Author Interview With Ashley M. Coleman

The Book

For fans of My (Not So) Perfect Life and Jasmine Guillory’s While We Were Dating, a disarmingly fun debut novel follows Carlisa Henton as her life comes undone after a chance meeting with a rising pop star.

The cover of Good Morning, Love by Ashley M. Coleman.

Carlisa “Carli” Henton is a musician and songwriter hoping to follow in her father’s musical footsteps. But, biding her time until she makes it big in the music industry, she works as a junior account manager at a big-name media company to cover her New York City rent. Carli meticulously balances her work with her musical endeavors as a songwriter—until a chance meeting with rising star Tau Anderson sends her calculated world into a frenzy. Their worlds collide and quickly blur the strict lines Carli has drawn between her business and her personal life, throwing Carli’s reputation—and her burgeoning songwriting career—into question.

A smart, timely, energizing romance, Good Morning, Love shows us what the glamorous New York’s music scene is really like and takes us into the lives of a rising but somewhat troubled R&B star and a promising protégé who knows her job better than she knows herself.

With fresh and honest prose, Good Morning, Love examines the uncertainty of being a new professional looking to chase a dream while also trying to survive in a world that’s not always kind to ambitious women

The Interview

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you, Mrs. Coleman! Congratulations on publishing your novel, Good Morning, Love!

Introvert Interrupted: Can you tell readers about yourself and your journey to publishing Good Morning, Love?

Ashley M. Coleman: I am a writer and music industry executive. I’ve worked in music over ten years and so in many ways, it feels like Good Morning, Love is the debut novel it took a lifetime to write. Starting as a young person pursuing a career in music, I always felt like great stories lived there and like the people I was meeting were these larger-than-life characters. I started the story of Good Morning, Love to try to secure a writing fellowship and when that didn’t work out, I decided to keep going. I had a twenty-page sample that I liked so I kept writing. I was swirling around with this idea of what happens when a playboy falls in love? And that birthed the story of Tau and Carli. Thankfully, I was able to secure my agent in early 2020 and by the spring, we’d sold the manuscript to 37Ink/Simon &Schuster which has honestly been a dream come true. 

II: How did you come up with the characters of Carlisa “Carli” Henton and Tau Anderson? Did you have any specific music artists in mind?

A: I like to say that they’re a composite of many artists. I absolutely love music. I listen to a lot of it for pleasure and for work. So, I took pieces of all the great artists I know both known and unknown to carve out the characters of Tau and Carli.   

II: Carli’s story resonated with me as we see her walking a fine line in Good Morning, Love between having a “stable job” as a junior accounts manager and following her passion for becoming a singer and songwriter. To side characters, like Dylan and Red, Carli’s writing partners, Carli’s life feels charmed, causing her to receive flack for hustling to pursue her dreams. 

In a time when some readers may also feel that they are being forced to choose between their passion and making a livable wage, what would you want readers to learn from Carli’s hustle mentality?

A: I would want readers to know that it is possible to do both. So often when we are from underrepresented communities, we don’t have the privilege of solely pursuing a creative dream. It’s a lot of hard work for sure which we see with Carli. But she has this knowing deep inside that there is something more for her. We don’t have to give up the dream for our survival. There may be some long nights or early mornings, but I think Carli’s character shows that it can be worth it.  

II: Outside of being a wonderful storyteller, you also have a way of transporting your readers to a specific space and having us feel as if we’re there with the characters. Readers can see examples of this when Carli is in clubs performing her music or at the studio writing with her team and Tau. How did you learn to become such an atmospheric writer? 

A: Having a bit of a background in journalism helps. It’s all about observation and so I’ve had practice in the area of trying to set the scene with words. The world of music is something I know intimately, so going to a place in my mind of a concert or open mic is so natural for me. I also like to try to put myself in a space when writing. For me, that’s music that helps set the tone for what I’m writing. It’s lighting a nice scent. All those things ground me in my story which I think helps translate that sense of atmosphere onto the page.  

II: Carli and other women in Good Morning, Love are often hyper-aware of how their actions can be negatively perceived by their peers and the workplace. Yet, many male characters like Tau tend to act first and think about the consequences later. Was there a particular message you meant to convey with this outlook about the differences between your male and female characters’ approach to obtaining their goals and navigating the music industry?

A: I don’t think it’s something I did consciously, but as a woman who works in and around music, it’s something I’ve had a lot of conversations about with other women. Honestly, in many industries, women tend to think a lot about how they will be perceived. Whether they come across angry, too bossy, too sexy, the list goes on. I think it’s simply the nature of living in a patriarchal society. More specifically with music, it can be tricky because it is a social business where lines can easily be blurred. This aspect of the business, I think, gives women that hyper-awareness that we see in Carli’s story. 

II: There are several instances where sexual assault is mentioned within your novel. Unfortunately, with cases like the R. Kelly case and the ongoing Russell Simmons case, your depiction of how women feel unprotected in the music industry and the world at large is very relevant. Why did you feel it was important to show this reality of the music industry in your novel?

A: It was most important to me to showcase how conflicting it can be when you are trying to get ahead but may have to work around people who make you feel unsafe. I guess more so I wanted to highlight how it’s not always the easiest decision it seems like it would be to simply walk away when so much is on the line. I wanted to show that sometimes it’s not always the extremes like the cases that you mention, but sometimes even in more nuanced ways. 

II: While you combat challenging topics in your novel, my favorite part of Good Morning, Love is that #BlackLove is on full display with Carli and Tau’s relationship. How did you manage to write the chemistry between these two so effortlessly?

A: I love love stories. I mean I just eat them up. So, I think part of that ability really came from studying chemistry over the years in both books and film. It was somewhat easy to reference the moments when I find myself cheesing too hard watching or reading something and then being able to recreate those types of feelings in Good Morning, Love. The great part about fiction too is your characters become almost like real people. When you know them well and have flushed them out fully, you can visualize them interacting in a very three-dimensional way.  

II: Good Morning, Love is such a vibe! Carli is often seen speaking about her favorite music artists. Outside of the Black Love Summer Playlist from Refinery 29, are there any music artists or albums that inspired your novel and characters?

A: I would just say R&B music in general. You know, a film like Brown Sugar focused on hip-hop and I would say that Good Morning, Love is almost like the cousin to that with a bit of a focus on R&B. I’m such a big fan of artists from back in the day like Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight to contemporary artists like Alex Isley, PJ Morton, and Lucky Daye among others. The feeling that a great R&B song gives you, to me, is what inspired both the book and characters. 

II: Like Carli, you are a writer and media maven who has writing credits for major publications, such as Essence, song credits, and even a successful podcast and online platform for writers called, Permission to Write. What advice would you give people looking to find a good work-life balance and jumpstart their writing career?

A: I would say prioritize your writing. Too often I hear writers say, “I never can find the time,” and most often it’s because they are trying to fit it in where they can. So much of my initial draft for Good Morning, Love came together in 30-minute sprints before I started my workday. When writing is my very first thing, I feel so much better about taking on a busy and full day. I can always say to myself, “at least I’ve written.” So, prioritize and protect your writing time. 

II: Do you have any other projects you’re working on that readers can look forward to?

A: I’m pretty excited about a forthcoming short story called “Breakfast for Dinner” that will be featured in the Heartbeat newsletter, free, weekly short stories celebrating love curated by Hannah Orenstein and Georgia Clark. And of course, I am always just writing! So, there are many more stories where Good Morning, Love came from.   

II: Thank you so much for your time, Mrs. Coleman! I’ll be looking forward to your short story, “Breakfast for Dinner!”

Have you all picked up your copy of Good Morning, Love?

About the Author

Author photo of Ashley M. Coleman
Ashley M. Coleman

Ashley M. Coleman is a storyteller and community builder moonlighting as a writer and project manager. Whether she is working with music makers or writers from marginalized communities, creating safe gathering spaces and education for creatives is at the center of her world. Her freelance writing has been featured in ZORA Magazine, GRAMMY.com, and The Cut among others and covers culture, lifestyle, and personal narrative. Currently, she is working on her forthcoming novel with 37Ink Books, Good Morning Love. You can catch her co-hosting the EightyTwo NinetySix podcast with Gabrielle Hickmon, tweeting often, indulging in Hip Hop and R&B music, and laughing at her pit/boxer mix Coltrane.

Author Interview With K.M. Jackson

About the Book

HOW TO MARRY KEANY REEVES IN 90 DAYS by K.M. Jackson

USA Today bestselling author K.M. Jackson delivers a hilarious road-trip rom-com perfect for fans of Meet Cute and When Harry Met Sally. Bethany Lu Carlisle is devastated when the tabloids report actor Keanu Reeves is about to tie the knot. What?! How could the world’s perfect boyfriend and forever bachelor, Keanu not realize that making a move like this could potentially be devastating to the equilibrium of…well…everything! Not to mention, he’s never come face to face with the person who could potentially be his true soulmate—her.
 
Desperate to convince Keanu to call off the wedding, Lu and her ride-or-die BFF Truman Erikson take a wild road trip to search for the elusive Keanu so that Lu can fulfill her dream of meeting her forever crush and confess her undying love. From New York to Los Angeles, Lu and True get into all sorts of sticky situations. Will Lu be able to find Keanu and convince him she’s the one for him? Or maybe she’ll discover true love has been by her side all along…

The Interview

Mrs. Jackson, I appreciate you speaking to me about your novel, How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days!

Your novel had me laughing out loud at the adventures you sent Bethany “Lu” Carlisle on in pursuit of the one and only Keanu Reeves.

Adira: How did you come up with the idea for How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days, and how did you decide who to include in your star-studded cast?

Keanu Reeves
What’s your favorite Keanu Reeves’ movie?

K.M. Jackson: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and read HOW TO MARRY KEANU! I came up with the idea of HOW TO MARRY KEANY REEVES IN 90 DAYS after seeing a tweet pre-pandemic that said the next Matrix and John Wick movies were set to come out on the same day (it has since changed due to the pandemic). I replied to the tweet saying, “Note to self don’t put out your next novel on Keanu day unless it’s that How To Marry Keanu Reeves In 90 Day’s Romance.”  I got quite a lot of responses that said, “I’d read that,’ and from there a book was born. 

A: What I appreciate about your female characters, Bethany Lu and Dawn, is that they don’t have life all figured out even at 40-years-old. You make it clear that they are still making mistakes, wrestling with imposter syndrome, and trying to decipher life when society tries to sell us all the message that you should have it all “together” by their age. What made you want to tackle this angle of “growing up” with your characters’ backstories? 

KMJ: I felt strongly about wanting to make my heroine for this story over 40 and I wanted very much to make her feel real. To be honest I have gotten some feedback from some readers that she comes off as young because of the premise of the book and her obsession with Keanu, and the fact that she doesn’t have things all figured out at her age, to that I’d challenge folks to really look at themselves or the world around them honestly and ask who does have it all figured out? 

I know I sure don’t. I’m older than both by characters, Lu and Dawn, and a mother and I am pretty hard on myself for not having all the answers. I often wonder and am frustrated by why I don’t have it all figured out by now. But I’m trying hard to give myself a bit more patience and grace. 

Real Men Knit baby K.M. Jackson

A: Found or “chosen” family is a major part of your novel, thanks to Bethany Lu’s reliance on her best friends, Dawn and True, to help her with everything from her creative blocks to taking care of her mental health. Were you working from a specific definition of community when you developed these characters, and if so, how did it inform the development of your cast of characters?

KMJ: I wasn’t working from any specific definition of community when I came up with Lu’s friends but more from the friends that I felt would be the best support for her character and the story to make it what I felt it needed to be to be a romance that I would be satisfied with. Both True and Dawn are people I would be happy to know, share time with and most of all trust. 

A: In the last year, we’ve all had to cope with one form of loss or another, and Bethany Lu’s choice of coping mechanism while entertaining to read touches on how traumatic and stagnant working through grief can make us. Why was it essential to show Bethany Lu working through the stages of her grief in How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days?

KMJ: Bethany Lu and in a way True working through their grief in HOW TO MARRY KEAU was essential for me because there needed to be something really strong to give Lu her initial Keanu hold and a major motivation to carry the story through. Also dealing with grief and loss was something that was heavy on my heart by the nature of when I was writing the novel. There was just no way I could get away from it so better for me to just lean in. 

A: Bethany Lu’s character is dealing with a hot button topic that has come up a lot over the last year thanks to society’s reliance on social media and influencers to get us through the pandemic, which is the issue of parasocial relationships. 

Knot Again by K.M. Jackson

Bethany Lu’s plot to stop Keanu’s wedding to distract herself from her own troubles is something that many readers may find to be super relatable. Was there a particular message you were aiming to give readers about how we interact with celebrities and influencers online?

KMJ: Though Bethany’s obsession with Keanu does hold her up in some ways it’s also in ways a healthy coping mechanism. She’s still gone on with her life and has had quite a bit of success. Keanu has been her happy place and a bright and stable spot when things were not so bright and quite shaky. As for the interaction with Keanu, well thankfully there is True and Dawn to help her with keeping a watch on that. Though Lu is a smart woman she knows she really doesn’t stand a chance to get Keanu to marry her and she states this throughout the book. I was careful not to let her cross the line into stalker territory and keep her in the fan zone. I hope I did. 

A: How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days was basically made to be adapted for film or tv! Are there any adaptions in the works? Or, are you working on something else that can tide us over until Hollywood comes a calling?

KMJ: Thank you so much for saying that about TV or film adaptations. I sure hope so. *cut to me saying a quick prayer and mentally crossing everything* No, so far adaptations are not in the works but who knows. And thank you for asking, I am always working on something. The next book in my REAL MEN KNIT series under my Kwana Jackson name comes out in July of 2022 and I’m currently thinking up what I’ll be writing next. I have a few ideas in mind. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you!

About the Author

A native New Yorker, Kwana Jackson, who also writes as K.M. Jackson Jackson spent her formative years on the ‘A’ train where she had two dreams: 1) to be a fashion designer and 2) to be a writer. After spending over ten years designing women’s sportswear for various fashion houses this self-proclaimed former fashionista, took the leap of faith and decided to pursue her other dream of being a writer. 

Author photo of K.M. Jackson
K.M. Jackson

Now a USA Today Bestseller Kwana’s self-published novel, BOUNCE won the Golden Leaf for best novel with strong romance elements from the New Jersey chapter of Romance Writers of America. She was also named Author of the Year by the New York Chapter of Romance Writers of America and has been tapped by Oprah Magazine, ShondaLand and NPR for their Best Romance lists.

A mother of now young adult twins, Kwana currently lives in a suburb of New York with her husband. 

Author Interview with Desmond Hall, author of “Your Corner Dark”

Thank you to @HearOurVoicesBT and @simonteen for an advanced copy of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall and the chance to interview the author!

Synopsis

American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Cover of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall

Adira: Congratulations on your debut novel, Your Corner Dark, Mr. Hall! 

I saw in your talk with Madeline Dyer for 2020’s YA Thriller Con that one of the inspirations behind this novel came from the loss of your uncle in Jamaica. I’d first like to extend my condolences for this personal loss. I know as an artist, drawing on personal pain is sometimes a source of inspiration. But, how were you able to balance grieving while also going through the writing process of telling such a detailed story about gang culture, police brutality, and political intrigue without being sucked back into that headspace?

Desmond Hall: I really like what the great actor Francis McDormand said about her art. She felt she had to figuratively pick at her wounds to keep them fresh, so she’d be able to access her pain, and apply it to her work. She actually dreaded the closing of her psychological wounds. This is a type of method acting that I think applies to writing as well. 

A: So often, the way that many people get introduced to Jamaica is as a country that’s akin to “paradise.” In my course on Globalization and Transnationalism, we watched the documentary Life and Debt, which spoke about how often we as tourists are never seeing the “real” Jamaica or partaking in the actual culture when we come to this island to visit. This made me think of how when reading your novel, readers are introduced to another viewpoint of your homeland that lingers just under Jamaica’s surface in the form of gang culture. Why did you feel that this story was important to talk about as a Jamaican?

DH: Your Corner Dark is a specific story, but also a universal one. The book touches on police brutality, gang culture, defining masculinity, and political intrigue. Those topics are just as relevant here in the States. I’m just telling the truth that I know. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you mentioned that the title of your book is the Jamaican equivalent of the saying, “between a rock and a hard place.” In true fashion, Frankie is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he is a student who aspires to be an engineer and create things that will ease the hardships of he and his neighbors’ lives. Yet, Frankie is also living in a world that wants to box him in and make him become a part of gang culture even though everyone around him acknowledges that Frankie is “too smart” to go down this path. How did you balance telling Frankie’s story between these two realities while making it believable? 

