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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya chop it up with author Alexandra Warren about staying true to yourself, creating your own measures of success and setting it out for people who haven't yet earned it.
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Kenrya: Come here, get off.
Kenrya: Today we're talking to Alexandra Warren, pronoun she and her. Alexandra is a 20-something-year-old Nebraska girl who enjoys teaching, blogging, traveling, and, of course, writing contemporary romance novellas and her absolute favorite to write as well as to read. With 20-plus books under her belt and more on the way, she's excited to see what 2020 will bring. Wow. Hey, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Hello. Hello.
Kenrya: Thank you so much for coming on the show in the midst of chaos.
Alexandra: Of course. Thank you for having me and giving me something else to think about and look forward to because I need to stop watching TV.
Kenrya: Oh, my God. It's so much.
Alexandra: So, I'm glad to be here. It's so much.
Kenrya: Don't worry about [crosstalk 00:00:59]
Erica: Yeah, well I'm hoping lots of people are reading and catching up on podcasts instead of consuming this constant news, which I am trying to do, unsuccessfully.
Alexandra: Yes, it's so hard. It's so hard. But you got to take a break because otherwise, you'll be like-
Erica: A mess.
Alexandra: You'll look up and realize you've been sitting there for so long.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Listen to all-
Alexandra: You're stuck.
Erica: Listen to all your auntie's conspiracy theories.
Alexandra: Girl, I had to like delete people off Facebook. It's too much.
Kenrya: I can't even go on Facebook. It's just freaking me out. At least with Twitter, I feel like sometimes some real information filters through, but it's still scary.
Alexandra: Yes, yes, it's too much to think about.
Kenrya: If y'all are listen to this anytime other than now we should give context.
Erica: Well, the quarantine.
Kenrya: Everybody's under self-quarantine.
Erica: Exactly. It's March 2020. Exactly. So now that we've talked about what you do. Question, when you were a little kid what'd you think that you were going to do as an adult?
Alexandra: I was 100% confident that I was going to be a teacher and I did teach. I taught preschool for a couple of years and realized they just don't make enough money. And adults, the adult part of it is more annoying than the kid part of it. So, I was always a reader and I had a friend who I started beta reading for her, Christina C. Jones, and I had just sent her something I had wrote on a whim. And she was like, "I need to see the whole page." And so, I sent the whole page. She was like, "Girl, you better finish this book?" And so, that ended up being my first release. And so, that happened as I was teaching. And so, I would literally be like, "Nap time." Okay, I'm about to do these edits real quick. Pat this baby on the back. And I got my iPad doing my little edits on the high. Then I was able to transition out of teaching into writing full-time.
Erica: That is so great. And as a parent that's on day three of homeschooling, no, we do not pay teachers nearly enough.
Alexandra: It's crazy. It's so crazy. So, you know as hard as it is on parents right now, I'm glad they get to experience what it's like with their one or two or even a handful and think, "Okay, most teachers have 15, 20, sometimes up to 30 of the same thing going on and having to manage that." So, shout out to teachers. Which is the perfect thing to say on this episode, considering what we'll be talking about.
Kenrya: Yes, exactly. Shout out to teachers. Wow. So I was going to ask how you got from wanting to teach to writing, but you just told us. I guess then my question is how did you come to actually publish your book, right? Because a lot of folks have something that they're working on in their spare time. How did you turn it from something that you were doing while you were patting backs to books that we're devouring?
Alexandra: So, I didn't know about self-publishing and so when I started the project I was talking about earlier, when I started writing that I was like, "This is going to be for fun, whatever. I'm going to self-publish it. It's not going to be a big deal. If nothing happens it will just be hiding on Amazon somewhere and nobody would know about it." But you know, learning the ins and outs of self-publishing, learning how much easier it is than submitting to a publishing house and waiting to hear back from them or being denied by them over and over again or finding an agent doing all that, I could go directly to consumers. And so, yeah, just learned about self-publishing using Amazon. As much as people hate Amazon sometimes, Amazon has really helped a girl out.
