Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Romer Review's LITERARY SHOWCASE Presents Author, Allison Hobbs

Allison Hobbs resides in Philadelphia, PA. A former singer during the era of the Philly Sound, Allison was a member of a female trio known as Brown Sugar (Allison Hobbs, Phyllis Nelson, and Karen Dempsey). The Philadelphia trio toured as background singers for Major Harris who's number one single, Love Won't Let Me Wait, allowed the group an opportunity to perform as the opening act for artists such as Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Brown Sugar later signed and recorded with Capitol Records. A self-taught folk artist, Allison's prolific body of work portrays scenes of black Americana. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from Temple University. But it's her writing that has everybody excited about.

"Ever saw something that appealed to you so much that no matter the circumstances and consequences you knew in your mind that you just HAD to have it? Even going to the extent that you'd beg, borrow or STEAL it? True to form and with a slew of books written where you stole time to read them, best-selling author Allison Hobbs has something sweet for you. I took time to talk to this maven of myriad thoughts of page-turning delight and she gave me all I could handle in answering my questions." Alvin C. Romer/Editor, The Romer Review

I first discovered you as a prolific writer with one of your first books, ‘PANDORA’S BOX’ a while back, and your star since then has ascended to greater heights...who is Allison Hobbs, why do you write as you do, and why should readers buy your books?

My mother named me Allison after a character in a book she was reading. I grew up in a household where every family member read daily. My mom read three newspapers a day. Her book collection was extensive, including autobiographies, classics, poetry, and controversial novels of her time such as The Tropic of Cancer and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Her favorite novelist was James Baldwin. My older brother read classics that were appropriate for young boys: old-fashioned, hard back classics, i.e. Huckleberry Finn. His book collection seemed terribly boring. In fact, I felt a little sorry for him and was perplexed as to why he kept his head buried in such dull-looking books. My younger brother, a prodigy of sorts, devoured comic books in addition to reading Invisible Man and other books that were considered adult literature.

While my mother and brothers read important works of fiction, my dad read “cheap little paper backs.” He always had a book in his hand. There was usually a cowboy on the cover. My mom definitely disapproved of his reading material, referring to his cowboy fiction as “trash.” My dad also had a vast collection of pornographic paperback novels that he kept hidden in the back of a closet. Like everyone in my family, I was also a voracious reader. My reading choices, however, were limited to classic Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, Aesop’s Fables and nursery rhymes. I loved books about queens and castles, make believe and magic. Books with glossy pictures and happy endings. I was very content in my make believe world and had no desire to try out different genres.

I was the eccentric and artsy member in a family of intellects. By the time I reached thirteen and was still obsessed with fairy tales, my mom no longer viewed me as merely quirky, she became seriously concerned about my emotional development. She insisted that I read a full-length, age-appropriate novel. I went to the library and browsed. I remember the librarian giving an audible sigh of relief when she saw me venturing outside the aisle of fairy tales. But instead of getting something that was recommended for teens, I selected Gone with the Wind. That thick book was a huge leap from fairy tales, but I read it in a few days. I became addicted to books. At the conclusion of a novel, I had to immediately begin another. No pun intended, but my lust for reading led me to explore my dad’s porn stash. I was intrigued by the naughty titles of those books. By day I read books from my school’s recommended reading list, but at night behind my locked bedroom door, I read eye-popping, arousing tales of wanton, scandalous sex!

I believe that my writing style and the genre that I’m known for is a reflection of the reading that inspired me during my youth. Classy and trashy—a meshing of profound literature and explicit porn. Though I never set out to become an erotic writer, being a creative person, it is my nature to express in a flamboyant and vivid manner. In my novels, I try to paint a picture with words. Like a songwriter, I play around with prose until I’m satisfied with the cadence and rhythm of the sentences. My covers are bold and salacious, my titles are often audacious, but don’t let that fool you. Inside the pages, the reader will find originality, rich language, and clever plot twists interwoven with messages of social importance.

With so many books on the market how has the journey been for you; what have you learned, and what would you do differently if you were starting out again today?

I’m fortunate that with so many books on the market that I have managed to stay current and stay in the game. I can’t take total credit. My publisher, New York Times Bestselling Author and Executive Producer of Cinemax’s Zane’s Sex Chronicles, Zane, gave me my start in the publishing industry and continues to enthusiastically support my efforts. That is a blessing that I don’t take for granted. If I were starting out again today, I would learn more about the craft of writing before getting mid-way into my manuscript.

Authors are always asked the question relative to their beginnings as a writer. Was it your goal to become a writer, or was it something that inspired you to choose this field?

