Sadeqa Johnson, a former public relations manager, spent several years working with well-known authors such as JK Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan and Bishop TD Jakes before becoming an author herself. Her debut novel, Love in a Carry-on Bag, is the recipient of the 2013 Phillis Wheatley award for Best Fiction. She is also the author of Second House From the Corner and And Then There Was Me.
A native of Philadelphia she has recently relocated to a suburb of Richmond, which is a great place to raise children until it snows and schools close for a week. She is a motivational speaker, inspirational blogger, wife and mother of three incredibly busy children. For more please visit www.sadeqajohnson.net.
BPM: When did you get your first inkling to write, and how did you advance the call for writing?
I’m originally from Philadelphia. As a kid, I started off wanting to be an actress. When I graduated high school, I moved to New York and attended Marymount Manhattan College as a Theatre Arts major. It was as a student that I started fooling around with poetry, which turned to playwriting, screenwriting and ended up with novel writing. I landed a job working in publishing after college and it was there that I became very serious about my writing. My first novel, Love in a Carry-on Bag took me over ten years to finish. I started writing it when I was a publicity manager at G.P Putnam’s Sons.
Every day I would close my office door at four o’clock and write for the last hour of the workday. On my commute home, I edited the pages. Once I got married, I left my corporate job to write and raise my children, but still nursed a burning desire to tell stories. I wrote during nap times, between feedings, in the midst of sleep deprivation and my kid’s ear infections. The daily pressures of caring for a young family motivated me to finish the book. I was very much like Felicia in Second House From the Corner. As much as I loved being a mother, I didn’t want that role to be my only claim. I knew that it was important for me to carve out something that was only for me, and writing novels was it. My novels are my legacy.
BPM: What makes your writing different than others?
I’m a lover of words and keep a thick, old school thesaurus on my desk, which I use to deepen the meaning of the text. I don’t like to rush when I’m writing, and I’ll work on a paragraph for three days if it takes that long to make it sound good. Although I’m a commercial fiction writer, I work to bring poetry, beauty and music to my work. My goal is to make readers pause over a delicious sentence, giving them no choice but to read it again.
BPM: What’s the most important quality a writer should have in your opinion?
The will to succeed. You have to tune everyone out and really focus on your goals with tunnel vision. When I decided to quit my job in publishing to pursue writing, my father called me and he was furious. He shouted, “what did I spend all that money sending you to college for so that you could quit?” He didn’t see my vision. All he could see was that I was throwing away a well paid position to pursue the unknown. It was nerve-wracking for me and it took a while to get over what he said. Eventually I let it fuel me to stay the course. It kindled me to show up at my computer everyday, set my office hours, not answer the telephone, and turn down lunch dates so that I could work. Remember, there may be people who believe in your dream but more often there will be the naysayers and your will to write has to quiet all of those voices of doubt, fear and give you the will to push on.
BPM: What hurdles, if any, did you have to overcome as a new author and business owner?
I’m still getting the business side of writing down. It’s not enough to write a good book that no one has heard of. Author’s now have to wear many hats. Even though my novels are published by a major publishing house I am not exempt from this. There is still so many things that I have to keep going to reach my readers, a newsletters, blogs, website, social media, and to be honest I’d rather be writing. So finding the time and balance between writing and marketing is something that I’m constantly working on. I really, really enjoy getting out to book events and meeting the readers. That’s probably one of the most gratifying parts of this business.
BPM: What would you like to accomplish after this book is released?
Don’t laugh, but my deepest desire is to be on the New York Times best sellers list. I have been putting that out into the Universe since day one so I know it’s going to happen. I also plan to sell the movie rights and be paid (well) to consult on set as the movie is being filmed. So if you know anyone who can make this happen give them my information! My children are going to love walking the red carpet. Selling the foreign rights and seeing my novel printed in several languages would also make me happy. Eventually I’d like to teach a writing group and get out on the motivational speaking circuit.
BPM: Our life experiences, challenges and success help define who we are on many levels. At what point in your career did you discover your real worth and own it?
I think I’m still working on that. When I hear my husband talking about me to others, first I am embarrassed, like really embarrassed and then I’m amazed at the person he has described. I’m usually thinking, I’m not all that, really? He constantly reminds me that I’ve accomplished a lot and that I’m more talented than I know. I don’t know if that is a defense mechanism so that my head doesn’t get to be big but I’m often thinking of myself as just an average girl who writes, a glorified chauffeur and chaperone for my kids and a short order cook who sometimes get the laundry done.
BPM: Success leaves clues, whose clues did you follow on your journey?
