Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 1 · 9 months ago

WB S2E4: Dazzling Debuts!

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block is joined by guest co-host Nancy Johnson to celebrate the paperback release of her brilliand debut, The Kindest Lie. They then speak with Lizzie Blackburn about her highly anticipated debut Yinka, Where is Your Huzband.

Yeah, mm hmm. This is such a magical time. I know the journey that you are about to embark upon as a debut author. I mean going into it there, you know, you have all these high expectations and there's the excitement around it. Yet you're also a little nervous because you're putting your baby that is yours out into the world. And so um but everybody loves the debut and it's a magical time and just curious about what, what are you feeling right now launching a book into the world? Yeah, I still can't believe it. Welcome to the Friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast. Four new york times, bestselling authors, one rock star librarian and endless stories joined mary Kay Andrews, Kristin, Harmel, Kristy, Woodson harvey and Patti Callahan Henry along with Ron block As novelists, we are four long time friends with 70 books between us and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider. Talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world you are in the right place. Welcome to an episode of Friends and fiction writer's Block podcasts that we are so excited about today. We're celebrating debut novels since the friends and fiction january reading challenges to read a debut. We thought we might explore two stellar and important debut novels and authors. There are so many nuances in bringing a debut novel to life. And today we're fortunate to be able to celebrate two of the best. I am Ron Block first, I want to introduce you to my talented and brilliant co host and friends as well as author of my own favorite 2021 debut novel, The Kindest Lie? Please say hi to my co host nancy,...

...johnson hi Ron it is so wonderful to be with you. And I just want to thank you so much for everything that you've done. I mean you do such a great job of just championing debut novels, but you've really done a lot to be an advocate for mine and so I appreciate it. And just also want to say hello to all the listeners out there. The readers who have not only bought the book, but told their family and friends about it and talked about it on social media and it's just hard to believe that this book is a year old now. I know, I know it's a year old and it's so great because a lot of people have really picked up your book and held it close, they love your book and that you're right, they share it with everybody and you know, it wouldn't be and I appreciate you're thanking me. But it's really the work that speaks for itself, you know, a great debut novel is a great debut novel and it deserves all the accolades that it gets. But it's also been quite a year for the Kindest Lie and it's actually going to be released soon in paperback and there's a great surprise that Nancy is going to talk to you about in a moment. But since we're talking about debuts, can you think back to when your book, Baby was just about to be published, Nancy. And also what can we expect from the paperback edition? Yeah, I mean it is just surreal. I mean, I spent six years writing the Kindest Lie and it's such an interesting experience to spend that kind of time alone with just you know, me and my book and the computer, No one else out there. Uh and then to put it out in the world because at that point it's no longer mine, it now belongs to the readers and the kind of lie is a story I really wanted people to just start talking about. It's a story of a black woman engineer. Her name is ruth and she's on the come up and she returns to her hometown, this dying indiana factory town where she grew up to search for the son that she walked away from when she was just a teenager. And so she goes back there. It's 11 years later, Obama has just been...

...elected president and when she goes back to find her son, she meets and forms this unlikely friendship with a poor young white boy nicknamed midnight. And the two of them are just on this collision course of race and class and what I wanted was to spark meaningful conversations for people about issues of race and class. The things that we don't always like to talk about because there hard to talk about. But there are also other themes I think that people have really connected with with the book, things like family and forgiveness, and the beautiful thing is that with the paperback edition launching there's all this great content that's going to get people talking. There is a Book club questions in there that I wrote, you know, very thought provoking a Q and A with me and then behind the book essay, wow, wow, that's nice. And that's always good when they can. And it has a beautiful new cover. Two I've seen cover. Yeah, yeah. I think it's gonna pop I think it is, it's gonna pop right off the shelf. And and the good thing about it too. And, you know, again, it's a book that I just can't stop talking about. It does give you a lot to think about. It's one of those books that's a great example of reading, you know, maybe for me, at least outside your culture, outside your gender, outside your thing. And I just learned so much from reading the book. And I think sometimes fiction does that for us. I think it really it's kind of a gentle way to build empathy and awareness for people. So congrats on that again, Thank you. So, you've gotten a lot of amazing acclaim. I can't all the people that have fallen in love with your book, all of the publicity you've gotten. I love it. And it's it's gotten tons of attention. Talk to us about some of the highlights of the first year since it debuted. Yeah, I mean I wanted somebody other than my mother to read the book and enjoy it. Uh and so I think I have, you know, exceeded that bar that I set for...

