Good Morning Crystal
The first couple of lines is my little spiel so that readers can understand why I’m bringing them these interviews. First I want to thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. My aim is to spotlight authors on my website while at the same time showing the diversity in other careers held by writers. Romance writers and readers have drawn snickers from some in the past. I want to change that in any way that I can.
So Crystal, let’s get acquainted and tell the readers something about yourself and what you do for pleasure, a little about your family if you’d like, what you like to read, eat, your hobby whatever. I’m nosey and so are the readers. LOL. Seriously, share what you feel comfortable sharing. You’d be surprised what readers want to know. So if you want to tell where you went to school that would also be a welcomed
Dyanne: Crystal, I know that you write interracial romances as well as children books. I’ve had some interesting experiences writing interracial romances. First off I hadn’t known that I would be classified as an interracial romance writers. People have seen many things in my writings that were not there. So I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions in this very first one.
Why did you start writing interracial romances? Have you found the general population accepting of this genre? Have you had any complaints? Did you envision yourself as a writer or an interracial writer before your first book was published? How about now? Would you please tell my readers a little about yourself and your life before becoming a writer?
Crystal: The first contemporary romance I ever wrote, Crush, was an interracial romance. When I pitched the story at a romance conference, I never mentioned that my hero was Caucasian and my heroine was Afro-Hispanic. The editor asked to see the full manuscript, and that’s when she learned that my characters were of different races. She asked me if I could give my heroine a “European background.” I took that to mean Caucasian. I wouldn’t. She passed on Crush, the stated reason being that readers typically find romances involving celebrities to be distancing. The manuscript sat in a folder in a milk crate in my closet for the next few years, until I signed a three-book contract with Genesis that included Crush.
I’ve found that there is an extremely loyal, extremely vocal fan base supporting interracial fiction. I’ve received nasty e-mails from a person who accused me of promoting “miscegenation,” but frankly I worry more about how I’m going to pay for my kids’ college educations than my part in encouraging a “muddied” new race.
I’ve always been a writer. I wasn’t a published author until recent years. I began my professional career as a reporter, writing for the Bay State Banner, New England’s largest minority newspaper. It was one of the best experiences of my life in that I got to do so many things and meet so many people that I otherwise likely would not have. Some of my best book ideas came from stories I learned about when I was reporting.
At my first romance conference, the editor I pitched to told me that I needed to pick a genre, stick to it, and hone my craft. I can’t stick to one genre of writing any more than I can stick to one type of candy. I’m a writer, plain and unglossed. And I love candy. One day I’ll work on a romance while chomping on Jolly Joes, the next day I’ll work on a picture book while I gobble up Violet Crumbles. I can categorize my books, but not myself as a writer.
Dyanne: I’m going to give a little plug here to the Interracial Multicultural Romance Readers board. I give a big salute to Viola Stephens Brown who started the board. She’s created a place for writers and readers who were looking for stories that represent their lives. You’re a new member to the group, how are you finding it?
Crystal: I talk about discovering the IMRR group the way Columbus probably talked about discovering the New World. The rub here is that you can only take so much pride in discovering something that was there all along that plenty of other people already knew about. It was a celebration of the end of my ignorance, pretty much. I knew that there were IR fan groups all over the Internet, but I looked up the IMRR group after I saw a posting on an Amazon.com discussion group that mentioned that I was a member of IMRR. I wasn’t, at the time, but my curiosity was piqued. I started reading the message boards, and started learning so much about the industry, other authors and the romance genre. I eventually applied for membership, and I was so delighted when I got the acceptance from Viola. IMRR has been so rewarding for me in that I don’t feel so isolated anymore. Every time I visit the group, I have the best sense of homecoming. It’s a great testament to the women who created the group and its membership that I can have such a profound sense of homecoming for a place I’d never been before.
The group members are funny, smart – scary smart – enthusiastic, well-informed, and so doggone supportive. Member Pat Cromwell wrote something that has ensured that I’ll never spend a second sulking over a bad review. Member Shiree McCarver recently wrote the most magical post, welcoming a new season and the excitement that comes with it. And Bridget Midway…that woman is a machine. Her savviness when it comes to promotion is mind-boggling. Viola, the group manager, is like Obi Wan Kenobi. She’s got her thumb on the pulse of everything that happens on the site, making sure that the members are nurtured, that they contribute and that the IMRR is a safe group for its participants. Isis, an assistant manager, has the most excellent timing. She’s given me so much encouragement and peace of mind. It wasn’t until I got it that I fully realized how much I needed it!