Kenrya: It does make it easy. Yeah, that's what's up.
Erica: Yeah, I'm not an Amazon lover. However, they have been really great as we find new writers on this show. We really want to showcase Black women writers and Black femme writers and everyone's, not everyone, but so many people are self-published and it's been really great to be able to kind of weed through the big names and find just people out there writing really good books.
Alexandra: Yes. Yeah. So, that's the thing about it was self- publishing, I think the voices are so much more authentic and they're so much fresher than what you're going to find on any bookshelves at the store or whatever. And so, I feel like once you get tapped in a little bit, you're like, "Okay, I want to find some more of this." And then you find this whole other community of writers and their books and these really contemporary, really fresh stories and fresh voices. And then it's like, "Hmm, do I really want to go back to the traditional stuff? I don't know?"
Kenrya: Yeah, well, it's real.
Alexandra: Nothing against them.
Kenrya: Not at all. I think it's all part of the landscape, right? Like we had Beverly Jenkins on and she talked quite a bit about how the traditional industry, publishing industry doesn't necessarily want us and doesn't always think that they can sell our stories and care about centering us. So, if we can do it without having to deal with them, why not?
Alexandra: Exactly. That's exactly what it is. And, we've found a way and continue to grow that. And so, I think now a lot of those publishing companies are looking into the indie landscape and kind of seeing, "Okay, what are they doing different?" And you know, we're just doing our thing, not even worry about them. Just doing our thing.
Erica: Yep. So, to call you prolific is an understatement. You are just cranking out books.
Alexandra: Oh, thank you.
Erica: How do you do it? What's your process?
Alexandra: So, ideas come to me. I don't have to think, "Okay, what am I going to write about next?" Stuff just happens and I'm like, "Ooh, that will make a good book." Like right now the project that I'm working on literally came off of, I was scrolling Instagram. On the explore page, there was this cute little couple with their little baby bump and a whole story came from just that little snippet.
Alexandra: All of it. And so, I'll get an idea and then I'll just start jotting down notes in my phone. Like any scenes that I already see happening, anything that I already know about these characters, or their backstory or whatever. Then I just sit down and go at it and I'll set like a little word count goal, at least 2,000 words a day. And then, that adds up pretty quickly that I can get them out in a month, a month or two or whatever, depending on how long it is. Especially writing novellas, often those go pretty fast writing that amount, so, yeah.
Kenrya: Wow. I'm interested in like you clearly have a very specific process. Do you also kind of have a formula for a successful book? Are there certain elements that pop up in your books that make it uniquely an Alexandra Warren creation?
Alexandra: Well, people tell me that they can really sense the freshness of it. They can tell that I'm younger, which I don't feel like, you know my knees crack when I get out of the bed. But, they can tell that I'm younger and they appreciate the freshness of it. They know that they're going to get a mostly happy story. There's not going to be a ton of angst. Just because I know when I sit down to read, I don't want to be sad. I just don't. I don't like things like that. Because I just need a pick me up and people know they can come to my books for a pick me up. So, I would say that would be the unique feature of my releases.
Erica: Yeah. So, we read, If Only for the Summer for our last episode and loved it. I finished it at like four in the morning and sent Kenrya an email that was like-
Kenrya: She did.
Erica: ... "This was so warm." It was just happily ever after and great. And so, we loved it and we thought the premise was super fun. It was two people booked to stay together in a condo owned by two friends. Where did you get the inspiration?
Alexandra: That one I actually started writing maybe a year before it even came out. I started it and it didn't feel right yet. And so, I just moved on and started writing other things and went back to it as the summer, I think it came out in 2017, as that summer was approaching and when I first started writing it I knew I wanted to write something about teachers. I knew there were going to be teachers and as somebody that likes to go to Florida a lot, I was like, "Oh, it will be fun if two people went to Florida," and using my different things that I've experienced on vacations there and things like that. If I put that in a book and, you know, is it a setup? Is it not a setup? Nobody really knows. But we're going to rock with it.