...myself. Uh yeah, so I mean the, the beautiful part of it was that it was reviewed by the new york times, the Washington post, the Los Angeles Times, many others. One cool moment was seeing the Kindest Lie featured on the must list for entertainment weekly opposite the Foo fighters. I know right. Yeah. Daniel Colombia, the actor is on the cover. And so yeah, that was a special special moment. But now I have even bigger news to share. And that is that the Kindest Lie is the target Book club pick for february. I'm clapping over here. Yeah, that's big news for me. It's excellent. Oh my God, it's going to get into so many new hands that hadn't gotten to read this amazing book before. I saw a picture on social media where you had to sign about over 7000 copies or tipping pages. I know, I know it's like I went to the door ups is there with seven huge boxes for me and yeah, there were 7700 of these tip in sheets that are bound into the target special edition copies. And basically it just says this is an exclusive edition of the kind of lie, you know for target readers. And then there's my signature and I think I went through more than 20 pens. I lost count at 20. My hands were sore. My editor at William Morrow said I need to go get a hand massage. I didn't even know there was such a thing, but it was worth it, you know, to get this book into the hands of even more readers now through Target. Yeah, well I can't wait for those new readers to get their hands on it either because um there's a lot to talk about and it's it's almost gonna be like it's it's starting over again in a way. Yes, yes. A new life for it. But I have a feeling I heard somewhere that you were working on your second book. Can you talk about that at all?...

Of course, Yes. Yes. I'm writing the second book. I've got to turn it into my editor in May. So I'm very busy on it. It's called people of means and it's the story of an upper middle class black mother and daughter, both of them coming of age at different moments of racial reckoning in the country. The mother coming of age in Nashville Tennessee in 1960 during the time of the sit ins while she's a student at Fisk University and then her daughter is coming of age in 1992 in Chicago. But at the time of the acquittal of the four white police officers who beat Rodney King out in L. A. And so it's a story about resistance. You know, what does it mean to resist particularly for upper middle class, black folks at these two different times in history. And it's also about purpose and ambition and love again, exploring issues of race and class. So I think a lot of the issues and themes that people connected within the kindest lie, we're gonna also find in people of means with a whole new character. I have goose bumps actually from this because I just I love your writing. I love your character development and I can I can't wait for this. So yeah, you know, you'll get an early copy. Oh thank you. You know, that's the only reason I do these things so I can get these early copies. Too funny. Well, let's switch up a little bit and I want to introduce you to a brand new debut author. It's certainly my honor to introduce you all to Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, who is the author of the eagerly awaited and stunning debut Yinka. Where is your husband? Just Out And it's a featured selection of the Book of the Month Club Publisher's Weekly said that Blackburn's lighthearted tone helps deliver heavy thoughts on colorism, the tension of cultural differences with the benefits of therapy as the story moves toward a happy ending on all fronts, this delivers loads of entertainment and a dollop of enlightenment and I think...