I showed my big ol’ bum in my first week, though, when I took offense to something someone had written that wasn’t meant as an offense at all. Once we actually communicated with each other, I realized what a cotton-headed ninnymungus I was being, and that member instantly became the proverbial soft place to rest my head. Her name is Dyanne Davis. I think you might know her. She writes refreshing interracial romances and I’ve heard that she has a talent for Donna Summer songs.
I’ve been hobbling along alone for so long when it comes to my writing. The IMRR group has been the very support I needed.
Dyanne: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a writer and why?
Crystal: I was in the fifth grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer. A short essay I wrote was accepted for publication in a book published by the Cleveland/Southwest school district in St. Louis. Seeing my work in print flipped the switch. That was the moment I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Shortly after making the announcement to my mother, she said, “You better make sure you get a real job. I’m not supporting you for the rest of my life!”
Dyanne: Why did you choose the romance genre?
Crystal: I chose to pursue publication in romance because it’s one of the few genres where you can get your work seen by an editor without having an agent.
Dyanne: Crystal, if you had one wish for the genre, what would it be?
Crystal: I’d wish for more diversity in all aspects of the genre. It’s happening, but slowly. It got to the point where I thought I’d go on some sort of spree if I walked into the Romance section of my bookstore and saw one more cover with a topless tanned cowboy cradling a baby in his arms.
Dyanne: Crystal, if you could not be a writer what other dream job would you have chosen? LOL.
Crystal: I like to think that I would have remained in the sciences if I hadn’t become a writer. I think I might have also pursued a career in a culinary field.
Dyanne: Crystal, so many new writers still feel that they will become rich when they begin their writing career. What would you like to say to them?
Crystal: Very few authors hit the jackpot with their first books. Every writer, new or old, should write books because they love writing, because they can’t imagine life without writing, because they feel ill when stories back up inside them. The financial rewards will come, but for most of us, they aren’t just handed to us from the get.
Dyanne: Crystal, how many years of writing and how many manuscripts did you complete before you sold your first book?
Crystal: I completed my first novel in 1991. I didn’t submit any of my romances to publishers until 2000, when I attended my first RWA-chapter conference. Suddenly You, my first contemporary romance, was completed in 2002. I submitted it to Genesis Press Inc. and BET Books in 2003. Genesis offered on it first, and so began my romance career.
Dyanne: Crystal, would you tell the readers a little about each of your works please?
Crystal: Suddenly You, Only You and Always You are African-American contemporary romances that center around three sisters, Cady, Kyla and Chiara Winters, respectively. Each book stands alone with the other two being companion novels with some of the same characters. Cady, a Boston reporter, goes back home to St. Louis to tend her dying grandmother and ends up sharing lessons in life, death and love with Dr. Keren Bailey. Kyla, a frustrated actress, goes home to St. Louis hoping to rekindle a flame that never quite burned out with cardiologist Zweli Randall, whose proposal she refused three years earlier. Chiara, the youngest of the Winters girls, reluctantly returns to St. Louis after she finds herself in big trouble after stumbling upon a secret about her boss’s premier software product. Co-worker John Mahoney helps her extricate herself from a potentially lethal situation.
Crush and Blame It On Paradise are my first two interracial contemporary romances. Crush is about a tempting tomboy, a sportswriter named Miranda whose past experiences dating a celebrity have left her gunshy when she catches the eye of superstar Welsh rocker Lucas Fletcher. Blame It On Paradise features Boston barrister Jack DeVoy, an incredibly self-centered, driven man who is forced to reassess his life and what’s truly important to him when he meets and falls in love with a dark-skinned island woman from the other side of the world.
Dyanne: Crystal, have you done any other kinds of professional writing?
Crystal: I’ve written three picture books for Lee & Low Books for Children and educational text for Harcourt School Publishers.
Dyanne: Crystal, there is no possible way that I can interview you without asking you this question. Shelving. Please give the readers a detailed explanation so that they will understand what we’re talking about. Then I would like for you to give me your stance on this. I now I don’t have to tell you to make your voice heard. You do that so well. Also if you were in charge how would you handle it?
Crystal: Shelving is a euphemism for placement, both in terms of category and location. Shelving for multicultural books varies from bookstore to bookstore. For example, when I walk into my local Barnes & Noble, I can find a Beverly Jenkins romance in the African-American interest section, shelved alongside political essays by Henry Louis Gates and an unauthorized biography of Quincy Jones. At the nearest Waldenbooks, however, I can find the same Jenkins title in the Romance section, sharing shelf space with Brenda Jackson and Lisa Jackson. At my Borders, the shelving is still different, with Jenkins placed in the African-American literature section with neighbors like J. California Cooper and Maya Angelou.
