The Interviews
Leslie Esdaile
by Gwendolyn Osborne
In 1997, I read Slow Burn, Leslie Esdaile’s second novel. It was an engaging story about two people, once at the top of their professions, who fell on hard times as a result of two very tragic losses. Despite their circumstances, they found each other, a common purpose and the road back. Shortly after publication of Slow Burn, Esdaile took a three-year hiatus from romance writing. In 2000, she published a novella in Genesis Press’ Midnight Clear anthology. Since then, the author has come back with a vengeance. She has released work with four publishers and has several very different projects due for release in 2003. Esdaile loves to laugh and has a wicked sense of humor that punctuates her work. Among my favorites are “Time Enough for Love,” her novella in the After the Vows anthology, and Love Potions, a single-title. Leslie Esdaile romances include four M’s: mirth, mischief, metaphysics -- and one more that I’ll let the author explain.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

A: I'm a Philly girl, basically. I grew up here, lived in a row home, went to Girls’ High, and through a stroke of luck, got into University of Pennsylvania--where I studied business.

Writing was the last thing on my mind, and I went into a career as a sales executive thinking that I'd follow a fairly uneventful corporate path. Then in 1991, my then six-month-old daughter was severely injured in a daycare center accident, which changed my life and career path forever. I had to figure out a way to work from home and support us--as I was going through a divorce situation. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I'd become an author.

What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?

A: I wrote my first book in 1992... it was a lark, something to keep me from losing my mind and to keep me awake while my child rehabilitated (she had a crazy medication schedule from the 17 required burn surgeries that were around the clock, and I had no help.) I saw an ad in Essence Magazine for a short story contest, where the prize money for a ten-page entry was $2,500. So, I began writing what was "supposed" to be a short story, sending installments to my friends from my old job to help me cut the 75-page monstrosity down to 10 pages. But my girlfriends kept asking for more, wanted to know what was going to happen next. In six weeks, I had 780 pages of drama, LOL! Needless to say, I missed the contest deadline, had nothing close to 10 pages, and I threw the manuscript into the bottom of my closet--but my friends didn't. They started mailing this thing out to publishers, and I started getting rejection letters. At first, I thought the responses were from magazine subscription cancellations... then I finally realized that these were manuscript rejections! I laughed, thought they were crazy.

Finally, in 1995, after going to an RWA conference in New York (under duress from a friend), I met Vivian Stevens and Monica Harris, and got a chance to pitch this story. The rest is history. Two months later, I had a two- book contract with Kensington/Arabesque. Sundance, my first book, was published in October 1996, followed by Slow Burn. I was launched as a real writer. It was deep.

Were you surprised by the response to your first novel?

A: Absolutely! This story was, in my mind, my own crazy version of an African-American and Latino James Bond-like action adventure, corporate espionage with a paranormal twist. I figured that most people would shake their heads and wonder what kind of drugs I'd been on to come up with something so outlandish. But people started writing to me, sending e-mails... we sold over 43,000 copies of that first book. I'm still amazed.

What is the most frequently asked Leslie Esdaile question?

A: “How do/did you find time to write with all those kids, a husband, and (at the time) a full- time job?” That's what is asked most. And I can dig it. It's hard for people, especially women--with all the responsibilities generally on our shoulders, to carve out time and space.

I had remarried, gone back to school to get a Master's in film making, and with that new union came a blended family of three additional children, work responsibilities (had to keep shoes on everybody's feet, smile!), and the craziness of running a busy household while working. I'm not exactly sure how I did it, then... but suffice to say, my time was after everyone went to bed. That's when I'd write or work on my school projects--from 9:00 p.m., after all the dishes were washed, the house was straightened up, homework was done, lunches were packed, the hubby had a beer in hand, and I'd sneak off to sit by the washer and dryer (my computer was set up on a table by the laundry room, and in my house, laundry was an ever-present task), and I'd crank until midnight each night, Monday through Friday, to get a book done. But it wasn't really work. I LOVED to write. So that was my relaxation time... I'd think of it like watching television. But there were days when I'd want to wring everybody's neck around here. Ha ha ha!