...that I couldn't agree more so welcome. Welcome lizzie. Hi, hi, hi nancy. Hello, Hello, we're so happy to have you. And yes, and I have to say this is such a magical time. I know the journey that you are about to embark upon as a debut author. I mean going into it there, you know, you have all these high expectations and there's the excitement around it, yet you're also a little nervous because you're putting your baby that is yours out into the world. And so, um, but everybody loves the debut and it's a magical time and just curious about what, what are you feeling right now launching a book into the world. Yeah, I still can't believe it. Like I feel like time has kind of gone at a steady pace, which I really like because it's meant that I've enjoyed every like single stage of the process. So I still can't believe it's finally here. So I'm just so happy, so excited, a little bit nervous, but I think that's normal. But yeah, I still can't believe it really, it's fabulous and you know that I love the book so much. I love you guys so much and I have to say I when I pronounce it, Austin and it's because you put the pronunciation key at the beginning of the book, which I'm so grateful for because so often we read a book and from a different culture of things that we aren't really sure, but that helps so much and put it right in my head and boom, there we go. So Lizzy, can you tell our listeners about Yinka? Where is your husband? Yes, So um Lincoln, where's your husband? Is a rom com and it follows our protagonist in car who is a british Nigerian, 31 year old woman who lives in South London Peckham and in car. Like most women, she's feeling the pressure to settle down by her very traditional Nigerian mum and her many, many aunties and to add to that her younger sister is not only married, but she's also expecting as well. And then her cousin decides to...

...get himself engaged. And so yeon cho is really feeling the heat and so she decided to take her love life into her own hands because her mom and her aunties are always keen to set up with someone. And so she sets up this plan to find a date in time for her cousin's wedding. But what kind of starts off as a very like simple goal turned into something very drastic. And Bianca feels as though she has to change herself in order to find love. So in addition to this being a love story, it's also a story of self discovery, which she goes on with the help of her amazing friends as well and she has some wonderful friends, I read one review that's called it. Um he said it's a rom com for people who love rom coms, but it's also a rom com for people who hate rom coms, it's it's both sides of the coin and what's great about it is all of the important issues that we talked about and we're going to get into that a little bit in a minute. But what was the driving force within you that compelled you to write the book? I think so many authors I talked to, they talk about how this this idea has just been boiling for years and a long time. Can you tell the tell us about the origin of the story? Yeah, so, um funny enough, gay uncle, where's your husband started off as a short story? So back in 2014, I had this blog called Christian dating dilemmas one because in mainstream fiction I always craved to like read about a christian character, but I could never find one. And also my dear mom was pressuring me to find a husband, even though I was fresh out of university. And so I wrote a short story about a british Nigerian woman going through the same thing. However, the idea to turn it into a novel came much later on when I met this brilliant author called Jackie lee and you know, as all writers do at some point, I wanted to get feedback on my writing. So I decided to share my blog with her. And so in addition to giving me really helpful constructive feedback,...

...she said, do you know what, this thinker character? I really I really love her, like I think you should turn it into another. And so I took on the challenge and yeah, the bestest history and that was like maybe five years ago, so it's been coming for five years. Um So once you made that decision, how did it get from there into the hands of agent and publisher? And think my goodness pam Doorman, Yeah, it's a long journey. Like literally when I started to write a story, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know what it entails to write a book. So I've always loved writing as the kids and I've always enjoyed reading but I didn't understand the magnitude. So I was basically just kind of like winging it really. Um But I guess my lightbulb moment came when I read this brilliant book called Story Engineering by Larry brooks, which I recommend to all writers. And that's when I realized that writing is a craft and it needs to be structure and like compelling characters and steaks and conflict and things like that. And then from that point forward, I started to invest in myself as a writer. So whether that, you know, attending online creative writing courses or reading more or attending workshops and things like that. And then in 2019 I entered the literary consultancy benefactor writing competition and I very nearly didn't apply because I read the bios of the previous winners and it all had like some writing background or credentials and I thought that you know, I wouldn't stand a chance and I'm just praying to be long listed even. But in the end I I won the competition and that's how I met my my agent. And so yeah, it was like a dream come true, right? And and I see your published both in England and now here. So your global. Yeah and even like, sorry, so go back. So yeah, I got an agent and then she really helped me to kind of like get the story...