Victoria Christopher Murray, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Tayari Jones, ReShonda Tates Billingsley, Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner have all left clues on how to be successful in the business. Okay I’ll be honest, I’ve internet stalked them all to learn their secrets of success. The best clues are usually on the author’s websites. I check their author tours and try to book myself at the same venues and events. It easier to study those at the top of the game instead of reinventing the wheel.
BPM: Can you share a little of your current work with us? Introduce us to your book and the characters.
Bea and Awilda have been best friends from the moment Awilda threw her fourteen year-old self across Bea’s twin-sized bed as if they had known each other forever. Bubbly, adventurous Awilda taught sheltered, shy Bea how to dress, wear her hair and what to do with boys. She even introduced Bea to her husband, Lonnie, in college, who pledged to take good care of her for the rest of their lives. But philanderer Lonnie breaks that promise over and over again, leaving Bea to wrestle with her self-esteem and long time secret addiction.
Recently Lonnie has plopped the family in a New Jersey upper class suburb, which lacks the diversity that Bea craves but has the school district and zip code envy that Lonnie wants. The demands of carrying a third child and fitting into this new environment while pretending that her husband is not cheating on her again, is more than she can handle. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worst, the ultimate deception snaps the little thread that was holding her life together and all comes tumbling down.
And Then There Was Me is the story of love and friendship, heartache and betrayal. It’s the journey of a woman stripped down to her lowest point and needing to find the will to press on.
BPM: Do you set out to educate or inspire, entertain or illuminate a particular subject?
I usually start out with and idea. For And Then There Was Me my husband was telling me a story about someone he knew and I couldn’t stop mapping out the characters in my head. I usually write the story that won’t leave me alone. It usually comes from a conversation, a personal experience or just a feeling and then I just go for it. My goal is always to entertain my readers. I aim to write a book that makes their fingers burn to turn the page, keep them up at night cursing me out because they need to know what’s going to happen next in the book even though they need to be to work in five hours. Writing characters that inspire comes easy for me because I am always the person who sees the cup half full instead of half empty. All of my spiritual guides and teachings weave their way into my storytelling.
Bea of And Then There Was Me, finds her way to hot yoga to get through a rough patch because I love practicing hot yoga especially when I am physically or mentally depleted. There will most likely always be a woo-woo quality to a character or experience in the book because I really love the diverse ways that one can honor Spirit.
I’m attracted to addiction and the struggles that people go through to kick a habit. In Love In A Carry-on Bag Erica’s mother was an alcoholic, in Second House From the Corner, Felicia was an ex-smoker and when the chips fell down she started smoking again in secret. In And Then There Was Me, Bea has struggled with an eating disorder and when her dark horse starts breathing on her neck to be fed she struggles to stay two steps ahead. That’s interesting to me and I hope it’s interesting to my readers.
BPM: What should readers DO after reading this book?
Tell all of their friends to buy a copy. I really believe it takes a village to make a best-seller. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising so please, please tell a friend. Your review on goodreads.com and all of the retailer’s website would also be wonderfully helpful. Bookclubs, if you select my book and invite me to come discuss it with you I will do my best to come.
BPM: What are you the most thankful for now?
I’m grateful for my health and the health of my family and close friends. I enjoy waking up every morning, getting my kids off to school (most times without arguments and tears but not always), putting on a pot of coffee and going to work in my robe. God is always amazingly good to me. Oh, and I have a sexy, supportive husband to boot.
BPM: Do you have any advice for people seeking to publish a book?
Don’t quit. Writing takes time and dedication and it is very important to be true to the craft. Take writing classes, form a writing group and read as much as you can. Give yourself time and permission to grow, and be patient with yourself. Believe in your creativity above all. Allow the magic to flow.
BPM: We are here to shine the spotlight on your new book, but what’s next? Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases.
I am so excited about the book I’m working on now. It’s called Yellow Wife and it is the story of a slave woman, Pheby, from Charles City, VA. Pheby was sold away from the only home she’s ever known by her jealous mistress to a notorious jail in Richmond called the Devil’s Half Acre. The jail was known as a punishing center and holding pen for slaves. There she catches the eye of the owner of the jail, Rubin, who wants nothing more than to make Pheby his woman. She has to make choices to survive the treachous worlds of slavery and do some things that she is not proud of for her survival and the survival of her children. This novel is filled with struggle, self-sacrifice, sexploitation and human degradation, and promises to give readers a new perspective on our history. I’m in the middle of the first draft and I’m having so much fun with this. I never thought I’d write historical fiction and I really hope you will like it.
Black Pearl Magazine, thank you so much for this interview. It’s been a joy. Readers, to receive free excerpts on my novels, and updates on my tour schedule please go to my website: www.sadeqajohnson.net and subscribe to my newsletter. I promise not to overwhelm you with mail. Love you for reading this and I hope to meet you soon!
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