Do you write full time?

A: Yes. Now I do. But that is a very recent development that came with a flurry of projects 18 months ago. Up till then, a sister had to go out and do the grind, then come home and write.

Describe Leslie Esdaile's Philadelphia.

A: Oh, wow... that's a hard question. I LOVE Philly. The architecture and history is so rich. It's a big city but made up of small town neighborhood sections where folks sit out on the stoops, get in your business, and every ethnic group is vibrant and interesting and essential to this wonderful tapestry of humanity. Philadelphia has more wall art murals than any other city in the world, and you can drive around one corner and see barren, filthy strips of poverty--then in two seconds drive by a breathtaking mural framed by decay that makes it such a profound contrast. This city is a film maker’s dream... There are buildings here that look like you're in Rome, Switzerland, or London, and the craftsmanship is magnificent. We have the largest inner city urban park in the nation, and the museums are ridiculous. What can I say? All that splendor sits as a frame backdrop to vendors selling dirty (but very tasty) pretzels and mustard on the street, and open air Italian market that stretches blocks--yeah, just like in the “Rocky” movie, with fine cuisines fighting and admirably competing with cheese steaks and hoagies.

How do you approach development of your characters?

A: I just take a walk, ride public transportation, or go to the supermarket. Philadelphia is rich with characters. You might see a homeless man preaching to ghosts in the street vents while a banker argues with his wife on a cell phone--in a $1,500 suit. It's deep. I people watch, that's how I find my characters and develop them.

The opening passages of Love Notes include some of the most lyrical phrases I've read in quite some time. They express the balances and the differences between Tony Williams and Nina Carpenter. How do you create such poetry in the prose form?

A: I love music... simply said. Life is music, has a rhythm, a pulse. To hear it, one has to get still. To turn it into prose... I don't know. But once I figure out who my characters are, I try to listen to their music, their pulse, and then work on their inner dialogue as though there was a melody to it.

Love Potions is one of my favorite Leslie Esdaile romances. Where did the idea for Love Potions come from?

A: LAUGHING OUT LOUD! Truth be told, much of this I lived. I have very crazy, but very dear girlfriends. At one point, many of us were going through the divorce blues, or the I ain't got no good man drama. We'd get together on those hard to deal with holidays, like Valentine's Day, and try to cheer each other up... and since we were all entrepreneurs, sometimes we'd come up with these crazy schemes to cover the shortfall of the deadbeat dads in our lives. Now, we never actually "tried" some of these ideas... but doing a psychic party at a salon did come up a few times as a suggestion, until Dionne Warwick ran into issues. And, like all things culturally flavored, there were some days when one of my girls, with Southern roots, would bring up possible antidotes to loneliness. We'd roll laughing, and banish the thought. Then one day I got this crazy idea... "Hey, what if we actually did this yang?" That's where Love Potions came from. I laughed the entire time I was writing this book!

Who is Adam Bastille and what motivates him?

A: Uhmmph, Uhmmph, Uhmmph! I can't tell you [in print] where Adam Bastille comes from--BIG smile! But I can tell you that brothers like him DO exist! What motivates him...? The same thing that motivates us. He's a busy person, isn't into "the club scene meat market," hates games, has a good heart, and wants a real, honest-to-goodness life partner, friend, lover. There are a lot of men out there that want that. Trouble is, like good women (who are also busy, not in the clubs, and are working hard), they're hard to find. But do keep the faith--men like that do exist. I found one, and married his behind.

Why is a set of new steel-belted radial tires often more of a turn-on than two-dozen white roses?