...like focused and I think it was a bit like a soap opera where it just kind of like was not focused and lots of like narratives and subplots and things like that. And with her help I was able to kind of get this story into a good shape to submit it to publishers. And then in june I think 24 hours after we submitted viking penguin preempted. And then I think a week later that's when Pamela Dorman preempted as well. And yeah, I was just blown away. I was like Pamela Dorman. Like she likes my writing like are you sure? Like she's like this God and I'm just me and I was just so like blown away and and understandably. So she did a previous podcast with us and she was um she talked about Yinka so that was a nice shout out from her as well. So nancy, you've got a question. Yes, yes. And I just love everything that you said lizzie just about the process of going through this and and working on craft and working with your agent, your editor to make the book shine. I always say that about my agent and editors like they take what I have on the page and then you transform it into, you know, the image that you had in your mind and sounds like that's what happened with you and your agent and with Pamela dorman, wonderful. And so for me reading this incredible book as a black woman, I was nodding the entire time, you know, you explore racism and the expectations of women and as a dark skinned black woman, I love how you addressed colorism within our community with your characters in such a brilliant and stark way. Can you talk to us about how you were able to combine these real life issues in your novel? Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you so much for your kind words. So I knew that I wanted Dinka to be you know,...

...both fun and you know, hilarious book, but at the same time I wanted to make sure that I touched on those like really serious issues as well. And because Bianca is a dark skinned woman with like full c kinky hair, I just felt like I couldn't not touch on colorism because I feel like it's, you know, some sadly part and parcel of many dark skinned women's experience, especially when it comes to dating and so, you know, Colorism is too alive in today's society, you know, especially the black community, the south asian community. And I kind of wanted to kind of like hold a mirror to society and show how it can impact a woman's a dark skinned woman's and perception of herself and beauty and attractiveness and how she kind of views herself in the gaze of a of a man. And hopefully it will get readers to kind of think about, especially if they're not a person of color, how Colorism affects the black community and kind of get a conversation started on that too. Yeah. And what I love about it is it was not didactic and you didn't over explain some of those issues that are about race, because that's something I've wrestled with with my own writing, you know, how much to tell readers who may not understand the culture versus those of us who are within the culture. We don't want to read it and think, oh my God, this is written for somebody else. You know, of course we get these things. How did you deal with that, you know with how much to explain and not explain. Great question. Yeah, really good question. I really have to credit my editors and they're both white and I think at times I was doing telling as opposed to show instead of really just, you know, encourage me to trust the reader and that they would kind of like work it out for themselves. And also I didn't want to like write a story where the author is kind of trying to shove like issues into the book, but it's not really come from the character is coming from the author. So I really had...

...to weigh up, you know, how to do that. I just kind of like editing, editing editing until I got to a stage that was happy with And you did it well, you did it through a story beautifully. Yeah. And and as somebody who doesn't happen to be a woman and I'm not black, it rings so true to me. And that's what we touched on earlier. It's the it builds empathy. But it also it brings knowledge without feeling pounded in the head. It's I I you know, I'd always heard about Colorism and this, but obviously I haven't experienced it, but it in reading both of your books, I I just um it just grew it grew my heart if you would if you'd let me say that, but about these issues and help me understand better. So it's the best of what fiction novel can do. Yeah. Growing your heart that's beautiful, beautifully said Ron. So, in my other life, I'm not just writing novels. I also have a day job and so I'm in this business setting all the time and so it was so fun to see Yinka you know using the post it notes which I have all over my laptop. But also when she's working on her dating strategy, she's got this spreadsheet with the goals and the objectives and the key performance indicators, the KPI s in there and that was just so much fun. How did you decide to add those really interesting elements into the story? Yeah, so like I said before I really wanted it to be a fun book and I wanted to be like really immersive as well and just given like the Incas profession and like she seems like she's a planner like she said you are. So it just made sense for her to make use of like the post it notes and also like have a spreadsheet, given her job as an operation manager at the investment bank and also with the other bits that included such as like the WhatsApp messages and the internet searches. I just felt like it's very relevant to today's society, like you know tech and social media is...