Alexandra: Then writing a single dad, that was something that I really wanted to do. I hadn't done up until that point, I think. So I really wanted to write a single dad and I really wanted to write a healthy co-parenting relationship because I think a lot of times when we see quote-unquote "baby mamas" in books, they're coming to bring the drama and I didn't want that. So yeah. So there was just a couple different elements I knew I wanted to put into a book and it came into fruition with If Only for the Summer.
Kenrya: Another thing that really popped up for us when we were reading the book was, I mean they were definitely absolutely shaking up.
Alexandra: They were.
Kenrya: Well, y'all know that dude.
Alexandra: They were. Like, nope, don't know each other, but y'all sharing home meals. Y'all planning around each other's schedule. Y'all planning around the baby, like yeah. Yeah, they got really comfortable.
Kenrya: Real quick. Right. And so it made us wonder, have you ever been in a situation where you gave somebody a little too much, a little too fast?
Alexandra: Me personally?
Kenrya: We're not talking about having like sex because-
Erica: Because, honey, I put it out on the first night.
Kenrya: Sex is sex. Not But emotionally.
Alexandra: No, I don't think so. I've been in a relationship for a really long time up until this point, since we were kids, literally. So, not me personally, but I've seen it and I feel like a lot of my inspiration comes from just stuff I see and people I know in real life. And so, I think that comes across when you're reading it, you're like, "I know people like this and I people that would do something like this." And so, yeah.
Kenrya: Or I have been this person.
Alexandra: Yeah, yeah. And they're reading, it's like, "Oh, this is like, whoa, this is a little triggering. Like, hold on." So, yeah.
Erica: So, one of the things that I loved about the book, you mentioned it how you'd like your stories to have a happily ever after and kind of cut out some of the bullshit. And I think that's why you're able to do novellas so successfully. Whereas, we would have like four chapters of someone, "Should I? Shouldn't I? What should I do?" I loved that in this story, guy was going through some things and his baby mom pulled him aside and was like, "Nigga, what is wrong with you? Go get your woman," and you cut out like four chapters of bullshit. It was just great to have really well-written characters that are not about the bullshit and just living good. The relationships between the two sets of best friends was just refreshing and as I was reading it I was like, "Wow, this Alexandra is like a normal person." I mean really.
Erica: Some writers are like sadists and they want their readers to like ...
Kenrya: Their characters to suffer.
Erica: Suffer. And, you just give the gift of a good story that just gets to the point.
Alexandra: Thank you.
Erica: Lets us feel good. Your books make me want to go on vacation because I see myself.
Alexandra: Oh, that's wonderful because I love vacations.
Erica: Oh, I did it. I like gushed about your book in the episode because, again, I love Miami, so it just your books, I'm like her books will my Kindle as I go lay on somebody's beach and read something that feels good about good Black people. I mean, I could see like beautiful brown people in your writing. It was just, it's an all-around good story. All of your, the books that I've read so far. But it just felt good to have just good normal people. It's like, nigga, what is wrong with you? Go get that woman.
Alexandra: Yes. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. I'm glad you, because that's what I want. It's good to hear somebody say it's like "Yes. Yes, Like I'm hitting exactly where I want."
Erica: Well, you are.
Alexandra: Regular Black folks falling in love and doing the silly stuff that comes with falling in love sometimes, but figuring it out and not playing games.
Erica: Yeah, well that's good. So, in addition to all your writing, you run Girl, Have You Read ... ?
Alexandra: Yes. That's exactly how I say it my head. So, thank you.
Erica: Well again, you threw it, I caught it. But it's a website and a brand that centers around Black love. How did you come to that work and why is it important to you?
