"I Write to Thread the Needle that Connects Us..."
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
Macaroni and cheese
Favorite Place to Travel:
Favorite TV Show:
The whole Chicago series: Med, Fire, PD
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What made you become a writer? I don’t know if I can say “become.” I think the desire and purpose to write was always there from when I was old enough to read. Words and images always fascinated me. I became very adept, especially in my early teens, of “making up” fantastical stories to get out of trouble, or to get permission to go places with friends that I had no business going. Some people may call it “lying.” I called it storytelling. LOL. Even in grammar school I was writing. I’d write love letters for my girlfriends to give to their boyfriends. I would string song titles together to tell whatever story they needed. (my early foray into Creative Writing LOL). I got an opportunity to write for an actual publication many years later when I submitted a short story to Black Romance Magazine. The editor back then, Nathasha Brooks-Harris, bought that story “The Long Walk,” and bought a bunch of others after that. She even took me on to serve as Advice Columnist for the magazine (which is how I learned to edit). She became my mentor and encouraged me to write my first book, took me to my first writer’s conference. For her, I will be forever grateful and totally indebted. My first novel Rooms of the Heart was published in 1990 and I’ve been published every year ever since.
In which genre(s) do you write? I began quite accidentally as a romance writer (dating back to writing “confessions.”) But I was always a mystery and espionage reader. Consequently, in several of my romantic stories we may “lose” a character or two, or there are elements of suspense. I’ve also written erotica, paranormal, historical, women’s/mainstream fiction, and even chic lit. Which genre do you prefer and why? Ideally, I prefer women’s/mainstream fiction because there are not the same structures around the development of the story. I have room to explore topics and characters in a way that I do not have to be as concerned about the tropes. However, because so much of my body of work is steeped in romance, there are always relationships in whatever type of novel I write.
I know that in your day job you are a professor. How has this affected your career as a writer? I’ve always been a “working writer.” Since I started writing back in the late 80’s I was working and writing and raising little kids. My writing ultimately paved the way for my current job. After writing for so many years, and doing writing workshops and conferences, I knew I wanted to share what I did on a wider scale, so I went back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing. The week after I graduated from Goddard College I started teaching at Essex County College in New Jersey. I then got a spot as an Adjunct at Medgar Evers College in 2013 and came on as a full-time as Assistant Professor in 2018. I think that teaching is an outgrowth of what I love doing. I teach English courses; composition, some fiction courses, professional writing and literature courses. In all of these I get to share my passion for the written word and nurture budding writers. When I get home, I turn that all off and dive into fiction. (after grading papers).
Describe a typical day for Donna, the writer and educator. Now, of course, things are different. Prior to Covid, I would go to my office two to three days per week to teach and attend meetings, usually staying pretty late. I’d come home, fix dinner, watch TV. Mostly I reserved my writing time to the weekends and my days off or when I traveled. Now, I’m home every day, but seem to be ten times more busy. I wish I could say I have an actual “writing” schedule, but I don’t. I write when I am driven by the need inside me. The stories and scenes brew slowly and then I must write, and I can block out the world for days or hours at a time. Other times it’s demand and deadlines.
What do you like to do when you want to relax? I’m a television watcher. And now my other favorite pastime is audiobooks!
ABOUT THE BROOKLYN BOOK FESTIVAL
Tell us about this very important conference and its vision. The Brooklyn Book Festival is the biggest free book event in the Northeast, rivaling the one in D.C. on the Great Lawn. The vision for the festival was to bring to the borough of Brooklyn local, national and international writers and thinkers of every ilk, from academics, poets, to pop culture writers and everything in between. Every genre was represented. Some of the biggest names in the literary industry have appeared at the festival. I was honored to join the literature committee and had a hand in selecting and inviting many of the authors that attending, including developing the “Love Among the Ruins” panel discussion with Rochelle Alers, Beverly Jenkins and our very own Wayne Jordan.
How did this year’s festival differ from those in the past? Well of course, with Covid, the festival was virtual. And they did an amazing job continuing to offer a stellar lineup of authors and programs. The festival was recorded so anyone can check out some of the fantastic programs.
What, for you, was the highlight for this year’s festival? One of my favorites, (beside my own) was with Michael Eric Dyson and Isabel Wilkerson. They dropped jewels for the entire hour. http://brooklynbookfestival.org If you go to the site, scroll through the events, click on an event and it will take you to the page where you can watch the replay.
