Tracy Brown is essentially the Godmother or Urban Fiction. To consider yourself a fan of the genre, you must cross through her gates, and when I say cross through her gates, I mean read one of her books. I remember walking in Borders many moons ago looking for my next read. One of the guys that worked there suggested Criminal Minded by Tracy Brown, and I've been hooked ever since. I found myself binging her entire catalog within a matter of weeks. To be able to interview her was an honor and a privilege. Keep scrolling to check out her exclusive interview.
1. Out of all your books, which one resonates with you the most?
White Lines is (and probably always will be) my favorite of the books I’ve written so far. The characters became ‘real’ to me. I went to bed each night thinking about them and woke up each morning pondering their story. I am also really excited about my upcoming novel Single Black Female. I’m excited for its release.
2. As an OG in the industry, what are your thoughts on the direction the literary world is going in? (i.e. e-Books, book clubs, etc.)
I’m old school. So I still love the feeling of an actual book in my hands, the texture and smell of the pages. All of that excites me. But I do understand the convenience of e-books and their popularity. My only “gripe” if there is one is that so many bookstores have closed that it makes it hard for authors to connect with readers. I miss the days of in-store book signings where I got the chance to speak directly to fans and hear what they loved, what they hated, and how the books changed their perspectives.
3. What would you tell a new author that no one has ever told you?
That you need to decide very early in your career what it is that you want to say. Are you writing purely for entertainment? Do you have a commentary on social issues that you want to use your characters to illustrate? Are you writing with an objective? Once I figured out what it was that I wanted to say through my books, what legacy I wanted my work to leave behind after I’m gone, I think my writing got a lot bolder and richer and it became easier for me to choose my next project.
4. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell the young poet, essay writer, amateur songwriter and aspiring author in me to be brave with my words. I think writers have a tendency to second guess what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. I look back at the things I wrote in my teens and 20s and I’m amazed that I was so blunt and candid when I wrote. I’m impressed by the boldness and fearlessness in my early writing and I wish I had done even more of that.
5. What inspired you to begin writing?
Writing was something I always did in my private time. It was my hobby. What inspired me to do it professionally was being a poet. I read my poetry onstage across NYC in the early 2000s. One night I recited one of my poems and I received a standing ovation. Shocked me! I had always loved writing but was unsure if it was really good or just average. When I stepped off the stage that night, a woman met me at the foot of the stairs. She said, “You can WRITE! You should write a book!” It was a life changing moment for me. A light went off in my head and that night I went home and began writing my first novel. (I never saw that woman again. But she changed my life! It’s still one of my favorite lessons so far. ALWAYS encourage someone when you enjoy their work. You never know how your encouragement can effect their lives and inspire them. That woman set me on a whole new path with her words, and she may never know it.)
6. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
I am an avid reader. So I try to write my books the way I enjoy reading a good book. So the most important elements are great characters and character development, a realistic and relatable storyline (unless, of course, you’re writing fantasy novels), and motive. Each character should have a motive for what he/she does. Even if we disagree with those motives, we should understand what drives them. And DRAMA! Lots of drama. :)
7. What’s you favorite and least favorite part of publishing?
My favorite part is that terrifying and exhilarating feeling when a new book is released. I wait anxiously for feedback and I love discussing the story with readers. My least favorite part by FAR are the deadlines. Deadlines make me anxious. Writers need them, obviously, because publishing needs to follow a schedule. But deadlines create enormous pressure for me.
8. Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
YES! I grew up in the projects in NYC. Not many people in my neighborhood had exciting careers. I certainly had never met a writer in my youth and never thought I would become one. When it happened and my first book was published, I learned a very valuable lesson. Dream BIG! We never know what life has in store. Another lesson it taught me was to TRY. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work. But if you never try, you’ll never know. Taking that shot and sending my book out to publishers in 2003 was a shot in the dark. But it worked. And that has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. It taught me to continue taking risks, being brave with my life, and it taught me not to limit my vision to what seems realistic. Because God can do incredible things if we’re open to it.
9. What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
Literary success is simply being published. If you wrote something and it has been released to the world for others to read it, you are a success. Period.
10. What is your kryptonite as a writer?
If I am forced to write about a topic that doesn’t interest me or that I’m not passionate about, it shows. I can’t fake it. I have to love the storyline, be intrigued by the characters, and have a passion for the story in order for it to come out right.
11. What has helped or hindered you most when writing a book?
What has helped me the most is having solitude. Being alone in my own zone is where the magic happens. What has hindered me is the desire to please the fans. I know that sounds crazy so let me clarify. Writers spend a lot of time trying to live up to the hype and success of the fan favorite. We want the readers to love every story, be drawn into every book. And in order to do that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. If readers want to see a couple reunite, a villain get punished, or if they want a sequel to a story that has concluded I have allowed myself to be swayed by those things. But in retrospect I realize that I can’t be restricted to what the fans think they want. I have to write from my heart and not be limited by the noise.
12. Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
When I read “The Coldest Winter Ever” I was inspired to write books. But prior to that I was heavily into poetry and prose. Specifically the work of Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, bell hooks, Sonia Sanchez, and Asha Bandele. Those poets inspired my descriptiveness, my style of writing and my desire to say something specific through my work.
13. Tell us a little bit about your upcoming release Single Black Female.
YAY! This book is very close to my heart. It is a novel about four friends who are grappling with the dramatic twists and turns of life, love and what it means to “make it in America”. I think that phrase means something very different for black women. I started out trying to write a black Sex in the City. But I quickly realized that there is no such thing for us. Black women’s lives - no matter how successful - are rarely as simple as meeting for drinks every now and then and discussing juicy love lives. Our stories are always more complicated and nuanced than that. In short, the book is a look at what it means for black women to find love. The (often unreciprocated) love we have for black men, our reluctance to date outside of our race and all that goes along with that. I’m excited about it!
14. Can you share with us if you’re currently working on anything?
I am! I’m working on several things. I’m working on my next novel, which is a heartbreaking story about the consequences of the choices we make. I’m collaborating on two celebrity memoirs and working on the screenplay for White Lines.
15. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
I love interacting with my readers on social media. So check for me on Instagram (@authortracybrown), Twitter (@iamtracybrown) and Facebook (@AuthorTracyBrown).