If it were up to me, I would shelve books according to their classification as romance, thriller, biography, etc. A romance is a romance is a romance, whether the characters in the book are “mainstream” or people of color. Romances would go in the romance section, and that would be that.
Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I re-shelve my books as well as those of my fellow multicultural authors. I’ll turn the books flat, so that the full cover and title can be seen, rather than leaving them wedged in with only the spine showing. If it’s possible, I bring the books to a higher shelf so that they’re more easily seen by browsers. Bookstore managers have been very kind in allowing me to sign whatever stock I have in the store, and then they’ll put “Autographed Copy!” stickers on the covers. Two Saturdays a month I go to my top three bookstores and re-shelve multicultural romance novels.
Wal-Mart is an excellent place to re-shelve. I could walk into the store on my hands, naked, and re-shelve the books with my feet, and the employees would just look at me and say, “Is this a good book?” Wal-Mart’s shelves are more spacious, which allows me to easily group Genesis books on a shelf at eye level.
Dyanne: Crystal, as a writer who’ve written interracial, and children books which is your favorite? Do your readers follow you regardless or will only read certain things? Do you use the same name for your children books?
Crystal: I just like to write. Whatever project I’m working on at the moment becomes my favorite thing to write. Whether it’s a mainstream or multicultural romance, a young adult book, a picture book, an article on John James Audubon for fifth-graders, or an ode to a friend for a birthday present, I fall in love with everything I write. I use the name Crystal Hubbard for my romances and children’s books and the educational pieces I’ve written, but I’ve published a mainstream novella and young adult book under pen names.
Dyanne: I always like to give a word of advice to aspiring writers or even writes who’ve been in the game a while. Do you have any thing you’d like to say to both the aspiring and old-timers?
Crystal: The only advice I can give is the advice I’ve been given by people whose expertise have yet to fail me. Write the story of your heart. Each no is one step closer to a yes. And best of all, don’t let the chumps get you down. That last is really good in lots of situations.
Dyanne: Crystal, tell us please, how does it feel to be have been on a national tour with some of the biggest names in African American fiction and with a living icon Billy D. Williams. Tell us everything. Were you welcomed and made to feel a part of the group? Hey be honest can’t anyone whip either of us for posting the truth or the truth as we perceive it to be.
Crystal: As the sole Genesis author on the inaugural Soul Expressions Bus Tour, I tried to bring as many Genesis authors with me as I could. I placed the book covers of some of my favorite Genesis books on matchbooks and chocolates to give away to the people who came out to see us. Genesis books are very popular, as evidenced by the fact that all of my Genesis matchbooks and most of my chocolates were gone by the second day.
I was very nervous going into the tour. Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Donna Hill, Francis Ray and Rochelle Alers are directly responsible for my romance writing career. Beverly Jenkins’s Night Song was a revelation to me. Rosa Parks made me believe that I didn’t have to ride in the back of a bus. Mae Carol Jemison made me believe that I could be an astronaut. Beverly Jenkins made me believe that I could be a romance novelist. Five of the most well-known African American romance novelists whose hard work and talent made the way easier for me were on that tour, and even now, nearly a year later, I wonder what t’heck I was doing there alongside them. I was so eager and nervous to meet Beverly Jenkins. When I finally saw her, I couldn’t speak. I dropped into a curtsy. She laughed and proved herself to be the most down-to-earth, sensible, approachable person.
All the stomachaches, headaches, crying jags, moaning, trembling and nausea before the tour paid off and bought me an incomparable experience.
The tour, which was comprised of Wal-Mart in-house bookstores in twelve Indiana and Illinois cities, started in earnest on Thursday, August 9, 2007. Everyone turned up on time to get on the bus and depart the Marriott North Indy. The first Wal-Mart was daunting simply because it was first. Devar Spight—I know, it sounds like a made-up, witness protection name—was our handler and bodyguard, and he stood outside the door of our luxury coach and gallantly handed us down one by one in front of Wal-Mart. I don’t do gallant, so I rolled my eyes and trudged down the stairs on my own, trying not to snap my ankle in the espadrilles I had on.
There were people lined up when we arrived, which was amazing, since our signing was at 9 am. Granted, most of them were there for the veterans: Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Francis Ray, Donna Hill and Rochelle Alers. Prior to the tour, I called those five my Mount Rushmore of multicultural romance fiction. Having spent four days with them, they are now my Mount Olympus.