A: GURL! White roses are something a man with a little resources can easily call up a florist and have delivered. He can do that for any woman. To me (perhaps being an old married girl is telling on me), I find it truly sexy when a man looks at me, knows my "real" needs, and is about helping me to stabilize my household... not that that's all I'm about. It's like the difference between the man who comes to your door for dinner with a bottle of wine under his arm--that's nice. But if the man looks around your home or apartment while you're cooking and takes out the trash, and fixes that little nagging drip in the bathroom sink (because there's no other man around to do it) -- chile, he's definitely a keeper! Adam Bastille buying those tires meant, 1) he was concerned about the woman's safety--not just her booty; 2) he wanted to leave something lasting--not something that she'd have to throw away in a few days; and 3) he wanted her AND her baby to be in a safe, protected vehicle. THAT is much more than the romantic display of some old flowers.

Will we see Jojo again?

A: Oh, I hope so. I wanted to do so much more with him, as he was one of my favorite characters. He deserved to find love, too, in my mind. But I was at the page count limit and had to make a decision.

Do you believe in the "Six Degrees of Separation"?

A: Absolutely. I've lived it so much. I have no other choice. I always bump into people who know somebody who knows somebody I know. And I definitely believe in what the old folks say about guarding your good name, and acting accordingly in the streets--because you never know who knows your people. Used to get busted as a teenager ALL the time... would be where I wasn't supposed to be and see one of the old girls who were a friend of my mother's, my aunt's, whatever, LOL! So, now, I tell my children the same thing that my Mom told me: "Baby, I don't have to be where you are to know you ain't acting right. I'll know. The Lord gives me ‘Mommy eyes’ in the back of my head!"

What are the basic elements of a Leslie Esdaile romance?

A: A link to the generations past and their wisdom. I will ALWAYS give homage to the wisdom of elders in my books. Also, the whole concept of forgiveness and redemption... in my heart I really believe in the transformative power of love. And, lastly, but probably most importantly--I believe in Divine Intervention. I've had it happen to me too many times to dismiss it.

Speaking of the transformative power of love, Nate McGregor and Claudia Harris, the main characters of Slow Burn were both successful professionals who hit rock bottom after personal tragedies befell family members. What was your message to readers about love, grief and second chances?

A: I definitely believe in the transformative power of love and second chances. I went through an awful time when my daughter was tragically burned in a daycare center accident--and underwent 17 surgeries... that's how I was able to do that scene in Slow Burn about Nate's response to his child being in a car accident in a burn ward--different scenario, but I'd been there. My husband, Al, literally came into my life as I was coping with all of that alone and going through a divorce. I'd almost decided to stop writing romances, because my faith in that aspect of life was extremely shaky at that time. But he came back as a force to be reckoned with and loved me, warts and all. (My addiction was spiraling weight gain-but I had my days when I felt like Claudia from that book.) It was indeed transformative.

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?

A: My sense of humor is crazy... things make me laugh that might leave another person just shaking their head. I love people, and folks are funny. Irony gets me every time. And I really love language, the use of it, the way people turn a phrase when they have a certain expression on their face. I was the kid in school that always got in trouble for laughing when the teacher said to be quiet, or got busted in Sunday school because I had to laugh at the "under the breath comment" someone said as an old matron passed by. You know, it's the "look" with "the phrase" that gets me going every time.

Rivers of the Soul has its own soundtrack that includes a title track featuring Terry Ellis of EnVogue. Can you describe the process of selecting music to reflect the essence of your novel?

A: I write with soundtrack in my head... maybe that's the film maker in me, who knows? I can't sing a lick, but I hear soundtrack behind certain scenes--all scenes, in fact. When I'm at the tube writing, I don't see words on the screen, I see a movie unfolding, hear background music in my head, hear quiet crackling between the characters... sound. I'm a sound junkie. [I even told on myself in Love Lessons, and laughed after I wrote about that... guess that's why my husband has that deep, rich voice I use for all my male characters--and he's an audio technician, go figure.] So, when this project came up, the mood of the music was already in my head--and I was very, very lucky [again, Divine Intervention], to get connected to Byron Hester of South Summer Records... he knew EXACTLY what I meant when I described it, and laid in the music perfectly to match what was in my head.