Alexandra: So, Christina and I, there were like a couple of different diverse romance blogs that were out at the time and we were like, "Well, none of this really centers Black women, Black love." Like very specifically Black stories. Not that it's about excluding anybody, but we just want to shine a light on something very specific, a very specific niche. And so, we were like, "What should we call it?" And, so, we're like throwing names back and forth at each other. And we were like, "Oh, what about just Girl, Have you read?" Like have you read this? Have you read this author, have you read, you know, whatever it is, whatever Black love story it is.
Alexandra: And so, we just started a website like literally just on a whim started a website. People started submitting their books for us to share. We have an author directory for Black authors to add themselves to and let us know what genre they're in. So if people say, "Oh, I'm looking for a Black sci-fi book, they can go to those specific authors. We do some reviewing. Then we also share a list of new releases every week, which I think is the most important thing for people because going through Amazon is just trash. If you're looking for specifically Black romance it's really hard to find. So, we kind of narrow that down for people every week and there's people that say they don't ever go search for books anymore. They just go to Girl, Have You Read ... ? and look at the new release list and pick from that. And so, yeah, it's a labor of love for sure. But we really enjoy being able to give that to the people.
Kenrya: That's awesome. I'm wondering you now have more than 20 books under your belt. So you know a lot now, right? You know a lot about publishing?
Alexandra: I mean, I'm making it up.
Kenrya: It ain't a lot of folks out here who can say that they've written 20 books.
Alexandra: This is true. I'll give myself a little credit.
Kenrya: Yes. Well, we'll give you a lot. What did you wish you had known before you got started?
Alexandra: I wish I would have known that it's not about readers, which is a weird thing to say as an author. But it's not about what they want. It's about what you want to bring to the landscape. I think as you start writing more books, you can easily get caught up in what people want from you instead of writing what you want to write and what feels good to you and really staying true to your voice instead of getting caught up on the first one-star review that says, "Oh, no, this ain't it." Like really learning to push through that. So, I wish I would've known that you don't have to think like ... You just get what you want to give to the people and the people that want it, they'll take it. The people that don't want it, they'll keep moving and it just is what it is. But as long as you're happy with what you're putting out, that's the real goal.
Kenrya: Okay. Can't write for everybody.
Alexandra: You cannot. You cannot. And you will learn that fast. So if I would have known that before, I wouldn't have even thought anything of it when it first happened. But now I know.
Erica: Your tribe has found you.
Kenrya: That's how we about the show.
Kenrya: Oh, that too. Yeah. We feel like people who don't like cussing and cringe when they hear the word pussy ...
Erica: Fuck them.
Kenrya: They're probably in the wrong place.
Alexandra: Listen, If Only for the Summer, I will never ever forget get this. Somebody said, "Teachers and foul language don't mix." And I was like, "First of all-
Erica: How do you survive teaching if you don't use foul language?
Alexandra: That and then it's like these people are on summer break.
Kenrya: And they're humans and adults.
Alexandra: And, they're human and they're adults and they're not cussing in their classroom at children. And, you know what? If they were high schooler teachers, sometimes they do have to do that, but like what? And so it's stuff like that just reminds you that your work doesn't have to be for everybody.
Alexandra: You can do your own thing.
Erica: What are you most proud of in your career?
Alexandra: Oh. I think I'm most proud of carving out my own little space in this indie Black romance universe. There's so many great authors and great voices and I don't feel like I get lost in that. So, that's something to be proud of. As somebody from Nebraska, people sometimes act like they can point on Nebraska on a map and you know really being from there always, being true to that, and then coming into this whole other space and making a name myself. I'm really proud of that.
Kenrya: I'm wondering, and maybe the answer is you already did? But how will you know that you've made it? What will like true success, like I'm at the top of my game, what would that look like for you?
Alexandra: When somebody calls me to do a movie.
Alexandra: Then I'll be like, "Okay, you really did something with these words, sis." That'll be the moment.
Erica: It's going to happen. We going to claim it.