Beverly Jenkins is all of five foot spit. She wears adorable, tailored, man-cut suits, and perched upon her nose are a pair of narrow spectacles over which she surveyed the literal throngs who came out to see her. Ms. Jenkins is a pocket Zeus who describes herself as merely a “little girl from Detroit.”
Brenda Jackson is the Hera to Ms. Jenkins’ Zeus. If you didn’t know who she was, you’d look at her and see a woman who manages to be regal yet approachable, sophisticated and down-home all at once. Brenda Jackson has written more than fifty books and is currently doing at least five a year. Brenda Jackson is a literary machine masquerading as a grandmother. She reads all the time, and she chews Extra while she does so. I could tell when she was at an exciting part in her book because she would pop her gum three times, like gun shots.
Francis Ray is probably the quietest member of the veteran team. Soft-spoken and elegant, she’s capable of a little fire when necessary, like when she discovered a deep-fried hair on her plate at lunch a winery on Saturday. It took me the most time to work up the guts to speak to Francis Ray. When I started writing romance fiction, I put the word “You” in my titles as an homage to Francis Ray’s “You” titles.
Donna Hill is the Athena of the veterans. She has an amazing physical presence, the sort I’d have assigned to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She’s organized, precise, extremely chic, and straightforward. Rather than calling me “crazy” or “special” to my face, as others on the tour did, she would look at me with an expression of abject wonder that I took as a compliment.
Rochelle Alers rounded out the set of pioneers whose efforts and talent paved the way for an upstart like me. Rochelle Alers is strikingly beautiful. It hits you the moment she enters a room. She’s got the savvy grace, poise and droll sense of humor of Katherine Hepburn. She wears her salt-and-pepper locks short, and she wears glasses. I have more lines and blemishes on my skin than she does, and when she smiles, faintly, you can hear the music of heaven. Honestly.
Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson, Francis Ray, Donna Hill and Rochelle Alers are the progenitors of all the other authors that were on the bus.
Devar took the liberty of nicknaming all of us. He called me his cousin, because evidently he has a cousin who’s as “crazy” as I am.
Me? Crazy? Just because I got so sick of him trying to help me off the bus that I finally just tackled him?
Devar called Nina Foxx “The Diva.” Devar carried The Diva off the bus once.
Have I mentioned that Devar looks like he fell off the cover of a romance novel? He’s tall, at least six feet, two inches. His skin is dark and even, like that of those onyx sculptures of Anubis you find in museum gift shops. Devar has a very relaxed way about him, but he managed to keep all nineteen of us on schedule and jumping when he said jump. His “hobby” is firefighting, and he’s got the long, lean, stacked and sculpted musculature unique to firefighters and Michelangelo’s figure models.
We had a long drive to our first Friday morning signing, so Devar and I decided to watch a movie. The choices were Saw, Saw III, Dreamgirls, 300 and The Departed. I’ve seen The Departed three hundred times, so Devar and I chose 300. The movie is an over-the-top, slick retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. And I love it! I love war movies. The only thing wrong with this one is that with the exception of Gerard Butler, all the actors looked too much like Abercrombie & Fitch models.
So Devar and I are watching the movie, living it up, and the complaints start. Devar is much more of a gentleman than I am, so he took out 300 about a half hour before the end and put in Dreamgirls. Now, I like Dreamgirls. I think it’s a good movie. Bonnie DeShong, a Chicago radio legend and our bus monitor, made me love Dreamgirls. She broke into an “And I’m Tellling You” solo that should have stopped traffic.
Devar’s pelvic pump to “Jimmy Got Soul” was rather entertaining as well.
Thursday and Friday, we had Lynn Andriani on the bus with us. She’s a reporter with Publisher’s Weekly. She wrote two fabulous articles on the tour and joined us for our Friday night dinner at a restaurant called Rodini’s. The dinner featured a joke told by New York Times bestselling author Terri Woods, Devar’s “Gangsta Diva.”
The veterans and I didn’t want to have dinner in Michigan City, Indiana, the site of our final signing in Indiana. Devar suggested, and all but one of us agreed, that we should just drive on to Chicago, so we could get to the hotel earlier, and eat dinner in Chicago.
With one holdout who wanted to eat as soon as possible after the 6 pm signing, we ended up having to adhere to the original schedule and spend an extra two hours having dinner in Michigan City.
Rodini’s has lots of dark wood paneling, low lighting, close tables, and a bar area that looks like the private dancing cage at a Baltimore strip bar. Plus, it smelled like seafood boiled in old sweat socks when we walked in.
