Sunday, July 9, 2023

Q&A with Jayne Allen




Jayne Allen is the author of the new novel Black Girls Must Have It All. It's the third in the Black Girls Must Die Exhausted trilogy. Also an attorney and entrepreneur, she lives in Los Angeles. 


Q: This is the third in your trilogy featuring your character Tabitha Walker--did you know from the start that you’d be writing multiple books about her, and do you think she’s changed throughout the series?


A: When in my imagination I first met Tabitha Walker, I knew that she had an important story to tell, but I didn’t realize just how deeply her story would connect to a fundamental human journey.


About halfway through writing the first book, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, I realized that this was a series, rather than a standalone. I could see more of a journey for Tabitha beyond what I’d first envisioned, one that exceeded the initial plot and really focused more on her own personal growth.


It wasn’t just about having a baby or making a family. It was about her perspective along the path of her own personal growth. And it was important for readers to be able to see that against a changing contemporary landscape, which meant not rushing the story.


The series is about the challenging journey of finding your own voice and insisting on personal happiness in a world that seems so full of heavy judgment and pressures to conform.


It’s a journey I think everyone can relate to in one way or another.


I realized pretty quickly to tell a story that big would require more than one book, especially to bring the audience along and connect everyone into a perspective that might not be personally familiar for them. It’s been my hope that in having a chance to truly get to know her, we can all learn the lessons that Tabitha has for us based on her experience in the series.


Q: What inspired the plot of Black Girls Must Have It All?


A: Black Girls Must Have It All seemed to be the most authentic capstone of Tabitha’s journey. It’s the book where she finally defines and gets her own version of a happy ending. It’s also the book that I feel like breaks the most rules.


I wanted to do everything that you don’t normally see in contemporary fiction. I wanted to challenge the way that we look at motherhood and increase the level of compassion that we have for the people that motherhood affects.


So, you’ll see how the experience of birthing a child and having the new and unfamiliar responsibility of parenting affects Tabitha. It’s not so much about the external happenings, it’s about what world of turmoil and change is being navigated on the inside of that character.


You’ll also see the contrasting experience of Laila, a character who is childless, but who is in the process of birthing a company, and you’ll get to consider the question of priorities and support. With these important life events, who deserves the spotlight and when? What does society teach us and what is actually the truth?


These were all of the questions that I wanted to explore in earnest along the plot of Black Girls Must Have It All.


I also wanted to push myself as a writer and really push the boundaries of the character development to make the characters we’ve become so familiar with in the first two books finally tell all of their deepest secrets. So, the plot had to be designed to create the most challenging confrontations.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I didn’t know how the novel or the series would end before I started writing Black Girls Must Have It All. I actually had two separate possibilities for an ending and had to really play out the pros and cons of each for someone like Tabitha.


So, I made changes all the way up to the very last draft in editing. I had to ask myself as a writer and as a human being which was the most authentic. And I made the final choices based on authenticity as the goal line.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book said, in part, “Tabitha is surrounded by positive reinforcement and remarkable women, both of which help make Allen’s trilogy a must-read.” What do you think of that description?


A: What I feel most as an artist is a desire that my work moves people and stirs their spirits. I want reading my books to be an actual experience that you have without ever leaving your most comfortable physical place. I also want reading one of my books to be an experience you can share that brings you closer to other people and that gives you space to learn more about yourself.


So, to see a review that affirms the positivity of my work, the fierceness of the characters and that calls it a “must-read” is really thrilling for me. I hope as many people as possible read the series because how cool is it to have a positive experience in common that we can discuss and explore together.


I’m most proud of the community that this trilogy has created, and I think that will always be the greatest gift for me.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have three projects for now and the foreseeable future!


Currently, I’m working on my first standalone book presently titled The Exchange. I’ve been describing it as Such a Fun Age meets the movie The Holiday. It takes place in Chicago and Malibu and is a deep, delightful, and diverse swap story. I’ve been having a ball researching and writing, including actually learning how to surf on behalf of one of my main characters.


I’m also halfway through my first year of teaching for Book Genius, my yearlong virtual writing program. It has been so rewarding to package and deliver learnings from my experience as an author and publisher to others who are pursuing their own writing journeys.


And last but definitely not least, the television show adaptation of the Black Girls trilogy has been underway for almost a year and a half. It’s pretty far along, so I’m very excited to see where it goes. I’ll be an EP on the series and I’m looking forward to learning and growing along with the absolutely incredible team that has formed around the project.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love to hear from readers, so please be invited to find and connect with me on Instagram at @jayneallenwrites!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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