Erica: Because there is enough ... All these networks now? Come on, somebody got to grab one of these stories.
Alexandra: We're going to see. Somebody has to. It's too much, too much that they can do with it. Yeah.
Erica: I see BET Christmas movie on the ... What's? I'm sorry, I keep forgetting the name of the story. The one you just wrote.
Alexandra: Oh, Uncovered Truths?
Erica: Uncovered Truths, yeah. I can see that as a BET Christmas story.
Kenrya: Which we watch all of those movies.
Alexandra: That's what I'm saying. But it's got to be on somewhere they could have sex because I can't do Hallmark.
Erica: Yeah, no.
Kenrya: Yes, where they just cut away.
Erica: Yeah, waking up with the sheet around you.
Alexandra: We don't want to fade to Black. Yeah.
Erica: No. I want to see some skin.
Kenrya: You had a bra on.
Alexandra: Yeah. So, yeah, that will be the moment. But I don't feel like I haven't had success. I think every project comes with its own success. Like putting out a book is not easy and bring something to completion and actually putting out to the world, like there's a burst of success with that.
Kenrya: That's a very healthy attitude.
Erica: Okay, so, that Rona got us all cooped up in this house. So, share with us, what are you reading to keep your mind off of all the bullshit and decay going on out in the world?
Alexandra: So, I'm trying to think, what did I just download? Oh, Nicole Falls, who I have a series with, a sports-romance series with, she just put out a novella called A Good Luck Fuck. It's a St. Patrick's Day theme and she has like a whole series of holidays-
Kenrya: Oh, I saw that.
Erica: I was seeing those.
Kenrya: For Valentine's Day joint. A Christmas joint, yeah.
Alexandra: Yes. Yes. So that's the most recent thing that I downloaded and I want to get into. But when I'm writing it's hard for me to read and write at the same time.
Erica: We ask all authors about that. They're like, "Girl, what I shouldn't be doing is reading. I should be writing."
Alexandra: Yeah, yeah. It makes you feel guilty. But oftentimes, like if I'm feeling down about writing or whatever, I'll read something good and that'll just charge me right back up to get in my doc like, "Ooh, this made me want to write."
Erica: Good. Cool.
Kenrya: Yeah. What's next?
Erica: What are you working on? What [inaudible 00:22:20] you saying?
Alexandra: So, right now I'm working on, it kind of has a title, but I don't know if that's going to stay the title, so I won't even say it. It'll be a full-length project. It's about two people who they kind of work together. They both attend this gala and afterwards, they have hot office sex that ...
Erica: Oh, shit.
Alexandra: So ...
Erica: Oh, didn't know that that's where that was going. I was like ...
Alexandra: That's where that was going. So yeah, so that's what I'm working on right now and that will hopefully be out, with all this craziness going on, hopefully, sooner than later. But yeah, so that'll be out this spring, spring again.
Kenrya: And so, then where can people find you so that they know when it drops?
Alexandra: So everything is on my website actuallyitsalexandra.com. All my social media is variants of that because of character limits. But Instagram @itsactuallyalexandra. Twitter is __ActuallyAlex. Then Alexandra Warren-Author/Blogger on Facebook.
Kenrya: Thank you so much for coming on. I know it's a lot happening and we appreciate you.
Alexandra: Thank you, guys, for having for me. I appreciate coming on. Like I said, give me something else to think about because this shits some, oh, this is crazy. This is crazy.
Kenrya: We going to be all right.
Alexandra: Put it up there.
Alexandra: Because I have my concerns.
Kenrya: I should say that when working. Come fix you. They're not here. We going to be all right.
Alexandra: There we go.
Kenrya: There we go.
Alexandra: I believe you.
Kenrya: Well, thanks to everybody who is listening. We appreciate y'all too and we are always glad that you're here. Be safe and be well.
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 you 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 at TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram at TheTurnOnPodcast. Find links to our books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. Remember, The Turn On is now a part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more shows you'll 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.