We sat, me at a table with (longing sigh here) Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Rochelle Alers, Donna Hill and Francis Ray. Stacy Abrams, who writes under the name Selena Montgomery, was to my left, Lynn the reporter was across from Stacy. Trisha R. Thomas, author of the Halle Berry-optioned Nappily Married, sat beside Lynn, and Gangsta Diva Terri Woods was beside Trisha.
My virgin strawberry daiquiri nearly killed me. Not only did it taste like it had been made with red crayons and vinegar, I swallowed down a little piece of something that felt like hard plastic. I started to choke, and when I say choke, I mean CHOKE. I covered my face with my napkin and had to focus all my energy on not upchucking all over the table.
Brenda Jackson gave me six hard whaps on the back that helped dislodge whatever Rodini’s put in my drink to kill me. Once I could speak again, my first words were, “Brenda Jackson saved my life.” Technically, I fully expected to die. I mean, honestly…death is the only natural follow-up to having been able to meet all the authors I’d admired and wanted to emulate for so long.
Stacy Abrams is very smart. She’s a tax attorney and a state representative in Georgia. She’s the Baxter to my Malcolm, if you’ve ever seen Malcolm in the Middle. She’s the only person who’s ever made me examine myself and wonder if I’m not an idiot after all.
On our final day, she chewed me out for not being able to take a compliment. She said that every time someone gives me a compliment, I deflect it back on the person who gave it, or the people around me. She said that doing so is an insult to all black women, because we’re conditioned to not be able to accept compliments.
After I suppressed my urge to pop her in the windpipe, I had to agree with her. She’s right. That’s the thing with Stacy. She’s always right. I hope she remembers how much we enjoyed each other’s company when she’s taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I spent most of my off time with the veterans, from whom I learned so much about graciousness, humility, promotion, and how to defend yourself from readers who migh not have the purest motives when they critique your work or meet you in person.
Brenda Jackson had the widest varieties of fans: screamers, luggers and tacklers.
She and Ms. Jenkins had readers who brought in rolling totes filled with multiple copies of books they’d purchased between 1993 and 2007. One woman, without asking first, grabbed Brenda Jackson and gave her a smothering hug that Devar almost had to break up.
So many of the fans we’d seen throughout the tour showed up at the Meet & Greet reception on Saturday. Billy Dee Williams was there to welcome us, and it was the strangest experience. I saw him in Bingo Long’s Travelling All-Stars & Motor Kings when I was ten. I’ve aged three decades since then and look it. He looks exactly the same now as he did back then.
Once I got all the Colt45 jokes out of my system, I found him to be patient, funny, well-spoken and genuinely interested in us and our work. I was quite flattered to meet him and listen to him speak. He asked for a copy of my children’s book, which is about a Negro Leaguer. Bingo Long sparked my interest in the Negro Leagues, so Billy Dee Williams is indirectly responsible for my children’s book.
Another Genesis author, Barbara Keaton, attended the Meet & Greet. I’d met her at Book Expo America in New York City in 2005, and back then, I thought she looked like a college professor. I didn’t recognize her at the Meet & Greet until she smiled. Her hair was shorter, her glasses were a bit different. She was wearing a long dress with an exotic, colorful print that complimented her beautiful brown skin. As a very yellow person, I’ve always envied women with Barbara’s complexion. It’s the kind of rich, warm brown that you just want to lick. I didn’t though, because I was already in enough trouble with Bonnie.
I’d like to add, however, that Mr. Billy Dee Williams noticed Ms. Barbara Keaton…noticed her for a good long time.
The Meet & Greet was wonderful. Bonnie worked the crowd until it was putty in her very talented hands. Bonnie had her eye on me from the Wednesday night orientation on. She pegged it when she said that she needed to keep an eye on me, and she did. It was uncanny, the way she’d stop me from doing something before I’d got it good in my head to go on and do it. For example…at our first signing Thursday, Devar saw a display of basketballs. He picked one up and called out a pass to me. When I was about to pass it back, Bonnie rounded the corner. Before I even saw her, I heard, “Crrrryssstal…” in that warning tone unique to mothers of mischievous children. Devar, the rascal, skulked off, leaving me to take the blame on my own. He started it, dang it…
But back to the Meet & Greet. When Beverly Jenkins said that the reception was a great opportunity for people to get to know writers they may not have read before, my sales suddenly jumped through the roof. See, if Beverly Jenkins tells you to buy a book by a new writer, you doggone well better do it. And people did, which is a testament to the relationship she has with her fans, her understanding of what it’s like to be a new author, and her painfully astute wisdom.
