La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson is a contributor to the award-winning Life Spices From Seasoned Sistahs anthology series and has also published work in Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write To The New First Lady, Sassy, Savvy and Bold After 50, Jubilee’s Journey an e-book, serial novel, and All The Women In My Family Sing edited by Deborah Santana.
La Rhonda is co-founder of Ideate Publishing, LLC. Ideate’s debut project, an anthology of short stories by women writers titled Where’s My Tiara? was released in the fall of 2017. Unveiled, her first novel will be released in 2019. www.ideatepublishing.com
BPM: It is such a pleasure to have you join us to discuss, Unveiled. Describe yourself in three words.
LCJ: Reliable. Honest. Committed.
BPM: What drove you to publish your first book or create your first series? How long have you been writing?
LCJ: Publishing my work is a way to share my love of writing with others. I’ve been writing most of my life.
BPM: Describe what you do outside of writing to expand your business or brand.
LCJ: The business of writing is still fairly new to me. As an author, I look forward to connecting with readers. I plan to use several vehicles to stay in touch with them – social media, blogging, readings/book signings, participation in book festivals and conferences, etc. – and give them a chance to get to know me as a writer and person.
BPM: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your body of work/books?
LCJ: I learned that even when I thought I was finished, there was more work to do. Tina McElroy Ansa told me, while attending the first Sea Island Writers Retreat, hard writing made easy reading. Unveiled has allowed me to understand what Tina told me on an entirely different level.
BPM: How did you choose the genre you write in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
LCJ: I don’t want to limit myself to any one genre. However, I initially saw myself as a fiction writer until my first published work was in an anthology of non-fiction. Since then, I’ve been a contributor to several non-fiction anthologies. It then occurred to me that a writer writes. I plan to continue to write and hopefully publish in both fiction and non-fiction. I recently placed second in a poetry contest, so I may venture into that genre again in the future. I have a friend who is writing afro-surrealism/speculative fiction and I find that very interesting.
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work. Available on Nook and Kindle?
LCJ: My debut novel, Unveiled, will be published early 2019. The book will be available in print and e-book: Kindle and Apple Books.
BPM: Introduce us to the people in the book! Give us some insight into your main characters or the speakers.
LCJ: I’ll introduce you to three of the characters: Morgan Franklin, Marie Baptiste Morgan, and Mary Joyce Lyons. Morgan, the main character, at first glance, is your typical overachiever. She’s excelled in school and her career. As the story unfolds, readers will get to see Morgan has as a strong sense of justice and believes her privileged life must be used to help those who don’t have it so easy. Morgan also has a vulnerable side that adds to her strength and resilience.
Morgan’s mother, Marie Baptiste Morgan, can easily be described as having ice water in her veins. Marie believes vulnerability is a weakness and doesn’t extend herself to others without benefitting personally – quid pro quo. There is so much more to Marie. The reader will get an opportunity to see to how she was shaped by her upbringing and experiences. Mary Joyce is Morgan’s younger half-sister who didn’t have the opportunities Morgan had. She finds herself married to a man who would rather drink than work, pregnant, and the mother of three small sons. Mary Joyce has been overwhelmed by her circumstances and has to make some difficult choices. The reader will get to know these and other characters in Unveiled in a way I hope will make them memorable long after the book has been read.
BPM: What’s so unique about their story-line or voice in the story? What makes each one so special?
LCJ: The characters are unique because people are unique. We are all more than we first appear to be and the reader will find this true of the characters in Unveiled. While it will be easy to label some of the characters as “good” or “bad,” you’ll find once you’ve made up your mind, you may have to change it.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
LCJ: Great question. I hadn’t thought about this before. I think the experience of a minor character, Stephanie Arceneaux, speaks to my journey. Stephanie is recreating her life. Many times, I’ve found myself in a place of recreation. Stepping fully into writing is just one example. Morgan’s commitment to the truth and the way she shows up for her family and friends is also a huge part of my journey.
BPM: How do you balance the professional, personal, and spiritual sides of your life, while pursuing your dreams?