What did you learn from the experience?

A: Oh... man... I learned so much, I don't even know where to begin. I learned that I could write lyrics, about the recording industry, contracts, distribution issues... marketing. It was a fabulous experience.

Still Waters Run Deep is a spin-off from Rivers of the Soul. Why was it important to tell this story?

A: It was the other half of the story. I wanted this story told from both the male and female perspectives, as well as to be able to give some real experience about the importance of children in a romantic relationship mix. I know from experience that, not only is love possible when you already have children, but it's the "way" you go about incorporating their needs into the equation that's critical for their development in life. These books are about balancing priorities, as much as the books are about hope. With so many people in the world facing single parenthood, I thought it was high time for a series to address that in real terms.

Many of your stories feature heroes and heroines who get involved in "self pleasuring." Why is this a recurring aspect of your work?

A: Now I'm REALLY laughing! Okay, I'm going to go political here. I was thoroughly appalled when they fired the national health Czar because she said this was an option--a much better one than getting sexually transmitted diseases, if abstinence was an issue, I might add. I agree 100%. I've seen and listened to so many women who have made HORRIBLE choices in mates, simply because they were more than lonely--their bodies were talking to them. So, given that [especially in a romance], the hero and heroine have all this kinetic energy flying between them--yet, they are supposedly trying to do the honorable thing by waiting, making sure this is the right one, allowing the relationship time to transcend beyond the physical... but as the writer, I'm making them barely able to breathe when in each other's presence... I was being real.

At the torque level I get my characters to in my books, plus layer on that most of my characters have been through "years" of celibacy--then Mr. or Ms. Right comes along... hey. The valve needs a release somewhere. Think back on the adolescent years, smile, when the hormones are raging and the options are very limited. Many adults are in that circumstance again (due to our crazy times) now. And, truth be told, I'd rather folks did that, then hurl themselves into some toxic relationship [based on pure physical need] than consider there are a few other options.

You know, years ago BET sent around a memo to all of its romance writers stating that, we had to use latex condoms in our work when pairing up non-married couples for love scenes. They said, and I wholeheartedly agree that, it was about being responsible in print. AIDS was too rampant in the African-American community not to establish a foundation like that in the writing... and it would be irresponsible to give people the impression that, if you're in love, you are somehow "immune" to germs. I admit that, I took it one step further and wrote about the other, abstinence-based option that (for whatever reason), many African-American women are uncomfortable discussing, or admitting. But, I feel like this... if you don't know your own body, and can't convey your own needs in bed, then how in the heck do you think a lover can know? It just doesn't make sense to me. Nor does walking around so "distracted" and "tense" -- then making an unwise choice just because the guy looks good... then trying to rationalize the whole thing as love. There's more than that physical lure to consider, but lust can put on the blinders. So, I write about safe options. 'Nuff said.

Beginning in 1996, with your first novel, Sundance, there is also a touch of the paranormal in each of your stories. What has sparked your interest in the metaphysical?

A: Prayers being answered for me in mysterious ways. I'm convinced that I have a few angels on my shoulders, and that some things come to be for Divine purpose--even when I can't see it clearly at first. So, spirituality will always work its way into my writing, because it's a part of who I am.

Have you ever thought of writing science fiction?

A: Big smile! Yes. I just finished working on a vampire trilogy for St. Martin's Press. This series deals with the whole vampire lore from the perspective of community predators and the light fighting the dark. Yup, I love sci-fi.

You have written 15 full-length novels and 4 novellas. Which form do you prefer and why?

A: I like the full-length novels better... just because it's a larger tapestry to draw your characters out on. The novellas, to me, are harder to do. You have a smaller page count and thus less space to work with, less time to develop the inner workings of the characters' minds, etc. The bigger books give you more space to create.