...everywhere now, you can't really avoid it and I kind of wanted to read it to feel like they were watching like it's like a series, like a tv series because um when you watch shows like insecure for example, they include a lot of that. So I kind of wanted to replicate the same type of thing, the same experience. Yeah, it was a great way to merge. I thought her professional and personal life too. Yeah, and added some fun to it too, I think like you did, but at the same time it really touched on Bianca's own desires of the heart, like what did she want for herself, and it really brings the reader in where they can relate to exploring who you are and what you want out of life. And how did you decide to do it that way and how much of that is from your own background? Um so yeah, Bianca is her her own character, but like all writers, I did kind of like touch him, like Things that I was kind of familiar with, so you know, being could being a Christian, you know, I'm a Christian. Um this setting is in Peckham, I grew up in Peckham for the first like 13 years of my life and but yeah, she kind of like involved on her own the more I wrote about her, so like she's a lousy cook for example and I'm pretty good and she has like this big family of like aunties who kind of pressured her to settle down and that's something that I've never experienced before, but I have watched like Nollywood films where you do have those characters, so I felt like that would be, you know, really cool to bring in and yeah just like the more I vote the more I chipped where it's the more I had help from my editors and agents, it just kind of evolved organically and with including so many things in your own life, did you worry at all about what you know family and friends might say some of the aunties uh in your own world, but they might say hi, is this me? Yeah, I do have like my friends, they're asking me oh is that did you go through that experience or like is that you? Well I...

...can imagine you're saying that's like no it's all you want it to be me but it's not me. Um What about people in your life, do they think that you based characters on them and what their relationship with you has been? Um So my husband he knows me more than anyone. So and for one of the love interest, I did kind of use some lights rates. Um My husband, yes, so he picked one little things. So for example, Alex is one of the guys that had a crush on and he has like a bright pink bottom lip which my husband actually has as well. So when you read that description, he was like that's funny, it's me, it's a good guy, all the better. Oh my God, so the aunties were some of my favorite things and I think we all have those in our lives. Although I think each culture is very different about how involved aunties are. What's your experience with them really having both of you? Actually I want to know about the aunties in your life. Mm hmm. So for me, do you know what? My aunties are not as nosy. Like it's very much like, you know, how are you, how's married life? Like how's work? Like it's very my top level. I do have one ante but she's actually my cousin by calling my auntie because she's older than me. I think she's probably the one that we might have conversations about like I don't know relationships and she gave me some advice before I got married. But other than that, like it's very much, you know, I'm the child and you're the anti and I respect you and you know, we don't, I don't share too much of my life with them. That's true. Yeah. It's so interesting about the role of these aunties and aunties. Uh, I think in the black community in America, you know, it's,...

...we think of these other figures out there. Like you might hear people say Aunt Maxine for Maxine waters in congress. You know, so just these women who are older and wiser women, we revere. We will often assign that anti title to, which I think is just really special in the black community and it's just a way to honor those, those women and then in my own life, I have great aunts, you know, biological aunts. Uh the one was not too pleased with them. Well, I'll say this just like you, I come from a a christian church, you know, going family. And uh and I had one word in there that one of my aunts was not pleased with. She said I loved the book except for this word. And uh and she said it's on page 2 95. So she had the page number and everything. So I feel like these aunties, they are on top of it and they love you to pieces, but they're also gonna get on you and you know, keep you in line. They are, and in my experience is nothing like yours, they would sit around the holidays and the glasses would be down on their nose and they would just look at you and you would know you would know exactly exactly what's being said. Um um so lizzie, we're on the eve of of this book coming out here in the United States and you're getting so much acclaim. What does that feel like? And what does that mean to you? Do? You know what, every single day, I just cut my blessings really like, I I still can't believe I'm in this position and I'm just so grateful to every readers. You know, people like you are really championed the book and saying such positive, lovely things. Like it really doesn't mean the world to me. And I'm just so, so grateful, so happy and I'm so happy. I didn't give up as well because there are many times I wanted to give up. So it's just overwhelming and it's a blessing, really. That's wonderful. Um, and so I obviously we're in a time of Covid. So either it plans for tours or what kind of events will you have to promote the book? Yes, I do...

...have some events on Tuesday to launch day with loyalty bookstores. And also I've got all day radio the following day and my publicist is working really hard into scheduling things in, in terms of the UK, because the book is out in March. I'm not too sure what plans there are yet because of Covid, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed, I'm praying that I'm able to have an in person book launch, but we'll see. Good. Well, it'll be exciting no matter what. So, so nancy you also have your book came out during the first wave of Covid? No. Um, any advice for Yeah, I know what that's like because you have all these expectations for what it's going to be like, you know, to have all these people in a room with you when you launch a book and, and then Covid really changes that. But the beauty of it is I think is that you get to reach so many more people more readers when you're doing it virtually the people who can show up, who would not normally show up from all over the country and around the world too. So I think that's the beauty of it. And I would say the other advice is that you only debut once and so enjoy every moment of the experience, savor it. Um I always say, don't look at other people's, don't look at somebody else's paper, see what they're doing and worry about, you know, how their amazon rankings might be going or, you know, those kinds of things. Um, just focus on you and stay true to why you did this and why you wrote the book. That's the most important thing. Try to avoid reading too many reader reviews, but you don't want that to get into your head, the negative things, but you want to also embrace the readers though and connect with them. I think that's where the beauty is, you know, regardless of all the other accolades, it's about the people, the real people who are going to read it and connect with the story and find themselves within the story that you wrote. Thank you. That's really useful. Alright. Yeah, I appreciate that. Of course, that was the best. I'm excited. You're all warm...

...and it's so exciting and if you need somebody to go online and fight those people that don't know what they're talking about with the reviews, I'm on your side. I can do this, I can do this. Um so let's see what's next for you. You mentioned you were working on something. Yes, so I'm writing a book to at the moment, I'm not on stage, but I can give too much away, but a teaser is interconnected to Yonkers world. Um yeah, that's what I'm saying, I'm ready, but I've got to the stage now where I'm starting to enjoy the process. You know, writing the second book is always hard and it's that kind of like fear as well. That would be good as book one and that pressure. But I'm at a stage now where I think I know where the story is heading and I'm starting to know more the character. So yeah, it's been an interesting rise. So yeah, watch this space. It is oh my God, I can't wait, can't wait. I'm looking forward to both Any other questions, nancy? No, I think this was perfect. I'm just so excited for everybody to read in his book and to love it the way that we have. Thank you Yeah, that's a beautiful story. Yeah, yeah, so lizzie, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I know and nancy knows that readers everywhere are going to join both of us, falling in love with the inca so, congratulations on the stunning debut. Congratulations. It's gonna go places for sure. I appreciate it. Thank you and nancy, I can't thank you enough for co hosting this episode with me. We've been trying to do this a while and I'm so glad it finally happened. I love finding ways for you and I to work together and fun fact for everybody even though nancy and I have become really good friends through her book, I got a very early copy of it we've never actually met in person. I know right now. Is that what is going on here? I know we got to meet up at some point. We will, oh no, it's gonna happen. But...

...anyway, so much fun. Let's let's do this again, let's let's let's co host another one. I would love that. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, love it, love it. And thank you all for tuning in for this wonderful conversation celebrating debut novels and authors. Be sure to tune in each week for a new episode. Remember to share the podcast with a friend, We appreciate you all so much. Remember you can always find all the books by every Friends and fiction writer's Block podcast, guest past and present in the friends and fiction bookshop dot org. Shop all sales placed there, helped to fund friends and fiction and a portion of each and every sale goes straight into the pockets of indie booksellers nationwide. Since its inception, bookshop dot org has raised more than 16 million for indie bookstores shops, small shop local from the convenience of your screen with bookshop dot org and tell them friends and fiction sent you. Thank you for tuning in to the Friends and fiction Writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe rate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tune in every friday for another episode. And you can also join us every week on facebook or Youtube, where our live Friends and fiction show airs at seven p.m. Eastern Standard time, We're so glad you're here.

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