LCJ: I don’t even know if balance really exists. Balance seems to indicate there is some parity between the different parts of my life. This just doesn’t ring true for me.
What works better for me is to acknowledge all the parts exist (as a whole) and practice caring and giving each its requisite time. Some days, my professional life takes up more hours (in addition to writing, I’m a life coach and publisher) because on that day it requires it. Some days, I write for hours and other days not at all. My spiritual life is very important to me and supports all the other parts of my life, so it receives daily attention. I have days where I don’t go near my office, computer, or email. I’ve learned REST and PLAY are critical to my well-being, so I make sure to practice them regularly.
BPM: Tell us about a project that forced you to be your most innovative and creative.
LCJ: There have been many. The one that comes to mind quickly is working as a substitute teacher (primarily middle school). Each day called for something that wasn’t written in the lesson plan. Working with people, throughout my career, has required constant innovation to connect on a human level.
BPM: We have to step out of our comfort zone periodically to act on our passions. Have you ever stepped out on faith and combated your worst fears?
LCJ: It seems I do more of this more than I realized. Publishing Unveiled is certainly a leap of faith. Learning the business of writing/publishing is definitely outside of my comfort zone. I started a consulting business (which I still run) in 1994 and that was one of the scariest things I ever did. While I’ve dreamed of being exactly where I am right now, it still brings the need for me to stretch my “faith muscles.”
BPM: What does the phrase ‘Fail Forward’’ mean to you?
LCJ: I am a believer in there being no such thing as failure. This was instilled in me early, and I was taught to use every experience as a lesson to improve for the future. “Fail Forward” means, to me, each “failure” takes you closer to your desired outcome.
BPM: What advice would you give to young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
LCJ: First, I would tell them to forget about my footsteps and make their own. They’ll have so much more success this way. I would tell young people (and not so young people) not to allow themselves or others to put limits on them based on what they see. Everything I’ve ever started in my life didn’t exist before I did it. I would tell them to take a chance on themselves.
BPM: If you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?
LCJ: To do YOUR best. While inspiration is important, comparison can be detrimental to creativity. Don’t worry about how your work will be judged or received. Tell the best story you can tell.
BPM: Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle? Have you ever had to deal with rejection?
LCJ: YES! And then I stop. I never want writing to feel like a struggle. Now rewriting and rewriting and rewriting is a different thing. Unveiled went through more drafts than I even want to count. I have been very fortunate that as it relates to my writing, I haven’t suffered rejection. The anthologies I submitted to accepted my work.
I attended a workshop at the United California African American Bookclubs (UCAAB) literary conference and heard author Gary Hardwick say, “Do not wait for someone to ‘approve’ your work or say ‘yes’ to you. Write your own acceptance letter.” This drove me to self-publish an e-book serial novel, Jubilee’s Journey, and co-found Ideate Publishing.
BPM: Have you written any other books that are not published?
LCJ: I have at least four that are in various stages of completion that may one day be published. I have folders of other stories that haven’t been fully developed. I also have written stories just for myself that I have no plans to publish.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
LCJ: Unveiled is my number one priority right now and I’m working hard to ensure it has a successful launch. I am also very close to finishing a young adult novella.
BPM: How do you stay connected with others in publishing and your readers?
LCJ: Right now, through social media, book events, and writers’ groups. I am a member of the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and once Unveiled is published, I will increase connections with readers through book clubs and attending book conferences and conventions.
BPM: What legacy do you hope to leave future generations of readers and new writers with your writing?
LCJ: I heard Maya Angelou tell Oprah Winfrey that you don’t get to say what your legacy will be. I get that. I have no idea what my legacy will be. I would like readers to have an enjoyable experience reading my work. I’d like them to travel to places they never saw themselves and think of things they’d never considered. I’d like writers to be inspired to tell their stories. I’d like for my work to live on after me.
BPM: What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you?
LCJ: Readers can email me at larhondawrites@gmail, LIKE me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/larhonda.crosbyjohnson.94
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
LCJ: Readers can get more information on Ideate Publishing’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ideatepublishing, Twitter via @IdeatePub, and my author page on Amazon.