"Time Enough for Love," your novella in the After the Vows anthology, is one of my favorites. Where did the idea for the Wingate's blended family circus come from?

A: My own crazy household! I took some past experiences (being married before) and combined that with the new reality of dealing with adding children to one's space--plus coping with gamesmanship from ex-spouses (always a factor in the blended family equation), and just let 'er rip. My household, most days, is a circus.

What does "Time Enough for Love" say about compromises made in relationships?

A: Compromise is the very foundation of a relationship. Learned that little lesson from life as well. Much of the so-called "wisdom" in my work has come from walking a mile in my characters' shoes. Now the circumstances may be fictive, (for example, I've never been kidnapped and fallen into a bat-infested tunnel, like in Sundance, smile), but the basis of the experiences are generally pulled from a reservoir of truth-seen up close and personal. In that book, the heroine knew loss, as have I... in “Time Enough For Love,” I've been a harried mother with a blended family. What one experiences as a writer will come out in the work. What one believes will also show up in the work. But compromise is the only way to have a relationship with any other human being--whether it's a man, your parents, your kids, your friends... I thought that was important to explore in this very rigid, "me" culture.

Tomorrow's Promise was selected by Genesis Press to launch its "Heroes and Heroines" series. What is the series about?

A: Genesis Press wanted to honor the men and women in the military branches that participate in keeping our nation safe--and they wanted to fictionalize the accounts, much as other have films or stories like, "Band of Brothers," etc. We have many non-fiction accounts, but not a lot with African Americans in service gear in fiction. They thought this would be a way to expand the genre while also helping people at the same time. It was the "helping people" aspect that made me interested in the project. So, each book, done by a different author, is supposed to exemplify African Americans in one of the branches of the armed forces.

What is Tomorrow's Promise about?

A: It is about two people who are in the army, one has recently retired, the other is still active--and they are single, upwardly mobile, and on vacation with their families in China... families who meddle to put them together. Traveling abroad, love blossoms, but upon the couple's return home, they get caught up (as have we all) in the aftermath effects of September 11th.

I didn't so much want to focus on the horrific event, as I wanted to show the devastating ripple effect that terrorism has in everybody's lives... emotional impact, economic impact, the effects are far-reaching, and the issues are complex. There's no easy answer--and I try to explore all the differing sides of this equation in this book--just to make people think.

Is it true that a portion of the proceeds from sales of your book will assist children affected by the September 11 tragedy?

A: Yes. Genesis Press has committed to give a portion of the proceeds from this book to The Silver Shield Organization in NYC, which is dedicated to assisting the orphaned children of firefighters, police and rescue workers, transit workers, as well as people killed in The Pentagon.

Is it true that the heroine is based on a real-life African-American service woman?

A: Yes! Tina Johnston--in the book, is based on Colonel Tia Johnson, a Philadelphia native (from South west section), who went to Girls’ High, received her law degree from Temple University, and is the first African-American female officer at that rank within JAG Corp., U.S. Army division. She does, indeed, look like a tall, gorgeous black Barbie doll... and is a wonderful human being. She is the perfect role model, and was a gem in helping me to understand all the military branches, lingo, etc. I have eight handwritten pages of notes from just one conversation with her! It was a serious learning experience, and I had to truly research the military just to get the lingo right.

What is Through the Storm about?

A: Forgiveness. I thought about the fact that I'd had a chance to deal with the blended family in Rivers of the Soul and other work, but adults in our age groups are also in what they call, "the sandwich generation." We have elderly parents (if we're lucky to still have them alive) on one side to care for, and kids on the other (in many cases.) Add a divorce, or being a single parent, now you REALLY have someone caught between a rock and a hard place. If a household has to consolidate to care for the elder family member, this can dredge up a lot of old past wounds, resentments, etc. I wanted to explore that in the context of a burgeoning relationship... because, one thing for sure, if you cannot forgive, open your heart to see your parents as real (albeit flawed) people who also had love, hopes, dreams, and aspirations--your perspective will be corrupted, and you'll find those old patterns (or the bitterness from it) seeping into your new love. Gotta let go and let God. I had to say it, in at least one book.

