It’s day two of RWA’s virtual writer’s conference. I have dreamed of attending a Romance Writer’s of America conference for years but never expected my first one to be online. Thank you, Covid-19. Our world changed this year but as librarian keynote speaker, Virginia Kantra said, the need for stories hasn’t changed. We shouldn’t wait until we’re dead for someone else to tell our story. If you are a writer or a storyteller, tell your story now.
“Use your words. Find your voice. Don’t be afraid to share yourself, to tell your story. Your experience matters.” I felt Virginia was speaking straight to me. For years I’ve ducked my head afraid to speak. I felt no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I wasn’t even sure what it was I wanted to say. Who am I and why does my story matter?
Each time I brave a new crowd whether it is online or in person, I discover many people feel the same way I do. They want to be heard but they are unsure of the message they want to deliver. They want to think about it and speak with care often losing their opportunity to voice their views. As writers we can tell our side through our characters’ perspective. We can show readers our stories without preaching. We don’t have to raise our voices to be heard over the crowd because in the silence of the pages a whisper has much greater impact.
If you are a writer and you don’t have a writers’ group, you need one. Whether it is online or in person, a writer’s group offers support and a sense of community to what is a very lonely profession. I joined the Romance Writer’s of America in 2009 after attending a Romantic Times Convention. I was lucky enough to have been chosen for the first Ann Peach Scholarship for New Writers where I met the late author, Judi McCoy. She encouraged us to believe in ourselves, our craft and to find others who shared our passion. With a love of romance, I joined RWA and later the Heart of Carolina, our local chapter. I also went in search of a writer’s group closer to home and found the Pamlico Writer’s Group.
Well, I should get ready for my next program, I’m hosting a Writer’s Block Meet Up. Do you suffer from writer’s block?
Welcome Tiffany Christina Lewis to Creekside Café. It is great to have you here.
Tiffany: Thanks for having me Sherri!
Sherri: Your recent blog post titled “Scary Genre: Romance” made me laugh. At first, I wanted to call you on it but then as I read on, I realized we have the same problem, the interpretation of romance. I thought I was a romance writer but then realized this shit isn’t romance. I like to blow things up and kill people, oh they can stop and have sex, but it’s not all hearts and flowers. Sometimes it’s just banging up against the wall and maybe I’ll call you later. What is your interpretation of romance? How do you think the romance genre varies now from what it used to be?
Tiffany: Oh boy. What it used to be was ladies in flowing dresses and making love in flower fields! Every cover was a beautiful woman and a hunky man in a scenic location. The stories were of taming men for marriage or women head over heels. Now, we have interracial, multiple sexual preferences, genre splicing and settings that don’t just resemble lovely flower fields. I interpret romance as fake love. I know a lot of romance authors will want to fight when I say that, but I’m really referring more to TV and movies. I am just starting to really read Romance for education purposes. Educating myself on writing and genres is very important at this stage in my career. A dear friend of mine, Zachary Sigurdson, was the first one to tell me how important it was to get out of my genre, so I am slowly learning about new romance. In TV and film, romance happens when someone picks up your napkin. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced anything like that, so it’s hard for me to rationalize it.
Sherri: As a hopeless romantic, I differ with what I think romance is. To me, romance isn’t just heart and flowers, it’s giving the person what they need to be their best. When I read romance, I see new authors trying to interpret this in today’s landscape as well as the modern historical romance authors.
I’ve also been married to my own romantic hero for going on 29 years. While some days I want to beat him with a pool noodle, most days he’s my biggest champion. He encourages me to do what makes me happy. He was as excited about my first book as I was. He is my teammate, my partner, my friend and lover, to me, that is romance.
Tiffany: I agree with you on your assessment of romance. Real romance is giving your partner what they need to be their best! We’re still early in our relationship but my boyfriend is also my business partner and his willingness to support my business aspirations and even participate in them, has been life changing.
Sherri: You refer to yourself as a rebel. I agree. I think most of us writing Indie are rebelling against the traditional publishers. What is your rebellion?
