( ENSPIRE Exclusive ) INTERRACIAL ROMANCE NOVELIST J.J. MURRAY: ‘WHY I AM ATTRACTED TO WOMEN OF COLOR’
How many romance novelist do you know?
It’s not something that you decide to count, but if you’re a random being like myself you may dabble in the research that the census bureau isn’t interested in. If they aren’t interested in that question how much more interested would they be in knowing how many interracial romance novelists there are?
I can give you statistics about how much money romance fiction makes or tell you that a majority of the authors who are writing interracial romance novels are African American, but you can google that later. What I was proudly curious about is what m
I had the pleasure of discussing a few things that peaked my interest with the phenomenal interracial romance poet turned novelist John Jeffrey Murray!
We dived into all things authorship, his new book, interracial romance and his attraction to women of color.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
In Pittsburgh, my first-grade teacher Miss Mueller sent me to “Young Author’s Camp” where real hippies wearing granny glasses, fringed vests, sandals, and bellbottoms “taught” me how to “let it all hang out, man.” Though I only wrote one six-lined poem in four hours about my dog, Murphy, the camp was strangely cool. I wouldn’t take writing seriously until my high school journalism teacher Mrs. Clifton lit a fire under my wordy, vague, and grandiose writing behind 10 years later.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
At 23 in 1986, I wrote The Saint of the City, a multicultural coming-of-age story, for a class of juniors that had never read a full-length novel of any kind. They “helped” me write it, and many of them still remember it 30+ years later.
I read where you stated you were a poet long before you were a novelist. Did you find the transition from poet to author challenging?
I believe poets make the best novelists because they keep their narratives concise, noun-driven, and descriptive. Most modern readers don’t want to read epics anymore, so “poets-turned-novelists” will always have an audience because poetry shrinks to improve. Character development and dialogue, two things most poems don’t focus on, are always a fun challenge.
How has your environment & upbringing colored your writing?
It is interesting that you should use the verb “colored.” The long answer is Kicked to the Curb, my latest novel. The entire novel details why I am attracted to women of color and have been since I lived in St. Louis in the 1960’s and takes the reader through my dysfunctional romantic past in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia. I grew up Northern and city (a.k.a. “Yankee”), and many of the schools I attended and the neighborhoods where I lived were racially diverse. As a result, I dated the rainbow, and I write about the rainbow.
Do you remember the first book you’ve read that had a huge impact on you? What was it? and how did it impact you?
This may come as a shock since I write romance, but it wasn’t a romance. It was Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison. This book of literary criticism opened my eyes to the way “white” literature has consciously and unconsciously stereotyped people of color in literature since the beginning of literature. Because of Morrison’s book, I take great pains not to stereotype anyone or use “racialized” (white=good, black=bad) language in my novels. I believe “folks are folks are folks” and that we’re all kinfolks. If you stereotype your family, they’ll never let you hear the end of it. I believe writers of every race would benefit greatly from reading this important book.
What kind of feedback do you get from your readers regarding the characters? Interracial love? From your very first book versus today?
My heroines are strong, resourceful, intelligent, and powerful. I don’t write about indecisive, weak victims. Some readers have problems with me when a heroine isn’t completely likable or isn’t like anyone they have ever met. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons we read books is to meet new people.
My heroes are 99% Beta, not Alpha, mainly because I am a Beta who respects women at all times. Why create a hateful, sometimes verbally and physically abusive rascal as your hero? Sure, he’s full of testosterone, bulging muscles, power, and “bedroom abilities,” but at the end of the day, who are you gonna snuggle with? A Beta, that’s who.
My publisher (Kensington) described my first heroine (Renee in Renee and Jay) as “sassy,” but she wasn’t. Renee was decisive, knew her own mind, and spoke her mind often. That didn’t make her sassy—it made her memorable. I haven’t really toned down my heroines that much since then.
My readers choose my novels because they are in or have been in interracial relationships or they are curious about what goes on in them. From the beginning, I have avoided the clichéd conflict of “his/her family and friends don’t understand, but their jungle fever love will see them through” because the world has turned, times have changed, and folks are folks. I hope my readers continue to appreciate that.
What does your family think of your writing?
They are supportive and read every book. However, this makes for iffy moments since my books have many “adult” moments. It is uncomfortable sometimes knowing your sainted mother and father are going to read those passionate scenes.
How many books have you written?
Kicked to the Curb is number 37.
Which is your favorite?
My favorite novel is always the book I’m working on, which begs a strange question: “So after you finish writing a novel, do you kick it to the curb?”
Yes. I can only love one novel at a time. (I am such a rogue …) My favorite novel to read from is Something Real because of the dramatic and often hilarious church scenes.
Out of all of your books, do you have a favorite female character? From which book? Why her?
I have been in love with all my heroines, and you’re asking me to choose one. This is an unfair question, and the others will not be happy.
If I had to choose, it would have to be my most recent “honey,” Melanie Clark from Kicked to the Curb. She’s fun, funny, brilliant, passionate, and loving.
Now you have made 36 other women very angry. Thanks a lot. Lol
If you were asked to share one book you’ve written that encompasses the love you wished every couple experienced, which would it be?
The love that Trina and Tony share in No Ordinary Love is monumental to me because of their trust, honesty, and devotion.
Which characters come the closest to your current or past relationships? Or do all of them speak to your life?
None of them and all of them speaks to my life, but none are exact because … every relationship is unique.
Sometimes readers say, “I want that!” Please keep in mind that novels are limited in what they can show about a relationship. Readers don’t see the heroine and hero waking up with morning breath or arguing about “Who left the mess in the sink?” or hear them arguing about “You should have turned back there!” We see only the extreme (best or worst) moments, not the everyday, mundane, “It’s your turn to do the dishes” moments that make up most real relationships.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I get about a dozen letters/emails from readers a month, mainly asking: “When is your next book coming out?” Occasionally they’ll take me to task for my heroines (“She plucked my last nerve!”), too. I answer every letter I receive.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
This is a loaded question with many wrong answers. Teachers made me read certain authors when I would have much rather read others. If I had to choose one it would have to be James Joyce. I love his work now, but when I was a teenager, I only thought in a linear, point A to point B fashion. His novels are much richer than that, but I wasn’t mature enough to know that.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I eventually adhere to the romance formula, and I end my novels with the expected “happily ever after.” How I get readers to the HEA is fun, and I hope I command (not demand) their attention along the way.
Can you tell me about your latest book Lucky?
Lucky is an old-fashioned “younger Yankee meets older Southern belle and they get along then don’t then do kind of “Taming of the Shrew” romance.
What inspired you to write it (Lucky)?
A photograph of a farmhouse on a pond in southeastern Virginia started me wondering: What if a Yank moved into a house that a beautiful, talented, proud neighbor woman has coveted all of her life? I spent two days where the story took place and did some writing at the actual farmhouse.
What’s something you are really good at that people don’t know about?
I can read lips, and I can collect pins on Pinterest. I am not addicted. I can stop any time I want. I will break 10,000 images soon, and I think I have amassed the world’s largest repository of IR/BWWM (Interacial Relationships/ Black Woman-White Male) images in the known universe.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Kicked to the Curb is out, and I will be working on #38, a romantic comedy for 50-something readers. Yes, 50-something readers need romance, passion, and lust, too!
You can follow and engage with J.J. Murray on his social media links below: