LISTEN TO THE TURN ON
Apple Podcasts | Google Play | iHeart Radio | Radio Public | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | YouTube
CONNECT WITH THE TURN ON
Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Patreon
In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya read an excerpt from "Forbidden" by Beverly Jenkins and talk about finding—and living into—your life's purpose.
The Turn On participates in affiliate programs, which provide a small commission when you purchase products via links on this site. This costs you nothing, but helps support the show. Click here for more information.
Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Erica: Hey, mark busters.
Erica: Welcome to-
Kenrya: Trying on new accents?
Erica: Welcome to this week's episode of the Turn On. The reason that I'm using my LA mark buster-ass accent is because, we're reading from Beverly Jenkins’ 2016 novel called “Forbidden.” This is a historical romance novel, and the main character is moving out West. So in my mind, this is like the setup for all them Black people going out West.
Kenrya: I love it.
Erica: It makes sense, right?
Kenrya: Yes, it does. It always comes back.
Erica: Okay. So sit back, relax, get your wine, your weed, whatever you need and enjoy.
Kenrya: “Forbidden,” by Beverly Jenkins. "Would you like a bit of champagne?" In for a penny in for a pound, she thought to herself. "Just a little please." He walked over to the sideboard, opened the bottle, and poured some of the golden liquid into a lovely crystal flute and set it beside her cake plate. After pouring himself a portion, he returned to the table. "The way the candlelight is playing over you in that beautiful white blouse makes you look like an angel." She'd never been paid such a compliment before. "My thoughts are hardly angelic, however." "You're being incorrigible again." "A beautiful woman does that to a man. How many buttons are on your blouse?"
Kenrya: She looked down at them and then across the table at him. "Ten, maybe eleven." "Would you undo the first four for me, please?" Fork in hand, Eddy paused and studied him. "This is about the desire you wanted to learn more about." Realizing she'd set her own trap and hoping he didn't see the slight shake in her hands, she put the fork down. Singed by the heat in his eyes, she slowly honored his request, feeling her body bloom with each button she freed. "Thank you," he whispered. "I'm going to place kisses there when you finish your cake." Eddy dissolved. He was way too good at this. She'd expected kisses, not pure seduction.
Kenrya: Although she had enjoyed the angel food cake in the past, she barely tasted it because she was too busy thinking about his stated plans. In need of bolstering, she took a moment to sip her champagne. She then set aside the plate holding the remains of her cake. "Done?" She nodded. He stood. "Bring your champagne." On shaking legs, Eddy did as asked. He took her hand and led her the short distance to a wingback chair upholstered in a beautiful jewel-like dark blue. He sat and coaxed her to sit on his lap. "Hand me your champagne."
Kenrya: Having never sat on a man's lap before in her life, she handed him her flute, and he set it next to his on the small table near the chair. Gathering her in, he eased her close to his chest. The heat of his body melded with hers, and the light scent of his spicy cologne wafted gently to her nose. "I've never sat on a man's lap before. Can you feel me shaking?" "I can, so just relax. We have all evening." He kissed the top of her hair, and after a few moments of being held by him, her tension eased. "Better?" he asked. "Yes." "Good," he whispered. "Now, how about those kisses I promised?"
Kenrya: As his mouth descended to hers, Eddy tried to remain in control and not be swept away as she had been a few days ago in the kitchen of the boardinghouse, but she was still as new to passion as she was to the sweep of his fiery hands and lips. His mouth left hers to blaze a trail over the skin exposed by her opened blouse, and her pleasure-filled moan rose in the silence of the otherwise silent room. The tip of his tongue slipped over the edge of her new lace-edged shift, grazing the tops of her breasts, and for a moment she inanely wondered if he thought less of her for not wearing a corset. When his thumbs teased her already berried nipples and he slid the garment aside just enough to take the bud into his mouth, she was glad she refused to wear the constricting garment. Apparently he was, too.
Kenrya: Rising up, he held her eyes and husked out, "Undo more buttons for me." Eddy felt hot and scandalous, but gave him the boon. He rewarded her by easing the soft cotton down to free her breasts. He feasted in earnest, and a smoldering took root between her thighs. He claimed her lips again, and as his tongue played invitingly with hers, his large hand slid up and down her skirt-shrouded thigh. When that same hand slipped beneath to explore her stocking-encased limb, soft gasps escaped from her lips.
Kenrya: She heard him say, "I want to touch you, Eddy." Her skirt was rucked up high past her garter, and his palm was mapping the bare skin above it. He asked huskily, "Yes? No?" Her world was so hazy and she was so caught up in the storm she had no idea what he was asking. "Open your legs, darling. Let me feel your desire there too." Feeding on his voice she complied, and his bold touch followed. Then she knew what he'd been asking. Bewitching fingers circled, dallied. She arched and panted softly, "Rhine." "You're so wet." The storm gathering in her body grew stronger with each indrawn breath. "Rhine," she cried helplessly.
Kenrya: "Go ahead, darling. Let it come, baby. I have you." Her legs widened, his wicked fingers continued to bestow their enthralling magic. Suddenly, the storm broke, crackling through her body like summer lightning, and she was flung out to the stars, hoarsely screaming his name. Eddy didn't know how much time had passed, but when she opened her eyes he was smiling down. Still breathless, she asked, "What in heaven's name was that?" "An orgasm. When your body can't hold any more pleasure it explodes, sort of like Black powder. Did you enjoy it?"
Kenrya: Embarrassment heated her cheeks and she turned away. He gently turned her chin so she was again looking into his eyes. "There's no shame in anything we do together," he informed her quietly. "Only pleasure. Please don't ever be ashamed of enjoying yourself." She'd never felt anything like the orgasm before. Even now remnants lingered, slowly beating between her thighs in cadence with her heart and breath. "Do men have orgasms too?" "Yes, but doing it properly usually results in babies, and we don't want that right now." "No, we don't." But she wondered what a child made by the two of them might look like.
Kenrya: Turning her mind away from that, she noted how limp yet full she felt. The logical and levelheaded old Eddy was appalled at how free she'd been with him, while the newly awakened woman inside wondered how long she had to wait to experience it again. He repositioned her skirt and righted her shift. She shrugged back into her blouse and redid most of the buttons. "Thank you for the lesson." "You're welcome." He slid a worshipping finger down her cheek and he took on a serious air. "Marry me, Eddy." Hearing that, she sighed. "You know I can't. Please don't spoil our evening." "I'm not trying to, but I'm serious. Marry me."
Kenrya: She looked away for a long moment and wondered why he'd bring up such a subject after what they'd shared. Maybe she understood it but it changed nothing. Yes, she loved him, but that didn't change anything either. Turning back, she picked her words carefully. "You know what we'd be facing. It might look to be an easy road from where you sit, but it isn't. You're not Colored and I'm not White. Us being together is against the law almost everywhere." "But I'm not White either."
Erica: Welcome back you mark busters.
Kenrya: You're committed.
Erica: I know, I am. Hopefully you enjoyed the excerpt as much as we did. First, I am so hyped that we were able to get this story because it is a story by OG Beverly Jenkins.
Kenrya: Thee Beverly Jenkins.
Erica: She is like, I mean, most of you all who listen are familiar with romance but Beverly Jenkins is a big fucking deal, a BFD. I was introduced to her through you Kenrya. I think you sent me a podcast.
Kenrya: Yeah. And that's when I first learned about it.
Erica: I was just like, "Look at this Black woman out here just-
Kenrya: Fucking making history.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, I feel like everyone heard about Zane and that kind of thing.
Kenrya: But she was way before that.
Erica: But she was way before that and just made it for us. Because I remember-
Kenrya: Putting Black people on covers when they wouldn't do that before.
Erica: Exactly. I remember when I was a kid, you're in a grocery store and you see the romance novels and that kind of thing, and in your mind it is very much a white woman's thing. And here we are with OG Beverly Jenkins.
Kenrya: I know.
Erica: OG Beverly Jenkins, buster.
Kenrya: It's a theme. We're going to talk to her soon, so it's really exciting. She was just so dope. She was like, "Sure you can use my book." We were like, "Oh, God."
Erica: No. I was like... This was definitely one of those moments where I was like, "Wait, what? She would let us use that shit?" I mean, I we have had some amazing talent and authors, and we've been blessed, but when Beverly Jenkins was like, "Yeah, of course." I was like, "Really? You sure? Are you sure about this?" So, yeah. With that said, Kenrya, give us a little bit of background on the story.
Kenrya: Okay. It's called “Forbidden” and that's for good reason. I don't want to give too much away, but I'll tell you some things that we learn right up front. There's two stars. The male lead is Rhine Fontaine.
Erica: Rhine Fontaine.
Erica: I'm sorry. You all going to have to deal with my fucking accent this entire episode.
Kenrya: But so he's from Georgia.
Erica: Rhine Fontaine.
Kenrya: Yes. And so that sounds like the colonel like.
Erica: Yeah. It's like Andy Bernard.
Kenrya: Oh, God. Yes, it is.
Erica: Hello, my name is Rhine Fontaine. Okay, sorry.
Kenrya: So in the opening pages, we learn that he's formerly enslaved. He was raised on a plantation as a slave. His father was, his sperm donor was the slave owner. And his mom was one of the enslaved people living on a plantation. When the war came, he joined the Confederate Army, left, and then went to the Union side, and he is in the opening pages back at the plantation, where he grew up looking for his sister who he lost track of during the course of the war.
Kenrya: What we find out very quickly is that he looks like a white man. And he resolves that he is going to basically pass as white so that he can use his privilege in order to help Black folks. And that's where we start. Then the next scene, we meet Eddy Carmichael, who is a Black woman who she was born free. Her parents were free just before they got married. And she's getting mugged. She has her purse full of her money and her ticket to California that she has been-
Erica: California, buster.
Kenrya: Yes. ... saving up for the last year, and some nigga robs her. She's already given notice at her boarding house and given notice at her job at the hotel, and she's like, "I got to get out there by hook or by crook. Fuck it, I'm just going to make it." And so she's a cook and her dream is to open her own restaurant in California. And so she sets out with a carpet bag with just a couple of outfits in it, and a stove that she carries on her fucking head like a little cook stove. And she finds someone who's willing to let her cook in exchange to let her ride with him as far west as she can go.
Kenrya: And so in this way, she basically meets up with people and depends on the kindness of others in order to make her way out West. She ends up getting as far as Nevada, and then she trusts the wrong person, this suck ass nigga who claims he's a preacher who's taken a kid to an orphanage and he's going to Sacramento and she can ride with him. So all is going well until she meets this bitch-ass nigga who decides that he's going to fuck with her. He pretends to be a priest and he has this little boy, and he's like, "Yeah, I'm taking him to an orphanage in Sacramento. You can ride with us." And so she's not quite sure, but he's like, "I'm a man of God. I would never hurt you." ’Til they get like two hours outside of town, and he pulls over the horse and buggy and is like, "I'm trying to fuck."
Erica: Fuck, fight, or hitchhike?
Erica: That's fucked up.
Kenrya: And she's like, "No, fuck you." She's a virgin too, and she's like not on that shit. And he's like, "Well, then give me your money." So he robs her and then throws her out into the middle of the fucking desert in the middle of the day. So she's trying to walk but she barely has any water. She ends up passing out and just as she falls to the ground, Rhine Fontaine-
Erica: Rhine Fontaine.
Kenrya: ... sees her across the sand and comes and saves her, and nurses her back to health.
Erica: Okay. All right, so and hijinks ensue.
Kenrya: Hijinks ensue.
Erica: Dot, dot, dot.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: I feel like this story is just really about knowing what your purpose is, knowing what you're supposed to do, and doing it. I feel like for me, finding my purpose, I thought that knowing my purpose would be this divine like, "This is your purpose. Your purpose is to do X, Y and Z."
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: Where as now it's like-
Kenrya: Why did you think that?
Erica: Because I feel like that was one of those things you were just kind of told. I mean, when you listen to Oprah or whoever they're like, "My purpose is to get little Black girls into school." Like, it seems so specific.
Kenrya: Yeah. And there's like this moment when the sky opens up and the Lord speaks down to you.
Erica: Exactly. I feel like it's evident in this story, and I feel like it's been evident in my life that, your purpose doesn't necessarily evolve. It doesn't necessarily come out like that. Yes, I do feel like some people know, "Specifically, this is my purpose." But for me, I feel like my purpose has been more of a feeling, more of a push towards something. I feel like I'm finding my purpose. I feel like I know what my purpose is, but I couldn't specifically articulate it in three sentences. You follow me? I feel like my purpose now in life is to help women, Black women become more in touch with their bodies and their sexuality. Be it through what we're doing here or Black women as they deal with cancer and different traumatic things. But I feel like that's slowly been my purpose.
Kenrya: So it's been evolving. You've been coming into it.
Erica: It's been evolving but it has started out as a, look, I know I like this sex shit and so we going to ride this and see where it takes us. And I feel like that's kind of the situation with Eddy in this story, where she's like, "Look, I got to get out West. I want this. I want a restaurant. This is my purpose." But we just don't-
Kenrya: The how's and the-
Erica: We just going to let this shit happen. Yeah. How about you? How is-
Kenrya: I mean, I will say that it has evolved to a degree in terms of the way that I approach it. But I think in hindsight, it's always pretty much been the same. So I do have a sentence that I use that describes what I do, because it wraps up a lot of different things, and it's to amplify the lived experiences and advocacy of Black folks. And to shift the narrative around who deserves liberty and justice and equity in America. That's what it comes down to. And so all the different things that I do, writing about white supremacy and helping people have babies as a doula to start off strong life families, and doing this podcast. I find that they all kind of fit under this one umbrella, which is really to do those things. But so the way that I've approached it has varied, like when I was in college and shortly after, I wanted to start a magazine for young Black girls, which you just reminded me of the other day. That was my shit.
Erica: My question is, did you, because you have yours in a neat sentence, like you have a... I hear and see all the time people are like, "Write it down, make it plain. Write it down, make it plain." When did you get there? And do you feel like it's helped crystallize where you're going?
Kenrya: Well, I have to have that sentence because of what I do. Right? So being a speaker and all of that shit, and having my bio on all these different places, I had to boil my shit down. So it took a lot of sitting with it and trying to figure out something, a statement that really encompasses all of the things. Like I said, it's evolved over, the wording of it has changed a bit even as the approach to it has changed. But it's kind of just been a necessity because I have to sell myself all the fucking time. It's like having an elevator pitch, you have to have something that you use to sell yourself and your work so that you can get work.
Kenrya: But then there's always these new opportunities to refine it. A couple of weeks ago, I was working on an artist statement for a grant that I was applying to. And I had an artist statement, but when I looked back at it, it was shitty. So I threw it away and started all over again. And I really love what came out of it and it uses some of those elements, but then a lot of it is completely new but still gets at the same thing. It was just another way to approach it, that really honestly made me really excited again about what I'm doing.
Erica: Good. See, I don't have an elevator pitch. On one hand I'm like, "Who needs it?" But on another hand, I feel like as we move into this, as I grow and have a better idea of what I want to do or what this purpose looks like for me, I feel like I need to somehow come up with it.
Kenrya: Crystallize it.
Erica: Like crystallize it.
Kenrya: It's definitely, if you stay ready, you ain't got to get ready situation.
Erica: And it also gives you a guiding point like, "This is what I say I want to do. Does this fit into that?"
Kenrya: Yes. It helps you be more intentional.
Erica: Oh, yeah. Again, me with all the words and Kenrya with one, to help figure it out. But yeah, so Eddy really has, she knows, "This is what I got to do. This is the way I need to make it work." Well not even the way I need to make it work, "This is what I got to do."
Kenrya: Just this is what I'm going to do. Yeah.
Erica: It's interesting because I was talking to, actually I was talking to a girlfriend about divorce the other day, and I was telling her that once... I don't like to talk to people about like, if people are on the fence like, "Should I stay? Should I go?" that kind of thing, I don't like to-
Kenrya: You don't want to be the one.
Erica: Yeah. I know what I did and it worked out for me but I don't want to be the one like, "Girl, it's good over here in the voice land."
Kenrya: It is though.
Erica: It is, but don't let me be the reason that you decide that, and I say all the time.
Kenrya: If you get back with nigga, I ain’t trying to have y'all side eyeing my ass."
Erica: Exactly. Because I still like come to cookouts. But I feel like I hit a point in my marriage where I was like, "I cannot be here anymore. I have to leave. This is untenable. There's no way in the world that this is going to work out with my sanity."
Kenrya: That moment is tantalizing.
Erica: I feel like part of that was I got there also with my purpose. I am currently working in a very corporate America office situation. And then it was on my spirit to be like, "Bitch, gospel of good sex. Sell the gospel of good sex." For me like it is in my spirit to help women become more in touch with who they are sexually and be more comfortable, and have comfortable conversations around sex and sexuality.
Kenrya: Look at what you just did. We going to write that down. It'll be in the transcript.
Erica: We going to have to pull it out from the transcript. But it's amazing because now that I am here and I got it, I'm like, "Oh, shit." And then I tell people and they're like, "Bitch, this been who you've been all along." It's just so great and it's liberating, but at the same time really fucking scary.
Kenrya: Why is it scary?
Erica: Because it's like, I went to school and this is what I did, and you build your entire life based on one thing or what you think you're going to do. And then you have this internal draw, this purpose that's like, "Yo bitch, no. This is what you're going to do, and you just got to do it." I have no idea how this is going to work out, like no idea what it's going to look like, what it's going to be, but I know I got to do this and so I'm just kind of like, "Okay, God. You put this on my spirit, you're going to make this shit happen.”
Kenrya: You know I know what that feels like.
Kenrya: Yeah, yeah.
Erica: Tell me where are you?
Kenrya: I don't even know. I'm just in a place where I realize that certain aspects of my career don't work for me. And so I blew them shits up. I mean, even just looking at personal life, like you started out with talking about when you realized you had to get a divorce. For me, getting a divorce was not a sad situation for me. Once I realized that I was done, I was done, all the sadness and all that shit had already happened. The hard part was that I had invested so much time and energy into the way that I thought my life was supposed to go, and having to really sit down and take stock of that and realize that that shit was done, and I was starting over when I had this plan where I thought my life was going to go. Right?
Kenrya: So it was like, "Oh, okay. I'll finish undergrad, I'll work for two years, I'll go to grad school for two years, I'll meet someone who I love. I'll marry them in a couple of years. We'll be married for two years, and then we'll have a kid after that." That was my plan. Always my plan. And I pretty much did exactly, I did exactly that. And when I had to really look at the fact that I had a plan, and I worked the plan and it was still shitty, it really put me in a tailspin because it was like, "Well then what the fuck am I supposed to be doing?" It really took me sitting and honestly talking to God a lot, and realizing that it was okay that it didn't work out the way that I thought it was supposed to be. Because it was just preparing me for something that was better and that was really and truly for me. But the idea of starting from what felt like square one was frightening to me.
Erica: Yeah. It's interesting, this is a little off topic, but I was talking to my aunt, during I don't know if it was right after I got diagnosed with breast cancer, but we were talking and all of that and she's just like, "This is so unfair. You did everything right. You did everything right. This is so unfair." And I'm just like... I mean, yes, it's fucked up. This has not been an easy road, but at the same time, like-
Kenrya: What are you going to do?
Erica: I can't do shit about it. I can't do shit about it and so as opposed to sitting around, "Woe is me. Why is this?" that kind of thing. Like be in your feelings. I have a friend who says, "Yes, you can be any feelings just don't start getting mail there. Don't move in. Don't start getting mail there."
Kenrya: That's real shit.
Erica: And so I was like, "Okay. Yes, this is definitely not what I thought or where I thought I'd be, but we're here. So now what we going to do about it?" Back to the book, Eddy had this plan, and although her plan kept like getting fucked up and going a million different places... I remember I read the Alchemist. Everybody read “The Alchemist.” The one thing that stood out for me is that the universe conspires for-
Kenrya: For your favor.
Erica: ... for your favor. If you're doing what you're supposed to do, even a fucking mistake is going to work in your favor. I feel like this story is just much more of that. You fail up. Don't I say white men fail up, they do. But I feel like when you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, if you're doing what God has for you, or what your spirits tell you you're supposed to be doing, like even the fuck-ups are going to work in your favor. Eddy ended up getting sexually assaulted, beat up on the side of the road, but for somehow whatever reason, it all led to this situation with Rhine Fontaine. Can you think of a situation where you were like, "This is what is supposed to happen, bam, bam, bam, and then..." I'm the worst with asking questions, but you get what I'm saying. Have you had a situation where, what might have been a fuck-up favored you?
Kenrya: Marriage, fuck. I mean, it should not have happened, but it was obviously supposed to happen. I got my little love out of it, and it was all fucked up. And I am so much better.
Erica: Yeah, you got your lessons from it.
Kenrya: Yeah. And not to say that I think you have to go through trauma in order to be better, because I think this idea that you have to suffer in order to be the best version of yourself is fucked up bullshit.
Erica: No, I'm good. I'll let you all suffer. Send me the Cliffs Notes.
Kenrya: Yeah. I remember at one point when I had gotten pretty far into my sobriety from being codependent and our therapist was like, "So, if you had to do all of this again, would you?" And I was like, "Fuck no." I was like, "If I can get to here and just go to therapy and get healthy, and not have been with abusive men and been with cheating-ass men and all the other things that happened that ended up being traumatic around intimate relationships, I wouldn't do that shit again." There's no part of me that feels that that was what I needed to go through to get here. It just is what my path was. But I don't harbor some delusion that it made me.
Erica: Yeah, yeah. I have gotten a lot more comfortable taking Ls now in life, now that I recognize that sometimes this L, it might not be what you think. This ain't for you right now. I'm a firm believer that, what is for you, is for you and it's going to make its way to you.
Kenrya: That's right.
Erica: And not to say that I sit around just waiting for shit to happen, but at the same time, I firmly recognize that, you know what, sometimes I think this is for me, but it ain't quite.
Kenrya: It's true. I mean, I think that I have that same attitude, and I think it's made me a relentless optimist, which may sometimes seem at odds with other parts of me, but it is true. I am eternally like just going to be fine. It's going to be fine. Which is probably annoying to some people, but-
Erica: Yeah. I mean, I feel like when you've been through some bullshit... I hate... Okay. Let me say it and then I'll go back. I feel like when you've been through some bullshit, you're able to be like, "You know what? It's going to be okay." Now, as I say, I hate hearing that sometimes because I feel like there's these, I think we just touched on this but I think there's these people... I can't think of the word. People romanticize the struggle.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: It's like, "No, I don't want to..." It's kind of like when people will be like, "Our kids are punks. We make it too easy on our kids."
Kenrya: Isn't that the goal?
Erica: Aren't we supposed too?
Kenrya: Don't we want them to have it better than we did?
Erica: Even raising my child I think about how I'm like, "When I was his age I could do X, Y, Z." And it's like, "But no, bitch. Just because you could you shouldn't have been doing it."
Kenrya: Exactly. We have those conversations all the time, like having had kind of rough upbringing it's like, "Okay, just because I was staying in the house by myself when I was five don't mean that that's what my child should be doing." I think sometimes we talk about this balance between, giving them tools right to be able to do shit and not making them lazy. So you want to like, right. You want them to know how to do things but you want it to be age appropriate and not overload them in the same ways that we were overloaded. We want to be able to make their lives better than ours were. It's a tough balancing act.
Erica: It totally is. So back to the eternal optimism, I definitely feel like I am that type of person too. I'd just be winging it on some shit. Winging it, and I just feel like if this is for me, then it's going to work. And if it falls apart, then guess what, it just wasn't for me, and the right thing will come along.
Kenrya: Yeah, I agree. That's essentially what Eddy is doing as she makes her way across the country. So she's like, "I'm going to trust this person." That was another thing that came up for me was about trust, and how to know who you can trust and who you can't. She just kind of follows her intuition and it only gets her in trouble once, and it was with a fucking liar and we've all been there.
Erica: And she felt she kind of-
Kenrya: She still knew something wasn't quite right, and she ignored it.
Kenrya: And every time I've ignored my gut I ended up in some trouble.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: So that's, not that it's her fault obviously, but it's just one of the things that I've been working to do is to trust my intuition more.
Erica: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that we've been taught for so long to ignore our gut, that we do and then... I mean, if you think about like, I think about seedy guys that I've like, or seedy situations. I felt-
Kenrya: You knew something.
Erica: I knew and I couldn't put my finger on it. And so now I am so much more willing to just-
Kenrya: Bye, nigga.
Erica: Like with no rhyme or reason. I had somebody reach out to me this morning on some like, "Hey, I know you should have had your surgery by now. How are you healing?" And he was like, "I've been reaching out to you." And I was like, "Don't talk to me no more." It was literally like, "I'm doing well. Thanks for checking. Don't call me no more."
Erica: There's like a bunch of nuance into why I feel this way. Yes, I could explain it-
Kenrya: But why? You don't owe him anything.
Erica: ... but I don't owe you shit. I don't owe you shit. We had our time, it was great while it lasted. And so now it's not our time anymore." And so, I am learning to lean into that gut a whole lot more. It also takes an amazing amount of faith in God for me. Right before my divorce, I started going to church hard. I really, really renewed my-
Kenrya: We were there constantly. Are we now?
Erica: Yeah, been lately but not... But I'm still there, like still there spiritually. I feel like it was just preparation for what was going to be happening. I mean I didn't even realize it but it was just like, you know what? You've got to get to a point where you ain't going to know what the fuck to do. And it's crazy because like people talk about how you're just like... I've gotten to points, shit, just in this breast cancer journey or like I don't even know what the fuck I'm praying for. I'm literally just like, "My God." That's the only thing that I can say because I don't even know what the fuck I'm praying for. Girl, I'm about to be in this bitch crying, because it's just like, I don't even know. I just know that I need you right now. And as you continue to like, as I move forward in life I'm finding that sometimes I don't even know what i need.
Kenrya: Your will be done is all you got.
Erica: Your will be done. Makes this shit happen.
Kenrya: That was my prayer this morning.
Erica: Yeah, like make some shit happen. You just do whatever you need to do and I am going to be receiving. Actually I was talking to Pam, Pastor Pam who was one of our guests last season.
Kenrya: In the first season, yeah.
Erica: It was the same conversation where I told her I had breast cancer. I was telling her that right now I'm in a season of receiving. I'm just receiving whatever the Lord sends my way. Good, bad, indifferent, whatever, I'm just going to accept it and receive it, and move accordingly.
Kenrya: And you've been doing a great job of it.
Erica: Girl, honey. I've been [inaudible 00:38:26]. I'm thinking I'm tumbled around. Thank you, boo. But yeah, I have hit a point where I am just like, you know what, I have no idea what's happening here. I have a feeling about what I need to be doing, back again to Eddy, I got a feeling about what's supposed to happen, but I'm just going to move forward with pure intentions in my heart, and doing what I feel is best and I promise you, God, Lord, spirits, whoever is going to make away and make sure that things line up properly.
Kenrya: God provides. Jehovah Jireh.
Erica: Jehovah Jireh. So with that said, I mean, we're here to talk about what? Sex.
Erica: So Eddy runs into this gentleman, Rhine Fontaine, who interestingly enough helps her make her way through this, navigate her way through this shitty little world, and further get to what she's supposed to be doing.
Kenrya: Yes, it's true. And we can't tell too much because I don't want to spoil the book, but yeah, a lot of what happens, I mean we can get into their relationship a bit, is that they feel drawn to each other in ways that they can't understand or explain exactly.
Erica: As evidenced in the excerpt we read.
Kenrya: Right. And she's totally unexperienced. She had really given up on the idea of ever being with a man or having kids or anything. And so the idea of being with a man who she believes to be white is totally fucking frightening to her because it's illegal, and she doesn't know what that would do to her life or to his life, and he is wealthy and has all this influence. And he's not sure what he's supposed to do with that, because he doesn't want to give up the work that he's able to do because he is passing as white. It was interesting because I never really thought of passing as being something that can have a positive.
Erica: Yeah. You think of passing as like an easy way out.
Kenrya: Yeah. And in this case-
Erica: He's doing it as an act of resistance.
Kenrya: Exactly that. It's especially in the end, I have more empathy because he had literally been raised as an enslaved person and was just like, "Yo. That shit is for the fucking birds, and my people are going through it. Here is my best way that I can do something about it." It kind of turns some things on their head. I was just talking to my kid about passing, we were just having this conversation.
Erica: Y'all have about the most interesting conversations.
Kenrya: We do. I love it because she can hold so many things at the same time even being so young. I just love that she has the tools to be able to understand a lot of shit. So we were talking about Alexander Hamilton. She was like, "I mean, but he looked white." And I was like, "Well, he does." I was like, "But his mom was Black." I was like, "And he did something that's called passing, where he lived his life as a white person." It allowed him to have all of this power and to do all of these things, some of which are still biting us in the fucking ass like the Electoral College and the system of capitalism in the United States. [crosstalk 00:41:48]. But we talked about that too.
Kenrya: And I was like, "There are people who are able to do that and some of them choose to do it, and some of them choose not to." And then we talked about some people who we know, who could technically pass if they wanted to, but that they identify as Black and they are proud in that, and that is the way that they move through the world. And so it was really interesting to see through a very young person's eyes like what that meant, because she was just baffled. She was like, "I mean, but that nigga look white. I don't understand."
Erica: Well, I think that... Again, this is why Beverly Jenkins is OG Beverly Jenkins. Because she took such a-
Kenrya: What could be a contentious-
Erica: It's so layered, and was able to wrap this shit up in a love story, and a story about a bad bitch being a bad bitch, and surviving. So in the scene that we read, it is very clear that Eddy is a-
Erica: I don't even want to say a virgin like, I mean she looked at the dick, and she probably like-
Kenrya: Oh my God, right.
Erica: "I do declare."
Kenrya: She is not so bad.
Erica: I mean there's something about, Eddy.
Kenrya: It's funny because I kept saying Eddy too, but I'm like, "Well, that shit's spelled Eddy."
Erica: Yeah. Something about Eddy just gives me fiery, just Black, like you know how there's just like grannies that are just like just good stock. I mean, like that cast iron skillet is the best thing that I can think of, just like dependable, going to get some shit done. It's just, "Oh."
Kenrya: Her word is her bond. And also, there's some stuff that happens in the course of the book where you're like, "Yes, bitch."
Erica: Oh, yeah. [crosstalk 00:43:48]. I'm like, "Oh, she's a badass." And so, no, I don't think she would like, "I do declare," but it's very because she's such a, I don't want to say a strong Black woman, but because she's such a strong character-
Kenrya: She's self-possessed.
Erica: She is self-possessed. She knows who the fuck she is and what the fuck she's here for. It's this scene itself is very different from who she is.
Kenrya: It's an unraveling.
Erica: Yeah, because she's like vulnerable as fuck.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). In all the ways.
Erica: But it's so sexy.
Kenrya: Yeah. It was interesting because I don't really tend to do historical anything, it's not really my bag. So this is the first historical romance I think I've ever read maybe. And it was interesting how like, he starts out by telling her to unbutton four buttons on her shirt and I'm like, "Why is this so sexy?" Because my titties be out all the time already.
Erica: I know. But to me it was really hot, just on the like, "So this is what I'm about to do to you."
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: And because she has no idea, in her head like having a fucking meltdown like, "Whoo." Because it's just like, he's like, "Unbutton your buttons," and she's like, "What the fuck? I'm sitting out here with my titties out."
Kenrya: He's like, "I'm going to put kisses there."
Erica: Yeah, you're completely vulnerable and exposed. And then he's like, "And then this is what I'm going to do to you." So then you're not only thinking about how it's going to feel for him to do this, but then like, "Oh my God, this is so scandalous. I'm out here with my titties." It was just such a great scene because it just, it showed how, yes, she is self-possessed and a woman of strength, but [inaudible 00:45:52].
Kenrya: I know.
Erica: But at the same time, she's still a girl that wants to-
Kenrya: "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy."
Erica: Okay. Is that from “Love Is Blind”?
Kenrya: Waiting for you to love me or some shit. Asking you to love me, no, it's “Grey's Anatomy” bitch. Meredith says it to Derek.
Erica: I'm fucking rolling my eyes.
Kenrya: But then she says, "Choose me," and then I'm like, "Okay. No, let's not do that."
Erica: I'm thinking about, "I'm just a girl something... in the world."
Kenrya: Is that Gwen Stefani?
Erica: No doubt, yeah. A girl from the Midwest and from the ’90s, we were all into ska music. Anyway-
Kenrya: “Don't Speak” was my shit.
Erica: What was?
Kenrya: “Don't Speak.”
Erica: (Singing). Sorry.
Kenrya: It was before she went off the deep end with the appropriation.
Erica: So side note, her in that video with the Mexican ladies and like, how did that fly?
Kenrya: Did you listen? That and then all the hard you who love or shit. Like she just-
Erica: Oh my God. I forgot about that.
Kenrya: She's like a fucking appropriator [inaudible 00:47:05].
Erica: She brought them out like, "Hey, let's trot out the little Japanese character." Oh my gosh, how did we let this happen?
Kenrya: We were young. I don't know.
Erica: Oh my gosh.
Kenrya: Yeah, it was bad. I mean I stopped fucking with her music around that time, it didn't speak to me anymore. But back when it was her and No Doubt [crosstalk 00:47:25].
Erica: No Doubt was my shit. Actually I might have to listen to No Doubt this afternoon.
Kenrya: I know. It was good.
Erica: Oh my goodness. Okay. Back to all of this. Let's bring it back, bring it back. The scene was just great because for me this scene is like the one scene that's unlike who Eddy has been through the book. Through the book she is a badass but in this scene she's really like truly giving herself up to the, what's about to happen here.
Kenrya: Well in a relationship, because she gave herself up to what was going to happen when she was moving her way across the country, but when it came to dealing with men, it was very much like she's literally buttoned up.
Erica: Because every single, not every single, most of her interactions with Rhine Fontaine have been very like, "I have a wall. It's impenetrable." And finally, she let it down. She unbuttoned them four buttons and said, "Pladow! How you like me now?"
Kenrya: And it was cool too, because like him telling her what he was going to do, it was a seduction, but it was also informative because she legit knew nothing.
Erica: Had no idea. That makes me think, were you surprised by your first orgasm?
Kenrya: With a partner? Because I had been having orgasms for a long time.
Erica: Yeah, I had been masturbating for a while.
Kenrya: I'm trying to remember the first time I came with a partner.
Erica: Yeah, I don't see the thing is here.
Kenrya: I don't even remember.
Erica: I take that question back. Because by the time I was a fucking men, well fucking people, I was making myself come. I was masturbating from, I was tapping that button from early on.
Kenrya: A very young age. Most people do.
Erica: And so I knew that I can feel this way and this is how it's supposed to happen. So okay.
Kenrya: I am legit trying to remember the first time I had an orgasm with a partner and I can't. I mean I've always been able to come with people because I had been masturbating so long that I knew what I needed.
Erica: Yeah. With the exception of maybe like losing my virginity, I have made it. I've always been intentional about the fact that like, "We're having sex, I'm going to have an orgasm. So, are you going to be part of it, or it's going to happen?"
Kenrya: With or without you.
Erica: With or without you. Like the first time it's like, very performative, but I caught on very early on that like, "Oh, this is, if we're going to play, we need to make sure we have the ball."
Kenrya: Exactly. Yeah. I can't even remember, honestly.
Erica: Wow. All right. Well, that wraps up this week's episode-
Kenrya: On Kenrya’s Swiss cheese brain.
Erica: Trauma. All right, well, thank you for joining us this week. This is Erica and Kenrya, two hoes making it clap.
Kenrya: Bitch, we clapped at the same time this time!
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. We want to hear from you all. Send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions that you want us to answer to TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com. And please subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast, and find links to books, transcripts, guests info and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. And remember, The Turn On podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more podcasts that show love at Frolic.Media/podcast. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you soon. Bye.
LISTEN TO THE TURN ON
Apple Podcasts | Google Play | iHeart Radio | Radio Public | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | YouTube
CONNECT WITH THE TURN ON
Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Patreon
In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to romance giant Alyssa Cole about the state of literary romance, the importance of asking for help and why we shouldn't have to prove we are deserving of love to get Black books published.
The Turn On participates in affiliate programs, which provide a small commission when you purchase products via links on this site. This costs you nothing, but helps support the show. Click here for more information.
Kenrya: Come here, get off.
Kenrya: Our guest today is Alyssa Cole, pronouns she and her. Alyssa is an award-winning author of critically-acclaimed historical, contemporary, and sci-fi romance and thrillers. Her royal rom-com, “A Princess in Theory,” was one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. When she's not working, Alyssa can usually be found watching anime or wrangling her pets. Thank you so much for sitting down with us today, Alyssa.
Alyssa: Thanks for inviting me.
Erica: So, we just read your super-duper, mad official bio, but tell us, in your regular-ass words, what do you do?
Alyssa: I think my official title would be "island hermit." I write historical romance, sci-fi, contemporary, and I also have a thriller coming out next year that's a thriller with romantic elements.
Kenrya: How many books have you published since 2014?
Alyssa: I don't know.
Kenrya: I was trying to count and I kind of lost track, so I was thinking I would just ask.
Alyssa: After this year, I have three completed series. Off the Grid has three books, that's sci-fi. The Loyal League is historical Civil War fiction, and that has three books. Reluctant Royals is three books and two novellas. Then I also have, my first book is not in print anymore, I think, Eagle's Heart, which was a romantic suspense. Then I have a few novellas as well.
Kenrya: That's like at least 15.
Alyssa: Yeah, something around there.
Erica: Jesus Christ.
Kenrya: Right. That's inspiring, as someone who has written only five, I'm trying to get where you at.
Erica: Look, I'm just trying to journal every day.
Alyssa: I don't journal because-
Kenrya: It feels like work?
Kenrya: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Alyssa: Well, I always wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a comic book artist at some point when I was a kid, and now I've been trying to start drawing again, just because I used to really love it and I kind of stopped doing it because I figured, "Oh, if I'm never going to be good enough to do that," and then I started looking at when comic book artists post their drawings from when they were younger, and I was like, "Aw man, I should have…"
Kenrya: You're like, "I can do that."
Alyssa: "I should have kept trying." But also just because I enjoy it. I always wanted to be a writer. I also, at one point, wanted to be an Egyptologist, I think that's just, in ’90s, Egypt stuff was really big, hieroglyphs were really big.
Erica: So tell me you had the hieroglyphic necklace, with your name in hieroglyphs.
Alyssa: I had the hieroglyph stamp set, where you could stamp words-
Erica: I had that too. Book fair.
Kenrya: Yes, from the Scholastic Book Fair. I forgot about that.
Erica: So how did you settle on writing? You seem like you did have a varied career path past, how was writing what you settled on?
Alyssa: I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't really know what being a writer was. My mom has this whole story that I've told before, it's a mom story, so I don't know if it's entirely true.
Kenrya: They like to embellish.
Alyssa: But basically that when I was a kid, when I was two, I would have my notebook that I needed to write in before bed, even though I didn't know how to write, I would draw pictures and have to tell my little stories. But I definitely remember starting to write when I was a kid, starting to write short stories. But, basically, I always liked writing and school. In grammar school and high school, I used to love doing the writing exercises and creative writing. In college, I majored in English, and I didn't know what I was going to do, I was just like, "Something will happen."
Alyssa: I did some creative writing, but it always seemed like something I would do at some point in the future, even though I had teachers that encouraged me and professors that encouraged me, they're like, "You should do something with this," and I was just like, "Yeah, maybe, one day." And then, at a certain point, I realized, "What am I waiting for?" It's actually because I started reading Literotica because I was looking for stories with Black women, and I found the Literotica site. And so I was reading stuff and I was kind of inspired, I was like, "These people are posting every week, they're really sticking to a schedule and getting their stories done." And so then I posted a few things on there, and then I, of course, stopped, I didn't finish the story. But then, eventually, I found out about National Novel Writing Month-
Alyssa: There were a few things that happened. I think, honestly, some of it is traceable to Twilight, too, in a weird way.
Kenrya: Yeah, because there was a huge fan-fic rush around that.
Alyssa: Yeah, and I didn't write fan-fic, I read some of it sometimes, but I wasn't even really big into it, but for some reason I felt like there was this thing in the air, like, "Romance, this is something accessible, people really can ..." I was reading about all the Twilight mania stuff and learning about fan-fic and stuff like that, and I was just like, "Okay, maybe I'll really give this a try this time."
Alyssa: So then I ended up doing National Novel Writing Month, using a couple of the chapters from the stuff I had started on Literotica, and then ended up finishing that, and that was the first book I had that eventually got published later, which was called Eagle's Heart and was about a Brooklyn teacher and an Albanian CIA agent. So then, after that, I joined my local RWA chapter, I don't want to get into RWA right now, but-
Kenrya: Oh, we'll talk about that.
Alyssa: But my local chapter. And then I started getting into more things. I had a friend who was a librarian, and I started going to events, there were starting to be more romance events, in Brooklyn at least, where I was living at the time, at Word Bookstore. So I started just seeing that this was a real thing I could do, romance specifically. I liked all kinds of books, but I think I always liked the happy ending and happily ever after, especially because, even when I was a kid, the stuff I would write could sometimes get very dark, so knowing that there's going to be a happily ever after no matter what, no matter how dark the story gets, like everything I write now isn't really like that, and I just like the good feeling you get when you finish reading a romance, so I gravitated toward that.
Alyssa: And then I met people, started doing anthologies, self-pub anthologies, with historical fiction featuring characters from marginalized backgrounds. And then, little by little, things just started to come together. My first series got picked up because I did a Twitter pitch, where you pitch the book, and it was like 140 characters back then, so that was how “Off the Grid” got picked up by Karina. I mean I was also getting rejected a lot at that point too-
Kenrya: That's the way.
Alyssa: I'm only mentioning the good parts that are happening, but my other stuff was getting rejected, and the things that eventually got published were getting rejected by everyone else. So one thing I always tell people is: you only need one person-
Kenrya: To say yes.
Alyssa: One person to believe in the book. And, for me, it always seemed like, even after I got an agent, everyone was like, "No. No, can't connect." But then, the last person, it only takes one person. Rejection sucks, but, at the end of the day, every editor is not the reader or the person for your book, so as long as you find one person eventually ... Then I just started writing more and more, and eventually I started writing full-time a couple of years ago.
Kenrya: Your books are really set everywhere, like from modern-day New York City, to Civil War-era Virginia, you have protagonists who spy, who create inclusive online communities, who discover that they're royalty. What pushes you to dip into so many different areas, and where do you draw your inspiration?
Alyssa: I don't know, I think I just get interested in different things and then I want to write about it. I get a lot of ... see something on the news. For example, Princess in Theory, part of it was because it was during the time when Nigerian spam mail was really in the news all the time and, even at my job, I was getting spam mail all the time, saying, "You could win this" or "You can get this money" or mail order brides and stuff like that. Most of it just starts as what-if, "What if this spam mail saying that you're betrothed to an African prince is actually real?" A Duke by Default was actually based on I saw an article about a modern-day swordsman in Attenborough who was looking for an apprentice, and I was like, "That would make a great romance," and I actually got to talk to him and interview him before I wrote “A Duke by Default.” So there is a real Sword Bae, I don't talk about him because I don't want anyone bothering him or I don't think he really is ready for all of Romancelandia-
Kenrya: The attention, right.
Alyssa: But maybe one day he'll want to step into the spotlight. But there are still modern-day sword makers in Attenborough. But it's basically just like what-if, I get random ideas in all different kinds of things, based on what I'm reading, what I'm watching, and then take it from there. Off the Grid was around the time when prepping started to get really popular because everyone was worried about the end of the world in 2012, which seems like so long ago. So, yeah, just taking things from the world around me and getting ideas about "But then what if two people fall in love?"
Kenrya: Right, in the middle of all of that.
Alyssa: Yeah, like the Civil War, but kissing, which was not easy to sell, people were-
Kenrya: I bet.
Erica: But going back to “Can't Escape Love,” what do you want readers to take away from it?
Alyssa: I think just the idea of following your dream, finding people who support you or who, in some way, help make you able to achieve your dream. I don't know if that sentence just made sense because I said it quite of brain-dead from being on deadline. Also, just the fact that, in all of my stories, and especially in The Reluctant Royal series, the fact that happily ever afters are for everyone. Any particular disability, neurodivergency, trauma, or anything that people might hold against you in the real world that we live in, unfortunately, is no impediment to stopping you from being worthy of love or deserving love, and love that isn't contingent on you suffering for it or not being able to just have a fluffy romantic comedy, happily ever after.
Kenrya: Yes. That's what’s up. And it kind of leads to our next question, this idea of making sure that everyone is included and able to see themselves. So, for those who don't know, there's a lot going on in the world of romance right now, when it comes to equity and real inclusion for writers of color, and you, my dear, have been instrumental in calling out racism in places like Romance Writes of America, RWA, that really seem hellbent on keeping Romancelandia white. My question for you is: what do you think needs to shift in this industry right now?
Alyssa: Right now, I think there definitely needs to be more people of color. That is changing a lot, I mean compared to a few years ago, but I still don't think we've reached a point of anywhere near where we need to be, especially compared to the demographics of the U.S. and also the world. I think there needs to be more queer romance, more lesbian romance, more bisexual romance. M/M is a whole separate category, it's not super represented in traditional publishing. Right now, I'm not talking about traditional publishing, which not everyone wants to be trad-pub, but, for me, I see it as a normalizing factor.
Kenrya: When folks can be traditionally published?
Alyssa: Yeah. The same way, for example, when you see a commercial with a gay couple or you see a commercial with a lesbian commercial, it's out there, showing the world that it's normal, because it is, and just also allowing people to feel included. And I don't even like the word "included" because included is that shitty-ass RWA cover, with the white woman-
Kenrya: Oh, helping the Black woman?
Alyssa: Pulling the Black woman up the mountain.
Kenrya: Did you see the remix that somebody did with her pushing her down when she fell and her shoe flew off? I died.
Alyssa: That was amazing. And this is the problem with talking about diversity/inclusion is that it makes white, straight people the baseline, and it's like why?
Kenrya: Right, why is that we should be aspiring to be in your club?
Alyssa: Yeah. For me, and like I said, I grew up in Jersey City, most of the people around me were not white, and so it's always ... I mean I'm American, so I understand racism and all that, and it's not even like that, with some kind of utopia without racism just because there weren't that many white people, but the idea that this is something strange or something that needs to be taken slowly, I don't know, it's just weird to me, I'm like, "This is what the world is like, why do we have to act like we need to only go ahead in small doses?" So, I think there needs to definitely be more queer people. Right now, one thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is I do not think there are any trans trad-pub romance authors. There's no reason for this.
Kenrya: Right. Especially people of color, because we've been looking for folks for the show.
Alyssa: I know there are people who are self-pubbing or who have been published by smaller presses. For me, at this point, I don't see any reason why there ... and sometimes people are like, "Well, did they submit? Do they submit their books?" Number one, yes; but even if they didn't, editors are fully capable and all the time go out and reach out to people and say, "Hey, I've read something from you, would you be interested in writing…"
Kenrya: Literally how it works.
Alyssa: "So-and-so kind of book?" So, for me right now, I don't see any excuse, and I think that needs to change amazingly as fast as possible. We literally just want people from all marginalized backgrounds who are romance writers, literally just want to write love stories with happily ever afters, and we can't do that without having to assert the fact that we are fucking human beings and worthy of love. A lot of the time I'm able to, I guess, just not deal with that because you can't really deal with that all of the time, but it's absurd, like why do we have to fight to write a story where someone falls in love?
Alyssa: I mean most racism, all racism, bigotry, when you really get on the face of it, is absurd, but for me particularly, the fact that you have to fight to write a story where ... Most people look down on romance in general, obviously we don't, but you can't even, just without any problem, write a story with two people who meet and fall in love and whatever happens in your particular romance, you have to become a freaking activist to write a love story, and it's ridiculous. With RWA, with everything going on in the world, RWA, I honestly don't know what the fuck they're doing.
Kenrya: They don't either, except for being racist.
Alyssa: It seems, to me, to be a backlash, it's just the microcosm of the United States of what's going on, and all over the world, to be honest, where there has been a period of growth of more diversity and people from different backgrounds, and then people being like, "You know what? No, fuck this. I would rather burn the whole shit down"-
Kenrya: "Than let you in."
Alyssa: For me, just thinking about how much money they've lost, how much money they've lost in the past two weeks-
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative), from people not renewing their memberships, yeah, canceling.
Alyssa: They canceled the RITAs, so they're going to have to refund all that money, everyone is pulling out of the nationals, and conferences are how most of these organizations make a good chunk of their money.
Kenrya: And folks are now refusing to speak, like we saw Beverly Jenkins is like, "Nah, son, not doing it."
Kenrya: They did this to themselves.
Alyssa: And it's getting all this press. But the main thing for me, at this point, I'm like, "Fuck them," but also they have all of this money, they have all of this infrastructure, and for me, that's the biggest thing, and especially given what I write, like with the historicals and some of the things I've been working on, the idea that things get built either by people from marginalized backgrounds, RWA was started by a Black woman, they get built by people from marginalized backgrounds or multicultural groups, and eventually the marginalized people get pushed out and then the white, straight people are left with all of the money, all of the infrastructure, The marginalized people have to start again and hope that it doesn't happen at the next organization, the next town, the next whatever.
Alyssa: For me, that was one of the things that really messed with my head because it's like this is just the cycle, and how do we get past this? I'm trying to stay optimistic. Because I was at the RWA conference this past summer, and I've gone to the last four or five and, for me, this was the one that really felt there were a lot of authors of color, there were a lot more queer authors, there were a lot more people who were deciding to give romance, RWA a chance and to see if they could be a part of this community, and it actually felt more like a community. I'm sure that things happened, but, overall, the sense was "We're moving forward."
Alyssa: For me, I was telling my friend, I was like, "There were enough Black women that I wasn't able to nod at every Black woman I saw." And there were all different kinds of people. The RITA ceremony was a celebration of the diversity, the people who built RWA, and I think that's probably what really set them off because that was at the end of July, and then this actually started in August because Courtney received the initial complaint in August. The situation happened, I guess, in August, around that time, but the fact that they actually pushed this complaint through, I feel like is not unrelated to the fact that it was just after the most diverse and inclusive conference that they'd ever had.
Kenrya: And just to give our listeners a little bit of context, that complaint was basically these two white women complained that Courtney was calling them out for their racism. I think the question that comes to mind right now is: it's clear that there need to be more Black women and other people of color writing in this genre, what advice do you have specifically for Black women who want to do what you do?
Alyssa: I would say the hardest thing is not getting dejected. Rejection sucks, it happens a lot, even when you're not Black and you don't have other marginalization stacked onto it, then you add those on and it gets even harder. So, I think sometimes you're going to want to give up. There have been times when people thought I was on top of the world and I was like, "Fuck this, I'm done with this." It's a hard business, and it's especially hard when, like I said, you feel like you always have to be kind of on your guard and defending your humanity to a certain extent. But I would say: write what you want to write. Keep pitching agents, keep pitching editors, talk to editors.
Alyssa: One thing I have noticed is that Black women are less likely to reach out ... I'm trying to think of how to say this. I've had random white women come up to me and ask me for favors, people I do not know, and they feel confident enough to walk up to me and be like, "I wrote this book," and that's fine, but I feel like we have been conditioned not to ask for things, not to ask for help, to assume that people won't help us because, sadly, on some level, it's true. But I think to just not be afraid for people to hear "no"; obviously, there's a line to be crossed where you could start being like, "Weird." But not to be afraid to, if you want to know something, ask someone; they might not tell you or they might not be able to tell you, but you can ask and find out. If you want to pitch someone ...
Alyssa: I think a lot of people who have been in the industry for a long time, at a certain point, were a bit traumatized because rejection sucks and people were getting mostly rejected by traditional publishing. So, I think it's hard to say, "Just keep trying," because that's not very helpful when you feel like crap and someone told you they can't relate to your character. In a way, it's kind of part of what you have to do. I was telling someone that, for me, I get rejected a lot, but I have a lot of those ideas, some of those ideas don't get rejected; the rest of them, eventually sometimes they pop up in other stories.
Alyssa: For example, “The AI Who Loved Me,” which was my Audible Original, it started out, part of it was a story about a hot robot guy, a project that didn't go anywhere. I also had a YA, I wrote a whole proposal and everything, a futuristic, dystopian thing, everyone was like, "No, this isn't working," so that didn't go anywhere. But then when I had to think of what I wanted to pitch for the Audible Original, it kind of had these pieces for something that didn't work alone, but when I mashed them together, ended up working really well together. So, even though when you work hard on something and it gets rejected, sometimes that's something that is going to be a stepping stone to something even better in the future, or a different kind of project, or maybe it's going to be useful to you in some other way.
Alyssa: But I think a lot of it is, I don't want to say "Don't be afraid" because it makes sense to be afraid of being hurt again and again, but maybe try to think about each pitch and each possible rejection as something that could lead to something in the future. For example, I work with my editor, Erika Tsang, at Avon, and she rejected the first book I sent her. She was like, "Maybe send me something in the future," and I was like, "She's probably just saying that, she's just saying that to be nice," but then I sent her something and it worked, she liked the next thing I sent her. So, also don't assume that one rejection means that that person doesn't want anything from you ever.
Alyssa: The same thing with my first agent, I had sent her something and she was like, "No, this doesn't work for me, send me something else," and then the next time I sent her something, it worked for her, it was something she thought she could sell. So, sometimes you're going to be rejected multiple times by the same person, which-
Kenrya: And just keep going until it works.
Erica: It's not a "No," it's just a "Not right now."
Alyssa: Which seems counterproductive because sometimes people say "Not right now," and they're lying, it's hard to figure out, but sometimes you just have to hope that they're not lying and see what happens, because sometimes they really are like, "Okay, I'm not going to be able to sell this." But it's hard when you are a Black romance writer or you are from another marginalized group because that's the same excuse that's used to keep us out or to say, "We're not going to be able to sell this."
Alyssa: In a way, publishing kind of is a gaslighting industry, where you have to just have faith in yourself, and that faith is not always going to be there, you're going to have low times, you're going to have days or weeks or months where you're like, "Why am I even doing this?" or "Why am I putting myself through this?"
Alyssa: But I think, in the end, keep trying is all that you can do, and don't be afraid to pitch your weird ideas. If you can, have critique partners, beta readers, people who you can build a community with who are at the same stage as you, and who you can relate to and also grow together. I would say read and see what's doing well, but that, honestly, is only part of it because you don't really want to write the same thing as what's doing well.
Erica: Yeah, you want to fill your own gap.
Alyssa: So read what you like, read what you like and see what that makes you want to write.
Erica: All right.
Kenrya: What's next for you?
Alyssa: Next, right now, next year, the spinoff series from Reluctant Royals, which is Runaway Royals, the first book is “How to Catch a Queen.” If you've read “A Prince on Paper,” the couple in that book, they make an appearance in that book, and it's a couple who are already married and who had an arranged marriage, but their marriage comes with a marriage trial, so they can ... It's hard to explain right now because of my brain leaking out of my ears, but basically it's a couple with an arranged marriage and she has trained for her entire life to be a queen, she really wants to be a queen, for her own personal reasons. This character, the heroine showed up at the end of “A Princess in Theory,” she was briefly there as the woman who his parents brought in to be his fiancé, when they didn't approve of Naledi. She's there literally for like a couple of pages, but I was like, "She kind of had a messed up cameo in that book," so I wanted to give her a happily ever after too.
Kenrya: Aw, I love that.
Erica: You're doing right by your characters.
Kenrya: Yeah. Does that come out in 2020 or does that come out in 2021?
Alyssa: In 2020.
Alyssa: And then I have a thriller coming out in September, which is a gentrification thriller, called “Erased,” and it's basically a woman who has recently moved back to her Brooklyn neighborhood, and her neighbors are all starting to move away, everything is changing, and she decides to make a walking tour. She does a walking tour and they only talk about the rich white people who lived there in the past, so she decides to make her own walking tour, and ends up getting an assistant, one of the new neighbors who has moved in, and they start to possibly discover a conspiracy behind the gentrification of the neighborhood.
Kenrya: This sounds like real life.
Alyssa: Honestly, when I was writing it, I was like, "None of this is really that crazy."
Kenrya: For folks who want to find you and to keep up with what you have going on next so that they can get those books, where can they find you?
Alyssa: You can find me on my website at AlyssaCole.com. I'm on Twitter and Instagram as @AlyssaColeLit, L-I-T. And I also am restarting my newsletter, and it's going to be based on Girls with Glasses, which is the website in “Can't Escape Love,” and the first one is launching on January 10th, and hopefully will be out about every two weeks.
Kenrya: That's dope. And folks can subscribe to that via your website?
Alyssa: Yes, once I add the link. Good reminder.
Kenrya: That is awesome. Well we're so glad you talked to us today, we are huge fans and have read several of your books, so we're really excited that we got to share one of your books on the show this season and that we got to talk to you, so thank you for that.
Alyssa: No, thank you for having me.
Kenrya: Well, that's it for this week's episode of The Turn On. Bye.
Erica: This episode was produced by us, Erica and Kenrya, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. We want to hear from y'all, send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions you want us to answer to TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com. And please subscribe to this show on your favorite podcast app, follow us on Twitter, @TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram, @TheTurnOnPodcast, and find links to our books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. And, remember, The Turn On is now a part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more shows you love at Frolic.Media/Podcast. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you soon, holla.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.