Lynette and Foster both have their mothers living with them. How does this hamper their relationship?

A: Just like in a blended family, the more people one adds to one's living space, the more baggage has to be sorted through (like laundry) to get down to the core of a relationship. If it's a heavy load, then they'll be a lot to address and sort out. For example, Lynette's mother had baggage--but Foster's mother had LUGGAGE. His issues were far deeper than hers, and that imbalance alone set up significant hurdles for the couple. And, that is true in most circumstances--one partner generally has more or less drama from their past than the other. The key is, how do they deal with it, how does the partner with less baggage cope? I like complex mess to unravel in the stories.

What does Through the Storm say about how children view their parents' lives?

A: Oh... that was the most intriguing part of writing this story. As children, even as adult children, we tend to neuter our parents--treat them as these asexual beings that never had a life, don't know what we know, and somehow fell off the back of the turnip truck. Don't ask me why we do this--it's ludicrous. But if we get real, and were to walk a mile in their shoes, maybe we could have a greater understanding of them, ourselves, and the motivations/circumstances that shaped all our lives. I believe that through understanding comes knowledge, wisdom, and growth. I wanted these characters to grow as they learned.

Although this is an adult romance, it almost has an adolescent quality about it. What were the challenges of plotting a relationship between two love-weary people unexpectedly thrust back into the dating scene?

A: I'm glad you pointed out the adolescent quality of this relationship in this book--that was definitely by design. I did it for several reasons...

1) When you go "back home" and live with parents for a while, somehow, the old role of being a child under their roof begins to wear away one's "adultness." It's a strange occurrence, but have you ever watched grown men that live with their mother--or seen a grown, capable, woman ask her "Mommy" for permission to do something? Their voice even changes to a request, a plea, not a firm announcement of something they want or plan to do--even something as basic as going out to the store, or whatever. Odd.

I studied this for a while before working on this project, truly watching people who lived with their parents. And I soon realized that, the individual goes back to their "adolescence" in a way, which is where they were when they first began to become sexual beings. I have literally had forty-year old women tell me that they couldn't make love in their own homes if their parents were visiting for the holidays, stuff like that. I can truly relate--because when going to stay with in-laws, in my husband's old bedroom with his college pennants up--I slapped him away from me, and blurted out, "Boy, are you crazy? This is your Momma's house!"

Needless to say, although he and I laughed about it, I was deadly serious... and I KNEW I'd have to address it one day in a story. It was too visceral an emotion, too rich to leave alone. Yeah... the return to adolescence... that's why adults HATE to have to live with a parent (even if they love that parent, and vice versa.) It's about mental space.

2) I don't care how old you are, a new relationship can actually make one feel very adolescent... you wonder about your clothes, your figure, your hair, worry about a zit on your face... all the things that you swore (once past the teenage years) you'd never do--or were perhaps too sophisticated to endure. But if we were to be really honest and tell it like it is, being in love (newly so) will make grown folks act simple. I wanted to play with that concept a bit.

3) I also wanted to give homage to the fact that, the mothers in this story had a hey day, and if you recall, Lynette's mother was being pursued by an elderly, handsome deacon--and she was just as excited, just as nervous and "school girl-ish" about her budding love as her daughter... wanting approval, and was shy about their "goings on." This is the stuff of life that keeps you young, vibrant, and feeling alive. I didn't want to do these awesome, sophisticated people in this book who had every resource and option at their disposal--I wanted to instead get into what feeling dumbstruck by love [under a watchful eye] was like.

Many of your stories include subplots that show older relatives offering sage advice and other assistance to the main characters. Why is this important to you?

