Bestselling author Electa Rome Parks has been thrilling readers for years, yet her newest book is not only causing a buzz because of her incredibe writing, but for the issues it raises as well. The Atlanta native talked with Cyrus Webb of Conversations Book Club and Conversations Magazine about her journey in the literary world, the messages of her new book DIARY OF A STALKER, how sex is used today in selling readers on a book and what's next for her.
Here is their conversation:
Electa, thanks for taking out the time to talk with Conversations. I want to start off by talking with you about your journey as an author. What has surprised you the most about your success over the years?
Thank you for having me. Wow, Cyrus! This is a hard question and I have thought about how to answer it for a few days now. I have never, ever, been thrown by an interview question before:} I guess there is a first for everything.
I think my biggest surprise about my success has been how deeply readers embrace and react to my characters. My imperfect, flawed characters become real to them and readers ask about them at signings or via email as if they are real people. That connection, that bond of my readers to my characters is magical to me. Absolutely priceless!
Your newest book DIARY OF A STALKER is just the latest in what has been an amazing career for you. For those who might not know your other titles, run them down for them.
My titles are The Ties That Bind, Loose Ends, Almost Doesn't Count, Ladies' Night Out, These Are My Confessions, Diary of a Stalker and coming soon, True Confessions (January 2011)
When did you know that writing was something you were not only good at but wanted to pursue outside of just a hobby?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Being a quiet and shy child, writing was a form of non-verbal communication that allowed me to express myself. Ask anyone who knew me back in the day, I was always penning short stories, poems, writing in my diary and later a journal.
When I penned my first manuscript, which by the way, has never seen the light of day---my friends and family encouraged me by saying it was good, but as a writer, you never truly know how readers will react to a story.
I realized I wanted to pursue writing outside of just a hobby when I first read Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan and simply fell in love with the characters and her writing style. I thought, "I can do this. Hell yeah." And Terry's huge commercial success added more fuel to my fire.
I think you would agree, Electa, that with each new challenge we face, there is some form of uncertainty. When it comes to the road you have travelled as a writer, has there ever been a time when you thought that maybe this wasn't going to work for you?
I admit I have questioned the politics of the literary industry but I have never, ever questioned my strong desire to write. Failure has never been an option.
Cyrus, this is a great, timely question because I have discovered or should I say confirmed many facts about myself during the course of writing and completing Diary of a Stalker. First of all, let me say, I think this was one of the quickest books I have ever written. It was like there was a passion and fire lit underneath me that consumed me, that burned from within and I couldn't tell the story fast enough.
Lessons learned: I've learned that writing is a critical part of my very being, much like breathing. No matter what changes the industry may bring, I'm still going to write. That's an absolute, undeniable fact. I've learned that I truly do love writing and it loves me back ten-fold. I'm faithful to it and it rewards me by bringing unbridled joy and happiness to my life.
I've learned that I can try to run and hide, but it's always going to seek me out, find me, much like a stalker, and remind me who and what I really am. That can't be denied or taken away or diminished. Just like I'll die an African American woman, I'll also die with the spirit and soul of a writer.
I've learned that writing speaks to me like no other regardless of whatever goes down, even if I have to write for free and for my eyes only, I'll still rise because if you know who you are---all the rest doesn't even matter. What's meant for me is meant for me and no one or any entity can take that away. With a strong voice meant to be heard, I'll strive and survive.
You and I actually met each other in 2008, and I saw firsthand the way you enjoy interacting with your fans. Has that been an easy process to get used to, knowing that people are following you and love your work?
Besides the actual writing process, hands down, the most gratifying part of being an author has been meeting and greeting new and interesting readers who are embracing my stories and e-mailing me and writing me and meeting me at signings and telling me how much they've enjoyed my books! We talk about my characters like they are old friends. No matter how many times I've experienced this, it always makes my day. Puts a big smile on my face
Their (the readers) feedback and reactions totally validates that my craft is a gift from God! If I can touch a number of people with my stories or even if I only entertain them and they don't walk away with a life lesson, then I've still done my job.
As you know, my stories are typically relationship based, very drama filled with an ounce of spice thrown in, well maybe a pound of spice thrown in, and they usually cover a topical issue that is prevalent in today's society. Believe me, I have so many characters screaming inside my head, waiting to tell their story, that I feel like the lady from the movie Sybil. Bottom line, I pray and claim that my readership base will continue to grow and I'll have wonderful opportunities to meet many more fans.
With every book there seems to be not just a great read but a message that the reader can take away. In DIARY OF A STALKER there are many messages. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Diary of a Stalker: a best-selling male author gets more than he bargained for when he meets a fanatical female fan. What starts out as a one-night stand quickly spirals out of control and into a dangerous game of obsession and pain.
Since it had been a couple of years since my last novel, Ladies’ Night Out, dropped, I wanted this new release to be something a little different from my previous novels. Yet, I wanted to maintain the core elements that my books are known for. So the drama, the fast-paced nature, the steamy relationship-based elements are still alive and well.
