Joining Authors & Readers Book Corner today is longtime journalist and lifelong music lover, Jacinta Howard. She resides in the Atlanta area with her daughter and husband and finds happiness in the pages of a great novel, on the beach, listening to good music and hanging with her family. She is the author of women’s fiction and contemporary romance, a USA TODAY Must-Read Author and a two-time RONE Award nominee. Jacinta stopped by to let us in on her publishing journey, new book, its characters, challenges and rewards of being an author.
Tell us about your publishing journey.
I’ve been a writer from the time that I can remember. I wrote my first book at six, and it was published in our (very small) public library. By the time I hit high school, I’d abandoned the short-lived idea of becoming a marine biologist, and knew that I wanted to be a journalism major. Yes, it was partly because of the science and math involved with becoming a biologist (because… no) but mostly it was because even then I knew that my talent was with words. I loved the ocean and its vastness and beauty but that didn’t mean I had to study it—I could write about it.
By the time I entered college, I knew for sure that I wanted to write for magazines because there seemed to be more creative freedom there than in traditional print newspapers. But all the while, even after I got my first job as a writer at a weekly entertainment publication, I knew that I wanted to publish books. Part of my desire to write was to simply be a voice. Writing is obviously a creative outlet for me—it’s cathartic. But it’s also important.
I have a perspective and opinion about music, and hip-hop, and pop culture, and politics and social justice issues, and love, and what it means to be a woman—especially a black woman. I wanted to share that with the world. I wanted to share an underserved perspective with folks that could maybe lead to more understanding, healing and in some cases a resolution. I think that idea applies to the work I’ve done in journalism as a music/entertainment and arts/culture writer, as well as my romance books.
When independent publishing became a viable, easily accessible option for me, I started publishing books. But even that was propelled not just by my desire (and need) to write but because I wanted to serve an underserved market. I started out reading New Adult romance back in 2014, and was just floored and frankly, hurt by the lack of black voices in the genre. I loved the freedom of the new adult genre- how it shoved aside conventional romance tropes in favor of more realistic storylines and flawed, well-rounded heroines finding their way through life and love but I wondered why none of those voices, none of those heroines were black? When I wrote my debut novel, Better Than Okay, which went on to be nominated for an independent writing award (RONE Award), that need to fill a void was definitely a catalyst for me to write. Since then, I’ve started a series about black alternative-soul college band and have written several more contemporary and new adult romances.
My journey as a romance writer has somewhat mirrored my journey through life as a black woman living in a society that often distorts, minimizes or outright silences our voices. While I have readers that extend beyond black women, they are scarce, which is sad. If I can relate to the humanity in a story featuring a white heroine, why can’t white women do the same?
Still, the reward is not just in the sales and reviews, but in knowing that I touched someone with my words—whether through simple entertainment, or because my writing uplifted them and made them approach life a little differently. There are few things cooler than that.
What genres do you write in?
Right now, I write new adult and contemporary romance, although most of my books fit well into women’s fiction as well.
What are 4 things you believe every writer should have when starting a writing career?
Patience. Endurance. Passion. Books.
Do you believe every author should be an avid reader?
Definitely. I also think every author should read outside of their genre. How can you be a great writer if you never read? That’s like a being a ball player who’s never watched a professional game. Or a musician who never listens to music. It’s pretty insane.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding thing for you as a writer?
The most challenging thing as a writer for me as an author is marketing—as a writer it’s getting out of my own head. The most rewarding thing as a writer is when readers reach out and tell me they get and digested whatever it was I tried to present with my book. Reviews and a lot of books sales are fantastic too because it’s validation for me and others.
Blind Expectations is a contemporary romance novel that basically explores both the valid and unrealistic expectations we have for our partners once we get into committed relationships. I heard a sermon once and the preacher said something like, when we get married our desires turn into expectations, and I just thought that was so dope, because it’s so true. The novel is set in Atlanta and follows two creatives—a music editor/writer and a visual artist who are neighbors/friends turned lovers. Because of the setting and their passions, I got to talk a little about social and political issues in the book, without ever navigating away from the core of the love story– which can admittedly get a little intense at times. Anyway, Blind Expectations is written in two parts. The first part of the story was actually a novella that was included in a compilation of friends-to-lovers stories I contributed to called Because My Heart Said So. It also included stories from three fantastic writers— Nia Forrester, Lily Java and Rae Lamar. The second part of the Blind Expectations explores what happens after the first part of Leah and Trevor’s love story. I won’t give anything away, except to say that it gets really real, really fast. But that’s my style. I think the most romantic moments come in both the mundane moments and in the moments when your patience and resolve are being tested. As I always say: Love is beautiful. Humans are messy… I write about the space in between. In that way, I think this is actually one of my very favorite books I’ve ever written.
Tell us about Leah.
Leah is a free spirit. She’s an artist who kind of moves through relationships (both platonic and romantic) in her life with a sense of detachment– or with an expectation that at some point, the connection will come to an end. We get to see why she approaches her connections with people as the story progresses. But as free-spirited as she is, she really values the people in her life who have proven to be stable forces in her world– that’s where her neighbor, Trevor comes in. As their relationship progresses from being neighbors/friends, she has to decide if she’s going to let her previous expectations for people’s behavior (especially men) hinder her, or dictate how she’s going to navigate their relationship. And we see up close the very emotional issues that come to the surface as she tries to figure that out.
Tell us about Trevor.
Trevor is just a really good dude. He’s a music editor at a local weekly paper in Atlanta but he has a national voice and following because he’s smart, cool and concerned with making sure his voice is impactful. He’s the calm to Leah’s quirky/whimsical, though he finds her approach to life attractive, and well, sexy. He holds the people in his life close to his heart. You can see this in his relationship with his brother, his co-workers and of course, with Leah. Trevor knows from personal experience that tomorrow isn’t promised– and in that way, he tries to maintain control of those relationships, because his heart is so involved with the people he choses to let into his circle. Obviously, that can be problematic, especially when dealing with a decidedly free-spirited person. As his relationship with Leah progresses, Trevor’s challenge is whether or not he’s going to let the way he’s seen Leah behave in the past with other men affect his expectations for her behavior in their relationship, and therefore dictate his own perceptions of her and the way he deals with her. Again, we see this struggle up close and it makes for a few really emotional, tense moments– even though Trevor and Leah’s pure love for each other is the foundation of the book.
What new projects are you working on?
Right now I’m finishing up the third book in my Prototype Series, Keeping Willow. The series focuses on an alt-soul band in college and how they navigate life, love and music (Happiness In Jersey, Finding Kennedy). The series is really soulful and moody and is one of my favorites. I’m also working on another book— a contemporary romance that takes me away from the new adult genre. I’m excited about it because I think I’ll be able to build a new series around it. I hope to have that out sometime in the fall. I’m also working on the fourth and (possibly) final book in the Prototype Series, Loving Cassie, which I hope to have out in early 2018, possibly sooner. And, to be honest, I’ve started writing a bit on a new book for Trevor and Leah, though I have no definite plans to publish another book on them.
Tell us where readers can find you.
On Facebook: @jacintahoward
On Twitter: @jacintahoward
On Instagram: @jacinta.howard