Author Photo of Desmond Hall

DH: I think one of the keys is Frankie’s interiority. We get to know how he experiences the angst of having a father who he feels doesn’t understand him. We understand Frankie’s fear and admiration for a dangerous and charismatic uncle. We sympathize with the evil acts he feels compelled to commit. We also get to feel his shame when he ventures into a social class above his rank, and gets intimidated by sushi.  

A: One of my favorite parts of Your Corner Dark is the usage of Jamaican patois, the “unofficial language of Jamaica.” For me, the richness of this dialect draws from hearing Jamaicans speak their language out loud, similar to how I feel about hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) being spoken. This got me thinking about Nate Marshall’s poetry collection, Finna, where he mentions that AAVE isn’t necessarily a dialect that’s meant to be written down but is meant to be spoken. Did you find a similar issue come up with your characters as you shaped their dialogue?

DH: I’m not familiar with Mr. Marshall’s thoughts on the matter, but I do believe It’s important to note that a lot of Jamaicans speak the Queens English as well as patois (Patwah in Jamaica). We have a lot of fun with the language, verbally, and in written form. In fact, a lot of the newspapers run social commentary cartoons, and the characters often speak in a thick patwah. 

A: I mention this because, at one point in the story, when Frankie hears Leah “chat patois,” he is shocked because he says that some Jamaicans aren’t comfortable with speaking in patois. As a reader who is not an #OwnVoices reviewer, I was unsure if this was indicative of the class issue between Leah and Frankie, which is a topic that comes up several times, or if there was a variation of the dialect that Frankie, a person from the country would speak, versus Leah, who is from the city. 

The Jamaican upper middle class has a tendency to be very conservative, even to the extent of reviling Rastafarians, even though Rastas are featured in our tourism advertising. This disdain also extends to speaking patwah. It’s similar to how some Americans look at the southern drawl (Dolly Parton actually points this out!). Frankie is aware that Leah is from the upper middle class as most kids are in his fancy school, and he worries that Leah may harbor some of those upper middle class tendencies. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you also mention that Your Corner Dark is your “love letter to Jamaica.” What is the one thing you want your readers to take away from this story?

DH: I want them to understand more the complexity of Jamaica. Seven days and six nights at the resort won’t show people the real Jamaica, even with excursions. 

A: Your background as a screenwriter really shines in this novel! As I was reading Frankie’s story, I was in awe of the fact that so much of the story’s content’s felt as if they are primed to be on the “big screen.” Have you thought of turning this book into a screenplay?

DH: It’s funny you ask because I’d originally written this story as a screenplay, and back in the day, it was a runner up in the IFP Screenwriting contest in NYC.

Over the last few months, we’ve been having meetings with a few TV producers, so we’ll see. 

A: You also mentioned that you moved from Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Does this shift in geographical location have any bearings on the types of stories you write about?

DH: I think all my experiences come into play when I write. I remember talking to the great screenwriter, Budd Schulburg. I asked him how he came up with that great line from the awesome movie, ON THE WATERFRONT. “…I coulda been a contender…instead of a bum.” He said he was in Gleason’s boxing gym, and overheard a palooka saying those words to his manager. Mr. Schulburg said he quickly jotted down the line because he knew he would use it in a script one day. That day didn’t come until many years later, but he knew to catalogue the encounter. Essentially, he was telling me to draw from all my experiences, and use anything relevant to help render the story I want to tell.  

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-read?”

I’m moved by Richard Price, and how he imbues crime stories with so much humanity. I wish I could be as harshly real as James Baldwin or as deep as Toni Morrison. 

In the YA space, I love reading Jason Reynolds and Courtney Summers.

A: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DH: 

-Grubstreet is a great writing school. 

-There’s a famous quote about how published authors are the ones who didn’t give up. 

-The SAVE THE CAT book(s) are quick and easy ways to add the power of story structure to your arsenal. If you want a more in depth way, take the Mckee Story Class, and buckle up. 

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Mr. Hall!

Author Bio

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.