I attend a lot of literary events such as conferences, signings, workshops, etc. After awhile, I started to notice a pattern no matter what city or state I was in. Even though the avid readers, mostly female, poured much love my way, I noticed the male authors received an extra dose. Maybe because there aren’t as many male authors? And I noticed, if I attended a large event, I would see some of the same female readers around the same male authors. Hmmmm. So then, I started thinking about how groupies follow rock banks, rappers, professional athletics and entertainers. Why wouldn’t this exist in the literary arena as well? Throw a few over the top "what if questions" into the mix and Diary of a Stalker was born.
It is hard to find one of the main characters in DIARY that doesn't have some form of baggage and is without fault. Was one of the messages you wanted to get across, that no matter what our backgrounds or what we have that we still have the same problems?
No, that wasn't one of my intentional messages, but it certainly could be a message pulled from Diary of a Stalker. I feel Diary of a Stalker had so many messages, much like all of my books. My main point was that men and women shouldn't be so eager to immediately have an intimate relationship without really getting to know a person first.
Your book also touches on an issue with the writer Xavier Preston that is discussed quite a bit in the entertainment industry: the using of sex and sex appeal to push products. Have you found that to be something that readers have picked up on and that has resonated with them?
Yes, it has resonated with many readers. My readers went into reading Diary of a Stalker, I think, feeling that the storyline was going to be cut and dry. Xavier was good and Pilar was going to be bad. However, that wasn't necessarily the case; it wasn't that black and white. Many thought Xavier received exactly what he deserved.
Writing about sex is one thing, but I'm curious as to what your personal thoughts about authors using their own sexuality to get attention.
The old adage that sex sells is very true, even in the literary industry. Literally. I have seen it up close and personal at various literary events and conferences I have attended over the years. Personally, I have never used my sex appeal or sexuality to get attention. I believe an author's talent or an interesting storyline should be the lure to encourage a reader to pick up a book. That should speak for itself. The literary industry is similar to the music industry in many ways; after all, both are part of the entertainment industry. These days authors have to have the total package (good looks and charm doesn't hurt) to stand out from the overly saturated marketplace.
However, I try not to be judgmental, so I say to each his own.
Do you feel that your book showcases what can happen when we play with fire, no matter what our profession?
Definitely! Human emotion is human emotion no matter what your profession may be. In relationships, we simply can't treat people badly; we truly never know who we are dealing with and what they are capable of. That is why it is so important to get to know a person before starting a sexual relationship. All that glitters is not gold; it may be fool's gold.
Can you tell us what has surprised you the most about the response of DIARY?
The biggest surprise has been readers' reaction to Pilar and Xavier. I was pleasantly surprised that readers do not have as much sympathy for Xavier as I thought they would. Readers feel he deserved all he received and more. Many are rooting for Pilar because they empathize with her in many ways and most readers have a love-hate relationship with her. Pilar fascinates and captivates their attention.
I follow you on Facebook and saw you writing about a sequel to DIARY OF A STALKER. Is that because of the readers' response to the characters or have the characters themselves told you their story isn't over?
Actually it is a combination of both. My readers and I have a great bond and I truly listen to their feedback and comments. They have told me via email and social media outlets that they wanted to read more about Pilar and her back-story. And Pilar, well, she made it perfectly clear, loud and clear, that her story was not yet finished; she had much more to reveal. It wasn't over until she said it was over and of course, she runs the show. So coming soon, the sequel to Diary of a Stalker.
I want to shift to your role as an example and mentor for others. What would you say to authors that are just starting out and wondering how they can mirror the success and longevity of someone like yourself?
I know this is going to sound sappy, but so be it. Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and never give up. Picture where you want to be a year from now, five years from now and claim that space. We all have stories to tell, but there are only a few of us who actually sit down and put pen to paper. That makes you unique in itself.
Believe in your gift and use it every day. Network and surround yourself with people and places that uplift and promote your creativity. Listen to your inner spirit. The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking.
And last, but certainly not least, write "something" every day. And remember, it's true; you can't please all the people all the time. If you believe in what you write and you're passionate about what you write, readers will pick up on that aura.
Keep the faith and it will come.
Success definitely comes in different forms. What does success look like for Electa Rome Parks today?
Good question. Personally, I define success as being able to do something you truly love on a day to day basis, getting paid for it in the process, giving back to the community (to whom much is given, much is expected) and being the best person you can be which enables you to sleep peacefully at night. To me, those combined elements make you a successful person. And if you place God and your family first, the sky's the limit!
Thank you for your time, Electa. If our readers want to keep in touch with you, what is the best way to reach you online?
My readers (I'm so possessive) can stay abreast of my world at any of my sites below. I also adore chatting with my readers because I greatly value and appreciate their feedback and support. They can drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org