A: Because without the wisdom of the elders helping me with these kids... some days... Lord Have Mercy! I truly respect people who have lived longer than me, have endured more than I ever have, and yet, who have found that mystical place of peace. To me, they are giants... heroes and heroines. If we listened to them more, I think all our lives would me much improved.

How would you describe your approach to romantic suspense?

A: I like to unfold pieces of the puzzle, then draw the impact to each main character's life, then go back in and add more conflict, more tension as the layers get more interwoven. Think of it as winding a top--initially you are at the outer edges, spinning tighter and getting deeper into the center of the action.

For Better, For Worse is a novelization based on the popular film and TV show "Soul Food"? How did you get involved in the project?

A: They were looking for an entrepreneurial twist to the story, and when my agent got wind of that, he shot them my background--which, aside from writing, is nothing but entrepreneurship... I taught it for years, and have worked in economic development for over a decade. They asked for a proposal, and I turned one around in 24 hours. They liked the concept, and could judge from the quick turnaround that I knew the subject matter as well as the show. The other issue was, they needed someone who could write this book fast--as they were up against a one-month production deadline. That, too, is my forte... so I was blessed with getting the nod.

What is your story about? Will there be more stories in the Soul Food series?

A: For Better For Worse deals with a subject matter I've confronted many times as a small business instructor for the agencies in Philadelphia. Essentially (like many young African-American men unfortunately have been and are), the hero, Lem, has a past incarceration record, but is trying to turn his life around. Jobs are hard to come by, because of his record. Therefore, entrepreneurship makes sense. The only problem is, he cannot get traditional financing to start his business (for the same reasons.) This is about the frustration of trying to do right in a world that keeps judging a man from his past--and his family's reaction to his attempts to turn his life around. His wife, Bird, has a difficult choice to make and trust issues of her own to hurdle. In the next book, Through Thick and Thin, I deal with the married couple, Kenny and Maxine, and her attempt to move beyond her household role. Been there, seen it, done it. Everything I write comes from a memory or close proximity experience.

From an author's standpoint, is the process of developing a story based on characters and a scenario familiar to readers somewhat intimidating?

A: Definitely! This Soul Food project was hard because the bar had been set, the character's personae's were in stone... and show fans already had their favorites, etc. This was a crazy-mad project to undertake in such short order. There was a LOT of back and forth between my New York editor at Simon and Schuster, and the show's producers and the screenplay editors in Hollywood. My editor would pass on something and say it was fine, then we'd get an e-mail or a Fed Ex back saying, "This character would NOT say that!" Whew, there were some days I was almost in tears. This project was work--not quite as "fun" as the others at first, but then I caught on and it was a blast!

Were you able to call upon the skills you acquired during your graduate studies in film and media arts at Temple?

A: Yes, but in a subtle way. When I write, I'm always visualizing, seeing if it can transfer to the paper as a picture, almost. I think that's always in my work just beneath the surface.

How many books to you have scheduled for release in 2003?

A: Four: In January -- Candlelight and You (BET/Arabesque anthology). In March -- Through Thick and Thin (Simon and Schuster/Pocketbooks, second Soul Food Book, under Leslie E. Banks). In June -- Minion (St. Martin's Press, first in the vampire trilogy, under L. A. Banks). In October -- The Sisterhood of Shopaholics, (St. Martin's Press, anthology). Then, I think in December 2003 or maybe January 2004, that second vampire book should be out, Awakening, with the third one, Ravenous, hitting in the summer of 2004. I'm not sure when the crime suspense will hit, though.

How difficult is it to juggle the editorial styles and demands of four different publishing houses?

A: Initially, it was a challenge--but I was also very fortunate to have good editors who were simply gems to work with. After talking to them on the telephone a bit, I got to understand their voice rhythms, style, was able to get into their heads about how they saw the world and what they were looking for... that made it easier to adapt my style and deliver what they wanted in a way that didn't strip my style either. We found a middle ground, and because everyone wanted the best, and we were all flexible, good projects came out of the compromises. The main thing is professionalism. You may have a story, but the editor is the customer, too, who has purchased a product. So, be professional, and that's half the battle. Get the work in on time, with corrections made, and be open to suggestion--if you don't like something, discuss it, and the issues are minimal.