No, I never planned on becoming a writer. My oldest brother, now deceased, was encouraged to pursue writing. He became an award-winning journalist and a published author. My younger brother was published by Holloway House while in his twenties. My mother constantly told me that I had the gift of storytelling, but I don’t think she actually expected me—free-spirited and unconventional—to ever sit still long enough to complete a novel. Had she lived to my collection of work, she would be extremely proud. In 1998, after the untimely death of a dear friend, I felt compelled to write about my journey in life…a journey, in which she had played a huge role from teenage years up until that point. When I attempted to write my autobiography, I had no illusions. I knew that my story would be of no interest to a publisher. But I wanted to document my life…for my children. For posterity’s sake.

After beginning the process, I found that writing about the past was a punishing task. I’d managed to suppress many painful memories, and reopening old wounds seemed more damaging than cathartic. So I distracted myself by playing around with fiction. I began to let my imagination run wild. Without planning, I found myself writing my first novel, Pandora’s Box. Making up a story was easier and much more pleasant than dredging up the painful past. Midway into the manuscript, I began to believe that I could actually become a published author. It was clear to me that I had the same talent that my brother’s had…that my mother had. My late mother had been active in the Civil Rights movement and she was once a free-lance writer for our local newspaper. Her commentary concerned social injustice. Though I never read any of her articles, I have some of her hand-written letters and I hear her voice in my own writing style.

To date, I hear ongoing inner dialogue that is prompting me to tell the story that I set out to write, but I’m still not emotionally strong enough. Apparently my protective subconscious won’t allow me to write any more than a few fragments at a time. Tiny, disjointed pieces of my life are interspersed in my various novels.

What are some of the timeless if not memorable occurrences that shaped you as a writer, and why would it be beneficial in sharing them with other aspiring writers?

After writing the first one hundred pages of my first novel, I proudly asked my cousin, a professional editor, to read what I’d written thus far. I recall smugly awaiting her email…confidently expecting to be praised. She took forever to respond. I couldn’t figure out what was taking her so long. After a few weeks, she finally sent me an email stating that she didn’t know how to tell me in a kind way that my manuscript was awful and was giving her a headache. She informed me that being a good storyteller didn’t necessarily make me a good writer. “I am a good writer,” I insisted. She vehemently disagreed and suggested that I take a writing class, join an online group, or get books that teach the craft of writing fiction. I was flabbergasted. Why would I need instructions on writing? My vocabulary was up to par, I was not grammatically-challenged, and as I’ve mentioned, my ability to tell a story was legendary. So what in the heck was she talking about?

We argued back and forth. Furthering her case, she said, “You have five girls in a scene, and you give the reader each girl’s perspective.” “Yeah, so what? What’s wrong with that?” I asked, really annoyed. Then she asked me the meaning of point of view (POV). I didn’t know and didn’t care. It sounded like some unnecessary, technical jargon. I was halfway through the book and I was very proud of my accomplishment and I was going to get published, darn it. But my cousin the editor, wouldn’t budge. She refused to continue reading my book—not even for money. “Learn the craft,” she persisted. Words cannot express the degree of my agitation. But I had no choice. I had to appease her if I wanted my 150 page-manuscript edited. With a birthday coming up, I told my significant other (at the time) to forget about flowers, no Godiva chocolate this year, and to take Victoria’s Secret off my wish list. I didn’t want any of the traditional birthday crap he usually bought me. “Get me books. I need tons of “How to Write Fiction books.”

He bought me eight different fiction-writing books. I randomly cracked open one of them and began reading. I was stunned to discover that my cousin had been one hundred percent correct. I had been arrogant, willful, and falsely suspected that she was envious of my new-found talent. To have been so blissfully ignorant was extremely embarrassing. But I was also grateful that she had risked hurting my feelings and that she had used tough love to steer me in the right direction. Knowledge is power. I rewrote those 150 pages and eventually finished the novel, adhering to all the rules I’d learned. My advice to all aspiring writers: Please take the time to learn the craft of writing. Your editor will appreciate not having to rewrite your work to make it readable.

Simon & Schuster (S&S), the distributor for Strebor Books International (SBI) the imprint you write for has been great partners together literally...has their relationship impacted on you as a writer and a sense of legitimacy?

I began as a self-published author. During that brief stint, I couldn’t refer to myself as an author without feeling pretentious. After signing a publishing deal with Strebor Books, and having Zane personally overseeing my career, I felt completely validated. The partnership between Strebor Books and Simon and Schuster was the icing on the cake. The library has always been a second home to me. I remember going to the library and inquiring about Pandora’s Box. A very snooty librarian told me, “We don’t have those kinds of books on our shelves.” I shrugged and thought to myself, we’ll see about that! Since then my books are on the library shelves nationally and in high demand. Since childhood, I get an adrenaline rush when I walk inside a library. Now that my books are on the shelves, that excitement is heightened. I get a total sense of legitimacy when I see my novels on the public library’s hallowed shelves.

