I first sent a written copy of my questions to her in August She responded weeks later with a telephone call; we continued the interview by telephone and email in December and January of RBD Why did you choose to begin your writing career with the historical rather than the contemporary romance? The first manuscript I sent out was a contemporary that was rejected, but the historical Night Song sold. Ironically, that rejected contemporary was published many years later as Edge of Night.
BJ It took me fifteen years to publish my first novel, which has since gone through six printings.
Book awards: Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award
The start was rough. I did the revisions. The draft went from the editor to a freelancer. Scenes were changed. I called Vivian Stephens, my agent, and told her that she should return the advance on the book. I did not want the book published like that. The editor called.
She cried and apologized. For four and a half hours, the editor and I were on the telephone going over the revisions. There should be trust between editor and author. RBD There are so many more contemporary romances published than there are historical romances. Why is that? BJ Money drives the publishing business just like every other business. Back in the seventies and eighties, historical romances held the biggest share of the market, so publishers pushed that genre.
But over time, the tastes of the readers changed, the times changed, and contemporaries began to be embraced. Now contemporaries rule. Romance can be very cyclical, though, so, who knows where the genre will be ten years from now. RBD You are more than a century removed from the nineteenth century that you write about. How do your historical romance novels bring this era alive for your twenty-first-century readers? BJ I bring the nineteenth century alive—I think—by placing my historical characters in the context of their everyday lives.
It personalizes. BJ I do know that what these illustrious foremothers stood for—justice, equality, education, a commitment to community and the desire to push the envelope on race and gender—is something I consciously place in each of my heroines. In it, she states that nineteenth-century Black women had three gifts: a strong work ethic, a commitment to community, and a penchant to push the envelope on race and gender. Nineteenth-century Black women changed the world not only for themselves and the race but for women of other races as well.
Women like Black abolitionist Maria Stewart, who in became the first woman in America of any race to lecture to a mixed audience; Rebecca Lee and other pioneering Black doctors of the late s were often not only the first Black doctors, but many were the first doctors of any race in their communities.
Their experiences helped shape crusading Dr. Viveca Lancaster, the heroine in my second novel, Vivid. What is your opinion about this kind of historical novel? What are your thoughts about the relationship of your historical romances to this body of work set in the same period as your novels and deal with similar issues of race, gender, and sexuality? BJ I have read both of the titles referenced. Our novels are similar in the sense that all touch the African American experience.
Mine differs in the model upon which it is based. Genre romance novels are based on the gothic tradition set forth by authors Daphne du Maurier  and Georgette Heyer,  and American authors Kathleen E. RBD By gothic model are you referring to the romance template in which an inexperienced young woman meets and falls in love with a mysterious older man, marries him, and then encounters awesome circumstances that potentially jeopardize their union?
BJ Yes. Your description was closely followed during the early days of romance, but now the model has advanced. Man-woman conflicts are the main elements.
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The man can now be younger than the female, and the woman no longer has to be a virgin. The genre has morphed with the times. Octavia E. BJ Genres. It has been interesting watching African American writers flip the switch, so to speak, on the traditional genres from romance to horror and begin to be accepted and successful in areas where we were not allowed to be fifteen years ago.
Banks  is a prime example. Banks has hit upon something that in its own way speaks to the race and is viewed with value. RBD While your novels contribute to the historical romance tradition in African American literature, they also break new ground.
Would you comment on this point? BJ I only see it as breaking new ground in the sense that you can now buy my books, and books by Brenda Jackson  and L. Banks and others, all over the world. FUBU books have been around since before the American Revolution, but being accessible to the market is the thing.
Not sure if this is what you mean, but this is my first thought on the question. Could you say more about erotica? BJ Erotica is what romance fiction is all about. Romance started with erotic gothic and Kathleen E. Erotica is required to have romance fiction published. I read some of the romances by writers in the white canon, and I flipped the paradigm man-woman sex conflict to include relevant Black history. Our history puts meat into the novels.
People outside the genre have no idea how important all books by African American authors are to their readers. Finally a whole slew of books about us—in every genre. BJ Black women. They love erotica. BJ Not many.
There must have been romance. Something must have been going on. RBD What do you think are your major contributions to the historical romance genre? It seems that I have been given the charge of telling our history in a way that is new and different, but also fills our racial soul. Gunn,  and Shirley Hailstock,  the African American historical romance has made considerable progress since the nineteenth century. Why do you think literary critics have not given more attention to your work? Makes for a lot of crap to wade through sometimes.
These women find themselves in conflict with outside forces, but they manage to resolve their problems with their self-esteem intact. What message do these novels send to your reading audience? RBD Your male-female characters express love for each other in your novels, but they also long for and celebrate freedom. Could you comment on the intersection between love and freedom?
BJ To be able to love is freedom. The power and commitment of Wyatt speaks to a love that is both astounding in its depth and heart-breaking in its ramifications. He freely chose to make this decision and to me it is the ultimate example of love as the practice of freedom.
RBD Does your position as an Episcopal lay minister have any bearing on the values and responsibilities evident in the characters you depict in your novels? BJ Other than that the church [African Methodist Episcopal] is at the center of the community in many of my books, no. RBD You have written more than a dozen historical romances from until the present time. Explain the evolution of your writing in terms of character development and relationships.
BJ Golly. Not sure how to answer this. The character development and relationships. There is no real evolution in the sense that the two factors have changed over the years.