When do you rest?

A: Rarely--smile! Now that I'm writing full time, I can work while the kids are in school and sleep like a normal person. I work from 8:30 a.m. after they go to school, till about 3:00 p.m. when they come in. After dinner, I might go attend to an hour or so of e-mail, and they're at the ages where I don't have to do their homework with them, so I have some respite. Most weekends, now, I don't have to squeeze in writing time--and can just do the normal household stuff and/or spend time with my family.

Which of the covers of your novels is your favorite and why?

A: The cover of Minion. It's not out yet, but it's sexy, strong, and shows consummate female power... no bodice ripper, just a strong female diva. It was so different!

Which writers have influenced you?

Wow... there's a whole host of them: Donna Hill--lyrical, and love the sister's suspense, Dee Savoy-the way she does flashbacks is phenomenal, Tina McElroy Ansa-her use of culture and history and language, Dianne McKinney Whetstone-talk about lyrical prose ("Tumbling" was awesome!), Bebe Moore Campbell’s ("Growing Up Without Daddy")--she took you back to Philly in the summer in such broad, wonderful strokes... I learned a lot about how to describe scenery from her work (Tina's too), Constance O' Day Flannery-a mentor, actually, who taught me structural basics and how to layer in senses within a love scene... there are just so many great writers out there, who I've learned from. There's not a book I've read where I don't learn something--either what to do, or what not do, and in that regard, it's all good.

What do you read when you are not writing? A: Big smile... when am I not writing these days? OY! I like Tina McElroy Ansa.. I love her use of language, culture, Old Wives’ tales and sayings. And in The Hand I Fan With, I needed oven mitts. I read a lot of Christian texts (T. D. Jakes)... I know, I know, sounds strange given what I write, smile. I read biographies, like the one on Patti LaBelle (love me some Patti--another Philly girl), inspirational books... stuff like that. It cleans the palate.

What haven't you done as a writer that you'd like to attempt?

A: Take a book and do a screenplay adaptation--under contract--big grin. Then I'll have died and gone to Heaven! But I may also get my nerve up one day to try a historical. However, to attempt either of these feats, I'll need time, a six month window with no competing contracts or deadlines, just to get the research locked down and correct. I look at people like Beverly Jenkins--another sister author whom I deeply respect, and I shake my head. She is the grand diva of historicals, just as Octavia Butler is the grand dame of Sci-Fi. They've set the bar high, and I'm still a rookie. One day, when I grow up, I wanna be just like them... to execute the work at that level... I aspire!

What's next? What are you working on now?

A: Well, for the moment, I'm working on sci-fi (vampires) and a crime suspense thriller. Who knows, I might even dabble in a little time travel?

Can you tell us anything about your life outside writing, about your family or other interests?

A: I'm a harried, but happy, Mom. I love the movies, and spend a lot of time being a chauffeur to a busy household with kids. I love to cook, my husband loves to eat. It's all good. But I always enjoy adding the five senses to my work, like having the hero and heroine enjoy good food, a nice wine... listening to relaxing music... that comes from my life. Other things do, too (wink!) I admit to being a bit of a hedonist.

What advice can you give writers who are getting started?

A: Simply begin. Write down whatever is burning a hole in your brain and keep writing until you're tired. Just get it down on paper first, then wordsmith later. The only technical piece of advice I'll give is, set up your work in manuscript format so you won't have to worry about converting it (and possibly losing it to a corrupted file) later. Back your work up, too, and put each chapter in its own file. But write! That's the thing... don't talk about it, worry about it, and over think it. Get the story out of your head.

How can readers contact you?

A: By e-mail at --or-- at my website at

January 3, 2003

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