Have I mentioned yet that I love Beverly Jenkins? The she is my Dr. Frankenstein and I am her Creature?
I had three near sellouts, and an official sellout in Evergreen Park, Illinois on Saturday. Lots of us sold out in Evergreen Park because we had a unique incentive. Our young female handlers, Kathleen, Sarah and Krystal With A K purchased a T-shirt for Devar.
Devar spoke quite eloquently about his desire to achieve his “maximum sexy” by his thirty-fifth birthday. He was thirty then, and he’s got quite enough sexy already. Any more, and certain divas on the bus would have spontaneously combusted.
The T-shirt the girls got for Devar was black, with the following written on it in pink: I’m Bringing Sexy Back. With a pink lipstick kiss. They got the T-shirt in the girls’ department at one of the Wal-Marts.
The shirt took on a life of its own when Devar told us that he’d put it on only if we sold out our books. We were so eager to see him in that shirt, we were selling each other’s books. Five of us sold out, and Devar refused to cowboy up and put on the shirt.
Devar didn’t hesitate to take off his shoes on the bus. He put on flip flops. He said he hates to wear shoes, socks, shirts and pants. I don’t think it would have bothered the female writers on the bus one bit, but Earl Sewell, the one male author (“Man Diva”), might have objected to having some competition. Earl’s triceps feel like they’re sculpted from granite.
Earl, who writes wonderful multicultural young adult novels for Harlequin, was far more put together and demure than I was. Being trapped on the bus with eighteen female authors and five female handlers brought out the worst of my tomboy extincts. Devar and I got into a nice little wrestling match that left The Diva Nina Foxx asking me what the fight was about.
It wasn’t about anything. Fighting is fun when it’s being done for play. Besides, I’d already warned the group that I had as much if not more testosterone than Earl and Devar put together. It’s testosterone that gave me the strength to climb on the bus with a bunch of girly girls in the first place.
But truthfully, there were only two people I’d classify as girly girls. Nina Foxx, The Diva, was certainly well put together. I’ve never seen a woman in real life as flawless as Nina Foxx. I’m convinced that she’s the reincarnation of some Egyptian pharoahess.
Tracie Howard, the author of Golddiggers, has the sophisticated style, glamour and glitz of old Hollywood. She’s Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall rolled into one. She looked as good at the end of our fourteen-hour days as she did at their beginning. And I’ve never seen a more perfect complexion on anyone over six months old. Not only is Tracie beautiful, she’s nice. All the writers on the tour were the nicest people, proving that oftentimes talent is inversely proportional to ego.
Nikki Turner, the queen of Hip Hop romance, is subdued and sweet. Daaimah Poole, who writes for Dafina, looks like a senior in high school. Stephanie Perry Moore was the moral conscience of the bus. She writes Christian fiction, and her young adult series are habit forming.
Trisha Thomas, Flowerchild Diva, moves like water. She is tall and slender, like a sunflower personified. But man, can that woman eat! I don’t know where she puts it, but it’s nice to see. She and Gangsta Diva sat beside one another at dinner Friday night, and there couldn’t have been two more opposite folk sharing air. At one point, we were talking about movies, and Apocolypto came up. Tracie and Terri gave their reviews at the same time. Terri, leading with one shoulder, leaned across the table and growled, “That’s the best movie I’ve ever seen!” as Trisha leaned back, rolled her eyes dismissively and said, “That’s the worst movie ever.”
Stacy and I busted out laughing.
Grace Akallo, at first, seemed out of place in terms of her work. She was 27 but looked 14, she was eight months pregnant, and her work is nonfiction. Her book, Girl Soldier, is the biographical account of her escape from Uganda after having been abducted from school and forced to be a soldier. Her story is harrowing and triumphant. When you see Grace in real life, you marvel at how such a delicate person could be so strong.
Anyone sitting next to Grace sold her book more than they sold their own. It’s hard not to, not when her story is a real lesson and ours were just entertainment.
ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Devar’s Decepticon Diva, was the only other new mom besides myself on the tour. Devar called her the Decepticon because he said that even though she didn’t seem like a diva, she definitely could turn on the diva if and when she needed to. I didn’t interact with her too much, but she seemed quite nice. She’s one of the few people on the bus who enjoyed the chocolate Nina Foxx shared with us.
At one of the signings, someone gave Nina bacon chocolate. I thought she was saying “baking” chocolate, as in “I’m goin’ to the market to buy some bakin’ chocolate because I’m bakin’ a cake.”
But she said bacon.
