Sunday, July 27, 2008
Interview with Author, Reshonda Tate Billingsley
"Noone knows more about drama than the GoodGirlz!
Don’t let the name fool you...we’re no goody two shoes...we’re just four girls who strive to do what’s right, and have major fun in the process. Along the way—and through all the drama—we’re learning some valuable lessons, which we hope will inspire and motivate you."
- from http://www.goodgirlz.org/ -
Sounds exciting. Today I wrap up Teen Fiction month with national best selling author, Reshonda Tate Billingsley. Reshonda has long been a favorite women's fiction author, entertaining and inspiring readers with her books Let the Church Say Amen, Everybody Say Amen and several others. Two of her books were optioned for a movie and last February, Reshonda had the pleasure of traveling to Los Angeles and watching her novel, I Know I Been Changed become a movie. But women's fiction isn't the only genre Reshonda has been successful at writing. Her young adult series is literally flying off the book store shelves. Join me as I interview this dynamic voice in Christian Fiction.
Welcome, Reshonda. Tell us about your series.
There are four books so far in the Good Girlz series. Nothing But Drama was the first one, followed by Blessings in Disguise, then With Friends Like These, then Getting Even. Each book is based on an inspirational theme, but is full of drama, scandal and intrigue. I know teens see some of everything in the world today, but my teen books are profanity-free and you won’t find anything inappropriate in the books. The books focus on a group of teens. The Good Girlz, who are sentenced to a youth group because they keep getting into all kinds of trouble. Although the books are a series, you can read them in any order.
What about writing for young adult appealed to you? Why did you decide to branch off into this genre?
I love writing for young people because I love incorporating a message that could make a difference in their lives into a story they find entertaining. I decided to branch off into this genre because I was having a hard time finding good, clean, page turning books that my teenage nieces wanted to read and I wanted them to read. Everything they wanted to read was too adult for my tastes and everything I wanted them to read was “too boring” for them. So I decided to write that happy medium.
You’ve established yourself in two genres – women’s fiction and now young adult fiction. How do you juggle it all? What’s your writing schedule like? And what do you find the most difficult to write?
I believe you make time for your passion and writing is my passion. Since I have three small children, I don’t have a particular schedule. I just write when I can, how I can. I write every spare moment I can. I just make sure that I write every single day. With three children, a lot of people will ask me how do you find time to write, but I believe every moment you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do, could be spent doing it. I can’t say that any of my writing is difficult although writing teen fiction has reminded me that I’m not as hip as I thought as I was.
YA novels are generally pretty short compared to women’s fiction. Tell us a little about the difference in the markets.
The markets are totally different. Publishers want the teen novels quicker. If you think about it, there is only a small window when a young reader may read teen novels, so you have to build a following a lot quicker than an adult book. You will also find teen books to be a little smaller because young people want a quick read so that’s what we try to give them.
Good point about he window being smaller. I never thought about that.
I imagine it’s difficult to juggle it all. What are some tips you have for an author who wants to establish themselves in more than one genre?
Work hard. No matter what. Some people think that just because they land with a major publisher, they can sit back and just write. But writing a good book is only half the battle. You have to then get out there and let people know about your book. And don’t limit yourself. If you’re wanting to write in multiple genres, then do it. Just devote as much passion, commitment and dedication to each genre and you’ll be successful.
I’ve noticed the teen fiction section in my local Barnes and Nobles has tripled. In your opinion, is the market saturated or is their still room for growth?
Publishers jump on whatever is the hot bandwagon and right now, teen fiction is hot. But I don’t think there’s a such thing as too many books. The challenge is getting more teens in the store to read those books, but I definitely encourage writers of teen fiction to keep writing.
I’m thinking you have to get into the psyche of a teenager to establish voice and authenticity. Tell me how you accomplish that?
Oh wow, that’s the hardest part. I thought I was cool, but I had my niece burst my bubble when she let me know no one says “that’s da bomb” anymore. So for that reason, I keep a teen advisory board that assists me i n keeping up with the trends and latest slang so that I can stay true to a teen voice. I don’t want my books to read like an adult writing teen fiction, I want them to actually reflect a teen voice.
I love the teen advisory board. Guess I need one too, because I still say "the bomb diggity".
Tell me about a rewarding experience you had since writing for teens?
There have been so many I don’t know where to start. But one in particular was when a young lady in Muncie, Indiana showed up to my book signing wearing a sign that said “Today is my 13th birthday and I’m getting the best gift ever, meeting my favorite author ReShonda Tate Billingsley.” The girl was so precious and her mom said she had been withdrawn and going through some things until she discovered my teen books. They’d renewed her spirit. That was priceless. Then there was an email from a 15 year old who said she was going to run away from home until she read Blessings in Disguise and the book made her realize her life really was a blessing. Or the email from a mother who had never seen her daughter read a book outside of school, until she discovered the Good Girlz. Things like that totally validate everything I do.
Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager with your readers? What were you like as a teen? Does that influence your writing?
I was shy and quiet, until I made the drill team in high school. Then it’s like this whole other person emerged. I became outgoing, vocal and involved in everything. But I had a mama who didn’t play, so I didn’t get into much trouble. I was however, very dramatic. I remember one time acting like I had passed out at a family gathering. I don’t know why. I was just bored. I just pretended to faint and wouldn’t open my eyes – even as my family rushed me to the emergency room, even when they wheeled me back to see the doctor, even when the doctor examined me – I kept my eyes closed and tried not to laugh. Needless to say the doctor figured it out, made me open my eyes and sit up. I did and cracked up laughing. For some reason, I was the only one who thought that was funny. Maybe that “drama” in me, helps in spiking my creativity.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a teen?
I didn’t really have a big selection of African American authors. There was Maya Angelou, but other than that I read a lot of Judy Blume, V.C. Andrews and Nancy Drew mysteries.
What do you hope young readers will take away after finishing one of your books?
I hope they will be entertained, enlightened and learn a valuable lesson or two.
What’s next for your teen fans?
Fairweather Friends comes out in September. That book is about racial division between Blacks and Hispanics at a high school after the Good Girlz learn that one of them was rejected from a high school sorority because she wasn’t Black. The Good Girlz series has also been optioned as a movie, so hopefully you’ll see them.
Fairweather Friends sounds like another winner for our young people. Thanks so much for joining me today, Reshonda. Your interview was extremely informative and it was great getting to know you.
Readers may visit Reshonda at http://www.reshondatatebillingsley.com/, http://www.goodgirlz.org/, or www.myspace.com/reshonda_tate_billingsley Also check out her extensive book tour for her recently released adult title Can I Get a Witness?