Tiffany: My rebellion is actually cultural. When I wrote Inside Out in 2014, there was a huge wave of Urban Fiction in self and Indie publishing that featured negative stereotypes and bad characters. I wanted to flip that on its head. I wanted to be an African American author who wrote Black characters who were not drug dealers, womanizers, promiscuous or murderers. I have always had a love for detective stories so my books were bound to be Crime Fiction and I thought what better way to represent an upstanding African American male than in the role of a detective. Over time, I made my characters LITERALLY rebellious and their passion for avenging victims comes first, over following rules and procedures.
Sherri: We need more positive role models of color. I’m glad to see you breaking the stereo type. If you are looking for great authors who write African American characters who are honorable and strong, check out Reese Ryan, Farrah Rochon, and Beverly Jenkins.
Tell us a little about your series. I recently purchased your first book Inside Out. Michael Taylor sounds like an interesting character. What made you write a crime novel from a male, police detective’s point of view?
Tiffany: Again, part of me wanted to pick a man to mangle stereotypes that were abundant back in those days. He was also the first character to come to me for a full-length work. My stories often just fall out of my imagination and into my lap. I had many stories published back then with many female and male characters, non-detective, but he was the first one who I felt I could write as a novella. I was able to grow that book into two full novels in the series, and the plan is for at least three more.
Sherri: You say you don’t write romance and yet we have a love interest or romantic connection here with Candy aka Vanessa. Tell us a little about their relationship. Why is it not a romance?
Tiffany: Their relationship is entirely romantic but it fits what I think romance is, compared to what I thought romance was offering back then. They met at a strip club which is something urbanites sometimes do, and Michael’s behavior with her, although romantic has an interesting twist that I think is not very abundant in romance. I will also say, without giving too many spoilers, that hint of romance is why it took me four years to write the second book in the series…
Sherri: I think we often get hung up on labels and when it comes time to define ourselves or our writing, we haven’t got just one box to put it in. While your books are definitely crime thrillers, how else would you describe them; what other box or category would you classify them?
Tiffany: Crime is definitely the overarching category for all my books, but the Michael Taylor series is police procedural and these novels have a strong focus on criminals. I love the psychology of criminals so they get a lot of shine in my books. I don’t think there is necessarily a category for that in fiction. In non-fiction it is categorized as True Crime when the movements of a criminal and detective are outlined.
Sherri: You published Inside Out in 2014, you have two other novels in this series out now. What do you think you have learned since writing and publishing your first book? What do you wish you’d done differently? What will you do different with any future books?
Tiffany: The number one thing I would have done differently would have been to keep writing and not wait this long to release a sequel and get serious about my career as a writer. I did a lot of things between 2014 and now that was not writing, marketing or honing my skills as an author. Let my mother tell it, there are two things I was born to do, teach and write. I have been a preschool teacher for over 15 years and this has placed me in many high-ranking positions in the childcare industry, but I haven’t dedicated nearly as much time to my writing career and that was a mistake. I would have sold more and had a nice fan base by now, had I stuck with it, but still, no regrets. Had I released Stitches before 2019, it wouldn’t have been the same.
In the future, I will do what I’m doing now which is finishing my books, making sure they are high quality and release them frequently. I believe the number one marketing tip for authors is to have another book coming out. Lol. So, that’s my plan.
Sherri: Tell us a little about your new company, Rebellion Lit. Are you publishing other authors now?
Tiffany: Rebellion Lit is the brain child of my partner Brandon Lambert. He is the one who taught me that I was a rebel. He has allowed me to run Rebellion with lots of freedom! We each have our area of expertise and Rebellion Lit is my baby. I am very passionate about the company and can’t wait to introduce it to more readers and writers!
Currently we are not publishing other authors, but I have a hand full of people that I am keeping my eyes on. Some self-published authors I’ve met I would love to publish but I have to get the company on a proper trajectory first. There is nothing worse than getting a contract with a publisher who can’t get your book where you want it, so we are starting with yearly Anthologies. They will be themed and we’ll be looking for author submissions in December! We are BUYING works for the book because I believe authors should be paid for their hard work and with our anthologies we can continue developing proper marketing, as well as offering many, many authors exposure for their talent! It’ll be a blast!
Sherri: Tiffany, thank you for being a part of Creekside Café Chats, I look forward to seeing what happens next with your writing and publishing. If you all enjoyed this interview, check out Tiffany’s links and follow her on social media. You can buy her books through her website or on Amazon.