It’s a Vosges product, and once I saw the box, I wasn’t surprised. They’ll put anything in chocolate. If you want rose petals, tuna, or even the flavor of postage stamp glue in chocolate, Vosges are the people to see.
As with Apocolypto, just as ReShonda said, “This is the best chocolate I’ve ever had,” I said, “That’s the worst chocolate I’ve ever tasted.”
Force of Nature Diva, Naleighna Kai, is better at self-promotion than P.T. Barnum. That woman doesn’t just hit the pavement. She works the ladies rooms, the line at Starbucks, the parking lots—Naleighna knows how to present a soft sell with the finesse of a seduction. She had as many sellouts as Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson, and that’s saying something. Her book, Every Woman Needs a Wife, is presented by Zane’s imprint at Simon & Shuster, but it’s Naleighna Kai selling the heck out of that book.
I’ve saved Lori Bryant Woolridge for last because she’s had the greatest impact on me. Lori has modified my way of thinking about the way I dress. Comfort and ease of movement are always my motivating factors in choosing what I wear. Lori, and rightly so, told me that I don’t have to always look “like a mom.” Not that I even look like a regular mom. I’m way into men’s cargo shorts and shirts. The shirts are cut bigger, which is good when I’m breastfeeding. The shorts have so many pockets, which keeps me from having to carry a purse.
Along with the lessons I learned from Lori, the veterans and everyone else on the tour, I took from it a sense of belonging. There are at least seventeen other women and one other man with whom I now have a unique kinship, who do what I do. They don’t do it like I do, which suits me very well, but they’re just as good as I am, and in lots of cases, they’re better.
I’m so unbelievably pleased to have been a part of what I hope was only the first of many Soul Expressions author tours to come.
The customers want them. They proved it to us and to Wal-Mart by turning out in impressive numbers. At three different stores, readers came up to me already with my books in hand. At the Michigan City store, a woman named Mary Croom Hicks plopped my first book, Suddenly You, down on the table in front of me, and I screamed. She had all of my books, and did they ever look read. Suddenly You had a coffee or tea ring on the cover, the pages were dog-eared. And that book’s owner came out to have me sign it.
At other stores, readers came up to me to say that they’ve read my books and just wanted to meet me. Me! Big, goofy, dresses-like-a-camp-counselor me!
I got a taste of what it felt like to be Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson, Francis Ray, Donna Hill or Rochelle Alers. I got a twinge of what it feels like to know that your work means something to someone else.
So often, I’ve thought that what I do doesn’t matter.
This tour taught me that what I do matters a very great deal, both to me and the people who look forward to my books.
The end of the tour happened quickly, with a line of hired cars to take us our separate ways. John, our bus driver, was a hoot. I bought scratch tickets for everyone at 7-Eleven, and John promised that if he hit it big, he’d let me drive the bus. I was rooting for him, even gave him my ticket, but his scratchies were only worth a free ticket.
Donna Hill forgot her guest book in Evergreen Park, so I gave her my spare one. I’d been up until 2 am the night before, cutting white sticker paper to size to cover my name, just in case someone needed a guestbook. That was the mom in me coming out, I guess. And once she was out, she stayed out.
An elderly lady at the Meet & Greet chastised me for taking her appetizer plate for her, to put it away. She said that I was an “author,” and I shouldn’t be waiting on her. But then she called me a “jewel” and bought my book.
At one of the signings, Terri Woods took on the cause of a woman with her arm in a sling. The woman was traveling with her daughter and grandchild, and she was having a rough go of it. Terri asked to borrow ten dollars from me, so she could buy the woman lunch. All I had was two twenties, so I gave the woman’s daughter a twenty to take all three of them to lunch.
Terri tried to pay me back on the last day, but giving that woman a little bit of cash was my mitzvah. You don’t repay a mitzvah.
My other mitzvah happened the day before. I borrowed a dollar from Terri so I could give twelve dollars to a woman named Lola, who wanted to buy Grace Akallo’s book.
She seemed like a genuine, really honest woman. She read the backs of all of our books, but she didn’t have any money. I know what it feels like to want something and not be cable to get it because you have the good sense to spend your money on food and diapers, and not press-on fingernails and Zima. So I was very glad to team up with Terri to get Grace’s book for Lola.
Tracie Howard, Hollywood Diva, introduced me to Red Bull. I treated Tracie to Red Bulls on Saturday and Sunday morning. I was going to 7-Eleven anyway, so I figured I’d save our handlers a trip searching for it. Red Bull is good stuff. Without it, I never would have survived my drive home from Chicago to St. Louis on Sunday night. I left Chicago at 8:31 pm Sunday and arrived in St. Louis at 1:07 am Monday morning. Red Bull gives you wings, alright.