ABOUT THE BOOKS
Tell us a about CONFESSIONS IN B-FLAT. Wow, Confessions was truly a labor of love. The idea popped in my head over ten years ago. It started with just the title. Back then I only saw in my head that the story would take place in apartment B and folks in the community would come together to talk and strategize. The idea sat in the back of my head for years. Fast forward: I knew I wanted to do a twist on Romeo and Juliet. But rather than warring families it was warring ideas. Political ideas (since I love politics). So, one would follow King the other Malcolm. But I still wanted a twist so I made my heroine Anita a follower of Malcolm X and my hero Jason a follower of King. The novel is set at the height of the Civil Rights movement and opens at the famed Paschal’s Restaurant in Atlanta where Dr. King often went. The hero and heroine meet on the fateful day of the Birmingham church bombing and their lives are forever intertwined. The novel has just enough sprinkles of history that include photographs and news clippings as well as links to an interview with Malcolm X and a sermon by Adam Clayton Powell at Abyssinian Baptist Church. But, of course, at the heart of it is the love story between Anita and Jason, their struggle to find themselves and reconcile their differences in order to fulfill their love for each other against the backdrop of one of the most times in our history. I am so incredibly excited about this book and I cannot wait to see what readers think. Early reviews have been stellar so far. Fingers and eyes crossed!
What inspired you to write this book? As I mentioned it was the seed of an idea years ago. It sat around in my head and changed shape. Parts of it wound up in my graduate thesis and then I took from my thesis and crafted some of the secondary characters for the novel. So much of what is in the novel were influences in my own life. I was a child of the 60’s, Motown was the soundtrack of my life. The house that Anita’s parents live in was the house I grew up in (elements of it). I remember when King was shot and Malcolm. I remember sneaking off to Harlem on the A train, going to the Apollo for the first time. So, many of those experiences are sprinkled throughout the novel. I think it gives it a sense of realism within the fantasy.
How have you changed as a writer since that first book? I think that the underpinnings of my stories have changed. I’m interested in many more things than I was 30 years ago and those interests find their way into my writing. I think I have a much broader range than I did in 1990. I would hope that my writing ability has gotten better. LOL
Which of your books (or series) would you recommend to readers not familiar with your work and why? Well, let’s see stand-alone titles I would recommend: RHYTHMS, GETTING HERS, and IN MY BEDROOM. I say those because each of them represent a different form of writing for me and will introduce readers to the scope of my work. As for series I would recommend: Lawsons of Louisiana series and Grants of D.C. Also, they may like the Quinten Parker series.
What do you see as your greatest accomplishment as an author? Longevity. LOL
How do you feel about the state of the romance industry; in particular, the treatment of authors of color? The industry itself will endure. Period. It has for decades. Readers want fantasy with a touch of reality. They want a HEA. As for authors of colors-at the moment we are once again the flavor of the month; everyone wants “diversity” and a face of color at the helm. Will it change things? Maybe. The real power comes from the reader. They are the ones that can reshape the industry with their voice and their dollars.
What’s next for Donna? I have a book coming up with Harlequin, on their Desire line. It’s actually the third book of the Grants of DC featuring the youngest Grant brother, Montgomery. And I have begun my dive into the history of one of the early free settlements on Long Island, NY (Sag Harbor), tentatively titled: I AM AYAH-THE WAY HOME, which will be published by Entangled who published Confessions. The new novel features Ayah who must return to her childhood home in Sag Harbor to handle family business, a place she never wanted return to, but what she discovers about the town and her ancestors, and her life …. Well you have to read the book!
ABOUT THE READERS
If there was one thing you could tell your readers what would it be? Read widely, Write reviews of books that you like, Buy those new books the first week of release (or pre-order them) it is soooo important. I know that was three things but I think you would agree!
What advice would you give an aspiring author? Read. Please. Study the genre you want to write in. Take a class if needed. Understand that writing a good novel is a process. Write because you must, not to jump on the bandwagon of a trend. And remember that every story isn’t a novel.
How can readers reach you?
Others: Instagram brooklyngirl737
RIC would like to thank Ms. Hill for taking to time out of her busy schedule to share with her readers.