Charmane Parker at SBI and Yona Deshommes at S&S keep me busy with the authors they represent relative to the books I get to review...share with the readers the process once you’ve submitted the final draft for publication...Are there any interaction individually or collectively between you for dialogue?

Zane edits my manuscripts. Her editing skills are as extraordinary as her writing ability. She understands my style and typically doesn’t need to confer with me or ask me to make any changes. Occasionally, she has to return a flawed manuscript for me to rewrite. Charmaine Parker reads the proofs after the book has been type-set. I’m always grateful for Charmaine’s eagle eyes. I can read the proofs ten times and still not find all the errors that Charmaine picks up. Yona Deshommes handles the publicity after the book is in galley format. Yona and the S&S publicity department collaborate with Zane and Charmaine on the marketing plan. With my next release, Stealing Candy, my input is being included in the marketing plan. Yona is accessible, personable, creative, and super intelligent. I feel privileged to work with this powerful team of women.

Let’s talk about your latest book, STEALING CANDY. What’s the premise or motivation behind this book, and how does it differ from others that you’ve written?

Stealing Candy deals with the disturbing topic of teenage sex trafficking. This problem is usually viewed as something that only happens in other countries, but it is rampant right here in America and is getting worse. Teenage girls and boys are being kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude. Children are being sold to sexual predators by their own parents in exchange for illicit drugs. A few stories make the national headlines, but for the most part, the children that are forced into the commercial sex industry have no voice. Every time I hear about an innocent child that has been violated in any manner, it hurts me to the core. Writing this novel was my personal way of bringing awareness to the plight of sex-trafficked children, especially those within the African American communities who don’t get the media attention as missing white children.

In Stealing Candy, I do not gloss over or allude to the dehumanizing and heinous crimes that are inflicted upon the main characters. The reader is given the raw, graphic, and ugly truth of what is happening to our children. Though there is always an underlying social message in most of my novels, Stealing Candy is the first novel that I specifically wrote to raise awareness.

What has been the favorite among your books, and why?

In addition to Stealing Candy, my next favorite is The Enchantress. I stepped outside my comfort zone and wrote a paranormal/erotic novel. The setting of the first few chapters is a plantation in Virginia during slavery. Adding that historical element along with the supernatural and erotic aspects was a stretch for me. After the doing the initial research on slavery and on mythological goddesses, the book required very little of me. It seemed to write itself. I was amped, exhilarated, and in this miraculous zone where hours would fly by. During the writing process, it seemed that I was merely a vessel in front of the keyboard. The book had its own will. The words flowed faster than I could keep up with them. I wrote The Enchantress in a only a few months.

What matters most to you both as a novelist and a writer…can you actively separate them in definitive terms as they apply to your writing sensibilities?

In my opinion, a writer can write anything from screenplays to advertising copy. A novelist writes fiction. As a novelist, I’m very aware of what my readers enjoy, but I’ve also taken risks and written books that appeal to my own tastes. However, book sales matter and I can’t force my preferences on my readers.

Let me throw a few topics at you. I want you to comment responsively and say the first thing that comes to mind!

Self Publishing: Hard work!

Your ideal book tour: It’s coming up this summer with the Stealing Candy promotional tour.

Learning the business: Arggh! The creative end is much more fun.

Your writing process: Turn off phones. Stay off the internet. Limited communication with the outside world while working on a manuscript.

Book Reviews and Reviewers: I love it when the reviewers “get it.”

What’s next on the horizon for Allison Hobbs?

Lipstick Hustla, the third installment to Double Dippin’ and Big Juicy Lips will be released in November 2010. My 2011 release is focused on three female friends with relationship issues. I guess you could call it a sister-girl novel…with a wicked twist. Also in 2011 or possibly 2012, I’ll be co-authoring a book with the best and hottest writer in the game. I’m totally looking forward to having fun with this project. Collaborating with my “shero” is a dream come true.

For additional information on Allison Hobb's latest and upcoming book, and to join the cause, refer to this link: http://sn138w.snt138.mail.live.com/default.aspx?n=302097979

1 comment:

Folake Taylor, MD. said...

Wow! I should spend more time on your blog than I do on facebook. The first thing I ask myself is why mine is the first comment on here. There is so much useful information in this interview, it's amazing. I have wanted to read it since you posted it but just got distracted and busy. But I am glad I did. Kudos to Allison Hobbs. I will continue to "watch this space" and learn from the best since I am new to the industry. Thanks for this interview Mr. Romer!