ReShonda, Nina and Lori blogged together, Stacy and Beverly Jenkins have the same publisher, Stephanie and Daaimah changed seats a couple of times so they could sign side by side, and Nina and Earl know each other pretty well, it seems, so it was good seeing people getting along so well, even if at times I felt left out.
I always had John the bus driver, Devar, Bonnie, Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins, Stacy and Rochelle Alers near me, so it’s not like I was some wilting wallflower hoping to get asked to dance. Believe me, I enjoyed it when Devar grabbed me by the throat and pretended to strangle me much more than if I’d been included in discussions about cell phones and books being optioned for movies.
On the last day, I got to ride to Midway Airport to pick up my rental car in the stretch limo taking Levy chief Pam Nelson and her family home. Her daughter, Krystal With A K, Devar, and Krystal’s son Landon were so much fun to talk to. Pam is a wonder woman, plain and simple. She must have just melted into a pool of exhaustion when she got home Sunday night, but her hard work showed. She ruled with a gentle hand, yet still managed to keep egos in check, to stem minor tiffs that could have escalated into battle royales, and get us where we needed to be on time. She wrangled customers, Wal-Mart employees, and Billy Dee Williams himself. Levy better watch out. Anytime she wants to, Pam could take over the company, and the company would surely be better for it.
In closing, I have to sincerely admit that the two-state Soul Expressions Tour was the best thing to happen to me at that stage in my career. I didn’t have to lift a finger to do a thing except open my mouth to eat all the fine food I was served. Beverly Jenkins said that participating in the Soul Expressions tour means that I’ve arrived. I’m not in total agreement with that. What it means to me is that I’m doing some things right, and definitely others wrong. I’ve been correcting what I’m doing wrong, and hope to soar from there.
Dyanne: Okay, Crystal, I’m going to ask you your opinions on reviews and give it to us straight.
Crystal: I’ve never read a book purely based on the recommendation of someone else. Reading material is so subjective. What someone else loves, I could very easily dislike. I held off reading The DaVinci Code because everyone kept saying how great it was. When I finally read it, I really enjoyed it. Same thing with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, A Wrinkle In Time and To Kill A Mockingbird. Some of my favorite books were books I resisted reading because of the advance hype. I judge people as I find them, and I do the same with books.
There are a lot of online sites that give readers the chance to voice their opinions about books. Before I became published, I used to read reviews for entertainment. You can tell when a reader loves a book, sincerely hates a book, and when a writer likes or hates the author. A lot of reviewers take advantage of the anonymity afforded by the Internet and write vicious comments that they perhaps wouldn’t if they put their real names on their reviews. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the only bad reviews that annoy me are the ones that attack an author personally. You can criticize someone’s work without defaming them. The worst reviews are the ones that say a book is horrible without stating reasons for that opinion, and the ones that describe what the reviewer would have done if he or she had written the book.
That said, it’s nice knowing that my books have generally been well received by critics and the reading public. I don’t expect everyone to love them, and trust me, not everyone does. But I have a good filtering system for reviews: my sisters. When good reviews come in, I try to find the author and thank them. When a negative one comes to my attention, I use it to fuel a mitzvah. I make a donation of time or money to one of my favorite charities or non-profit organizations. Nothing feels better than helping out someone else, even if it’s a case of the bad off giving to the worse off!
Dyanne: Tell me what your plans are in the near future in regards to your writing near future for us meaning the next two years.
Crystal: I have two more interracial romances coming out in September 2008 and March 2009, respectively, and my second picture book debuts in August 2008. I recently agreed to terms on my third picture book, and I’m very excited about it. I’ve got some health issues to deal with, so I plan to spend a few months getting myself back in good health, spending more quality time with my children, and writing a bit here and there. At any given time, I have at least three projects going, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish up some of the projects I’ve been picking at over the past two years. One of my biggest goals is to get an agent. I think I’m at a point where I need one.
Dyanne: Crystal, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. If there’s anything you’d like to say to the readers please do so. Also would you give a link for reader to view your work?
Crystal: I’d just like to close by thanking you for letting me your May interview, and for being so kind, generous, attentive and embracing toward me. I really wish I’d been in Chicago to hear you sing “She Works Hard For the Money!”
I have excerpts for my books at my website: www.crystalhubbard.com.
Descriptions of my adult fiction can be found at www.genesis-press.com
Readers can learn more about my children’s books at www.leeandlow.com.