated it because she wanted Ralph, and my sister didn’t want to be with Ronnie. So needless to say my readership for my first romance novel was a tough crowd. But it didn’t stop me though. I went on to writing books with me and Donnie Wahlberg, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman. Eventually, I phased myself out of the books, but I still continued writing. And reading!

Bree: I recently read Grading Curves, which is a novella of yours. Before I became a romance reader, I was very skeptical of novellas. I didn’t think I’d ever read one and feel fulfilled but then I started reading romance and read novellas like Grading Curves which felt wrapped up perfectly to me. If and when a story idea comes to you, do you know automatically you want it to be a novella versus a full length novel? Do you start writing it out and just see where the story takes you? How does the final decision to keep it short versus a full length novel happen?

Naima: When an idea for a book initially comes to me, I don’t know whether it’s going to be a a novel or a novella. I usually just let it develop in my head and I’ll jot down notes. Then, depending on who I’m writing the book for–a publisher vs self–I know what the word count will be. Most of the time, my books released through a publisher are between 50k and 70k. Almost all of my self-published books are novellas. Once I determine that, then I start plotting it in depth, because the length determines how much I can include in the book, the pacing, how large the secondary cast will be, etc. But regardless of the word count, there must be an emotionally satisfying story and happily ever after. So that’s what I strive to make happen. 

Bree: Totally random, but how do the names of your characters come to you? After I finished Grading Curves, especially with Dean, I couldn’t imagine him being named anything else!

Naima: For me, choosing the name of the character is super important. I have a couple of sites I go to for names and their meanings. The names have to match the characters’ personalities and the story. For example, in Grading Curves, the heroine’s name was Nikki because her mother named her after Prince’s song, Darling Nikki. Yep, her mother name her after a sex fiend masturbating in a hotel lobby with a magazine. LOL! But it gives the reader/listener an immediate clue to her mother’s personality as well as insight into the nature of their relationship. And Dean came to me as a mixture of James Dean and Dean Winchester. I know, I know. But James Dean because he was this bad ass loner who was really so sensitive and angsty. And Dean Winchester, because again, bad ass, but he loves his family to death–literally. He’s incredibly loyal and a warrior. And all of those characteristics belong to Dean Shaw, the hero of Grading Curves. And let’s face it. Dean is a hot name!

Bree: If you could time travel back to when you were writing your first novel, what advice would you give yourself?

Naima: More plot! LOL! Other than that, though, I would tell myself to not be so worried about writing the next book and the next book and the next one. To have more faith in myself.

Bree: What has been the most random place you’ve been when a story idea came to you?

Naima: Church. No. Lie. LOL! I was sitting in bible study and the subject was from Revelations. So I’m sitting there, and instead of taking notes, an idea for an end-of-the-world book about the seven seals just popped in my head. I even talked it over with my pastor and my father, who’s also a pastor. They loved the idea! LOL! I haven’t written it, but I stashed it in my book idea folder!

Bree: What are 3 books you’ve read so far this year that you want more people to read?

Naima: And I can’t name mine, right? *snicker* Oooh, this is so hard because I’ve read some truly wonderful books this year. Okay, so I’m just going to name the ones that immediately pop to my mind. Here we go. For real. Right now… 😀

Get A Life, Chloe Brown (ARC) by Talia Hibbert (Technically, this doesn’t come out until November, but when it does, everyone needs to go bumrush their stores and Amazon to buy it!)

Hook Shot by Kennedy Ryan (But seriously, who HASN’T read this book? It’s simply amazing!)

Moonlight & Whisky by Tricia Lynne (The characters were relatable and funny (yaay, for the curvy girls!), the story was angsty, emotional and so, so sexy!)

Bree: What is one misconception about the romance genre you would like to put to rest?

Naima: There’s the misconception or stereotype that romance is escapism, and that’s negative. And I couldn’t disagree more about it being a bad thing. Recently, I lost my grandmother. And I had to travel home to NJ to attend the funeral. It was one of the toughest times of my life. But I started reading Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh during the 15 hour drive home. I read before the funeral, after and on the way back home. And for those hours that I was able to just lose myself in the Psy-Changeling world, it gave me strength to get through saying good-bye to my grandmother. Romance books aren’t a place to hide and bury our heads. They’re a safe haven, a soft place to land. So when I hear people say we’re trying to escape from the real world by reading romance, I say, So what?

Bree: Share with us:

The last song you got stuck in your head: “Electric Avenue” (Thank you for the ear worm, Dahlia Rose! *shaking fist*)

Your favorite quick meal to cook/order after a long day: Shrimp egg foo young and shrimp fried rice!

The last 3 books you hauled (physical, ebook whatever your reading preference): Like hauled in my purse? Let’s see… Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean, Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh and Bad Influence by Stefanie London. All faaaabulous books!

One self-care recommendation: Reward yourself. If you meet a goal, gift yourself with whatever makes you feel awesome. A snack. A movie. A book. A nap. The nap is my personal favorite. 

Bree: To the aspiring romance author sitting at home right now who is letting fear get in the way and feels she has no idea what she wants to do but knows she wants to write her own romance: what piece of advice would you give her?

Naima: I would tell her that fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can keep us from becoming complacent or stagnant. And it’s human to feel fear. Honestly, I knew I really wanted to be a writer when I was afraid to pursue it. Because it was so important to me that the thought of failing to achieve it was almost paralyzing. But it’s what we do with fear that counts. We can become shipwrecked on it and never pursue our dreams, and just let them be that–dreams. Or we can face fear head-on. And the way we do that is just write. I know that sounds really trite and tired, but it’s true. Every time we sit down and write, we’re conquering our fear.

 

A true master of the craft has spoken. It is what you do with your feat that counts. I hope these words reach someone sitting at home right now who truly needed to see them. Go for it. Fear is normal and totally fine, but that story that’s been on your mind isn’t going to write itself. Get to writing and make it happen. I’m here, rooting for you!

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